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Media Availability with Secretary Mattis in Tel Aviv

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we were in Egypt today.

I met with President el-Sisi and the minister of defense, Sobhy.  We had a good discussion.  I listened to President el-Sisi about the threats he's facing -- that Egypt is facing right now.

We continued basically the discussion that we started earlier this month at the Pentagon.  And we agreed on the need for a renewed and strong security partnership as the new administration comes in.  I was the first member of the president's Cabinet to visit Egypt.

Minister Sobhy and I discussed the efforts to counter terrorism and secure the borders in this very complex security environment.

You have seen the threats manifested against Egypt.  They have included, of course, terror bombings against Egyptian citizens and the Sinai in greater Egypt, against Egypts who are -- Egyptians who are Christian.  Egyptian citizens are taking these attacks on their military in the Sinai and on the Coptic churches as attacks on all of Egypt.  And that was made very clear to me.

But I left Cairo very confident -- very confident in the avenues we have to advance our military-to-military relationship, which has been a bedrock and has stood solid all these years.

So, may I take your questions?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for doing this.

There's been a lot of discussion in Washington, in light of the events involving both the carrier and the MOAB bombing in the past week.  And I wanted to ask you, first, whether or not you were informed beforehand by General Nicholson that he was going to drop the MOAB, and whether or not you think American field commanders have been considering the strategic implications of some of their actions in the last couple of weeks.

And a third, connected to that, is why has there been no discussion of the after-effects of the MOAB, no BDA or anything with that?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, Helene, we take into account the strategic effects of everything we do.

That said, we give parameters to our subordinate commanders in the field.  When you're in a conflict situation, you have got to leave initiative in the hands -- delegate initiative to those that you consider competent to do so to -- to carry out the -- the authorities that you're giving them.

In this case, in Afghanistan, they have been engaged in that fight up in that corner against ISIS elements up there for some time.  I was kept informed, sometimes on a daily basis, of how the fight was going, of what the options were.

And I will not get into what authorities are delegated, because those are the specific things that allow for the urgency and the speed of operations in the field.  Those are things -- command and control issues inside the delegation that I -- I just don't want to go into.

But there was no surprise in terms of the effect of that battle at all.  The battle was going on, and we were going to use what was necessary to break ISIS.  And we've made that very clear in every theater where we're up against ISIS.

And I would point you right now to West Mosul, where it's now in the news that there's even been a crude chemical weapon used, thrown against the surrounding Iraqi forces as they move in.

We are doing the same thing with the initiative that we give to our forces that are advising in Syria.  And of course, we consider the strategic effects in each one of those cases of what we're doing.

At the same time --

Q:  I know you do, but do you think your field commanders do?

SEC. MATTIS:  I have no doubt they do.  And if they didn't, I'd remove them.  

Q:  And you were told before-hand about the MOAB?

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm not going to get into the specifics, Helene, because that would -- I do not want to articulate clearly what the delegation is.  Just rest assured it's to the lowest competent level and they are trained and they have my commanders' intent.


Q:  Mr. Secretary, I think we're --


Q:  Can we just get the BDA question?


STAFF:  I think the second part of her question was --

Q:  Why hasn't there been a BDA on the MOAB?

SEC. MATTIS:  You know, as you're aware, for many years we have not been calculating the results of warfare by simply quantifying the number of enemy killed.  You all know of the corrosive effect of that sort of metric back in the Vietnam War.  And it's something that's stayed with us all these years, that you don't want to start calculating things as far as what matters in the crude terms of battle casualties.

If you were to look at World War II and consider that if there's a lot of casualties, then the war must be going terribly, then the last three months of World War II would have been the worst days of the American war because of what was going on.

We stay away from BDA in terms of number of enemy killed.  I know you all often ask us about it.  You've seen us pretty shy about answering those questions.  And this is the same situation.  You're just seeing it reflected here on the tactical level.  But it's pretty much a -- it is continuing our same philosophy that we don't get into that.  Plus, frankly digging into tunnels to count dead bodies is probably not a good use of our troops' time when they're chasing down the enemy that's still capable.

STAFF:  All right, sir.  Thank you very much.