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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Lieutenant General James L. Terry, commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve
February 23, 2015
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 LT. GEN. TERRY: All right. Well, it's my -- to all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, from all the different nations that are out there I think we have the -- representation from 14 different countries here that are a part of combined joint task force of Operation Inherent Resolve.


This is a huge day for us. On his sixth day at work our brand new secretary of defense for the United States is with us here today to provide some thoughts. He's got over three decades of service in the Department of Defense from policy and strategy to acquisition, and now to head the secretary of defense. Sir, thanks for being with us today, and everyone in this room is very interested in hearing your thoughts, and I'm sure they'll have some great questions for you. Thanks for being here.


(Applause.)


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thanks, General Terry, and thank you for what you're doing out here and for our working together over many years. And it's actually my fifth day on the job, but who's counting?


(Laughter.)


But that's important, because -- for you to know that what I said when I was confirmed by the Senate was the first thing I wanted to do was come here to this region to see you, to thank you, and to recognize you for the importance of what you're doing.


What you do here in Kuwait is critical to the campaign against ISIL, and I know the weight of effort here in Kuwait, but I also want to recognize the nearly 10,000 Americans throughout the region, not just here in Kuwait, but all of you for your role in this critical campaign. It's critical for the region, it's critical for our nation's security, it's critical for the world.


So, I'm ending my first week on duty here in Kuwait, and the -- my first and principle purpose is to thank you, all of you. And that means not just our folks, our American folks, but I see also some of our coalition partners, and I want to recognize them. We're grateful. Your presence signifies what's true, which is this is a campaign that in which the world values and future are bound together.


And it makes sense that numbers of countries participate in it because our opponent is offensive to all of us. So, I -- this is true for American friends, but also our coalition friends, when you leave here this afternoon, or if you go, wherever you're going this evening, whenever you communicate back home to your family, to whoever's close to you, whether it's a spouse, whether it's parents, kids, a best friend, would you please tell them today that I thanked you for what you're doing.


And I do that not only from my own heart, but on behalf of the entire Department of Defense and the entire country. Thank you for what you're doing. We think of you every day. You're what I wake up to everyday. You're my most important responsibility, and the thing I care about most in the whole world is you. So, thank you. Thank you for being here.


And in addition to thanking you, I've come here also to begin to make my own assessment as secretary of defense of the campaign to counter ISIL and our efforts here. And accordingly, I'm convening today here in Kuwait our ambassadors and military leaders from the region to sit around one table and talk together about all of the dimensions of this campaign, all of its dimensions, all of its underpinnings, military, and non military, and that's important, because the campaign to counter ISIL has many dimensions to it, and I want to make sure I get input from our leaders and those who have experience in all those dimensions.


ISIL's not just a threat to Iraq and Syria, as you know. It's a larger threat to the region. And it's going to require us to work across countries, and with the U.S. government, and all the rest of your governments represented here across the different instruments by which we and our people express ourselves and take action.


So, it's -- got military dimension to it, but it's got a very important nonmilitary dimension as well, and I want to make sure that we knit them together in our thinking and our action. And what we discuss here and what I learn here will be important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign, and as I help the president to lead it.


This is the kind thinking that I need, kind of thinking that he needs so that we can lead this mission, this mission which is going to require commitment, it's going to require patience, it's going to require the building of the capacity of local forces, because ultimately they must take the lead and take responsibility. Because if we're to have a defeat of ISIL, which we must and will, it needs to be a lasting defeat. And the way to make it lasting is to ensure that there are those who can take responsibility for their societies and their territory after the campaign against ISIL has rid them of this scourge.


So, we're already very ably --and General Austin's here, who’s leading the charge for us, another old friend and very respected military leader of the United States – and under his leadership we're pressing ISIL very ably from Kuwait and elsewhere, and we will deliver lasting defeat, make no doubt.


And you, when that happens, you will have done it. You will -- it will be your achievement. We will be in your debt and knowing that, and knowing what it means for you to be here and to make the sacrifices that you're making, you need to know that you have my gratitude. And what that really means is you have the gratitude of all of the citizens of the United States for what you're doing.


So, make sure you send an e-mail, make a phone call, something tonight and say, hey, Ash Carter was over here today, first week on the job, and the main thing he said to me, each and every one of you, and he wanted to make sure that I passed it on to you, my family, my loved ones, is thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank them for allowing you to be here. We don't take it for granted. It means a great deal to us and it really comes from the heart. Thank you.


Now, we're going to have an opportunity to -- for you to ask me whatever's on your mind, and -- or share a point of view, or an opinion, something you think -- you think I ought to know. We'll do that for a little while, and then I want to have the opportunity to look each and every one of you in the eye, shake your hand, tell you thank you personally to you. We'll get a picture of that, and then you can send that back home as proof that you are appreciated and what you're doing is appreciated.


Okay, so if you raise your hands, I'll call on someone, and have at it.


Yes, sir.


Q: Sergeant First Class (inaudible). Sergeant First Class (inaudible), 13th Sustainment Command, expeditionary.


Mr. Secretary, how would you assess the military's current state of resiliency, and what are your thoughts for the way ahead?


SEC. CARTER: Thanks, and -- if you're speaking to the U.S. military, I mean, first of all, this is the finest fighting force the world has ever known that you are part of. And our duty is to make sure it stays that way, and I think your question gets at what are some of the challenges involved in keeping us the best.


And let me just name a few of those challenges and how I will be trying to help you all meet them. The heart of what makes us excellent is our people. That's what -- I mean, we have technology, we have lots of other things, but what we have are wonderful, wonderful people, you. That's -- it's important that the generation that comes after you be as good as your are, and that means that the conditions of service are attractive to our very best so that they join, that they're attractive so that those of you who have joined stay with us. So, that's one thing.


We've got to continue to make it a wonderful career commitment to join our military. Another one I'd mention, which you're all very familiar with and you're probably as sick of it as I am, is the debate over our budget and sequester. And I'm sick of it, because it's been going on a few years. And I'm sick of it because it has no real cause other than gridlock.


It's not that we -- that -- that the world's problems have been solved and we can afford not to pay what we need for defense, it's not like we've had some brilliant new idea that doesn't require us to have a -- military anymore, it's not like peace has broken out in the world. And it's not like our society is -- and I'd say this, by the way, to our coalition partners as well, it's not like our societies can't afford what it takes to protect themselves.


And it's the most important thing in the world, because if you don't have security, you can't have anything else. And our job is to make our society safe so that our people can raise their children, live their lives, dream their dreams, in safety. It's the most important thing, so you can't mess around with it. You have to take it really seriously. And it -- the -- the turbulence, the uncertainty, and the gridlock associated with our budget is another concern of mine.


But we'll get through all this. I'm determined that we'll get through it and we'll -- we'll get our heads straight again on this. And we'll continue to be the best.


Q: (inaudible) and could you speak to the 3,000 -- (inaudible). Seems like -- (inaudible).


SEC. CARTER: The question was about the 3,000 BOG [boots on the ground] limit. Very good question. I don't have a good answer for you right now. That's one of the things I want to climb on top of, a very reasonable question. What do we need -- goes -- gets to what do we need, and what is a BOG limit, and what's that for anyway? What's the purpose of having a BOG -- limit?


And what I would say to you at this point is we'll do what it takes to defeat ISIL. As I said, we will, but we'll do what it takes to get success here.


Q: Excuse me, sir. Lieutenant Colonel Jackson, (inaudible), Sustainment Division.


Sir, there's been a lot of discussion in the news here lately where the White House has had to defend their position on not calling this a war against the jihadis or an Islamic extremist.


Are there any efforts, sir, currently ongoing to address the characterization of not only ISIL, but also our current efforts?


SEC. CARTER: Yeah, it's -- it's a very, very good -- very good question, and I think that -- I know that President Obama convened a conference at which a number of people from the region, I've spoken to actually some of them, attended, and I think it's -- it's important to raise this question, because it -- another way of saying it is what are the roots of this kind of terrorism?


And to be careful to distinguish -- not to paint with too broad a brush the Muslim world, and I think that's fundamental point the president's making. I think it's very sensible. And -- so, first of all, one has to say that, and he said that very clearly, and I think -- and that's -- that's good.


A harder question to answer, but one we really must ask ourselves is what are the roots of this kind of -- of terrorism? Why -- why does this happen? We see these young people who get all excited over an ideology, and a vision. What's going on in their heads? And I -- I think this requires some reflection on our part.


The first of the most recent eras of terrorism was kind of internet fuel. This is -- this ISIL thing is social media fuel. It's different, it's got a different kind of technological enabling to it. And last -- so, I think we need to think and reflect on what it is and make sure that we're -- we're combating it in all the dimensions in which it needs to be combated.


One last reflection on it, which is that, you know, you all have given your lives to the protection of your fellow citizens. And there will always be the few who have a destructive attitude, and they may have some completely different ideology. There are other kinds of terrorists. So -- and my point is that it'll -- it is an important responsibility of those, all of us, who have made protecting our fellow citizens our calling, to understand that there will be this problem of -- of -- among all of the kinds of threats, and all the kinds of problems we have to deal with, and there are many of them, terrorism is just one, but this problem of the few against the many -- will always -- will continue to be one of the things we have to worry about-- those of us who provide security.


So, I thought it was thought-provoking, your question's thought provoking, and I think that president is very sensible to say, hey, don't paint too wide a brush with respect to the world of Islam. And, also -- but, also, essentially, importantly, to raise the question, what's this about, where's it coming from, so that we're combating it in all the dimensions in which -- it needs to be combated.


Okie-doke (sic), let's see. Yes.


Q: Sir, good morning. Major Rick Frank from the combined joint task force.


What would it take, sir, for you to recommend to the president of the United States U.S. military boots on the ground in the direct combat role against Daesh?


SEC. CARTER: The -- like any tool we use in -- to complete defeat of ISIL, I think we need to be convinced that any use of our forces is necessary, is going to be sufficient, that we've though through not just the first step, but the second step, and the third step. So, those are the things in respect to that question and every question that I'm given as secretary of defense about the use of force.


I want to make sure we've thought everything through and that we have a -- a plan that leads to success -- and I – I’m -- stressing, not just in connection with this, your particular question, but just in general, we have to make sure that we think things through several steps in advance.


And that's difficult to do, it's one of the reasons why I'm here today, to talk to our political and military, you know, our -- our people who have the most experience in this region and can help me think things through several steps ahead, so that if we do ask you to do something, we're asking you to do something that's gonna (sic) succeed, and that makes sense, and that -- where in it is necessary for you to take the risks that you're -- you're taking. That's my responsibility.


Thank you all very much, now please come on up and, again, I want to look each of you in the eye and thank you individually. And for anybody who's -- who's getting filmed, and so I hope that out there in the whole region, all of the -- our forces who are participating in this are also able to get the message from me.


Thank you.