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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room

PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody.


Two announcements off the top, and a schedule update for you as well.  Following on President Obama's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, this morning, Secretary Carter directed his staff to open lines of communication with Russia on de-confliction.


We expect the details of those conversations, including the exact timing of those conversations, will be worked out in the coming days.


As the presidents discussed in New York, the United States and Russia have a common interest in fighting ISIL in Syria.  The purpose of these de-confliction discussions will be to ensure that ongoing coalition air operations are not interrupted by any future Russian military activity, to ensure the safety of coalition air crews and to avoid misjudgment and miscalculation. 


As the secretary made clear in his own conversation with Minister Shoygu, the goal here should be to take the fight to ISIL and not to provide support or defend the Assad regime.  Again, we hope to have more details on these talks in the coming days. 


Wanted to update you as well on the situation in Afghanistan.  We strongly condemn the attacks in Kunduz, and stand with the Afghan people in our commitment to Afghanistan's peace and security. 


We will continue to work closely with President Ghani, the Afghan government and our international partners to ensure that Afghan forces have the capabilities and training necessary to preserve the gains made by the Afghans and the international community over the last 13 years. 

The situation in Kunduz remains fluid, and we are continuing to follow the situation closely, but we have confidence in the Afghan national security forces. 


U.S. forces did conduct an airstrike on the outskirts of Kunduz earlier today in order to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces in the area.  This was a force protection strike conducted by a fixed-wing manned aircraft.  We are also assisting with ISR coverage. 


The -- there are limited coalition forces in the Kunduz area training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces in accordance with our Resolute Support mission, and we know that President Ghani spoke about the situation in Kunduz earlier today, and for more on the -- what's happening there, we would urge you to -- to check with the government of Afghanistan.


And finally, a scheduling note for you.  On Wednesday, Secretary Carter will welcome the World Economic Forum to the Pentagon for a two-day discussion of security issues and collaboration between the public and private sector. 


The secretary and top officials within the department will engage with business leaders as well as experts from academia and the think-tank community.  The discussion kicks off Wednesday night with a dinner at the Pentagon hosted by the World Economic Forum that will feature a conversation with Secretary Carter and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. 


That's going to be moderated by World Economic Forum CEO Klaus Schwab.  During the dinner, the secretary will also announce the winner of the inaugural Innovators in Defense, Enterprise, Academia and Science Award to an individual who has built bridges between the public and private sector.  The secretary's opening remarks at the award presentation and the moderated conversation will be open to press. 


And then on October 1, participants will return to the Pentagon to join the Department of Defense -- DOD officials, including the secretary, for a series of breakout sessions on cybersecurity, innovation and talent management.  There's going to be additional media opportunities on Tuesday, so stay tuned for those. 


And with that I'd be happy to take your questions.



Q:  Peter, just a point of clarification on one of the announcements and then I've got a question on Syria.


On the cause or -- or this opening of discussion with the Russians, can you give us a sense of at what level those talks will be?  Is it at the secretary's level, or is it his military representatives, or -- or who will that be?


MR. COOK:  Yeah, it's too soon to say at this point.  We're literally beginning the conversation, trying to reach out to determine exactly what the next step will be.  But this is going to play out over a few days, this is not something that's going to happen in the -- imminently.

Q:  Okay.


MR. COOK:  So it's going to -- it's going to take a little bit to -- to work out the logistics.


Q:  And on the Syria train and equip program, can you give us some better understanding of where we are?  We had sort of been led to believe that there might be some changes coming out, that are planned this week. 


Do you still expect there to be some changes announced this week on the program, is there going to be a delay in the start of the fifth group of trainees going in to wait for any of these changes?  Or -- so give us a better sense of where -- where it stands.


MR. COOK:  I don't have any formal announcements at this time with regard to changes to the program.  As we've said, and been saying for some time, that there -- this entire program is under review, there are changes being considered. 


But right now the training, for example, for the third class, continues, and -- and, again, this is something that the secretary and the president's national security team are reviewing, and when we have decisions for you, we'll -- we'll pass them along.


Q:  (off mic) the training hasn't stopped, or is there a plan to stop it?


MR. COOK:  The training is ongoing right now, and if something changes, we will let you know.


(off mic)


Q:  There was a media report that the U.S. has shut down its effort to train Syrian opposition force, is that not true?


MR. COOK:  As of right now, the training does continue, so that is not the state of play right now.            


Q:  Okay, and then back to the -- your -- your announcement about the open line.  Who did the secretary -- you said that he directed his staff this morning to open lines of communication.  Who did he direct, and does this mean that the military now -- the -- military engagements with Russia are now going to begin again, or is this just communicating specifically about deconfliction?


MR. COOK:  The conversation is going to be on deconfliction to start, and it's too soon to say exactly who's going to be engaged in that conversation.


Q:  But who specifically did he direct?  Did he take it to the --


MR. COOK:  He spoke to his senior leadership this morning and, so I'm going to leave it at that.  He spoke to the senior leaders both from the services and as well -- and his policy team, as well.


Q:  So, does the conversations in open lines will be between the OIR in --


MR. COOK:  We're waiting to see.  Courtney, it's too soon to say.  We're literally are going to begin this conversation again -- the conversation between the presidents just took place yesterday, and this is going to take a little time to work the logistics in the best way to conduct these conversations going forward.


And who the best and most appropriate people are to have those conversations.


Q:  Can I -- (inaudible) -- one quick on Afghanistan, too?


MR. COOK:  Yeah.  And I'm going to move over.


Q:  Sure.  The -- what was -- you said it was one airstrike.  What was the platform?  And how many munitions did it drop, and where did it fly from?


MR. COOK:  It was a fixed-wing manned aircraft.  I don't know the -- I don't have the exact aircraft for you, but it was a fixed-wing manned aircraft, and it was a single strike, as I understand it.


Q:  What was -- do you know if that was one target, or one actually --


MR. COOK:  One target.


Q:  One munition was dropped, or was it one target?


MR. COOK:  I'll check that for you.  I don't know the answer for that.




Q:  I have a train and equip, and then I want to come back to Kunduz.


On train and equip -- (inaudible) -- is it not accurate that in fact, the program has been paused, that you were no longer recruited in the program?


And then Kunduz, if I may.


MR. COOK:  Well, what I was talking about, Barbara, right now, at this moment in time, there's still training of trainees.  And in terms of where the program goes next, in terms of future trainees, I think these are questions that are -- they're not up for discussion and up for review.


But we don't have anything new to announce at this time.


Q:  I understand all of that.  What I'm asking -- let me clarify, is it not correct that right now, the program is paused, because you are not recruiting new people into until these decisions are made and announced?


So, are you in a pause for recruiting new people into the program?


MR. COOK:  Barbara, as I understand it right now, the program -- the training continues, and in terms of new recruits, I'm going to have to get back to exactly on the status of new recruits.


As the current program stands, the current class of trainees, that is ongoing.  And nothing has changed with regard to their status.


And so, we'll -- I'll take that question about future recruits going forward.


Q: (inaudible) -- and let me ask you briefly about Kunduz.  What does it say about the strength -- the capabilities of the Taliban at this time that they were able to go into this major city, take it over, and the ability -- that they were able to go in and take it over?


And then, I wanted to also ask you what your current assessment is about the presence of ISIS in Afghanistan.  Is this going to be a complicating factor for the U.S. presence?


What does it say about the Taliban capability?


MR. COOK:  Well, obviously, this is a setback for the Afghan security forces.  But we've seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they face, and they're doing the same thing in Kunduz right now.


And again, we have confidence in their ability to take on the Taliban in Kunduz.  This was clearly a setback.  And so, I'm not sure it reflects any new assessment of the Taliban at this point, but it does highlight the ongoing challenge that the Afghan security forces are taking on every single day, the very dangerous situation that -- that they face.


And their efforts -- their own efforts to try and take control of the country.  And we're going to continue everything we can to encourage them in those efforts.


Now --


Q:  ISIS in roads into Afghanistan?


MR. COOK:  Yeah, that's certainly something we've been keeping an eye on. 


But we have concerns about any terrorist group making safe haven in -- in Afghanistan.  This has been a concern for us for some time, as you know.  One of the reasons we got there in the first place.


So I -- I think we have concerns about a range of groups, not necessarily ISIL specifically, and we're going to continue to work with our Afghan partners in terms of taking on those groups when they -- as they pose a threat to the Afghan government going forward.


Q:  Last week, the Department of Defense provided the State Department with a string of e-mails between then Secretary Clinton and then CENTCOM Commander Petraeus.  Can you -- who asked for -- why does the Department of Defense go looking for these e-mails and who had requested it to do so if there was a specific agency?


MR. COOK:  Yeah.  My understanding is the request came from the State Department.  I think it came from the State Department's Office of the Inspector General and it was a request that was made and we complied with and I would refer you to the State Department for -- for more to exactly why the request was made.


Q:  (inaudible) -- call me.  Aside from the single airstrike that was conducted this morning and the vigorous and heart-felt statements of support for the Afghan forces, what specifically is the United States doing to assist the Afghan security forces as they attempt to re-take Kunduz?


MR. COOK:  Well, there are some coalition personnel in the area and there have been, and they've been doing what they've been doing for some time, the -- the train and -- the training part of the program and providing support as needed to the -- the Afghan forces that are in that area.  But they're not directly engaged in the fight, other than that airstrike that I mentioned before.


Q:  So when, in Iraq, which I realize is a completely different country, but in Iraq when Ramadi fell, we learned later that there had been a large number of Iraqi security forces that were in the city that fled in the face of the ISIL advance.  The initial reports from Kunduz seem to indicate a sort of similar scenario, that there were thousands of Afghan security forces in -- in and around Kunduz and they were driven out by a much smaller number of Taliban fighters. 


Can you confirm that?  And what is -- what does that say about the capability of the Afghan security forces and whether or not they're adequately led and motivated?


MR. COOK:  Yeah.  I don't have all the details right here, so exactly what happened with the Afghan forces there I'd refer to the Afghan government, but my understanding is that they have begun an effort at a counter-offensive to try an take back the portions of the -- of the city that they -- they may have lost and obviously, a setback for them.  But they're doing what they can at this point to try and gain back that ground and -- and to exactly assess where they were at the time of -- of the initial fighting.  I'd leave that to the -- to the Afghan government to outline for you.


Q:  Two questions.  I'm confused.  I -- you said that the strike was taken by using the force protection rationale under the current Resolute Support Mission.  Can you tell us more about that?  So it was to defend Afghan and coalition forces.  Were they at a training site?  How far off were they?  And was there a direct Taliban assault or threat to the site that they were at that, you know, that would've justified the airstrike?


And secondly, on Russia and Iraq, there was a report from the Russian government this morning that the Russian government invited the United States to participate in this intelligence cell that they set up in Baghdad.  Is that correct and was there a definitive no from -- form the U.S. in terms of potential participation in that?


MR. COOK:  To your first question, again, I don't have all the details here.  But my understanding was this was a -- again, a force protection strike, because there were coalition personnel in the area, and Afghan forces, and the judgment was made that they were at -- facing some threat from -- from the ground, and that this action was taken as a result of that. 


But I don't have the exact -- I can't tell you exactly what the proximity was to the threat from -- from right here.  I would refer you to the -- to the folks at -- at resolute -- at -- in Afghanistan who might be able to provide more information on the exact specifics of -- of it. 


On the -- on your other question, this is -- we are engaging with the Russians, again, at -- after the conversation between the president and President Putin yesterday, in the most, we think, appropriate way, at this particular moment in time, aimed at addressing issues of de-confliction, and -- and that's where our conversation will begin. 


Q:  So -- sorry, so, the de-confliction would cover Iraq as well, not just the air de-confliction in Syria?  Is that what these conversations will cover?  


MR. COOK:  I think -- I think that's to be determined.  Again, we're just beginning the process, the logistical details that need to be worked out about who's talking and what the subject matter will be of that conversation. 




Q:  Peter, I wanted to call your attention to a New York Times piece today that cited a document in which senior Army officials reportedly sought to subvert a legitimate FOIA request, and Army Public Affairs was complicit in attempting to manipulate the media. 


I think I speak for all of us when I say that's outrageous, if that's what occurred, and it certainly seemed to have occurred.  And this is a pattern of -- of lack of transparency that we've seen here in recent weeks, and I find it very troubling. 


The FOIA process is needlessly cumbersome here, and now there's evidence that the press was being manipulated by senior Army officials.  What's the Pentagon going to do about that? 


MR. COOK:  Obviously, I hear your concerns about -- about this particular incident, and we treat the FOIA process here, as with other government agencies, as incredibly important.  The Freedom of Information Act is an important guidepost for this institution, for other institutions. 


And if there are problems there, I -- bring them to my attention.  I would encourage you to. 


Q:  (inaudible) -- brought to their attention, and -- (inaudible) -- very clear indication.  There's a document saying they saw that FOIA as an invitation to manipulate coverage. 


MR. COOK:  I'm -- I'm not -- I don't want to refer to this particular instance because, honestly, I don't have all the details to it.  So I'm happy to have a conversation with you beyond this, and I will get up to speed on this particular issue. 


But if there are concerns about the timeliness of responses, that's something, certainly, that -- that I would have a particular interest in, myself, from this podium, and I'll just make a pledge to you that I will -- I will do everything I can to address whatever concerns were raised in this instance. 


And, again, for -- with regard to Freedom of Information Act requests, those should be treated appropriately under the law by this institution and by others in government as well. 


Q:  But it goes beyond that.  I mean, we're talking about them actively trying to shut up stories to other media outlets, including mine, to change the tenor of the coverage of this particular story. 


MR. COOK:  Yeah. 


Q:  And -- and how do you feel about that? 


MR. COOK:  I -- I don't know all the details about this, Tom, and before I can comment to you, I -- I'd need to get those details, and so it just would be inappropriate for me to -- to weigh in without knowing everything that -- that I should know about this situation, so. 




Q:  I wanted to come back to the Russia talks over Syria and potentially Iraq.  You describe them as de-conflicting, or centering on de-conflicting, but how do you distinguish between coordination -- talks over coordination -- and talks of a deconflicting?  I mean how do you -- how do you draw that distinction and what sort of left and right limits will you be sort of working with as you go into this?


MR. COOK:  Yeah.  I mean, I think part of this, again, is -- is to be determined by the conversations that are going to play out between our folks and the Russians, but the -- our priorities here are, again, maintaining the integrity of the coalition air operations, the safety or coalition pilots critically important to us.  We do not want misjudgment and miscalculation.  We do not want an accident to take place. 


So that is one of the key -- key motivators for -- for moving this forward and -- but in terms of what the details will be going forward, in terms of what those conversations are going to amount to, that has to -- we have to wait for those conversation to take place.


Q:  But why not characterize them as coordination?  Why characterize them as deconfliction?


MR. COOK:  Well, because our first -- and our first goal here is to avoid conflict in the air between any future Russian military activities and the ongoing activities of the coalition.  We do not want their activities to interfere with what's -- what's happening, and that's our expectation.


Q:  Do you expect to coordinate with them though?  I mean as he's asking -- like do you expect to coordinate with the Russians about where the U.S. is going to be flying at certain times and when -- and expect the same information back from them?


MR. COOK:  We're going to have these conversations with the -- the Russians and -- and through the course of those conversations, we'll have a better idea what they intend to do and more importantly, we'll make clear what we intend to do or we continue to -- to do over the air in Syria with regard to the coalition air campaign. 


So I can't characterize exactly what the product of these conversations will be until we actually have these conversations. 




MR. COOK:  I have two questions.  I'd like to follow up on deconfliction.  You mentioned just now that the priority is making sure that there are not accidents or problems in the air and I'm curious, where does making sure that U.S.-trained fighters are not accidentally hit as targets? 


And then I'd like to ask about, you know, the Syrian train and equip program has taken a number of hits over the last few weeks.  We've seen a massive change in the Russian position in Syria and increased criticism that there is a real lack of strategy towards the war against ISIS, and through this time, it's been relatively silent from the secretary of defense.  We've heard a lot about his effort to build up relationships with the private sector, but very little other than the early stages of a conversation on deconfliction and one call to his Russian counterpart.


And so I'd like you to address critics please, both inside this department and outside the department, who feel that there is an absence of leadership.  What specifically is the secretary doing, vis-a-vis the U.S. war against ISIS, other than having meetings and these two things that you mentioned earlier?  And can you give us -- can you answer to those who say that the secretary appears to be out of the loop on the U.S. military campaign?


MR. COOK:  I'm not sure where to start for that question.


Q:  You can start wherever you want.


MR. COOK:  Okay, I will.  Anyone who saw the secretary of defense today, engaging with his senior leadership and his commanders, in the fight against ISIL would have a very clear picture of his command of these issues and the stakes out there for the United States, for other members of the coalition, for the Syrian people as well, for the people in Iraq. 


This is a secretary of defense who is keenly engaged in what's happened on the ground, asking questions of his commanders, of his troops in the field, to get at the very best and most effective campaign to ultimately degrade and defeat ISIL, and this is -- secretary's engaged with his president, with other members of the national security team and all you had to do was be in that room today to understand exactly what's happening.


Q:  Well, with all due respect --


MR. COOK:  Sure.


Q:  We can't be in the room.


MR. COOK:  You can be in the room.  And you can also take his own comments with regard -- sure, Nancy, go ahead.


Q:  You say he's deeply engaged, and yet when we asked for specifics just on what he ordered today, we don't know who he ordered it to, when it's going to -- (inaudible) -- conversation --


MR. COOK:  I told you, he directed his staff today to engage with the Russians --


Q:  (inaudible) -- hundreds of people, maybe thousands.  Like, I don't know what that means.


But I guess I come back to my original point, what, specifically, is he doing?  This is not a question I'm asking; this is a question that is increasingly being raised within this department and outside of it.


MR. COOK:  He is working directly with his commanders in the field.  He's working with his counterparts in Afghanistan -- in Iraq, and in -- within the coalition itself.


And this is a secretary who is asking hard questions about what's not working right now, what needs to be working better.  How can this effort against ISIL be waged more effectively?  Whether it's the T&E program, whether it's the air campaign, whether it's our efforts to try and engage with those moderate Syrian forces, the thousands of moderate Syrian forces, who are taking the fight to ISIL, with the help of this Department of Defense -- and with the help of the campaign.


He's engaging with the Russians, as we discussed.  I can keep listing the things he's doing.  This is a central focus of this secretary of defense, but he has many issues that he has to deal with in his job, and they go beyond simply the fight against ISIL.


He'll be leaving soon for a trip in the future -- not too distant future to -- for NATO ministerial.  The secretary has engagements in the Pacific.  The rebalance is a central priority for him.


And at the same time, he's got issues within this building as well, that require his time and attention.


And so, he's juggling a lot of balls right now.  It's not an easy job; I've seen it -- I've seen him trying to do it, firsthand.


And -- so, for those who suggest that this is a secretary who's not focused on the issues at hand, I would challenge that notion.  And again, see the effects of what we're doing against ISIL going forward, and continue to -- he's going to continue to track everything possible that can be done to wage this fight more effectively.


Q:  I'm sorry, could you just address the Russian -- what -- the talks with the Russians in terms of protecting forces on the ground, U.S.-backed forces on the ground, where that fits into the conversation?


MR. COOK:  We -- I think the secretary and others within the administration have made clear our concerns about any effort that would be made that would harm the opposition forces, the moderate opposition forces that are taking the fight to ISIL.


They have been very effective, and we will continue to provide coalition air support for some of those groups.  And would, obviously, anything that undermines their effectiveness would be something of concern.


We're going to move over here.  Carla.


Q:  Thank you, Peter.  On the intelligence sharing between Russia, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, how does this affect the U.S. military's relationship with Iraq?


And what would you say to critics who now say that the United States is floundering as a leader in this region, as this intelligence sharing agreement is proving?


MR. COOK:  Well, first of all, we're going to continue to support the Iraqi government.  They've been our partners in this, and we're going to do what we can to help the Iraqis as we continue to do, by training their forces, by providing advice, as well.


And they've been good partners with us; they're going to continue to be good partners.  They're a sovereign nation.  They have engagements with other countries.


And so, we don't see this particular development as -- as a setback to our relationship with -- with Iraq. 


Obviously, we have concerns for the presence of the Syrian government.  This is a government that's responsible for what's playing out in Syria right now, so we don't consider that to be a step forward. 


But the Iraqis can -- can best answer exactly what they hope to gain out of this -- this planning operation that they have.  But we're going to continue to work with the Iraqi government. 


Q:  And is the U.S. -- just a follow-up on my second question -- is the U.S. losing some of its foothold as a leader in the fight against the Islamic State? 


MR. COOK:  We're leading a coalition of more than 60 nations, playing an integral part in this effort.  I don't see that diminishing our status in any way. 


Q:  And just one more follow on this question, just to clarify.  The United States would not be interested in any intel sharing with the Russians? 


MR. COOK:  We're going to continue working with -- with our partners right now. 


Q:  (inaudible) -- can I go back to Kunduz? 


MR. COOK:  Sure. 


Q:  (inaudible) -- I'm kind of curious.  So what were the last -- I guess since Resolute Support began -- we've seen instances where air support's been used under very loose, I guess, force protection measures.  Where -- there's no obvious force protection reason to use it to support the Afghans. 


Why was none used until today in Kunduz, and only one strike?  I'm -- I'm just -- seems to be a disconnect there.  You know, there's a major city falling, strategic, and suddenly there's no U.S. air support anywhere?  I don't quite get the decision-making on any of this. 


MR. COOK:  Yeah.  I can just tell you, Matt, about what happened in this particular instance and the use of -- of this airstrike in this particular instance, and the rationale behind it. 


I would refer you to the -- you know, to the folks at Resolute Support for better explanation as to if you have other questions about air support previously, or the Afghan government.  But this is a particular instance by which we want to document to you exactly what happened and -- and the circumstances, because it's -- as you said, it's not an everyday occurrence. 




Q:  Resolute Support doesn't take our phone calls anymore at the Times. 




Q:  Or respond -- or respond to e-mails. 


Q:  It's a real problem.  But, I mean, you had a major city falling yesterday, and there was no U.S. air support anywhere?  There was no way to help the Afghans kind of hold that? 


MR. COOK:  Again, I'm not going to detail exactly what played out there.  I can talk to you about this one particular airstrike.  I can talk in broad terms about obviously the significant concern that we would have for civilians who could be caught in harm's way, which, in my understanding, has been a concern on the part of the Afghan security forces, as they consider moving back into Kunduz. 


And so I think those are -- my -- my sense is that that would be, perhaps, one of the factors that may have been considered at that time.  But there may be others.  And -- and again, the -- the particular rules about U.S. airstrikes -- this was done within those rules, because of the threat that was perceived for coalition and Afghan forces in the -- in the area. 


Q:  Last one.  But just more broadly, it seems as -- you know, what does this say about our effort there for the last 14 years?  We built this government.  We built these security forces.  We paid for it.  The actual Afghan government, John Kerry went out there and got them to make a government. 


Security forces are an entirely American project, yet they seem to be folding right now.  So I'm kind of curious what it says about what we've done there, and what we maybe can hope to accomplish -- (inaudible).


MR. COOK:  Well -- well, "folding" is -- "folding" is your word, and --


Q:  They folded in Kunduz, and they folded back to the airport at least. 


MR. COOK:  Well, again, we've seen the Afghan security forces face challenging time, and -- and also rise to that challenge, in several occasions over the last few months.  You -- you've been there.  You -- you can attest to that. 


This is not -- this is a difficult fight, for -- for them, and they are risking their lives every day, and our effort to try and train them, provide support for them, has -- has -- has helped.  They are in a better position today because of the support provided to them, and -- and you know, we are encouraging the security forces to -- to continue to do their part for the Afghan government going forward, and we'll see what happens in Kunduz and we'll continue to provide the support for the Afghan government and for those security forces going forward because they're critical to Afghanistan's future and -- and we understand that and that's why we continue to partner with them and provide the help that we have.


Q:  Any discussion in the White House about loosening the reigns on the American resources that are there so you can better help the Afghans?


MR. COOK:  I -- I'm not aware of anything at this particular -- from here that I can talk about in terms of any sort of policy change or -- or change in terms of the rules of engagement going forward, but I'm sure that these are issues that are going to continue to be looked at and reviewed here in this building and -- and at the White House as well.




Q:  Peter, I want to please ask you to go back to Syria.  Right now today, is CENTCOM recruiting any new people to join the New Syrian Force?


MR. COOK:  As I said to Barbara, I'll check.  I don't know the answer to that at this particular moment from right up here.  I can tell you that the training for the third class, for example, is ongoing and -- and so that's where it stands.  I'm happy to take the question, but I don't have an answer for you right here.


Q:  Okay.  Second thing on that, the understanding we had previously was that there were hundreds of people in the pipeline and the Pentagon's phrase as these subsequent classes would go forward.  Is that still the case or are the cadres that are in training now the bulk of what was there and are there effectively no more people in reserve to go through the process and eventually go into Syria?


MR. COOK:  Well, I -- I know that that was -- the reference to -- (hundreds) -- was from a few weeks ago, so along with your other questions about the status of recruiting, let -- let check on exactly what those numbers are if that's something that we can provide for you.  I don't have the number right here with me. 




Q:  I have a question -- jump to Capitol Hill a second?  The House and the Senate agreed to a defense authorization bill for the fiscal -- for fiscal '16.  Mr. Carter has said repeatedly that he would recommend the president veto the legislation.  Do you have an update?  Will he actually -- will he recommend the veto?


MR. COOK:  The secretary's position on this has not changed.


Q:  So that means he will recommend a veto to the president of the bill?


MR. COOK:  That's his view, because of the budget situation evolved here and the need to fully fund this department at the president's level and to fund the other agencies of government that are assisting in the effort, for example the counter-ISIL campaign.  And so the secretary's view on this has not changed.


Q:  So did the Russians inform us that they intend on carrying out airstrikes?  Is that the need for this deconfliction talk?


MR. COOK:  I'm not aware of -- I don't have – wasn’t in the room for the president's conversations, so I'll refer you to the White House for -- for exactly what was discussed there.  But the reason for this conversation is because of the -- the prospect for future Russian military action and the need -- we're flying already and we want to make sure that it's done in as safe a manner as possible, and that our coalition effort is not interrupted in any way by the Russian activities, and that's sort of the start of this conversation.


Q:  Would you be able to --


MR. COOK:  Laurent?


Q:  --- on that?


MR. COOK:  Hold on, one sec.


Q:  I'd like to come back to Kunduz.  Some people are making a comparison with what happened in Mosul, the unraveling of local forces when extremist groups arrive.  So what are the reasons to believe that Kunduz will not be a new Mosul?


MR. COOK:  I would just suggest to you, Laurent, that while there -- we're talking about two different situations here.  I can't tell you that the situation in Kunduz mirrors the situation in Mosul.  I think there are unique circumstances to both, and again, I think you need to look at what the Afghan Security Forces are doing on the ground.  And -- to see where this goes in Kunduz.


It clearly was a setback for them, and we'll wait to see what -- what efforts they make to try and retake that -- that city, and to move Afghanistan forward.


Q:  You mean, Afghan forces have shown no will to fight, for instance, or more --




MR. COOK:  -- uniquely different situations.  I'm not sure you can compare these two directly.  I think the circumstances and the players are different, and so, I just -- I don't think it would appropriate to provide a comparison along those lines.


Yes, I've got time for about two more.


Q:  Yeah, Peter, on Kunduz again.  The coalition forces that are there --


MR. COOK:  Yeah?


Q:  Did they call in that airstrike?  Did they essentially act as JTACs for that airstrike?  And are those coalition forces U.S.?


MR. COOK:  Some of the coalition forces there are U.S., but there are also some non-U.S. 


And I don't -- I don't have the exact details on who called in the airstrike, whether it was the Afghans, or if it was coalition forces.  So, I'm happy to take that question, as well.


My understanding was that it was, again, a threat that was perceived from those coalition forces that were nearby, and the Afghan forces that were nearby.


Q:  They were acting as JTACs.  Does that, in anyway, conflict with the status forces agreement with the Afghans?


MR. COOK:  I -- again, I don't know who called in the airstrike, and I'm not aware of any reason that this violates, in any way, the agreements that are in place in Afghanistan.


Q:  The non-U.S. personnel.  The Germans, the Italians, the -- (inaudible).


MR. COOK:  I believe there were Germans there, but there could have been others.  But I'm fairly certain there were Germans there, from what I recall.


Right here, in the middle.


Q:  I want to talk about the -- (inaudible) -- Peshmerga fighters who went to Syria to fight Daesh.


My first question is, are they going to be in contact with the U.S. Army?  And my second one is, where exactly in Syria are they going to be deployed?


Do you -- if you have any information on that?


MR. COOK:  You're talking about Peshmerga forces?  They -- these are not forces that are directly controlled by the United States, so, I can't comment from here as to exactly what their plans are, or what their -- where they're headed.  So.


Q:  So, they are not going to be in contact with the U.S. Army in any way?


MR. COOK:  I'm not sure if they're going to be in contact with the U.S. military.  But we're not coordinating -- we're not directing their movements, if that's your question.


One more, and then I'm going to --


Q:  (inaudible) -- status of Mr. Fanning?  Do you know -- (inaudible)?


And second, when secretary of Defense travels to the Pacific, is he going to visit Mexico, perhaps?


MR. COOK:  I would be happy to share with you as soon as I know of a trip to Mexico, that the secretary is on his way.  I don't have anything on his schedule right now.


With regard to Mr. Fanning, it's a nomination that needs to be considered up in Congress.  And so, I would suggest that the -- checking with the relevant committees up on the Hill would be your best bet as to exactly the timing of his nomination.


Okay?  Thanks, everyone.