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Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event in Afghanistan


      MAJ GEN JOHN NICHOLSON JR:  Yes, please be seated.  Well first off thanks for being here today to meet with our secretary of defense.  Before I introduce him I just want to say a big thank you to all of you for what you're doing, volunteering to serve your country in our nation's longest war here in Afghanistan.  Less than one percent of the population of our country, no matter what else you do in life, you know that you've got the gratitude of the Afghan people, the American people and all of your comrades in arms so thank you for that.


      We are very fortunate today to have secretary of defense, the honorable Ashton Carter with us, our 25th secretary of defense.  There were three decades focused on the business of national security and as we just have seen in recent months, a great support of this mission in terms of the increased authorities we've been given, the forced manning levels going forward, which will enable us to continue our mission of counterterrorism and of advising and assisting our Afghan partners.


      But I would also say in addition to that, you, we, have no greater friend than Doctor Carter.  He deeply, genuinely cares about us and our families and it's a real privilege to have you here sir, welcome.




      SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thank you General Nicholson and all his commanders here.  I mean the first thing I've got to tell y'all is I come here and of course I've known Mick for a long time, I step off the helicopter, I've known all your commanders for a long time.  It's, in a strange way coming back to Bagram, like homecoming for me how many folks I know who are in your command structure.  Because we've been doing this a long time and I'll come back to that in a minute, the importance of what you're doing and some decisions we've taken recently that I'm sure you've heard about.


      Let me first echo the word that General Nicholson -- the note that he just sounded which is this.  You are doing the noblest thing that a person can do with their life.  Namely, protect our people and leave a better world for our children.  There's nothing better than that.  And it takes a lot of skill and discipline that not all Americans have, that's why we pick and choose and that's what an all-volunteer force means people step forward and we pick according to our standards -- that is what leads to a force of the quality of you people.


      So yes, it's a small slice of the American population but you know what, it's even more selective than it is small because not everybody gets to serve because we pick and choose the best and that's you.  And I feel the same thing I'm sure in my own job that you have in yours, which is you get up -- you get to get up in the morning and be part of something that's bigger than yourself and it's a wonderful feeling and it takes a lot and you know, for you guys a lot more than for me, because you're over here all the time, you're away from your families and I recognize the sacrifice that it represents.


      But if you just think about it and say what else could I be doing -- you all have lots of choices.  You're able people, you're capable people, otherwise you wouldn't have the responsibility that you have today in our military.  Because as I said, we pick and choose you.  So you could be doing other things but there must be something in you that says this is the noblest thing I can be doing with my time.  So I want to commend you for that and that goes for everybody here.


      Second thing, the importance of what you're doing right here, right now.  The president just made some decisions and echoed by all of our coalition partners and I'll just tell you about some of them.  First for the U.S., the president upon mixed recommendation and General Dunford's and my own -- a changed mix authorities in a way that makes very good sense and it goes something like this, and you may know this but I'll just repeat it for you.


      Whereas previously, he waiting until a situation had developed in which the Afghan forces really needed our enabling support.  Now he's able to look ahead and see how the things are going on the battlefield and what the enemy's intentions are, where the enemy's massing and so forth and anticipate their movement rather than waiting until things turn into a situation in which our enabling support is much needed; try to head them off.  That makes perfect common sense, that's in a nutshell the difference in authorities issue and the president heard that argument and said OK let's do it that way, because that's a better way of making use of what we have here now and it's important because this is the fight -- so called fighting season and it's a tough fight for the Afghan forces and they need our help, they're getting our help and this is a smarter way for us to give them that help. 


      Second thing the president tonight has to do with next year and that is to raise the number of forces we keep here next year to 8,400 from what we had planned a year ago which is 5,500.


      Which is recognition, and this again taking the recommendations of General Nicholson into account of some additional opportunities we have to make sure that the Afghan forces have success next year based upon our experience in the last fighting season and up to this time in this fighting season.  One of the examples, and probably the most important example in there is that we learned the value this last year of the process of refreshing and retraining an Afghan core at the end of a season and before another season begins and then doing the advice and assist mission with them through the season.


      We got -- we learned the value in that.  And so part of the uplift in our estimate relative to last summer is to do more of that support, more of that -- and that makes a lot of sense too.  So both looking at the current situation with the authorities and looking at next year with the uplift and the number of troops we've made some adjustments based upon circumstances and then based upon opportunities that we have here.  Also, we have in our budget, our defense budget for next year, a full funding for the Afghan security forces.


      So all that's the U.S. picture and then all of the other coalition allies, we were at Warsaw with the president at the summit, they are all -- are going to do the same and the net of all of that is that this effort that has been going on for so long and is so important, to make sure that Afghanistan can control its own territory, give its own people a better life but importantly never again become a platform from which attacks can be launched on our country, and our people and our society.


      That -- that mission which we've been on for so long, we are committed to.  We want to make sure that we stick with it so it succeeds.  The Afghan security forces stand up and are able to secure territory on their own.  But right now, they need our help.  And we're going to continue to provide that help.


      And it means, incidentally, and President Ghani made this point today, that the sacrifice that all of you are making now, but many -- a million of you have made by coming here in the course of this campaign.  And of course, the thousands who've paid the ultimate -- made the ultimate sacrifice here of Americans, that we'll get the benefit, the lasting security benefit to our country from that.


      So this is a really important part of the world.  And it's a really important moment to be here.  And here you are, doing what you're doing with this part of your lives.  And you should feel very good about it.  General Nicholson has said the country is grateful.  That's absolutely true.  I'm grateful.  I'm extremely proud of you.  I'm very proud of what you've done.


      But in addition, you should be proud of yourselves because of what you're doing, how you're spending your time, how you're spending what are very gifted abilities.  Otherwise, you wouldn't be in our military in the first place.


      So I want to get a chance to look each of you in the eye, shake your hand and say thank you personally.  But before then, I -- I've got a little time.  Peter says I have a little time to take a couple of questions.  OK?  A couple of questions.


      Have we got a microphone over here?  If it isn't a question, it can be an observation, something you think I ought to know that you know from being here.  It doesn't have to be a question.  Whatever is on your mind.


      There's somebody.


      Q:  Mr. Secretary -- (inaudible) --


      SEC. CARTER:  Speak -- I can hear you, but maybe nobody else can.


      Go ahead.


      Why don't you just -- all right.


      Q:  Hello.  Mr. Secretary, Staff Sgt Rivera, 41st EECS.


      What's your ideas or future for modifications or replacement of the EC-130 aircraft, since it's utilized out here on a daily basis?


      SEC. DEFENSE:  Well, we've got -- the question was what about the future of the EC-130.  I mean, first of all, the EC-130 has a bright future.  It's been with us for a long time, but it's not, you know, your father's EC-130 -- a very different animal.


      So, and I don't see us not having circumstances in which we're going to need it.  And I don't see technology moving in a direction that's going to not cause us to have to continually upgrade the -- what you know to be the heart of the thing, which is the insides.


      Parenthetically, I don't know what your specialty is, but we've also been upgrading the C-130 airframe and cockpit and all that kind of stuff.  It's kind of a separate thing.  But I think that the stuffing is the important thing.  And they're both important.  It's going to be with us for a long, long time, as are the technical specialties that go with it.


      I think -- is that your question?  Yeah, you bet.


      Q:  Mr. Secretary, Technical Sergeant Mark Ruud, 455th EAMXS. What is the next Air Force Reserve base for the F-35 program?  And when do you expect that aircraft will be delivered?


      SEC. CARTER:  I can't tell you what the next one will be.  I'm going to let the Air Force announce that.  They do the lay-down in a very careful way.  Obviously, a lot of people want the F-35 there because it's one of -- it's going to be a fighter that will be with us for decades and decades and decades.


      So I can't tell you that.  Some of those decisions have been made, but other ones will be made by the Air Force, considering all the other missions at each installation and all kinds of other things.


      But with respect to the F-35 overall and the delivery of the aircraft, here's where we are on F-35.  F-35 five or six years ago, and I know this because I was undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics at the time, was at that really difficult point in its history when it was shifting from development, engineering, manufacturing and development, into low-rate initial production.


      And that's a sensitive time.  And to be quite honest, a pretty challenging time for the Joint Strike Fighter.  And I think it was fighting for its life.  We're out of that phase now.  The Joint Strike Fighter has been in production.  I think we've got seven low-rate production lots now, so production is ramping up.


      The Fort Worth facility is mature.  There are a lot of international orders.  By the way, international orders equal in number our combined U.S. orders, which are Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.  All three services have stuck with it.  And to get to your point, the -- the Air Force will IOC with its own variants on a schedule I can't tell you right now.  Maybe the Air Force can tell you, but they're still aiming for.


      But it -- it -- it's on schedule.  We certainly intend to buy the aircraft.  It's performing very well and it's an essential part of the Air Force's TAC-air future, no question about it.


      Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


      Q:  Mr. Secretary, Specialist Fox , 1-3 Cavalry Regiment.


      My question -- you mentioned that we're solidifying our commitment to Afghanistan, while simultaneously drawing down forces.  Do you see this as a juxtaposition?  And if so, what sort of challenges do you foresee?


      SEC. CARTER:  I'm sorry.  Say the first part again.  I got the second part, which is the drawdown of forces.  What was the first part that’s juxtaposed with it?


      Q:  That we've solidified our commitment to Afghanistan, we and our allies.


      SEC. CARTER:  Well, by "solidify" I -- I mean this.  We said -- we said to them consistently we'll be with you.  You're going to need to stand up on your own, but we understand that's a gradual thing.  And that's our long-term commitment to them, to help them stand up slowly.  And of course, we want Afghanistan out here in this part of the world as a long-term friend and security partner of ours.


      I mean, look at a map of this region.  Not a bad place to have good friends.  So we're -- we're in this for the long run.  And by solidify it, I mean that we're -- we know that without our and the international community's continued financial and, for now, military support, the Afghan security forces aren't going to be able to solidify their control over the country.  And this government, this democratic, national unity government ain't going to be able to do it.  Everybody knows that.


      And so our commitment is to help them get past this point.  That's in our national interest.  Obviously, lots of other countries see it the same way because they're in it, too.  And so, the uplift is a way of showing that -- that commitment to the future.


      Because it's buying a little extra insurance next year for us to make sure that we continue to be able to do what we're doing now, which is help the Afghans to beat the -- the various insurgent groups that try to take advantage of a country that was really busted up for decades, as a place not only to tyrannize here, but from which to mount attacks on the United States.


      We can't have that any more here than we can have it in Iraq, where I was yesterday.  We can't have it.  We have to defend ourselves.  We're going to defend ourselves.  We've got to defeat these opponents.  Since they're on the territory of others, and others need in the end to govern those places, we work with other countries to do that.  But that's what we're doing in Iraq as well.


      And of course, we do it all the way around the world, wherever -- there are lots of your – we’re at an important place here, but there are other places around the world where our folks are operating every day in the same way.


      The United States has long-term commitments.  We're the most powerful country in the world.  We have a lot of friends around the world, not only because we're powerful, but because of what we stand for.  And that's a good thing.  We have all the friends and lots of allies and lots of partners who do things with us because they like you, among other things.


      I talk to foreign leaders, and they always say, "You know, I really like working with your people."  And why is that?  It's not only because you're good at what you do.  It's how you conduct yourselves.  And you treat them decently and you -- we act according to principle.


      So, you know, we're -- we're in it in the long run in this world to protect our people and make a better world.  We've been doing it for a long time.  We're going to keep doing it for a long time.  And here at this time and this place, we're solidifying that commitment to this particular one, sure, and that's what the decisions represent that we made, and the other countries made.


      But it's an investment in the future that's going to be good for all of us.


      Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


      SEC. CARTER:  Sure.


      OK.  So let's see.  If you guys come up here, I think what we'll do is you come by, we'll shake hands.  OK.


      (inaudible) -- don't listen to me.  Listen to -- (inaudible).