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|U.S. Department of Defense
|Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter||January 26, 2017|
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Carter and Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
PETER COOK: Sorry for the delay, everyone. I have a surprise guest for us today.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Hello, everyone.
(CROSSTALK – AUDIO CHECK)
SEC. CARTER: Well, good morning once again. Thanks for being here.
And I’m sorry for interrupting Peter’s final briefing, but I wanted to come down here on my last day to provide an important update on what happened overnight in our campaign to deal ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.
First, in Libya, our Africa Command conducted air strikes against two ISIL camps south of Sirte. Initial estimates indicate that the air strikes killed more than 80 ISIL fighters, many of whom had converged there after fleeing from local partner forces who had cleared Sirte last month with our help.
Importantly, these strikes were directed against some of ISIL’s external plotters, who were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe. So these were critically important strikes for our campaign and a clear example of our enduring commitment to destroy ISIL’s cancer not only in Iraq and Syria, but everywhere it emerges.
While we struck in Libya, our local partners in Iraq, with our advice and assistance, managed to secure all critical areas in eastern Mosul. As they now prepare to clear the western part of Mosul, I’m confident that ISIL’s days in Mosul are numbered.
Meanwhile in Syria, our local partners continue to converge down on Raqqa and I’m also confident that they will soon have ISIL’s so-called capital isolated.
These most recent events are a direct result of the deliberate actions we’ve taken since 2015 to accelerate our coalition military campaign plan that Chairman Dunford and I put together. They are a reminder to ISIL and many others that while the world doesn’t rest from the transition here in Washington, neither does the Department of Defense.
As I leave this job, I’m certain that the United States and our coalition and local partners will continue to build on the results we’ve achieved and ultimately destroy the fact and the idea of a state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology.
We’ve generated significant momentum over the last year and a half, and I’m confident that going forward, Jim Mattis and his team, as well as General Dunford, and all our servicemen and women, joined by their coalition and local partners, will deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.
Many of you have covered this military campaign and this department with great diligence, and I know you’ll continue to do so. So, I want to thank you all very much.
And I have time for one question, I guess — and Bob, as our dean, you get the parting question.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
On the Libya action, how do you respond to those who would say that this only highlights the failure of the administration to contain ISIL, given that they’re still there?
SEC. CARTER: Well, in — ISIL has little nests, sometimes of people who rebranded themselves who were there already and received inspiration and sometimes support. And so it’s always been part of our campaign to destroy ISIL everywhere we find it.
Afghanistan is another place. So this is a continuation of the plan. Libya — there’s a civil war in Libya. And if — and that fundamentally is the reason why ISIL is able to get a foothold there. The Libyans don’t like foreigners. And I think if they could settle their own internal differences, which is a political and diplomatic matter, they themselves would make quick work of ISIL.
But we did these strikes, as we’ve done other actions in Sirte, and everything else we do there, at the request and with the permission of the GNA there. And we did this as well. But we need to strike ISIL everywhere they show up. And that’s particularly true in view of the fact that we know that some of the ISIL operatives in Libya were involved in plotting attacks in Europe to our friends and allies there.
And so external operations wherever they arise from ISIL or any of its branches.
Q: Were those imminent threats in Europe?
SEC. CARTER: Well, they certainly are people who, Bob, were actively plotting operations in Europe. And may also have been connected with some attacks that have already occurred in Europe. So as always, external operations are a very important part of the reason to destroy ISIL, as well as to wipe them out of Libya itself.
But your fundamental question about Libya is, as long as the conditions of civil war are there, the Libyans don’t have the unity. If they did, I think they — they themselves could make short work of ISIL. For now, under these conditions, our help is invaluable and we’re providing it.
So thank you all very much. I really appreciate it.
And now I’ll turn things over to Peter and he’s prepared to give you much more information and detail on this particular strike.
Q: Mr. Secretary, why was a B-2 bomber —
SEC. CARTER: Peter will tell you. Peter will tell you.
It was a decision made by the commanders. It was the best capability to use. There were other options. We have a vast armamentarium, but this is what the commanders chose. And I think Peter is prepared to explain that in some — some detail — the commanders’ reason.
Thank you all very much.
MR. COOK: Sir, thank you for coming. And thank you for the opportunity for me to be able to do this on your behalf. Appreciate it.
No — you’re laughing, Eric Rosenbach, but I’m serious.
Thank you, sir.
It’s been an honor and a privilege.
SEC. CARTER: Let me say, I couldn’t do this job without Peter — (inaudible) — counselor and as communicator to you. So I hope you as much trust and confidence in him as I have. I’m very, very grateful that he accepted this job. He did it — (inaudible) — far beyond any reasonable expectation and I’m extremely grateful. He’s a very able person.
MR. COOK: Thank you, sir.
Q: It’s his last briefing. Test his mettle.
MR. COOK: Eric Rosenbach keeping my life interesting.
Listen, I do have some more to talk about, and then I’ll open it up to your questions today, because we do have some more details to walk through.
First of all, we have a map I think we can put up, just showing the location of where these camps were in relation to Sirte. Again, let me walk through a few details.
This was the United Statesin conjunction with our partners and Libya’s Government of National Accord. Last night, we conducted precision air strikes to destroy two ISIL training camps about 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte, Libya. Among those in the camps were members of ISIL who fled Sirte and were attempting to reorganize.
The fighters training in these camps posed a security risk to Libya, to its neighbors, to our allies in Africa and Europe, and to the United States and its interests. Our assessment of these strikes is ongoing, but the initial analysis, again indicated by the secretary, is that these strikes were successful in destroying these camps, and their destruction will degrade ISIL’s ability to threaten the Libyan people or disrupt efforts to stabilize Sirte — to disrupt efforts to stabilize Sirte after its liberation.
The United States remains ready to further assist the GNA in its efforts to eliminate the ISIL threat in Libya and to work with partners around the world to defeat ISIL wherever it seeks to spread.
And we do have some video to show you of surveillance of one of these camps in advance of the air strikes. And if we have the ability to roll some of that, you’ll be able to see a little bit of what we were able to assess before these strikes took place.
And again, this is video here of some of the ISIL members moving equipment here specifically. You’ll see RPGs and shells being moved in this surveillance video. And this was one of the camps, again, video ahead of the air strikes that took place.
Q: Did they have any idea they were on camera?
MR. COOK: I’ll leave that for you to determine.
These strikes were primarily conducted by two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers, which took off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, on a 30-plus hour roundtrip mission to drop their joint direct attack munition weapons on these camps. The use of the B-2 demonstrates the capability of the United States to deliver decisive precision force to the Air Force’s Global Strike Command over a great distance.
And again, as the secretary indicated, this was a decision by the commanders, given the capabilities of this platform and the requirements of this particular mission. And we have another video as well of one of the strikes as it was conducted.
You can see in this video some of the structures there at one of these camps, and one of the multiple strikes that took place — the precision strikes that took place at this camp.
Q: Do you know how many bombs they dropped — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: My understanding is there were about 100 munitions that were dropped.
Again, these strikes demonstrate the effective use of the United States’ unique military capabilities, in coordination with partner nations, to strike ISIL wherever it seeks to spread. At the same time, the coalition continues to accelerate the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the parent tumor of the ISIL cancer, where we also have seen significant progress in recent days.
Today, we are seeing what increasingly appears to be ISIL’s retreat from east Mosul. While some work to clear pockets of resistance remains, nearly all of Mosul east of the Tigris River is in Iraqi hands for the first time in two-and-a-half years.
Iraqi security forces now control the eastern ends of all five bridges linking east and west Mosul. And Prime Minister Abadi and Iraqi military commanders have hailed this as a major accomplishment, and rightfully so.
In Syria, our partner forces continue the isolation of Raqqa, clearing more than 3,000 square kilometers since the start of their operations. ISIL’s days there, as well as in Iraq, are numbered.
Throughout this effort, we have continued to identify, track and bring to justice senior ISIL leaders. One of those efforts was a raid we previously announced that took place on January 8th. Today, I can confirm that this raid resulted in the death of Abu Anas al-Iraqi, a member of ISIL’s senior leadership council, as he traveled to Raqqa, Syria.
Al-Iraqi was a long-time associate of ISIL’s senior leadership, dating back to its origins of al-Qaida in Iraq. He oversaw media and financial operations and was a member of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s inner circle.
Prior to 2007, as chief propagandist for al-Qaida in Iraq, al-Iraqi incited and directed attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. His death is a reminder to ISIL’s leadership that they will find no shelter anywhere on the battlefield.
And as Secretary Carter just described, the coalition and our local partners have seized every opportunity to accelerate ISIL’s defeat. The events of the last 24 hours certainly demonstrate that.
Now, I’d be happy to take your questions. And with your indulgence, at the end I’d like to make a couple of final remarks about my final briefing here. But I’ll take your questions now.
Q: Just to follow up, Peter. Why was — why were the B-2s chosen to fly halfway around the world when there were platforms in Europe that were a lot closer, would have cost a lot less money to destroy these two camps?
MR. COOK: Jennifer, as you heard the secretary say, this was a decision made by commanders based on the specific mission requirements here; the capabilities of the B-2 specifically, not only in terms of its payload, but also its ability to loiter. There were specific reasons why the commanders felt this was the appropriate platform to use. And you can see the results were successful. These were precision strikes, delivered by a very capable aircraft.
Q: Was it designed to send a message to countries like Russia, China, on the eve of an inauguration?
MR. COOK: This was a mission designed to kill terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies and our interests. And it shows our willingness to go after ISIL wherever they appear. And if there’s a message sent to terrorists around the world, so be it. This was a military operation specifically targeting ISIL. And it demonstrates the capabilities of the United States, the ability for us to reach anywhere in the world, and to strike a blow to terrorists who threaten us.
Q: You mentioned this was done in coordination with the GNA. Were there any GNA troops on the ground? And did they capture any of the militants?
MR. COOK: I’ll let the GNA speak for their role in this, but this was carefully coordinated with the Government of National Accord. And again, I’ll leave it to them to speak to their — their role in this. But we — we carefully coordinated with them, and this has been a conversation we’ve had with them. This has been a discussion for some time as we’ve kept an eye on these particular camps.
Q: Were all the targets — (inaudible)? Or did anyone get away? (inaudible) — afterwards — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: We’re — we’re still conducting our assessments right now. But the indications are this was a very successful strike.
Q: (inaudible) — Peter. I think you said in December when the secretary himself had declared the operation in Sirte essentially over with, that, you know, in the weeks leading up to that, there were some small number of ISIL people kind of holed up there. Now you’re saying there were 80 people or more at this place, that they were squirters from the Sirte camp.
How does that — how do you square that? Why such a large number had come from Sirte? Or did they come from somewhere else?
MR. COOK: It’s not clear, Bob, that — and again, I’m not going to get into intelligence matters. But it’s not clear that all of them necessarily came from Sirte. But what we’re confident in, that this was a group of ISIL fighters who were trying to reconstitute themselves, conducting training. You saw some of the military equipment in that brief video there.
This was a group that had plans. And that’s why we struck them at this particular time. And I can tell you that we have been keeping an eye on — on ISIL’s movements and the remnants of ISIL from Sirte in Libya. And this was an opportunity that presented itself that we took advantage of. But they have been moving. They have not been in any one particular place. And we’ve been doing our best to try and keep track of them, and this was a decision made based on that opportunity.
Q: Peter, I’m not asking you precise numbers, but there have been estimates there are several hundred ISIL fighters in Libya. What portion of ISIL, kind of, personnel in Libya does this represent — these 80 or 90 people killed? Is it less than half? Is it a quarter? Is it the majority of the fighters? Is it 10 percent?
MR. COOK: I — yeah. Michael, it’s — I’m not in a position right here to tell you exactly how many ISIL fighters still — still are alive in Libya and still fighting. This certainly dealt a significant blow to ISIL’s presence in Libya.
Was it a death knell for them in Libya? We’ll have to wait and see. But we feel like we’ve done significant damage to ISIL’s presence in Libya, both in the conduct of our operations with the GNA aligned forces in Sirte, and certainly with this strike today.
Q: Two quick questions on this. How long had U.S. ISR been watching these two camps?
MR. COOK: We’ve been obviously keeping an eye on ISIL fighters and the remnants of ISIL for those who left Sirte for some time. But I can’t give you a precise — precise amount of time. But we’ve been keeping our eye. We’ve been watching them for some time. And again, these were groups of fighters who have been on the move. They have not stayed in the same place for extended periods of time. And this — this was an opportunity that presented itself that we wanted to take advantage of.
Q: And then to follow, there’s a report out now that says U.S. officials see North Korea activity indicating a possible future ballistic missile test. What more can you tell us on that? Is the DOD prepared for this? And how is DOD preparing?
MR. COOK: We’ve been prepared for this for some time. That’s what we do every day in terms of the North Korea threat. You’ve heard the secretary talk about this recently, describing the significant steps that we’ve taken along with our allies in the region to be prepared for provocative acts by the North Koreans. And we continue to be prepared.
As we go through this transition, the Department of Defense remains prepared to address the threats that are posed by North Korea. And we will continue to be so. We have 28,500 troops on the Korean peninsula as we speak. They are ready to fight tonight. We have other capabilities in the region, again designed to protect the United States and our allies.
Q: Can you confirm this activity? What — what sort of activity are you seeing?
MR. COOK: I can’t get into intelligence matters. I can’t confirm what’s been reported there. I can just tell you that the preparations that we have in place have been in place for some time. And we feel, again, that we are ready to deal — we would once again encourage North Korea not to engage in provocative actions that do nothing but destabilize the region, and do nothing for North Korea.
There’s an opportunity for North Korea to choose a different path.
MR. COOK: I’ll come back to you.
Q: You said that the department is prepared to carry out it’s, you know, its duties to protect the nation during this transition period. You’re a political appointee, and so you’ll be leaving. This is your last full day. How many other people in the department are in your position? How many people will be gone on Monday? And how will that affect the Pentagon’s ability to operate at the highest levels, assuming there’s some sort of challenge to the country during this transition period?
MR. COOK: Yes. Let me get the precise number for you, because I’d just be guessing off the top of my head. I have a number in mind, but I’m not sure it’s accurate. So let me get the precise number. But the reality, Jamie, as you know from your years of covering here, is the vast majority of the people in this building will not be departing.
The continuity that is here and the experience within the Department of Defense is significant. And all you have to do is look at Chairman Dunford and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our combatant commanders to see that there is certainly in uniform a depth of experience that will serve this country, will serve the next president and the next administration.
That is a good thing for this country. It certainly adds to the continuity here in the Department of Defense. But beyond those uniformed members, those people who serve their country in uniform and stand ready to defend this country no matter who the president is, we have a significant number of civilians in this building who are just as dedicated, serving their country, very capable, very experienced. And we look to them to maintain that continuity to ensure that the American people remain protected.
And I can assure you they are ready to do that job. They have done that in the past. We have had seamless transitions in the past in the Department of Defense, and we’re prepared to do the same here.
Q: So what would your message be to any potential adversary that would think that a good time to challenge the United States would be during this transition period?
MR. COOK: That would be a mistake. That would be a miscalculation.
Q: Peter —
MR. COOK: Let me go to Kasim first. Sorry.
Q: (inaudible) — Peter.
After the United States, the Russians and also British started to strike ISIS around al-Bab. What’s going on there? Do you have any update on the operations around al-Bab?
MR. COOK: Well, as you know, Kasim, our Turkish ally and forces that they are working with closely continue to wage an operation there — mount an operation against ISIL. There continues to be close coordination with the coalition. And I can’t get into every specific aspect of that coordination and I certainly won’t speak for other countries, but this is part of the larger effort to deal ISIL a lasting defeat.
And we want that to happen in al-Bab. We want that to happen in Raqqa. We want that to happen in Mosul. We want that to happen in Libya. And it represents that wider effort. This has to be an effort that is applied on multiple fronts. We cannot allow ISIL to have safe haven anywhere.
And the more pressures applied at the same time, the better — the harder it is for ISIL to operate; the harder it is for it to plot external attacks; the harder it is to function; and the sooner it is delivered that lasting defeat.
Q: Can we say that there is — (inaudible) — cooperation between Russians, Turks, British and United States done in that part of the country?
MR. COOK: I don’t know. What — what — you can call it what you want. I will not speak for any of those other governments. I will just speak, again, on behalf of the United States and the international coalition. We continue to closely coordinate our efforts there. We, again, try and address — make sure that everything we’re doing is applying the maximum amount of pressure to ISIL on as many fronts as possible.
Yes, Barbara in the back.
Oh, I’m sorry. Barbara, wait. I promised Joe. I’m losing my order here.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
Back to Libya. You mentioned and the secretary mentioned that in both camps, ISIL militants were planning attacks against Europe. Could you — do you have more details? Were they planning something against U.S. interests? Or like similar attacks that we’ve seen in Paris or Brussels?
MR. COOK: Joe, the secretary spoke to this. I’m going to leave — let his words stand. I’m not going to get into — not going to get into matters that I can’t discuss here from the podium.
Just again reiterate that this was a group that not only potentially posed a threat to people in Libya and certainly the stabilization of Libya, but we feel confident this was a group that posed a threat beyond Libya’s borders as well.
Q: The reason I’m asking you this, Peter, flying two bombers from Missouri all the way half the world to Libya, there should be something really that has a value or something really interesting and dangerous at the same time.
MR. COOK: We had 100 terrorists training in the Libyan — south of Sirte. And we — in the United States view, that was an — that was an operation — a risk we could not accept. And so we have taken this action to reduce that threat, both to the people of Libya, people in Europe, and certainly to the United States as well.
Q: So you’re not aware of the details of the plot that they were planning?
MR. COOK: Joe, I’m not going to get into matters I can’t discuss from here at the podium.
Q: Back on North Korea for one minute. You talked about the continuity in the Defense Department — the continuity of readiness of the U.S. military and military commanders. So, Peter, could you just say flat-out: Do you think, do you believe, do you know, will this continuity of readiness to be able to deal with North Korea, be with the Trump administration at 12:01 on Friday? Will the Trump administration, based on the continuity you described a minute ago, be ready to deal with North Korea?
MR. COOK: I will leave the Trump administration to speak for itself. What I can tell you is that the preparations made by this department, under this secretary of defense, to ensure that the next administration has everything it needs to hit the ground running at 12:01, has been done.
And again, the continuity that you have here in the Department of Defense certainly is a significant factor in terms of making that transition. There are people here who are incredibly experienced, incredibly capable. They have met with the transition folks and shared their knowledge and experience. And that will serve the next administration. And we should be very thankful that those people are in their positions.
Q: Does that readiness extend to being ready to deal with North Korea?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: And my other question is, on the Libya strike, to what extent did airspace approvals, authorities, whatever the correct word is, if — other than to use something flying from the United States, you would have needed air override — over-flight provisions from any countries. To what extent was the decision made on the basis that you were unsure you could get the necessary overflight airspace approvals?
MR. COOK: I’m not aware of overflight being an issue here. My understanding is these platforms were again selected because of the capabilities that the B-2 provides, the specific munitions that were considered here, and it had to do with the platform itself, and the commander’s decision to use this platform at this particular moment of time for this particular operation.
Q: The — thank you for showing the video but — I’d like to see more of those but we don’t — we rarely see imagery that clear. So why did you chose to show us that?
MR. COOK: Because we thought it was important for this particular strike, given the unusual nature of it, to provide video for you to be able to see exactly what took place.
I wish we could do this more often. It is a regret of mine that we have not had the ability to provide more for you, and I will say that to you now.
Q: So last day?
MR. COOK: Agreed — agreed — and we have — this is something that we’ve talked to the folks at OIR about, and in most cases that’s where these would be released, and it’s something that I certainly am encouraging people to consider doing more of as we — as this fight against ISIL, in particular, continues.
Q: Can we see more in the next six hours?
MR. COOK: We’ll see. There may be additional images for you all to take advantage of, and we’ll talk to our folks.
Q: — operations?
MR. COOK: We’ll see Barbara. I —
Q: Do you know kind of weapons were they carrying? Were they like MANPADS — surface to — (inaudible) — missiles?
MR. COOK: I — very rough look at it myself, and I would refer to the experts in the building. There was RPGs and shells that you could see in the back of that pickup truck.
Q: Sending two bombers from Missouri just to hit RPGs? Don’t you think it’s — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: That was again, as Barbara pointed out, a portion of the video we have. So — but — Bill, do you have another question?
Q: I do. So were there any HVIs as part of this strike?
MR. COOK: So, again, we’ve had an initial assessment, and we continue to look closely at the results of this — of this strike. So that’s not something I can — we’re still looking.
Q: Okay. Lastly, I mean, when we first started talking about Sirte and the operation there, even before when General Rodriguez was here. He was talking about thousands of fighters. We’ve not seen those sorts of numbers in terms of KIA on the battlefield. So where are these guys?
Are there — the secretary mentioned nests of ISIS fighters, are there other of these training camps that you’re aware of?
MR. COOK: Well, I’m not going to talk about intelligence matters here, but you can be sure that if we have opportunities to do similar damage to ISIL in the future, we’re going to — I can’t speak for the next administration, but certainly that’s a reasonable expectation that we would consider similar strikes in the future.
Again, that’ll be decisions for others to make. But this was a — in terms of the cumulative numbers I don’t have an estimate for you right now about how many people are — how many ISIL fighters remain in Libya. But one thing is clear is that since General Rodriguez commanded AFRICOM and led our efforts there, that in the time since we have done significant damage to ISIL in Libya.
There was a time when Libya was seen, and Sirte in particular was seen, as perhaps the next hotspot for ISIL fighters to travel. ISIL leaders had suggested that was the place for people to go. You don’t see that right now. You do not see Sirte as a — a welcoming location for ISIL fighters.
And after this operation in the last 24 hours, 45 miles southwest of Sirte, is not that hospitable either.
Q: And lastly on North Korea, the secretary mentioned last week that the U.S. would be willing to, or would be able to shoot down a missile if it posed a threat to the U.S. or its allies. Is that still — is that still the stance of the U.S. government?
MR. COOK: That is the position of the U.S. government and this Department of Defense and certainly this secretary of defense.
Q: Just a quick clarification. The authority used for these strikes — was — does this extend across the entire country? And is it in effect, you know, through the duration of this administration? Would it technically convey to the new administration? Obviously, they can make any changes they want, but how does that — how does that work?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to speak for the authorities here and what the next administration might do. All I can say is that we continue to work very closely with the Government of National Accord. We’re in close coordination with them about the threat that ISIL poses in Libya.
We continue to have conversations even today, as you see, in the last 24 hours. And certainly our conversations there will be — the substance of that will be something that is shared and has been shared with the next administration to make decisions that they choose to make. I’m not going to speak for the next administration.
Q: Can you say, though — but you can’t say whether the authority has been extended to the secretary —
MR. COOK: I’m not going to discuss presidential authorities from up here.
Q: Peter, can you clear up, please, a report last week — this week, USA Today on the air-drops to the SDF in Syria? Do they include weapons and ammunition? And are those weapons and ammunition going to the YPG?
MR. COOK: We have been supplying the SDF, specifically the Syrian Arab Coalition, for some time, with materiel support. And we continue to do that. And there’s been no change.
Q: (inaudible) — the Syrian Arab Coalition, and not the YPG?
MR. COOK: We continue to, again, provide that support for the Syrian Arab Coalition.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Along the same lines of Gordon’s question, did President Obama extend Operation Odyssey Lightning? Or is this — did he just authorize this one operation?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to get into authorities up here. We’re taking this action as an extension of the Odyssey Lightning mission approved by the president, recommended by the secretary of defense. And I’m not going to get into further authorities right now. The next administration will speak to what actions they may take in the future, but I think what’s most important is that we remain very carefully closely engaged with the Government of National Accord, with regard to the threat posed by ISIL.
Q: You mentioned this is an extension of the mission. So it’s not just this one operation?
MR. COOK: Again, I’m not going to get into the question of authorities. We carried out this mission. It was approved by the president as an extension of Odyssey Lightning. And again, this deals with the threat, as we’ve said for some time, that ISIL could continue to pose in Libya and that we would keep a close eye on it. We have done so and have carried out this strike now.
Q: Is it fair to say ISR will still continue to look for ISIL militants in Libya?
MR. COOK: We’re going to keep an eye on ISIL wherever they choose to pop up or try to pop up.
Q: A couple of things. When was the last time the B-2 bomber was used in a conflict to do a strike?
MR. COOK: My understanding it was during the last — the air strikes in Libya previously, Odyssey Dawn.
Q: March, 2011?
MR. COOK: That’s my understanding.
Q: Okay. Moving to another stealth fighter — stealth plans, the F-35. Last week, the head of Lockheed said, after meeting President-elect Trump, that she was close to completing negotiations on the largest F-35 contract to date. It’s lot 10.
Last night, a wire service and a cable network basically repeated the same thing, only attributed to unnamed sources, saying it was close.
What’s — we haven’t heard from the Pentagon. This is a big deal. So are you close to completing these lot 10 negotiations?
MR. COOK: Tony, these are negotiations, as you know all too well, that have been ongoing for some time. Every effort is being made to try and wrap up those negotiations in the most efficient way possible for taxpayers and for the department. And those conversations are ongoing. I don’t have anything to announce at this time.
Q: Do you have any sense that it’s close, maybe by the end of the year — end of the month, excuse me?
MR. COOK: My understanding is they are — remain focused on getting the very best deal possible and I don’t have anything to announce at this time.
Q: The overall figure — last night, these two outlets used the $9 billion figure. General Bogdan, the head of the program office, last month said it was $8 billion. Can you square the circle here? Is it closer to $8 billion?
MR. COOK: I will not get into numbers on this. If General Bogdan chooses to speak on this, I’ll leave that up to him. But there’s nothing to announce at this time, other than to say that these are — have been very active negotiations. These are important negotiations. And they are continuing. And people are working diligently to try and reach a conclusion.
Q: Okay. There’s no end-game. You’re not going to do it by the end of the day. You’re not going to announce —
MR. COOK: Tony, I don’t have anything to announce at this time. It would be a wonderful thing if they wrapped things up, but I can’t predict how that’s going to play out.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
I wanted to ask about the folks from Secretary Carter’s staff who are staying on — Deputy Secretary Work, people like that. How has I guess identifying those people helped? And where are you at this point in terms of smoothing the transition out as all of you exit the door?
MR. COOK: Well, first of all, the deputy secretary, as you all know who have covered him, is someone with a depth of knowledge and experience here in the building. So, he will certainly be a positive force in terms of continuity and making sure that the next team gets up to speed as quickly as possible.
And so it is, again, an indication of the patriotism and the commitment to service that Bob Work has demonstrated throughout his career, that he’s going to — has agreed to stay on for a period of time. And that will certainly help with the transition.
I don’t have a specific number for you in terms of other people who will stay on, but I think it’s — it’s reasonable to assume that there is a small number of people who will — there are a small number of people who will be here to try and assist as best they can during this period of transition. And that would be consistent with past practice as well.
Q: Is it fair to say it’s a smaller number than typical?
MR. COOK: I honestly don’t know a comparison. I think we are trying to accommodate the needs of the transition team. And as they make requests, again, I’ll leave it to them to speak to how many people they’re asking for; why particular areas versus other areas. That’s really more for them to speak to. But I can just tell you that we are being as responsive as possible to all their requests, both for information and in these individual circumstances asking if individuals would be willing to stay on.
Q: Thank you.
MR. COOK: Yes, Kevin?
Q: You talked about the recommendations for ISIS troop levels that we’ve heard about in the press. Can you kind of walk us through how this came about? Did the Trump transition team ask for these? And we’ve heard reports that they include options for multiple combat brigades, which would be, you know, “multiple” meaning 4,000 times, you know, however many.
Is that part of the — are those — is that option part of the package that has been presented? When — when is it expected to be presented — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: Kevin, I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about things that the Trump folks may or may not have requested of — particularly of our uniform military folks. I’m — I just — I’m not comfortable talking about things that are — those private conversations that they’re having.
I will leave it to them to describe what, if any, conversations they’ve had, what proposals they may consider. I would just say broadly, that Secretary Carter has on multiple occasions, talked about the need to constantly look to accelerate the campaign, to look for opportunities where we might be able to — to do things, speed the defeat of ISIL. We have done that, multiple occasions. He’s asked President Obama for particular capabilities and authorities and as he’s described, on many occasions, everything he’s asked for he’s received.
It is reasonable to think that the next administration would look at — at the state of the campaign and talk to the commanders on the ground. I think, as you heard from the secretary this morning, what they will hear described from our commanders right now, particularly in Iraq and Syria, is significant results.
We’re seeing that in Mosul, we’re seeing that in Raqqa, in Syria. We’re seeing that dealing with the metastasis in Afghanistan and in Libya, as we’ve seen in the last 24 hours. But there’s still a fight ahead, and it’s reasonable for them to look at what options are out there.
But I think they’re going to find, again, they talked to our commanders, certainly, the same thing that Secretary Carter’s hearing and that is working through our local forces, those partner forces in Iraq and Syria. We are seeing success on the ground. There is still a significant fight ahead.
But the coalition efforts enabling those local forces have proven to be successful on the ground. And I think any assessment that is handed off to the next team, they’ll be able to see that and make decisions for themselves, as to what the next steps might be.
Q: You made it sounds like that Trump was speaking to the uniform side, but not asking — (inaudible) — guys haven’t been involved in that conversation?
MR. COOK: I’m — again, I’m not going to speak to the conversations that occur between the Trump folks and — and people here in the building. Those are conversations for them to speak to, a request for information that they have made, and I’m just — and I’m not comfortable talking about those. I haven’t been part of those, as well, I should be clear.
Q: Okay so going back into — you also just said, so Secretary Carter has received everything that’s been requested — (inaudible). Why are commanders asking for more — a longer leash on rules of engagement, for example. That’s about one of the things that’s been heard, especially, for HVT or HVI missions, you know, whether or not —
Q: — has sent operators forward —
Q: — it doesn’t gel that the secretary’s got everything he’s asked for –
MR. COOK: I don’t — I don’t know specifically what you’re referring to because I can tell you, from being with Secretary Carter and with our commanders throughout the course of my time here, that there’s been discussion about steps we can take to accelerate the campaign.
There’s been a lot of back and forth about the most appropriate steps and recommendations have been submitted, requests have been made of President Obama. And as you’ve heard Secretary Carter say, everything he’s asked for, he’s received.
And again, it is perfectly appropriate for the next team to take a look and to see if there are additional steps that could be taken to accelerate this campaign. Secretary Carter would support that.
Q: (Off mic) The COCOM, General Votel, has he received everything he’s asked for?
MR. COOK: I’ll leave General Votel to — to speak for himself. It’s again, I’m — this — these discussions have involved the commanders who are leading this fight, Gen. Townsend, Gen. Votel, Gen. Austin before him, Gen. MacFarland, as well.
And there have been — the development of the campaign plan that’s been executed included of course, all the input from the commanders who have been involved in this fight. And obviously, that’s totally appropriate.
And of course, Chairman Dunford working with Secretary Carter and his team here and it’s been, for me, a fascinating process to watch.
And what’s most satisfying, I know that Secretary Carter, as he gets set to depart here, and for those of us who’ve worked for him, is to see the results we’re seeing on the ground now. Things that were being discussed a year, year and a half ago, about the execution of the campaign plan, where we would be today, those have come to pass.
And it’s very satisfying, it’s a testimony to the commanders who have led that effort, certainly to our men and women on the ground who have enabled those local forces. But it is truly a testament to the Iraqi forces, Prime Minister Abadi and the efforts they’ve made.
They have been leading this fight successfully. There’s plenty more to do and the coalition has an important role to play, the United States has an important role to play going forward.
Q: Peter, what was Secretary Carter’s recommendation to the White House and the commutation of Private Chelsea Manning?
MR. COOK: Tom, I think you’ve heard the secretary say that this was a decision that the secretary did not support. This was the president’s decision, and I’m gonna leave it at that.
Q: Do you expect there’s gonna be — did he make a recommendation about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl?
MR. COOK: I’m going to just leave it at that. This was, again — this was the president’s decision, and I told you where the secretary was on this.
Q: (Off mic) we know that Secretary Work is staying on. Are there other senior officials from Secretary Carter’s immediate staff like Eric Rosenbach? Are they going to stick around through the transition period, as well? I mean, are there other senior officials like Debbie James, who is also expected to stick around —
MR. COOK: I don’t have a list for you right here, Luis. But there certainly is, as I told Dan, there will be some people who will serve in a transition role. I don’t — I don’t have the list in front of me.
But in terms of — you mentioned specifically, Eric Rosenbach. Eric Rosenbach will not be serving through the transition period but has played a — obviously, a critical role in terms of trying to facilitate our transition, trying to make sure that things moved as smoothly as possible.
Q: I just have a follow-up on your earlier questions about the presidential authorities for Odyssey Lightning. In the past, we have — we have spoken about what limited, how they were kind of limited to this certain area.
Can you kind of expand for us, if you could, how we could — why you’re not talking about them now, and if there has been an expansion of the earlier authorizes, which —
MR. COOK: Well, as — as I mentioned, the — the specific authorities before — you know, I’m not going get into every detail, here. This was a presidential — this required presidential authorization that was — that was granted by President Obama, the recommendation of Secretary Carter, and also the recommendation of the commanders.
And this action was taken, I’m not gonna speak for what actions the next administration my take. Obviously, we’re at the end of this administration and — but this is a fight that’s gonna continue and they’ll have to make their own decisions going forward.
Q: (Off mic) in that they’re gonna need to be readjusted by the incoming administration?
MR. COOK: You should — you should infer only that they will make their own decisions about policy, including our policy dealing with ISIL in Libya.
Q: Yes just to have a timing), when was the presidential authorization given?
MR. COOK: It was earlier — let me double check but it’s been within the past few days.
Q: Within the past — and with a video that we saw from the platform, A, what was the platform and, B, when was that video taken?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to discuss the platform, but it was ahead of the strike, obviously. And I’d say within the past few days.
Q: If you could get back to us just when the presidential authorization came, that’d be helpful.
MR. COOK: Okay.
Q: Just on the Libya strike, it seems a little curious, the — these two bombers flew from the Midwest to North Africa. You said they dropped more than a hundred munitions to kill 80 people. You say they have a lurking capacity.
What were you — were you waiting for someone for something? What were you — what was the — was there another target apart from the two camps? Was there an individual target?
MR. COOK: This was an operation, Gary, that was thought out well in advance. It was presented as an opportunity when this — this particular location — when they remained at this particular location. So this was a capability specific — specifically for this operation, for this moment of time.
And the ability to loiter, again, would give the opportunity for these aircraft to potentially conduct additional strikes and that was something that the commanders felt was appropriate and would be a capability that, if needed, would potentially be utilized.
That’s — that was just one more reason why these particular platforms were used.
Q: Were the sites adjacent to any villages, civilians at all?
MR. COOK: They were in a very rural area.
Q: Were you waiting for someone in particular?
MR. COOK: As I said, we’re still accessing. We — I’m not going to get into all the — everything that went into this strike and our development of this particular target. We’re still assessing the results of the strike, and I think the secretary spoke pretty clearly about the threat we feel that these particular groups of fighters pose, not only to the people in Libya but beyond.
Q: With reports about North Korea readying ICBMs, I’m wondering if there’s been an acceleration in THAAD deployment, just based on North Korea’s tempo in testing?
MR. COOK: Yeah. The effort to establish the THAAD system in Korea continues, and we are working very, very closely with our South Korean allies, but I don’t have any particular update in terms of the schedule and timing.
Q: On organizational matters, the NDAA was approved very late in the outgoing administration and had a number of requirements such as the breakup of AT&L, the elevation of Cyber Command and some restrictions on DIUx. Has — did this team start doing any of the groundwork on that, or has that all been left for the next team to take on?
MR. COOK: I mean I’ll just talk more broadly. In terms of the individual provisions of the legislation, obviously the department will be prepared to carry out what’s in the NDAA, but I’m not aware of specific steps taken in the short term to deal with those.
My understanding is some of those provisions do not necessarily take effect right away.
Q: (inaudible) — year for delivery of evaluations on doing it but, again, just trying to see if any of that was started or if the sense was — (inaudible) — at this point, just let the new guys pick it up.
MR. COOK: Well, there’s only so much we could do between the passage of the NDAA and — and the secretary’s departure here. But as I mentioned before, there are lots of people who are remaining in this building who will be prepared to carry out this act of Congress and — but I’m not aware of specific steps that were taken, I’m not aware that there weren’t any I just honestly don’t know.
Q: Would the secretary like to see Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl pardoned?
MR. COOK: Lucas, you know that’s an ongoing legal matter at this point and I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to comment here.
Q: The secretary doesn’t have an opinion either way?
MR. COOK: The secretary would like to see the justice system work its course.
Q: Is it a disappointment for the secretary to be leaving office with Baghdadi still out there. And also have you seen any signs that either Iran or China are moving anything in terms of Navy ships, to take advantage of this flux during the transition?
MR. COOK: Let me take the first part of your question.
I think — I’m not sure “disappointment” is the word. I think certainly the secretary has expressed this that targeting ISIL leaders, particularly Baghdadi, has been an important part of our efforts and will continue to be.
We are actively looking and doing everything we can to degrade ISIL’s ability to organize, to plot external attacks, to be able to cause more trouble in Iraq and Syria. And part of that involves targeting its key leaders including Baghdadi. And I am quite confident that that will — effort will continue even after the secretary steps down.
But — so, that’s — it’s — it has not happened on — as of yet but we remain confident that that’s an effort that eventually will be successful.
I don’t have anything in particular to report on that.
Q: Is the reason that the secretary opposed Manning’s commutation — was it because he thought that it would make leaks more likely in the future?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to get into the reasons the secretary made his recommendation to the president. The president has made his decision and the president’s decision is what’s final here.
Q: Lastly, General Waldhauser, does he have authority to strike ISIS outside of Sirte again?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to get into presidential authorities here. I’m going to just tell you that we have an ongoing conversation with the government of national accord about the ISIL threat and about their efforts to stabilize Libya. We’re going to continue that conversation and you can be sure that General Waldhauser and his team will remain vigilant in watching the ISIL threat in Libya.
Q: The Navy says they want to grow the fleet by 30 percent. Does Secretary Carter support that initiative?
MR. COOK: The secretary has spoken at length about — certainly in the presentation of our budget plan about the importance of not only increasing the number of Navy ships that we have but focusing particularly on their lethality, on their capabilities. And I think the secretary’s view is that he wants the most lethal and capable Navy possible, and that was certainly what he presented in terms of his budget and what he continues to advocate for. At the same time increasing the number of Navy ships going forward and the capability of our platform, I think that’s what Secretary Carter believes is most important.
All right, if we’re all done here, if you don’t mind, beg your indulgence for a quick word. I have to thank a few people. This is my last briefing here at the Pentagon and I think you all know that this is not a one-man job by any means. There are a lot of people inside and outside the department who have supported me, and that starts with our guest earlier today, Secretary Carter.
It’s been an honor and a privilege to represent him and the men and women of this great institution. It has been an incredible experience for me to be up here and I’m thankful for Secretary Carter’s confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity to serve in this fashion.
I’ve leaned on many people up in his front office staff. Some of you have seen that directly but I wanted to, in particular, point out two people who have really made a tremendous difference in this position and in my work here, and that’s the chief of staff, Eric Rosenbach, and the secretary’s senior military assistant, Brigadier General Eric Smith, the two Erics.
You could not find two more capable people and more dedicated people than Eric Rosenbach and Eric Smith and I wish them both very well and, again, very appreciative for their efforts.
I could also not do this job without the very significant help of the press operations team led by Capt. Jeff Davis. I may stand up here in front of the cameras and talk to you all on a pretty regular basis, but they do all the heavy lifting. They do all the hard work. And I am tremendously grateful to them for everything they’ve done, for their commitment to doing this job right, to trying to get information to you all in as timely and effective fashion as possible.
That also includes, of course, Capt. Greg Hicks and the Joint Staff team, who’ve been invaluable to me and educated me on all things military that I didn’t know before-hand, which was not insignificant.
And I want to also thank all the public affairs folks downrange, across the country, around the world, who I’ve bothered early in the morning, late at night. Also the people who do most of the heavy lifting. They are doing a fabulous job and under very difficult circumstances. So I want to thank them for their service.
I want to in particular flag Col. Dorrian in Baghdad, Brig.Gen. Charlie Cleveland in Kabul. They are leading by example with their efforts. And I’m very appreciative for what they’ve done.
Many others that I’ll just — I don’t have time to name here, but I think they know who they are.
When I first got here, Col. Steve Warren was — I don’t know if he’ll appreciate this. He was my Yoda. And — but I mean that in the best sort of way. He’s an incredible guy who helped educate me, get me up to speed very quickly. I will be forever indebted to Steve Warren; very appreciative for everything he’s done, and thank him for his service to his country as well.
My front office team here, led very ably by my chief of staff Jeremy Martin who if you all haven’t met or dealt with, Jeremy is the classiest guy in this building and an incredibly dedicated public servant who allowed me to focus so much of my efforts on the media side of things and run day-to-day operations in the public affairs office.
I want to especially thank as well my military assistant, Col. Juanita Chang, who you all have probably dealt with. She’s fed some of you all. She’s kept some of you on the other side of my door, which I appreciate sometimes. But she’s managed things, along with Jake Morse, my executive assistant, incredibly well. They’ve provided incredible support to me. They basically have fed me, kept me alive, and kept me on time over the last year-and-a-half or so. Rich Spiegel before that also was an incredible help.
Throughout this experience, I’ve had incredible support from my family — my wife Missy, who happens to be here today, and my two boys. This job — my wife thought my last job as a journalist took a real toll on family life and time and commitment, and it did. And this one is worse. And I could not do this without the love and support of my family and my wife. And so thank you. It has meant an incredible amount to me to be able to do this job knowing that everything was okay at home.
And finally, I want to thank all of you. It has been an honor and a privilege to stand up here and to face your questions. You all are an incredibly professional group that conduct the business of journalism with integrity. You are a veteran group. You ask hard questions. You ask good questions. You challenge us. That is a good thing and you should continue doing that.
And I know you will. It is incredibly important what you all do every day. And it — I have not been able to answer all of your questions. I have tried to the best of my ability, balancing all of the things that this job requires. Some days I’ve hit it right. Some days I haven’t. If you all are good journalists, you’re not satisfied. I wouldn’t be if I were sitting in that seat these days.
But please know that — that everyone on this team tried and we did our best to try and bring as much information, as much transparency as we could to the operations of the men and women of the Department of Defense.
Once again, it’s been an honor and privilege to speak on their behalf, to try and inform the American people and the world about what this building does. This is an incredible place with incredible people in uniform and in the civilian workforce, and an honor to be part of the mission.
And thank you all again for your diligence, your attention to detail, and again your willingness to ask questions and represent the American people with your work.
So, thank you very much.
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