WASHINGTON, October 8, 2015 —
During a busy meeting today at NATO headquarters
in Brussels, defense ministers discussed Afghanistan, Russian activities in Syria,
and how NATO is adapting to meet future threats, Defense Secretary Ash Carter
said during a scheduled press conference.
Carter is in Belgium to attend the NATO Defense
Ministerial as part of a five-day trip to Europe featuring meetings with counterparts
in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Carter said, “We had, as we always do, direct,
substantive conversations about how we can better address the common challenges
we face and to reaffirm the enduring principles and great strength we share as
members of the alliance and as individual partners.”
On the sidelines of the meetings held in
Brussels today, Carter met with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian,
according to a Defense Department news release.
and Le Drian reaffirmed the importance of the enduring defense partnership
between the United States and France, and the two leaders discussed a range of
security issues, including Russian activities in Syria, and the need to
maintain the pace of counter-ISIL coalition operations, the release said.
thanked Le Drian for his leadership role in countering terrorism worldwide, the
Earlier this week, Carter visited Defense Minister
Pedro Morenes in Spain and Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti in Italy.
In both nations, he said, “I witnessed U.S.
troops working and training with their counterparts to meet the challenges
facing NATO's southern flank, including the ripple effects of [the Islamic
State in Iraq and the Levant] and state instability in North Africa and the
Two weeks ago he met with Norwegian Defense
Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide to discuss challenges in the north and east, and
tomorrow he’ll visit British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon in the United
There, he noted, the government recently
announced it will meet the pledge all NATO allies made last year to invest no
less than 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense.
On Afghanistan, Carter said the United States
is taking three actions.
The first is President Barack Obama’s March
decision to maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of this
year, and the second is to formulate options for 2016 and beyond, and adjust the
planned U.S. presence in Afghanistan based on current circumstances.
“I was pleased, very pleased, to hear
ministers of defense from our NATO allies reaffirm their commitment --
discussing not whether but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan. And of
course, that is also the view of the United States,” Carter said.
The third action involves the fiscal year
2017 defense budget, in which the secretary said he would include “critical
financial support to the Afghan national defense and security forces” to help
it sustain its current force levels of 352,000 troops in 2017 and beyond.
“I think it's widely understood that we
need to do an assessment. It's widely understood that the United States is
doing an assessment and, as other countries have, a number of countries today
indicated a willingness to change their own plans and posture,” the secretary
On Russia’s actions in Syria, Carter said
that, rather than engaging in a Syrian political transition, Russia has chosen
to continue its longstanding relationship with the Assad regime by committing
more military hardware capabilities and personnel to the fight there.
Instead of targeting ISIL, al-Nusra and
other terrorist organizations, Carter said that the Russians began striking other
kinds of targets within days of deploying their forces.
“I have said repeatedly over the last week
that we, the United States, believe this is a fundamental strategic mistake and
that it will inflame and prolong the Syrian civil war,” the secretary said.
He added, “We have not and will not agree
to cooperate with Russia so long as they continue to pursue this misguided
Russian forces also have violated Turkish
airspace, shot cruise missiles without warning from a ship in the Caspian Sea,
flown within a few miles of U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles, and initiated a joint
ground offensive with the Syrian regime, Carter said.
“This will have consequences for Russia
itself, which is rightfully fearful of attack upon Russia. And I also expect
that in coming days the Russians will begin to suffer casualties in Syria,” he added.
Going forward in Syria, Carter said, the
United States will prosecute the counter-ISIL air campaign in Syria at the same
pace and in the same battle space as it has since the campaign began.
“We will continue to support the moderate
Syrian opposition. We will seek an agreement with the Russians on professional
safety procedures for coalition pilots. And we will leave the door open for
Russia to rejoin the track toward a political transition in Damascus,” he said.
If Russia wants to end its international
isolation, it must stop its aggression in eastern Ukraine, end its occupation
and attempted annexation of Crimea, and live up to its commitments under the
Minsk agreements, Carter said.
There's a reason why the NATO alliance is
stronger than ever while Russia acts alone, he added.
“Our member nations share common values
reflected in the way we conduct ourselves. … We treat each other as equals and
take each other's interests into account. … That is the core of the NATO
alliance and the community of nations it brings together, and that is what we
shall all continue to do,” Carter said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)