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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
Feb. 19, 2016
PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody.
I wanted to start today by addressing the airstrike in Libya that we issued a statement on earlier today. I'm sure you all saw that statement, but just to reiterate -- overnight, we conducted an airstrike in Libya, targeting an ISIL training camp near Sabratha and Noureddine Chouchane, aka Sabir, a Tunisian national who was an ISIL senior facilitator in Libya and associated with that training camp.
We took this action against Sabir in the training camp after determining that both he and the ISIL fighters at these facilities were planning external attacks on U.S. and other Western interests in the region. Of note, Sabir was named a suspect in the March 18, 2015 deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis and had facilitated the movement of potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya, and on to other countries.
This action is a clear demonstration of the secretary's continued commitment to go after ISIL's metastases wherever they emerge. It is fully consistent with our broader campaign plan to counter ISIL and prevent any efforts to establish new safe havens. As you know, this is not the first time we've taken direct action in Libya or against other high-value ISIL targets and it may not be the last.
We will continue to target ISIL and its infrastructure wherever it exists and when opportunities such as this emerge, we will exploit them. We will continue to work with and through our partners when possible as part of our overall counter-ISIL coalition effort. In this particular strike, the U.K. offered the use of its bases for our air assets. We appreciate their support and continued contributions from all of our coalition partners to destroy ISIL.
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Bob?
Q: Peter, could you tell us a bit more about this training camp? What kind of training was going on there, how long it had been established? And when you say they were planning external attacks, I think you said against U.S. interests, could you be more specific about on that continent or somewhere else that's in Europe, in the U.S.?
MR. COOK: Bob, I'm not going to go into too many details in terms of intelligence gathering, as you can imagine. But this was a facility that we'd had our eye on for some time and we determined that there were ISIL fighters and folks in training at this facility, and specifically that Chouchane was associated with this facility in particular. And we saw that this -- we believe that they posed a threat.
Q: What type of training were you talking about? Just -- like can you describe it in any other way?
MR. COOK: I'm going to leave it -- we saw them conducting training. We, again, have been watching it for some time and --
Q: Months or weeks?
MR. COOK: I'll say order of weeks that we'd had eyes on this particular facility. Yes, Jim?
Q: Peter, without getting too specific about the -- what those Western and U.S. interests were, can define U.S. interests? In other words, these apparently were not U.S. or maybe even Western targets, but they were interests. What does that -- what does that mean?
MR. COOK: Jim, we have a national security interest in confronting the threat that ISIL poses, the metastasis of ISIL, as we've talked about. And we've been -- we've shown a willingness to go after ISIL in Libya in the past and we did so in this instance because we felt that, again, this group and this particular individual who had -- was named as a suspect previously in an attack in Tunisia posed, again, a threat to Libya specifically, to interests in the region and posed a national security threat to the United States.
Q: How so?
MR. COOK: We see ISIL -- we can hear ISIL every single day threatening the United States. We see what's happening in Iraq and Syria and we believe that these fighters in Libya posed a threat to our national security interests.
Q: So in other words, wherever ISIS lives, breaths and trains, they are a target for possible U.S. airstrikes.
MR. COOK: We've made clear that we need to confront ISIL wherever it rears its head. They have posted direct threat to United States. They have encouraged attacks against the United States and our -- and our allies, and we're going to continue to confront it to protect our national security.
And this was an instance where we saw an opportunity to strike at ISIL in Libya, and we carried out that strike. And we feel -- we feel confident this was a successful strike.
Q: But Peter, under what authority was this strike carried out? There is no AUMF for ISIS in Libya, no Americans were killed in the two attacks in Tunisia.
Under what authority?
MR. COOK: Well, again, we've struck in Libya previously, under the existing use of force, the authorization for the use of military force.
Q: In 2001, against Al Qaida?
MR. COOK: Yes, specifically. And this -- in our targeting of Chouchane in this instance.
And we believe that this was based on -- was legal under international law.
Q: But you're saying that you're using the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaida to go after ISIS in Libya?
MR. COOK: Specifically, again, as a -- the use of military force against ISIL is authorized by the 2001 authorization for the use of military force, specifically. Just as it was -- as we used it in our previous strike in Libya.
Q: And who in Libya authorized the strike?
MR. COOK: Again, specifically here, we believe that this was carried out under international law, and also specifically, that this operation was consistent with domestic and international law, and that this operation was conducted with the knowledge of Libya authorities.
MR. COOK: Yes, (Jamie ?).
Q: This strike comes as there has been broad discussion about whether the United States should expand its bombing campaign against ISIL from just Iraq and Syria into Libya.
Also comes at a time when others are suggesting that that's not something that the U.S. is interested in doing, and rather have -- be kind of more limited high-value target strike, as we've seen.
Can you help us understand where the thinking is about, to what extent the United States is going to continue the campaign against ISIL in Libya? Is it going to be -- is it heading towards something similar to what we're seeing say, in Syria? Or are we still talking about something that's much more limited?
MR. COOK: Again, Jamie, I'm going to point back that we, as the secretary has talked about, we see that the parent tumor of ISIL is in Iraq and Syria, and that remains primary focus for us.
But as we see ISIL metastasize and spread to other parts of the world, we're going to continue to keep a very close eye on it. And when we feel the need to strike, we'll be prepared to do, using all of the tools at our disposal. And also -- obviously, also working with our coalition partners, our allies and partners around the region.
So, this -- in this particular instance, we saw this opportunity to strike here, and we took that -- we took that step. And again, we feel confident that this was a successful strike, and again, that these particular fighters posed a threat to interests in the region, to Libya, and to -- to the United States over all.
Q: Is there any serious consideration, though, of conducting the kind of bombing campaign on the scale that we're seeing in Iraq and Syria? Where we see almost daily coalition strikes, as opposed to this occasional sort of military action that we've seen in the last 24 hours?
MR. COOK: Jamie, I'm not going to look ahead into the future. We're going to continue to respond to the ISIL threat as it develops. We are carrying out a significant campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and we are prepared -- as we have demonstrated in the last 24 hours -- to strike ISIL in other parts of the world, as they pose a threat.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
This would represent a fourth front of U.S. airstrikes (inaudible) ISIS in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria.
Is this an expansion to the point where we're stretching U.S. asset -- air assets too thin? At what point is the operations tempo against the Islamic State too much for the air power that we have to bear? Just yesterday, we were talking about how the B-1s have been rotated out, and they were one of the heaviest lifters out there.
MR. COOK: Tara, we -- at this point, we don't see any gap in capabilities on our part. We have other coalition members who have offered additional contributions to the air campaign. You heard Gen. Brown talk about that yesterday. We don't see a lack of capabilities limiting us in the fight against ISIL at this point.
Obviously, this is something we'll continue to watch. We'll work with Congress in terms of -- of the budget that's just been submitted and the additional funding that we're getting for ISIL. And obviously, we'll be keeping a very close eye on the operational tempo and what, if any, capability gaps could be out there in the future, but right now, we feel confident we can carry out this war.
Q: Just one clarification on the strikes, could you confirm that there were F-15s that were used? And can you tell were they Italy-based or England-based?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into details. I can tell you that there were manned and unmanned aircraft involved in this effort.
Q: Quickly, were there any other countries beside Brits and Americans involved? Beyond that, can you give us more about the state of ISIS in Libya right now? Is the rate of fighters flowing into Libya still increasing, as it has been in the last couple of months or so? And on this strike, what's the -- put in a bigger context of what's the significance of this fella we hit? And -- (inaudible) -- the rest of the impact of the strike itself? How many other fighters were there, the size of this camp? I mean, who was this person in the larger family tree of ISIS in Libya?
MR. COOK: Let me sort of tackle that first. This was someone, again, who had been named as a suspect as -- in this very high-profile attack on the museum in Tunisia and someone that had been identified as a -- as a facilitator, someone who was a leader of -- for ISIL in Libya and someone who was playing a role in, again, moving foreign fighters to outside of the region perhaps and someone that we had identified as a -- as someone in the leadership that -- that his removal would make a difference to the organization of ISIL in Libya. And that was one of the reasons, again, that he was targeted in this way.
As for the bigger picture in Libya, we continue to monitor ISIL as a threat within Libya, the movement of -- of fighters. I don't think anything's dramatically changed on that front from our perspective, but we are watching it very closely, as we've indicated for some time. And we will do that in conjunction with our partners in the region who also have a sincere interest in making sure that ISIL does not -- is not able to -- to establish more of a foothold in Libya than it already has and we're going to continue to work to try and reduce the threat that Libya poses in in -- that ISIL poses in Libya and in other parts of the region.
Q: Other nations? Were the French involved? They've had, you know, a big interest in Libya.
MR. COOK: I'm not going to talk about other cooperation. We, again, appreciate the -- the air bases that the U.K. offered up and there were -- I'll say that there were other countries that -- that supported this effort and we appreciate their contributions.
MR. COOK: I want to know if you could take the question about what aircraft we used? I'm not clear why we can't know when we've known about what kind of aircraft we used in the past, one including the strike on -- in November of Abu Nabil. So could you please take that question rather than say we can't know?
MR. COOK: I'll try and answer as best I can. I'll take it further, but one of the reasons we may not identify all the aircraft involved is, again, to help protect the safety and security of all those crews that may have been involved. So --
Q: Why does it matter what kind of aircraft it is? I mean, as far as the safety of the crew --
MR. COOK: I'm just -- I'm going -- we're going to be very cautious here about maintaining the safety and security of our crews, and doing everything we can to minimize them, provided the information I can -- I'll take the question, but I'm not sure I'll be able to go further for that reason.
Q: I think it would be better to get a clear answer on what it was if it's about protecting the crews, than having people speculate, because that would put others in danger.
MR. COOK: Okay.
Q: So, that would just be my offering.
MR. COOK: A fair point.
Q: The other question I had was, who authorized the strike? Was it the secretary, was it the president, who authorized it?
MR. COOK: This was recommended by the secretary to the president. The president authorized this strike.
Q: But on the -- the aircraft for a second. You said that they were unmanned --
MR. COOK: They were unmanned and manned.
Q: Unmanned. What was their role? What kind of aircraft were involved in that? You know, I'm talking about (safety ?) --
MR. COOK: Jim, I'm -- again, I'd prefer not to get into the details of that. If we can provide more details, I will. But at this point, I'd just characterize it again: unmanned and manned aircraft.
So, yes, Jim.
Q: Peter, I think you mentioned that the Libyan authorities had knowledge of the strike, but the government is very divided. Which -- which authorities were notified?
MR. COOK: Again, Jim, I'd just leave it that this was conducted, again, with the knowledge of Libyan authorities, and we believe this was consistent with domestic and international law.
Q: And just to follow that more broadly, clearly, one of the limits in Libya is a lack of a ground partner there.
Is -- are you any closer to developing sort of -- either links with certain organizations or tribes in the country to provide some sort of a ground partner operating in Libya?
MR. COOK: Let me just characterize it this way: that you have identified something that we've talked previously is a goal of ours to try to get a better sense of a very complicated picture in Libya.
We're making efforts towards that end; we believe we've made some strides, some progress in that area. But it's going to continue to be a challenge for us, and one we're trying to overcome as best we can, again, with a very complicated picture in Libya.
Q: Peter, a followup on Kevin's question. How influential is ISIL in Libya? Do you have an estimate about the size of the group in all of Libya?
MR. COOK: Yeah. I know that there have been some estimates that have been put forward, recently. Let me get back to you on the exact number; I don't have those at my fingertips right here.
But I want to say just clearly, we believe that ISIL is a threat in Libya, and we want to do everything we can -- and I think the secretary has talked about a -- the glide slope for ISIL in Libya.
We want to do everything we can to deter that glide slope, to alter that glide slope, so that they can't have the ability to gain a foothold in this -- in the country. And particularly as we continue to challenge them in Iraq and Syria, we do not want other safe havens to emerge for ISIL. And that strike overnight is a reflection of that effort.
Q: You said a couple of -- at one point, you said, "These fighters at this camp posed a threat to the U.S." You didn't actually say U.S. interests, but you said, "posed a threat to the U.S.," and then you said, the operative that was killed was moving foreign fighters outside of the region.
So, if the camp posed a threat to the U.S. and he was moving foreign fighters outside of the region, it seems as though we should conclude from what you're saying, this camp and these fighters and ISIS in Libya has the capability to strike the U.S. Is that correct?
Because it is hard to see what else you could have meant when you say, "posed a threat to the U.S. and were moving foreign fighters outside of the region."
MR. COOK: Barbara, this was a camp, again, with fighters -- and ISIL has made clear that it, itself has declared an interest in going after the United States and U.S. interests around the world. They have demonstrated that, a willingness to do that.
We believe these fighters, these -- this training facility was part of that effort to -- that posed a threat to -- again, to the United States and to our Western interests, particularly in the region. We think, in all likelihood, that the immediate region was the area of most focus for these fighters.
But that, again, we believe that this was a group that had ill intent on its mind. They were training to do harm. And we wanted to do what we can to end that effort as efficiently as we could.
Q: Let me just follow up, if I may. When you say the immediate region, two questions.
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: Are you speaking solely of Tunisia, or when you said the immediate -- when the Pentagon says the immediate region, do you include Europe, Southern Europe, possibly?
MR. COOK: You know, Barbara, again, I can't go into all of our intelligence, but I think it's fair to say that we believe this group and this training facility posed a threat in the region and perhaps beyond in the short-term. And as a result, we wanted to move quickly, so.
Q: But in the short-term, does that mean that you saw evidence -- when you say that, are you telling us that there was evidence of something fairly imminent, and the bottom line is, can you tell us, does ISIS in Libya have the capability to stage an attack against the U.S. -- in the U.S.?
MR. COOK: Barbara, I think it's fair to say that we assessed that this facility -- relatively new facility, but we have been watching the last few weeks, that we were able to strike this facility before they posed an even more significant threat.
And so, we acted quickly here to try and get out ahead, if you will. And I'm not going to get into exactly what their capabilities or motives were; we may be able to learn more over time.
But we are confident that they did -- that they did pose a -- that they had ill intent on their mind. And that was the reason we targeted them in this way.
Q: But this -- I'm sorry, I didn't mean them in particular.
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: But does -- does ISIS in Libya have the capability -- it may have the intent -- do they, today, have the capability to strike in the United States or U.S. interests abroad? Do they?
MR. COOK: We've seen their ability to promote and encourage attacks here in the United States, and we are doing everything we can, Barbara, to make sure that they do not have the capability to strike in the United States. And this strike overnight is a clear evidence of that.
Q: Can you describe the camp itself? I mean, was there a lot of facilities there? What kind of training went on there? And about how many fighters do you estimate came through that camp?
MR. COOK: I'm going to describe it in rough terms, as a rural area with a number of buildings nearby. And that there were some number of ISIL recruits and trainees, and ISIL members at the site itself.
And I'm just going to, Bill, characterize it that we feel confident that this was a very successful strike.
Q: What kind of tactics were being trained there -- were they getting trained on?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to go into details. But this was a group -- at times, there were as many as 60 people involved in training at this facility.
And again, I won't go into details there, but we were able to determine, over the course of some period of time, what they were doing, how many people were at this facility.
Q: Is there any estimate on how many people were killed in the strike?
MR. COOK: We're still getting our full assessment. But there were -- there were a significant amount of fighters there at the time.
Q: And what are the local reports that describe this as a farmhouse or a farm? Is that -- was that an an accurate description? You said it was in a rural area?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to characterize it just other -- beyond there was a rural area. It was not an urban environment.
Q: Lastly, with the SOF [special operation forces] teams that you've mentioned that have come through there before, was -- the work that they've done, was that -- was that in any way useful in this strike, and can you kind of characterize the progress that's been made with the SOF teams. Have they identified groups that we can possibly -- the U.S. can possibly work with?
MR. COOK: The second part of your question, I'll just say is a reference to -- to Jim's question that our ability to get a better sense of the -- the playing field, if you will, and the players on the ground. We are -- we have a better sense today than we did some time ago. But we still -- it's a challenge for us. And I would say that they have a made a difference. They've made progress for us on that front.
I'm not going to characterize the intelligence or anything that went into this particular strike other than to say, again that we were able to -- to have -- able to watch this facility over a period of time. And that gave us the confidence that allowed us to carry out the strike over there.
Q: Hi, Peter.
Just kind of shifting gears to Russia/Syria. Russia claimed today that U.S. Military and Russia military met in Geneva. U.S. denied it. Can you just clear that up?
MR. COOK: Yeah, this -- there's a -- the cochairs of the Munich discussions, as I think the State Department's pointed out -- United States and Russia in the meeting today ahead of the -- the wider group meeting was U.S. diplomats and Russian diplomats and there were -- we had military folks represented as well.
Q: And then kind of shifting gears back to Libya. Just to kind of tease this out, the -- (kill ?) that we killed an HVI in the strike, or supposedly did, we also hit a camp, which was the primary objective? Or were they both primary objectives? Attacking the camp or killing the HVI?
MR. COOK: I think -- let me just say that at this point we feel -- we feel good that both were taken out in this strike. And we feel specifically that this individual that was targeted for the reasons I stated earlier, his past role, his being identified as a suspect in the Bardo Museum, made him a particularly valuable target. And he had demonstrated previously the ability to facilitate ISIL and play a role in the movement of foreign fighters, and that's why he was in particular -- particular value -- high value target.
Q: Right. But striking camps is kind of a new -- would be a new part of the strategy in Libya. Striking HVIs would be keeping with the old strategy of just hitting these guys where they pop up. So I'm just trying to figure out is this something we're going to keep doing going forward that we see 60 person camps pop up in rural Libya, are we going to blow them up?
MR. COOK: Again, we're going to assess targets and opportunities as we see them, Thomas. This should indicate to everyone our willingness to strike ISIL in Libya and elsewhere where we see them posing a threat. And where we see the metastasis spreading. And this is an effort to confront ISIL beyond the confines of Iraq and Syria because we see that threat has spread and this is just one way in which we're going to confront that challenge.
Q: One is, just to clarify, the secretary made a recommendation to the president who actually had the authority and signed off on the authority, or did he notify him? That's one question. Second thing, just to kind of follow up on the -- (inaudible), so if there was a training camp at no higher value target there necessarily, but a bunch of bad guys, would you guys have the authority to strike it?
And then I have one other question.
MR. COOK: Your first point, again, the president approved this strike. You know, that's -- president -- this was the president's call. And again, we're going to be prepared to strike ISIL where we see those opportunities and we believe we have the legal authorities to do it. And in this case, we feel we did.
Q: And then third thing kind of related, but different. Afghanistan, as you know, the authority came that you can legally strike against Islamic State targets in Afghanistan now. Forgive me if you've announced this somewhere and I've missed, but can you guys say how many strikes you've made against ISIS targets in Afghanistan as you do in Iraq and Syria routinely? And if you don't know the answer, that's fine. But if you could take the question because I think if you're going to start striking those guys there then we should be able to have that number.
MR. COOK: I'll take the question and make clear to you that we would like to be as transparent as possible in our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere and so -- but I'll take the question specifically.
Q: Peter, a few weeks or a couple months ago there was a designation of the ISIS faction in Afghanistan that made it easier to make strikes on -- on them there. I'm wondering has -- in the past several months has there been any change in the authorities related to the ISIS faction in Libya that changes the whole process for approving a strike like this?
MR. COOK: Andrew, let me -- we will continue to assess the ISIL threat and if there's a need to adjust -- adjust in any way, we'll be prepared to do so. And --
Q: (inaudible) but has there been any adjustment that you can point to as a result or are they legally considered the same ISIS as Iraq and Syria?
MR. COOK: We -- we again feel that this -- this -- we are able -- Abu Nabil previously and this attack we feel is consistent with the authorities we have and consistent with domestic and international law.
Q: Peter, you said the U.K. -- we thank the U.K. for offering bases for this -- for this action. Can you -- can you say which bases they were? Did they -- did we actually use them? Was it not -- did it go beyond an offer? Did we -- did we fly out of U.K. bases? Was it Malta? Was it Cypress?
MR. COOK: I'm going to leave it -- leave it where it is. Again, we appreciate the -- the U.K.'s support for this effort.
Q: Peter, I have a quick question. What is the -- the operation or plan five data one five -- (inaudible) -- North Korea, and does the United States have any preemptive strikes against the North Korea (sic)?
MR. COOK: I'm going to -- you know our position well with regard to the defense of South Korea. Our commitments to the defense of South Korea and I'm just going to maintain what we -- what you’ve heard from this podium many times. Our iron-clad commitment to -- to the South Koreans. There should be no doubt -- mine of anyone in the Korean Peninsula or in the region -- about our willingness to stand with South Korea and our other allies in that region against the threat posed by North Korea.
Q: But now the (inaudible) option is now behind the military -- (inaudible) --
MR. COOK: The Department of Defense, our role will be to continue to maintain the strength of our alliance. Our commitment to our alliance partner, South Korea. And also to our other allies and partners in the region. And we will continue to be ready as the secretary's talked about -- ready to fight tonight with the hope that we never have to.
MR. COOK: But we have to respond along with out alliance partner to the challenges and the provocations that we've seen from North Korea, and we'll continue to do so.
Q: Just a quick follow up on Gordon. Does the Pentagon plan on releasing all of the strikes that it conducts in Libya to the public?
MR. COOK: We've just -- shared this one with you. We will continue to share with you and be as transparent as we can about the strikes we're conducting. And we're going to do so and try to maintain operational security and try to make sure that when we do so, that we aren't preventing ourselves from being able to conduct additional effective action against ISIL in the future. And those are the things we have to balance and weigh. We'll continue to do that.
Q: And also in Africa, Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State with the recent strikes in Libya. Is that -- does that affect the U.S. role against Boko Haram?
Are they going to be more involved in that?
MR. COOK: We continue to assess the threat posed by -- by Boko Haram with our partners in -- in Africa. And I think, again, we continue to watch carefully every single -- any group that chooses to affiliate itself with ISIL. As you would expect us to. We see the potential threat from ISIL spreading beyond Iraq and Syria. We've seen that for some time and we're keeping pace with that threat. And I think, again, the overnight action should be a reflection of that.
Q: Just to clarify, Peter, how many air strikes were there? How many bombs were dropped, and how many training bases do you assess there are in Libya right now for ISIS?
MR. COOK: First off, again, as -- in our parlance we will consider this an airstrike but there were, again, unmanned and manned aircraft involved. I'm not going to get into the details of -- of ordnance and that sort of thing. And we do believe that there are other training camps in Libya similar to this. And we're going to continue to -- to monitor those carefully and when we see opportunities or the need to take this kind of action, we will be prepared to do so. Because we want to prevent, once again, ISIL from being able to get a foothold in Libya and prevent them from getting a foothold anywhere else.
Yes, and then I've got -- I'll take three more and then I got to run.
Q: Thank you. Since yesterday or this morning's strike was conducted under the 2001 authorization, does the Pentagon even need a new AUMF anymore? Is there any point to Congress negotiating a new AUMF if all of these expanded strikes can be covered under the 2001 vote?
MR. COOK: I think the secretary has made this point previously that, obviously, we feel like we have the legal authorities to carry these out, but another Authorization for the Use of Military Force along the lines of what the president proposed sometime back he thinks would be constructive, would be helpful and if nothing else, would be an indication of support from the Congress on behalf of the American people for our troops who are carrying out this very important mission.
Q: But beyond the -- the symbolic show of support, is there any legal authority that you currently lack that you would need from Congress right now in order to carry out this expanded war against the Islamic State?
MR. COOK: We feel we have the existing legal authorities we need, but again, if Congress were to move forward with an Authorization for the Use of Military Force along the lines that the secretary and the president have mentioned previously, they – the secretary believes that would be a positive step.
Q: Can you update us on what's going on with this cessation of hostilities agreement? It was a week ago that agreement was announced. The expectation was that within a week -- as soon as a week -- there could be a cessation of hostilities in Syria. What's the status of that? What should -- when should we look for something to --
MR. COOK: I'm chuckling, only because I said three questions. I was going right to Kevin, and you stunk right in there, Jim. It was very -- expertly done.
Q: It's a very important question.
MR. COOK: I grant you, it is an important question. And it's also a question that, at this point, from our vantage point here, these talks are taking place in Geneva, being led by our State Department colleagues.
My understanding is that the conversations are continuing. And I'm going to defer to them in terms of characterizing exactly where things stand. But the fact that the conversations are continuing, and that there is still the prospect for a cessation of hostilities, we think is a good thing, given, in particular, the humanitarian situation that is playing out in Syria.
But I don't have a particular update from here. I think best to get that vantage point from Geneva and from my colleagues at the State Department.
Q: So, it's not going in to effect today?
MR. COOK: Again, I'll leave it to the -- to the folks who are negotiating the agreement, negotiating the terms of the cease-fire, and that includes, you know, top diplomats from the State Department who are leading that effort.
So, let me go back -- I'll go Kevin, and then Barbara.
Q: On Congress. Yesterday, House Speaker Ryan put out a statement blasting the Pentagon for not sending its -- for the president's ISIL plan.
Have you sent the plan yet? Are you planning to send the plan? Why haven't you sent the plan? What's your reaction to the charge that there's no plan?
MR. COOK: Yeah. We continue to work with Congress on this particular request that was spelled out. There was a short time -- (inaudible) -- to get this plan completed, it requires coordination. It's not just a Department of Defense plan, but the plan also needs to be -- there's a State Department component to it.
So, we continue to work with Congress on trying to respond to this particular request as quickly and as efficiently as possible, giving them the answers that they want.
In the meantime, I think, Kevin, you and others in this room know full well that the secretary and this department has been very public about our campaign plan to take on ISIL in Iraq and Syria to deal with the metastasis of ISIL and to do our part of working within the inter-agency to protect the homeland.
I think any -- anyone who has followed the secretary and his travels over the last few weeks should have a very clear understanding of what it is we're doing to try and defeat -- deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL, and in particular, in Iraq and Syria first.
But again, we will do everything we can to work with Congress to try and satisfy this request.
Q: Very briefly, go back over one more point. You mentioned that you had continued to do strikes in Libya, where you see the opportunity and the need.
On the question of need, what is, exactly -- can you explain -- that standard of judgment? When do you need to do them? Is it when you see a threat to U.S. or U.S. interests? What's -- what's that standard of judgment on need?
MR. COOK: We're -- we're acting here, Barbara, as we did overnight out of concern for U.S. national security, the security of our partners and allies in the region, and because we want to confront ISIL where ever it -- where ever it pops up.
And we have seen the threat that they pose in Libya, specifically, their efforts to try to organize and become a more coherent group, if you will, in Libya, as they have in Syria and Iraq.
And we're doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.
Q: So, you don't -- you don't need to see a direct threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests?
MR. COOK: We're going to continue working with our partners. And obviously, the ultimate concern here is the threat to -- is our U.S. national security interests, both a threat to the homeland and a threat to our interests around the world.
And ISIL poses a threat. And we've seen that -- we have seen that demonstrated firsthand in Iraq and Syria. We've seen that demonstrated in Libya. And we're going to do everything we can to prevent the group from gaining traction, gaining a foothold, gaining momentum, and this -- again, this effort overnight should be a direct reflection of our concern about ISIL and our willingness to take them on where ever they may be.
Q: One -- one question.
MR. COOK: Yes, okay.
Q: The Chinese -- the missiles that were deployed in the Paracels, at Woody Island.
The Chinese have said that they have had missiles there in the past. Does that square with your understanding of the situation there?
And then, with the missiles there now, does that in any way alter your planning in terms of choosing locations or how you execute Freedom of Navigation or flights in the future?
MR. COOK: Second part of your question, we will continue to fly, sail and operate where ever international law allows, and that includes in the South China Sea in that part of the world.
It does not alter our own operations, and it will not. And with regard to your -- your other question, my understanding is, that in the past, we have seen them conduct training in that part of the Paracels that have involved this kind of equipment in the past.
But obviously, we still have a significant concern about this particular placement at this particular moment in time. And we will obviously watch it very closely. We think it only adds to greater instability in the region and destabilizes what -- a situation that already we have seen tensions rise in recent weeks and months because of Chinese actions, and we think that the placement of this particular -- this particular system, at this particular moment in time only makes that situation worse.
So. With that, thanks, everybody.
Secretary of Defense
Deputy Secretary of Defense
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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Colonel Garver via teleconference
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Maj. Gen. Chalmers via Teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Senator Joseph Donnelly (D-Ind.) Hold Media Availability Crane, Indiana
Remarks by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at a Troop Event, Fort Knox, Kentucky
Media availability by Secretary Carter at Fort Knox, Kentucky
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Remarks by Secretary Carter at Hack the Pentagon Ceremony
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Press Conference with Secretary Carter at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium