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Media Availability with Secretary Carter enroute to Stuttgart, Germany

May 2, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SEC. CARTER:  So first of all, welcome to those who haven't been with us before.  I appreciate your taking an interest in what we do.  You'll see these fantastic people in here who support us, and in supporting the people who really matter, obviously, who are the troops.

 Two parts to this trip, two things that occasion this travel.  The first is the change of command at EUCOM from Phil Breedlove to Mike Scaparrotti, whom everybody calls Scap, and I'll have an opportunity to commend both of them.  I'll just say something about each of them.  

  First, with respect to Phil, Phil and I have done a lot of things together and he, of course, was in the Air Force earlier and we worked on a lot of things that are now of great consequence to this theater, some of our high-tech and more advanced capabilities that are relevant to the issue of Russia and deterrence of Russia.  

 Then, he came here to EUCOM, and Phil has really helped lead the way to the response that not just the United States but Europe has made to the events that began with Crimea a couple of years ago, which were a reminder for anybody who needed one of Russia's unfortunate tendency at this time to try to set itself apart from the international community and isolate itself, and no more conspicuous way of doing that than to annex the territory of a neighboring state, which of course it did.  

  And one of the responses of that has been not just the United States, but NATO.  We began with something called the European Reassurance Initiative.  We're building that; that's why we quadrupled it this year.  And I expect that to continue, I expect our weight of effort certainly will continue, but we'll be building and shaping that response, along with NATO, as we sharpen our operational plans and our posture there, along with our European allies.

  And of course, they're doing more also, and I'll have a little bit of opportunity to discuss that with them the next day, although that's focused on something else, as I'll get to.

 So Phil has really been at the forefront and a spearhead for this effort and I just want to commend him.  A lot of the ideas we've had and a lot of things that we and the NATO allies have done in the last couple of years have been ideas that he developed and recommended and the United States and other governments have accepted.  So I'm very much in his debt.

  Also true, in Scap's debt.  Totally different theater, but it explains a little bit his coming from the Korean Peninsula to why I thought he was so perfectly suited to this assignment and why it was an easy recommendation for me to make to the president and it was an easy recommendation for him to accept -- judging from his response to it and when I talked to him about it, how quickly it went.  And also the Senate which is vitally important.

 And while there are obviously enormous differences between the Asia-Pacific theater and the North Korean-specific situation and Europe, he, that is Scap, knows the practicalities of land combat.  Those theaters, of course, aren't exclusively land, but they have an important land component.  He knows that both from the Korean Peninsula, and of course Scaps tours, which I remember very well, in Afghanistan as well.  COIN focused, but still considerable experience.

  And next, with -- working with allies, both to build their joint capabilities and to reassure them of the strength of the American support for them, that's obviously been important in the Korean Peninsula.  It's important just in recent days on the Korean Peninsula, and Scap has been a tower of strength there behind deterrence of aggression on the Korean Peninsula and working with allies, importantly, South Korea and Japan also threatened by North Korea.  So he had the political-military as well as the military operational experience that will be needed in Europe. 

 

 And then last thing I'd say is he, like Phil, is an innovator, and so I look forward to getting his thinking and his ideas, as I did from Phil, and you can see that in his service in Korea in the OPCON transfer, for those of you who know what these things mean, and some of the other innovations that we together, with our South Korean allies have made.  And missile defense, moving on to THAAD deployment and so forth, so he's had all those things.  

  Great military operational experience.  Great reputation, political-military experience with important allies  and the ability to be creative and to be dynamic and keep up with change.  So he'll be a great commander and we're kind of blessed to have -- we're going to miss Phil, but we're blessed to have Scap.

 The second day and the second reason for my trip is to convene once again the defense ministers of the countries that are making the most substantial contributions to the counter-ISIL fight, principally in Iraq and Syria, and like us, are determined to deal ISIL a lasting defeat.  I met with them in January, as some of you remember, briefed them on our military campaign plan and the roles and functions that would be needed to accomplish that, asked them to do more.  These folks have done more.

  And we're going to be talking about both the situations in Syria and Iraq, but also about the ISIL problem worldwide, defense of the homeland and all its other dimensions.  But it's focused on, as is necessary, the fight in Iraq and Syria and making sure that we're all working together, the whole is great than the sum of the parts, and that some of the dimensions that are particularly tricky, and you see events in Baghdad over the weekend illustrating this, the political and economic aspects of this as well, which are necessary to success.

 

 And so the countries that have also made military contributions when it comes to stabilization, assistance and so forth, we'll be talking about that as well.  

  And I also, of course, in addition to speaking with these folks before, convened all of the defense ministers of all of the coalition, a month and a half ago or so in Brussels, met with this group in January, I'm sure we'll be meeting again and again and again and again until this is done.  And I also had last week the opportunity to meet with the Gulf partners, also important contributors, and talked to them about the same thing, which is doing more, taking advantage of opportunities, capitalizing on momentum and building further momentum.

 

 That's what the United States has been doing, that's what the announcements I made last week, the president's approval were about from the additional -- actually, a sextupling of the SOF compliment in Syria to the introduction of movement of some HIMARS batteries, the approval to use Apaches as we move up to Mosul, the $415 million for the peshmerga for salaries and so forth.  So you know those things.  So I'll be talking to these folks about their corresponding additional efforts and how we can do both the military side and the political and economic side.

  The last thing I'll say, which is good, which is as we flew here today, the Norwegians have decided to and announced that they will be increasing their own contribution.  I'll let them describe what that is, but it's very significant for Norway and I'm very grateful to that and to my friend and colleague, the Norwegian defense minister, with whom I have a really an excellent working relationship, so I look forward to thanking her.  And I asked her if she would accordingly join this group, and I believe she's going to be able to do that, accommodate that in her schedule and I'm grateful I'll be able to see her here as well.  So I have a new member joining the conference as we are here on route today.

 So those are the two parts of it.  I'll stop at that point and take question from y'all.  And Peter, why don't you be the impresario there and give the dean -- what are you reading?

 STAFF:  With that, Thomas, you get the first one.

 

 (laughter.)

 Q:  Sure.  Can you hold the mic, sir, so I'll --

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Yes.

 

 Q:  Thank you, sir.  Having your last trip to Europe, you were supposed to visit Ukraine.  That kind of got scrapped for whatever reason and hasn't been much talk about it. Lately, they've been having their own internal problems there and with their government.  So just kind of wondering where the Pentagon sits towards assistance to Ukraine?

  SEC. CARTER:  Good.  Well, I expect to go there sometime.  Very important friend, actually longtime colleague of mine -- myself because I worked with Ukraine a great deal in the 1990s so I know the country very well.  Their defense minister is a very able, very professional person.  I work with him a lot, met with him a few times in Europe, so I look forward to going there.

 

 The situation is, you know, one that remains in terms of the implementation of Minsk, you know, not entirely satisfactory to anybody, and now summer is coming and I hope that there isn't any kind of escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine.  U.S. -- with respect to what we're doing, we're doing really a great deal there in terms of training, providing equipment, by the way, martialing the other European allies to do more there, as they are doing with respect to ERI, as they're doing with respect to C-ISIL.  So the Europeans are all involved in that as well, so I hope the levels of violence stay contained, but I can't be sure of that as summer goes on.

  Q:  And just a follow-up -- just a follow-up.  And from what I understand that our commitment to training and advising, I think we've extended to 2020.  I mean, what's the end state?  It doesn't look like there's going to be any cessation of hostilities in the East anytime soon.  So what are -- what's the green light I guess for us for us to kind of step back or say that we've done as much as we can, given the current situation on the ground?

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Well, I would expect that we'd remain a security partner of Ukraine, and Europe would for a long time as it builds and adapts its military so that it can protect its own territory, and obviously, the independence of Ukraine and to follow its own way is an important principle to us and everybody in NATO.  So I don't expect the United States or the rest of Europe to have any diminishing relationship with Ukraine.  I think that's going to be enduring commitment and enduring fact.

  STAFF:  Bob?

 Q:  Thank you.  Sorry, I think I tripped you up literally on your -- your -- the cord there.  In your opening remarks, you mentioned Russia and sharpening and building a response and deterrence to Russia and Europe.  Can you say whether the U.S. and NATO are considering establishing a continuous rotational presence of four battalions in Poland and the Baltics, that proposal?

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Right.  Well, first of all, with respect to continuous rotational deployment, the United States is certainly committed to that concept and has offered an additional brigade with that operational concept.  That's what I announced a month ago here.  So we have made a major commitment that is exactly along those lines that is an entire brigade.  

  And that was, again, an improvement and a growth over last year, where if you remember, we committed to doing some rotational presence.  But you know, now, it takes the form of a new unit of brigade size devoted specifically to doing this, armored with the equipment sets that we'll rotate in also that are absolutely top of the line.  And then of course in addition to doing that, we're adding to our equipment sets in Germany, what used to called prepo sites.  I'm sure you remember.

 

 So the United States is doing a lot, and now you're asking what is everybody else going to do and are there discussions?  There are discussions going on with NATO about how others can do the same thing, and now we can do that all together.  And I expect that that's going to be a subject at the NATO ministerial that I have, probably of the NATO summit that the president has, and so those discussions are going on.  They haven't been concluded yet, but obviously, the United States strongly supports that concept because we were there already some months back, and I'm delighted that others want to join in that concept as well.

  But exactly how it works out, we'll have to see.  Those discussions are going on in NATO.

 

 STAFF:  Connor?

  Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I think it was last week, you had some pretty strong words about the House's version of the Defense Authorization Bill and how it shifts money from OCO to fill that gap in the base budget.  Last week, Congressman Mike Turner came out -- a pretty strong reaction, said that you had lost total credibility on the defense budget.  Can I ask your reaction to that?  And what do you think the source of the disagreement with the Hill is on what the right number for defense is, particularly with the OCO?  And do you think over that, this might be something you'd recommend the president veto the bill over?

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Well, I continue to have the view that I've annunciated since I've been secretary of defense, first of all, that Washington needed to get out of the gridlock and come behind a funding deal that provided stability to defense spending.  That's what last year's Bipartisan Budget Act did.  And one of the reasons I object to what's going on, and I do object to it, is that it undermines precisely that bipartisan stability.  That's what we set our budget to, and I continue to believe that that is the right thing to do and really the only thing that is appropriate for a government function as vital as defense.

 

 And in addition, the proposal is to take money out of the wartime funding account in wartime, and that's objectionable on the face of it.

 And then third, it proposes to put money behind things that are not our highest priorities and that we didn't ask for.  So those are the reasons why I strongly object to it.

 

 STAFF:  Jamie?

  Q:  Mr. Secretary, can we ask your current assessment of the implications of the political turmoil now in Baghdad.  Specifically is Haider Al Abadi in danger of losing power, and what are the implications for the counter-ISIL effort going forward, particularly retaking Mosul and if you could just -- yes, I think that's enough.

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Sure.  Well, I mean the events over the weekend do remind us that in addition to the military effort, which we are adding to, increasing contributions to, other countries in the coalition, that the political and economic aspects of Iraq are going to be very important to the defeat, and lasting defeat of ISIL.  Prime Minister Abadi stands for, and has been a partner in, all the things that are important to Iraq's future, namely a country that holds together and doesn't just spiral off into sectarianism.

  We know what lies down that road, which is a lot of violence for the Iraqi people and more opportunity for extremists like ISIL, and he's been standing for that, and that's why we’ve been standing with in regard.  He's had considerable success on the battlefield, obviously Ramadi, Hit and so forth, so the forces of Iraq under his command, and obviously assisted by us, but it's basically been Iraqi forces have had considerable battlefield success.

 

 On the economic front, the government of Iraq, like others who -- for which oil is an important source of revenue are having the economic consequences of that.  That's why it's so important for the international community to help and support the Iraqi government at this time, not just militarily, as we're doing, but economically as we're trying to do as well.

  Q:  Just a quick follow-up -- do you assess that Haider al-Abadi is in any danger of losing power, and do you have a plan B if that happens?

 

 SEC. CARTER:  He seems to be in a very strong position.  Obviously we support him strongly because of what he stands for.

 And I think that -- to get the second part of your question, what he stands for is so self-evidently in the interests of most Iraqis, that that idea of a multi-sectarian state decentralized, as he said improving its political and economic, as well as its battlefield performance has enough support in Iraq that it will win the day.  

  Q:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, there's been a lot of discussion from some of your senior aides about the need to provide logistic assistance to the Iraqis as we build up towards retaking Mosul.  It sounds as if that's going to require more American troops in support of the Iraqis.  Can you give us some idea how many and when?

 

 SEC. CARTER:  Well that’s part of what we announced last week, which had some additional people, but I think importantly it's the missions of the people that are already there, and you're right, they're going to be shifting to the support of the move towards Mosul, which is sort of operational logistics, so it's fuel delivery, and it's water delivery, and it's ammo delivery, and it's bridging equipment and so forth, whereas in the previous period they were really focused on buying equipment and getting it there.  Now it's getting it to the front, or building a training area; now we're doing the training.

 So as the mission involves, the roles of our people there are evolving.  And to the second part of your question, I mean, we are always looking to build momentum in this.  So as the campaign progresses, both there and in Syria, and more opportunities are presented to make different kinds of contributions we're going to do that.  That's the whole point.  So we welcome the fact that they're moving toward Mosul.  We understand now that that means their supply lines will be longer.  The logistics burden will be greater than it has been so far in Ramadi and Hit so we're adapting accordingly.  That kind of thing is going to keep going until we win.

  STAFF:  Phil?

 

 Q:   Just to clarify on Bob's question initially -- when you said  you were in favor of the kind of concept of having NATO do something similar in the Baltics and perhaps Poland, does that mean that you would be in favor of this idea that was put forward in journal on Friday about having four battalions?  I just want to be sure I'm not confusing what you said.

 

 SEC. CARTER:  No, that is one of the ideas that's under discussion.  I just can't tell you what NATO has decided because I'm not NATO.  Those discussions will be going on.  But that's accurate.  That's one of the options that's being discussed, but I was just saying that the United States, in addition to that discussion, we've made a commitment that I announced, which is for an entire brigade, which is also important.  So both of these things are important.  But one is a NATO decision.  The other was a U.S. decision, but we're obviously involved in those NATO discussions; I just don't want to get out in front of where that goes.

  STAFF:  We've got time for two more real quick.

 

 Q:  Mr. Secretary, there was recently another intercept by Russian aircraft of a U.S. aircraft over the Baltic Sea.  

  I'm wondering if I could get your assessment of why this is happening. Obviously it's the latest in a series.  And is this a top-down strategy or freelance pilots?

  SEC. CARTER:  Well, I can't answer for the internal dynamics in Russia.  It's unprofessional, and it's dangerous because our forces and those of all or other partners there have an inherent right to self-defense, so this kind of unprofessional behavior by its nature creates a dangerous circumstance.  

 

 And without presuming to know how these events occur, I'll just say that they have seen in recent times to becoming more frequent, and so it's one more aspect of Russian conduct in the military sphere, which sets us apart from, first of all, everybody else in Europe, as well as the United States, but also from the path that Russia was on, which was one that I can continue to believe is best for the Russian people in the long run, and that's one of integration with the rest of the world.  That's how we are prosperous.  That's how we make advances.  Setting yourself apart doesn't do that.

  Now it's is easy for me to say that.  Obviously that's not the choice that Russia's leadership is making at this time.  And therefore we have no alternative but to do what we're doing, which is stand strong, as I've said, and balanced.  That's the approach that I've described as our approach, strong meaning we're doing all of these things that we're doing to improve our forces qualitatively, improve them quantitatively in Europe, improve NATO's capabilities working with others, investing in future capabilities, all the while continuing to hold the door open if Russian behavior should change, but also work with Russia where we can.  And it does happen.  The Iranian nuclear agreement is an example of that, so that's just the way one has to realistically deal with Russia today.

 STAFF:  One more in the back row.  I know I'm not going to be able to get to everyone.  I'm going to go to Anna because she's closest, but I'll remember the list.

 

 Q:  Mr. Secretary, this is a question about the sextupling of forces in Syria.  And I'm just curious -- the president has been accused of incrementalism.  Do you consider that a bad word?  Is that how you see this?  You know, obviously there's a sliding scale, and at one and we could have 180,000 forces defeat ISIL, but then to what end, where does that leave us?  And so we've started, it seems like, at the very other end of that scale, where we've started with 50 forces and we're kind of plussing up.  Do you see this as an -- almost as a way of warfare?  Do you -- I mean, do you see yourself creating a new model in any way?

  SEC. CARTER: Well, I think the right thing to do in a circumstance like this, where these are complicated situations and where you know that lasting victory involves of necessity, local forces, is to take advantage of opportunity, build them, and enable them, and that's our overall strategic approach.  That's the right, that's the necessary strategic approach, in both Syria and Iraq.  And every time a new opportunity arises, we're going to take advantage of it.  

 The opportunity here is that -- and I don't want to go into the details of their operations.  The people we put in there some months ago proved, first of all, extremely valuable to both identifying and then enabling local forces of the kind that were successful around the Tishrin Dam and also Shadadi, important objectives, and so we want to build on that success, and so that's the reason.

 And so that's our approach.  And by the way, your focused on "ours," I should say, because I'm going to this meeting with these other countries, and again, they're very sensitive like we are about talking about their operations, but it's well known and they've acknowledged -- or some of them have at least -- that they have special forces doing exactly the same thing.  And another reason for us to have more is to work with them, because I've asked Gulf countries, European countries, to do more in Syria, and this is our way of providing the liaison and the people who will enable them in turn to make their contribution.

 So there are two reasons, capitalizing upon the success of our own initial complement, and more to work with other people.  So that's the way we’re doing things.  And that's why the air campaign, you know, you see it's increasing the tempo.  Why?  Because we have the opportunity to increase the tempo, because we have better information that allows us to be more effective from the air.  If we get even better intelligence, we're going to even do more in the air.  And I'm going to be asking more people to put more airplanes into the air. 

 But you know, you can't drop more bombs than there are targets, so this is a situation, where you're growing as --

 (CROSSTALK)

 SEC. CARTER:  All wars develop, and learn and build combat power over time, and all wars of consequence, particularly in today's world, involve an end state in which the people who live there govern themselves in some decent way.  We have to keep that end state in mind, as you always have to do in warfare.

 STAFF:  Thanks, everybody.  And I'll remember who didn't get a question next time around, so thanks.

 SEC. CARTER:  Good.  Thanks, everybody, for being here.