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Remarks by Secretary Carter in a Press Gaggle in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Sept. 28, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SEC. CARTER: Good. Well, good morning, everyone, and I have a brief announcement to make regarding our accelerating campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat, which we are doing and will certainly do.

At the recommendation of myself and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford, President Obama approved and Prime Minister Abadi has approved and they've both directed that the United States increase its contingent of forces there by approximately 600 to further enable Iraqi security forces engaged in the campaign to defeat ISIL.

These forces will be primarily to enable Iraqi security forces and also Peshmerga in the operations to isolate and collapse ISIL's control over Mosul. But also, to protect and expand Iraqi security force's gains elsewhere in Iraq.

The forces being added are in the same categories as the existing forces, that is enablers to provide logistics, a train, advise and assist and intelligence support. As we said all along, whenever we see opportunities to accelerate the campaign, we want to seize them. We have consistently done so. The president has approved them whenever General Dunford and I have presented them to him and Prime Minister Abadi too has approved, as he must, because he is the commander of this campaign, these increases in our capabilities there.

We'll stay in close contact with the Iraqi government as the campaign to defeat Daesh and expel it from Mosul intensifies in the coming weeks, including the role of all of the coalition forces there as they continue to assist the Iraqi forces in delivering ISIL a lasting defeat.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Sir, thank you. Will these approximately 600 U.S. troops go to multiple locations or will it be Q-West or can you say where they will go for sure?

SEC. CARTER: I can't -- (inaudible) -- talk about everywhere they'll go, Bob, but Q-West is one location where, as you know, we're in the process, which we'll complete shortly, of completing that as a logistics hub. Another place I'll mention -- I don't want to mention everywhere they'll be -- but is Al-Asad, once again, in a logistics role to be part of the supply especially and logistics supporting the campaign for the -- further to the north in Mosul.

Q: And a quick follow-up, if I may. For those who do go to Qayyarah West, you described their role as train and advise and assist, of course, but will they --

SEC. CARTER: And also building out the infrastructure there.

Q: Okay, yeah.

SEC. CARTER: Preparing it to be a hub so that Iraqi forces that are in the southern part of the country have an easy way of deploying up to the Mosul area, so it'd be a major logistics hub.

Q: And for those who -- will there be some who are in that vicinity who will actually go forward with Iraqi forces, and although not engaging directly in combat, will be -- find themselves in a combat situation?

SEC. CARTER: Well, they certainly will -- they're not -- the Iraqi security forces, as I think the prime minister indicated, have the combat role and we're in a support role. But I need to make clear once again, American forces combating ISIL in Iraq are in harm's way. It's a responsibility I take very seriously. No one should be any -- in any doubt about that.

The train, advise, assist, the logistics roles, the enhanced intelligence roles, all of these people put our forces in a country which is obviously where there's a lot of violence, and force protection is part of all of these packages and is an extremely important part of it.

Q: The prime minister of Iraq had said that this will be the final increase. That was the words that he used on -- I don't think he said U.S. forces, he said international troops. Can you confirm that?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the -- this is what we now foresee as required for the envelopment and seizure of Mosul. It -- we'll continue to assess with Prime Minister Abadi. It'll continue to be his decision for U.S. and other coalition forces as the head of the sovereign nation of Iraq. So anything we do in the future would be done, obviously, with the approval of President Obama, our own commander in chief, but also with Prime Minister Abadi.

But this is what we have long planned, and foresee for the campaign to expel ISIL from Mosul.

Q: A couple of follow-ups.

How did you come to the figure of 600 being what's needed to complete this Mosul campaign?

SEC. CARTER: It's built from our plan, first of all, which is now almost a year in existence and been executing in the manner and the schedule that we foresaw there. So these forces have been foreseen in that sense. And they are built up from the commanders' -- that is both the Iraqi commanders' and our own commanders' understanding of what it will take to enable the Iraqi security forces to win in the fastest possible way.

So once again, it's train, advise and assist, which we've been doing, and more as the campaign intensifies around Mosul; logistics, which is everything from transportation to spare parts and supply and all those things that go into winning a war; and then intelligence, which we're also intensifying, to put additionally a special emphasis on ISIL's external plotting that is external to the territory they control, which is being reduced, to Baghdad or the territory of our own homeland or that of our friends and allies.

That's obviously an enormous priority for both Prime Minister Abadi, but also for our own leaders -- President Obama and all of our coalition partners. So we want to intensify that effort, too.

Q: Do you also see forces being based at Taqaddum?

SEC. CARTER: You know, I -- yes. And I don't want to talk about each little piece of this uplift there. But we're already at Taqaddum, have been for quite some time, a number of months now.

Q: So, we've been anticipating this Mosul battle for a long time. You said that this is -- you expect this operation to kick off in the coming weeks. What makes you confident that this is going to happen? And what kind of fight do you anticipate Mosul being?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I'm confident it's going to happen because we have -- we're on schedule in terms of marshaling the forces there. So the force generation, which begins with training and arming and is a process that has moved along now consistently for many months; the movement, then, of those forces both Iraqi army and CTS forces, and also Peshmerga forces.

All of this -- I should say also the Peshmerga forces, with the, according to our understanding with President Barzani and his understanding with Prime Minister Abadi -- all of that is unchanged.

And with respect to the second part of it, we'll have to see. Different cities have fallen in different ways, as we've seen in the course of the Iraqi Army's campaign through Hit and Fallujah and Rutbah. All of these have -- they've had a somewhat different experience. And we -- we do not know what ISIL's plans will be for the defense of Mosul nor whether they'll be able to carry out whatever plans they have, whether their fighters will stick with them, whether they'll have morale to do that, whether the populous of Mosul will tolerate their continued presence in their city under those circumstances.

It'll depend on all of that, and so we're prepared for whatever happens there. That is the nature of our plan. But we've had a different experience in different cities there.

Q: I realize it's probably very difficult to speculate on how long the Mosul offensive will actually last for, but is the -- perhaps you could give us some idea. But is the expectation that after Mosul is presumably successfully re-captured that the U.S. troops will come home fairly quickly or will there be a -- or do you have any idea of their continued presence?

SEC. CARTER: With respect to the first part, it's related to the previous question. It'll depend on exactly what the nature of the resistance is and how much and for how long they're able to put up a defense of the city.

Thereafter, we are prepared to continue to help the Iraqi security forces consolidate their control over the country. Mosul will be the last of the very large cities that needs to be re-captured, but they'll need to continue to consolidate control over the whole city. And we'll make decisions with that in just -- about that in just the way we've made them so far, namely we'll have our own commanders and the Iraqi security forces make recommendations, they'll go to our president and to the prime minister of Iraq, who of course has the final say in all of that. But we'll see.

But we are certainly going to continue to help the Iraqi security forces in whatever measure and manner they wish to consolidate the control over their country after they've re-captured this major -- last major ISIL center.

SEC. CARTER: Thanks, everybody.