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

PETER COOK:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Sorry I'm a little bit late.

I have an update on the counter-ISIL campaign, as well as some other announcements before I turn to your questions.

We are pleased to report that the military effort to isolate and ultimately liberate Raqqah has begun.  Secretary Carter, as you are aware, welcomed the announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces on Sunday that they had begun an advance towards Raqqah.  The removal of the ISIL cancer from the so-called capital of their so-called caliphate is the next step in our military campaign plan and it is an important step to ensure that ISIL cannot use Raqqah to terrorize the Syrian people and also use the city as a planning hub for external attacks against the United States, our allies and our partners.

We do not underestimate the hard work ahead for the local forces that will carry out the fight for Raqqah, but we are confident that with the help of the coalition, they will be successful.  In fact, SDF forces have already made progress since they began their movement towards Raqqah on Saturday.  They have encountered resistance so far and their advance has been supported by coalition airstrikes, which have destroyed vehicle-borne IEDs, other ISIL vehicles and ISIL fighting positions, among other targets.

We will continue to support partnered forces on the ground in Syria as they begin the isolation of Raqqah and we will continue to work closely with all members of the international coalition to ensure the success of this operation and the elimination of the ISIL cancer wherever it remains in Syria.

The beginning of the campaign to take Raqqah is compounding ISIL's problems today.  Across the border in Iraq, ISIL is under growing pressure and it's getting harder for them to move between territory.  In Mosul, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters continue to gain territory on multiple axes of advance.

From the north, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters continue to make progress in Bashiqa.  We've been seeing that even today.

From the east, ISF and counterterrorism forces continue to establish a foothold in eastern districts, clearing neighborhoods and securing key intersections.

Meanwhile in the south, the ISF continue to clear the east bank of the Tigris moving up from Qayyarah and they are working to complete the clearance of Hammam al-Alil, a key village along that route towards Mosul.  In fact, the last major village on the way to Mosul.

The coalition continues to support our Iraqi partners with airstrikes, targeting ISIL staging areas, headquarters and mortar positions, among other targets.  And we continue to deploy key capabilities in support, again, of the Iraqi forces.

For example, since the operation to retake Mosul began, I can confirm that Apaches have been used with significant effect.  In consultation between our commanders and the Iraqis, we anticipate that this nimble and precise capability will continue to enable Iraqi progress in what we expect will be tough fighting to come.  This is, of course, not the first time we've used the Apaches in Iraq.

And finally, we were reminded once again on Friday that our support for partners and allies does not come without cost.  I want to convey condolences from Secretary Carter and all of us at the Pentagon to the loved ones and teammates of the three soldiers killed in Jordan.  The families of Staff Sergeant Matthew Lewellen, Staff Sergeant Kevin McEnroe, Staff Sergeant James Moriarty, are in our thoughts today.  The United States is coordinating closely with the government of Jordan to investigate this event and we will provide additional information on that investigation as it becomes available.

With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.  Bob?

Q:  Peter, a couple questions for you on the isolation of Raqqah that you spoke about.

You referenced U.S. airstrikes.  Will this require a significant increase in the number of U.S. airstrikes supporting the ground forces that are moving toward Raqqah?  And will this -- if so, would that require some additional deployment of aircraft to carry that out while you're also operating around Mosul?

And a related question would be you also made mention of the partnered forces on the ground.  Will U.S. ground forces in any form be used in the isolation phase of this campaign?

MR. COOK:  Let me start with your first question, Bob.

As you know, the international coalition has been carrying out a very substantial air campaign for months now in both Iraq and Syria and we anticipate that that will continue.  We anticipate that there will be significant air support provided both to the campaign in Mosul and to the campaign to isolate and ultimately liberate Raqqah.  And we will continue to assess the resources that we have available to carry out that mission, but we're confident we have those resources now.

But it's something we'll continue to consult with our coalition allies to see what, if any, adjustments might need to be made in the future.  But right now, we're able to carry out this mission effectively.  Over the weekend, we carried out missions both over Mosul and in relation to this advance toward Raqqah.  And I think that's the sort of thing you will see going forward.

Q:  Is it an actual increase in U.S. airstrikes in some significant number now in the days ahead in the Raqqah area?

MR. COOK:  Bob, I'd have to look historically as to whether or not we actually saw more specific airstrikes, for example, yesterday than we did in previous days.  But we've been striking in Raqqah for some time and around that area.

Q:  But would there be a significant, noticeable increase in airstrikes?

MR. COOK:  That'll be determined by the conditions on the ground, Bob, and by the assessment of our commanders and our air crews in terms of what targets they see.  It'll be a question of targets, as it always is in this instance.

Some of it will be based on, again, developments on the ground, the intelligence we collect in terms of the number of targets that might be available.  And right now, we're confident we have the resources we need to carry out both, but I'm not going to predict exactly what the number of strikes will be going forward as this progresses.

Certainly, we've provided support as we did in the last 24 hours in Mosul.  We will continue to do that in close consultation with the Iraqis.  And in both Syria and Iraq, we will continue to be judicious and apply the same rigor to our targeting that we had been doing in order to limit any risk of civilian casualties, and that remains a key consideration for the coalition moving forward.

Q:  The use of ground forces -- U.S. ground forces aside from the advising operation?

MR. COOK:  Bob, our forces, as you know, and we don't discuss in detail what our forces are doing in Syria, but they are continuing to provide the advise and assist mission.  And at this point, that has not changed.

Q:  So, no additional ground role other than the one we've heard about?

MR. COOK:  We will continue to provide an advise and assist mission.

So -- yes, Idrees.

Q:  Peter, if my math is correct and I think it is, the authority to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State in Sirte ran out on Oct. 31.

Have those been renewed or reauthorized?

MR. COOK:  I'm not gonna talk about authorities and private conversations that we have within the U.S. government.

But we are -- continue to support the Government of National Accord, continue to support the aligned forces of the Government of National Accord.  And we are prepared to continue that support, including airstrikes for the GNA.

Q:  So why was there a pause between Oct. 31st and now?  I mean, was it that the GNA didn't ask or you didn't have the authority --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. COOK:  We continue to do everything at the request of the Government of National Accord.

As you know, the sheer physical space that ISIL occupies in Sirte has been dramatically reduced.  It is a -- basically a neighborhood, and in some cases a city block in Sirte.

And we continue to work closely with the GNA as to the most appropriate support we can provide to them, of course taking into account the risks, again, of civilian casualties in that instance, the urban environment that's there.  And if additional airstrikes are needed, we will be prepared to deliver those airstrikes.

Q:  So when it initially started, the -- the line was that this would be for a few weeks.  And if it is going as well as you say it is going, why do you need more airstrikes?  If it's a few blocks --

MR. COOK:  We -- we may not.  This is gonna be something we're gonna continue to work with the Government of National Accord.

This is a very small space.  If you were to travel into Sirte -- and I would encourage you to -- to -- to have your fellow Reuters colleagues check on this -- my understanding is in some parts of Sirte, there is now some measure of life has returned to normal in other neighborhoods that had been cleared of ISIL.

There is still a fight going on in this one particular neighborhood.  There's a small group of ISIL fighters who remain.

And again, we continue to support the GNA.  And we'll work at their request, if needed, to -- to assist them in trying to eliminate those last few remnants of -- of the ISIL presence.

But it was not too long ago that ISIL controlled Sirte.  And that has changed.  That has changed because of the work of the GNA-aligned forces and the support that we've been able to provide from the air.

Q:  (inaudible) -- on a different topic, Turkey's deputy prime minister said he had told Chairman Dunford that Ankara's priority was to take out or remove the YPG from Manbij.

Does the U.S. agree with that, that that should be the priority?  And has the U.S. agreed to that with Turkey?

MR. COOK:  I -- I'm not sure exactly what comments you're referring to.

But our focus -- and we've discussed that at some length with not just Turkey, but all of our coalition partners -- remains eliminating ISIL from Syria.  And that is the primary goal of our efforts in Syria, and will continue to be as part of the coalition.

Q:  So, Turkey's priority that they stated is to remove the YPG from Manbij.  Is that something --

MR. COOK:  We -- we continue -- our top priority in Syria, working with the coalition, and in our discussions with coalition members, including Turkey, is to eliminate ISIL from -- from Syria.  And that will continue to be our foremost mission.

And obviously, of course, the concern for us is not only what ISIL is doing to the Syrian people, but also the threat ISIL poses to the United States, to our allies and partners.  And that's, again, why ISIL remains our key focus.

Lucas?

Q:  Can you tell us what exactly General Dunford secured on his visit to Ankara over the weekend?  What kind of deal or -- took place?

MR. COOK:  My understanding is General Dunford had a very positive meeting with his Turkish counterpart.  And he issued -- my understanding is Captain Hicks issued a -- a written summary of that.

And they talked about the counter-ISIL campaign and the next steps in the counter-ISIL campaign in both Iraq and Syria.  And among other things, they agreed to stay in very close consultation on the next steps, in particular with regard to the fight for Raqqah.  And that's a commitment that Secretary Carter has also made with his counterpart as well.  And we will continue to with the Turkish government.

Q:  And are those next steps for Turkey to participate in the Raqqah operation or for Turkey to pledge not to interfere with this Raqqah operation?

MR. COOK:  I'm not gonna get into the private conversations of Chairman Dunford and his counterpart, but -- other than to say that we continue to have a very constructive and positive conversation with our Turkish ally about what's going on in Syria and Iraq.  And we continue to believe that there's an important role for every member of the coalition in terms of taking the -- the fight to ISIL at this very important and decisive moment in the campaign.

Q:  Looking at both Raqqah and Mosul, can you talk about the importance of going after both of these ISIS capitals simultaneously?

MR. COOK:  As I mentioned before, Lucas, this is about applying pressure on multiple fronts, and we have been doing that from the air for some time.  We've been doing it from the ground as well.  And you've seen the progress that the Iraqi security forces have made in Iraq and these local forces have made in Syria over the past few months.

And now, we're at a point where we can apply pressure to the -- the two most important locations for ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and this is something that we have built towards, something we have planned for.  This is where the campaign plan was supposed to be at this moment in time and this is not a surprise to us.  This is exactly how it was sketched out.

And to their credit, the Iraqi security forces, again, the local partner forces on the ground in Syria, have made substantial progress and we are in a position now where we can apply pressure to ISIL in both Mosul and Raqqah, and it's gonna be much harder for them to carry out their operations, to communicate, to coordinate, to move between territory.  And we believe that's why this is so important to keep that pressure on and to have the entire coalition focused on doing that at this particular moment in time.

Yes, Tara?

Q:  Thanks, Peter.

First on Mosul, as Iraq CTS forces move in on Mosul, are the U.S. advisers that were with those -- accompanying those units, are they still with them?  And are they going into Mosul with them?

MR. COOK:  They are -- we still have advisers on the ground with the ISF and with Peshmerga forces and with CTS forces.  They remain, again, behind the forward line of troops and -- and they will continue that mission.

Q:  But if that forward line is now inside Mosul or close to it, does that mean that U.S. forces are also at that proximity to Mosul or inside the city limits?

MR. COOK:  My understanding is that we do not have forces inside the city limits at this particular moment in time, but as you know, this will be a conversation that the commanders on the ground, General Townsend and his other commanders, will have with the -- with the Iraqis as to what the appropriate support to provide going forward.  This will be in consultation with the Iraqis.

And again, this is something that will be worked out on the ground between General Townsend and hi Iraqi counterparts as part of their operations going forward.

Q:  And then one on Raqqah.  Are there any concerns in the building that there might not be the logistical support capability if both offenses go into like a full conventional phase at the same time?

MR. COOK:  Well, I think first of all, obviously logistics is something that the United States military is very good at, something we plan for as we've -- Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford and the commanders, General Votel and others have prepared for this moment.  This is -- questions about maintaining support, maintaining logistical lines has been a key factor in our considerations going forward.

It's one of the reasons you saw some of the FML changes with regard to Iraq, for example, to make sure that we could continue to support the Iraqis through the course of the operations in Mosul.  Same kind of considerations have been made for Syria.  And so these are things that we've factored in.  There will be continual assessments.

But I would point out that what's happening in Syria is different than what's happening in Iraq, because we do not have formal government forces, we do not have a conventional military operating in Syria.  So the kinds of logistics certainly are different than what we're seeing in Iraq.  You will not see a mirror image.

But we will continue to provide in particular the training and advice to those local partnered forces.  They have demonstrated a -- a capability on the ground over the last few months and, again, we will provide support in the form of training in particular, and -- but it will be a very different -- it will look different than what you're seeing in Iraq.

Q:  Just one last one.

On the Jordan shootings, have -- have the Jordanians made available any security camera footage from that checkpoint as both governments try and determine what happened?

MR. COOK:  I can just tell you that we continue to work very closely with the Jordanian government.  I know there's been close coordination, but I can't -- I honestly don't know what kind of information has been relayed back and forth between the two governments.

Yes, Kristina?

Q:  Thanks, Peter.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the role the Apaches are playing in the Mosul offensive?  Are they flying over Mosul yet, or are they still limited to nighttime operations?

MR. COOK:  I'm not going to get into all the tactical details, for one, because I'm not sure about each and every instance, Kristina.

But, as you know, this is a capability that is quite powerful, quite lethal, and can operate from a standoff position, can provide a kind of close air support that -- as I understand it from troops who've benefited from having Apaches in the fight, a psychological advantage, if you will, in terms of just physical support in their advance.  I believe that's how it's been used in this instance.

My understanding is there's been -- particular targets have included VBIEDs and specific -- some of the obstacles and impediments that we've seen ISIL put forward in Mosul.  And that the Apaches have demonstrated a capability, with very precise targeting, to make a difference there.

Again, operating in a standoff position; they're able to do that from some distance back.

Q:  Who are they supporting:  the Iraqi army, CTS, Kurdish Peshmerga?

MR. COOK:  I can't speak to each and every instance.  Again, they've provided support to Iraqi security forces and I -- but I can't say with specificity as to which unit in particular.

Q:  And do commanders have the authority to use them in Raqqah, in the Raqqah offensive?

MR. COOK:  This is a specific capability that we're using in Iraq right now.

Yes, Carla?

Q:  Thanks, Peter.

A top Iranian general gave an interview to state-run press and they said that Iranian forces conducted an airstrike inside eastern Iraq against ISIS.  It was done over the weekend at the request of the Iraqis.

Did the U.S. know about this strike?  Was the U.S. aware?  Did they give approval of this strike?  Or was this done without any U.S. knowledge?

MR. COOK:  I'll have to take that question.  It's the first I've heard of it.

And I would make the point that this is Iraqi territory.  The sovereign government of Iraq would decide what foreign forces would operate, as they do with the coalition.

And so, I will take your question, but I would also refer you to the government of Iraq for any better explanations to -- if that took place, why it took place.

Yes, Kasim.

Q:  A few questions on Raqqah, Peter.

You know, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the name of the operation on Raqqah as Euphrates Rage or Wrath.  Does the United States have any role in determining this name?

MR. COOK:  We did not have any role in naming any operation.

Q:  And do you think that it somehow has some kind of reference to the Turkish-led operation Euphrates Shield?

MR. COOK:  I'm going to leave that to the Syrian Democratic Forces to try and -- to explain the naming of their operation.

Q:  The other question:  The Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman said over the weekend that the United States had provided them with antitank missiles.  Could you confirm?

MR. COOK:  I'm not aware of those particular comments.

As you know, there is -- there are members of the Syrian Democratic Forces that we have provided ammunition and equipment to, the Syrian Arab Coalition in particular.  So I'm happy to take that question, but I'm not aware specifically of that reference.

Q:  To what extent you are confident that any of those kinds of arms, like TOW missiles, would not end up in the hands of PKK?

MR. COOK:  As you know, Kasim, the decision to provide equipment to -- and ammunition to any partnered force there is -- is a transaction and is based on commitments that we obtain from those partnered forces.  And we expect them to abide by those commitments, including maintaining control over ammunition and equipment that might be provided.  And those are commitments that we hold our partnered forces to.  And -- and we would anticipate that that is what will happen going forward as well.

Q:  So, you don't have any indication that any of the U.S.-provided arms or ammunitions ended up in different hands right in Syria?

MR. COOK:  So, that is -- those are commitments that are made to us.  It's part of the transaction.  That's -- that's why we would continue to engage with partnered forces if they abide by commitments.  And that's certainly our expectation.

Q:  (inaudible).  Do you know the number of YPG fighters within the Syrian Democratic Forces force that moved toward Raqqah?

MR. COOK:  I would refer you to the SDF for the exact breakdown of the -- of the forces.  But my understanding is this is a mix both of Kurdish forces, of Turkmen forces, and Arab forces as well and -- forming the larger SDF.

But I'd refer to them for the breakdown there.

Laurent.

Q:  Can you give an estimation of the number of Apaches that are in Iraq and say if there are any plans to send more of them in Iraq?

MR. COOK:  Let me take that question.

I'm -- let me double-check how many we have.  But I believe it's single digits in terms of the number of Apaches, but let me double-check if I can provide more specificity.

And at this point, I'm not aware of any request for additional capabilities.  But this is something that General Townsend, of course, and General Votel certainly can pursue with the secretary should they feel they need more capabilities in Iraq and as part of the counter-ISIL effort.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  Is it the first time that they were used in the Mosul offensive, or had they already been used?

MR. COOK:  As I mentioned, we've used the Apaches previously in Iraq.  But I was pointing this out just specifically that they have been used since the launch of the Mosul offensive.

I know this has been an area of -- we've gotten a lot of questions about their use.  And so I want to make clear that they are being used and we expect they will be used going forward, again, at the discretion of General Townsend and his commanders and, of course, in consultation with the Iraqis, who are leading this fight.  And as all aspects of the effort around Mosul, this will continue to be carefully coordinated with the Iraqis.

Barbara.

Q:  Peter, on the question a few minutes ago about the possibility of U.S. troops entering Mosul as the Iraqi front line moves forward into Mosul, they stay behind but entering the city limits, every time we have asked this question -- in fact, it goes along with what you said -- the door has been kept open by the Pentagon to the possibility -- no one has ever shut the door -- that U.S. troops would enter Mosul.  So it seems to be that would be a very -- by any measure, a significant development.  You've mentioned that a decision to do that, keeping the door open, and a decision to enter Mosul would be made by General Townsend would be made on ground.

My question is, it seems --

MR. COOK:  Can I -- let me -- there's another key point, and that is, in consultation and with the Iraqis who are leading this fight.  This is a fight that Prime Minister Abadi and -- and his commanders are leading and directing with the support of the coalition.  And of course, they'll play a critical role in this.  They will be doing the -- primarily, they're leading the fight here and they'll have -- play a role in terms of determining the support from the coalition.

Q:  Sure.  But given the -- everything I just -- I don't want to repeat every -- all right.  So let's say that they ask and -- you know, and the decision by the U.S. side is made on the ground.  It seems so significant.  I do not want to ask you, would it not be the case that this type of decision would go to the secretary and even to the president if U.S. troops were being asked to enter Mosul?

I just don't understand why -- I want to make sure I understand.  Would this not be so significant it would go to the secretary or the president?

MR. COOK:  Barbara, there are -- I'm not gonna get into a discussion of authorities here.  You know the mission that our forces are currently performing in Iraq, the advise and assist mission with the Iraqis that allows them in some instances to accompany.  That is -- continues to be the mission, but this is -- it's a situation in which commanders on the ground certainly would be in consultation with -- with leadership here about what the appropriate use of our forces are going for.

But that's a decision we make -- that's an assessment we make every day, Barbara, and I don't anticipate this would be any different.  What's important here is that this is something that needs to be done in consultation with the Iraqis and -- and an assessment in terms of what the benefits are, whether or not that's an appropriate and important thing for our forces to be doing and whether it's necessary.

Q:  So -- so thank you.  Given everything you just said, is correct, then, that we should interpret the Pentagon's position is all to be discussed -- all to be decided on all fronts, but in fact, the door is still open to U.S. troops entering Mosul, you are not ruling that out?

MR. COOK:  Barbara, we've had forces provide assistance to and advise and assist, and in some cases, a small number accompany Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and CTS up to this point.  And decision going forward as to how much further to go, again, will be something that will be determined by commanders working with the Iraqis.

We don't want to hypothesize as to where things go.  The Iraqis have made significant progress so far and we'll continue to provide support to them in close consultation.  But I'm not gonna predict the future.

Yes, Corey.

Q:  Just following up in Idrees' questions earlier on Libya, I wanted to make sure, had there not been any U.S. airstrikes backing the GNA in November?  There's not been any?

MR. COOK:  I'd urge you to check with AFRICOM to double-check for certain.

As you know, there have been instances in October when we did not have airstrikes.

Again, this is a very small area.  I need to reinforce the progress that these forces have made and that it is a very isolated portion of Sirte, a particular neighborhood in fact, where the remaining ISIL forces are.  And we will be prepared, at the request of the GNA, should we determine it's appropriate, to carry out additional airstrikes as needed and to provide support to them as they request it of course is something we have to evaluate as those requests come in.

Q:  We've heard that it's been a very small area now for a couple months.  I mean, why is it taking the GNA forces so long to -- to kill off ISIS in this little, small area?

MR. COOK:  I think --

Q:  Can you characterize -- (inaudible)?

MR. COOK:  My understanding is this is a -- first of all, it's an urban environment where there are still civilians.  These are obviously ISIL fighters who have no opportunity to exit the fight here.  They are fighting to the death it appears.  Many of their colleagues have had that result.

And this is an enemy that has shown a willingness to try and hold ground.  They have lost most of their territory in Sirte.  This is a very isolated area, again, an urban environment where I think to their credit, the GNA-aligned forces are worried about civilian casualties as well, the risk of human shields.  And I would defer to those forces to describe their plan of attack going forward and -- but we're on standby to provide the assistance that we can from the air as needed and as appropriate.

Q:  And the remainder of Libya, what kind of threat does ISIL pose throughout the rest of that country at this point?

MR. COOK:  Our -- the assessment we had is that the -- Sirte was the primary location for ISIL forces in Libya.  The notion or the possibility that there may be pockets of ISIL in other parts of the country certainly remain, but the primary focus for the GNA in terms of the elimination of ISIL was Sirte specifically.

They had touted Sirte as a success story, they had had the leadership in Iraq and Syria tout their success in Sirte and they have had that success rolled back.  And there are still a number of ISIL fighters in this small area, but we're not aware of a substantial ISIL presence elsewhere, although that's something certainly we'll continue to watch closely.

We're worried about the metastasis of ISIL, and if they've been unsuccessful in Sirte, we're of course concerned that they may try and establish a foothold somewhere else.

Paul?

Q:  There have been some reports from NGO humanitarian groups that in southeast of Mosul, there have been some incidents of men and teenagers -- male teenagers being rounded up and publicly abused, in some cases tortured.  The reports that I've seen attribute it to local militias.  Have you seen those reports?  And can you talk at all about --

MR. COOK:  I have seen the -- you're talking about areas that have been retaken by ISF forces?

Q:  Yes.

MR. COOK:  I'm not in particular familiar with those reports.  I certainly have seen the reports about ISIL -- we've heard from the United Nations and other human rights groups about ISIL forcing --

Q:  It's not ISIL.  These are some sort of militia who are fighting ISIL or at least under the banner of the groups that are fighting ISIL.

MR. COOK:  I have not personally seen those reports.  I certainly have seen the comments from Prime Minister Abadi, who continues to call for zero tolerance for any indications of sectarian strife and anything to target those who have been liberated so far in this -- in this movement towards Mosul.  So I'm not aware, Paul, of that particular reference, and if you give more details, happy to try and get an answer for you.

But this is something that I know Prime Minister Abadi and the secretary have talked about directly in the lead-up to the -- these operations.  And I think, Prime Minister Abadi, to his credit, has been very vocal and very public about the need to -- to be very careful for any indications of -- of human rights abuses by ISIL and by anyone else for that matter.

Q:  You know, in terms of -- of protecting these people as -- as and if they leave the area and then protecting the camps where they're headed, do you know if there's a certain policy in place for who provides that kind of security?  Is it the units that are in that region?  Are there specific units that are tasked with doing that?  Do you know?

MR. COOK:  I'd refer you to the Iraqis.  My understanding is that the Iraqi security forces have plans in place to handle displaced people.  There have been certainly a number of displaced people who have shown up at the U.N. camps and that there are certain -- my understanding, Paul, and again, I would encourage you to talk to the Iraqis, is that there are -- in certain instances, they clear neighborhoods, as they clear villages, there are designated locations where displaced people are encouraged to gather so that they can make the trip to some of these tent communities, these -- these emergency camps that have been set up.

And so -- and at that point, again, this -- it's the Iraqi security forces who have been in charge of that so far.

Kasim.

Q:  We have seen in Fallujah, in Ramadi, in Rutbah, several other places, that Shia militias abused human rights.  What -- what gives you the confidence that the Iraqi government is going to protect the civilians against the Shia militias?  You know, we have seen examples of this several times and we haven't seen any action -- credible action from the Iraqi -- (inaudible) -- government against this kind -- these types of actions other than just words.

What -- what -- what makes you confident in --

MR. COOK:  Well, again, we have the commitment from Prime Minister Abadi, the leader of the Iraqi government who's spoken to what was alleged to have happened previously in -- as in Fallujah, for example, and we would again look to the leadership of Iraq to -- to monitor this -- reports of this and to investigate them thoroughly as I know Prime Minister Abadi said would happen after -- after Fallujah.

And again, we -- we look to Prime Minister Abadi and his leadership and -- and this is something that I know that he has discussed at length with the -- the secretary and something that he feels strongly about, certainly has conveyed that publicly.

Yes?

Q:  On North Korea, General Brooks said that the THAAD deployment's due in eight to 10 months.  I'm wondering if that timetable was accelerated due to North Korea launches and if that deployment is gonna be larger than the one in Guam.

MR. COOK:  I will -- I know this is something that -- the deployment of the THAAD -- this is something we continue to work closely with the South Korean government.  We want to do this as quickly as possible.  General Brooks I know referenced a time period.  We'd like to do it as soon as possible, and this is something that we'll work -- continue to work very closely with the South Korean government.

In terms of the -- the size and the capabilities of the THAAD system, I'm not gonna get into specific details.  We believe that the THAAD system that will be deployed will be capable of helping to defend South Korea -- our ally, South Korea, as part of a broader defensive -- a significant number of defensive steps that we can take to help protect South Korea of course, and also protect the United States at the same time.

Lucas?

Q:  There's a report that a nuclear weapon from 1950 was just discovered off the coast of Canada.  Have you seen this report?  And can you confirm that?

MR. COOK:  I -- I have not seen this report.

Q:  The Marines recently released a report about the crash of the two CH-53s off Hawaii back in January, and one of the findings was that a number of the pilots had very few flight hours.  I was wondering if the secretary had seen the report, any kind of reaction?  And is there a plan to get more Marine aircraft, more Navy aircraft flying and get more pilots in the air?

MR. COOK:  I know the secretary certainly is aware of the crash itself and the circumstances surrounding it, the tragedy of that crash.  I cannot tell you with certainty that he's read every page of the report itself.  I know he's aware that the report was delivered by the Marines.

Lucas, this is something you and I have talked about in the past and this is something the secretary has spoken to directly, that Marine aviation and readiness for the Marines is the foremost priority in terms of the budget.  And his discussions with General Neller about what needs to -- changes that need to happen going forward and investments we make and this is something that -- we've talked about this before.

The budget uncertainty of the past few years has forced this department to make careful choices in terms of investments, and one of the key areas which we want to address in part because of readiness questions has been Marine aviation.  So this has been a top priority for the Marine Corps, top priority for the Secretary of Defense and is reflected in the budget that the submitted to Congress in terms of trying to step up that readiness -- those questions about readiness.

So, this is not something that's going to be solved overnight, but it is something that is a top priority for the secretary.  Certainly he knows what a priority it is for General Neller.

Okay.  Thanks, everybody.