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Media Availability with Secretary Mattis and General Townsend in Baghdad, Iraq

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  

General Townsend and I have been spending some time together here and -- and getting current on the political military situation as the Iraqi army continues to surge against the enemy on the west side of Mosul.  Despite the casualties they've taken, this is an army that's learned to fight in the middle of a real tough battle against our common enemy and the coalition commander, General Townsend, has briefed me up on the situation -- the current situation there today.

I would just tell you that by, with and through our allies is the way this coalition is going against Daesh.  We're going to continue to go after them until we destroy them and any kind of belief in the inevitability of their message.  Their message is going to be proven to be false on the battlefield as well as how we deal with their mythology of somehow they are the brave new way.

They're going to be shown to be at fault, they're going to be shown to be exactly what they are, which is a bunch of murderous relics, to put it bluntly.  So the Iraqi army is in the fight with the coalition supporting them with full support, and as we go through this fight, Daesh will not be over with.  We all know that.  There'll be more fights ahead, we'll stick together.  And as we look at the future, we're going to continue to stand by the Iraqi army, the Iraqi people, who are fighting this enemy.

So at that point, I would just throw it open to your questions.  We learned a lot here and aligned ourselves politically and militarily for the current fight and the future.  So what's on your mind?  Go ahead.

Q:  (Off mic)

LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEPHEN TOWNSEND:  It is true that we're operating closer and -- and deeper into the Iraqi formation, so we adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight and we embedded advisers a bit further down into the formation.  That is true.  I do not need -- I have all the authorities that I need to prosecute our fight and I'm confident if I need -- if I were to need more, that my leadership would provide those.

Q:  For both of you also, as you look ahead to -- (inaudible) -- fight and the upcoming difficult fight in Raqqa, what do you see as the key (inaudible) and -- and -- (inaudible) -- to be able to -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  We are going to prosecute this fight against Daesh, against ISIS, in the areas you mentioned and more areas than that, actually.  We'll accommodate any request from the field commanders.  Right now, our allies are carrying, as you can tell from the casualty list, the overwhelming burden of this fight in their own territory and we'll work by, with and through allies from the coalition.  And that coalition, as you know, has got more than 60 nations at varying levels.

So we owe some degree of confidentiality on exactly how we're going to do that and the sequencing of that fight so that we don't expose to the enemy what it is we have in mind in terms of the -- the timing of the operations.  But you -- you summed up some of the issues that we'll be dealing with as we go forward and we'll be addressing each one of them, from intelligence, to tactics, to logistics as we sustain the fight going into this.

Q:  You said -- you mentioned a number of things that you're looking at, but you have seven days left to provide your thirty-day review to the president.  Did you learn anything here that you could share with us -- (inaudible) -- what you're gonna -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  I would -- what I specifically learned here is the resilience of this army.  Recognize it took casualties, it has reconstituted itself both equipment and personnel wise, and as you know, has already crossed the line of departure going against the enemy and west Mosul.  This is not something that was a forgone conclusion for an army that only a year ago, many people were questioning.  

And you can see the level of capability they've constituted in the middle of a war with the kind of operation that you're right now witnessing today underway.

Q:  If I could ask General Townsend. What happens after Mosul? (off mic)

GEN. TOWNSEND:  Jennifer -- it's good to see you again, by the way.  We rode together in Baghdad a couple times a few years ago.  

I don't anticipate that we'll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul.  I think that the government of Iraq realizes this is a very complex fight and they're gonna need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul.

Q:  (Off mic)

GEN. TOWNSEND:  I wouldn't want to put a timeline on it.

Q:  (Off mic)

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, this is a partnership, Jennifer.  Your question is very appropriate because there's been a lot of rocky times out here.  But there is no doubt, from my discussions today, the Iraqi people, the Iraqi military and the Iraqi political leadership recognizes what they're up against and the value of the coalition and the partnership in particular with the United States which has been, as you know, developing very well in terms of this military's capability.  

So I imagine we'll be in this fight for a while and we'll stand by each other.

Q:  (Off mic)

SEC. MATTIS:  That's a political issue, an internal political issue right now what we've seen.  But there is only one country in the near proximity where the security forces actually protect the people when they're out protesting the government policies.

And I say -- think that says a great deal about how this country has matured in a pretty difficult neighborhood, that their military is actually seen as a protector of people who protest at times against government policies.  That's what militaries are supposed to do under civilian control in a democracy.

Q:  I have a version of the same question. In your meetings today, did you hear anything that made you confident that while the military’s successes-- (inaudible)and for you General Townsend, do you see (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, your -- both your questions are related because without political progress, you can't set the conditions institutionally, organizationally in a government that earns the people's respect, holds their aspirations close and actually allows a country to be resilient and resistant to this sort of threat. 

So, what we've seen here is actually I think a new =found understanding among the Iraqi people about what it means to be an Iraqi country against this kind of threat, how they have worked together.  You've seen the Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces working together.  You've seen some of the militias working alongside them.  So there's -- there's something coming together here in terms of political and military maturation, I think, that shows exactly what you're talking about so we're not back here five years with that sort of a situation. 

At the same time, this is not a threat that's going to go away overnight, so it's going -- we all recognize that it's going to be a long-fought battle.

You have anything to add to that?

GEN. TOWNSEND:  Nothing to add, Mr. Secretary.

SEC. MATTIS:  All right.  We'll take one last one, there you go.

Q:  Thank you.  Thank you, sir -- (inaudible).

I wanted to ask you about the advance  of Raqqa, in particular -- (inaudible) -- question about whether or not -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, we're still sorting it out.  The allies are working together.  They're sharing planning and that's ongoing right now, but the planning is still underway so there's not -- it's not been all decided on who's going to do what and where.  We're working together to sort it out.

Q:  (Off mic)Can I ask you a personal question, Mr. Secretary? This is your first arrival as secretary of defense and you spent many years here as a combat commander. How do you feel returning here (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  Well, coming back here after the years that we've fought alongside each other through good times and bad times, it's just a privilege to come back and look out the helicopter door and see what's going on down below, to see an Iraqi military that can fight as truly valiantly as this one has considering the situation they faced as -- as ISIS rose to occupy much of their country and to see that in spite of the casualties, it's not only held together, it's come back stronger and is now winning.

It's now freeing up and I'll have the general say how much they've freed up in terms of area, but he's got better awareness of that.  But look at what the map looked like eight months ago where ISIS was, where they are today and the attack that's underway here.  It's very heartening to come back at this point in my new capacity. 

Steve, if you want to just talk about some of the progress that this army's made during this time which gives more than just my words, it gives objective data for why I would be heartened by it.  Steve?

GEN. TOWNSEND:  I think the secretary alluded to it a couple of questions ago when he talked about where this army has come over the last year. 

If you look back just a little over two years ago, this army was broken and defeated and barely able to hold their capital when they asked the coalition, the world for assistance.  That army has done this remarkable turnaround in just two years and now they're running a multi-divisional operation involving 40,000 or 50,000 Iraqi security forces up around Mosul 400 kilometers from their capital and their logistics base.

It is an incredible turnaround.  They've liberated approaching half of their lost territory and they're -- they're about to liberate their second-largest city, the largest population city center held by ISIS anywhere in the world.

The Iraqi security forces are going to take that city back, no doubt about it.  I think that's a remarkable achievement and it just -- some examples of what the secretary is talking about what the Iraqi security forces have done.

SEC. MATTIS:  Well done, Steve.  Thanks very much.

Thanks, everybody.