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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace Opening Remarks at Bilateral Meeting

July 12, 2021
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III; U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. It's great to see you again, and so soon after our last meeting in Brussels, so welcome to the Pentagon. I've really been looking forward to hosting you here, and to returning the hospitality that you extended to me and my staff last April. A lot of things have changed since even then, and we have no shortage of items to talk about, everything from the Alliance's drawdown in Afghanistan and our future relationship with Afghan forces, to the persistent challenges posed by -- posed to the rules-based order by nations like Russia and China.

Now, as for Afghanistan, today, we witnessed an important turnover between General Miller and General McKenzie. General McKenzie will now assume leadership over our force presence in Afghanistan, and I want to thank General Miller for his exceptional leadership over the last three years. That we've been able to secure our interests in Afghanistan, as well as those of our Allies and Afghan partners stands as a testament to his operational acumen and strategic vision.

It's also worth noting that we have conducted our retrograde safely and orderly. Understanding the importance of speed, he has led this drawdown without a single casualty and with great efficiency. It has truly been historic. And as General McKenzie noted in his -- in his own remarks today, this transfer of authority is not -- is only the next milestone in our drawdown process. It does not signify the end of our drawdown process, which the president has told us to complete by the end of August, and so we are on track to meet that goal.

Now, let me say right up front how much we are looking forward to working with the U.K. as it implements its new integrated review which aligns well with the priorities outlined in our own interim National Security Strategic Guidance. The U.K.'s emphasis on modernization is especially important in this era of strategic competition, and we welcome your government's emphasis on trans-Atlantic security, support to NATO and focus on the Indo-Pacific region. 

As you turn these priorities into action, we are certainly pleased to be a part of the combined U.S.-U.K. deployment of Carrier Strike Group 21. As you know, we deployed the U.S. Marine Corps F-35s, along with 200 U.S. Marines and sailors aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, and they are accompanied by one of our destroyers, USS The Sullivans. The Sullivans is famously named after five brothers who were killed in the fighting off Guadalcanal in 1942, and the ship's motto is "We stick together", which I think is very fitting for this particular deployment. 

I expect we'll get the chance to talk about Russia's aggressive actions in the Black Sea region. We stand with you and with our Allies in reaffirming our unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that, of course, extends to its territorial waters. And you can see our partnership in many ways, and I'm especially grateful for the U.K.'s significant investment in defense and for its valuable contributions to NATO, and I look forward to working with you and other Allies in fulfilling the NATO 2030 proposals at the June summit.

And finally, I'm looking forward to signing a one-year extension with you of the U.S.-U.K. statement of intent regarding enhanced cooperation on carrier cooperation and maritime power projection, and of course, I'm very grateful that we'll make a stop later today by Arlington to pay tribute to our fallen heroes, a sacrifice to which Great Britain is certainly no stranger.

So it's going to be a busy and productive day, and I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for coming, Mr. Secretary.

U.K. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE BEN WALLACE: Thank you, Secretary, for welcoming to the Pentagon. Thank you for your kind hospitality while I'm here.

Can I just place on record our -- both our admiration and our thanks to General Miller in Afghanistan. He's been an outstanding leader and a strong friend to the United Kingdom, and the professionalism in which he carried out the leaving of Afghanistan is of the highest standard, and we are better off for it. So we shall miss him, and we, on the United Kingdom side, just want to pay tribute to all the support that the U.S. forces has given Afghanistan and to us all. I think, like yourselves, we are on track to leave together towards the end of August as the Resolute Support draws to an end.

Can I thank you also for your support on the carrier group? Not only have you been very supportive in helping us retain our carrier ability, but also on the deployment with the support of the U.S. Marine Corps on board, and indeed, in the recent event with the tragic fatality on HMS Kent and recently helping us with that situation.

And sticking together is what it's all about, we go together to the Pacific. For us, that is a reengagement with a carrier group after a considerable break, and we will be looking throughout that process, not only work together on board, but also, exercising together with other carrier groups in the Pacific towards the end of the year.

Could I also say that NATO 2030 is a joint endeavor for us together; that I think there's much work to do in making sure that NATO is ready for the future to face an adversary that is constantly competing with us and constantly often -- prosecuting malign activity against the member states of NATO, and I think that is very important, that the United States and the United Kingdom work to deliver a modern NATO that can set about seeing off that threat.

And when it comes to China, the United Kingdom stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in making sure that our Allies around the region in the Pacific are protected by the international rule of law, and that we uphold those values that we all stand for, and I look forward to working together for the future to make sure that Britain's values and the United States' values are held up and protected from whatever threats are thrown against them.

So I look forward to, obviously, working together more. It was great to see you in Brussels where -- alongside the president of the United States, as well. I think we have a lot of work to do. And thank you also for enabling me to visit PACOM on the far side of -- of this great country, and I look forward to visiting Hawaii on my way through to Japan later on. Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.