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NEWS | Oct. 22, 2016

Media Availability with Secretary Carter and Lt. Gen. Townsend at Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  First of all, thank you all for being here.  And it's a great pleasure for me to be here at this time and to be able to congratulate the prime minister, Prime Minister Abadi, on getting to this phase of our coalition military campaign plan, which we devised more than a year ago and which the Iraqi Security Forces, enabled by the international coalition that the United States leads has progressively expelled ISIL from cities in Iraq -- Ramadi, Hit, Rutba, Fallujah, Makhmur, Qayarrah West, Qayarrah and now begins the envelopment and expulsion from Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, of ISIL.  That's an important -- that's a necessary objective in our global campaign against ISIL because destroying ISIL in Iraq and also Syria is necessary for the lasting defeat of ISIL, which will occur but must be accomplished here in Iraq and Syria and also elsewhere and we need to protect our homeland, as well.

So in all of those ways, we're protecting our people from ISIL and that of our partners and friends.

We've been working on that for a long time here in Iraq and so it was especially good time to be here with Prime Minister Abadi and to be able to congratulate his forces on the commencement of this stage of the campaign on the systematic execution of the campaign plan.

I'm encouraged by what I see so far.  It is proceeding according to our plan.

We've got tough fighting ahead.  And the U.S. will continue to play its part.

Also, I should say that I was also able to commend Prime Minister Abadi on the way that this has been accomplished with Iraqi unity and in particular, the way that the Peshmerga forces have operated within the Iraqi Security Forces, very successfully, very well on the battlefield and also in a way that's their camp -- their efforts are completely coordinated and one with the Iraqi Security Forces.

And therefore, Prime Minister Abadi has maintained both the unity and the -- and the sovereignty of the Iraqi state and those are the principles upon which we baes everything we do in the -- in the coalition, Iraqi sovereignty and the unity of the Iraqi state.

I have with me General Townsend, who's doing an excellent job.  I've known him for a long time and have tremendous confidence and total confidence in his abilities.  And so now I'll take questions.

And, Steve, do you want to add anything at the top?


You covered it pretty well.


So we'll -- we'll both answer questions.

I see.  OK, thanks.

Now, Peter, you've got to be the impresario here.

STAFF:  I'll go to Lita Baldor.

SEC. CARTER:  Lita Baldor.

Q:   Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Yesterday, you talked to us a little bit about your optimism that the Turks and the Iraqis could work out some of their differences.  And you talked about possibly finding a way for the Turks to play a role in Mosul.

Earlier today, you met with Prime Minister Abadi.  The reaction that we got from him, from his public statement, was -- was a thanks, but no thanks kind of thing, that he wants the Iraqis to do it themselves.

I'm wondering if you could tell us what -- what you come away with from your meeting with him about the possibility right here and what you think the prospects are (INAUDIBLE)...

SEC. CARTER:  Well, this was a very good meeting today with him on this subject and, as it was yesterday in Ankara.  It is a difficult subject.  What he said today was that he had had some meetings with the Turks on this subject, that he expected to have more.

Our role on behalf of the coalition, as we do in all coalition matters, is to work with our partners in the coalition and the Iraqi government to try to resolve issues like this and make sure that we're all focused on the ISIL fight.  So this is something we do in the coalition all the time.

I am confident that we can play a constructive role there.  That will continue and as I think Prime Minister Abadi indicated.

So we had good talks on that.  We had good talks in -- in Ankara yesterday.  We all just need to stay focused on the -- on the fight against ISIL and we all proceed from the same basic principle, which is respect for Iraqi sovereignty.  That is the principle upon which the coalition acts.

And I think you had a second question for General Townsend?

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) Townsend, if you could address (INAUDIBLE) what he would like to see the Turks do or not do and what the (INAUDIBLE).

SEC. CARTER:  Go ahead.

Go ahead, Steve.


LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  Thank you.

Thank you.

I think I'd like to see the...

Q:   Step to the mic.

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  How do you do it?


LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  Yes.  I -- I think I'd like to see the Turks do exactly what the policymakers and the government of Iraq are able to work out.

SEC. CARTER:  Yes.  That's a...

Q:  I can't (INAUDIBLE).


SEC. CARTER:  That's a good answer.

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) assessment of Iraqi (INAUDIBLE)?

SEC. CARTER:  Oh, well, I mean, first of all, I think that I'll let them speak for themselves, but I think they share the view we do, which is that the campaign is proceeding according to the plan and the schedule that we've had.  I asked the prime minister the same thing I asked General Townsend, which is, is there anything you don't have that you need?

And we don't -- we -- we've provided Steve with everything he needs.  We stand ready always -- I've said this consistently in the counter-ISIL campaign, to do more if we have opportunities to do more to hasten the defeat of ISIL.

But for now and for today, we need -- and I think -- I don't want to speak for the Iraqis, but I -- they didn't identify any capability that we had not yet provided.

We did talk about the future and I think there is an area where there is going to need to be more done, especially in the area of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and stabilization.  Now that isn't a defense mission or an Iraqi Army mission, but it's a critical part of winning the peace.

And so even as we embark on this phase with Mosul and we need to think about the future.  And we are.  And I did discuss that with the prime minister.  I told him that I had met with the U.N. coordinator, who is in charge of making those plans and carrying them out for Mosul.  And she was able to describe to me in detail what was in that plan and how it foresaw various eventualities.

Obviously, the -- not the Department of Defense but the U.S.  Agency for International Development, the State Department participated in those plans.

So we did dis -- we did talk about that.  And we also talked about what we need to continue to do in the area of counterterrorism to protect against attacks here of the kind that you've seen in Baghdad, that you saw in Kirkuk, and, of course, that's our responsibility, also, to protect our homeland and that's the interest that is shared by all the members of the coalition, as well.

So even as we all focus right now on this very important objective in the moment that we have come to in the campaign, we do have to think ahead and beyond that to the other things that need to be done.

But I -- those -- those are capabilities that we are prepared to provide insofar as they represent capabilities of the Department of Defense.

So we're always looking for opportunities to do more and to hasten this campaign.

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) General Townsend.  You -- you've said that (INAUDIBLE).

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  We expected a very tough fight in Mosul.  It's a very large and complex objective.  The resistance hasn't been more than I expected or I think the Iraqis expected.

It's stiffened over the last couple of days, but that's not really surprising.  We see the enemy, they're -- they're watching and when an attack starts, it takes them a couple of days to kind of figure out what we're up to and they start voting, as the enemy will vote in combat.

But the resistance is about what we had expected.  A number -- it's pretty significant.  We're talking enemy indirect fire, multiple IEDs, multiple vehicle-borne IEDs each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles.

So it's been very tough fighting and snipers, machine guns.

The Iraqis expected this and they're fighting through it.



SEC. CARTER:  Could everybody hear that?

It was a -- I can repeat it.  This is the U.S. forces after the fall of Mosul.

The -- we know that Iraqi Security Forces, after the fall of Mosul, that is the last major city and major objective.  It does not complete the consolidation of Iraqi control over all of Iraqi sovereign territory.

And our objective in the overall campaign against ISIL is to defeat it throughout Iraq.

So there will be a continuing need for Iraqi Security Forces to do that and we're -- we'll be prepared, as we always are in the counter-ISIL campaign, to enable them to do so.

Likewise, we will have a continuing need to, as I said earlier, conduct the counter-ISIL campaign in the counterterrorism sense.  And then last, I just remind you -- and this isn't for U.S. forces and U.S. troops, but it is an important responsibility, what I spoke to before, which is stabilization, reconstruction and governance.  Those are important missions that will go on for some time and are necessary in order to make victory stick.  Those aren't military missions, but they're necessary to make the military victory stick.


SEC. CARTER:  Yes.  That will be part of the Iraqi Security Forces needing to consolidate their control over the country and make sure it -- victory sticks.  And training is an example of a capability that not only the United States, but other members of the coalition, provide here already in Iraq and if they -- that is requested by the Iraqi government, I'm sure they'll all be willing to provide that.

STAFF:   We've got time for like two more.


Q:  Secretary, you're now, what, six days into this campaign.  There are some 5,000 Americans who are serving here.

Can you tell the American public how many of them are serving outside (INAUDIBLE)?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I'll let General Townsend elaborate on that.  I -- I just want to say a couple of things as secretary of defense.

One is that there is no more serious responsibility for me and nothing that I take more seriously than putting Americans in harm's way.  And we need to understand -- everybody needs to understand that there are Americans here that are in harm's way.

Our -- their mission, which is to bring the enormous might of the American and coalition military to the support of Iraqi Security Forces, is a dangerous one.  And -- and I also need to remind you, because people forget this, that quite apart from what goes on on the ground, every day, there are pilots in the air, every single day.  They're -- they're in harm's way.

So there are Americans here in harm's way.

And I -- I need to -- and we need to -- we need to emphasize that.  I mentioned that we had a sad reminder of that in the loss of Jason Finan, chief petty officer -- Navy chief petty officer, EOD specialist, 34 years old from Anaheim, California.  I got to shake the hands of one of his teammates tonight and learned more about his family and so forth.

So this is -- this is a very real responsibility.

So with that as an opening, let me turn to General Townsend but you asked some more specific questions.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q:   Are you just looking for a number of (INAUDIBLE)?

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  OK, so up to this phase of this war, our coalition troops have largely stayed on bases or behind defensive lines that you're familiar with, like the Kurdish defensive line.  So behind the wire.

We're now in a large scale attack.  Probably the largest scale that any army has under -- attack that any army has undertaken since probably our push to Baghdad in 2003.

So there are tens of thousands of Iraqi troops attacking and there are about 500 U.S. soldiers that have moved outside of the former Kurdish defense flight or outside of their previous bases.

So apart from the pilots, the helicopter and fixed wing pilots that fly over outside the wire every day, about 500 U.S. troops have gone forward on the battlefield.  They're staying behind the forward line of troops.  In an attack, the forward line of troops is a living, breathing, moving thing.  They stay behind that forward line of troops.  And even in some of those locations, they've put up some wire to stay behind, even as they're -- they're moving along.

SEC. CARTER:  And -- and...


SEC. CARTER:  -- it's not always safe back -- back there.

Q:   No.

SEC. CARTER:  Simply because you're behind the line.

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:  That's right.

SEC. CARTER:  I'm sorry, it's not always safe -- it's not -- they're not out of harm's way, I just need you to be clear, simply because they're not close to the line of attack, because they are still, even in those areas behind where the line of attack is, there can be risk.  And the -- and we saw that in the case -- that's the example of Chief Petty Officer Finan.

STAFF:   Sir, I thought -- we have one Iraqi question then we've got to wrap it up (INAUDIBLE).


Q:  Mr. Secretary, (INAUDIBLE) from Iraqi (INAUDIBLE) office.

I have two questions.

The first question, what military (INAUDIBLE) the role of the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) in the post-Daesh era?

And other than air support and air strikes, what role is the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) to put (INAUDIBLE)?

The second question, are there (INAUDIBLE)?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, no to the second question.  We have a very clear position which is, as I said, all based on the principle of Iraqi sovereignty.  That's the principle on which the coalition acts, the coalition to defeat ISIL.  And Turkey is a member of that coalition.  And so we work with them, as we do with all the coalition partners, at -- to marshal contributions that they can make to the counter-ISIL campaign.

That's something ultimately is that the Iraqi government decides, because we do everything subject to Iraqi sovereignty.

So those -- those principles are -- very clear in the American position on that so -- so no.

With respect to your first question, as I said earlier, the -- well, let me put it this way, you asked what kinds of support is the coalition and the Americans providing?

It's a great variety.  It's all in the categories of enabling the Iraqi Security Forces.

But let me just remind you that the Iraqi units that are now participating and leading the envelopment of Mosul were trained and equipped, in part, with coalition help.

They move around the battlefield, in part, with coalition logistics.

They are supported by coalition fires.  They are supported with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

So it is a great variety of capabilities that the coalition, not just the United States, but that the coalition as a whole brings to the fight.  And I also simply want to once again mention that there will be a continuing and growing need for non-military international assistance to the stabilization and reconstruction phase.  I can't emphasize that enough.  That's very important and it -- it will be necessary to make victory stick.

Have you got anything to add to that?

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:   You covered it.


STAFF:  I don't know.  I never heard the number 100 to 200 so...


STAFF:   About 500.

Now, what that means is folks who have...

STAFF:   Sorry.

SEC. CARTER:  Yes, no, no, no, no.  Go.

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:   What that means is folks who have -- coalition members who have crossed over the former Kurd defensive FLOT or left fixed bases.  Now, some of them are operating from makeshift bases around Mosul now and some of them are following along behind their Iraqi counterparts, usually at a headquarters level.  They're following along beside an Iraqi commander's headquarters to provide him advice and access to coalition fires.

I -- I don't know -- I didn't never -- I never heard the 100 to 200 number.


STAFF:   It's -- you had -- the question was does the 500 include coalition -- it includes coalition.

STAFF:   Yes.

LT. GEN. TOWNSEND:   And it's roughly.  I haven't actually counted them all.

STAFF:   You guys want (INAUDIBLE) 10 minutes (INAUDIBLE)?