STAFF: (off mic) so you all can see me.
So good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Kathy Turner, the chief public affairs adviser. General Odierno's going to be in in a couple of seconds. He's going to start with an intro. He'll say his introduction. He'll go to Lita for first question, and then after that, I ask that you guys raise your hand and identify yourself. He's going to call on everybody for Q&A, and then I'll let you know when it's last question.
Q: (off mic) (Laughter.)
GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO: Good afternoon.
First, before I start, I want to send out my prayers to the family of Master Sergeant Andrew McKenna who was killed in Afghanistan this week: a member of special -- 7th Special Forces Group. That reminds us that we have our soldiers around the world doing dangerous and important things every single day. And that's a reminder of the sacrifice that they make, so my first -- my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
I first want to thank the press for what I believe to be a positive relationship over the last 15 years mainly for me as I have worked around the world and here in the Pentagon, I really do appreciate the work that you do. I appreciate the candor and dedication that you have, and especially how you've covered the Army in many different parts of the world.
I've always found it important that the press raises issues, keeps us honest, helps us to work through tough issues that we have, and I truly appreciate the relationship that we've had. And I've always enjoyed the time I've had with the press, so thank you very much for that.
So as I get ready to go out the door here, a couple points I'd like to make. I believe this nation's at an important inflection point, specifically regarding national security. Our security environment remains uncertain and dynamic, and we all know that based on what's going on in Eastern Europe with Russian aggression, Chinese military, increased investment in their military, increased aggression by China in the Pacific.
We continue to have a Middle East that's shrouded in increasing instability with the rise of ISIL: the underlying Sunni-Shia conflict that continues to boil in the Middle East, and I believe these are long-term problems that we're going to have to deal with for some -- for the foreseeable future. We continue to have to work our mission in Afghanistan to ensure that that government is able to survive and maintain itself for many years ahead, and it's important that we stay engaged in Afghanistan.
We have to be concerned with the growing movement of global terrorism, whether it be in North Africa, Central Africa, and other parts of the world. And as always, we have an unstable, unpredictable, provocative North Korea that we have to be concerned with.
So, as I just quickly summarized, there's a lot of issues out there, and I didn't name them all. Those are the major ones.
GEN. ODIERNO: So, the problem we have today is we have a dynamic environment where we have increasing requirements on our military, while we continue to have decreasing resources in our military. And this is of great concern to me personally as we continue to move forward.
And what I worry about is we are sacrificing our long-term viability of our military to meet current environmental requirements. What do I mean by that? I mean I worry about decreasing readiness over time. I worry about reduced modernization in our force and the impact that might have two, three, four, five years from now, because many of the problems that I just listed are going to be persistent problems: they are not ones that will be solved overnight.
There's a couple of things that we are doing in the Army, and I'd say in the last 18 months, we've been pretty aggressive at publishing several document that's helping us move to the future. We've published an Army vision, which is trying to give us a strategic advantage in the complex world that we live in and identify what are the unique roles the Army will play.
And there's really eight key characteristics that I see in a Army of the future. It must be an Army that's incredibly agile. We must be expert, and what I mean by that is leaders of great character, confidence, and commitment. We must be innovative. We must be interoperable with our allies, as well as other services and joint force. We must be expeditionary, we must be scalable, and tailorable in order to meet probably simultaneous requirements around the world, across several different continents.
We've published an Army operating concept that really looks to the future and what we need to look at in 2025 and beyond. We've -- we've identified some warfighting challenges that we'll continue to look at. And this will help us to synchronize and integrate our efforts as we decide what we want to do in modernization, what we need to do in developing our future leaders, and what we think is going to be required of them.
And we have to also look at new areas. We have significantly increased our investment in cyber, both in the force and in our -- our modernization technologies in that area.
We're developing new readiness models that will help us to deploy forces when needed on time, and we must increase our efficiency and our ability to deploy quickly. We have increased and developed -- published a new total force policy that uses the entire force in a way that we can sustain over the long period of time. So these are just a few of the things that are working now.
And with that, I'll open it up for questions.
Q: General, first of all, thank you for doing this. And I think we all appreciate the amount of time that you've spent both here at the podium and at smaller gatherings, roundtables, and all. And we certainly hope that your successor, and that you've encouraged your successor to do the same.
So, I just wanted to ask you about -- there are two women who appear as though they may be completing the Ranger course. We've been told they've sort of gotten through the hardest parts. I'm wondering if you can just take a step back and look at that, as you view your career and how things have changed, and whether or not you think this should inform the Army's decision on whether or not to open the infantry to women, and what your personal views are on these as you -- as you leave, because your -- your name may not be on the recommendations that go to the secretary.
GEN. ODIERNO: So I would say that first off, as we continue to move forward as a military, the most important thing for us, I was talking about talent management. In order to best manage your talent, you have to pick the best people who can perform to the standards that we -- we have established in our Army.
And the women in Ranger School are another example of, if they can meet the standard, they should be able to go, and they should be able to earn their Ranger tab. And I think that's how we want to operate as we move forward. If you can meet the standards that we've established, then you should be able to perform in that MOS. And I think that's where we're headed.
Again, we've not made any final decisions on infantry or armor yet, but I think those are coming very shortly. We have -- we have really collected some significant analysis. We've done really incredible studies over the last two years. We've integrated women into all our formations, and again, it is about can they meet the standard or not, and if they can, we lean towards the fact it would probably be good if we allowed them to serve.
I -- you know, these two -- these -- I don't know how it's going to come out, because you never know. There's several days left yet in Ranger School. But the feedback I've gotten with these women is how incredibly prepared they are. The effort that they've put forward has been significant. They've impressed all that they've come in contact with. They are clearly motivated and -- and frankly, that's what we want out of our soldiers. And so I think this has been a great effort. We will probably run another course in November that will be integrated. We will -- I mean, that's where we're headed right now. And then we'll make a decision after that on whether we make it a permanent -- permanently open to women.
Q: General Odierno, given the fact you've done, you know, as many hard tours in Iraq as anybody has, and you look at it now, one, could you reflect a little bit on your perspective of what has happened in Iraq and how it came to this point and the solutions that you see out there, because everybody's got their own list of solutions?
Do you think sir, a no-fly zone would make any sense?
And do you think that it is time to put U.S. troops, soldiers on the ground with Iraqi forces, even potentially with Syrian rebel forces? Can U.S. troops on the ground, to pick out targets to embed with them to help them further train on the ground?
Is it even feasible?
GEN. ODIERNO: So, I would say this.
First, as I look at Iraq and I've said this before, it is frustrating to look at what has happened inside of Iraq. I believe that a couple years ago in 2010, 11, we had it in a place that was really headed in the right direction. Violence is down, the economy was growing, the politics were OK. And we turned it over to them, but by the agreement we made back in 2008, that would take full control of this in 2011, and we would leave. As it turns out, they weren't prepared to handle it, and it's more politically that it was anything else.
The political factions just simply weren't able to work together, and based on that, people became frustrated, when people become frustrated, they tend to turn to violence if there is no other way for them to get their point.
And I think what that did, is that allowed a group like ISIL to exploit the fissures that were occurring inside Iraq. So, that's kind of where we got to where we are.
Same thing happened in Syria. So, what you had now, is two countries right next to each other that really had the same kind of problem and you gave them a fairly significant piece of ground that enabled them to build capabilities.
I believe -- so, first off, I absolutely believe that the region has to solve this problem. The U.S. cannot solve this problem for the region. They've got to get involved, and they've got to be part of the solution, and I truly believe that. I said before, we could go when with a certain amount of American forces, we could probably defeat ISIL.
The problem would be, will be right back where we are six months later?
For me it's about the political dynamics, the economic dynamics and that has to be done by those in the reason. I think it's important for us to support that, it's important for us to support that by training, and develop capability and capacity. I believe if we find in the next several months that we are not making the progress that we have, we should probably absolutely embedding some soldiers with them, and see if that would make a difference.
That doesn't mean there would be fighting, but it would be, you know, maybe abetting them and moving with them. I think that is an option we should present to the president when the time is right.
Q: Can I clarify two things. When you say that, do you mean both in Iraq and Syria?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well originally I would say in Iraq. I would have to probably look harder whether we do it in Syria. My comment was based in Iraq.
Q: Let me just ask -- (inaudible) -- then.
I know you -- generals normally don't comment on politics, but you're about to -- (inaudible). So, very bluntly, when you hear Donald Trump say we should just moved in with our troops and take their oil, and bomb the Iraqi oil fields and take the oil away from ISIS.
Does anything like that even remotely have any military utility?
GEN. ODIERNO: See, here is the issue I learned over the last 10 years or so, is that there is limits with military power; and so we can have an outcome, but again, and so, the problem we've had -- is do we achieve sustainable outcome, it's about sustainable outcomes. And the problem we've had, is we've had outcomes, but they have been only short-term outcomes. Because we haven't properly looked at the political and economic side of this.
It's got to be three to that come together. And if you don't do that, it will not solve the problem, and that is what I continue to look at.
So, I think for me, if you said to me, if we didn't -- right now ISIL is a direct threat, it's imminent, and they're getting ready to have an attack on the United States that could be devastating, that's a different issue. That is a different issue. Then maybe we have to look at putting troops on the ground.
That is not where we are today. What we want to do is try to stop a -- we have to stop a long group, a group that is potentially attempting to be a long-term influence in the Middle East, that is clearly promoting extremism and frankly suppressing populations in the Middle East. In order to resolve that, you need countries of the Middle East and those surrounding the Middle East to be involved in the solution.
Q: So, you disagree with Donald Trump?
GEN. ODIERNO: I do, I do. I do. Right now I do.
Q: I'll try the Iraq question, again. You know there's a roiling debate on who lost Iraq, kind of who lost China in the late '40s. The narrative goes something like, the brilliant surge succeeded, Obama abandoned Iraq, setting the stage for sectarianism to return, the Iraqi forces collapsing and the growth of ISIL.
First of all, do you agree with the narrative?
GEN. ODIERNO: I don't think it's black and white. I think it is gray. I think the military options we conducted provided an opportunity for us to be successful. I remind everybody that us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration. And that was always the plan. We had promised that we would respect their sovereignty, and so I think based on that, that was always our plan.
Now, you can argue whether we could have adjusted a little bit, and could we have had a better outcome. I will not get involved in the argument. So, again, it is not black-and-white. What I would say is having military on the ground allowed us to be on this brokerage between some of these groups, and I think, maybe, as we all look back, leaving some soldiers on the ground might have helped a little bit, and maybe prevented where we are, now.
Q: Can I ask you, given the sustainable outcome, judged against that was the Iraq invasion a mistake in retrospect?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean -- see, I don't -- Tony, I don't like going back there. You know, it's like Monday morning quarterbacking. Here is what I would say. All I know is that Saddam Hussein was an incredibly ruthless person who was suppressing his population, and I know there's always been this argument, well, we went in there, there were no nuclear weapons, there were no -- here's what I'll tell you.
I talked to all -- I've said this for years. I talked to all the Iraqi generals. They will tell you, there were nuclear weapons. They believed they were. I mean, the bottom line is they absolutely believed there were nuclear weapons on the ground.
So, to say we shouldn't have went in there, because we know there wasn't any, or we didn't find any, I think it's a little bit of hindsight. And oh, by the way, we don't know where we would be right now if Saddam Hussein was still in power. He was moving towards terrorism, and I believe, if he continued problems, you don't know what he might have done in terms of being part of the problem with terrorism.
So, I think it's very difficult to say if it was worthwhile. The bottom line was the decision was made, we did it and now we have to deal with it, and we have to try and make it come out the best way we can. Q: General, thank you.
GEN. ODIERNO: General, given your experience in Iraq, and you talked earlier about the growing conflict between Shia and Sunni, and the increased influence now of Iran inside Iraq, even militarily, do you see any possibility that there can be any reconciliation in Iraq between the Sunni and Shia?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think it's becoming more difficult by the day. And I think there might be some alternative solutions that might have to come into this sometime in the future, where Iraq might not look like it did in the past. But we have to wait and see how that plays out.
I think we have to deal with ISIL first, and then we have to decide what it will look like afterwards.
Q: Are you talking about the possibility of partitioning?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I think that is for the region and politicians to kind of figure out, diplomats to figure out how we want to work this, but that is something that could happen. It might be the only solution, but I'm not ready to say that yet.
Q: Just a quick follow on ISIS. For the second time, now, they claimed to have hacked into the U.S. military computer systems, and retrieved vital personal, even some classified information.
What do you know about that? And you mentioned cyber defenses earlier. Are we inadequately protected against an attack, even by somebody like ISIS?
GEN. ODIERNO: So, I will tell you, I don't want to downplay the incident, but this is the second or third time they've claimed that. The first two times, I'll tell you, whatever lists they got were not taken by any cyber attack. They were kind of lists that were really off the site -- and right now so far, I have not seen the list myself, but what I believe is this is no different than those other two times.
But I take it seriously, because it is clear what they are trying to do, and so it is important for us to make sure that all our force understands what they are trying to do, even though I believe they've not been successful, what they're claiming.
Q: Sir, do you think that ISIS is winning right now, and do you think that the U.S. betrayed the Sunni tribes that rose up in Anbar province?
GEN. ODIERNO: So I think that ISIL has been blunted somewhat. I mean, they have not made any progress since we started airstrikes. In fact, I think we have gained back some territory, mostly by the great work of the Kurds, some work by Iraqi security forces.
So I think right now, we're kind of at a stalemate. Frankly, the Kurds continue to make some progress. I think it's important we continue to support them. And I think the reason it's that way is we are continuing to retrain the Iraqi Security Forces to build up the capabilities so they can conduct operations. You're probably getting ready to see one here in a few days.
I think that's why although it hasn't gone as well as we like it to, I think it's important to continue to train Syrian forces, Syrian rebels. Because we want to -- we want -- as a military strategy, you always want to have your enemy having to respond to several different fronts. And in my opinion, we want to try to develop capability so they -- they have Iraqi Security Forces from the south, they have Kurds from the north, and we have Syrian rebels helping in Syria, pushing in the west. And I still think that's something we have to work at.
I think we still have -- we obviously -- we have a lot of work to do, better job, and how we're working with Syrian rebels, but I think we still have to really stay focused on that and try -- try to continue to do that.
Q: Thank you very much, General.
This is a two-part question. One, what is the future of Afghanistan now? Because Talibans and Al Qaidas are still in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they are still waiting, and also warning the U.S. that when the international community leaves Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO, then they will might -- future might be bright, or dark like in the 15 years ago.
So and second part, sir. How much are you worried as attacks between China and Pakistan? Because China is -- Pakistan is doing what China is telling them, and China is expanding in the region, and also including Afghanistan.
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I would say with the Taliban, I would say they claim a lot of things, first off. And so I think that you know, listen, there is violence inside of Afghanistan. It's less than what it was. The Afghan Security Forces, in my mind, are doing a pretty good job of going after that. I think the Pakistanis have done some good work against the Taliban here lately. I think, you know, with the death of Mullah Omar, the future, it's interesting to watch what the future of the Taliban is going to be. I think we have to watch that very carefully.
So I think we're still, you know, things are still on a path where I think it can be successful. I think we have to -- we have to continue to support the Afghan Security Forces. We have to continue to support dialog between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Listen, Pakistan has the right to deal with lots of different countries. We have a very close relationship with Pakistan. They deal with us, too. I have a very good relationship with General Raheel. And we -- we talk regularly. He talks regularly to General Campbell in Afghanistan. Yes, do they talk to China? Probably. And that's their right to do that.
I'm not overly concerned about. What I am is we have to continue to work with them to solve this difficult problem. And -- and I think Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and other countries have to work together to solve this problem. It's all in our interest to do that.
Q: (off mic) another country that you might ask, including India, that in the future that it might be helpful in that region?
GEN. ODIERNO: I just think we have to just judge the environment. And again, if we think it's the right thing to do, we certainly would have that conversation.
Q: Connor Wolf, Daily Caller. You mentioned at the beginning that there was a decrease in resources. What can other areas of government do executive lawmakers do to support the mission of the military?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, there's a -- we're -- you know -- I mean, the whole four years I was chief of staff of the Army, we've been in this deadlock, where we're in a deadlock about how we want to -- we're worried about the debt, which we should be, and we've held -- in my opinion, we've held the military hostage because of the arguments we're having over the rest of the government and how we solve the problem of spending in the rest of the government.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is, it's coming to a point now where I think we should be careful, because I think we're -- we're in the point of potentially degrading ourselves, where it's going to be really difficult for us to meet our requirements. Whether we like it or not, we're a world leader, and we have to lead in many different places around the world. And we have to have the capabilities to do that. And I worry that in the years ahead, if we don't solve this problem, we won't have that capability to do that.
Q: My name is (Garibald Said ?) from Kurdish -- (inaudible).
A couple of questions, sir.
Can you confirm or deny that the U.S. and Turkey have agreed on a safe zone inside Syria in northwest Syria?
GEN. ODIERNO: I have not been involved with that, so I cannot -- I cannot discuss that.
Q: OK. And also, can you update us on the -- like, you know, how many Iraqis, including Kurds and Sunnis, have been trained by the U.S. forces on the ground?
GEN. ODIERNO: So as of this morning, when I was briefed, about 16,000 have been trained this year since the beginning of the year.
Q: And also according to (Fox News ?) on my right, like Turkish -- (inaudible) -- against PKK in northern Iraq came too close to the U.S. military sites where Kurds have been trained. Like, you know, how close were these --
GEN. ODIERNO: I don't know exactly how close they are, but obviously we've had conversations about this to make sure it doesn't happen. So, yeah.
Q: (inaudible) -- from Turkey's -- (inaudible) -- agency.
There are casualty reports from (Otima Camp in Suria ?) as a result of coalition air forces strike. And can you update me on that?
And also --
GEN. ODIERNO: So, I didn't hear what you said.
Q: Air Force -- casualty reports in (Otima Camp in Suria ?) as a result of coalition air forces strike.
GEN. ODIERNO: I'm not aware of that. I can't answer your question.
Q: Thanks, General.
What do you think is the top military threat to the U.S.? Some leaders have said Russia. Just wanted to know if you agree with that and also, if the Iran deal goes through, and it has billions in assets, do you think that it will spend more money on supporting terrorism in the region and other malign activities.
GEN. ODIERNO: So, I would say that Russia has a -- I believe Russia is the most dangerous because of a couple things. First, they are -- they are more mature than some other of our potential adversaries, and I think they have some stated intents that concern me, in terms of how the Cold War ended. And so for me, I'm concerned.
And they have shown some significant capability in Ukraine to do operations that are fairly sophisticated. And so for me, I think we should pay a lot of attention to that.
What was the second question again?
Q: On Iran.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, so -- so first, I support anything that reduces the proliferation of nuclear weapons, that supports the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, excuse me.
And so I support that part. But as I've said before, we can't be naive. We must understand that Iraq is -- Iran is conducting operations in several different countries, whether it be Yemen, whether it be Syria, whether it be Iraq. And we must be aware of that, and we must assume that some of the money they get if the sanctions are lifted will be used to continue some of this activity. And I think we have to be very aware of that and watch it very, very closely.
Q: Thank you.
Dave Parsons with Defense Daily.
Major acquisition programs during your tenure have not been terribly successful, although as you've said, you've been in budget deadlock almost the whole time.
What are you saying to your successor? How do you feel, passing those modernization position of the Army forward, and what are any priorities you have --
GEN. ODIERNO: I think for the first time, so, you know, I would tell you, because of the new Army operating concept, the warfighting challenge we look at, for the first time we absolutely have a good understanding of what we need. And for us it's about lethality protection, situational awareness. And so we're looking at developing mobile protective firepower for our light units, our medium units, our heavy units, continue to increase our ability to have situational awareness and pass information quickly. We have programs in place to do that, but we have to continue to push on those programs.
And I think those are the ones for me that -- that are the most -- most important. We also have to consider, continue to work manned, unmanned capability, autonomous capability. All of those things are going to be very important to us as we move to the future.
Q: Thank you, sir. In your view, what -- what wrong was the Syria train and equip program. And moving forward, should the U.S. and the military continue to fund the program or focus on other partners?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- I think a couple things. I think -- I think the training went fine. I think it's how you then employ those forces, and I think we have to -- we'll learn some lessons from that and figure out how we best can employ them to ensure their survivability and their viability in the region.
And I think that's the kind of thing we have to work on. CENTCOM is working very hard to make sure we -- we do that much better than we did this first time.
Q: To follow, what would be some of the lessons learned?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- I think it's about you know, how use them, where you use them, what kind of -- can we -- can we provide some protection? I think those were all the -- all the kind of things that we have to take a look at as we -- as we go forward.
Q: Sir, going back to the withdrawal from Iraq, could you talk about why leaving troops in Iraq could have made a difference? What -- what is it that they would have been able to do that could've changed the situation? GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, sure. So what I say -- what I always kind of, you know, so one of the things that I believed happened is the -- the Iraqi Security Forces became significantly politicized. And what happened is leaders were taken out. Leaders had to do not who was loyal to Iraq, but who was loyal to the leaders inside of Iraq. And that caused problems. Because then you had -- you no longer had an army that had representation from many different parts of Iraq; you had it mainly from certain parts of Iraq.
And I think if we were there, I think we maybe could have prevented things like that from happening. I think we could have reassured some of the other groups that they would continue to be able to participate not only in the military but in the government as well.
Q: Do you think that's a lesson that could be applied to Afghanistan?
GEN. ODIERNO: Absolutely, I believe it is. I believe it is important -- I don't mean -- the reason, everybody says why can't we do what we did in Germany, Korea, Japan? Everybody tells me that all the time. Well, because we kept people there for a very long periods of time. You know, we are still in Europe 70 years later, we're still in Japan 70 years later. Now, we are much smaller and it's a much different relationship. But that is how you help to establish long-standing institutions.
Now, I'm not trying to compare Germany, or Japan, or Korea to the Middle East. It's a different environment. So, I'm not saying it's exactly the same, don't get me wrong. But I would say is having a there helps to establish an institution that is capable of being more sustainable and more -- lasting for a much longer time.
Q: Could I just follow up on that?
GEN. ODIERNO: Sure.
Q: Would you have -- was there a way around the legal -- the issue over whether or not they were legal protections?
GEN. ODIERNO: The bottom line is you would have to have the Iraqi Parliament approved that. And I was the problem. so I don't know if we could have convinced them to do that or not. I will say we had the same problem initially, when we initially hammered out the agreement in 08 as well.
So, I don't know the answer to that, but that frankly is it. Could we convince them -- and it was in their own best interest and our best interest to stay longer, and I can't tell you whether we would have been able to do that or not.
Q: And would you have stayed without? Was it the right --
GEN. ODIERNO: No. No. Because what would have happened, then, is you put your soldiers and Marines at risk for being arrested and many other things, and it causes all kinds of international -- frankly, we were in violation of international law. We were there under a U.N. mandate that ended the end of 2008, and then we had an agreement with Iraq that ended at the end of 2011. So, we would have been there illegally is we didn't have the agreement.
Q: General, just quickly. The way you frame that, you make it sound as if there was never any serious, robust effort to convince the Iraqi Parliament.
GEN. ODIERNO: I hesitate to say that, because frankly, I wasn't there during that time. I told there was an effort to do that, so I can't tell you if it was a robust effort. I don't want to comment, because I simply wasn't there at the time. If I was there, I'd give you an honest answer, but I simply wasn't there at that time.
Q: (Inaudible), back on Syria. How do you see the future of Syria? Do you believe that any political solution could find place without having the Syrian president part of it?
And also, I have a follow up.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes, so, I don't know. My assessment would be, I think it's going to be very difficult to have a Syria that looked like Syria the way it did before, I think it's probably forever changed in some way. One of the things we have to work through is with our partners in the region, what will it look like?
We have to think about that. I don't think any of us have a solution right now for that, and whether that includes the current leadership to still be in place or not, I don't know. But I think that is something we have to think about as we go forward.
Q: General, when you say partner in the region, do you mean Iran as part of those -- (inaudible) -- partners?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I would just -- I don't know. We have to see. I think the best solution would be where we can get everybody to agree to it. So, I think you would want everybody to be involved with that. Now, whether that's comes up with the right solution or not, that is probably a good question.
Q: General, you called the war against ISIS a stalemate, and U.S. intelligence agencies estimate ISIS is the same strength, 20 to 30,000 fighters as it was at the beginning of this war. Don't you think it's time to change the strategy?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- here is what I would say. So, they might be at the same strength, but I will tell you based on what I've seen, we have significantly reduced the leaders that were in there and that's what we've done before. So, that makes a difference because now you've got second, third, fourth stringers coming in.
The problem we have is that they're still able to stay at 20 to 30,000. That's what's concerning to me. So, they're not as capable as they were a year ago, they're not as capable as they were 18 months ago. But they are still able to recruit, and get people to come in and fight -- and that's what's concerning to me. This is why this is not a solely military solution. There's got to be other solutions, and there's an information campaign here that they are very successful at, it's continuing to recruit people to come in there. And I think that's part of what we have to do with our partners is have a lot more moderate voice that doesn't make this look like it's a great cause. So, I think that is part of what we have to work through as well.
Q: General, you mentioned Ukraine. I'm just curious -- concerns in this building about further advances by Russian and Russian backed forces possibly building a land bridge to Crimea. As you leave, talk about whether the strategy is working in Iraq.
Do you have any evidence that the strategy that the administration policy in terms of deterring Russia is working there?
And I am curious, as you look at next stages, you talk about Russia as the primary threat.
How concerned are you that Russia will try the same strategy in NATO allies bordering Russia in -- Estonia and Latvia?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- you know, my comment is Russia's constantly assessing the reaction of NATO to any of their actions. And based on how -- what I worry about is miscalculation that they perceive that, maybe that NATO is not -- might not be as concerned, and they make a mistake and miscalculate, and do some thing that would violate Article V of our NATO agreement. So, that's something that greatly concerns me. I would say that what we have to do is continue to -- we have to continue to refocus NATO, and our interoperability within our military with our NATO partners to build capability. We are on our way to do that. We have a long way to go; I think there's -- we have to continue to increase our ability to move quickly there. I think we could do that by pre-positioning equipment, we can do that by helping to increase interoperability between NATO forces to have an understanding of what NATO capabilities are available.
And we have to keep working, because a true deterrent is one where people are worried that if they do conduct operations, there will be some level of response. We have to continue to improve what that level of response might look -- so we can deter any further action.
Q: You're saying a long way to go. That deterrent is not there at this point?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think we have some -- I think we have deterrent there, and I think we do a good job with that. I think what we have to do, is the next several years continue to increase that, so the risk goes up for anybody who might consider conducting operations in Eastern Europe.
Q: Sir, can I go off of that, please? You talked about Russia and the threat that it poses, and yet, your Army has not been preparing for conventional warfare in the way that it used to, because of the war against ISIS, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Is this Army prepared for a conventional confrontation with Russia, given that it hasn't been doing that time in preparation?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, we started in '14, so in the last 18 months, we have really started to train for what we call hybrid warfare, which actually the warfare I consider Russia is, in fact, conducting.
We are doing about 10 brigade rotations in our training center this year. We did about eight last year that was specifically focused on this. So we have. We are in the process of increasing our capabilities to do this.
And your point is a good one. I mean, we came off of 10 years of doing counterinsurgency operations. And what we've had to do is very different.
It echoes back to my worry about dollars, because what we need is we need the dollars in order for us to continue to train, and build capability. We've been doing that a year and a half now. But if all of a sudden sequestration comes back in '16, that will have an impact on that, and that is one of the concerns I have.
But we have been there -- we're not where we need to be. I think I've said we've got about 33 percent of our brigades right now who can -- about 33 percent who can operate at that level. And we need to -- my goal is we should have about 60 percent, and that is what we are working towards.
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, we're working towards it. So we are hoping by the next couple of years, I don't want to give a date on that.
Q: And what have the exercises, the NATO exercises showed you in terms of the limits of where areas need to be (included ?) in terms of military -- (inaudible) -- possible --
GEN. ODIERNO: So, it's interesting is one of the things that, last time we were doing this in Europe, I reminded everybody that our job was to protect Western Europe.
So, one of the things we've learned is logistical challenges that we have in Eastern Europe, for example, Eastern Europe has a different gauge road than Western Europe does. So, moving supplies is a bit more difficult. So, we are learning great lessons like that. Our ability to sustain ourselves over time; our ability -- our interoperability and the capability NATO now has, and how we have to better integrate those, is another lesson.
We are using our readiness center that we have in Hohenfels to do that. We have a large exercise going on there right now with our partners to continue to work this problem.
STAFF: One more question.
GEN. ODIERNO: OK. Yeah, we'll do two more. I'll get you, too.
Q: Do you have any official details about the helicopter crash that occurred in Okinawa?
GEN. ODIERNO: No. So, we're still waiting to find out what happened. I don't -- I don't know yet, exactly what happened. We're -- I was briefed on it this morning. But the briefing was we had a helicopter crash, and we're not quite sure what happened yet. We have investigators there taking a look at it.
Q: Can you speak to the type of training that was taking place?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean it's -- it's training of special operations forces with several different nations.
Q: And sorry, there are two Japanese Self Defense Force personnel on that?
GEN. ODIERNO: Again, I do not have -- I do not want to comment, because I do not have the facts. There's been some conflicting reports, so I'm not going to comment on that.
Q: Sorry, in --
GEN. ODIERNO: You want a couple more?
Q: What is the --
Sorry, just -- I just wanted to ask about the -- if there was a concern that that would be -- that would have an impact on the greater strategy or the security relationship between the U.S. and Japan, especially given the opposition to --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I'm not going to overreact to one incident. OK? So I think -- I think listen, it's important that we work with our allies. It's important that we work with our Japanese allies, and we have to continue to do that. I'm not going to predict what the -- what the issue will be with inside Japanese politics.
But I think it's important that as allies, we work together. And as I said when I started this, there are risks in the work that we do every single day. And you know, unfortunately we understand that going in. We obviously want to prevent any of those risks, but sometimes, unfortunately, we have accidents.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Carla Babb, with Voice of America. A few weeks ago, General Hodges told reporters about a plan. Currently the United States is helping train Ukrainian, the equivalent to their national guard, and he said that will be completed in November, and there's a plan out there to train military forces of Ukraine. At the time, he said it had not been approved yet.
Do you have an update for us on that?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I would just say that we do have a plan developed to do that. We have -- we have not yet made a decision on whether we will move forward with that.
Q: And also you had said that the debt lock was holding the military hostage. If you had extra money to use, where would that money go, in your budget?
GEN. ODIERNO: It would go directly to readiness and modernization. And the other piece is, it also is about end strength. It's about keeping end strength no lower than 450,000 in our active component, so we want to keep that end strength so we have to then invest in readiness and in modernization.
OK. So, I'm going to take one more question, and Barbara, I'm going to let you ask it, which I'll probably regret.
So go ahead.
Q: (Perhaps you will. ?)
Sir, I want to ask you about, because I don't want you to walk away without us asking you about a decade of remarkable survivability of America's war wounded and veterans. This is something we all know that you know an awful lot about. So as you finish up your service, what concerns do you have that over the long haul, because again, it's a long-term issue, doesn't go away, that America's war wounded of the last 14, 15 years really over the decades ahead will get the care they need and that there will be the money there for them to get the care they need?
The other side of the equation from the active duty.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
So first off, I would tell you I do worry about that. I'm encouraged though, by what I'm seeing. But again, as you've mentioned, we're in the beginning of this.
And we have -- we have soldier -- it's not only about the soldiers, it's about the caregivers as well, and the sacrifice that their caregivers make in assuring that these soldiers are able to live a long, viable life, and the sacrifice they have to make. And we have to make sure that we provide them the resources necessary.
So, there's a couple things. I think first, we have to -- as a military, have to be cognizant of that and do everything we can. We need a strong Veterans Affairs that continues to support them. We also have to ease the restrictions that we have on using those organizations, the private organizations that are out there helping our soldiers.
We're much better than we were five years ago at this. We're able to combine private enterprise, who's trying to help our wounded warriors, with formal Department of Defense programs with Veterans Affairs programs. So we come together and make sure we have -- we can combine all of those resources to make sure we're taking care of these young men and women long term. And we're getting better. We've had some relaxation of those restrictions that we had, but I think we have to continue to watch that. I worry about long-term PTS. I think that's a long-term problem. I think we have to -- we have to continue to invest in that.
I think these NICoE centers that have been donated to us not only at Walter Reed, but at satellite sites, plays an important role in that.
I think we have -- I worry about our senior leaders that -- that we have -- you know, we were talking yesterday in my office. So in 2003, someone who was a captain is now a colonel or a brigadier general. They have probably had six or seven deployments over that period of time.
We tend not to talk about our leaders. We have NCOs who are probably sergeants or privates back then who are now sergeant first classes, master sergeant, sergeant majors who have had six, seven, eight deployments. They're doing well, but we have to make sure we have programs in place to take care of them as well as they continue to lead our great soldiers.
So it's things like that that we can't forget. You know, and then, we have to -- one of the most important things for me -- we also cannot forget those families whose sons or daughters or husbands or wives gave their lives over these last 10 or 12 years. We have to remain connected to them.
As I go around, I have -- I have meetings with our families all the time, and all they -- they love, just staying connected to the Army, to the units that their children or sons or daughters or husbands were in, and for me, that's incredibly important that we do that. Because we should never forget the sacrifice that they made and the sacrifice that their families that send their children continue to make, because their dad or mom's no longer here.
And so that's something that I will live with for the rest of my life. It is thinking about that and the sacrifices that they made.
And the reason for me, it's hard, is not because -- listen, we all understand why we do this and the risks associated. But I had the opportunity firsthand to stand side by side by these young men and women who they really cared about what they were doing. They were -- they showed incredible selflessness and courage in what they did. And for me, we should be so proud of them and their sacrifice, and it's important that we remember that, and we do that by taking care of their families, their children as we go forward.
So thank you very much. I've enjoyed it very much. God bless all you.