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Press Gaggle with Secretary Mattis En Route to Kuwait

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis
Dec. 3, 2017
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Coming out of Aqaba, Jordan, where he had the Aqaba Conference.  This process is one where the king, in this case ably assisted by the president of Nigeria, hosted an assembly of West African and associated -- and by associated I mean supportive countries organizations, international organizations. 

 

And just King Abdullah has always been someone who represents a moderate form of Islam and a willingness to work with other countries in the region and worldwide, as we try to make a for a little more stable world. 

 

And just a reminder, we were just talking about the spa and everything there at the hotel, this is a country that exists within a few dozen kilometers of four nations altogether -- Jordan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  But we all met there peacefully in that beautiful setting, and a reminder that when there's the political will to work together, countries with different domestic agendas, different foreign policies, can certainly work together when there's the political will.

 

And in a world which we focus often on how people don't get along, it's always interesting to see an example right there.  We just take for granted.  Of course it's that way.  Well, no, it's not of course; it' because there's leaders willing to work with one another, and not simply be either cynical -- cynical or standoffish or combative with one another.

 

So it's a good reminder that they would -- that they could do that, because today's conference was about how we undercut or prevent the conditions that breed violent extremist organizations.  And brought the other 44 senior officials and military leaders from various countries and international organizations, like African Union, European Union, plus other countries -- Italy, France, United Kingdom, United States -- I could go on -- Canada, Australia, and others.

 

This session this year focused on promoting West African regional security.  It goes annually.  This one is out to checkmate and reduce the threat of Boko Haram, ISIS in West Africa and Al Qaeda.   And it, overall, for me, it was on opportunity to listen to them, because each area we operate is different from others.  You don't simply -- you would take many lessons learned from one area to another, but you cannot take a template from one area to another, because the contributing factor is the aggravating conditions are always unique, at least in their scope, perhaps in their intensity, although oftentimes you find the same things -- economic -- a lack of a economic opportunity, a lack of educational opportunity, those kind of things.

 

So lessons learned can be shared, but at the same time you have to size it up for its individual local conditions.  With the U.S. going -- with our approach to our military relations, we work by, with and through others, and in this case it is by, with and through African-led solutions to the instability of terrorism.

 

Some of you may have heard about, I think, yesterday we had killed innocent people, murdered and wounded in Nigeria, for example, by Boko Haram, a reminder why we get together, why we share intelligence, and why we work by, with and through the African nations, and their organizations unique in this area.  That was the Multinational Joint Task Force, and also the G5 Sahel Organization, these are five nations in the Sahel who have grouped together.

 

So we'll continue to work by, with and through them.  Our partners coordinate defense diplomatic and developmental support.  We don't take a myopically military-only support.  That's not the way you solve these things.  It's got to be whole of government, and in this particular region we'll work through the Trans-Saharan Counter-terrorism Partnership to prevent the spread of violent extremism.  And they're all very much aware right now that the physical caliphate is being taken down in Syria and Iraq.

 

They've seen some efforts, for example, by ISIS to move to Libya.  You saw us push them on their back foot in January.  We've done it again a couple of months ago.  We're doing it as we speak now, and that's one of the reasons I met with the prime minister of Libya today before we all got on the airplane coming out to the region here.

 

So let me -- that's kind of where we're at right now.  It was a very fruitful session this morning.  I made some good contacts, people I can work with, and the contacts are not limited just to Africa.  I also include contacts in Latin America and Asia, and of course our continuing efforts with the European Union and NATO countries.

 

So what questions do you have on your mind?

 

Q:  Well, let me just -- I wanted to ask you a little bit about Pakistan since you're going there tomorrow.  You touched on it briefly on -- when you talked to us on our way out, but as you get ready to go there tomorrow, are you going to ask the Pakistanis for anything specific?  Do they have to do anything specific in there to help counter the safe havens?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  The first thing I'm going to do is do some listening, like I always do.  My goal is to find common ground.  We know we have some common ground.  They have lost hundreds, thousands of their troops killed and wounded by terrorists.  They have lost hundreds, thousands of their innocent people murdered and wounded by terrorists, so we know that there is common ground.  There is common ground between Afghanistan and Pakistan, because there are terrorist groups that try to move back and forth, that do move back and forth in order to live in one and attack in the other, that sort of thing.

 

So we know there's common ground; it's how much more common ground can we find by listening to one another without being combative with one another, listening to others perspective, but at the same time, as General Bajwa has said, he wants no havens for terrorists anywhere, so we will work together and we'll find that common ground, if we have the will to.  And then we'll work on how we address the problems where we can work together.

 

Q:  Are you going to prod them, though, to more on the border to step up...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  That's not the way I deal with issues.  I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground, and then we work together, so that's the approach I want to take.

 

Q:  If I could just follow up, and this was asked yesterday as well, but why you think you can be successful, when all of your predecessors have failed over the past 16 years to change Pakistan's behavior?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I wouldn't characterize everything over the past 16 years as failures.  There is clearly an abundance of areas where we have to double down, and I am optimistic at this point that because of what our adversaries, our mutual enemies are doing, that we can find ways to work together.

 

Q:  What do you mean by double down, what kind of areas?  What exactly does that mean?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  I think it's very clear.  As I said, both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistan military, the NATO-led militaries of 39 nations have all been in fights here.  We've got to find a way to work together.

 

Q:  No, but that's what you mean by doubling down?  What's that mean?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Working together.

 

Q:  In Egypt, there was a lot of stories that you were meeting with the Egyptians.  Can you give us a sense of due outs, did you offer additional counter-terrorism capabilities and hardware?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, when we spoke with the Egyptians, it's what more we can do in terms of intelligence sharing on ISIS in the Sinai, the ones who conducted the murderous attacks on a mosque where people at worship.  We talked about border security and what we can do, what more we can do there, intelligence sharing and perhaps certain equipment, that sort of thing.

 

We also talked about training and sharing the lessons that we and others have learned in counter-terrorism.  It doesn't mean we're the world's expert on it, but we've learned a lot of lessons.  We want to share those. Egypt is wide open to that.

 

Q:  And can I ask you, North Korea, we're here, but the world is fixated on North Korea.  Was the ICBM...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Say that about...

 

Q:  Was the ICBM that was launched last week...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

 

Q:  ... was that a game -- would you consider that a game-changer, or does North Korea still have other capabilities they need to demonstrate before you can say that their ICBM force is an existential threat against the U.S.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  We're still examining the latest ICBM test.  That's all I can say at this point.

 

Q:  Examining for what, from what they seem to have?   They seem to have more they need to do to develop?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, we examine for range, for capability, for all -- we examine all aspects of it.

 

Q:  Is it too early to say that launch was a game-changer?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm sorry?

 

Q:  Is it too early to say that launch was a game-changer?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  We'll, we're still examining it, Tony.  I'm not going to say what it -- I like to know what I'm talking about before I talk about it, so we're going to examine, and then I can probably give a better answer to the question.

 

Q:  We're hearing a lot about the by, with and through approach.  What does a military footprint across the world look like for that?  Are we going to see more troops go into Africa and other places?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  OK, by, with and through, what does it look like, as it is seen and practiced around the world?  And again, why I came to this conference is to hear the specific conditions here. 

 

For example, if you need institutional reform, and if the military itself is not organized right, that breeds a certain requirement, certain types of people to come in.  It may be more of my OSD policy people coming in, rather than uniform-wearing soldiers. 

 

If it's something to do with, they've got a good military, it obeys civilian leadership, but it has not got the right skillset, because they enemy is very adaptive, they learn how they can hide among innocent people, then we may bring in people to show how to do intelligence like that.  That may actually involve more police forces coming in to do it.

 

So it's got to be determined in each individual location.  What is the specific problem they're trying to solve?  So by, with and through will always be a whole-of-government effort. 

 

No doubt you'll see in most cases, because of the conditions that spawn this sort of thing, you'll see USAID guys and gals there.  You'll find U.S. diplomats clearly in the lead.  Our policy people will have gone in, if not at first, depending on their security conditions, but certainly early, in order to craft the military support so it actually reinforces the development aid, which may have to do with education or something like this.

 

So I can't characterize it completely.  I don't think it will be large numbers at any point.  That's the whole point -- we do it by, with and through others -- but they'll probably be oftentimes more mature NCOs and officers, ones who've got a fair amount of experience.  They won't be young troops so much. 

 

At times you'll see it be tactical trainers, where we teach tactics, marksmanship, first aid, what I'd call the basics of military forces, but it would -- it would be shifted to whatever the specific problem is.

 

Also there's other nations doing this, in the area we were just talking about, the Trans-Sahel area.  That is much -- France has a much larger footprint on the ground, thousands more troops than we'll ever have out there, as they lead the effort. 

 

But there's also German troops.  There's U.K. troops.  All of us working together.

 

Again, it's not just by, with and through the one nation we're going into help; it's what other nations are there. 

 

The Defeat ISIS Coalition would be another good example, where we have a lot of troops that are providing fire support for example and intel support, but the close combat is being fought by other nations.

 

At the same time we have dozens of nations, altogether 70 nations, on the Defeat ISIS Coalition, plus international organizations like Interpol, NATO, European Union -- there's another one, too -- Arab League -- are all engaged with that.  So it's all tailored to the specific conditions.

 

Q:  Would you call this a new initiative to fight extremism in Africa then?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  No, it is not new.  The -- these efforts have been going on for a long time now.  In some cases, they've gotten larger.  In some cases, they've gotten smaller.  As certain missions are done and they're taught how to do the tactics, and we teach their trainers how to do it, and our trainers come out.  Again, it's designed -- to use the old adage of give a man a fish, he can eat for a day; teach him how to fish, he can eat forever, you know.  We're trying to teach them how to do this.

 

And in many cases, I might add, we're learning from them.  We learn a lot from others on this, because they have ways of dealing with different organizational efforts -- local communities, tribal groups, religious groups in their countries.  So our people come out of this with a broader framework for solving problems elsewhere as well.

 

Yes?

 

Q:  On Pakistan you mentioned to U.S. lawmakers in October that you were willing to work one more time on the issue of militants.  Is there an urgency...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm sorry -- say that...

 

Q:  You mentioned to U.S. lawmakers in October that you were willing to work one more time...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

 

Q:  ... on the issue of militants.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

 

Q:  Is there an urgency to this as you head there now?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

 

Q:  Is there an urgency to this as you head to Pakistan?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  There's always an urgency to something when 39 nations plus Afghanistan have their troops in the midst of a long war, where causalities are being taken.  These are 39 of the most economically powerful, generally speaking, most long-term democratic institutions in the world.  These are powerful nations morally, economically and diplomatically, and certainly militarily.

 

So it's, I think, essential in South Asia that we all work together to restore the level of stability that allows for the economics to build.  I mean, can you imagine a border between Pakistan and India where economic trade is not ongoing to the benefit of people on both sides of that border.  We can not only imagine it; it's a reality right now.

 

So what we've got to do is all work together on this, and there's a sense of urgency about that.  There's people who are living below the poverty line in both those countries.

 

So as you look at this problem, if you'll expand the problem you can understand the sense of urgency to -- to move beyond violence and get back to the normal order of things.

 

Q:  But have you seen something by Pakistan recently that suggests to you they are open to do more, or that they're willing to change?  Have you seen any indication?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, Lita, I would look at visit of General Bajwa to Kabul here -- I forget the date.  It's in the last couple of months.  And I would look at General Bajwa's  statements about Pakistan taking the lead on certain issues, and that he put forward there.

 

Q:  So you think that's an opening for you?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  I have no doubt it's an opening.  General Bajwa is a mature officer with a deep background in not just military matters, but South Asia security issues, and we have got to find a way to move beyond this constant fighting that's characterized the area.

 

Q:  Over the past week we've seen in Pakistan sort of this rise of Islamist hardliners taking hold in the mainstream.  You know, there was this sit-in this was called off.  There was a, you know -- a militant with 10 million bounty, he was released from house arrest just a week before you arrived.  The White House said that could have repercussions for the relationship.

 

So given that you see a positive, there are a few things just in the past few weeks, that have really made here, that there is a slide towards extremism in the country.  Is that something you're going to bring up?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, first of all I need to talk to the leaders in the country and gain their understanding.  I do not do foreign policy, military policy through what I read in the press.  It is not to put anything down about the press.  I'm not saying that.  But I need to go -- this is why I go, to sit down and listen to them, start there, start by listening.

 

Q:  I need to ask you an acquisition question.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Sure.

 

Q:   connected with the...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  (Laughter.), Tony.

 

Q:  Last month you weighed in on the Air Force tanker issue.  You were concerned that the Air Force might, based on...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  The Air Force might?

 

Q:  They might -- the Air Force might accept Boeing tankers that were less than compliant.  You asked your staff to look into it.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  I was concerned that Air Force might do what with Boeing?

 

Q:  They may take Boeing tankers...

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Right.

 

Q:  They may accept Boeing tankers that were not compliant with all their contract specs.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  No.

 

Q:  You were concerned about that.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Let me correct that.

 

Q:  Yes?

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Tony, I think I understand where you're going here.  I -- I reinforced that Air Force was not going to accept tankers that weren't completely compliant with the contract, and that -- and Boeing -- I think it was a self-imposed goal, that -- deliver their tankers by the end of this calendar year, and Boeing, I think, has come out and said they may not be able to, but Boeing has been an excellent -- there hasn't been any pushback on the -- they're working to fix things and make them aligned with the contract, which myself, Undersecretary Ellen Lord, the Air Force and Boeing are all aligned on, if that addresses the broader issue.

 

But what's your specific question?

 

Q:   -- you've answered it basically.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, OK.

 

Q:  You sound like your satisfied with the pace the program is going now after you raised the concern.

 

SEC. MATTIS:  We need the tankers, but I want the tankers done right.  The Air Force needs tankers done right. The American taxpayer expects tankers done right, and Boeing is committed to delivering tankers that are done right.

 

So this is a team effort and I'm very, very comfortable that we're on the right track.  We'll get there.  It'll be the best tanker in the world.

 

Q:  Thanks.