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Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook August 31, 2016

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


PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody.

I don't have anything off the top, so happy to go to your questions. Lita?

Q: Hi, Peter. I'm wondering if you can clear up some things about al-Adnani and his reported death. Can you say at this point whether or not the Pentagon is more certain that the airstrike killed him and any details about that? And also, could you address the latest claims by Russia that its airstrike -- a Russian airstrike in Aleppo Province killed 40 militants, including him? Can you help us clear up the confusion here?

MR. COOK: Let me -- let me try my best. First off, let me just say off the top that Adnani's removal from the battlefield, as we said yesterday, would be a very good thing. This is someone who has been a senior leader in ISIL. He's been responsible for ISIL's external plotting and directly responsible for recruiting foreign fighters. Also been responsible for encouraging attacks against the west, against civilians and military personnel in the west. He's been a chief spokesman, as you know, the mouthpiece for ISIL.

So again, his elimination would be a significant blow to ISIL, significant blow to ISIL's leadership, and importantly, a significant step in reducing ISIL's ability to conduct external attacks outside of Iraq and Syria.

We have actively been looking for Adnani for some time, given his prominent role within the organization. And I'm not going to get into intelligence or operational matters, but we have already confirmed for you all that we conducted a precision strike yesterday targeting Adnani near al-Bab, Syria. And we are still assessing the results of that strike.

Now, with regard to the Russians, we have no information to support Russia's claim that they also carried out a strike against Adnani. And I would just note that from the start, Russia, as you know, has spent most of its time, its military campaign supporting and propping up the Assad regime. It has not devoted much, if any, effort that we're aware of targeting ISIL's leadership. And at the same time, we have not seen the Russian military campaign use precision weaponry on a regular basis as well.

If that's changing, that would be a good thing. But again, we have no information at this time to support the claim that they also conducted a strike in this way.

Q: You are certain- the U.S. is certain that Adnani was in the vehicle that the U.S. targeted. Is that…

MR. COOK: I'm not going to -- we have a rigorous process, Lita, as you know, that we follow here. We're going to follow that process. I know what ISIL itself has said. I know what the Russians have said. We don't trust -- we're not going to be satisfied simply to trust ISIL and the Russians on this when we go through our process.

Q: Do you know if Russia was conducting airstrikes in the same area? They're saying sort of a different kind of – regional - Aleppo province, small towns such as al-Bab. Do you have any sense of whether Russia and the U.S. were conducting strikes in the same area?

MR. COOK: I can just tell you what I said before. We have no information to support Russia's claim that it carried out a strike against Adnani.

Yes, Idrees?

Q: Just to follow up, when the U.S. did take the airstrike, did it let the Russians or the Syrians know to clear the airspace?

MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into operational details for this. This is a strike, again a precision strike that we carried out, after extensive review and a very deliberate process. And so we -- we conducted the strike, as we have other strikes against high-value targets.

Q: The communication channel between the Russians and the Americans -- was that ever used when this -- or has the -- was it used when this strike took place or before?

MR. COOK: I'm not aware that it was. I can't say for certain. I haven't asked that question.

Q: If I could quickly ask about Turkey and the YPG. In the past 24 hours, have you seen any hostility between the two sides?

MR. COOK: In the last 24 hours, my understanding is we continued to see calm in northern Syria, which we think is a good thing. And again, we continue to work very closely with our coalition partner and ally, Turkey, in trying to address their concerns about the situation. Likewise, we continue to work with our partners in Syria to try and keep the focus where it should be, and that is on the common enemy we all share, and that's ISIL.

Q: Yesterday, the Pentagon said they were establishing a communication channel for de-confliction. Would you describe what that communication channel is? And how is it different from what you have already?

MR. COOK: I'm not actually going to get into the details of how that is being conducted. But I think as you got a sense from General Votel, we are in constant communication with our partners, with our coalition members. And in this particular instance, we're using that communication, the various lines of communication we have to try and address the situation, address the concerns that -- that, again, some of our partners and allies have.

Q: I'm trying to figure out, is this a new communication that you're opening or is this part of the communications you already have?

MR. COOK: I think it's fair to say, and I think you got a sense of this from General Votel, that we have stepped up our efforts to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of our partners and members of the coalition, and that is above and beyond what we've been doing previously, given the sensitivity of this situation and the importance, once again, of keeping everyone focused on what matters most, and that is keeping the pressure on ISIL on as many fronts as possible. And that's what we're doing.

Q: Is this part of CJTF OIR or is this sort of unilateral between the Turks and the Kurds and you?

MR. COOK: I -- I think --

Q: (Off-mic.)

MR. COOK: Again, I'll just sort of echo what General Votel said. This is in conjunction with the coalition effort in Syria.

Yes, Jim?

Q: Peter, just briefly back on the Russia claim, a defense official described it to me as "laughable." Are you calling Russian claim to have taken out Adnani false?

MR. COOK: I'm just telling you, Jim, that we don't have any information to support what the Russians have put forward.

Q: On Turkey, you -- you have these odd conditions where you had U.S.-backed forces on opposite sides of the battlefield for a time. Beyond the kind of short-tern cease-fire, if you want to call it that, what's the long-term plan to clear up the confusion on the battlefield, particularly as Turkey -- with regard to Turkey's role?

MR. COOK: Jim, we're going to continue to work with -- with our ally and coalition partner Turkey. General Votel addressed this yesterday. This is a -- this is a partner we work with closely on a whole range of fronts, including specifically in the -- the counter-ISIL fight.

And this is an important area to the coalition effort, this border area, and we're going to continue to work with Turkey to try and address their concerns -- their legitimate concerns about what's happening along the border. At the same time, keep the focus on ISIL and not be distracted at this -- this really important moment in the campaign, and that's -- we want to keep everyone as laser-focused on ISIL at this moment as we can.

And I think General Votel and our other commanders who are talking to those coalition partners on a regular basis, a daily basis, are -- are doing that and we're hopeful they're going to continue to make progress to keep that focus on ISIL.

Q: Have the Turks communicated to you that keeping the Kurds to the east of the Euphrates is sufficient to keep them happy?

MR. COOK: We will continue to talk to the Turks. I'll leave the Turkish government to speak for itself, but we've -- that's a commitment that the SDF forces have made and we believe it's a commitment they're honoring.

Q: Finally, I wonder how you would characterize the relat- I know that you're talking to each other, you're NATO allies, as we know. But there have been a lot of public spats between the U.S. and Turkey, you know, regarding the coup, but the status of Incirlik, et cetera, and leading up to now, this -- this latest disagreement.

What's the state of the U.S.-Turkish military relationship right now?

MR. COOK: This is a -- a stalwart ally of -- of NATO -- a NATO ally. This is a coalition member. This is a country and military that we've had decades of collaboration with. And Jim, there is a lot of residual history here, good history between the United States and Turkey, between our military, this building and the Turkish military.

And we are obviously trying to -- to make sure that those bonds, those ties, continue here as strong as they've been in the past. And there are some challenges with these sensitivities, we understand that. We're working closely with Turkey trying to address those concerns. But they are a vital, vital member of NATO, of course, and a vital member of the -- of the coalition against ISIL, and their help and support for that has been critically important.

And that's why we're working so closely with Turkey to make sure we can address these concerns and keep the focus on ISIL which, again, is the common enemy we all share. And we are at a moment right now where applying that pressure not just in Syria, not just along the border area there, but in Iraq and elsewhere, Libya, Afghanistan, critically important.

Carla?

Q: Thank you, Peter. Going back to al-Adnani, was that an unmanned or manned strike? And in addition, can you say in addition to the driver and al-Adnani, who else was in the vehicle?

MR. COOK: Carla, I'm not going to get into operational details about this strike. We'll continue our review going through the -- our normal process, and again, this was a precision strike that we carried out but I'm not going to get into more details.

Yes, Thomas?

Q: Peter, back on Adnani, there was a kind of a timeline discrepancy. The Islamic State came out and said that Adnani had been killed and then the Pentagon came out with a statement and said that it had targeted a senior leader and then refined that as the night went on.

Was the intended target of this strike throughout this entire process -- obviously it's a deliberate strike, you said precision intelligence went into it. Was the intended target of the strike Adnani?

MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into every -- all the operational intelligence details. We targeted, conducted a precision strike against Adnani. That was our intended target. And again, we're going through the process right now of trying to determine if this strike was as successful as we hope it was.

Yes? Sorry. Go ahead.

Q: Just a follow-up. You know, the -- you have this friction between the Russians claiming they struck him 16 miles to the west of Al-Bab, which is a Kurdish front line, you know. And kind of -- I know you weren't really answering any questions about if there was any Russian evidence of a strike, but as far as, you know, you said, we have a coordination cell that de-conflicts airspace.

Does the U.S. have any evidence that there was Russian aircraft in that area around the same time that we were? Because obviously, if they said they struck at the same time in the same place or around it, we would have to de-conflict airspace.

MR. COOK: Yeah, you know, my -- I'm not going to speak for the Russian Ministry of Defense and their air activities. I can just tell you what I said before, Thomas, and that is we have no information to support the Russian claim that they carried out a strike against Adnani.

Q: What do you mean when you say no information? I mean, there is no evidence that there was any Russian activity in that area at all?

MR. COOK: I'm just going to leave it at that. I'm not going to get into intelligence matters. I think you can appreciate that. That's as far as I can go.

Goyal?

Q: Thanks. Peter, this was a great week between U.S. and India, our military-to-military relationships are concerned, major defense partnership among others, and you have seen the press conference with the defense minister and the secretary.

My question is at least the neighbors of India, two neighbors, China and Pakistan, are not happy with this special relationship military-to-military between U.S. and India and also the partnership that was agreed and signed and all these elements.

So what understanding -- or where do we go from here? Because if they are not happy or they don't support and they're against the agreement between -- or the relations between two countries?

MR. COOK: I think I'll just echo what the secretary said here with -- with his counterpart, with Minister Parrikar. And this is -- this is a relationship that -- that certainly has grown. It is a relationship that we believe enhances the security both of the United States and of India and of the region.

And -- and there should be no reason for others to be concerned about that relationship- it adds to security in the region. We see this as an opportunity to strengthen our ties with India, our defense ties. And that those enhanced relations, those that enhance coordination, represents a security enhancement for the region as a whole.

And again, these are -- these are positive steps that we're taking with another country that shares our values, and -- and in many respects, again, this represents an opportunity to enhance an already strong relationship.

Q: And finally, how long do you think it will take to implement (inaudible) -- mentioned -- (inaudible) -- when now -- (inaudible) – Prime Minister Modi and President Obama will be in China for the G-20. Do you think all these issues will be discussed there?

MR. COOK: I'll leave it to the White House and the prime minister's office to discuss their plans for the G-20. And I would echo what Minister Parrikar said about the logistics agreement took some time to finally be realized, and I'm not going to put a calendar deadline on these other agreements.

But obviously, we look forward to working closely with our Indian counterparts to try and move this relationship forward.

Yes, Lalit.

Q: I wanted to ask on the logistic agreement that was signed early this week. What is the significance of this agreement? Is it a routine agreement or is it something unique between India and the U.S. which helped you to sign this logistics agreement? How is this going to benefit the U.S.?

MR. COOK: Well, you heard both the secretary and the minister discuss the agreement. But this is -- this is an agreement that is consistent with logistics agreements that we have with literally about 100 other countries. So, I don't want to call it routine, but it is something -- there is a sort of formal template that we have done this with many other countries.

And the up-side for both countries is this is a logistics agreement that allows us, when we conduct operations, for example, to be able to engage in refueling of a ship much more easily than is possible now. The agreement is -- it's an agreement that is a mutual agreement. It allows determinations to be made on a case-by-case basis whether each country would be able to reciprocate with logistical support.

But we just think it will make the conduct of our operations with the Indian military that much more efficient and effective. And again, it's very consistent with agreements we have with other countries.

Q: I just wanted to quickly ask you a follow up on what -- (inaudible) -- said. (inaudible) -- as to -- (inaudible) -- individual and -- (inaudible), the Chinese official media in which they have expressed concerns about this logistics agreement, and they have said that this is not going to help India -- help address India's help address their security need. How do you see the Chinese statements -- (inaudible)?

MR. COOK: Well, again, I would speak to the positive nature about this agreement, which is, again, to enhance the security relationship between our two countries, and we think enhance the security in the region. This is a country that shares our values; should not be -- this agreement and our relationship with India should not be cause for concern for others. This is an important relationship, an important country in the world, and one that the secretary I think feels very confident that will grow in the future and have even more benefits both for the United States and for India and for the region as a whole.

Q: Finally, the CNN said something this week after the meeting that Secretary Carter's new BFF or best friend forever is Minister Parrikar. Do you agree with -- (inaudible)?

MR. COOK: I would agree that Minister Parrikar and the secretary have an excellent relationship, and I know the secretary very much enjoys his engagements with Minister Parrikar. They have an excellent working relationship, it is a very business-like relationship and I think we've seen through their engagements over the past year- more the benefits of that close relationship. We're seeing tangible results, and I think part of that is it's just an indication of the strong working relationship they have.

Kristina?

Q: Thanks. At this point, can you rule out that Russia was responsible for the Adnani strike?

MR. COOK: Kristina, I can just tell you, again, that we conducted a precision strike targeting Adnani and we don't have any information at this point to support Russia's claims that they carried out the strike. And that's what I can share with you at this moment and we're still assessing the results of our strike.

Q: Then why do you think Russia is claiming responsibility?

MR. COOK: You'd have to ask the Russians that.

Q: And not the actual reason, for which I would probably ask the Russians, but why does this department think the Russians are claiming responsibility for this?

MR. COOK: I'm going to speak -- I'm going to speak to what we've done and what we've engaged in. And as you know, precision strikes against ISIL leaders is something the coalition has been very focused on, very successful at over the last few months. This has been a key part of our campaign, and again, we've been very successful at it.

And I'm not going to -- I'm not going to wager a guess as to why they might have a motive to engage in this and to discuss this, and maybe it's just a misunderstanding on their part.

But we're going to continue to target ISIL leaders as we have because we think it has taken a toll on the organization as a whole. It's an important means by which we can weaken ISIL and we're going to continue to do that. Yes?

Q: Yes, one is a follow-up and another question. The follow-up is that on this -- India has been long -- you now, you remember the -- it was a mon-aligned movement and then it was in '70s with the Russians. So do you think that this agreement brings it to the U.S. forward or you think it's just another country to that 100 plus addition?

MR. COOK: Well, this is an important relationship between the United States and India. It's something that builds on our existing defense relationship and it's a basis on which we can conduct operations in an important part of the world, and I think we should look at it in that light.

This is another step forward for the U.S.-India defense relationship and the secretary is optimistic that there can be additional steps in the future. There are many mutual security concerns that we and India have, and this is an opportunity to try and address some of those concerns. At the same time, address regional concerns that both countries share, and again, could play a role in reducing tensions and addressing some of those concerns on a broader basis.

Q: The other question is that I'd asked you earlier and that time you referred me to the Indian government. The Indian minister of state, M.J. Akbar, was in Syria and now, Indian Defense Minister Parrikar was here. So was there -- the subject discussed -- was there -- did Mr. Parrikar give a readout of that meeting to Secretary Carter? Because just saying that no it never came up, I don't know how many of us will believe, but you know, he was --

MR. COOK: I'm not aware that it came up.

Q: Okay, thank you.

MR. COOK: Carla, I'm sorry, you already had a question. I'll come (back at the end.

Thomas.

Q: Just going back to what you were talking about earlier about the calm in northern Syria that you've seen in recent hours, days, would you say this is indicative of a truce? Or is it more a reflection of the fact that the two forces perhaps haven't been in the same location? Because Turkey today is being quite vehement in denying that there's any kind of agreement brokered. Yesterday, Colonel Thomas said there'd been a loose agreement reached between all sides in this conflict.

So just, perhaps, could you give us some clarity about what the status is of the forces there and what the communication channels are between them?

MR. COOK: I -- it is a reflection of what we see on the ground right now. And again, we think that calm is a good thing. And we hope it gives everyone the opportunity to -- to focus again on the -- on the central issue, and that is ISIL. And so, it reflects what we see on the ground right now.

Q: Yeah, but the calm -- when you say the calm is a good thing. Like, what has precipitated the calm? Is it an agreement? Or is it -- is it enhanced communication? Or is it just the fact that they're not in the same place anymore?

MR. COOK: Well, certainly there have been, as you heard from General Votel, communications urging all the -- both Turkey and our local partners on the ground to try and address the -- ease some of the concerns and tensions and the clashes that we saw over the weekend.

And so we're hopeful -- I think General Votel expressed this -- that those communications have tried to ease those tensions and, again, get the focus back on ISIL. I'll leave it to the Turkish government to characterize it from their perspective, but we think there's an opportunity for everyone to stay focused on ISIL and to -- and the more we do that, the better for everyone, the sooner we accelerate the lasting defeat of ISIL, which is what we all want.

Q: You're not calling this an agreement... You're not saying this is an agreement or a truce of any kind?

MR. COOK: I'm just -- this is what's happening on the ground is a relative calm. It is -- we're not seeing the clashes we saw from this weekend, and we think that's a good thing.

Q: How -- (inaudible). There are reports that the United States has transferred -- (inaudible) -- special forces in between the fronts of -- Turkish fronts and -- (inaudible) fronts. Could you -- could you confirm or deny that?

MR. COOK: You know, I'm not going to describe the location of our special forces.

Q: From this podium, you have many times you have said, and also other U.S. spokespersons have expressed that the YPG is in a supportive role in and around Manbij, and then they will move back when the Manbij operation is complete. And then even last week, you have announced that some of the forces in Manbij, in and around Manbij, have been -- started -- have started to move back to the east of Euphrates.

But Turkey is saying that none of the military, you know, military elements of YPG have moved from Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates. Even PYD has also said itself that it's going to reinforce its forces in and around Manbij to challenge the Turkish and freeze the army move. Can you comment on this? You know, because these facts are contradicting what you have been saying from the beginning?

MR. COOK: I can tell you again that we – from what we're seeing on the ground, that the SDF has honored its commitments to move back east of the Euphrates.

As you know as well, we've been talking about there are pockets of resistance in Manbij. There are still clearing operations in Manbij. There are still IEDs that need to be dealt with, and there are some SDF forces. And my understanding is there are forces that are local to that area who are there doing some of those operations -- still conducting this operations.

But -- but the SDF forces in the main have moved east of the Euphrates and we believe they're honoring that commitment.

Q: (inaudible) -- the YPG itself as well?

MR. COOK: That's my understanding.

Q: And also -- well, some of the YPG posts have been taken over by the Free Syrian Army, and in this posts, some documents that showing the connection between YPG and PKK have been recovered. Also some ammunitions have been recovered from there which are claimed to be those of the American ammunitions that have been provided for the fight against ISIS.

MR. COOK: I'm not aware -- I'm not aware of those reports.

And again, we believe the SDF has honored the commitments made to us and you know about our support for local partner forces on the ground and that that's been something we've talked about at length. And again, this is a situation that is complicated and it's -- this is a situation where we've spoken directly with Turkey about what's going on.

We've also spoken directly with local partners on the ground, trying to express our views and our concerns about their activities and making sure that everyone stays focused on this central target here, and that should be ISIL. And we, again, will continue to encourage all the coalition members and partners to keep that focus.

Q: From the very beginning, you have been saying that you are providing ammunitions to the Syrian Arab Coalition. What extent you are sure that some of these ammunitions are not somehow transferred to PYD and YPG? Even PKK?

MR. COOK: We have no indication that that's happened. This is -- as you know, we've continued to supply ammunition to those groups. This is a transaction. We carefully monitor where that ammunition goes. And again, if people are not abiding by the agreements they have reached with us, then they're not going to get our equipment, and that's something we've made clear from the start and that's something we'll continue to push and demand of our partners on the ground.

Q: And my last question, sorry I'm -- (inaudible). There are other -- some other reports that during an offense on the Turkish and some other -- Free Syrian Army forces by ISIL, that the Turkish and the Free Syrian Army forces called for an air support, but the coalition declined to provide the air support because they thought maybe some PYD or YPG forces are included or involved in the conflict.

MR. COOK: I'm not aware of that instance. So I've got time for one more. Honestly, I have to be somewhere at 1:15, so.

Yes, (inaudible)?

Q: Thank you, Peter. Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that North Korea use nuclear preemptive and he will -- (inaudible) -- United States. Is there any contingence reason that the U.S. have planned to use nuclear -- (inaudible) -- North Korea?

MR. COOK: I'm sorry, say that last bit again?

Q: Nuclear attack on North Korea -- (inaudible) -- United States, will you use nuclear?

MR. COOK: Jenny, you know I'm not going to talk about strategic issues like that here. This is the provocative language we've heard from the North Koreans. It is something we've heard repeatedly from them and it does nothing to enhance security in that part of the world on the Korean Peninsula and it only raises tensions and does -- again, this is something that remains a concern to us. There's a reason we will continue to -- to stand by our ally, South Korea, and continue to take all the steps that we are taking to ensure the security not only of our South Korean allies, but the United States as well.

And we will continue to maintain that posture. And --

(Crosstalk.)

Q: (inaudible) -- President Obama mentioned -- (inaudible) -- and that you -- (inaudible) -- to use -- (inaudible) -- nuclear talks. This is a misconception in the message to Kim Jong Un. So…

MR. COOK: I think the message to Kim Jong Un should be clear about the United States' resolve with regard to not only our own defense, but the defense of our South Korean allies, our other allies in the region.

And again, provocative language we've gotten -- received from the North Koreans, the provocative actions from the North Koreans are not doing anything to ease tensions in that part of the world.

And we'd like to see steps taken to lower the temperature. And we're not seeing that right now with the North Koreans. So as a result, we're going to do what we need to do to make sure that the United States, again, remains protected from the threat of North Korea, and that our allies in the region do as well.

Thanks, everybody. I'm sorry. I've got to run.

http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/932087/



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