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Secretary of Defense Testimony

Opening Statement on "U.S. National Security Challenges and Ongoing Military Operations" before the Senate Armed Services Committee

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Washington, D.C., Sept. 22, 2016

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Thank you very much, Chairman [McCain], Ranking Member Reed, all the members of this committee, thank you for having us here.

And Chairman, and Senator Reed, thanks for taking the time to talk with me before this hearing – much appreciated as always – and for hosting General Dunford by my side, where he is all the time. And I’m very pleased and our country is very fortunate to have him.  Similarly, I want to thank you for hosting the service chiefs last week.  I appreciated your comments to them about the inefficiencies and the dangers of continued budget instability and gridlock, as well as the risk of sequestration’s looming return.  I look forward to addressing those topics, more, today with you.

I also appreciate your support for our men and women serving around the world, military and civilian alike, you always provide it.  They are the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  They’re the – no one else in the world is stronger, no one is more capable, more innovative, more experienced, and has better friends and allies than they.  That’s a fact – a fact that Americans ought to be proud of. 

As you know, DoD is currently addressing each of the five challenges that Chairman Dunford and I described to you in our budget testimony this spring, and that the Chairman and Senator Reed already touched on – namely, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism.  And on the last, in the wake of this week’s attacks in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota, we remain as determined as ever to continue countering terrorists around the world who seek to do harm to our country and our personnel – more on that shortly.

As Chairman Dunford and I testified this spring, we’ve been planning for our activities to be paid for by the 2017 budget that we have submitted and that we developed.  That budget adhered to last fall’s bipartisan budget deal in overall size, while in shape, it marked a strategic turning point for DoD – making breakthrough investments in new operational concepts, in pioneering technological frontiers, in reforming the DoD enterprise, and in building the force of the future.  It also put a high premium on continuing to rebuild the readiness of our forces – requiring not only stable resources, but also time.  Nothing is more important than readiness to me or to the service chiefs.  And yet today, just eight days away from the end of this fiscal year, that budget has yet to be funded by Congress.

I want to discuss that with you today, but because this hearing is partly about ongoing military operations, let me begin with an operational update on our campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.

Now, each time Chairman Dunford and I have appeared before this committee since back last October, I’ve described to you our coalition military campaign plan, which is focused on three objectives.  The first is to destroy the ISIL cancer’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, because the sooner we end ISIL’s occupation of territory in those countries – that is, the sooner we destroy both the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology – the safer all of the world will be.  And that’s necessary, absolutely necessary, it’s not sufficient.  So our second objective is to combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around world…in Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere.  And our third objective is to help protect the homeland.  This is mainly the responsibility of our partners in the FBI, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the Intelligence Community, and state and local law enforcement, but DoD strongly supports them, and I’ll address how momentarily.

Since last fall, we’ve taken many steps to continually accelerate this campaign – all consistent with our strategic approach of enabling capable, motivated local forces, for that’s the only way to ensure ISIL’s lasting defeat.  And while we have much more work to do, the results of our effort are showing.

In Iraq, we’ve been enabling the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.  After retaking Ramadi and establishing a staging base at Makhmour, the ISF went on to take – retake Hit, Rutbah, Fallujah, and the important airfield and town of Qayyarah – setting the stage to complete the envelopment of Mosul and the collapse ISIL’s control over it.  In the last few days, the ISF became – began operations to retake Sharqat and other towns surrounding Mosul.  And the final assault on Mosul will commence – as with previous operations – when Prime Minister Abadi gives the order.

In Syria, our coalition has also enabled considerable results by our local partners.  They retook Shaddadi – severing a key link between Raqqa and Mosul – and then Manbij City – clearing a key transit point for ISIL’s external operations and plotters, and providing key intelligence insights.  Additionally, our ally Turkey is helping local Syrian partners clear their border region [of] ISIL.  We’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Turks, supporting these efforts from the air, on the ground, and with intelligence.  And as we do so, we’re managing regional tensions – tensions that we’ve foreseen – and keeping everyone focused on our common enemy:  ISIL.

Meanwhile, we’re systematically eliminating ISIL’s leadership, with the coalition having taken out seven members of the ISIL Senior Shura, including its Chief of External Operations, Al-Adnani.  He was one of more than 20 ISIL external operators and plotters we’ve removed from the battlefield.  

We’re also continuing to go after ISIL’s attempts to develop chemical weapons – as we continue to ensure that U.S., coalition, and Iraqi troops are vigilantly protected from that threat.  And just last week, in one of the single largest airstrikes of our campaign, we destroyed a pharmaceutical facility near Mosul that ISIL tried to use as a chemical weapons plant.  We also continue to aggressively attack ISIL’s economic infrastructure – oil wells, tanker trucks, cash storage, and more.  And we continue to take the fight to ISIL across every domain, including cyber.

With all this, we’re putting ISIL on the path to a lasting defeat in Iraq and Syria – particularly as we embark on a decisive phase of our campaign, to collapse ISIL’s control of Mosul and Raqqa. 

With respect to the Syrian civil war, I’m gonna commend Secretary Kerry for working so tirelessly to seek an arrangement which, if implemented, would ease the suffering of the Syrian people and get Russia pushing at last for a political transition, which is the only way to end the Syrian civil war.  There remains a way to go to see if the terms of that arrangement can be implemented – unfortunately the behavior we’ve seen from Russia and Syria over the last few days has been deeply problematic.

Let me turn to our second objective, combatting ISIL’s metastases.  In Libya, thanks to U.S. precision airstrikes undertaken at the request of the Government of National Accord, ISIL’s territory in Sirte has now been reduced to a single square kilometer…and I’m confident ISIL will be ejected from there.  Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we worked with our Afghan partners to conduct a large operation against ISIL over the last two months – dealing the organization severe blows, killing its top leader, and degrading its infrastructure, logistics base, and recruiting.  And there’ll be more coming. 

Next, to help protect our homeland and our people, DoD continues to provide strong support to our law enforcement, homeland security, and intelligence partners.  This is the number-one mission of our Northern Command.  And the U.S. military is supporting our partners in three critical ways.  First, we’re ensuring the protection of our personnel and the DoD facilities where they work and reside.  Second, we’re disrupting ISIL’s external operations – more on that shortly.  And third, we’re also disrupting the flow of foreign fighters both to and from Iraq and Syria.  This is part of a broader effort within our coalition to not only stem the flow of foreign fighters, but also counter ISIL’s online messaging, recruitment, and spread of its loathsome ideology.

Going forward, the collapse of ISIL’s control over Raqqa and Mosul – which we’re confident our coalition will achieve – will indeed put ISIL on an irreversible path to lasting defeat.  But after that, to take up a point that both the Chairman and Ranking Member Reed made, there will still be much more to do.  Political challenges will remain.  For that reason, the international coalition’s stabilization efforts cannot be allowed to lag behind our military progress.  That’s critical to making sure that ISIL, once defeated, stays defeated. 

Truly delivering ISIL a lasting defeat requires both strategic patience and persistence.  We can’t predict what will come after our coalition defeats ISIL, so we must be ready for anything – including any attempts by ISIL to remain relevant, even if only in the darkest corners of the Internet.

Let me now address issues DoD faces as an institution, and how you can help. 

We have three grave concerns related to processes here in Congress:  one, budget gridlock and instability; two, micromanagement and over-regulation; and three, denial of needed reforms.  As you’ve heard consistently from me and DoD senior leaders, all three are serious concerns.  But here today, because of how close we are to the end of the fiscal year, I want to focus just on the first.

We need Congress to come together around providing normal, stable, responsible budgets because the lack of stability represents one of the single biggest strategic risks to our enterprise at DoD.  That’s why I’ve been talking about the major risks posed by budget instability for over a year and a half.  You heard the same from the service chiefs last week. 

Such budget instability undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars – often in ways taxpayers can’t even see.  It baffles our friends, emboldens our foes.  It’s managerially and strategically unsound, and it’s unfairly dispiriting to our troops, for their families, and our workforce.  And it’s inefficient for our defense industry partners, too. 

We’re now eight days away from the end of the fiscal year, but instead of stability, we’re going into Fiscal Year 2017 with yet another continuing resolution…this for the eighth fiscal year in a row.  That’s a deplorable state of affairs – and Chairman McCain, I appreciate your comments to our service chiefs about the damage a CR can do to our institution.  As you know, the longer a continuing resolution lasts, the more damaging it is.  It’s not just a matter of money, but where the dollars are.  For example, a CR that goes past December would undermine our plan to quadruple our European Reassurance Initiative at a time, as the Chairman already alluded, when we need to be standing with our NATO allies and standing up to deter Russian aggression.

I know you will return here in November to pass defense appropriations and a National Defense Authorization Act; I look forward to working with you then.  However, I cannot support any approach to the defense budget that moves us toward sequestration, or away from bipartisanship.  And not at the expense of stability that comes with it.  Not if it shortchanges the needs of our warfighters.  Not if it means funding lower priorities instead of higher priorities.  Not if it undermines confidence in the ability to pass bipartisan budget deals, which could lead to the imposition of sequestration’s $100 billion in looming, automatic cuts to us.  And not if it adds extra force structure that we can’t afford to keep ready in the long-term, which would only lead to a hollow force. 

I’m confident, and hopeful, that we can come back together again.  Today, America is fortunate to have the world’s greatest military.  I know it, you know it, our friends and allies know it, and critically, our potential adversaries know it too.  Only with your help can we ensure that my successors can say the same, and that what is today the finest fighting force the world has ever known remains that way for years to come.

Thank you.