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NEWS | Oct. 22, 2016

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at a Troop Event in Baghdad, Iraq

By CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

STAFF SERGEANT CARA DUDA:  Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the 25th secretary of Defense, the Honorable Ash Carter. (Applause.)


First of all, you've got to know, Staff Sergeant Duda and I, this is, what, I don't know, the third time or something, she has introduced me.  But the last time, at least, for a while, because she'll be going home.

How many days?

SGT. DUDA:  Twenty-six, sir.

SEC. CARTER:  Twenty-six, but who's counting?

OK.  Well, I appreciate that -- the -- the voice of the eagle, right?

The voice of the eagle.  Terrific.

Good to see you again.

Good to see all of you again.

And so greeting to both you and make sure your families know that, as well.

You are doing extremely important work here and you're here in an -- at an historic moment.  And I want to talk to you about that.

First, I have to acknowledge, I'm sorry to say, that we lost one of our own this week in northern Iraq.  That was Navy Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan.  He was 34 years old, Anaheim, California.

So our hearts go out to him, to his family and all his loved ones.  I'm sure you all feel the same way I do.

It underscores a fact, which is what we're doing over here and what you're doing is -- is serious business.  It's not a game.  It's necessary business, because it's necessary to protect our country and to protect the rest of the world.

I'm very glad that you're being led by Steve Townsend.  General Townsend and I have known each other for a long time.  I have tremendous confidence in his abilities and his Command Sergeant Major Jones, who's here also, whom I met back pre-deployment.  And you've got a tremendous command team.  Our ambassador here, also, and tremendous leadership.  And General Townsend and I have done a number of things together over the years and there's no one that I and the president and General Votel could possibly have more confidence in in this job than Steve Townsend.  So I much appreciate it.  It means a great deal.

You have the mission of defeating ISIL.  We will defeat ISIL.  It has to be defeated here in Iraq and Syria.  That's necessary because we need to destroy the fact and the idea that there could be an Islamic state based upon its ideology.

That's necessary, absolutely necessary.  It's not sufficient.  We have to do it elsewhere in the world and we have to protect our own country, as well.  But it's absolutely necessary, that -- what you're doing here.

And we have -- are at an important moment in the campaign because you, together with our Iraqi partners, led by Prime Minister Abadi, whom I just saw, and the Iraqi government and in unity, as Iraq, which is extremely important, a unified Iraq, unified armed forces enabled by the massive might of the international coalition that you lead has been exchanging since we put it together well more than a year ago our coalition military command plan for the defeat of ISIL here in Iraq.

Systematically, you've been doing that, step by step, with the excellence that we know is so characteristic of the U.S. -- and that the world knows is so characteristic of the U.S. military.

Step by step, you remember the ISF, with our help, moving through Ramadi, Hit, Fallujah, Makhmur, Q-West, Qayarrah itself.

And in Syria, also, I should say, Shaddadi, Manbij, Jarabulus, Dabiq just last week, all systematically marching toward here Mosul, in Syria, Raqqa.

And I just had the opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Abadi about that and we had an excellent meeting and it was a real pleasure for me, after all the time we've been marching toward the commencement of the Mosul campaign, to see him again, to be working with him, to be able to congratulate him on what the Iraqi forces are -- have done.

We know it's not going to be easy, but I'm encouraged by what I see so far.  It's proceeding according to plan.  And we're on track.

And so I was able to commend him and -- and the Iraqi Security Forces, his leadership was in that meeting and also, by the way, also the Pesh -- the Kurdish Peshmerga, who are operating subject to Iraqi sovereignty, like everything else we do here, has made important contributions to our effort.

Everything we do here in the coalition, we do 100 percent committed to the sovereignty of Iraq.  That principle of full respect for Iraqi sovereignty is fundamental to our coalition.  And it has been subject to that principle that we are brought to this important moment.

As I said, I'm encouraged by what I see so far.  We don't know exactly how the campaign will unfold.  One never does when embarking on one of these phases of the campaign.  We will surely prevail.  And we're ready for anything, whichever path it might take.

So right now, as we command -- in the early stages of this operation, what we need to do is, first of all, remain focused on execution.  It's an important moment, but it's the commencement of the Mosul operation and we need to focus on its successful execution.  And that's why I've been talking to General Townsend.  I want to make sure he has everything he needs.  He has superb people like you.  I need to make sure he has everything he needs so that he can succeed.

At the same time, we're looking at the Mosul campaign, I just want to say, we all need to be looking to the future, as well, and we are, with -- that is, to the inevitable expulsion of ISIL from Mosul.  But at that point, we're going to need to be attentive to the reconstruction, the stabilization, and the governance of Mosul, because we all know that in order to make -- we will have victory but to make victory stick, you have to have, in the aftermath, decent governance and stabilization and reconstruction.  I had the -- I therefore took the opportunity earlier today to talk to the United Nations and the AID and the Iraqi government coordinators for that phase.  That's not your job.  It's not the Department of Defense's job.  But it's very important to make sure that that's ready to go so that the defeat of ISIL in Mosul sticks.

And what's true there is true everywhere in the country.  We want to make sure that as Iraqi forces consolidate their control over the country as a whole after Mosul, that they're able to make victory against ISIL stick.

I'm confident that's possible.  We've got to work on it.  We have to win the peace after we win the battle.

One of the reasons why we must succeed -- and we will succeed in the counter-ISIL campaign in general is that it's necessary to protect ourselves and to protect our people.  That is the mission, the noble mission that you have dedicated yourselves to at this time.  It's what they're counting on us to do for them.  And in order for us to do that, it's necessary to defeat ISIL and to protect our people.

And in that connection, I want to commend all of you and General Townsend for the really important success and the way you've been bearing down on external operations from Iraq.  There are those here in Iraq who try to plot attacks against our own homeland and against that of our other friends and allies.  And we have been systematically eliminating them, along with the entire leadership of ISIL.  And that needs to continue as, at the same time that the city of Mosul is recaptured.  And I -- I can't tell you about all the successes we've had there, but you've probably seen a few of them and you probably know about all the ones I'm talking about.

But it's very -- it's a very important thing to do and it means that in Iraq today, the most dangerous job is to be the military governor of Mosul because you tend not to last very long, a few days.

So we're on the way and I'm encouraged by the progress to date.  I'm confident in what the result will be.  And all that really boils down to my tremendous confidence in you.  This couldn't happen without the support of the international coalition.  That coalition couldn't exist without the United States.  And that coalition couldn't be successful on the battlefield without the awesome prowess of the people in this room and in the U.S. military around the world.  You are participating in and partaking of one of the great moments in the history of the protection of our people and the protection of our world.

And that means you're going to leave a better world for our children.  And that's about the noblest thing you could be doing with your lives.

So I commend you all at this moment.  Keep it up.  Think about the excellence in education.  Think about the future and making sure that victory sticks here.  I'm confident it will happen.

Now, what I want to do now is I think they're going to put some mikes out and I'll take some questions or suggestions or things that, you know, you think I don't know that I ought to know or that I ought or whatever. (Laughter.)

SEC. CARTER:  Have at it.  And we'll do that for a little while and then I want to look each one of you in the eye and give you a coin and thank you personally.


So and anything -- a question can be on any subject at all.  Just let her rip.

Q:  Mr. Secretary of Defense, sir, (INAUDIBLE)

SEC. CARTER:  There's no more important place to be right now.

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) what kind of keeps you up at night (INAUDIBLE)

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I would say that the -- I -- I'm confident -- and this doesn't keep me up -- that we are going to succeed in the military campaign.  I am very watchful about attacks on the homeland.  That is not something that we can completely eliminate from the battlefield of Iraq or Syria or even the overseas battlefield.

And -- but what you're doing really contributes to that, both by showing that ISIL is not going to remain.  It's not a happening thing.  It's an ending thing.

That's important because that -- that idea, the elimination of that idea removes this inspiration that you see, including among people who are just lost souls, who can be incited to violence.  And we need to worry about that.

Now, we share that re--- so we share the responsibility for protecting our people with the intelligence community, with homeland security, with law enforcement, the FBI and we work together all the time.

But my job is to make sure that Americans can sleep and they're not up all night.  If that keeps me up all night, and him up all night, that's what we're here for.  That's what we owe our people.  They're not supposed to have to think about that, because they're supposed to have confidence that we're thinking about it.

One thing that I love about our institution and the Department of Defense is everywhere I go, they have confidence in you.  Everywhere in America, they have confidence in you.  That makes me incredibly proud.  And boy, I'm not up all night about that at all.  About you, I have total confidence, total pride.  And it's terrific.


SEC. CARTER:  Well, the -- I don't know whether everybody could hear that, but it was -- since we operate, at times, in common air space with Russia, are things getting better or worse with Russia?

We do operate in -- very professionally, we de-conflict our air operations.  And that is a -- that has been an area in which the Russians have conducted themselves very professionally.  We and the rest of the coalition have conducted ourselves very professionally.  So that -- that -- that is a very professional relationship.

You know, I -- I have always held the door open to a wider type of cooperation, not so much here in Iraq, but in Syria.  But we haven't been able to get that door really opened with the Russians yet.

The Russians came into Syria saying that they were going to fight ISIL and help to end the civil war by moving to a political transition that would end the -- this long standing and savage civil war that's going over -- on over in Syria.

They haven't done either of those things.  They've instead behaved in a way that has fueled the civil war and now fueled a humanitarian crisis.

Now, our secretary of State, Secretary Kerry, has been, with, you know, great energy and creativity, been trying to bring the Russians to do the right thing, in which case, we could associate ourselves with them.

But we can't associate ourselves with actions that are headed in the wrong direction.  We -- we can't and we won't.

So it all depends on getting the Russians headed in the right direction.

We haven't seen those signs yet, but, again, I hold the door open to that.

Q:  (INAUDIBLE) I just wondered what type of (INAUDIBLE)

And also, what will be the enduring (INAUDIBLE) of military action (INAUDIBLE)

SEC. CARTER:  So the question was after the defeat of Mosul, what will the U.S. presence in Iraq be?

We are discussing that.  We have discussed that with the Iraqi government.  And I only start there because it will all -- in the end, it will be a decision that we make with the Iraqi government.  I'm simply repeating what I said before, we respect Iraqi sovereignty.

I think we all recognize that what I said before about needing to win the peace is also important.  And so we'll need to help -- and I think that the Iraqi forces welcome a -- us as after Mosul as they continue to consolidate their control over the country, for us to enable their forces to do training, equipping and and so forth.  And we'll have an -- a need for, as they do, continued counter-terrorism effort, because the -- there are terrorist attacks in Baghdad even as there are in European cities, and sometimes in American cities.

So we all have a common interest.  And as -- as ISIL is progressively defeated in the major cities, they will take to the -- to a -- more of an insurgency type set of tactics.  And so we'll have a need to help the Iraqis to protect themselves against that and that will be, also, protecting us against that, as well, because we don't want terrorists to be either -- plots to be either emanating from here or inspired by anything going on in here.

So we'll have a continuing interest, both in Iraqi stability nationwide, and also in counter-terrorism going forward.

Thank you.

STAFF: (Inaudible).


I do want to coin everybody.  So come on up.  Let me look you in the eye and I'll bet you a bunch of you I coined before -- I've coined before, but that's OK.  Give it to a friend or give it to somebody in your family.  And don't forget to say to your families that you're here at a -- what is really an historic time.  You're part of something you'll be able to remember for the rest of your lives, that created -- that contributed to protecting our country and making a better world for our children.

That's huge.


SEC. CARTER:  Say again?

STAFF:   We have to take (INAUDIBLE).

You guys want to stand up?


SEC. CARTER:  So who's going to be the voice of the eagle?

Who's going to be the new voice of the eagle?

Who's going to be the new voice of the eagle?

STAFF:   They're going to have to do (INAUDIBLE).

SEC. CARTER:  Anybody want to volunteer?

Does anybody want to try out and be the voice of the eagle?


SEC. CARTER:  It's a hard job.