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NEWS | Dec. 11, 2016

Media Availability with Secretary Carter and Lt. Gen. Townsend in Qayyarah West, Iraq

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  It's great to be here at Qayyarah West Airfield up in the vicinity of Mosul, here with Lieutenant General Steve Townsend, who is our commander over here.  Also is Joe Martin over there, who is the commander of the First Infantry Division. 

And, Joe, welcome to you and your division, to Iraq.  And you guys are already doing a tremendous job here.

I wanted to come here to Qayyarah West personally, particularly at this holiday time, to thank our troops who are out here at a pretty austere location that was in ISIL hands not long ago, doing an essential job, which is helping the Iraqi Security Forces to expel ISIL from the key Iraqi city of Mosul.

That has been part of our plan for more than a year now.  This very airfield was part of our plan of more than a year ago.  And we have -- with the Iraqi Security Forces, as they have built themselves, with our help, to the level of combat power where they could take on Mosul.

We've helped them logistically and with training and equipment, and now enabling them with the great might of the U.S. military and coalition forces to expel ISIL from Mosul.

This is a critical launching pad for the battle of Mosul.  And not surprisingly, our people are performing with their accustomed excellence and the entire country should be proud of them during this holiday season, and grateful to them for being here when Americans will be home with their families.

I also had the opportunity today, along with chief of staff of the Iraqi Security Forces, General Othman, to award and recognize a number of Iraqi Security Forces, for their bravery, for their gallantry, in carrying forward this fight.

This hasn't been an easy fight, won't be an easy fight, but today I discussed it with Prime Minister Abadi.  That was an excellent meeting with him.  And it -- we agreed it's playing out pretty much according to the plan that he and I have been discussing together for these many months.

And meanwhile while the battle for Mosul goes on here in Iraq, over in Syria we're entering a new phase in the campaign to expel ISIL from Raqqah, the so-called capital of their so-called caliphate in Syria.

And as we enter that new phase, that's the reason why I asked President Obama and received his approval to increase further our Special Operations Forces there in Syria.  They play a vital role in helping to identify, build, and then enable the force that will expel ISIL from Raqqah and be a critical part of destroying ISIL here in Iraq and Syria, which we must do and which we will do.

I also had the opportunity to speak both with General Townsend today and Prime Minister Abadi about the steps ahead.  And that was a very productive meeting.

From here in Erbil I'll be traveling -- I'm sorry, from here in Qayyarah West I'll be traveling on to Erbil.  I'll have an opportunity to meet with Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani, and also recognize some Peshmerga forces for their bravery in fighting ISIL here in Mosul also.

And yet then looking a little ahead further, on Thursday I'll meet with some of the key members of the counter-ISIL coalition in London, once again, to discuss, first of all, the need to keep the pressure on, execute the plan we have with excellence.

And second, to look beyond to the next steps that we'll need to take to continue the process of destroying ISIL that's necessary to protect our people.

And with that, let me turn to you, Peter, and then you can lead the questions.  And Steve will answer questions along with me.  So you can address your questions to either Steve or myself or both of us.

Want to go ahead?  Bob?  Go ahead.

Q:  Sure.  Question for both of you.  We were told today that there is still an estimated 3,000-5,000 ISIL fighters in the Mosul area.  It's the number that where you started out and they've managed to replace hundreds of combat losses.  Is that accurate?  And does that suggest that this is a standoff?

SEC. CARTER:  I'll let Steve answer both parts of that.

But, Steve, why don't you go ahead and start…


LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEPHEN TOWNSEND:  Sure.  So three -- yes, 3,000 to 5,000 is probably still accurate.  At the start of the campaign, we estimated somewhere between at the low end 3,500, at the high end, about 6,000.  By our calculations we think we have killed or badly wounded over 2,000.  So if you do the math, that's still 3,000-5,000.

I don't think it suggests anything about a stalemate.  This is a major urban area.  Any army on the planet, to include the United States Army, would be challenged by this fight.  And the Iraqi army has come back from near defeat two years ago, and now they're attacking this major city, 400 kilometers from Baghdad.

I don't think there's anything in there about a stalemate.


Q:  (off mic) Mr. Secretary, and to you, general.  Are you a little concerned about the number of casualties that the Iraqi Security Forces are incurring as they move into the more densely populated areas, this is a tough fight, this is very difficult, are more forces going to need to be trained to kind of replace those losses?  Is this concerning at all to you both?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I'll start with the first part.  I mean, first of all, the Iraqi Security Forces have been and are fighting hard.  And as a consequence of that, they have taken losses and they are our comrades-in-arms over the years.  So our hearts go out to them, to their families.

I was able to convey that today to Prime Minister Abadi.  And that's very significant.

And at the same time we are constantly helping them to reset their forces after they carry out an operation.  And that's part -- that's one of the roles we play here.  We're in an enabling role.  We do equipping, logistics, sustainment.

We help them with their own medical system so that they can treat their casualties, with mobility as well as all of the awesome military power of the United States, air power, artillery, and so forth, so that they can have battlefield success with minimal losses.

But there still are significant losses because it's a hard fight.

Q:  Sir, are you saying…


Q:  (off mic)?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, look, it's a war.  So the answer to your question is, as soon as possible.  The timetable for individual steps will be Prime Minister Abadi's, because it's his overall battle plan.  But we all want to get this done as soon as possible.

But in a war that's what you have to expect.  It's going to be a tough fight.

Steve, do you want to add anything?


Q:  If I can follow up, the offensive against Raqqa seems to be getting underway, was it planned that there would be (off mic)?

SEC. CARTER:  Yes, it was planned that those campaigns would overlap.  And even though the local forces that are conducting -- that we're enabling are distinct because of the geography and the coalition forces are shared, and therefore we made provision in our plan for overlapping timetables to make sure that we have -- we would have enough capability to enable both campaigns at the same time.

So that has been part of the plan, again, going back more than a year now since we -- when we put together the coalition military campaign plan.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, (off mic)?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, ISIL needs to be destroyed because it's a group that in addition to having torn through Iraq with great savagery, also threatens directly the American people, the American homeland, and friends and allies around the world as well as civilization and common decency in terms of the ideology that they espouse.

So ISIL must be destroyed.  And because this was the place from which it began and from which it sprang, it must be destroyed here, as I said a moment ago, in both fact and idea.

Now it's also true that we have an interest in a sovereign Iraq that is capable of maintaining security within its own borders.  That is, as I was saying a few days ago in Bahrain, we have other interests here in this region, the Middle East, enduring interests.

And we carry them out in concert with states that we have good relations with.  And Iraq is one of those.  And that relationship between the United States and Iraq will be valuable to us in the future as well, and will be a positive contribution to our security provided we can get through this phase we're in now which is to destroy ISIL and restore sovereignty to the Iraqi government, which I'm confident we will do.

Steve, you want to?

STAFF:  All right.  I've got one last question, Jamie (off mic)? 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, general, just a quick question about the capability of the enemy and how (off mic), to what extent do you think that there is still a vital command and control from the leaders of ISIS, does Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi still have daily control over, command and control of the movement of, how much…

SEC. CARTER:  I'll give you part of your answer and Steve can give you more.

But at the same time that the Mosul campaign goes on, we systematically target and destroy ISIL's leadership, ISIL's external plotters here in Iraq, and we've done that with very substantial success.

So a significant part of their leadership has been killed.  And the rest of it, knowing that they're being hunted, are therefore forced to behave like hunted men.  And that by itself also adds a benefit in the sense that their freedom to communicate, their freedom to move, their freedom to instill confidence in their forces is also reduced as we wipe out some of them, because the rest of them have to lie lower.

So it's an important part of what we're doing out here, to attack leadership.  And we do it.  And thanks to General Townsend and the entire team out here, they're having an enormous amount of success.  And I'll let him detail.

Go ahead and say more about this.

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  Thanks, secretary, you said it pretty well.

I'll just add that so as the secretary said, we're continually striking his command and control and key leaders daily.  And we see that in our intelligence reporting that it's affecting his life.

And Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi probably wishes he had more direct command and control over his formation than he does right now.

That said, this is a cunning enemy, and he's trying to find ways -- just like we are, he's trying to find ways to regain effectiveness.  So we have to constantly stay after this every day of the fight to eventually win.  And we will win.

STAFF:  Thanks, everybody.

SEC. CARTER:  All right.  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate your coming out here.

STAFF:  Sir, that podium was built just for you.

SEC. CARTER:  I seriously doubt that, but it's a nice little podium.


Q:  Take it home with you.