Media Availability with Secretary Carter and Lt. Gen. MacFarland in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, commander, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  OK.  I'm here with General MacFarland.

Come on up, Sean.

And we're here, you heard the announcement I made earlier to the troops here.  So I won't repeat that.  We're simply ready to take your questions.

STAFF:  Lita?

SEC. CARTER:  Lita.

Q:  For the general, maybe, some details.  Along what timeline do you think these new additional troops are coming in?  And could you give us a broader or at least a little bit more detail on the kinds of things you expect them to be able to do -- (inaudible) -- possible bridging advice and help for the Iraqis?  What are you looking for from these troops?

STAFF:  Can you step to the mic, sir.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL SEAN MACFARLAND:  Sure, sorry, sir.

SEC. CARTER:  All right.

GEN. MACFARLAND:  These troops are coming in to do a variety of tasks.  All of them are support tasks.  The ones that the secretary just announced, the 560, are coming in to help expand the base at Qayyarah West airfield into a node that can support the Iraqi security forces as they move forward with the Mosul operation.

It will be an operational airfield like the ones in Al Asad and Tadji and Taqaddum.  And so we have to bring in a wide array of capabilities to make those fully functional.  And that's what these forces do.

And as always when we bring in forces to an area, we bring in a security envelope with them.  And there is a security element that goes with that.  So that is basically who these folks are.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Oh, to the timing.  It will be relatively soon.  I don't want to be too precise for operational security purposes.  But they will begin flowing in fairly short order.  They've already gotten the warning orders.

SEC. CARTER:  Let me just add a little bit to that, if I could. 

I mean, Lita, they are ready to come.  It's like days and weeks, not months.  And the reason for that is that the Iraqi security forces have been successful in getting to Qayyarah West.

And the only other thing I would add is just to remind you the importance of Qayyarah West.  It is one of the two locations, Maqhmur being the other ones -- objectives that we set some months ago as places from which the Iraqi security forces would position themselves for the southernmost envelopment of Mosul.

Because the whole idea is to envelop Mosul from the north and the south, and then collapse ISIL's control over it, as has been done in other cities -- Hit, Rutbah, Fallujah, Ramadi, and so forth.

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Manbij.

SEC. CARTER:  Manbij ongoing, Manbij in Syria.  That's the importance of it.

STAFF:  Thomas?

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, general.

Can you just help to reconcile for the general public, on the one hand you're very essentially touting the significance of -- (inaudible).  Nonetheless, we continue to see an increasing number of terrorist attacks around the world.

So can you please explain like at what point there will some kind of inflection point, ISIL will be defeated here and also -- (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, there have been important results here in Iraq by the Iraqi security forces, enabled by the coalition.  Here, I want to give really great credit to General MacFarland and all the troops -- U.S. troops that are here supporting.  Sean has made an enormous difference as commander here. 

And it's necessary -- it's essential that this work continue.  It's not done yet.  We still have important work to do here in Iraq and also in Syria.  But to get to your question.  It's necessary, but not sufficient to destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria because this is where it began, and is what I have called the parent tumor of the cancer of ISIL.

But like cancer, ISIL has spread and metastasized to other places.  And it also threatens our homelands.  And so in all three of those ways, not just the Iraq-Syria theater, but elsewhere around the world, and in protecting our homelands, we have to work hard in all three of those areas.

And ISIL will be active in all three.  Even here in Iraq, you've seen, and I gave my condolences to the prime minister today.  You've seen ISIL carry out attacks.  And so it's important to recognize that as we expel ISIL from the major urban areas of Iraq, which the Iraqi security forces with our help are in the process of doing, there will be a larger -- need to be a larger effort to secure the country.

And that will be something that we will be helping them with as well.

Sean, do you want to add anything to that?

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Sir, the other thing I would add is that as the enemy loses control over some of these key support nodes like Manbij, and eventually Raqqah and Mosul, they lose a base of operations.  They lose finances.  They lose the ability to plan, to create the fake documentation that they need to get around the world. 

And they lose financial resources.  So we don't know how many acts of terror that we've disrupted or prevented so far.  It's impossible to know or to prove.  But you have to believe that as we continue to deny the enemy the ability -- or a safe haven where they can plan and prepare for these operations, it will eventually support the larger campaign against terror around the world.

STAFF:  -- (inaudible) --

Q:  (inaudible) -- the general -- (inaudible) the two categories that were mentioned specifically (inaudible) for logistics and the other one was -- (inaudible).

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Yes, sure.  So look, it's an airfield, right?  So we're going to need airfield operations.  And if you want to go in concentric circles around that, we're going to also have to have a logistics footprint there to facilitate the flow of goods and supplies and personnel through that airfield.

We'll have a security envelope around that.  We'll have a communications capability there so that we can talk and command and control or a headquarters element as well.  Nothing very sexy in any of that, but all very necessary to keep the campaign moving forward.

Q:  -- (inaudible) --

GEN. MACFARLAND:  In a previous lift, we got the advisers that we requested, so we have that capability.  Thanks.

STAFF:  -- (inaudible) --

Q:  Is there any concern that as ISIL poses a terrorist threat to Baghdad -- (inaudible) -- Iraqi government will pull forces to back from the fight in Mosul to the capital?

SEC. CARTER:  I did talk -- I'll start and then, Sean, you can add.

We did talk -- I did talk to the prime minister, of course, and in addition to offering my condolences, we did talk about improving the security situation in Baghdad, not in that sense of changing at all our operations plan for the north or in Anbar or anything else.

But there are things that we can help him do as he beefs up security in Baghdad.  We didn't talk about additional forces.  He has substantial forces here.  We did talk about detectors for perimeter to provide security and detect explosives being introduced into Baghdad.

We did talk about how to detect and help him to detect the networks that build and deliver IEDs.  And I offered him, this is important, the help of the organization that we use and used over the last years in both Iraq and Afghanistan to help U.S. forces cope with the IED threat.

And the commander of that effort will be coming to Baghdad shortly in order to bring to the Iraqi security forces that substantial experience and tradecraft that we learned by hard experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So those are important ways that we can help.

But let me ask Sean if he wants to add anything.

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Thank you, sir.

The enemy is adaptive.  And we have to continually adapt as well.  And what the secretary just laid out are some of the means by which we're doing that.  But I would also add that the best defense is a good offense.  And by continuing to put pressure on the enemy in places like Raqqah, Mosul, Manbij, it does prevent the enemy from really hatching a lot of these types of plots.  But we are starting to put pressure on the enemy's terrorist -- terror networks, threat networks that are around the capital, and we will continue to ramp that up over time.

STAFF:  We have time -- (inaudible).

Q:  (inaudible) -- string of small, incremental -- (inaudible) -- U.S. forces to this region.  And I wonder if you can sort of explain to the American people -- (inaudible).  Is there an unlimited number of Americans that could be returning to this war zone?  And particularly looking ahead to Mosul, which I think -- (inaudible) -- one of the largest fights in this conflict against ISIL, is there any limit on the number of Americans who will return?

And then I have a question about -- (inaudible).

SEC. CARTER:  Well, first of all, we're looking for, and have been for months now, ways that we can accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL here in Iraq and Syria.  And consistent with our overall strategic approach, which is to achieve a lasting defeat which means working with capable, motivated local forces that can hold territory and govern territory after ISIL is expelled from it.

So we're looking for ways to do that.  And you're exactly right.  We have over the course of six months I described of this campaign, the plays of this campaign, been looking for and asking General MacFarland, what is it that you need that will help you take the next steps.

We've given him the authorities and the capabilities that he has asked for when he has asked for them.  And in each case when I've done that, the president has approved them.  And Sean has them in time.

So we're in fact looking for opportunities to complete the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  And then I'll just remind you, going back to an earlier question, there are other places as well.  Plus we have work to do in the homeland.

So there is a lot to do.  But we will defeat ISIL, I don't have any doubt about that.  But as and when Sean determines that there are additional capabilities that he needs, again in the enabler role, we will provide them.  I will ask the president for them and I have every expectation he will give them.

Sean, do you want to add anything?

GEN. MACFARLAND:  Sir, the only thing I would add to that is that whenever we look for an additional capability to bring into the country, we do that in consultation with the government of Iraq.  And that's an important part of the process.  And so far, we've had absolutely no issues with getting the approvals that we require.

SEC. CARTER:  That's an important point also.  I mentioned President Obama, who obviously has to approve U.S. forces.  But anything that goes on here is subject to Prime Minister Abadi's approval.

That's why I discussed this with him today to confirm his approval for this change in the number of U.S. forces here.  And that's true of all coalition forces.  And of course, it's important that all of the forces that we support are under the command and control of Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi security forces.

GEN. MACFARLAND:  And I would just add also, sir, that our coalition partners are also increasing their capabilities here right along with us.  And it's not just the United States.  There is a large coalition and more and more we're getting the contributions that we need from our partners who, by the way, are decreasing the number of U.S. troops that need to deploy as well.

SEC. CARTER:  Now let me just add, if I may -- sorry just to double-down on that last point.  I'll be convening in a week-and-a-half all of the defense ministers of the entire counter-ISIL coalition in Washington, specifically to discuss the question that you asked.  What more can we do?  And what more can they do?

And just to broaden the aperture a little bit here, don't -- remember that our support to Iraq in defeating ISIL will not only be military.  There is also stabilization and economic support.  Now that's not our job, but it is something that Secretary Kerry will be discussing with other foreign ministers.

And it's crucial, because it's crucial that after ISIL is expelled from Ramadi, Fallujah, and it will be from Mosul, it's important that people who are displaced by the campaign be dealt with humanely, that they be returned to their homes and so forth.

So there's a lot of work to do here.  And it's not just U.S. work, and it's not just military work in order to make sure that the defeat of ISIL is lasting, and some of the damage that they've done in the course of their barbaric ruling of some of these cities is repaired.

STAFF:  Last -- (inaudible).

Q:  (inaudible) -- just to be clear that all (inaudible) airfield, and then (inaudible) that this is closest that U.S. troops have been actually based to the fighting -- (inaudible) -- living and sleeping at this location -- (inaudible) -- the fighting is only -- (inaudible) -- or less.

And if that's -- (inaudible) -- does that mean the U.S. troops with this new deployment will be in more danger?

GEN. MACFARLAND:  So, no and no.  Does that help?  (Laughter.)

You said there were two questions.  But, so no, they will not all be at this airfield.  The preponderance of them will be.  To make an airfield work, some of the people have to push supplies to that airfield.  So some of these folks will be located outside of the airfield, but supporting it.

And that will not necessarily be the closest our troops are to the enemy.  We've had obviously three servicemen killed in action.  So we've been in contact with the enemy.  We've been doing operations in places like Makhmur where we're providing support there within range of the enemy; in Taqaddum airfield, Al Asad -- all these places we're close to the fighting around Haditha, Ramadi, Fallujah.

So no, this will not be any closer to the enemy than we've been anywhere else.  But we need to move to this place so that we can be as close to the fighting as we have been in the Euphrates River valley fights.

SEC. CARTER:  Let me just -- can I just add on just -- or Footstomp, which Sean has sent out. 

We need to be clear that there are Americans at risk here in Iraq.  There have been.  I've emphasized that right along.  They're doing all kinds of essential functions.  Their basic strategic function is enabling.  But there is risk associated with that.  And make no mistake about that.  And so there have been casualties here.

And we -- when we request and deploy forces, speaking for myself, but I know I speak for Sean too, we understand that we're putting people at risk here.  All Americans who are at risk here who are working in this place can be at risk because this is a terrorist network, as well as an insurgent network.

STAFF:  Thanks, everybody.

SEC. CARTER:  Thanks.