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Media Availability with Secretary Carter Following the Counter-ISIL Coalition Meeting in Stuttgart, Germany


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER:  Well, listen, it's great to be back here in Germany where I just concluded a highly productive meeting with my fellow defense ministers representing the core countries contributing to the counter-ISIL coalition military campaign, namely Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom.

We had a very strong, free-flowing working session among these leaders whom I've met with now a number of occasions before, on the campaign ahead and on the requirements needed from us to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat, which we will do.

We began by discussing the situation on the ground in Iraq and confirmed the importance of an accelerated push to envelop and ultimately retake Mosul.  We all recognized the need for economic and political, as well as military contributions, because much still hinges on the non-military aspects of countering ISIL.  The support for stabilization, multi-sectarian governance and reconstruction will all be critical to ensuring that ISIL stays defeated after it is defeated in Iraq.

Minister Le Drian of France then led a discussion of the state of the campaign in Syria.  We reviewed recent operational gains by the local forces that we have supported and talked about the importance of the Manbij area and closing off that area to ISIL, especially given the flow of foreign fighters through there and the potential for external plots against our nations and other members of the coalition arising from there.

Next, we discussed the additional resources that will be required as we support our partners in the next steps of the campaign across a wide variety of areas, such as logistics, trainers, ammunition, special forces, sustainment and medical supplies, spare parts for Iraqi equipment -- a whole host of items, as well as, as I mentioned earlier, but very important and I just want to reiterate -- support for stabilization efforts as the campaign continues to free territory from ISIL control.

And I'm confident that today's meeting will accordingly produce additional military commitments.

We also explored ways that we can ensure we are making the best possible use of resources already in the fight, without limitations that reduce our effectiveness.  And there are sometimes some national limitations, nationally imposed limitations, and to the extent possible, those need to be eliminated or at least conformed across the coalition.

There's common recognition around the table that we all must be prepared -- all must be prepared to do more as we work with local, motivated and capable partners in Iraq and Syria -- that's our strategic approach -- to implement the next plays of the coalition's military campaign.

And these plays are, just to remind you: one, stabilizing Iraq's Anbar Province; two, generating Iraqi security forces, that is training, equipping, positioning them, including Peshmerga, to envelop Mosul; three, identifying and developing more local forces in Syria that can isolate and pressure Raqqah; and four, providing more firepower, sustainment and logistical support to our partners to enable them to collapse ISIL's control over both of these cities.

The United States, as you know, is already taking a number of key actions in both Iraq and Syria to enable these next plays.  Many of these I announced last week after the president's approval of them.  In Iraq, our actions are in support of Iraqi security forces -- all in support of Iraqi security forces, and they've all been approved by Prime Minister Abadi.

We'll be placing advisers with the Iraqi security forces down to the brigade and battalion level to enhance decision-making and responsiveness.  We'll be leveraging Apache attack helicopters to support the ISF's ongoing efforts to envelop and then retake Mosul.  We'll send additional HIMARS to support the Iraqi ground offensive there.  We'll provide financial assistance to the Peshmerga, up to $415 million dollars to bolster one of the most effective fighting forces against ISIL.  And to do all this, we're going to adjust how to use U.S. forces in Iraq and immediately bring in about 215 more of them.

And meanwhile in Syria, we're increasing U.S. forces there six-fold, from 50 to 300.  These additional 250 personnel, including special operations forces, will help expand our ongoing efforts to identify, train and equip capable, motivated, local anti-ISIL forces inside Syria, especially among the Sunni-Arab community.  And importantly, they'll also be able to incorporate partner special operations forces from other countries that will augment our coalition's counter-ISIL efforts there.

Now, this fight is far from over and there are great risks.  We were reminded of this yesterday when an American service member, Petty Officer First Class Charles Keating, a Navy SEAL, was killed while providing advice and assistance for the Peshmerga forces north of Mosul, who were directly in the fight.  These risks will continue and we greatly regret his loss.

But allowing ISIS safe haven would carry greater risk for us all.  So we agreed to day that we will continue, all of us, to do more to accelerate ISIL's lasting defeat.  We also agreed that all of our friends and allies across the counter-ISIL coalition can and must do more as well, both to confront ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and its metastasizes elsewhere, which we also discussed in a session, I should say, led by U.K. Defense Minister Michael Fallon.

And finally, we agreed that there's great value of all of us in these face-to-face exchanges such as today's gathering, building on previous discussions we held in Paris, if you remember, on January 20th when Minister Le Drian and I first asked this group to come together and make sure we were operating on the basis of a common military campaign plan, which we had formulated, and the first ever gathering of all of the counter-ISIL coalition defense ministers, which I convened in Brussels in February.

And I proposed at this meeting doing that again -- that is, convening the full counter-ISIL coalition again this summer in Washington.  And that was agreed, and I'll allow these discussions to continue and widen with all the other partners; for example, the Gulf partners, with whom I had discussions two weeks ago in Riyadh in advance of the president's summit there.  Together, we will -- we must deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.

So thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

STAFF:  First question, Bob -- (inaudible).


Q:  Mr. Secretary, regarding the death that you mentioned in your opening statement there, can you say more about the circumstances under which that happened?  For example, were he and his team mates, his American teammates, were they filling a breach created by retreating Kurdish forces?

And also, when you -- you mentioned that these risks will continue, you mentioned in your comments, and you've asked coalition partners here to help accelerate, provide more, to do more in this campaign.  Should the coalition partners and the American public expect to be braced for additional casualties in this war?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, this -- this is a -- going to be a hard, but it's a necessary fight, and fighting it is, Bob.  We need to be realistic about that.

Our strategy is to -- because we work not only to defeat ISIL, but to make sure they stay defeated, there has to be a local force that keeps the peace after the peace is secured, and that's why our overall approach is to enable local forces to do the fighting, to take back.

But -- but that doesn't mean we're not going to do any fighting at all as a coalition.  This service member's tragic loss -- and there's -- and there's nothing I take more seriously as secretary of defense than sending people into a situation where they have risks like this.  And you -- and I have to say, the whole country has to be grateful to this young man and his family for this sacrifice.

We are putting these people at risk every day.  Every time a pilot goes up in an airplane above Syria or Iraq, they're at risk.  So, people need to understand every day that people are at risk, and tragically, losses will occur.  But this is necessary in order to protect our country, defeat this enemy and -- and eliminate what really is an evil movement.  And not to do that would entail even greater risks for our population.

STAFF:  Next question, Thomas -- (inaudible).

Q:  Mr. Secretary, back on what Bob said, I mean, from what we understand that this Navy SEAL was killed driving into or filling a breach created that was created -- he was on the front lines fighting alongside his fellow SEALs.

And I guess my question is, you know, is this something that we can expect as we get closer, you know, moving our advisers closer to the front line?  And you know, as far as American troops in combat, the messaging, you know, even now, you speaking just said that he was performing an advise and assist with the Peshmerga.  I mean, obviously, he was in a firefight, and he was --

SEC. CARTER:  He was in a fire fight and he died in combat.  So, let me be very, very clear about that.  His mission was to advise and assist the Peshmerga.  That was a dangerous mission that took him into combat -- combat, and that's where he perished heroically.

So, we need to be very clear about that.  The circumstances here, I'm going to let them provide more details from OIR headquarters there.  But basically, you're right.  This American service member was operating with the Peshmerga forces to help do what we do so well, which is bring the great weight of our airpower, our expertise, our training, our equipment, our intelligence to make the Peshmerga, which is a very capable force, even more capable.

That part of the Peshmerga front came under attack.  They didn't know that attack was going to occur.  That happens.  That -- (inaudible) -- they found themselves in a fire fight.  And so, that's a kind of circumstance we regret, but you can't say it's not a circumstance that cannot be expected in a circumstance where you have a dynamic battlefield, and we are participants in this.  And I just want to be clear that this -- this young man found himself in combat and sacrificed for this campaign's success accordingly.

But there's -- that was the circumstance.

STAFF:  Next question, Phil Stewart of Reuters.

SEC. CARTER:  Go ahead.

Q:  So, to be clear, you know, this -- is this a Navy SEAL, then, operating at the battalion level?  What was his -- how does he fit into the construct of -- (inaudible) -- in Iraq?

SEC. CARTER:  He -- well, he -- he was -- his mission was to advise and assist the Peshmerga, who are fighting ISIL along that area of -- line of troops between the Peshmerga forces and the ISIL forces.  That was what his mission was, and that took not only skill to accomplish, but great courage to accomplish.  And unfortunately, there was a circumstance in which the inherent risk in doing what he was doing was realized.

But we need to understand that there is that risk in what we're doing, but there -- there would be greater risk not to engage in this campaign and defeat this enemy.

STAFF:  A question here -- (inaudible).

Q:  It's a -- (inaudible).  Secretary, you mentioned that -- that the U.S. is looking for, like, more efforts by other partners.  Could you elaborate a little bit on the ideas to involve NATO into the air campaign, especially the discussion about involving AWACS radar planes into the campaign?

SEC. CARTER:  I can.  First of all, many of the countries at this meeting were NATO members.  I should say that right at the beginning.  And we discussed many things that they could do additionally as individual countries, across this whole spectrum.  And I was able to congratulate some, who just in recent days have been -- made increases in their contributions in the way the United States has, namely Norway and Denmark.

But there are other -- there are -- all these countries are heavily involved.  But I think that here, the ministers were able to see where they fit into the campaign plan and into the entire mosaic of capabilities, military, economic and political, that will be required for victory and has to -- how they can do more.

Now, NATO -- NATO was not present at this meeting as an organization.  Many of its members were.  Your question was about NATO's participation as NATO.  And people may ask, well, why is that important?  I think it is important.  And I made some -- had some conversations with the NATO secretary general and NATO has had conversations about this that -- that -- the thing that NATO can offer and is considering, that is an addition to what individual members do is, it has some capabilities to what is called -- to do what is called force generation, which really means coordinate the logistics and the force generation efforts of multiple countries at the same time, and that might be valuable.

Similarly, the NATO AWACS issue arises.  That's something the United States has welcomed, participation of NATO AWACS, basically to help back fill for AWACS from coalition partners that are brought forward to the Iraq and Syria fight.

So, there are examples -- there are ways in which NATO as NATO might contribute to the fight, but the NATO members, all of them are doing something.  From Turkey all the way up to the United Kingdom, and from Spain all the way up to Norway.  And we're very grateful for that.

But in addition to that, the collective organization of NATO might be able to make some additional contributions as well.  They're actively under discussion in NATO, and I think those discussions are good.

STAFF:  We have time for one more, here.  Back here, in the back.

Q:  (Inaudible).  Which time of additional contribution has been asked to -- countries -- (inaudible) -- fairly difficult political situation?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I don't want to single out any particular country.

Everybody talked about their own circumstances; everybody has -- everybody in the room represented a democracy.  And so, each and everyone of these defense ministers serves at the pleasure of a democratically elected government, including myself.

And therefore, they need to be able to explain to their own populations how their contributions are important to protecting their own people, and make a unique and distinctive and important contribution.  And I think this conversation helps each of them to do that, to go home and communicate to their own people.

Now, I don't want to speak for them and how they do that, and they all have very different circumstances in the way their governments work, in the way their governments stand.  But I think it's helpful to them, it's helpful to all of us to be part of a common campaign plan that everybody understands, and to understand how our contribution matters, and how -- and to understand how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

And finally, to understand why it's necessary to do this.  We talked about plots emanating from Syria, for example, against our countries.

So, I think that both on the military side and as you say, on the part of -- on the side of being able to contribute in their own democratic systems, all of the ministers were able to benefit from this.  And this is one of the reasons for doing it.

But I'll let them speak to the specifics of -- of what the -- you know what they're doing now, but the things that they're looking to doing in the future.  But I think everyone, including myself got some additional ideas about how my country can make additional contributions.

And that's important, because it's going to take more to win.  We're going to win, but we all need to do more.

STAFF:  Thanks, everybody.

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you all very much.

Q:  Thank you.