SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Good morning. Good morning, everyone.
I hope you all had a good Fourth of July weekend.
And it's a pleasure for me to welcome my friend, my colleague, my admired colleague, the Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian here to the Pentagon.
France, as you may know, is America's oldest ally. (inaudible)
I had a French girlfriend once.
SEC. CARTER: Let me start again, and thank my good friend, my colleague, my admired colleague, the Minister of Defense of France Jean-Yves Le Drian here to the Pentagon.
France is America's oldest ally. And today, our security partnership is the strongest it's ever been. I first want to thank Minister Le Drian for spending our Independence Day in New York City. He was aboard the sailing ship, Hermione, a replica of the frigate made famous in 1780 by its voyage across the Atlantic when it carried the Marquis de Lafayette, the legendary general and friend of the American Revolution.
In a ceremony aboard the ship on Saturday, Minister Le Drian commemorated the 70th anniversary of our shared victory in World War II, another example of U.S.-French security cooperation, by awarding France's highest recognition, the Legion of Honor, to American World War II veterans
Minister, thank you for celebrating America's birthday with us. Thank you for honoring our veterans. And thank you for reaffirming our centuries-long alliance.
We just finished a productive discussion on shared concerns, ongoing operations, and opportunities to strengthen yet further our security cooperation. One area we discussed was ISIL. I commended Minister Le Drian and France's commitment to the fight to deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL, a campaign that we agreed requires a sustained and long-term effort.
Earlier this year, France deployed its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Gulf to support counter-ISIL strikes, integrating seamlessly with U.S. forces. The French Air Force, being the first to join us in striking ISIL targets in Iraq, continues to play a critical role there.
These are some of the reasons why France continues to be one of our strongest allies when it comes to the challenges in the Middle East.
We also discussed France's persistent leadership in Africa, particularly the Sahel. French operations there are preventing spillover of terrorism, trafficking and extremism, disrupting Al Qaeda affiliates, Boko Haram and other extremists in North and West African nations, like Mali, Niger and Chad, and the U.S. military will continue to support France in these efforts with our lift and aerial refueling capabilities.
Also, given new security challenges to Europe's south and to its east, we agreed that U.S.-French cooperation is and must remain an anchor for European security.
Following Russia's initial acts of aggression in Ukraine, France helped NATO reassure our allies along Europe's eastern borders, and we will continue to work together.
During my trip to Europe, I committed the United States to providing important capabilities to NATO's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the VJTF, which France has volunteered to lead in the future.
Now, I've been working on Trans-Atlantic Security for a long time, both in and outside of government, and I think Minister Le Drian would agree this is the best our defense relationship has been in a very long time, probably ever, and we're committed to strengthening it still, because we're reminded by celebrating America's independence or by commemorating our shared victory in World War II, the partnership between France and the United States has long been instrumental to building peace and prosperity for people here and around the world. We must ensure it will always be.
I'll now welcome Minister Le Drian's comments before we take questions. Thank you.
FRENCH MINISTER OF DEFENSE JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you, my dear friend.
I'm particularly happy to stand today in Washington, D.C. after the celebration of July 4th, for which, as you recall, I was in New York with the passage of Hermione, which is a sign of the permanence of our common history, both the signing of Hermione and also the distribution of the Legion of Honor to 23 veterans who participated in the landing in France in 1944, this common history, which is, of course, old now but also has the quality and the actuality. Since you mentioned it yourself, our relationship has never been that tight for a long, long time, and I can confirm it.
I thank you, again, dear Ashton Carter, for your welcome and for the quality of the exchanges we have had. We've already met in the past, but it's the first time that we meet face to face since you have arrived in the Pentagon as the secretary of defense.
We have mentioned our bilateral cooperation, which is excellent. France and the United States are acting together on many theaters -- in the Sahel, where we're in the front lines, in the Levant, where France participates in the coalition led by the United States.
The deployment of the French aircraft carrier in the spring for this coalition, as you mentioned yourself, was testimony of this French commitment. We are also fully committed in reassurance measures for our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, both with air force, navy and land forces.
The multiplication of crises and the tension will impose on us to get closer and closer. We mentioned Libya and our support to the mediation of -- (inaudible). We have mentioned the support to the Tunisian government. We have also mentioned the cooperation of the training for drones, for instance, or the perspective of the strengthening of our spacial cooperation.
In summary, I consider that our partnership, our mutual trust is essential if we want to face the security challenges of our time, according to the tradition of the alliance between our two countries, that is, you know, very close and very frank at the same time.
Thank you again.
STAFF: (inaudible) -- questions today, we'd like to call first on Lita Baldor from the Associated Press.
Q: Mr. Secretary, considering the recent uptick in our strikes in Iraq and Syria, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about whether or not the United States is looking to increase in any way either the funding or activity against the Islamic state? And whether you think -- whether or not you asked the minister during your meeting if French -- if France would indeed help -- start helping with airstrikes or other support in Syria?
And for the minister, Mr. Minister, I was wondering if you could address the latest news with Greece rejecting the bailout, and whether or not you think that that will have any impact on national security in Europe and on NATO? And whether this may require any additional support from the United States for France in any of its counterterrorism?
SEC. CARTER: Well, thank you.
Well, we are doing more in Syria from the air. I think you saw some of that in recent days. And the opportunity to do that effectively is provided in the case of the last few days by the effective action on the ground of Kurdish forces, which gives us the opportunity to support them tactically.
And that's what we were doing over the weekend north of Raqqa, which is conducting airstrikes that limit ISIL's freedom of movement and ability to counter those capable Kurdish forces. And as it's very important, that's the manner in which effective and lasting defeat of ISIL will occur, when there are effective local forces on the ground that we can support and enable so that they can take territory, hold territory and make sure that good governance comes in behind it.
So we are looking for those opportunities and trying to create those opportunities in Syria. And that -- but it's the success on the ground of the Kurds that explains the uptick over the last few days.
Q: And whether -- (inaudible) -- France for help -- (inaudible)?
MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): France is fighting with the coalition since the very beginning, and we have declared our will in this coalition. This has been recalled earlier, and we participate fully within the coalition to the strikes against ISIL.
Our mission is in Iraq, and we are pursuing our action permanently, regularly, in Iraq. I must say that what needs to be noted is that the size of the strikes, their repetition, permanence, allowed us to block ISIS. We have not won yet, but everybody knows that this action will be very long, because also, we need to train the troops that we'll need later on to ensure the permanence. That's what we are doing, the United States and us, both in Iraq and in Kurdistan but also in Syria, as soon as it's going to be implemented so that the (inaudible) between the action on the ground of the territorial forces and the permanence of our strikes will give us a result, which will not be immediate but will happen eventually. And I really believe in the determination and persistence so that ISIL can never act without being punished.
As to Greece -- I understood your question was about Greece and NATO (inaudible) -- the talks ongoing in Europe. It would be a very bad analysis to think that the vote in Greece is against NATO. It was never mentioned on either side.
The Greek authorities are at the seat of the Atlantic alliance, and we met our Greek colleague a few days ago in Brussels, so it is not at all a vote against the alliance or the West. They have refused financial proposals that have been given to them, discussions to restart. It is not a vote to get out of Europe nor to get out of Europe—of course political (inudible) and there will be new discussions.
Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I have a question for both ministers.
MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The situation in Nigeria is sometimes tragic when we learn what's going on, and the events succeed each other -- massacres, slaughter of children and women, sometimes -- (inaudible) -- Nigeria, sometimes elsewhere, in Chad.
This situation is one of the first security problems that we have. We talked about it.
What is the situation? If you remember in May 2014, there was a summit in Paris which gathered heads of state of the concerned countries, not only Nigeria. There's Chad. There's Niger. There's Cameroon. And the president of the republic went to Cameroon and -- (inaudible) -- to confer.
And what I've noticed is that the countries in the region have decided to implement their own security with the mixed multinational force, to which we are bringing our support both through intelligence. We have created -- (inaudible) -- a center for that since the beginning of the year. I went to there on January 1st and I opened up, if you will, the intelligence unit which is the unit for coordination and liaison in the sector of intelligence, where we are present with our British friends.
And then there's the implementation of the unit of staff for the multinational force, which is going to be deployed in -- (inaudible) -- for the strategic part, and -- (inaudible) -- for the tactical part. And President (inaudible) has decided to go much further than before.
So, we have this mixed multinational force and our support both in intelligence and logistics. I think that Africans now are taking charge of their own security, with our support. And this should allow us to attack, to respond to Boko Haram, and to reach progressively a situation where we can eliminate Boko Haram.
This is what we are attending to, all of us, actually.
SEC. CARTER: I think it's a sign of our closeness that I don't have a lot to add to that -- to what the minister said. The governments of the region are responding and -- to Boko Haram. And we are supporting them. We do that together. The French have been leaders in that part of Africa in a very admirable way. We support them, as well as supporting the governments in the region directly.
And finally, the minister mentioned intelligence and the sharing of other information. And that's something yet again we discussed this morning. Even as I said, our cooperation overall with France in the security sector has never been stronger. That's true of the sharing of military information and intelligence information. And we took some actions this morning to increase that yet further.
The minister mentioned remotely piloted aircraft as one example of that in his statement. And so that was one of -- one of the things we discussed today. And it's applicable to Africa.
But I just want to commend the French on what they've been doing there. We have been pleased to support them and admiring their leadership.
Q: (inaudible) -- with some specificity. The strikes that you spoke about, what specific impact do you assess now that they have had on the ISIS leadership in and around Raqqa? Did you get any high-value targets?
The Kurds, of course, are still some 30 kilometers outside the city, and yet you were able to strike targets in populated areas. So what's changed about your intelligence picture? What specific impact did you have?
And on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, since you can't put troops -- and the French as well don't put troops on the ground in Syria and especially in Raqqa, what -- as you edge closer to Raqqa, what's the message for Baghdadi? Is this now clearly a kill mission, because you can't have any realistic hope of capturing him?
SEC. CARTER: Well, let's see.
The opportunities that we were pursuing in the last few days, the specific tactical opportunities, were not individuals, per se. They were the freedom of movement of ISIL and its ability to counter the advances of the YPG.
And we're doing them the way we've been doing it right along, namely with local forces nominating targets. We validate those targets, including validating that there won't be damage to innocent civilians associated with strike, and then we take the strike.
With respect to leadership, they -- they were not the subject of these particular tactical opportunities that arose over the weekend north of Raqqa, but we continue to take action against -- and will continue take action against ISIL leaders whenever we have the opportunity to do so and also taking into account our continuing restraint when it comes to anything that could involve damage to civilians.
Q: On Baghdadi's (off-mic), what is your assessment now since you don't put groups on the ground in Syria? Is Baghdadi now a kill rather than a capture mission?
SEC. CARTER: Well, we're able to target individuals in the -- currently. We have, we do, and if we had an opportunity to go after Baghdadi, if that opportunity presented itself and we looked for that opportunity, we would certainly take it.
Q: But you still don't put troops on the ground in Syria.
SEC. CARTER: But we target ISIL from the air every single day in Syria. Tactical targets, including leadership targets, we've been doing that for months and months now.
MODERATOR: Okay, -- (inaudible) -- from France 24.
Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): (off-mic) more precise, more details on what your counterpart said.
Tell us the reasons why France might not be committed over Syria. Is it the difference between you and your American counterpart?
MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I'm not going to make any comments about the strikes that the U.S. Air Force made. Mr. Carter just explained to you, and I'm not going to make any comments on that.
As to our choice and our presence, it has been explained many times. There's a sharing of tasks. It's the will of France to intervene in the coalition, and we do it on a very large way and a regular way. But to block, what I call myself, the terrorist army that ISIL has become -- it is no longer a terrorist group; it has become a terrorist army, which both has the capacity to act as a classical army, demonstrated it, but also to have operations in urban areas, which they also demonstrated, and terroristic operations, which they also demonstrated. They can do all three at the same time.
And the repetition of interventions and strikes in Iraq allowed us to stabilize, not to win, but to stabilize the situation. Remember that the coalition has intervened at a time where we thought that ISIL was about to seize Baghdad. It's not the case. It will not be the case. It's a long-term job. And Mr. Carter repeated that there should be sufficiently trained forces on the ground, with the support -- the air support of the coalition, in order to re-take the territories that have been lost to ISIL.
We are in this logic -- (inaudible).
STAFF: Thank you, everybody.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you. Look forward to seeing you this afternoon, many of you.