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Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook June 06, 2016

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room


PETER COOK: Good afternoon, everybody.

Thanks for accommodating the change in schedule today. It is, of course, June 6th, and at this hour 72 years ago, Allied troops were consolidating the Normandy beaches on the first day of the liberation of Europe. So if everyone will take time to remember those who took part in D-Day, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

And with that, I want to begin with some schedule items and a few other notes to share with you.

Today, Secretary Carter will join Indian Prime Minister Modi in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery before meeting with the prime minister tomorrow at Blair House. The secretary is looking forward to discussing progress on a range of bilateral issues in the U.S.-India defense relationship and exploring additional opportunities for cooperation.

As you know, he met with Minister of Defense Parrikar in Singapore over the weekend, ahead of the prime minister's visit. I know the secretary is looking forward to these meetings.

On Wednesday, the secretary and the deputy secretary will both meet with the Swedish Minister of Defense Hultqvist. The secretary will sign a statement of intent that will cement the strong relationship between our nations and chart a course for robust cooperation in the future. He also has a private meeting on Wednesday with SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to discuss innovation.

The department will host an LGBT Pride Month ceremony on Wednesday in the Pentagon courtyard. That takes place on Wednesday morning. And on Friday, Secretary Carter will participate in the Defense One digital summit. That is currently scheduled to take place at 1 p.m.

I should note that there may be changes and additions to the secretary's schedule this week, so if that happens, we will be sure to share those with you as soon as we get them.

Now, the secretary's meeting with Prime Minister Modi this week follows on the heels of his successful trip last week to Singapore -- we're still feeling the time lag effects here, the jet lag -- where he attended the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. The secretary hailed the continued growth of the principals-based security network in the Asia-Pacific and met with a number of his colleagues from the region.

In a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Nakatani, the secretary reiterated his regrets over the death of a young woman on Okinawa and confirmed the department's intent to work with Japanese officials on measures to prevent such tragedies in the future.

As you know, there was another deeply unfortunate incident over the weekend, a vehicle accident involving a U.S. sailor on Okinawa. The Department of Defense deeply regrets that this accident took place and our thoughts and prayers are with those injured and their families.

In response to this latest event, U.S. Naval Forces Japan has issued additional restrictions on naval personnel in Japan, including curtailment of off-base liberty and a prohibition on alcohol consumption on or off base.

These restrictions will help prevent future incidents by insuring that each service member understands how their actions affect the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is essential to the security and stability in the region.

The department remains committed to working with the government of Japan and the people of Japan to prevent such incidents in the future.

And I want to close by extending on behalf of the Department of Defense, our deepest sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of NPR journalist David Gilkey and translator Zabihullah Tamanna. Their deaths yesterday in Afghanistan are a loss to all those who value honest, independent reporting under difficult circumstances.

As an award-winning photographer for the Detroit Free Press and later at NPR, David often witnessed U.S. troops in the toughest conditions, sharing their hardship so that he could share their stories with the world.

In recent days, David and Zabihullah has been documenting the efforts of U.S. and Afghan forces as they work to secure a more peaceful future for the Afghan people. We will keep all those grieving their sudden loss in our thoughts and prayers.

And on that sad note, be happy to take your questions.

Tara

Q: One follow-up on Okinawa. Is the ban on alcohol permanent or is it temporary while U.S. Forces Japan reassesses what sort of alcohol policy there should be on base?

MR. COOK: The ban is in place right now. It will be a decision by the commander there of the U.S. Forces Japan going forward.

Yes?

Q: (inaudible) -- why are the U.S. members that -- why an incident by the U.S. members continue in Okinawa and why did the U.S. service member violate commander order?

MR. COOK: As for the circumstances of the -- of the incident in question, I am sure that will be a focus of the investigation and we are cooperating fully with Japanese authorities in this investigation.

Obviously, this is a deeply concerning event that we wish had not taken place and we're all going to be cooperating with Japanese authorities fully in this investigation and in doing what we can to prevent these kinds of things from ever happening again.

Q: (inaudible) -- many Okinawa people is they have some doubt -- why a (military person did not -- obey a commander order to --

MR. COOK: As you know, our expectation is for U.S. service members to obey orders and obviously that's a focal point of the investigation -- (inaudible) -- those orders were there for a reason and certainly commanders in Japan fully expect that our service personnel carry out their -- those orders fully and that they understand their role in maintaining the U.S.-Japan relationship.

And I think the message sent today by these actions, by the restrictions being put in place by -- with regard to naval force, are an indication of the seriousness with which our commanders take the situation in Japan.

Jamie.

Q: Peter, understanding that you said these were private talks and you gave a general idea, but can you tell us any more about what the secretary and Elon Musk are going to be discussing? Are there possible areas of cooperation? Can you give us any idea of what -- what the talks are going to focus on?

MR. COOK: My understanding, the focus is on -- is on innovation. Obviously, Elon Musk is one of the most innovative minds in this country and the secretary, as you know, has been reaching out to a number of members of the technology community to get their ideas, their feedback, find out what's going on in the world of innovation, so -- to make sure that the United States -- the Department of Defense remains on the cutting edge, but beyond that I know he's just looking forward to having a conversation on innovation.

Q: Would you describe it more as an informal meeting as opposed to one that has an agenda with a specific objective to be achieved?

MR. COOK: As I said, the secretary's had a number of meetings with -- with business leaders and innovation leaders in particular out in Silicon Valley, other parts of the country, and I think that's his -- his goal here, is to hear directly from Elon Musk on some of these issues.

Yes?

Q: Thank you, Peter. When Secretary Carter met with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo at the -- (inaudible) -- meeting at Singapore, has any discussions about the THAAD -- deployment of THAAD missile at the Korean Peninsula been -- (inaudible)?

MR. COOK: There were extensively discussions with the South Koreans over a range of issues. That specific issue did not come up, but here were obviously healthy discussion. And we also had a trilateral meeting with the Japanese that I know the secretary found very, very productive. So a range of topics with regard to the U.S.-South Korea alliance and strong defense relationship. But specifically, the topic of THAAD negotiations did not come up.

Q: (off mic.)

MR. COOK: I'm sorry?

Q: (inaudible) -- about the THAAD missile issue is not --

MR. COOK: Those --- those -- as you know, those -- those negotiations, those alliance negotiations continue and my understanding is they are proceeding as planned and we are working through the complicated issues that need to be worked out before that deployment can move forward.

Yes, Thomas?

Q: On a different subject, can you give us an update on the situation in -- in Manbij and Raqqah? And can you talk to us about how big of a concern it is, the Russians -- sorry, not the Russian -- the Russian-backed regime forces are coming up from the south and they're within 60 or so miles of -- of Raqqah as the -- as the YPG and the SAC come down.

Have you got any coordination or communication with the Russians on this? And how big of a concern is it that the two sides might meet in the middle?

MR. COOK: First of all, let me handle that first. They're -- as you know, we are not coordinating on a military-to-military basis with the Russians. That has not changed. We're obviously still continuing to work through the memorandum of understanding with regard to -- to flight safety, and so that's -- that's where that stands.

With regard to the larger -- let me talk about Manbij first of all and say that we do see progress on the ground with regard to the forces that we're supporting taking the fight to -- to ISIL. They've -- again, progress geographically in terms of their approach to Manbij City. And again, we feel that that operation is moving in a positive fashion, and again, is a significant -- poses a significant new pressure point on -- on ISIL in that part of Syria.

In Raqqah, I will just say that, again, there are forces that are -- the Syrian-Arab coalition and other forces that we support are continuing to -- to isolate Raqqah and I'll leave it to the Syrian regime to -- to talk about their movements. But we're most focused on the efforts by the -- the forces that we're supporting in terms of the isolation of Raqqah and again trying to apply as much pressure as possible on ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

And we think whether it's in Raqqah, whether it's in Manbij, whether it's in Fallujah that there continues to be a significant amount of pressure on ISIL and significant progress being made at this point in terms of taking the fight to ISIL, and again, moving this -- accelerating this effort to ultimately defeat them.

Q: But do you have like a contingency in place in the event that the two sides do meet? Do -- what will happen?

MR. COOK: I -- it's not something that we are working on or coordinating in anyway at this point. And we don't -- we don't see it as an issue right now, and if it becomes one, it's certainly something we'll be prepared to address. But it's not an issue right now.

Barbara.

Q: The place where the -- couple of different questions, Peter.

The Harry Truman in the Mediterranean. To what extent is this, in fact, the U.S. sending a message to Turkey that you will continue to support the Kurds in the north, even if Turkey is opposed, and that you will be able to strike them from the -- strike your targets from the Med, even if Turkey is opposed to U.S. policies in Northern Iraq.

To what extent is this a message to Turkey?

MR. COOK: This is a message, I think, to the region more than anything else, that the -- demonstrating the mobility, flexibility and then power projection capability of naval forces.

And this is important that they are able to participate in the effort against ISIL in Operation Inherent Resolve from the Med, and again, just displays the -- the capabilities, and our ability to project power from -- from different places, and again, apply pressure to ISIL from multiple fronts.

Q: Does that include Turkey?

MR. COOK: Turkey is part of the coalition against ISIL, and it does -- they have, as -- an interest, as we do, in defeating ISIL. And so, this is a message to our coalition partners that, again, the kind of force we can bring to bear.

And one that we think the region certainly will -- will look at, and those members of the coalition should view favorably, given the ability to bring more power, more air capability in the fight against ISIL.

Q: Can I ask just two other very quick follow-ups on different topics.

You mentioned the LGBT event this week. Can you bring us up to date why there has been no announced progress on the secretary's proposal for dealing with the admission of transgender persons into the U.S. military? Why haven't we heard any more about that?

MR. COOK: There continues to be progress on that front, even in the last few days.

This is an issue.

Q: (Inaudible)?

MR. COOK: There have been a range of -- I'm not going to get into private deliberations, Barbara, as you know, but there have been -- the secretary challenged people within the department to work out issues resolving -- to try and resolve this issue.

And there has been progress in terms of trying to consider how to move forward here and resolve this issue in the fashion that he first outlined several months ago.

And I can tell you that there have been significant conversations within the building on that front. And we expect the secretary, as he said recently, to be able to announce something soon.

Q: So, you do expect resolution on this?

MR. COOK: Yes, absolutely.

Q: I have one very -- other quick one. On the meeting with Mr. Musk, can you just explain, because I -- I'm just confused about it.

With him specifically, as well as the other executives in the innovation world that the secretary meets with, what -- since these are private meetings in which agendas and discussions are not disclosed, what protections are in place, given the requirements of -- generally of government in the sunshine, that discussions about acquisition contracting, proposals to do business with the government, proposals to do business with the Pentagon and the military are not discussed inappropriately in these meetings?

What protections are in place to ensure that these are not private conversations between the secretary and innovation leaders about doing specific business -- contracting business with the Pentagon?

MR. COOK: As a former undersecretary for AT&L, the secretary knows very well the rules and regulations required, and how to keep those issues separate and apart and transparent. And he absolutely understands those rules and abides by them. And so, the secretary knows his responsibilities here, knows where the line is, and there is still an opportunity for him to have these private conversations.

And if there's something that requires the disclosure, absolutely the secretary is prepared to do that.

Q: So if he's a public official, which he is, of course, why can it not be disclosed what his discussions with the leaders in American innovation, or what he is speaking to them about? They may have proprietary things they ask him not to disclose, but why can he not disclose as a public official what he's talking to them about with more specificity, especially the meeting with Mr. Musk?

MR. COOK: Well, the meeting hasn't happened, for one. And I've disclosed to you that the focus of it is on innovation. Mr. Musk is one of the innovation leaders in this country and important for the secretary to be able to have those conversations with people of note so he can get those ideas and find out if there are things that perhaps the Department of Defense should be looking to, if there's something out there that we're not thinking about.

And in that regard, again, if there's specific -- he knows very well what the rules are with regard to contracts and contact with business prospects of the Department of Defense, and the secretary will continue to abide by those rules fully.

Q: I think we're all very interested if there's more that can be said after the meeting.

MR. COOK: Sure. We'll see what we can provide for you.

Q: Like a joint news conference --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK: I'm sure -- I'll take that up. I don't know if that's going to happen, but I'll take it up.

Yes?

Q: Going back to Iraq, is the secretary satisfied with the pace of the war against ISIL, would you say?

MR. COOK: The secretary has not been satisfied with the pace, which is why he's always talking about accelerating that pace. He is satisfied that we are making progress, both in Iraq and Syria. But the secretary's view is that the sooner this threat is defeated, the better. And in that sense, you're always going to see the secretary pushing not only the coalition and our forces and our commanders, but also our coalition partners to try and see what else we can do to accelerate it further.

Q: To be fair, you all have been saying that for a while. So what -- what would you say is the hold-up? Is it the Iraqis? Or --

MR. COOK: I mean, there's been significant progress made. We've seen developments on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but this is a fight that requires careful coordination. Obviously players on the ground, the Iraqi government needs to be...the enemy gets a vote in all this.

So this is an effort that, again, the secretary would like to see move forward even faster. That was the tone of his conversations with some of his Asian counterparts that he met with over the weekend in Singapore, who asked about this issue, asked about the fight against ISIL. The secretary would like to see this move sooner, and will continue to push the coalition, our partners, our commanders on the ground to see what can be done to do that.

Yes, Joe?

Q: To follow up on Iraq also, could you give us an update about the level of coordination with the Iraqi military in regards to the operation to liberate Fallujah?

MR. COOK: There's, of course, daily coordination. General MacFarland and his team, very aware and very latched up with the Iraqis over their efforts in Fallujah.

We continue to provide support, air strikes being the most obvious example of support for the fight in Fallujah. And so, that's being carefully coordinated. And General MacFarland remains our point person with regard to that contact with the Iraqis, continues to provide his advice and counsel along the way.

Q: To follow up on Fallujah, too. Do you have -- does the Pentagon have any concerns about the PMF activities and influence in the operation of Fallujah?

MR. COOK: This fight has been -- this effort has been coordinated, led by Prime Minister Abadi and the government of Iraq. It is CTS forces in command, in the lead. We're very satisfied with that, and satisfied that -- that it's the government of Iraq that is directing this operation.

And until we see otherwise, we, again, remain satisfied with how that progress is being made.

Q: No concerns at all?

MR. COOK: This is obviously something we'll continue to watch. The multi-sectarian approach of Prime Minister Abadi we believe is the right approach, and we think it's important to carry that through on the ground.

Yes?

Q: So, you said that there is no cooperation between the U.S. and Russians and Syria. There is no coordination.

But today, a Kremlin spokesperson said that Russia and the U.S. exchanged, excuse me, information twice a day regarding cooperation in Syria. Can you respond to that?

MR. COOK: There is a memorandum of understanding in place that allows for coordination with regard to flight safety.

There is -- there has been, obviously, separate discussions led by the State Department with regard to the cessation of hostilities and direct contact with the Russians there, led by the State Department.

We have people in place, in an advisory capacity to the State Department. But in terms of direct coordination of activities on the ground, that is -- that is not happening.

And again, that has been our position for some time. And I know there have been discussions about changing that, but at this point, our position is the same.

And again, there's separate communication happening between the State Department and their Russian counterparts. And that's where -- I'll leave it to the State Department to characterize those conversations.

Yes, Andrew?

Q: Peter, it has been a couple of months since the secretary announced an expanded advise and assist mission in Iraq, and the authorization of attack helicopters for certain missions. And to my understanding that those have not been begun, have not been -- those authorities have not been exercised.

Is that a concern about the pace development, and can you offer any reason why, two months later after this big announcement, none of this seems to have happened?

MR. COOK: Well, with regard to the use of the helicopters, we've always said, Andrew, that this is going to be something that's carefully coordinated with the Iraqi government, and would be a capability that would be ready to be used, particularly in the push towards Mosul, that when the need and the circumstances arrived.

And you will -- you will know when that happens. And at this point, this is a decision being made by commanders on the ground, the Iraqi commanders, and of course, General MacFarland and his team, as to when the most appropriate use of those capabilities presents itself.

Did not present itself in Ramadi, although it was something that was, again, prepared to be used in that fight. And so, we'll see. But certainly, we stand ready to -- to deploy that very capable force, if needed in this fight, in careful coordination with the Iraqis.

Q: How about the advise and assist? That doesn't seem to have happened yet.

Is that a -- secretary concerned at all that the Iraqis don't seem to be placing these advisers in their battalion and brigade level?

MR. COOK: I think the secretary is satisfied with the coordination. We're continuing to work closely with the Iraqis, and this is something that General MacFarland, again, has the point on. And -- and this is the -- the push for Mosul in the larger fight against ISIL both in Iraq and Syria. But Iraq specifically, we think that coordination with the Iraqi government's working well.

But as I mentioned before, we are constantly looking at every single thing that can be done to accelerate this fight and to further put pressure on ISIL, and we'll continue to do that.

Yes?

Q: Peter, following up on the secretary's dissatisfaction with the speed of the fight, how it's going, is it the secretary's view or the departments view that the fight for Fallujah, the timing of it now is taking away from the overall effort to -- to finally retake Mosul from ISIS control -- (inaudible) -- Turkey?

MR. COOK: The secretary understands why the Iraqis felt so important -- felt so -- the need to -- to address the situation in Fallujah, particularly given the threat Fallujah and fighters -- ISIL fighters in Fallujah pose to Baghdad, and so completely understands the Iraqis' strategy here and does not think it's going to compromise our ability to go after ISIL in other parts of Iraq, particularly the push for Mosul.

Q: And following up on Turkey, given the recent events that's -- that have been going on, they've sort of rankled some feathers in Ankara, the patches, and the offer for joint operations for Turkey for Manbijb and the Americans went in with -- just went ahead and started operations there on their own. Do you -- is it the department's view that Turkey is doing all it can do -- all it possibly can do to support the coalition in the fight against ISIS?

MR. COOK: Listen, Turkey's been a -- a valuable members of the coalition. Obviously, the use of Incirlik is a significant part of our operation. And it's a NATO ally, it's a member of the coalition. We've worked closely with -- with Turkey. We've worked closely to try and address some of these Turkish concerns and we remain confident that we'll be able to continue to work closely with Turkey in the fight against ISIL and in a range of other issues -- defense issues where their interests and U.S. interests of course closely align.

Yes?

Q: Who was the commander that gave the order to the prohibition ban -- the alcohol ban in Japan? Was it from U.S. Forces Japan?

MR. COOK: Let me double check specifically, here. I believe it was Lieutenant General (inaudible). Let me -- let me double check specifically the commander. My understanding was it was Lieutenant General (inaudible).

Q: I also wanted to know why -- I think -- I think you said in your statement it only affects the U.S. Navy, it doesn't affect the U.S. Army or Air Force in Japan. Why would that be?

MR. COOK: Again, this was a decision made by the -- the commander. This latest incident involved a Navy sailor and I think the commander was making the most appropriate decision they felt with regard to this particular incident and the message to send to -- to forces in Okinawa in Japan. Again, send the most appropriate message not only to those forces, but also to the -- to the Japanese people and to the Japanese government about the seriousness with which we take this.

Q: And on sub Tennessee, it's been a few weeks now since the unsafe encounter with the Chinese and the U.S. Navy P3. I've seen some reports that there has -- the Department of Defense has a video. Do you have video of that? Can you confirm that? And do you plan on releasing that video?

MR. COOK: I believe there are images from -- from this encounter, but if -- if and when we decide to release that material, we'll let you know.

Yes, Tara?

Q: One follow-up on Okinawa. Given that this latest incident happened when Japan was already in a national period of mourning, how concerned is the Pentagon that this will affect the military footprint in Okinawa, that this could have long-term consequences for military-to-military relations?

MR. COOK: The secretary met with his counterpart, Defense Minister Nakatani. And I think the secretary remains confident that we'll continue to be able to work closely with the Japanese government trying to address concerns they have, as he did in the course of his conversation with Minister Nakatani.

These serious incidents that we take very seriously, understand the concerns on the part of the Japanese people and the people of Okinawa. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to work with our ally, Japan, to resolve their concerns and to make sure these kinds of events do not happen in the future. I think the secretary feels good about his conversation with Minister Nakatani, and I think, again, the efforts of our forces and our commanders in Japan to try and address those concerns we certainly hope will continue to -- to keep the relationship in a positive -- in the positive place it's been for years.

Q: Was there a follow-up phone call? Because didn't this incident happen after the secretary's meeting with General Nakatani?

MR. COOK: There have been extensive conversations between U.S. military leaders and of course diplomatic leaders in Japan over this. And we've expressed our deep regrets over this incident.

Jamie?

Q: Could you give us any update on General Nicholson's recommendations for Afghanistan? Has he made the recommendations? Are they in the building? Can you give us any idea where that stands?

MR. COOK: Just I would say, I know this is something that came up last week with General Cleveland. It's important to remember that since General Nicholson first took over, he has had regular conversation with the secretary, with the chain of command here. And so this has been an ongoing conversation. And so -- and this is going to be a continuing conversation.

So I don't want you to get too focused on a deadline of something that's a daily assessment of what's going on in Afghanistan. But I think it is fair to say that -- that General Nicholson has shared his views with the secretary and the chain of command, and there will be obviously a significant discussion going forward as to how to approach these issues in the future, how to approach the -- the security situation in Afghanistan the most appropriate way.

But when there's decisions and things to make known, obviously the commander in chief will have a big say on that.

Q: Are you sort of steering us away from the idea that they would be sort of one document or set of recommendations that came at a 90-day period, and that this has been more of a process where recommendations have been shared over a period of time? And we shouldn't be looking for one big --

MR. COOK: I think this is -- I think that's -- again, General Nicholson has been having this conversation with the secretary, as you would expect, since he first took over as commander. And he has been able to share his thoughts with the secretary throughout the course of that conversation. And he has also provided specific recommendations to the secretary, but this is an iterative process, as you would imagine, given the changing circumstances on a regular basis in Afghanistan, and as General Nicholson has gotten more up to speed himself on the situation and been able to travel more of the country.

Q: Just one last quick follow-up. So, at this point, are these discussions occurring here at the Pentagon? Or have the recommendations been shared with the White House at this point?

MR. COOK: I'll just leave it, Jamie, that these have been communicated with the chain of command. And this is a conversation that is ongoing. And so, again, I won't -- you shouldn't be fixated on any one piece of paper, but about a larger conversation about Afghanistan and the most appropriate role for us to play in Afghanistan.

Q: Can I just follow up on that very briefly?

MR. COOK: Sure.

Q: While it's in there -- but of course, there is the calendar. And if there is a recommendation or discussion to be had about changing with the current understanding, maybe, of maintaining current -- of the troop level drawdown schedule in Afghanistan, you do have to come to a decision at some point, so you can earmark additional troops to rotate in, rotate out.

So, at what point on the calendar, in fact, do decisions have to be made about changing what the current understanding is of the troop presence in Afghanistan?

MR. COOK: So, I was hoping we'd -- those decisions will be made --

Q: But do you have a sense of when?

MR. COOK: Those decisions will be made in a timely fashion, Barbara, reflecting the circumstances on the ground. And -- and with -- in advance of whatever is decided.

So, it is -- it is a process that, again, is going to be determined by factors on the ground, these conversations between the commander and the secretary, and the leadership here. And of course, the -- Chairman Dunford, as well.

And so.

Q: I think you mentioned the situation, and if I heard you right, then Afghanistan changes every day.

So, what's the level of concern that you might actually need additional troops?

MR. COOK: Barbara, there will be decisions made -- these conversations, these discussions are ongoing. And General Nicholson will continue to provide his best military advice to the secretary, to his chain of command.

And based on that, based on the conversations, obviously the secretary will have with the president, there will be appropriate decisions made. But we're not in a position right now to make those announcements.

Laurent.

Q: Yeah, thank you. Coming back to Syria, have the U.S. prepared any sort of guidelines for the moment, where the SDF might come into contact with the Syrian government forces near Raqqa?

MR. COOK: Those -- we are fighting -- our support is for the -- those forces fighting ISIL. And so, I'm going to leave it to the Syrian regime to speak for itself, but we continue to support those forces that are taking the fight to ISIL.

And we don't see any reason at this point why there's --

Q: But the contact was made when these troops are in view of each -- you know, what happens?

MR. COOK: We haven't seen that happen. We haven't seen that happen yet. But our focus remains, and their focus remains on the fight for ISIL, fight against ISIL. And we will continue to support our forces, those local forces that are taking the fight, the groups that we have been working with for some time.

And they know that the engagement they have with the United States, with the coalition, is specific to the fight against ISIL.

Q: I'm not sure exactly how you consider the forces, the Syrian forces. Do you consider them as to be the legitimate forces of Syria? Or is it some kind of other consideration?

MR. COOK: Well, we've made our -- we've made our views known about the need for a diplomatic and political resolution to the fight in Syria.

And I think that's crystal clear from the start. But our military focus here is specific to ISIL, and will remain so.

I've got time for two more. Yeah.

Q: Just on Libya, there have been reports over the weekend that -- (inaudible) -- forces have moved on ISIL positions near Sirte, captured a major air field -- I think it was on Sunday.

Can you provide any details as far as what participation support U.S. forces in Benghazi and -- (inaudible) -- have been providing these -- these Libyan fighters as they move towards -- pushing out ISIL from that area?

MR. COOK: I'll -- just say what I've said previously about the small number of U.S. forces that have provide -- that have been making contact with -- with groups on the ground in Libya. There has been no training, advising or assisting mission there.

Again, it's been no training, advising or assisting mission there. Again, it's been a question making those contacts. But we have seen those developments and, obviously, we think it is a good thing that those forces have been able to dislodge ISIL in the Libya and it's something we'll continue to watch closely, certainly as it bolsters the government there in Libya as it takes shape.

Q: (inaudible) -- support for the air cover that's being provided by regional partners for the Libyan forces moving into Sirt.

MR. COOK: Our role in Libya has been as I described it.

Yes, final question.

Q: As the Senate gets set to pick up the debate on the Defense Authorization Act, what're the top priorities, do you feel they're going to be met and what are some of the concerns as they -- as they set to debate this?

MR. COOK: Obviously this is an important debate and the secretary looks forward to trying to work out a Defense Authorization Bill that -- that we can we can support. The most important thing, and the secretary has made this point clear, of course, is -- is budget certainty that is required.

He's -- made his views well known about the approach in the House Armed Services Committee and feels that it is critically important for this department for our war-fighters to have certainty going forward, that there is significant value in and of itself in maintaining that budget certainly going forward.

There are individual provisions within these bills that we've made known we have some issues with, but we remain hopeful that we would be able to work these out in the coming weeks and that legislative process is underway and we'll continue to make our -- our views known on particular provisions in the legislation overall, but this is important legislation and we, again, remain hopeful that we can work these issues out.

There are certain aspects of these, both the House and Senate bills, that we certainly have concerns with and we'll make those views known.

Q: (inaudible) -- specifically are there -- what would be the top concerns you would have?

MR. COOK: Again, they're -- they're a number of issues, whether these are large pieces of legislation. Obviously, the secretary's biggest concern with the HASC bill was the way they approached the question of OCO funding and he was very concerned about the impact that would have on war-fighters in the future and that this was a risk to war-fighters in the future of that approach.

He was thankful that the Senate has chosen not to approach the -- the budget issue in the same way and he's made that known to -- to Chairman McCain and there are some aspects of the Senate bill that, obviously, he has concerns with.

He's expressed concerns, for example, with the approach with -- a reform to the AT&L -- to the acquisition and logistics -- and his view that that would perhaps do more harm than good.

So these are -- that's just one example. There are others in -- within their specifics that we'll wait to get into, but it hasn't yet hit the floor, as I understand it, and again, there will be a statement of administration position when it does so and you will be able to hear in greater detail at that point individual provisions that we have problems with.

But the secretary remains optimistic that we will be able -- that we'll be able to work these issues out and at the end of the day have a -- authorization bill that we're comfortable supporting and he made that view known even over the weekend with senators in Singapore.

So, all right. Thanks very much.

http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/792359/



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