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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Carter and Secretary Fallon in London, England

Dec. 15, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

DEFENCE SECRETARY MICHAEL FALLON:  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  It's been a privilege to welcome here today ministers from Iraq and 13 other countries in the counter-Daesh coalition, but also to have Secretary Carter here on his final overseas visit.

Today's meeting focused on three key areas.

First, we reviewed our progress in the military campaign.

Daesh is now failing.  It controls less than 10 percent of the Iraqi territory.  It's lost more than a quarter of land it once held in Syria.  Its supply of recruits has dried up.  And more than 25,000 Daesh fighters have now been killed.

As we speak, our coalition forces are supporting brave Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops in their duty of liberatingMosul. 

I'm proud of the part the United Kingdom is playing.  More than 70 percent of our airstrikes have been focused around Mosul.  And we've struck more than 380 targets.

At the same time, we've trained and continue to train more than 31,000 Iraqi and Peshmerga troops.

Our forces from 22 Engineer Regiment are building up the infrastructure at Al-Assad airbase in Iraq.  And today I am announcing an extension of their deployment by six months.

We also spoke today about the campaign in Syria, where the second front opened up towards Raqqa last week.  Syrian Democratic Forces begun their advance, ably supported by coalition and RAF fighter jets.

As the fall of Aleppo shows, solving the crisis in Syria ultimately means a political settlement.  So we continue to work with the moderate opposition and the United Nations, and we urge the regime and its backers, including Russia, to end their destructive military tactics and to return to the negotiating table.

Second, we discussed our plans to build long-term stability in Iraq.

Once Mosul is liberated, the focus will not just be on providing humanitarian help to the population, resettling thousands of refugees, defusing Daesh explosives, but also in establishing -- assisting the Iraqi government in establishing the apparatus that ensures that all ethnic and religious groups can feel secure in the future.

Finally today, we looked at preventing the dispersal of foreign fighters.

We need no reminding in Western Europe of the threats these terrorists pose.  We've recently seen appalling attacks on the streets of Turkey and of Egypt.  In the last three years, our police and security services have disrupted 12 plots here in the United Kingdom, all either linked to or inspired by Daesh.  And that is why the coalition needs to do even more to share its intelligence insight.

Finding that material is the first step.  We must then work together to track down the terrorists and bring them to justice.

Earlier I mentioned that this is Defense Secretary Carter's last overseas visit.  So I would like to end by thanking him for all he has done to inject impetus into the coalition and to tighten the ties between our two great nations.

I've always appreciated his wisdom and advice.  Today we signed an agreement to further cement his legacy.

Secretary Carter has long championed the regeneration of U.K. carrier strike capability, even enabling our pilots to fly F-35 off U.S. carriers.  Now, we've agreed to return the favor, so that by 2021, U.S. F-35Bs will operate from our Queen Elizabeth carriers in turn.

So, we're strengthening our special relationship, looking forward to unprecedented levels of interoperability and cooperation, and thus ensuring that Secretary Carter's tenure ends on a high.

[SEC. Carter]: Thank you.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Thank you, Michael, for those kind words and also for hosting today's counter-ISIL ministerial.

Given the special relationship between our two countries, it's fitting that I've been on a two-week trip around the world visiting troops -- American troops that are literally all around the world.  It's fitting, in view of our special relationship, that my last stop should be one of America's most enduring and loyal, powerful and influential friends and allies, namely the United Kingdom.

And I'll have more to say shortly about our historic partnership.  But let me begin with the counter-ISIL campaign.

It was this time last year that I first described the coalition military campaign plan to defeat ISIL.  And it was a few weeks later when defense ministers from the leading military contributors met for the first time in Paris, to include, importantly, Michael.

And the plan, you'll recall, called for first destroying ISIL's -- the ISIL cancer's parent tumor in Iraq and Syria; second, its metastases around the world; and third, its external operations and attempts to conduct attacks in our countries.

And today, it's no accident that a year later Iraqi forces are on the way to retaking Mosul, and our local partners in Syria are marching toward Raqqa.

The coalition military campaign plan we laid out last January has been on track and proceeding just as we envisioned.  And today's ministerial provided an opportunity to review the results of our ongoing operations, to discuss what more we can all to do enable capable, motivated, local forces, and to ensure that the certain defeat of ISIL is a lasting defeat.

First, as Secretary Fallon mentioned, we discussed the results we're seeing in Iraq and Syria.

Thanks to the determination and the courage of our local partners in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, as well as the contributions made by service members from across our coalition and the leadership of the countries represented here today, our campaign has continually accelerated the execution of the campaign, simultaneously pressuring ISIL from all directions and across all domains.

And next, as we have throughout this campaign, we discussed ways each of our country can -- countries can do even more to accelerate ISIL's defeat, because the sooner we defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the safer all of us in our homelands will be.

I was pleased to hear around the table today a number of coalition countries announce additional military contributions that they'll be making to accelerate the campaign.

And that's why we also talked about significant steps we're taking to destroy ISIL's metastases around the world and also to dismantle ISIL's external operations network, killing key leaders, plotters and facilitators of attacks, destroying their bases of operations and cutting off their resources to ensure that we protect our homelands and our people.

Building on the principles we endorsed in Paris this October, we also discussed how to further fulfill our commitment to the necessity to sustain the coalition beyond the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

As ISIL attempts to relocate or reinvent itself, it's critical to ensure the Iraqi security forces and our local partners in Syria have the training and enabling they need to continue to address this threat in whatever form it takes, so that they can provide lasting security long after ISIL is defeated.

In concert with the international community's stabilization, humanitarian and governance efforts -- which is why I frequently said, and my colleagues in these meetings have frequently said, we must not allow the rest of the campaign to lag too far behind the military campaign -- our enduring commitments are crucial to ensuring that once the coalition wins the battle, it also wins the peace.

That's also one of the key lessons that -- lessons learned that I shared today.  For example, as we look to the future of our campaign, there's clear value in our strategic approach of enabling local forces to seize and hold territory rather than attempting to substitute for them.  This approach has not only been effective, it's also sustainable.  And it'll be necessary to continue this kind of cooperation with our local partners.

As you know, we're undergoing a presidential transition in America right now.  And as I did today with my counterparts, I will share my lessons learned with my successor at the appropriate time, detailing the logic of our campaign plan and the strategic approach, and how we're seeing results on the ground.

And among my recommendations will be the need for the United States to remain actively engaged as leader of this coalition, to ensure that we deliver ISIL a lasting defeat and continue to protect our homelands.

Our coalition can, and I'm confident we will, finish this job together.

Now, Secretary Fallon noted the two of us had a very productive meeting this morning, where we discussed our growing -- ever-growing bilateral defense partnership and signed, as he noted, an important agreement on the future of U.S.-U.K. aircraft carrier cooperation.  This will enable U.S. Marine Corps F-35 stealth fighters to join the first operational deployment of the U.K.'s Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in 2021.

It's one example of many that illustrates how our alliance benefits the security of both our nations as we do more and more together.

Now I want to close by thanking my friend, Secretary Michael Fallon; for his leadership, his vision and his unwavering commitment to our special relationship.  From deterring Russian aggression against our NATO allies in Europe to combating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Great Britain is an important leader and partner in dealing with the many complex challenges facing our nations.

The United States is proud to stand together with the United Kingdom to defend out values, to protect our homelands, to make a better world for our children today, tomorrow, long into the future.

Michael, thank you.

SEC. FALLON:  Thank you.

Now we've time for some questions.  I'm going to start with our -- our host, Larisa Brown.

Q:  Thank you.

I'm just going to say, given the chaos in Aleppo and the fact that the U.S. led coalition has been -- unable to save the people there, what do you both see as being the future for President Assad?

Thank you.

SEC. FALLON:  Do you wanna start?

SEC. CARTER:  (Off mic.)

SEC. FALLON:  Well, we don't see a future of President Assad in Syria.  Even if he defeats the opposition in Aleppo, there is no victory in bombing hospitals and restricting humanitarian aid and ending up in a country that you only control 40 percent of and is, you know, half destroyed with millions dispersed and hundreds of thousands killed.

That is no victory.  We don't see a future for Syria with President Assad.  On the contrary, we continue to work for a political settlement in Syria that is genuinely pluralist, that can involve all sectors of Syria society, but not Assad himself.

SEC. CARTER:  I entirely concur with that.  That it -- and I'll just repeat the -- this tragedy reflects an incredible brutality on the part of the regime, and also their backers, including Russia as Michael noted.  And willingness to suspend anything like the rules that we apply to ourselves when we conduct military operations.

And Michael's right, the political transition is the only way that the suffering -- the Syrian people can finally be brought to an end.  But the -- the standard of brutality employed, it's just one point that's worth making as we talk about our counter-ISIL campaign, stands in stark contrast to the way we conduct ourselves in Iraq and Syria.

SEC. FALLON:  Okay.  David Welna, NPR?  Where's David?

SEC. CARTER:  David's right there and his microphone is right over there.

David?

Q:  Secretary Carter, were you able to give your colleagues any assurances that there will be continuity after January 20th in the U.S. approach to fighting Islamic State?

And Secretary Fallon, the U.S. has a president-elect who has denigrated and even ridiculed the Obama administration's approach to fighting Daesh, as you call (inaudible).  Do you have any confidence that the U.S. will remain the leader of this coalition once Donald Trump is sworn in as president?

SEC. CARTER:  I'll take the first part.

I -- I -- I can't give assurances.  I can't speak for the next administration, David.

However, I do have confidence in the future of the coalition campaign.  It's logical.  It makes sense.  And therefore, I expect that -- that logic will recommend itself to the future leadership of the United States (even as it has ?) recommended itself to the current leadership of the United States.

It reflects our common values and the determination of our people to protect themselves and to defeat an evil organization like ISIL.

It's worth noting that it is a coalition approach; that the coalition makes up a -- just to take one metric -- a third of the force that is operating in Iraq.  And that's a good thing.

But I also would say -- and I will say to my successor, when he or she -- I believe it's going to be a he, but in our system they need to get confirmed -- I expect he will be -- that we'll have the -- I expect that they'll have the same attitude that we do and that is shared by the group in this room today, which is we're constantly looking for ways to accelerate the campaign.

We look for opportunities we've seized opportunities every time we've found one.  And I expect that that desire to accelerate will perceive -- will persist also because it makes sense.

SEC. FALLON:  I think my answer to you would be, on the first point, is to aim off the campaign rhetoric and look at what the new administration actually does.

We're dealing here with a global threat from Daesh, a threat that isn't just present in Iraq and Syria, but is present in Western Europe.  It's hit Paris.  It's hit Brussels.  It's present in the Far East.  And -- and hit California.  This is a global threat, and I have no doubt that the next U.S. administration will step up to its traditional role of global leadership.

Secondly, of course, we already have the appointment of General James Mattis, who is well known to us here; a former NATO commander.  And I have no doubt, too, that he will be ready for the -- ready to continue to lead the campaign coalition.

Now, one more from the home team.  Anybody from home?  Anybody else from home?  (Ally Bunker ?).

Q:  Thank you.  A question to each of you if I may.  Firstly, Secretary Carter as the visitor.

The reports coming out of the United States in the last couple of hours suggesting that President Putin himself was directly behind the hacking of the U.S. elections.  Do you believe that to be true?

And defence secretary, you spoke in your opening remarks about the support that you're giving to the Syrian rebels to help them recapture Raqqa.  It's very possible, though, in time they will face their own challenge from Syrian government forces as President Assad seeks to regain control of the whole of Syria.

If that was the case, would you continue to back them?  Or would you turn away and watch on in the way that you've done with Aleppo?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, with respect to your first question, I'm not the person to address an intelligence matter and I can't address that.

Here, I will say this.  The -- President Obama has directed a review of this matter.  I think that the integrity of an electoral system in a democracy should be of concern for all Americans.

And since I'm in Europe, here we call this kind of activity and this kind of threat in the NATO context hybrid warfare.  And here, societies also, we have been working with them to fortify themselves against this kind of thing which -- this kind of danger, which we saw -- we've seen in other countries in Europe.  And -- and hybrid warfare generally speaking, we saw in spades in Ukraine.

SEC. FALLON:  The threat to the west that we've been dealing with for the last two-and-a-half years comes from Daesh.  Daesh is headquartered in Raqqa and we have to deal with Raqqa.

And that is why the coalition today welcomed the opening up of that second front at the end of last week and the movement to isolate Raqqa that will precede its encirclement and its eventual liberation.

Daesh has to be defeated, whatever the future holds for Syria.  President Assad, if he survives, will only control 40 percent of Syria.  We have to deal with the threat to this country, to Western Europe, and to the values that we hold in common.

Now, let me call (Ryan Braun ?).  Where is (Ryan Braun ?)?

Q:  Hello, thank you.

First, to Secretary Fallon, are you at all concerned that if the integrity of the coalition -- the solidarity of the coalition should individual members decide to cooperate with the Assad regime or would the Russians backers in attacking terrorists.

You discussed a brutality that was on display in Aleppo.  Are you concerned that individual the members might seek to exit the coalition if someone decided to pursue such cooperation?

And Secretary Carter, for you sir, was there ever a military solution to relieving the suffering at Aleppo, whether providing humanitarian relief or -- or any other kind of military solution?

Thank you.

SEC. FALLON:  Well, on the first, I mean this is a -- a coalition, the major contributors to the campaign, that has grown more solid at every meeting we've held over the last couple of years.

And then absolutely, no indication that it might fracture, on the contrary, we work together.  We're making different contributions to the campaign, but we heard again today, a number of countries stepping up doing even more and offering to plug various capability gaps in the coalition.

So I don't think we've ever been as more united as we are today.

SEC. CARTER:  I -- I'd just repeat what Michael said about Syria.  The only way to end the civil war and therefore end the violence, is a political path in which the -- there is a transition which includes the very people who are being brutalized in Aleppo and other parts of Syria.

And what we have said to the regime, but very importantly, to Russia from the very beginning, is that's the only way there's ever going to be peace.  They came in -- the Russians came in, I'll remind you, to Syria.

Seeing that they were there to promote precisely that political transition and they haven't done that.  And they also said, they were coming in to fight ISIL, they haven't done that, either.

SEC. FALLON:  Okay we'll take a couple more.

Home team first, (Kim ?)?

Q:  So, Michael, you specifically mentioned the Syrian Democratic Forces opening the second front in Raqqa.  Now, the Syrian Democratic Forces are Arabic and Kurdish, but Kurdish led.  They have got YPG connections, which is not to the liking of many Sunni Arab rebels.

Are we to assume that the rebels that -- opposition fighters that British forces will be training will be then working with the SDF effectively under Kurdish control?

SEC. FALLON:  No, I think that would be wrong assumption.  This is predominately the force that is now moving and moving fairly steadily towards Raqqa is a predominately Arab force.  We estimate -- I think our generals estimate between over 70 percent Arab force, and the Turkish and Iraqi ministers were with us today and they are content with that.

They understand exactly what that force is doing.  When it comes to our own training of moderate opposition in Syria, of course we've been very careful to ensure in any of that training, that they are properly vetted first.

SEC. CARTER:  No, you said it exactly right and we're -- we're -- we are very transparent about this with all parties.  We try to address everyone's concerns, and so far we have been able to do that.  But we need to do we need to do, which is we have plots being hatched in Raqqa against our own countries and that we have to stop that.

SEC. FALLON:  Now, the U.S. side, I don't know who you are, but why not have a go?

Q:  (inaudible) -- from Kuwait Television, we would like to ask about the future of the coalition.

Mr. Donald Trump said he prefer to deal with Assad instead of any of the opposition.  Can you confirm you will -- you will continue to work with the United States if Donald Trump deal with Bashar al Assad?

SEC. CARTER:  I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand.

SEC. FALLON:  The question is --

Q:  The question is --

SEC. FALLON:  This is a hypothetical question.  If the new president decides to work with Assad, would the coalition stay with it?

SEC. CARTER:  Can you answer a hypothetical question?

SEC. FALLON:  I think that's too hypothetical.  It doesn't sound to me very likely.  Now, home team, a less hypothetical question, perhaps?

Go for it.

Q:  (inaudible) -- Channel 4 News.

What kind of cooperation to both of you, do you have with the Russians in terms of intelligence sharing in combating ISIS at moment?  And I'm afraid this is tending towards the hypothetical, do you anticipate that changing and -- with the incoming administration?  And is all the talk then of holding Russia to account for war crimes pretty much a moot point, if you now -- if the incoming administration will work much more closely with the Russians?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I'm not going to try to once again tell you -- I cannot speak for the incoming administration.

But, I think our interests are our interests, and where they align with Russia's interest, we have worked with them.  For example, our interactions with them in matters of if Syria militarily has been to make sure that we deconflicted our operations.  We're fighting ISIL as we said we would, and we're going to do, and we need to do.  And they're participating in the Syrian civil war in a -- a -- a brutal and unhelpful way, rather than doing what they were supposed to do.

But we, very professionally, behave in that very specific way.  Also, even with Russia, the United States opposes terrorism in other countries.  And so if we learn of something that would assist Russia in protecting its own people, we do that that has gone on since the Cold War and after the Cold War ended.

And so these kinds of professional interactions will continue, but and we -- should we work with Russia where our interests align.  But where our interests don't align, we can't.

SEC. FALLON:  I mean Russia has not been dealing with Daesh in Syria.  They've been prolonging the civil war and, you know, it's precisely because they've been trying to crush the rebels in Aleppo that you can see, they let -- they let Daesh come back into Palmyra, for example, because all the effort was up in Aleppo.  So we're not aligned.

I don't know how much time you've got, but can you take another one?

SEC. CARTER:  Sure.

SEC. FALLON:  Right, it's the U.S. turn, isn't it?

Yes?  United States?

Q:  (Off mic.) please, a question regarding humanitarian aid delivery.  It was mentioned several times by western leaders that Russians, Syria are preventing aid getting to those who need it.

Is any aid currently being delivered, has the situation changed in any way?  Because we have heard from some officials in Russia saying they're waiting for this aid to come.

And secondly, if I may, regarding the operation wrapping up in Eastern Aleppo with civilians and rebels being evacuated, would you assess that operation as a success in any way in relation to Nusra and combating terrorism in Syria?

Thank you, very much.
SEC. FALLON:  Well, on the first point, we've been trying to get food and medicines and other humanitarian aid into Aleppo since the summer.  And we've had absolutely zero cooperation from Russia.

On the contrary, we've seen aid convoys attacked and we've seen hospitals bombed and a barbaric attitude to the plight of civilians in Aleppo.

The second question, perhaps Ash, you're wanting to take?

SEC. CARTER:  I think it was pretty much along the same lines; I don't have any extra information to give you on that subject than you have.  I'll just second what Michael said, which is the international community, the United Nations have been trying to get humanitarian aid in.

And there's no reason why it can't be done, but it hasn't been done because the regime and the Russians have not permitted it to be done.

SEC. FALLON:  (Off mic.) that in our review of military operations today, we were able to see the very clear distinction, even in two similar urban operations between the care that Iraqi forces are taking in Mosul to minimize civilian casualties with a carelessness and indifference of the Russian attacks on Eastern Aleppo.

Now, home team.

You're home team, sir?

Q:  Yes, I am.

SEC. FALLON:  Off you go.

Q:  (Inaudible) from (inaudible) News.

You talk about progress in the fight against IS, but given what is happening in Aleppo as we speak, will your legacies in Syria in a broader sense be remembered as having been failures and perhaps shameful failures at that?

SEC. FALLON:  Well, there's nothing shameful about defeating Daesh.  Daesh has terrorized the Syria population just as it's terrorized the Iraqi cities that it's now being thrown out of.  So we are bringing relief to these cities.  We are liberating some 12 -- 11 cities in Iraq so far, Mosul we hope in the new year and Raqqa after Manbij and other cities in Syria.

There's nothing shameful about that.  On the contrary.

Q:  But Aleppo.

SEC. FALLON:  Aleppo -- Aleppo is a tragedy of Russia's making.

But that is not going to distract us from our central purpose, which is to degrade and then defeat Daesh.  Which in the end, is a menace, a menace to the world as well as to the people of Iraq and Syria.

(Off mic.)

SEC. CARTER:  I can't improve upon that answer.

SEC. FALLON:  Okay.  Thank you very much.