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Media Availability With Secretary Carter in Baghdad, Iraq

Dec. 16, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: I'll be very quick; just give you a summary of our visit here today to Iraq.

First of all, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with General MacFarland and, of course, he's running our overall campaign against ISIL, both here in Iraq and Syria. So I was able to get an update from him, and also to emphasize to him our desire, and that starts with President Obama and the meeting I had with him on Monday, to accelerate and strengthen our campaign here, and for our willingness to get suggestions from General MacFarland about how we can accelerate the campaign here in Iraq as well.

And turning to Iraq, I had the opportunity to have a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Abadi and also separately a meeting with the defense minister, and discussed with them once again the desire of the United States and its other coalition partners to accelerate progress -- the kind of progress that the Iraqi forces are exhibiting in Ramadi, building on that success to complete the recapture of Ramadi, and then continue the campaign with the important goal of retaking Mosul as soon as possible.

The United States is willing to do more in association -- to support the Iraqi security forces and that mission. I emphasized that to Prime Minister Abadi. I also emphasized to him that I was working with other coalition partners to get them to up their contributions. And finally, I reemphasized to the prime minister, as he knows well, that everything we do and the coalition does here in Iraq is subject to the principle of Iraqi sovereignty and therefore his permission. And that the United States is also very strongly supportive of Iraqi territorial sovereignty.

We had a lengthy discussion of all of these matters. Obviously, Prime Minister Abadi is very knowledgeable about the battlefield situation. He and General MacFarland talk frequently. And also we had the opportunity to talk about the connection between the military situation on the ground and the overall political situation in the region. And I had the benefit of working -- of hearing also from our excellent country team here in Baghdad about that same thing. So, a very productive day.


Q: Hi, Mr. Secretary. You've been talking a lot about allies doing more. In the case of Iraq, it's really a question of them accepting more. So on the table is, you know, the Apache helicopters; you have –a kind of tentative agreement about, you know, what you guys can do with the -- (inaudible) -- ETF and other offers.

What kind of assurances did you get, if any, from the prime minister today about what he's willing to accept from the U.S.?


SEC. CARTER: Yes, well, the prime minister did not make any specific requests in connection with –helicopters as you mentioned in connection with Ramadi. However, we did discuss the possibility that circumstances in the future might cause our commanders to advise and his commanders to advise, and –for him therefore to approve us doing more things, like using helicopters, like using -- (inaudible) in connection with the campaign.

We also discussed the expeditionary targeting force and its role -- once again, subject to Iraqi sovereignty and -- (inaudible) -- the important mission of restoring Iraqi borders.

So all of those things were mentioned in connection with the continued progress and our determination to advance the progress of the campaign to defeat Daesh first by -- (inaudible) -- Ramadi and then eventually moving on to the very important objective of Mosul.

And so I think those circumstances in the future are going to occur, either a request for U.S. assistance or a request for coalition assistance. I expect that the prime minister would make those requests and that they -- (inaudible). And I look to General MacFarland to look for opportunities in which we can make an important difference. And at that point, I'm confident that –the United States would be willing to make its contribution.


Q: (inaudible) -- clarification -- (inaudible). When you announced the -- (inaudible) -- last week to the Congress, you put it in the context of the Ramadi fight. Are you saying now that the use of American Apaches to support the Iraqi forces and their (inaudible) advisers -- (inaudible) -- level is -- are steps that are unlikely to happen during the battle of Ramadi and will be perhaps taken up for a future engagement?

SEC. CARTER: They certainly might be taken up for a future engagement. And I am telling you that it's not either General MacFarland's judgment or the prime minister's judgment that they're needed right now for the completion of the fight in Ramadi. That does not mean that they wouldn't -- they won't make a difference sometime in the future.

And so, the offer of the United States when circumstances suggest it, and subject to -- always to Iraqi approval, our willingness to do more, including the use of Apache helicopters. So that's the situation.


Q: Mr. Secretary, there is some reluctance among some Iraqis to have a larger U.S. or coalition footprint on the ground here in Iraq. Did you discuss that with either the minister or the prime minister? And what is their assessment of how much more they could accept?

SEC. CARTER: We didn't discuss specifically, no, numbers. We did discuss the opportunity for the United States to do more. Now, you know, the ways that we uniquely contribute and can uniquely contribute to Iraqi battlefield success is by training Iraqi units, providing air support to Iraqi units, and possibly operating with Iraqi units to advise and do other things like that; not to replace them.

So I don't think in any case that the numbers were a part of the conversation -- numbers, per se. But I just want to be clear, numbers aside, we were talking about the opportunities that will arise in the future to increase the American contribution to Iraqi success here, and both he and I anticipate that those circumstances will arise as Iraqi troops move north to Mosul, and we're prepared to increase our contribution.


CARTER: All right. You know, I just -- for those of you, just let me commend General MacFarland –here, a final note. We are very lucky to have him here -- a very gifted military thinker, but also somebody who is very strategic in his thinking. I say that because not only because of what he's done here in Iraq, but I've known him previously, and I have great, great confidence in him.

And it's also important to me, and I think to the president and General Austin, that we have a commander here, one person that we can go to with a picture of the entire battle space here in Iraq and Syria.

So Sean, great confidence and appreciate your being here. And I've emphasized to him I'm only a phone call away from him. So, to get back to some of the questions about -- (inaudible). When opportunities arise for us to do more, I'm just a phone call away.

Thank you all very much.