PETER COOK: Everyone, the secretary will deliver some
opening remarks, and then we'll open it up for questions. We'll try and get to
as many questions as we can, and so I'd ask you just to limit your questions so
we can get to as many reporters as possible.
And with that, Mr.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
ASH CARTER: Good. Thank you, Peter. And good afternoon, everyone. It's a
pleasure to be here in Tampa once again with Chairman Joe Dunford, and along
with General Joe Votel and General Tony Thomas, our newest combatant commander.
I'm grateful to each of them for their leadership, for the tremendous skills
and unique expertise they bring to their new positions, and I'm also grateful
to General Lloyd Austin for his leadership and his many years of service to
I recognize, and I
know all of you do, that these men have key decisions to make as they begin
their commands, so we're going to brief, but I do want to make a few points and
then I'll have plenty of time for your questions.
For both of these critical commands, this will be a seamless
transition, with their new leaders moving full speed ahead on all their
missions. At SOCOM, leveraging the unparalleled excellence of our outstanding
special operations forces to quietly, expertly neutralize threats that can
emerge early and nearly anywhere on earth. And at CENTCOM, delivering ISIL a
lasting defeat as well as helping build a more secure future in Afghanistan,
countering Iran's malign influence, helping our partners grow more capable
against shared threats, maintaining security and freedom of navigation in the
Gulf, working with U.S. European Command to help ensure Israel's security, and
strategic depth and much more.
together with our partners, these two leaders will take our counter-ISIL
coalition military campaign plan and execute it with the characteristic
precision and rigor we've seen from them on the battlefield.
Indeed, since we
began accelerating the campaign in October, our pressure and local forces have
gathered momentum, inflicting damage to ISIL's military forces, its financial
network, its access to foreign fighters, its mobility, and command and control
and its leadership. In recent weeks, coalition forces have severed the main
artery between ISIL's power centers in Raqqa, Syria, and ISIL in northern Iraq
and begun the early stages of operations to collapse ISIL's control over Mosul
and targeted ISIL associates who were directly involved in external plotting
and training and eliminated key leaders from ISIL's cabinet.
ISIL's now under
pressure from all sides, and going forward, with the leadership of these men
and the steadfast dedication of our partners, we'll build on this momentum.
We'll continue to accelerate this campaign, and we'll be doing more in
accordance with our strategic approach and leveraging our unique capabilities,
including cyber, special operations, among many others.
President Obama has
been clear that accelerating the defeat of ISIL is his top priority, and I'm
confident that as we create opportunities against ISIL, we'll be able to seize
ISIL's parent tumor militarily in Iraq and Syria is necessary, but it's not
sufficient. The complex geopolitical dynamics remain one of the greatest
challenges. As I said when I was here in January, we must also destroy ISIL's
metastacies around the world and continue to work with our counterparts to
protect the homeland, for only together can we deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.
OK, why don't I take
a few questions. Peter?
MR. COOK: Great.
Again, everyone, if you can limit your questions, we'll get to as many people
as we can. We'll start with our traveling press, then go back and forth with
the local press. And I was remiss last time in advising you to hit the
microphone button before you speak.
Begin with Kevin
Baron, Defense One.
Q: Hi, thank you for
holding the press conference today and congratulations on your new positions.
I'll start with NATO, you can do ISIS next. But simple question to go off of
what we've heard from the campaign trail recently, from -- now that we have both
the secretary and the chairman here on the record for us. Is NATO very
SEC. CARTER: NATO has
done important work for our security and for international security since it's
original, founding mission, which was to wage the Cold War, was successfully
completed in the late 80's and early 90's. NATO took on Afghanistan.
Today, NATO is
working in the Aegean. I'm just picking some examples here on the refugee
crisis as a mechanism for Germany and Greece and Turkey to work together. NATO
has played an instrumental role in Afghanistan and helping the Afghan
government and the Afghan Security Forces to restore decency and some stability
to that country.
We are working with
NATO now on strengthening the deterrence of Russia, Russian aggression, and also
so-called hybrid warfare in Europe. We're working with NATO allies on security
issues in the Mediterranean that derive from ISIL. We're discussing with NATO
the possibility of NATO participating as NATO. Many NATO nations participate in
the coalition against ISIL, but participating as NATO.
So, there is a lot
that NATO has done and is doing and chairman, if you want to add anything to
GEN. JOSEPH F.
DUNFORD: (cross talk)
SEC. CARTER: He's
good. He should have one.
MR. COOK: Yes, I
think I'll be able to come around.
GEN. DUNFORD: But the
thing I would say is that I think that question is probably is a question that
might have been asked 15 years ago. But it's hard to think about asking that
question today when you look at the challenges in Europe, both to the east and
So the fundamental
question is, is collective security for NATO still a requirement? The answer is
yes. Does the United States still have common interest with our European
partners in addressing those security challenges, the answer would have to be
And I would foot
stomp the secretary's comments about the out of theater contribution that NATO
has made. I had the privilege of commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan. And
when you think about it, it's pretty extraordinary that for ten years, NATO has
formed the core of a coalition in Afghanistan that has stayed together and is
still is together today with the resolute support mission, to move Afghanistan
in the future.
And again, the
secretary mentioned the Aegean. There's also a broad build partnership capacity
effort by our NATO partners. We are a part of that as well in North Africa to
harden the states against ISIL. So, in my mind, the relevance of NATO is not at
all in question. In fact, I think it's a question of making sure we have the
right focus because there's a lot of work to be done.
MR. COOK: Howard?
Q: All right
gentlemen. Excuse me, congratulations gentlemen for your new jobs. I have a
little trouble here. Oh okay. Congratulations on your new jobs.
Gen.Votel, if you can
talk to me about your assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces approach to
Mosul. Are you satisfied that they have the capacity and the capability to
defeat Daesh there. And if not, what do you propose U.S. forces might do?
GEN. VOTEL: Well,
thanks Howard. Well certainly I've got a lot to look into, specifically with
how the Iraqi Security Forces are doing and I look forward to doing that very,
very quickly. But I think some of what you're seeing now is you're beginning to
see the Iraqi Security Forces stepping forward and conducting operations and
starting to begin to move towards Mosul as we've done over a period of time --
excuse me, over a period of time and continue to push towards that objective
after so [long].
I think there are --
there is progress being made, there certainly is more that needs to be done. We
need to continue to support them with all of our capabilities and -- and I look
forward to a more detailed assessment of that.
Q: Would you
recommend that as you get, you know, into the job, would you recommend a
greater U.S. presence there?
GEN. VOTEL: Well, I
think those discussions are underway here right now and I know the chairman and
the secretary have been having some discussion on that, so I look forward to
SEC. CARTER: Let me --
let me just say that we are looking for opportunities to accelerate the
campaign against ISIL. That's the instructions the president has given us. So
as we develop those opportunities, we want to do more. So I'll be looking to
General Votel, as we looked to General Austin, for opportunities consistent
with our basic strategic approach, which is to enable capable and local forces
-- capable and motivated local forces on the ground to take and hold territory
with strong help from us.
And then I -- also --
(inaudible) it's very important that the Iraqi government be able to continue
as it has very strongly under Prime Minister Abadi to provide the -- the
overall support to the Iraqi security forces, and to reconstruct in that
context is very important. It's not a military context, but as I mentioned in
my statement, very important.
MR. COOK: Andrew?
Q: Thanks. Andrew
Tilghman with Military Times. Following on the ISIS question, Gen. Dunford, you
mentioned that -- the other day that you thought that in the coming weeks, we
would probably see an increase in -- in troops over there. And I'm just
wondering if you could talk a little bit about why -- why now? I mean, Mr.
Secretary, you've talked about offering some support to the Iraqis for several
months now. The Iraqis haven't made a formal request for that. Have the Iraqis
made a formal request for additional support? Or what else is happening now
that makes you think that -- that this is the time to -- to ratchet up that
GEN. DUNFORD: So --
so Andrew, what happened in the -- in the wake of Ramadi was the -- the Iraqi
security forces put together a plan for Mosul and continued operations, and so
they shared that plan with -- with our commander on the ground, Gen. MacFarland,
and then they have a conversation about what enabling capabilities could we
provide that would allow the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga to
maintain the momentum that we have started to see over the last couple of
So -- so the timing of
-- of our request, and -- and again, the secretary -- I brought it to the
secretary, the secretary will engage with the president on -- on what the
president has asked us to do, which is to come to him with ideas that will
allow us to maintain that momentum. But the timing really now is focused on the
next phase of the campaign, which is towards Mosul and maintaining the kind of
momentum that we had in Ramadi.
So -- so it's
directly attributable to developing the plan for Mosul, sitting down, coming up
with a common plan with the coalition on the ground, led by Gen. MacFarland,
and then figuring out what capabilities would -- would best enable -- again, to
emphasize the point the secretary made, what capabilities would best enable the
Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga to be successful in operations in
Q: Can you talk to
any capabilities in particular?
GEN. DUNFORD: At this
time, no, I can't, Andrew. But -- but again, those recommendations are being
made and we'll have -- the president will have and opportunity to make some
decision here in the coming weeks.
MR. COOK: For the
local side, third from the end there. Sir? If you could identify yourself, that
would be helpful.
Q: Yes. (inaudible).
Hi, this is Susan Katz Keating. I'm with American Media Institute. Thank you
very much, gentlemen, for doing this, and congratulations on your new
positions. That's great.
We've read in recent
operations that it appears that on ISIL home territory that they are on the run
or at they're at least being -- (inaudible) -- fair amount of grief, it appears
that we're prevailing against them on their home territory. However, can we
expect them to strike back outside of their home territory in increasing
SEC. CARTER: Well, I
do understand that yes, we are gathering momentum in Iraq and Syria. That's
necessary. But as your question indicates, it's not sufficient. ISIL has
aspirations to strike outside, either by inspiration or varying degrees of
direction and enabling.
Europe has seen that
already. Obviously, we are concerned about that. So it's -- we do have to
combat ISIL elsewhere. And as I said, I fully expect that we will be successful
in Iraq and Syria at defeating ISIL. But they're the metastasize around the
world and there's the homeland fight itself.
All of those need to
be waged in parallel.
Q: Can I have a
MR. COOK: Can we move
on? I just want to make sure everyone gets a question. So here and then Paul.
Q: Yes, good
afternoon. I'm Paul Schenker U.S. News and World Report. Can you talk a little
bit about the Russian assistance to the Syrian armed forces in retaking
Palmyra. Do you see that as a positive step? And looking more broadly, at some
point, is the U.S. going to need to coordinate with Russia on military activity
as these borders begin to close up as you say?
SEC. CARTER: Well,
two things. I mean, first of all, what we really need the Russians to do is to
advance the political solution. They have unique leverage there because of
their relationship with the Syrian regime. And what we really need is an end to
the civil war, so I'm hoping that that's what comes out of Geneva and I hope
that's where the weight of the Russian effort lies.
And I'm sorry, the
second part of it was?
Q: At some point, is
the U.S. going to need to coordinate with the Russians?
And Gen. Dunford, you
talked about how you had spoken to your Russian counterpart recently.
I wonder, Gen. Votel,
if you've had any contacts with Russian leaders?
SEC. CARTER: We have
actually quite often, professional discussions aimed at making sure that there
are no incidents as we pursue our operations. Nothing Russians done in Syria
has impeded our fight against ISIL. And so our discussions have had the purpose
of making sure there was no possibility of an incident between Russian forces
and U.S. forces.
continue. And they're very fruitful. They're very professional. And so are
we're satisfied with them, but that's as far as it goes.
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: Trevor Cutterfield
from Bay News Nine here in Tampa.
Q: That's not for me.
generals, first of all. I have two questions actually. One, I wanted to know
what yours and the president's expectations are of this new command structure.
And generals, yourself. What you expect of yourselves in this new command
structure? Also, with the recent terrorist attacks we've seen abroad, it's --
it brings more and more concerns here at home about not if, but when it will
What reassurances can
you give the American public that you're doing everything you can to keep it
from happening here?
SEC. CARTER: Well,
with respect to expectations, I think that if I and the president didn't have
high expectations of these two officers, they wouldn't have been nominated for
confirmation by the Senate and by the way, the Senate wouldn't have confirm
them. So our trust and confidences is complete.
That's why they are
where they are. I mean, that said, we all know we have work ahead of us. But
these are the right guys to do that. So for the trust and confidence is right
-- is there. As far as the broader campaign against ISIL is concerned, we will
defeat ISIL. I'm confident of that. It's going to require effort in Syria and
Iraq, it's going to require effort around the world, and yes, it's going to
require protection against the homeland.
But we -- I mean,
look at the tremendous strength and power behind the organizations that these
guys are taking over today. That will prevail, together with our coalition, but
we've got a lot of work to do -- (inaudible) --
GEN. VOTEL: I would
just add as kind of -- as a guy who's coming from SOCOM to CENTCOM, here, one
of the things I -- I hope to be able to do is really -- is to take what I've --
what I've learned at SOCOM as kind of a transregional commander looks more globally
and really apply that to the problems that we're dealing with in CENTCOM.
Certainly, we can't
just be insular to ourselves and look at the problems in Iraq and Syria. We
have to recognize that the problems that emanate from that area affect other areas,
so we have to work very closely with all of our partners whether that be
European Command, Africa Command, SOCOM or a variety of others to do that.
So I think, for me,
that will be one of the things that I'll be trying to pay a lot of attention to
GEN. RAYMOND A.
THOMAS: And not to invert what General Votel just said, but my intent as the
new SOCOM commander will be to support him regionally in the -- in the CENTCOM
AOR, obviously some very strong investments there, as well as to continue to
refine these transregional strategies going forward for the secretary and for
I would like to
emphasize, though, that the threat of external attacks is out number one
priority and our ability to disrupt that. So among the many threats out there,
that is a clear focus and effort on our part to disrupt any -- any external
MR. COOK: Jeremy?
Q: Jeremy Herb with
Politico. Generals Votel, Thomas, congratulations. I want to ask you guys if
you could talk a little bit about balancing secrecy with the need for public
information in (inaudible) as they increased and particularly as we -- the U.S.
looks to target and potentially capture more ISIL leaders?
GEN. VOTEL: I'll
start, and then Tony can jump in here. You know, I -- I've had a discussion
with the secretary and others here about this. I think this is an important
issue. I think what we want to try to do is -- we certainly recognize the
public needs to understand what's happening and they need to understand where
we're having progress, they need to understand what the status is of the things
that we're -- that we're doing in the name of our country. But what we also are
very keen to do is protect our approaches and provide our people on the ground
a maximum opportunity to accomplish the missions that we're -- that we're
asking them to do.
And -- and -- so I --
I think that requires a very careful balance. I've been very pleased with how
the department's been approaching that here lately, and I think we're doing a
good job -- (inaudible) -- trying to tell the story, but yet not tell so much
that it takes -- takes away the advantages for our -- for our people on the
GEN. THOMAS: I'd
offer while our (inaudible) necessarily secret, we are absolutely committed to
the accountability we have to the American people and the president of the
United States. So there's a balance there, and certainly, the American public
have a need to know what we're doing and that we're doing it in the right way,
consistent with American values.
So we accept that
that's a challenge in terms of information, but as General Votel mentioned, I
think where we do have concerns is where it starts to imperil the tactics and
techniques that we employ, and more importantly, the people involved. We've had
a (rash of true ?) name disclosures here recently, which I don't see serving
any purpose other than to put those people in jeopardy.
SEC. CARTER: I just
want to fully support what they both said. Absolutely.
Q: I'm Richard
Danielson with The Tampa Bay Times. This question initially is for General
Votel, although I might like to hear from the secretary as well. Last year,
within Central Command, there arose some concerns about the quality of
intelligence being produced by its analysts how that was being handled, how it
was being presented. And I am curious what your plans are coming in, to ensure
that you're getting good intelligence and you're in a position to present that
to all the other people you work with, with confidence. And that the analysts
have confidence in and how the organization treats their work.
SEC. CARTER: Can we
do it the other way around?
SEC. CARTER: And the
reason is, Joe, you absolutely speak to the question. I just want to say that
in the matter that you're referring to, that's a matter that's been referred to
the Inspector General of the Department of Defense.
I have a lot of
confidence in the Inspector General and their ability to get to the bottom of
that and I can't -- I want to make sure it's clear, we can't comment on that.
I'll just -- speaking
for myself, I don't think it's different for anybody else. I depend upon and
demand good information of all kinds. But that includes intelligence
information. So I want intelligence people to tell us, give it to me straight.
And that's the only way that you could responsibly make decisions.
So, with that said,
and the past behind, Joe for the future?
Secretary, you've got it. Thank you. You nailed it there. I just think
extraordinarily important. You know, as I mentioned a few moments ago when --
in my remarks after the change in command in CENTCOM. The most important
resource that CENTCOM has is our people. And we rely on their experience, we
rely on their expertise. We rely on their ability to help us think through and
work through and understand difficult problems.
And so, what we've
got to have is we've got to continue to nurture and we've got to continue to
encourage an environment that allows people within the organization to come
forward and put out the information so it can be absorbed by commanders and
other leaders. And we can we can assess that and we can use that to help inform
our decisions and recommendations. So I look forward to really supporting that
kind of approach.
MR. COOK: Last
question to Jacqueline please.
Q: Hi. Jacqueline
Kilmas with the Washington Examiner.
I'm wondering if any
of you can provide an update about the investigation into intelligence
manipulation in Central Command and when we might expect to see results of
SEC. CARTER: Well,
that gets back to the previous question and that's a matter that is now with
the Inspector General of the Department of Defense. And therefore I can't
comment on that except to tell you that it's under investigation by the
Inspector General. And that's, I think, the right thing and I have confidence
To the more general
issue, I'd only repeat what I just said, which is that we've got to have
intelligence told to us straight. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to
make the right decisions. You need good information.
And by the way, it
doesn't just come from intelligence. Obviously, we read year around reporting
and we talk to our people in the field. So there are lots of sources of
information. But in so far as intelligence is concerned, it's got to come
straight. And so I want our intelligence folks to know that, that we expect
that. And I'm sure that's true of all the guys behind me as well.
MR. COOK: Great.
Thanks everyone for being here. I know it's still a big day ahead for the
Generals here given the ceremonies. Thanks very much.