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Remarks by Secretary Carter in a Media Availability

Feb. 12, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: I'll just do a recap of yesterday, once again, and then also, I will read out my reading with the defense minister -- the UAE just a few minutes ago.

Just back to yesterday, that was the first ever meeting of the defense ministers of the coalition against ISIL and the first ever military campaign plan for the coalition, which of course we drafted, worked with a smaller group over the last few weeks and got the universal agreement to yesterday.

And secondly, to the capabilities that will be required to carry out that plan, I didn't get that chart -- (inaudible).

Q: Is that a new plan, by the way? Or is it -- I mean --

SEC. CARTER: It's the plan that I announced at Fort Campbell.

Q: Okay.

SEC. CARTER: The president asked me and General Dunford and Lloyd Austin and the gang -- (inaudible) -- put together just to be very specific about objectives and -- and a visual picture so people can see what we're doing, which I think helps people understand what the campaign was about.

He asked for that. Remember, he came to the Pentagon before Christmas. We worked on that -- worked all over Christmas, and then the president approved that at a Washington meeting right after the new year, and then I shared that will a smaller group of coalition partners who were making the largest contributions a couple of weeks ago, as you know, in order to get their reaction, their inputs and so forth. And then, we put together this larger group.

So for the first time a military campaign plan that everybody agrees to, which is really important and actually long overdue. And second, a depiction -- characterization of all the capabilities, and then third, most importantly, as you know, almost every country that participated in that meeting either as a -- at the table as a defense minister or an observer has made, in the last few weeks or indicated that it will seek appropriate approval and so forth to make additional contributions to accelerate that campaign.

That's really important because every contribution matters, and there -- there are countries that may not have a lot of strike aircraft and so forth to contribute, but they can contribute in training and reconstruction and all the nonmilitary aspects of the campaign, even though this was the military campaign plan. So I was really pleased at the catalyzing effect that this meeting has.

And of course, I don't expect it to be the end. We're going to pushing ourselves to do more and everybody there indicated also that they're going to do more, they're going to take that chart back and look at where they can fill in the boxes. So, very productive.

I just met with the defense minister of the UAE, which is a stalwart partner of the United States in the Gulf and punches way above its weight militarily, and so its contribution to counter ISIL is critical. And they indicated to me their willingness now also to do more, which is important, specifically to restart their participation in the air campaign, which is very important. Secondly, to work with us on the ground in various ways in the same way that I discussed with the Saudi defense minister the day before yesterday.

And also, their, not only ability, but great -- willingness, but great ability to contribute things like training, equipping both Iraqi security forces, including Sunni forces and Sunni police forces, which is an important role that the Emirates politically and morally can play. They are also helping equip the Peshmerga, as I said, doing more with us on the Syria side, including on the ground.

And I thought -- I was very glad to see that we knew of their effort and commitment to the counter-ISIL campaign. Obviously, the Emirates are doing other things. They're active in Yemen, and so -- but the minister indicated a willingness to restrengthen their efforts in the counter-ISIL campaign.

I also have to say that the UAE plays an important role in countering the message of ISIL, particularly in the Islamic role. They -- they've stood up very strongly on that for moderation, and of course, that's not something the United States can do, but is an essential part of the campaign. You look at the nonmilitary aspects of the campaign and the moral dimension of it, the UAE plays a outsized role also in that dimension, and we talked about them working with the Saudis, as I discussed with the Saudis in that regard.

So in every way, they are a very strong partner and I was glad to see them once again turn their energies to the counter-ISIL campaign. Obviously, there's -- well, I can answer questions about that. Secretary Kerry was very commendably engaged in the last day and a half, also on a different matter, but I can answer questions about that.

Q: I have a question for you.

SEC. CARTER: Sure.

Q: One of the things they announced late last night or early this morning in Munich was the urgent, I think they even used the word immediate, humanitarian relief operations in Syria. Do you know whether the U.S. military will participate in any way in that in the short-term or --

SEC. CARTER: We haven't been asked to participate in it. It is urgent. It'll be accomplished principally by international aid organizations. They're all geared up to do that. They've been doing that already. They need access on the ground and a stable enough environment -- peaceful enough environment to get -- dig in there. There are lots of groups that are very active, obviously, with contributors to them.

And with respect to the cessation of hostilities agreement, that's very important. I will have to see in a week's time whether -- how it's implemented and we'll have to see what happens in the intervening weeks. So we'll be watching that very closely. But obviously, Secretary Kerry's effort to get some positive action in what really is a terrible humanitarian crisis will be important.

There will be no cessation of hostilities; there's no cease-fire in the war against ISIL. Be clear about that.
Q: I have a question regarding the major announcement yesterday about the ships and the migrant effort.

SEC. CARTER: Yeah.

Q: We talked to General Breedlove and he said that they would need more ships for that effort, and he seemed to indicate that the U.S. would be open for that.

Is that open to that -- is that something that the U.S. may be involved in, or has the -- has the capacity --

SEC. CARTER: I really need to let Phil (Gen. Breedlove) and the military authorities work on that. But it needs to be done very urgently. And the Germans have agreed -- they have a vessel there that is commanding the group that is actually there right now. As it happens, the United States doesn't have a vessel as part of that group.

But we're strongly supportive of the effort -- it's a NATO-wide effort. And General Breedlove will figure out what the military dimension of it is, working with the military committee there. But we obviously strongly support it.

STAFF: Aaron?

Q: Sir, one of the concerns the Saudi and UAE officials expressed in November at the air command in Dubai was a lack of munitions and some ancient technology as they were following the strikes.

If we're asking the Saudis and UAE to step up their strikes, can we expect the U.S. to increase munition sales or plane sales --

SEC. CARTER: We did this -- it wasn't something we discuss, actually, with the UAE, because we have agreed to provide more munitions to them, even from stocks -- which is, as you know in the United States' case, because of the intensity of our own air campaign, we're depleting.

But we have agreed to that; that will be the second large tranche to the UAE. And it's important everybody in the air campaign have weapons. And of course, our coalition uses precision weapons. And so, it's important that they have them.

You know separately, in the budget we just submitted, there's a big increase for munitions buys, partly to offset the depletion associated with the counter-ISIL campaign, and the anticipated continuation of that, of -- you know, if we move towards victory there, we're going to be using a lot.

And also, qualitative improvements. So, the kind that some of you were, I guess many of you weren't with me down in the southwest, but munitions of the next generation kind, some of which we displayed, some of which we can't display.

But both of those are in the budget. I can never forget the budget --

Q: I wanted -- can I just ask you. So, at the one point, a billion weapons, does that include some to give to partners? Or is that only for you?

SEC. CARTER: No, in general, what happens there is that they'll buy them through the FMS system.

Q: Right.

SEC. CARTER: And they'll order them through the United States. We help them place the order and do the contract monitoring, that kind of thing is a normal procedure. And then comply with all of the export control rules and that kind of thing.

Q: Just actually, just to follow up, when you talk about these depleting munitions, do you have a -- how serious of a problem could it potentially be?

SEC. CARTER: Well, we're going to be -- I think we'll stay ahead of it; we have got to stay ahead of it. So -- and manufacturers have the plant capacity to keep up, step up the production rates. That was a part of the decision-making going into the F.Y. '17 budget to -- part of that money goes to increasing the productive capacity of the venders who provide us munitions.

When you place an order like that, you're generally placing an order for the tooling and equipment to increase the (through put.

Q: But it hasn't translated into any shortages on the battle field in terms of --

SEC. CARTER: No, no, we're doing okay now. But you've got to look ahead, and of course, it's a big world out there. So -- so, even after ISIL is defeated, we'll still have a need for precision munitions to resource all of our contingency plans.

STAFF: Phil?

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I push you just a little bit to give me more detail on this ground role by the Saudis and the UAE?

SEC. CARTER: Sure.

Q: I had -- yesterday, the Saudis make very clear they are -- they're pretty much on board with the idea of doing something on the ground.

And you seem to suggest that the UAE is as well. Are we talking about special forces in Syria, doing kind of what the U.S. is doing? There is some speculation outside of here that we're talking about a big, large ground force. I don't think that's what you're hinting at?

SEC. CARTER: No. What we were talking about was the former. That is forces, including especially special forces in Syria now, that are helping organize and enable local forces that can participate in the recapture of Raqqa.

Over in Syria, the Emirates are already providing equipment to Iraqi security forces, as well as Peshmerga, and we talked about them doing more of that. And also a role in training -- training police, especially, reconstruction. You know, there's going to be a need for a lot of police, Sunni police.

Q: In Iraq, you mean.

SEC. CARTER: I'm talking -- now, I'm in Iraq. I know you're starting in Syria, but I'm talking -- but if you're talking about a role on the ground --

Q: It's Emirates --

SEC. CARTER: -- a role on the ground, we talk about both countries. And they can have a role, and they already have a role on the ground in Iraq. But we talked about them increasing that, too. And the specifics are police training, particularly the Sunni police, who will police territories that are recaptured from ISIL, and then doing more of the kind of equipping and reconstruction of the kind that Ramadi needs.

So, all of these things are things that they're well positioned to do in terms of capability, and also politically well-positioned to do, because what is needed in the parts of -- the Sunni parts of Iraq, is capacity among moderate Sunnis to reoccupy and govern that territory, and keep a multi-sectarian Iraq together. Which everybody saw a decentralized one, but everything together.

And so, the Sunni part of that, it's important to put back together again, and the Emirates can be an important part of that. So, you mentioned Syria, but I just wanted to turn to Iraq, as well.

Q: So, to be clear then, so we're talking -- in Syria, it's the Saudis helping -- I mean, the local forces to retake Raqqa.

SEC. CARTER: And the Emirates. And of course, all of the partners here. I can't tell you all of the ones that are -- some don't like to acknowledge even the fact of operations of special force.

Q: Yeah.

SEC. CARTER: But there are -- there are a number of them. And we are the organizer of them.

But many of them have their own contacts and inroads there, historically, by virtue of economic links, or for some other reasons. Not just the Gulf states, but European states.

And so, the whole is a lot greater than the sum of the parts when you put all of the contacts together, because one of the things special forces do is establish relationships with people who want to fight for their homeland.

Q: That's not yet happening in Syria, right? I mean, the Emirates and Saudis are not yet doing that, are they?

SEC. CARTER: No. No. They've had kind of liaisons there, but we're talking about amping that up.

Q: In March? Have the Saudis indicated that might happen by March or -- (inaudible) -- check with the Saudis.

SEC. CARTER: You can check with the -- with the Saudis. I mean, it's February now, so, you know, I'm a man in a hurry. It doesn't take that long.

STAFF: Thomas hasn't had a question yet.

SEC. CARTER: Hi, Thomas.

Q: Hi, sir. Sorry, kind of -- (inaudible) -- organize and enable and you were just kind of saying yesterday you were very pleased with the Saudi's contribution going forward. And kind of what I'm trying to flesh out is that, you know, what we've been looking for with the -- (inaudible) -- kind of this ground force in Syria. Not so much Iraq. They could really start making some gains.

Can you kind of see the Saudi UAE enablers kind of at the tactical level being that maybe driving force for those gains?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I -- they'll be part of the driving force and we'll be part of the driving force, other members of the coalition there.
But I think the coalition will be the driving force. We're going to try to give opportunities and power to those particularly Sunni Arabs in Syria who want to reseize their territory back from ISIL, especially Raqqa.

And we're not aiming, and it's an important part of the strategic strategy that we discussed and approved yesterday, we're not looking to substitute for them anymore than we're looking to substitute for the Iraqi forces. But we are looking to enable them strongly and help them organize themselves.

Q: You say kind of -- (inaudible) -- tactical level from the Saudis – and then UAE?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. I mean, it is -- it's not just abstract. This is actually helping people who want to recapture their -- their homeland.

STAFF: Last one, and then we've got to.

Q: Just a follow-up quickly. Do you have -- you say -- what's the overall ballpark number of special operations for all of the countries in the -- (inaudible) -- in Iraq and Syria?

SEC. CARTER: If I knew, I couldn't tell you. But it's -- but --

Q: I mean, are we talking hundreds?

STAFF: It's bigger than it was a few days ago.

Q: Can we go with hundreds? Thousands?

SEC. CARTER: I just want to be careful about the other -- other people.

Let me -- and maybe here's something that will help you with that that isn't a number. I think because – I don't know whether I can get this across, but when you talk about special forces, it's -- the metric of their power is less than numbers than it is the funnel of capability that they bring down to the ground.

So what our special forces do in a situation like this is bring down the huge weight of our military machine, air, intelligence, training, advanced equipment and -- and also coalition, like a big funnel of a tornado down on (place ?). That's the role they play, and so you -- that isn't -- the power of their effect isn't quite measured by the number of people as is -- as would be the case in a conventional infantry operation.

I mean, it is going to matter when we get to Mosul, how -- you know, do we have enough brigades and that sort of thing. But when it comes to enabling, what is important is the power that is enabled.

But the numbers -- our numbers are definitely going to grow. There's no question about that. But I'm just hesitant to give you them.

STAFF: You're running into your (filing ?) time.

(Laughter.)

Q: But you are confident that the Saudis and the Emirates really are going to contribute to special forces?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. No, I -- we've worked with their special forces before in other settings. They have very capable special forces, and again, they have a unique political and even moral role to play in this conflict, and that's -- that makes them important partners in that regard, as well as the very powerful military capability they both bring.

SEC. CARTER: See you all.