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Media Availability With Secretary Carter en route to Paris, France

Jan. 19, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF:  Guys, we're on the record.  The secretary will make some opening comments, then we'll get a couple of questions.  And if you can't hear, let me know. 

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Okay.  Well, first of all, thanks everybody for coming.  And I -- what I thought I'd just walk through the -- all the steps of the trip here -- I'm sorry, all the steps of the trip and why we're making it.  Sorry, okay. 

The focus of the next couple of days is going to be the counter-ISIL campaign, and just to take you back a bit, you know that we began accelerating our campaign several months ago.  The French also did.  They were truly galvanized, as many of the Europeans were, by the attacks in Paris.  Therefore, it's fitting that we hold this meeting in Paris.

I described last week the elements of the military campaign plan for accelerating the defeat of ISIL.  I described that at Fort Campbell to our troops who were deploying to Iraq to do the advise and assist mission, which is a very important piece of our overall strategic approach there. 

But just to reprise a little bit, the military campaign plan involves, first of all, destroying ISIL in what I call there, its parent tumor in Syria and Iraq.  That is necessary, it's not sufficient.  And therefore, second, ISIL must be destroyed everywhere its metasticies have spread around the world.  And then third, of course, we have the paramount task of protecting the American homeland.

What I'll have the opportunity to do tomorrow is, for the first time, have all of us who are major contributors now to the military campaign in Iraq and Syria sit down face-to-face.  I want to go through that campaign plan with them, as I did with our commanders at CENTCOM, Joe Dunford and Lloyd Austin and Joe Votel -- some of you were along on that trip late last week -- and then again with the president on Friday.

Now, with the -- some of the other countries that have been central core contributors to the military campaign, and I'd like to get their views on that military campaign plan.  These are -- this is a meeting of defense ministers.  I'll just remind everyone the campaign is actually broader than a military campaign; one can't say that enough.  Obviously, my focus is on the military campaign, but there are many so-called lines of effort.  But just to make a little less abstract, there's the job of -- to take a current example, Ramadi, of helping re-settle the population and reconstruct the city.  So there's more to this than the military side of the campaign plan.

Nevertheless, we'll be talking about the military campaign plan with them, and I'll be soliciting their views and describing to them my thoughts about how we can accelerate the campaign, including the variety of capabilities, military capabilities, that will be required and that are identified in the campaign plan.

There's a lot of attention, and justifiably so, on the air war and on sorties and so forth, and all of these countries have contributed in one way or another to that.  But just -- we will be discussing the full suite of capabilities that are going to be required for victory here, and that includes in the air ISR transport; it includes special operations forces of the sort that we don't talk about a lot but that we've introduced in a number of different ways, including the expeditionary targeting force that we have discussed; it involves things that may seem prosaic to you but are extremely important.

The logistics, sustainment, equipment and then, very centrally, advising and assisting and enabling capable and motivated local forces because remember, the overall strategic approach is to enable them to take territory so that they can sustain the defeat on the ground in Syria and Iraq. 

In addition to all those contributions the United States makes, we'll be discussing the contributions that these members and other coalition members can make to accelerate the campaign.  And I'd just point out that variety to you because there really are a number of different ways that we will need contributions and that countries can make contributions to the success and the rapid success of the military campaign. 

As I said, it's fitting that this be in Paris.  The second thing I'll be doing is meeting with my counterpart, a good friend, Minister Le Drian, who has, along with his government, stood strong in the wake of the attacks in Paris and galvanized to further action, and I very much appreciated working with him right along now for years actually.   But in recent months, going back to, in fact, before the Paris attacks themselves, to strengthen our joint efforts in the -- in the campaign against ISIL.

And I just want to commend the French defense ministry for standing strong and for the strength of the contributions it's made just in recent times to the campaign.  We'll be talking about that with him.  I'll be speaking to a French military audience along the lines of my -- what I said to the American troops that were about to deploy so that they know -- have a vivid picture of what the campaign plan is and the path to victory over ISIL in Iraq and Syria, then around the world and, of course, in all of our homelands.

The last stop I'll just mention here is of somewhat different origin entirely, but also very important.  And you -- some of you will recall that I hosted the World Economic Forum, a group of business leaders convened by them, at the Pentagon several months ago as part of my continuing effort to reconnect or continue the strong historical connection between the Department of Defense and the innovative technology industry.

That is why we started the Innovative Unit in Silicon Valley.  That's why I was in Boston a few weeks ago.  That's why I'm constantly reaching out because I think people who want to make a difference know that one of the ways they can make a difference is by helping protect our people and make us a better world for our children.  And that's an appealing mission.  I want to get more of the tech and innovative community in that game as they have been for decades.

So that's a whole different subject.  In that connection, the World Economic Forum and Klaus Schwab invited me to come to Davos after that meeting at the Pentagon.  And I agreed to do that.  And that will give me the opportunity to talk to some of those same leaders about the same topics, namely building bridges between the Defense Department and the innovative industry.

While I'm there, I'll see some important leaders on other topics, including the counter-ISIL campaign as well, since Davos is a gathering place for leaders.  So there will be a number of things I'll be talking about there.  That's a few days in the future.  For now, it's Paris, meeting with the key contributors on the military side, over the military campaign plan, and of course with our -- with our oldest ally, no better ally and none that has -- is standing more strong now, as we all need to stand strong against ISIL.

So with that, let me -- (inaudible) over to you, and -- (inaudible).

STAFF:  Lita, so she can say her question first.

Q:  Oh, okay.  Thank you.

Just a couple of questions about your meeting with all of the countries' leaders.  Can you -- there's a lot of talk about the need for more trainers.  Do you have a ball park number of the number of additional trainers that you think you need for Iraq and Syria, from the broader coalition?  And is the U.S. going to be willing to add any more in at this point? 

And then sort of secondarily, there's obviously no Arab countries during -- in this meeting, and that appears to be one of the goals is to get the Arab countries to do more.  How do you see that happening?  How are you going to do that?

SEC. CARTER:  Okay.  Both good questions.

First of all, with respect to trainers -- I'm sorry -- with respect to trainers, I expect the number of trainers to increase, and also the variety of the training they're giving.  I'm going to speak about Iraq first.  So for example, as territory is retaken from ISIL, as moving up and ultimately including Mosul, there are going to need to be not just ground forces that can seize territory, but police forces that can keep security.

That's already being done in Ramadi.  It will be as we move to Heet, and then to Mosul.  So, Lita, the numbers will increase.  I can't give you a number, but I would so will increase greatly as the momentum of the effort increases.  And that will be throughput not only of Iraqi security forces, but also Iraqi police forces.  And obviously, there are many countries that contribute to both of those training streams.  The United States does, but most of the countries represented in the room when I meet with them will do that also.

To the second part, it is very important that the coalition includes, as it now does, Arab countries, both because of geography and because of history and their own stakes in the outcome here.  They all need to be part of the coalition, too, including the coalition military campaign.

So, that is in fact one of the things I'm going to be discussing with our other partners here is how can we draw those from the region, who in fact could make an enormous contribution to this, the kinds of contributions that it's not as easy for us to make, for example, in training police.

And so that is definitely going to be something that is -- it's -- the -- the coalition that was assembled a year-and-a-half ago includes those countries, but I think their military role can be, should be defined in such a way that they see that their interests will be aligned with playing that role.

And that's something I want to -- I want to hear from my counterparts over the next couple of days -- how can we get them in the game.  I have long said that Arabs and Sunni Arabs need to get in the game.  And we can help that by both defining some of the contributions they can make, and also by discussing with them how they see their interests, including long-term interests in the region, and how to align those interests with the -- the ultimate victory over ISIL.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. CARTER:  Oh, I think they'll put more U.S. -- (inaudible).  I think we're certainly open to that.  I mean, I think that's in the category that the president has indicated wherever there's additional opportunity to make a difference, according to the strategy, we'd be willing to do that.  And, of course, we're very good at that, but there are others who are very good at it as well.  So there's no reason why the United States should do all of that, but we're making a big contribution already.

I should say, some of the people around the table are making really central contributions.  Just for example, you know, the Italians are doing a lot of police training.  Australians, Brits, French, others doing training.  And then as the effort grows in Syria, there will be a need for that as well.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Getting us back to the Arab -- the question of the Arabs, I mean, are you concerned about the optics of hosting a meeting with -- with your most active partners when it doesn't include any Arab states?  And also on the expeditionary targeting force, you said last week that it was now in place.  Has it started any new kind of operations yet?‎

SEC. CARTER:  Okay, two questions in there.

Well, I talk to our Arab partners all the time.  All of us do.  The -- the reason for this particular grouping is that these are the -- the countries that have been most active in both Iraq and Syria.  There are other -- many other members of the coalition, many of whom have made contributions, many of whom can make greater contributions. 

And so in future interactions with them -- so this is not to exclude anyone.  It's simply to get more ideas for how we can do more, including by including others more strongly in the military campaign -- a discussion among those who have had the most experience and done the most directly, so far.  It's that simple. 

And on the ETF, I want to be careful what I say here, Phil, because I'm gonna go back again and say this is something that we're not gonna get -- we're not gonna be talking about for operational security reasons. 

And -- but this is -- is a tool that is ready to carry out a very wide range of missions.  One of the things that's gonna be very powerful about the ETF is the -- the great breadth of missions that it can fulfill.  And so it's gonna be an incredibly flexible tool. 

Moreover, I would say the more we use it, the more we'll learn about additional uses for it, and this is a particular instantiation of the general point, which I made down at Fort Campbell, which is, the more we do, the more we learn what more we can do. 

And so for example, to take a raid from an earlier period -- an ETF-like raid -- the one that took down Abu Sayyaf, and also the one that freed 70 prisoners -- they were both learning experiences for us, too.  We got something out of that. 

So the more you do, the more you learn.  The more you're on the ground, the more you learn, and therefore the more opportunity you have.  So it is a -- a virtuous cycle. 

STAFF:  Gordon and then -- (inaudible).

Q:  Hi.  The Turks recently asked General Dunford about considering a new, but limited T&E program for Sunni Arabs inside Syria.  You obviously want to bring more Sunnis into the fight -- whether you've received, like, a formal recommendation yet from the chairman, can you give us some sense of how you see that issue? 

SEC. CARTER:  Yeah.  Yeah -- yeah.  Absolutely.  I don't know if everybody got to hear, but it was about the train and equip program.  Obviously I was disappointed in the early results of the Syria train and equip program, and -- however, I don't think that there isn't a good idea -- a good way of doing that that we can capitalize upon. 

And let me describe where -- the way we started, and then the way I think we can go ahead -- go forward -- that's different, and will be more effective. 

Our original effort was one to create, essentially, entirely new infantry units from scratch by taking them to a training site and then reintroducing them to the battlefield. 

A better model, and a model that we're now pursuing and -- and -- and that I think will be more effective, is one in which you -- you have a group that already exists, that has the intention of protecting its homes or retaking its homes. 

So maybe in Syria, and their territory is occupied by ISIL, they'd like to get back and re-engage with ISIL, but they lack equipment, or they lack training, or they lack that critical connection to the great might of the American air, intelligence and logistics and other capability.  We can provide that to such a group, and we're actually -- that's the -- that's basically the approach that we're taking in Syria. 

And -- and so mechanically, Gordon, that means not -- it means that a few key leaders and key individuals are trained to a very high, exquisite level, so that they can be enablers for the entire unit, and, as I said, be that connection to the vast capability of the coalition. 

Now, we do that in a very transactional manner, so as you get to know these groups better, and they get to know us, we can do more if they do -- if they do more. 

Our experience with this kind of thing is that these groups grow in size as they grow in confidence and capability, and that is actually what we'd like to see, particularly as we march towards Raqqa through forces like that in Syria. 

So that's a different approach.  I hope I got that across -- the old approach and the new -- I think the new approach is going to be more effective, and I think that's what General Dunford was discussing with his Turkish counterparts. 

Q:  (inaudible) -- do you think that that particular -- particular request will be acted on favorably by you and the White House? 

SEC. CARTER:  Yeah, I do.  I do -- I do expect that.  I mean, I think people -- people need to -- and also, I think, the Congress is in -- the Congress, who -- who I think it's fair to say shared my disappointment -- has encouraged us to innovate, learn from our mistakes and do this a different way. 

So I think we'll have a very receptive audience to a new -- and what I think is clearly going to be a more effective approach. 

STAFF:  Kevin, and then we (off mic). 

Q:  Just a (off mic).  Thank you. 

To -- to follow on the special operations force -- forces, the raids you mentioned are months old.  You said -- you know, said -- the raids that you had mentioned -- Abu Sayyaf and the 70 hostages -- those are months old. 

So since then we assume there's been more.  Can you give a little bit more -- just what kind of intelligence, or -- or impact these raids are having on -- and what are you finding out?  Is it helping you get to the financial networks?  Is it getting to the leaders?  And any sense of the tempo of these, and how often? 

SEC. CARTER:  Just to be absolutely clear, I don't want to mislead you that the Expeditionary Targeting Force per se is conducting operations that -- they just got in place, and they're going to get sent. 

I think we are doing -- so let me sort of generalize your question.  We are doing -- and again, I've got to be careful about how specific I get -- we are doing things with special operations forces in the counter-ISIL campaign. 

And to get to your question, they not only do things, in the sense of taking direct action, but the really valuable thing we get from their being there is that connection to local forces that are willing to take action.  Because our -- our -- in the end, and this is important to our overall strategic approach to the defeat of ISIL in places where it's taken territory, is that motivated, capable local forces have to participate in the fight.  We can help them, and then they have to sustain the victory.

We learn about them and interact with them.  We collect valuable intelligence that informs the air campaign -- valuable intelligence about how ISIL is preying upon the people, taxing the people and so forth that helps us with our -- the economic aspects of our campaign, the counter-financing, the counter-messaging parts of our campaign.

So it is a keyhole through which one gets a lot of insight, and thereby allows us more effectively to bring the huge weight of coalition military power to bear on the battlefield in an effective way.

STAFF:  All right, last one.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.

I wanted to check in on as far as this new training plan for Syria would go.  One of the big problems previously was the vetting.  You'd still be taking people out of the field on the Syrian side, or at least on the Sunni side, and training them.  And I imagine you would still need to vet them somehow.  What complications and challenges?  How would this vary?  And I guess if it's a smaller number, does that make it easier?

SEC. CARTER:  It does.  Well, absolutely, they will need to be vetting.  And you're right, the fact that it's smaller numbers, and these are people who are going to be leaders.  So it's easier for us to understand, learn from them what their motivations are and what their capabilities are, which are an important part of vetting.

Whereas if you get a brand new recruit, as we had in some of our early classes, it's harder to know what their motivation is or what their background is.  These are people who have -- what makes them attractive to us is that they have a motivation.  And so we can understand them and what they're likely to do, and make sure that their interests are aligned with our interests.

So vetting is important. 

Q:  Thank you, sir.

SEC. CARTER:  And the small numbers does help.

Q:  (inaudible) -- receptive audience.  You're talking about a receptive audience to the program that you've been outlining.  Or are you talking about the specific proposal by Turkey?  I just need to be clear about what we're writing about.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I don't know.  I -- -- to be quite honest, Phil, I -- maybe we'll have to get back to you on that.  I don't know what the -- what Turkey has described publicly.  I don't want to get out in front of that.  I'm not trying to avoid the question.  Can we get back to you on that after I actually find the answer to that? 

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF:  Okay.  Thanks, everyone.

SEC. CARTER:  Thanks, everybody.  Thanks very much for coming.  It will be -- this is a good, very good group of people, wonderfully strong, centered group of defense ministers. 

STAFF:  Thank you.