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

Press Operations

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
March 8, 2016
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PETER COOK:  Hi, everyone.  Afternoon, everybody.  Got a brief statement and then I'll turn to your question.

This afternoon, Secretary Carter will be meeting with German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen to discuss the next steps in the counter-ISIL coalition and other areas of cooperation between our two nations and militaries.  This meeting builds on the discussions the secretary and the minister had last month in Brussels at the NATO and counter-ISIL ministerials, as well as the meeting in Paris with several of our key allies in the counter-ISIL fight.

Germany is a stalwart ally which has made important contributions to the fight against ISIL, the effort to bolster NATO's eastern and southern flanks and NATO's mission in Afghanistan.  The secretary will discuss many of these issues in detail with Minister von der Leyen and will also thank her for her personal efforts to lobby for an increase in German defense funding consistent with the commitment that all NATO members made in Wales to commit at least 2 percent of GDP to defense.

We'll have a readout for you of this meeting when it wraps up later on this afternoon.

And later today, the secretary will meet with President Obama in the White House for a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss a range of Department of Defense issues.  And tomorrow, the secretary's going to travel to Quantico to observe training exercises and meet with Marines at Quantico.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Lita?

Q:  Peter, two things.  One, is there Pentagon reaction to Iran launching -- firing off several short- and medium-range missiles which was announced by their official agency?  And also, this morning during the hearing on the Hill, the generals were asked about plans to re-take and to hold Raqqah.  And I believe it was General Votel who told them that there is no plan to re-take Raqqah and no plan to hold Raqqah.

And I'm wondering if you can sort of explain the thinking on this, because we've been hearing about sort of strategies all along.

MR. COOK:  Yes, let me start first with Iran.

We are aware of and following closely the reports that Iran has conducted ballistic missile tests.  If these are in fact confirmed, the United States does plan to raise these issues at the U.N. Security Council.  And so again, it highlights a continuing issue that we would have with the Iranians and again, this is an issue of concern to us.

So -- but this is something that we'll evaluate along with our colleagues at the Security Council and continue to assess exactly what -- what's taken place there.

We believe these -- we believe these tests are inconsistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Q:  So you're saying the U.S. has not yet confirmed whether or not they've taken place?

MR. COOK:  We haven't confirmed all aspects of what's taken place.  We're looking closely at the situation.  But again, if confirmed that these tests were carried out, we believe this is, again, inconsistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

And on your latter point, I didn't actually see the hearing myself, because I was in a meeting today.  So I'm not sure exactly what the exchange was.  But I think it's -- the secretary has made clear of our intent and our strategic plan all along with regard to taking on ISIL is to defeat ISIL and the parent tumor of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and targeting specifically Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria.

And that plan is crystal clear, and the strategic approach is of course to support local forces on the ground to the extent we can.  And that is our approach, and the effort will be to isolate Raqqah specifically.  Now, while the exact specifics of that plan may not be ready for us to walk through right now, certainly our strategic approach and our ultimate goal to defeat ISIL in Raqqah and to collapse the power it has over that so-called capital of their caliphate, will be abundantly clear over time.

Q:  Well, should we interpret this as it's too soon to develop a military plan?  Or that the U.S. doesn't really have much say in what this plan will be because it will be coordinated and done by the Syrians?

MR. COOK:  Well, again, we're going to be counting on local forces, but you can be sure that we'll be working closely in developing that plan and moving forward with that plan.  And the ultimate goal here is not in doubt.  And the ultimate goal is to remove ISIL not just from Raqqah, but from Syria and from Iraq.  And that plan is moving forward.  That campaign plan is being implemented as we speak.

And we feel confident that it's a question of when, not if, they're removed from Raqqah.

Jennifer?

Q:  Does the Pentagon believe that those ballistic missiles fired by Iran pose a threat to U.S. troops?

MR. COOK:  Again, we're looking at this situation right now, and if confirmed, we believe it is a violation -- it's inconsistent with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and this highlights an area of concern for us, Jennifer, and why even though there's the -- the nuclear deal, that there are still issues on the table with regard to Iran that we remain very concerned about and will continue to work with our partners to try and address those malign activities – this being -- just one.

Q:  But is it a threat to U.S. troops?

MR. COOK:  Again, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations here, Jennifer.  We see this --

Q:  It's not hypothetical.  They carried out a ballistic missile test.

MR. COOK:  We see this as inconsistent with their own obligations within the U.N. Security Council, the resolutions that are on the books, and so we consider this obviously something very serious that we're taking seriously, and again, going to address it with our -- our colleagues at the U.N. Security Council.

Q:  And has the secretary presented to the president a plan to target ISIS in Libya?

MR. COOK:  Again, the secretary continues, with the rest the national security team, to assess the ISIL threat in Libya and elsewhere beyond Iraq and Syria, continues to talk with top military officials here, including Chairman Dunford, about the options that are available to the United States.  We have been willing to strike ISIL in Libya and we demonstrated that willingness and will continue to -- to, again, assess the options that are available to us to try and deal with the metastasis of -- of ISIL in Libya and anywhere else it -- it pops up.  And those are consultations that the secretary will continue to have with the president.

Q:  Is the plan presented in the New York Times today, is that accurate?

MR. COOK:  Again, I'm not going to get into private deliberations between the -- the secretary and the president of the United States, but the secretary has made clear and I think he and the chairman did in their briefing last week about their concerns about ISIL in Libya and elsewhere and the steps that the United States is willing to take to try and address that threat.

Tara?

Q:  General Votel today said that if a high-value target is captured on the battlefield, one who would require long-term attention, he doesn't actually know where that value target would be kept for interrogation because of a lack of policy.  Could you talk to us a little bit about what happens if another high-value target is captured?  Will it be turned over to Iraq?  Since they're not going to Gitmo, where would they go?

MR. COOK:  Tara, I'm not going to talk -- let me talk in -- in broad terms, here.  We've said previously that if there are people captured on the battlefield, that there would be every expectation that they would be a short-term detention.  We'd work with the local authorities in those circumstances and people will be evaluated on a -- on a case-by-case basis.  But that would be the expectation at this time.

Q:  But General Votel was asked specifically about a long-term detention where someone has to be kept for intelligence gathering purposes or there's no better option of what to do with them.  What -- what is the option for the U.S. at that point?

MR. COOK:  So again, just getting back to -- if you want to refer back to what we've talked about with regard to the plan to responsibly close Guantanamo Bay, we've always said that any future detainees would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis at that point.  And there are options available beyond Guantanamo Bay, but I'm not going to get into hypotheticals here.

And again, I think the -- the larger message -- and again, I didn't hear that exchange with -- with General Votel, but we've said that the expectation would be that if there are any detainments in, for example, the ISIL fight that they would be of a short-term nature.

And we have one recent example with regard to Umm Sayyaf and what happened in that instance.  And we would expect that that would be consistent with what would happen in other cases.

But again, they'll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that's consistent with what we outlined when we release the plan to responsibly close Guantanamo Bay.

Yes?

Q:  General Austin said that the report on the detention of the U.S. sailors by Iran has been completed and that Admiral Richardson has it.  Is that report going to be released publicly?  And can you give us any update on what they're looking at in that report?

MR. COOK:  My understanding is that this review -- this report is still under review by the Navy.  The Navy specifically -- this is a Navy command investigation.  They haven't -- it will be up to the Navy to determine the release for that.  So I'll ask you to check with the Navy, but I expect people will have -- we'll eventually be able to get details from that report to the extent possible.

But again, this is a Navy review that's still underway.  My understanding it has not yet been finalized.  And so I'll send you to the Navy for the most up-to-date information on where that stands particularly with regard to the CNO's handling of it.

Yes?

Q:  Thank you, Peter.

On Somalia.  The strike, now that we've had an additional -- that you guys have had an additional 24 hours, is the number still about 150 fighters that has been estimated killed in the strike?  And also, there have been some reports that commanders -- Al-Shabaab commanders were at that ceremony.  It appeared to be a graduation ceremony.  Can the United States military confirm that there were any high-level commanders at this event?

MR. COOK:  I'm not able right now to provide more details on the exact final assessment of this.  I'll say that this was, we believe, a very successful strike and a strike that's going to have a direct impact on Al-Shabaab and the ability of that group to pose a threat not only to AMISOM forces, but to United States forces as well in Somalia.

But we believe it was a very successful strike.

Yes?

Q:  Thank you, Peter.

(inaudible) -- finally -- (inaudible) -- talks continues in South Korea.  What is the -- (inaudible) -- you have?

MR. COOK:  I don't have any additional information on the talks themselves.  I can take that question and try and find out if there's an update for you.  You know, obviously, the nature of those talks that are underway between our ally, South Korea, and the United States.

Q:  So North Korea continues to threaten preemptive strike against Washington and Seoul.  What is the U.S. preemptive strike operation plan-- (inaudible)?  Is this contingent -- (inaudible) -- using operation -- (inaudible) -- North Korea?

MR. COOK:  I'm not going to discuss contingency or operational plans here.  Obviously, we have -- maintain our commitment to South Korea, our iron-clad commitment to the South Koreans.  We've demonstrated that.  We've got exercises ongoing right now with South Korea.  So I think that's testimony to the kind of -- the kind of commitment we have to South Korea and its security and its defense.  And so I'm not going to get into operational plans specifically.

Yes, very loud in the back.  Joe?

Q:  Thank you.

Back to Libya.  Do you know if the secretary has submitted a plan for the president in order to widen the operations against ISIL in Libya, to target -- target mainly 30 to 40 camps in that country?

MR. COOK:  So, Joe, again, I'm not going to -- somebody asked a question -- I'm not going to get into discussions that the president and the secretary may be having.  I'm just going to reiterate what the secretary has said to you all previously, in that the United States -- the Department of Defense continues to watch the situation in Libya very closely; watch the metastasis of ISIL in Libya.

We believe that the ISIL in Libya does pose a threat that merits significant scrutiny by the United States.  We have demonstrated a willingness to take out ISIL leadership in Libya.

We'll continue to -- to watch the situation very carefully, and as the secretary and the -- and the chairman said here previously, this -- this metastasis in ISIL and elsewhere is part of our campaign against ISIL.  It is not just Iraq and Syria, and we're going to continue to consider all options necessary to be able to address that threat and we've demonstrated that previously.  We'll do so in the future.

Q:  Could you confirm the New York Times number that ISIL numbers in Libya are around 6500 militants?

MR. COOK:  I -- I'm not going to confirm that number.  I think we've had different numbers previously.  If I recall, there was number 5000.  I mean, I can take that question, see if we have an update, but I'm not going to confirm the number that -- that you read in the paper.

Q:  (off-mic.)

MR. COOK:  My recollection is just a few weeks ago, that that was a public number that we discussed.  So let me take that question, see if we can give you an update, but that's -- my understanding was the -- the number was around 5000.

Q:  (off-mic.)

MR. COOK:  Yes.

Q:  In the past, you said that you'll take questions and we haven't gotten an answer.  A few weeks ago, you said you would tell us ISIS strikes in Afghanistan.  We haven't gotten that.  So when you say you're going to take the question, can you give a sense of when we can expect an answer on some of the -- if I could finish, please -- on past questions that were asked for and on Joe's question on Libya, because we've had a problem --

MR. COOK:  We'll -- we'll try --

Q:  -- getting answers to those questions.

MR. COOK:  We'll try and get an answer for you as quickly as we can.

Q:  But on the specific one on Afghanistan and Libya, can you give us a sense on when we could expect that answer?

MR. COOK:  We'll try and get an answer for you as quickly as we can.  Okay?

Yes?

Q:  From -- (inaudible) – French (inaudible) television, we have some reports with what happened in Somalia, that some French military work with you on this operation.  Could you confirm that?

MR. COOK:  I'm not going to get into anything beyond what we've said already publicly about this strike, and again, what we believe to be a successful strike against an al-Shabaab unit in a training facility that we think posed a threat, again, to -- to forces in the region, including U.S. forces.

Q:  Are you concerned about what happened in Tunisia yesterday with some people coming from Libya going to Tunisia?  (inaudible) -- to the French that were from ISIL?

MR. COOK:  As I mentioned previously, we worry about ISIL's spread throughout the world, and whether it's in Libya or posing a threat to Tunisia, of course we're -- we're concerned by that.  And we'll want to carefully monitor exactly where ISIL spreads.

Q:  Last question, Lisa Monaco this week in New York declared a report was going to be released about the number of civilians killed by drones.  What do you have to say about that?

MR. COOK:  I'll let Lisa Monaco's comments speak for itself.  I think she spoke yesterday.  I think the White House has addressed this as well.  And obviously, this is a decision coming from the White House and we -- we support that decision, so.

Yes, Austin?

Q:  Peter, last month at the Economic Club, the secretary said that we're running low on some of the munitions that are used against ISIL the most and that he was requesting more money in the -- in the budget request for this munitions.  But that money wouldn't be available until next fiscal year, and so I'm wondering if -- if there will be any need for either reprogramming a request or a request for emergency appropriations to -- to get more munitions?

MR. COOK:  Austin, I'm not aware of any request at this particular moment in time for reprogramming and that -- the situation, as I understand it, no need at this -- at this point for -- for funds to be redirected, but obviously, this is a situation we'll watch carefully, and if that changes, we'll work with Congress and try make those -- those adjustments.  But I'm not aware of any request at this moment right now.

Tony?

Q:  Let me review the bidding on North Korea a second.  There's been the threats, new rhetoric.  What is the latest DOD assessment on their capability to miniaturize a warhead, integrate a warhead, and fire an ICBM at the United States?

MR. COOK:  Tony, our position has not changed.  The United States has not seen North Korea demonstrate a capability to miniaturize a warhead.  And again, with regard to the ballistic missile threat, we still feel confident that we can deter and respond to a -- to a missile threat from North Korea.  Nothing has changed.

Q:  Nothing has changed.  The rhetoric has heated up, but your assessment hasn't changed.

MR. COOK:  Our assessment has not changed.

Q:  (inaudible) -- demonstrated a capability to mate a miniature warhead on an ICBM that could hit some part of the United States?

MR. COOK:  Again, Tony, our position has not changed.  And -- but neither has our planning for that threat.  We continue to do everything we need to do, working with our allies and partners in the region, to respond to the North Korea threat and to be prepared for -- for any eventuality.

And as a result of that, you continue to see their operations.  We're doing joint exercises with the South Koreans.  We've continued to maintain our posture in the region and remain confident in our capabilities to be able to respond to the North Korea threat.

Q:  But the North Korea threat, it is fair to say that you consider it saber-rattling, since they don't have an operative nuclear missile that could hit the United States?

MR. COOK:  We see what they're doing in North Korea, and the rhetoric, and we see that it's not certainly enhancing stability on the Korean peninsula.

Q:  I want to shift to California one second.  They --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK:  They're different places.

Q:  Yes, not to hit it, but to ask about it.

The secretary was out there last week, again, talking to Silicon Valley on the DIUx initiative that he's so hot on.  Did he get any blowback from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs expressing concern about the FBI's pressuring of Apple on the phone episode instilling fear or doubt in them that they should not get involved with the Pentagon while that's going on, while the FBI issue is going on?

Was there some blowback that he's heard?

MR. COOK:  I think the secretary addressed this publicly at RSA.  And has spoken about this at length.  And I think the secretary is, you know, keenly aware that there have been challenges in the relationship between Washington, the government, and the technology community.  And the secretary feels like one of the things he can do as secretary, as someone who has a technology background, is to break down some of those barriers, talk directly with some of the people in the technology community.

And particularly talk about our mission here at the Department of Defense, and how the technology community has played an integral part in the defense of this nation and can do so going forward as well.  And so, as opposed to blowback, I think what the secretary heard in the engagements he had out there he felt were positive.  And reinforced the notion that the technology community and the Department of Defense and the federal government overall have a common interest in the national security of the United States.

Yes?

Q:  (inaudible) -- about the South China Sea.  And besides sending warships to the South China Sea, what else can the U.S. do to resolving the -- for resolving the problem?

MR. COOK:  Well, I think the United States continues to do a lot of things.  And one thing is to continue to provide a pillar of stability in that part of the world with our presence, with our alliances and partnerships in the region.  This is an area of significant importance to the United States, given the economic flow through that part of the world; given our, again, alliances and friendships in the region.

And we'll continue to play an active role in the region, and looking out, again, for not only U.S. interests, but the interests of our -- of our allies and partners in that part of the world.  And I think those engagements are just one of the things you can expect going forward -- more engagement between the United States and other countries in the region.

Q:  Any comment on the new Chinese military budget?

MR. COOK:  No.  Let me move over here.

Yes?  Sorry.  Gary, how are you?

Q:  Good.

General Austin, this morning, said that he submitted a request for additional capability for Iraq and Syria.  He wouldn't say what it was, but he said it would allow him to do more intelligence gathering on the ground, it would allow more train and assist training on the ground and it -- he also talked about -- it would allow him to do extra special ops operations there.  Has the secretary of defense received that request yet?  What does he think of it?  And when will we learn about it?

MR. COOK:  The secretary, of course, is in active conversation with -- with Lloyd Austin and with his CENTCOM commanders and the commanders in the field, and they are talking all the time, Gary, about what might be needed to further accelerate this campaign.  And that's an ongoing conversation that the secretary is having with his commanders, including General Austin and --

Q:  (off-mic.)

MR. COOK:  Yes, there have been specific discussions about what might be needed to further accelerate the campaign.  The secretary has talked about this.  We're looking for opportunities to try and speed this campaign up, working with our coalition partners, working with local forces on the ground and so he's had those conversations with General Austin and will continue to have those conversations.

Lucas?

Q:  Was a top ISIS operative killed in Syria a few days ago?  There's some reporting out on that right now.

MR. COOK:  Lucas, I don't have anything.  If we have an announcement with regard to our airstrikes and our targeting of particular individuals, we'll let you know.

Q:  And follow-up to Tony's question on North Korea, is the Pentagon confident that if North Korea were to launch a ballistic missile of any kind that the U.S. military could successfully knock it out of the sky?

MR. COOK:  Yes.  Over here.

Q:  General Austin today during a hearing at the Senate said also that some YPG groups are in cooperation with Russia and he also said that those groups are also attacking -- have attacked certain U.S.-backed opposition groups.  We know that the U.S. is also supporting certain factions of YPG in the northeast and even as a part of SDF, the U.S. special forces are advising and assisting there.

To what extent you are concerned that this group is playing between two powers, that's Russia and the United States, to make certain political and strategic gain in northern Syria?

MR. COOK:  I mean, I -- I think I'll echo -- I didn't see General Austin's comments, but obviously, we would -- we would have concerns about that collaboration with the Russians if it was doing harm to forces on the ground that are taking the fight to -- to ISIL.  We continue to -- to support local, capable forces in Syria that are willing and share our interest in destroying ISIL.  And so we're going to continue to support those groups -- those vetted groups that -- that we find can make a contribution to that effort.

So again, I -- I didn't hear exactly what General Austin said, but it's consistent with our -- with our view from here at the Pentagon that we would have concerns about that.  Again, our focus is on defeating ISIL and supporting those groups on the ground that are -- have demonstrated a capability and a willingness to do so.

Bill?

Q:  So, I just want to be clear on the existing policy.  So, if there was a high-value operative that was picked up, say, a Baghdadi for instance, or a Zawahiri, they would be held for a short period of time, and then turned over to what would be the Iraqi government?

MR. COOK:  Bill, I'm going to, again, I'm not going to talk in hypotheticals right here.  But we have said that if there are detainees picked up in the ISIL fight, that the expectation would be that there would be short-term detentions.  We've had previous incidents of this.  And they would be handled -- turned over to the appropriate Iraqi authorities.

We've also said with regard to the closure of -- the responsible closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, that people would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  And so, that's where we are right now; that there are options beyond Guantanamo Bay should that plan move forward.

Q:  But you're not -- you're not going to be able to talk about those options?

MR. COOK:  I'm not going to talk about hypothetical situations.  So, be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Q:  Okay.  One last thing.

MR. COOK:  Yes?

Q:  On the Somali strike yesterday.  Imminent threat was in there, I believe.  And I was wondering if there was a specific attack that perhaps, you know, was picked up?  Was there anybody, you know, at risk in the immediate area?

MR. COOK:  Again, I'll go back to what I said earlier, that we're confident that there was -- those forces posed an threat not only to AMISOM forces in the region, which have come under attack from Al-Shabaab a number of times in recent weeks, but also U.S. forces in the region working with AMISOM.

And so we do believe there was a direct threat.  And we believe that this strike has been successful in reducing that threat.

Q:  So, is it one of those things where there were 150 bad guys and they're probably going to do bad things?  Or was it, like, they're going to attack, you know --

MR. COOK:  I'm not going to get into intelligence matters from here.  But again, we feel confident that there was a -- that this has reduced a direct threat not only to AMISOM forces, but to U.S. forces in Somalia.

Yes, over here?

Q:  On the U.S.-Korean exercises?

MR. COOK:  Mm-hmm.

Q:  What are the point of those exercises -- the current exercises that are ongoing between South Korea and the U.S.?

MR. COOK:  These are annual exercises.  And they are meant to bolster our coordination and the security of South Korea; and to demonstrate our ability to work together and to coordinate together.  These have happened in the past, and were scheduled for this time right now.

Q:  Is there any difference between this year's exercise and past years?

MR. COOK:  They are consistent with what we've done in the past.  They are not a particular reaction, if you will, to the most recent North Korea activities.  But they, again, demonstrate our ability to work directly with the South Koreans in the defense of South Korea.  And I think at this particular moment in time, again, they're a tangible demonstration of the strength of our alliance, our ability to work together, our ability to coordinate together.

And it should send a message to others that -- that we stand by our South Korean allies and we do it -- and we practice -- it's not just words.  We actually actively work together with the South Koreans to make that happen.

Q:  Could you confirm that more forces are involved this year?

MR. COOK:  I'm not sure what the comparison is to years past, but there are several thousands U.S. forces involved in these exercises and I think that's consistent with where we've been in the past.  I don't have an exact head count difference.  But again, this is an annual -- these are annual exercises that have happened previously.  But again, at this particular moment in time, they should once again show our resolve to stand by our South Korean allies.

Yes?

Q:  Circling back to the China defense budget.  If my understanding is right, this building has continued to express concern about the lack of transparency with the Chinese military budget, but just a few moments ago, you said that there's no comment -- (inaudible).  So, does your no comment reflect a change of view?

MR. COOK:  No.  You're asking me about budget numbers or the Chinese budget numbers.  We have I think in the past expressed our concerns about some aspects of the Chinese military and what they're spending that money on.  We're concerned about the militarization, obviously, we're seeing in the South China Sea.

So -- but in terms of the specific dollar amounts, we have our own budget to worry about here at this present moment.  So, with regard to that question before -- in terms of the dollar amounts, things like that -- as you said, there isn't a tremendous amount of transparency so there's only so much that we can say about that -- that budget.

But we have concerns about, again, China's activities and -- and its actions as much as we do about the budget itself, maybe more so.

All right.  I've tired you all out.  Back to the --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK:  This -- someone who hasn't had a question.

Q:  I understand there's a big concern in the White House because the spreading of Zika in Puerto Rico.  Is there any specific things that maybe DOD is going to do to support -- control this disease?

MR. COOK:  Yes, we've already been asked by the White House to offer our support to Health and Human Services, which is taking the lead obviously in this country.  Specifically, we've had research into Zika in the past that we've been willing to share.  And of course, we're doing everything we can with regard to U.S. service members who could be in areas that have been exposed to the Zika virus, making sure that they've got all the protective measures in place that they need to try and protect themselves.

But beyond that, again, that's something we've been asked by the White House to do, which we're happy to do.  Those are the appropriate steps for us to take at this point, but nothing's changed that I'm aware of.

Q:  But are there any plans to deploy maybe brigades, medical brigades   to help control the (inaudible) or access the situation?

MR. COOK:  Nothing that I'm aware of at this particular moment in time.  But obviously, if that changes, we'll let you know.

Yes, I'll come here, and then back to Tony.

Q:  It's a question that the French people have at this moment in their mind.  What does the president think of the possibility of Donald Trump becoming commander in chief?

MR. COOK:  I think you've heard the secretary say that the one place you won't hear the Department of Defense in this election year is talking about presidential politics.  And I think I'll take my cue from my boss and not discuss the presidential race from this podium.

Tony?

Q:  Hard to trump that question.

(Laughter.)

MR. COOK:  Nice, nice.

Q:  All right.  The services have compiled their annual wish lists of if we had all the money in the world, this is what we'd like to buy.  The Marines have sent theirs up.  The other services are sending those up.  Has the secretary actually reviewed them?  Does he have a view?  And will he have his own list of what not to fund going up to the Hill?  Or his own view of it, his reaction?

MR. COOK:  Tony, I am actually not 100 percent familiar if he's been able to see each and every one of those lists.

I know that these were lists that were provided I think before they were even shared with the secretary.  I think the point to be made here is that the secretary has presented a budget within the confines of the budget agreement.  It is a budget that he feels can carry out the necessary priorities and needs of this department in preserving the national security of the United States, within the confines of that budget, working very carefully on the shape of that budget since we couldn't alter the size.

I think he's detailed at multiple locations already, including up on Capitol Hill, why he's made the decisions he has, why he had to make certain tough choices with regard to investments.

And so I think the secretary is going to be speaking to Capitol Hill and members of Congress about the budget we presented and defending the budget we presented, as opposed to a wish list of things that -- that we can't afford at this particular moment in time.  He's had to make difficult choices working with the services and I think he feels confident that the budget he's put forward represents that best balance of those difficult decisions.

Q:  (Inaudible) going to push back, though, on some of these -- I mean, the Air Force cut five F-35s from their '17 budget, but on their wish list, they put them back on there.  So that's hardly a tough choice.

MR. COOK:  So again, Tony, the -- the document that is most relevant is the budget plan that the -- that the secretary submitted to Capitol Hill.  That will be the document that drives our discussions with members of Congress.  And again, Congress has a say in this as well.  This is a conversation that the secretary's is looking forward to having with law-makers.

Okay.  Thanks, everyone.