Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 17, 2015
PETER COOK: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry I’m a little bit late. I’ll try not to let it happen again, but again, my apologies. Your time is valuable as well I know.
A few announcements off the top regarding the secretary’s schedule, before I turn to your questions.
This morning, Secretary Carter received an update on the counter-ISIL fight from some of his combatant commanders and other military leaders. He received updates on the situation both in Syria and in Iraq. They discussed the tragedy in Paris and the decision by the French government to expand its counter-ISIL efforts.
As he mentioned last night at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, the secretary hopes this tragedy will galvanize others to do even more as well. He’s asked his commanders in the field to consider where the coalition effort can be expanded further, with the help of our partners.
Also this morning, the secretary and Chairman Dunford met with Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, to discuss mutual security interests, including security cooperation between our countries, Pakistani counterterrorism operations in the federally administered tribal areas, and regional security dynamics.
The secretary expressed his appreciation for Pakistan’s ongoing counterterror efforts and condolences for the heavy losses incurred by Pakistani security forces and civilians in this fight. The secretary underscored the importance of increased Pakistan-Afghanistan cooperation.
The deputy secretary also toured the Pentagon 9/11 memorial with General Raheel (sic) this morning and the chairman held a separate discussion with the general, and General Austin will meet with him later today in addition.
And finally, the secretary this afternoon is attending a meeting with current and former military leaders of the department and with independent experts to discuss possible Defense Department reforms. This is one in a series of meetings being held to discuss areas of potential reform to the defense enterprise in the spirit of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. The series of meetings will examine potential overlaps or redundancies and areas in which performance could be streamlined or improved within the department. These meetings will help set the department’s reform agenda and determine the path forward to ensure our continued strength.
And the secretary tomorrow will touch on one area of interest when he discusses his Force of the Future initiative at G.W. University. And you all should have received an advisory on that speech tomorrow.
With that, I’d be happy to turn to your questions.
Q: Can you — one quick question on (Aboud ?). I’m wondering if you can tell us whether or not he was on a hit list or if there were any efforts to strike him at some point by the military or the coalition? But I have sort of a Russia — a Russia question. Do you want to — I can throw that out now, or do you want me to wait?
MR. COOK: Why don’t you throw that out now, and then we’ll see if we can knock all these out of the way.
Q: (inaudible) — of the airstrikes, Russia appeared to be striking areas in the same region as the U.S., in the oil — oil infrastructure area. I’m wondering whether there’s any further discussion or consideration of more cooperation with Russia as it appears Moscow is indeed trying to step up its efforts for airstrikes, and also some cooperation with — with France.
MR. COOK: Yeah. On your — on your first question, I’m not going to get into intelligence from up here at the podium, but I can say, and we’ve repeated that leadership figures within ISIL are always a legitimate target, but we’re not going to get into the identities of anyone in particular who we may or may not have targeted. So that’s the extent of what I can say on that first question.
And on the second question you’re asking, is there an opportunity here for further cooperation with the Russians?
Q: An opportunity — has there been any further discussion? And does their — Russia’s latest effort to beef up its strikes in a region that was actually near where the U.S. and coalition have been hitting, and their efforts to reach out to France, also some more collaboration — does that trigger any additional thoughts toward cooperating more with Russia?
MR. COOK: Well, right now, we are — we are not cooperating with Russia, as you know. In this instance, their most recent airstrikes, they did give us advance notice through the Memorandum of Understanding that is in place regarding our efforts to try and keep the air space over Syria safe.
And so they did use the protocols there to notify us in advance. But at this point — and those airstrikes, at least from our vantage point, did appear to strike in ISIL-held territory.
And as we’ve said from the start, that if the Russians would like to focus their efforts on ISIL, which is the — the thrust of our efforts, in terms of the coalition, we would welcome that.
But, again, that’s a decision that’s up to the Russians at this point, and — and there’s been no additional talk of further cooperation or — or coordination with the Russians at this point. And, again, we’ll wait to see what the Russians do next, and we’d refer you to them in terms of their intentions going forward.
But their policies of supporting the Assad regime continue, in our view, to be counterproductive — “backwards” is the word that the secretary has used. And so until they alter that policy, we don’t see much of an area for — for further cooperation.
Q: Well, there was — just as a quick follow-up, the secretary did mention yesterday sort of the need to sort of broaden the — the — the fight against ISIL and, you know, looking for other partners to — to kind of do more. Does Russia not represent, at this point, an opportunity for that?
MR. COOK: Again, the — the secretary’s always left the door open to the Russians, as he first encouraged Minister Shoigu in their initial conversation some weeks ago, to play a constructive role here and to not only take part in the campaign against ISIL and to target ISIL specifically, but also to use their influence with the Assad regime in trying to forge a political transition.
And so we welcome any sincere effort on the part of the Russians to play a more constructive role in Syria. And, again, the opportunity’s there for the Russians to accept that opportunity.
Q: Peter —
MR. COOK: Jamie.
Q: — if I could follow up a little bit.
So, I mean, clearly, the United States and Russia have many areas of disagreement. They also have areas in which they work together. Russian President Putin has directed his military to work with France to develop what he called a “joint action plan” to target ISIL in Syria.
If France can work with Russia on a joint action plan, why can’t the United States?
MR. COOK: Well, let me — first of all, the French — I will leave it to the French to — to discuss the decisions that they’re making, their relationship with the Russians. It’s not for us to — to comment on.
They are a key and critical member of the coalition. We’ve seen what they’ve been doing in recent days, in the wake of the — the Paris attacks, so again, the French commitment is clear, and we feel confident that we will have — continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with France in terms of this — this ongoing effort.
And the secretary has said all along that when it comes to Russia, we will maintain a strong and balanced approach. There are going to be areas where we disagree with the Russians, significant disagreements. In Ukraine, for example.
But there have also been areas where we can work together. One is the Iran nuclear accord. Secretary Kerry has been working with — with Minister Lavrov on the — on the — the political side of this equation, the diplomatic side, and — and we’re supportive of that and encouraging of that.
Q: You seem to be making my point, though. You — you cited an area where the U.S. and Russia can work together.
MR. COOK: But they’re —
Q: So — and the U.S. and Russia have a common enemy in Syria in the form of ISIL, so why is it so difficult for — to find an area where there’s a common goal and to work together?
MR. COOK: Well, we haven’t — Jim, we haven’t ruled that out except that up to this point the Russian actions have been largely in support of the Assad regime which we believe is counterproductive to the end result of trying to end the Syrian civil war.
It has been like pouring gasoline on the fire, in the words of Secretary Carter. And in this instance, these most recent airstrikes have appeared to have targeted ISIL-controlled areas. That’s a good thing. And, again, we — if the Russians would like to focus their efforts on not only targeting ISIL, but also pushing forward the diplomatic solution that needs to be reached in Syria and using their considerable influence with the Assad regime, we’re supportive of that. And we would — we would hope the Russians would take advantage of that opportunity.
Q: Just one more.
Can you just address the perception — and, again, I’m — I’m talking about perception — that Russia is taking a much more muscular approach to confronting ISIL. Stepping up its airstrikes, working with France. The Russian president was seen today in a high-tech war room getting his latest briefings on Syria while the United States’ position, we are giving the position — seem to be giving the impression that we’re just going to do more of the same.
The President made pretty clear yesterday he doesn’t see a need to radically change the strategy.
Can you address that perception that maybe President Putin, again, seems to be winning the P.R. war here in terms of who’s doing the most to battle ISIL?
MR. COOK: Jamie, we — at this podium and elsewhere we’ve detailed our efforts in the fight against ISIL over the last year or so.
More than 8,000 airstrikes. You have the Secretary of Defense up on Capitol Hill not too long ago talking about the adjustments we’re making to our strategy, the prospect for a small number of special operations forces to go into bolster to fight.
We’re doing what we can to — to move this strategy forward. We’re supporting local, motivated forces that are going to, obviously, need to be in place to not only dislodge ISIL, but to hold that territory. We are focused on this effort. We remain focused on this effort. And the notion that we are behind the curve here is a mistaken one. We are actively looking at a whole host of opportunities to further this fight against ISIL, and that’s — that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
And, again, the Secretary’s talked about this. We welcome others getting into this game. But the United States has been in this game from the start and will continue to be.
MR. COOK: Yes, (Kevin ?).
Q: Two questions. So the Russians now say it was a bomb that took down the airliner.
Does Pentagon of U.S. confirm that? It was either — it was a bomb and that ISIS was involved.
Second part I want to ask about, Secretary Kerry today saying U.S. would work closely with turkey to secure the border at Syria from smuggling.
What exactly does that mean? What — what — how is the U.S. going to help in that effort, particularly, and the U.S. Military effort?
And is it just for smuggling goods, or is this also specifically aimed at keeping out foreign fighters and that flow that’s so worrisome to Europe?
MR. COOK: Yeah. First of all, we — we have not reached any final conclusions. Certainly here at the Department of Defense, I’m going to defer to my colleagues in other agencies that are more focused on the downing of this airliner specifically, but we have not reached any conclusions here beyond what we’ve said to you in the past with regard to the cause of this —
Q: (off mic) communications with the Russians about the incident?
MR. COOK: Not between the Department of Defense. I can’t speak for other agencies.
So that’s — we’re in the same place there. We obviously took note of — of the Russian conclusions.
And with regard to the other issues, I’m not sure exactly what — what Secretary Kerry said, but — because I didn’t see his comments directly, but we’ve been working on these border issues for — for some time. The issue of foreign fighters remains of critical importance to — to the United States and the Department of Defense and anything that can be done to — to tighten that border, to deal with the issue of foreign fighters, we think is a positive and something that not only bolsters the national security of the United States, but also the national security of our coalition partners and those in the region and in Europe as well.
Q: (off mic)
MR. COOK: Let me just go to Jennifer.
Q: Peter, you said that the Defense Department has carried out 8,000 airstrikes. The Russians say they’ve carried out 2,300 airstrikes in the last two days. That suggests an escalation in their efforts compared to ours. And secondly, you — it’s still a little hard to understand why the U.S., 15 months after the air campaign began, only just cut the road between Raqqa and Mosul near Sinjar and also began airstrikes against these fuel tankers which, by the Pentagon’s own estimates, are providing a million dollars a month, I think it is, for — for ISIS. So can you kind of —
MR. COOK: Sure. You’ve got a couple questions in there. Let me try and tick them off. First of all, I’m not going to comment directly on the Russian — the number of Russian sorties, that sort of thing. I can just tell you what we’re doing, and our campaign continues to be effective. We are carefully selecting our targets. We’ve got other nations flying these missions; they have been effective in taking the fight to ISIL, in limiting their operations, what they can do out in the open.
It is very different to be an ISIL leader today than it was just a few months ago. They know the risks to their wellbeing if they are out and about. That is a direct result of our coalition air campaign.
With regard to specifically what’s happened in Sinjar, this is something that required ground operations and ground forces, not necessarily just an air campaign. And this — in this case, there are motivated, local ground forces, the Iraqi Peshmerga forces, that have moved to take this — to cut off this vital supply line, as you pointed out. And this is — this is a significant step forward and — and they should be commended for what they’ve done there. They’ve had the support of the coalition. They’ve had support of U.S. advisers on the ground and they’ve made progress in that one particular area.
Q: Were the Peshmerga not ready a year ago to do this?
MR. COOK: Again, this is going to be a fight, Jennifer, in which there are steps forward and steps backward. This was a step forward, and this represents progress since that area was lost, of course, to ISIL some months ago. So this is an example of where the fight be has been taken to ISIL and where those local forces are making — making progress — making advances. We’d like to see it in more places, and there are going to be setbacks along the way as well.
This is one particular instance in which these forces have succeed in moving to an objective and they’ve had the support of the coalition, specifically U.S. advisers, in conducting that.
Q: Why did it take so long to go after the oil tankers?
MR. COOK: Again, we look at the situation on the ground there and the targets very, very carefully. And there’s been discussion about ways to try and go after the infrastructure in such a way that it’s less of an opportunity for them to collect revenue and there have been decisions recently that addressed the issue of these tankers and whether or not they were an appropriate target to go after, and there were concerns and have been concerns, continue to be concerns about the potential for civilian casualties along the way.
MR. COOK: So every step was taken to try and reduce the prospect of that and that — and that — those strikes, 116 tankers were taken out, and as best we can tell, there were no civilian casualties. So we consider that to be a success.
Let me move over here. Yes.
Q: To follow up on Sinjar, some reports on the ground from local Yazidis who lived there, there are concerns that the Kurds and Peshmerga have not allowed the Yazidis to return as they’re retaking that territory.
I know that the process is still in the clearing stage, but has the United States taken any role in helping to establish the local population’s ability to get back into those retaken areas?
I’m not sure of the exact situation in terms of how dangerous it is in that area right now. I’m sure that’s a consideration for the — not only the Peshmerga forces, but for — for others in the region. So I can’t talk specifically to — to their particular situations, because I just don’t have visibility on it.
But you can imagine this is a place that’s just had a fire fight, a pretty intense battle over the last couple of days and weeks, and I’m sure that’s got to be one of the considerations. I’d refer you to specifically our folks in Iraq who might have a better understanding of the exact dynamics there.
Q: Okay. Quick follow on the overall strategy. Has the United States and the coalition heard from any other partners willing to join in coalition airstrikes? And has the United States made any plans to increase efforts for airstrikes since the Paris attacks?
MR. COOK: Well, we’ve obviously got partners already within the coalition conducting airstrikes. You’ve seen the French step up what they’re doing with regard to — to airstrikes, and we think there are opportunities for — for others to do the same.
I’ll let other nations speak as to their own contributions and what they’re willing to do moving forward. But as the secretary pointed out in his comments at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, he believes that there are opportunities for others to do more in this effort.
The United States has done a significant amount of those airstrikes, and certainly it would make the campaign more effective if others were to play a larger role. But, again, we welcome the contributions of the countries so far.
We welcome additional contributions, and there — there are other ways where countries, in the wake of what’s happened in Paris, could play a constructive role going forward. It’s not just in the form of — of airstrikes, and we welcome any of those contributions. Jamie?
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Just a follow-up on something you addressed a little bit ago, on the rate of Russian airstrikes against ISIS versus hitting others. You know, last month we heard from the State Department, saying that there was as much as 90 percent of the airstrikes that Russia was doing was not hitting ISIS.
I’m curious, in the wake of today’s announcement of them hitting inside Raqqa, are you seeing that number come down a little bit? Are they going after ISIS more the last — last few weeks?
MR. COOK: I — I can’t characterize the last few weeks. I can just point to what’s happened most recently as an indication that — my understanding is — the majority of these airstrikes, the most recent airstrikes were targeted in ISIL-controlled areas.
But at large, it’s pretty clear that, up to this point, most of the focus has been on areas that have not been controlled by ISIL, and have been controlled either by the regime or the — or the opposition.
And — but it does seem, at least in recent days, there’s been more of a focus on ISIL, and we — we welcome that. But in terms of the — the big picture, again, I think I’d leave you to the Russians to — to characterize what it is they — their intentions are and whether or not this is a change that’s going to continue.
Q: And then if I could just follow up on the — if you could just bring us up to speed on the efforts of the Syrian Arab Coalition. We have reports this week a second delivery of ammunition was — was made to them.
Wondered if you could just bring us up to speed on how that group is doing in its fight against ISIS. Are you seeing more tangible progress in their — in their efforts?
MR. COOK: Yeah. Specifically in — in Syria, I can tell you that the Syrian Arab coalition has, my understanding, made progress, specifically in the Al-Haffah area, in taking that — that key town, and as they move closer towards Raqqa.
This is, again, a sign of progress by local, motivated, capable forces that have shown a willingness to fight. And so that’s something that we’re monitoring closely. And we consider that, again, a step forward in this fight. There are going to be steps backward, but right now that seems to be an encouraging sign of progress right now.
Q: Thank you very much.
It’s a two — two-part question. Going back to your statement on U.S.-Pakistan relations, and also — (inaudible) — relations and army chief’s visit here. Has secretary discussed about future of Pakistan-U.S. military — (inaudible) — relations in connection with this — working with the civilian and military government in Pakistan? Because — (inaudible) — between the two. Nobody knows there is two governments or three governments.
And second, if they have discussed that if Pakistan still has any training centers in connection with ISIS and the Al Qaida and others. And finally, who is supporting this ISIL or ISIS and where they are getting financing, training and arms?
MR. COOK: Well, you’ve got a lot of questions in there, Goyal. Let me try and at least answer some of them, if I can.
First of all, the secretary met with the general today. They talked about, again, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, the military relationship going forward, and the relationship our two countries have and our shared interest in seeing regional security in the region, and obviously dealing with the terrorism threat not only in Pakistan, but also in neighboring Afghanistan, and why continued cooperation is so vital in that.
He met recently with the prime minister as well; had a positive, productive conversation with the prime minister. And the secretary, again, believes that this relationship with Pakistan is important towards promoting regional stability.
And we’re going to continue having our dialogue — defense dialogue with Pakistan in that — in that light, and welcome their efforts to trying to foster that stability to the extent possible. Again, not only in Pakistan itself, but also in — in Afghanistan where they play such a critical role.
And in terms of ISIL and who is supplying them, again, these are good questions. But this is a well-armed, well-funded terrorist organization that poses a significant threat to the United States and to a host of other countries.
And part of our effort is not only on the ground militarily to defeat them, but also to defeat their sources of funding, their sources of resupply.
And we mentioned the situation in Sinjar, and the prospect that this one particular operation could have in trying to strangle, if you will, cut off ISIL in Mosul from Raqqa, and cutting off a vital supply line.
That’s part of our line of effort moving forward, and we’ll see if this one particular operation does have an impact on ISIL going forward, at least in that one particular region.
Q: We have so much technology now. And we don’t know who is really arming them?
MR. COOK: Well, again, the — they’re getting arms from a variety of resources. This is a well —
MR. COOK: We’re going to — this is just — we understand that this is a well-armed, capable enemy. And to the extent that we can identify where they’re getting weapons from, we’re going to make every effort to try and reduce that supply.
Q: (inaudible) — now with Russia and the U.S.-led coalition has been sort of operating, as you point out, in separate airspace, with Russia going after a different set of targets.
If this latest round of strikes by Russia does sort of represent a shift towards ISIS targets and more in the vicinity of ISIS, will the U.S. and Russia have to do sort of deeper de-confliction? Because that air space could get more crowded if, in fact, Russia does start moving more towards, you know, hitting ISIS targets in and around Raqqa which is, of course, where the U.S.-led coalition is. Very — (inaudible) — land.
MR. COOK: We’re — we’re not at the stage yet where we have to have that kind of conversation. We’re confident that the Memorandum of Understanding we have in place and the protocols we have in place for our aircraft and their aircraft are sufficient to deal with the situation over Syria right now, and we’re not going to hypothesize as to what happens in the future.
But in this instance, those protocols worked. We did receive advance warning. We had our own missions conducted yesterday. They went out as planned. And we feel confident that we can avoid any sort of contact in the air, if you will, that could pose a safely threat to our pilots.
Q: The coalition did not have to adjust any of its activities —
MR. COOK: We did not have to adjust any of our activities yesterday.
Yes, (Tara ?)?
Q: (off mic) as part of the MOU, does Russia also communicate when it has completed an airstrike? How — how would U.S. and coalition jets be able to safely maneuver over Raqqa if there are Russian long-range bombers conducting missions without knowing if these missions have completed for the day, or completed —
MR. COOK: There are protocols — without getting into all the details — there are protocols in place for the conduct of the pilots themselves, in which case they might not even need to engage in communication with one another in terms of professional airmanship and in terms of their operations over Syria. But there are also these backup communication lines in the events of misunderstanding or perhaps miscommunication.
And so, we feel confident that those protocols in place right now are adequate given our, in addition, our own situational awareness for the safety of our pilots that we can conduct our missions right now without concern — immediate concern for some sort of accident involving the Russians. And, again, if — if it turns out that we need to adjust this in some form or fashion, that’s a conversation we can have at that time, but we’re not there yet.
Yes, (Jeff ?).
Q: Just on this issue of the — the Russian role. The French have said they’re very keen to find ways to collaborate more closely with the Russians.
Would that create difficulties for you given that you do have a robust intelligence-sharing relationship and other relationship with the French?
MR. COOK: We have a strong relationship with the French, and I’ll let the French speak to their interactions with the — the Russians going forward. And we feel confident that our relationship with the French will, again — we stand shoulder to shoulder with the French. They’re key members of the coalition. They were well before the events of Friday night in Paris, and we’re confident that our interactions with the French will be shoulder to shoulder with them and will be as professional as they have been and will continue to be going forward.
We don’t have concerns about the French in terms of their own interactions with the Russians somehow, in any way affecting the coalition operations.
Q: Do you think that the various attacks will bolster the role of France inside the coalition?
MR. COOK: I think we’re already seeing the role of France bolstered within the coalition. They were doing a significant amount before.
They’ve been a strong partner in the coalition, and judging by what we’ve heard from the French government so far, and the actions of the French government with regard to these most recent airstrikes, it seems pretty clear that they would like to expand their role, and we would like to do whatever we can to support the French in that effort, and we welcome others stepping up as well and providing more of a contribution to the coalition, but we have great respect for the French capabilities, and — and they’re displaying some of those capabilities now.
Q: (off mic) I heard you — you — you say that France was second in terms of strikes on — on — on Syria, or Iraq. I didn’t — I was not sure exactly of what — what you — you meant — what you meant.
MR. COOK: My understanding is, in terms of combined airstrikes, they might be second in terms of nations providing those airstrikes. But we can check those numbers for you, Laurent.
Q: (inaudible) — the intelligence — Peter, do you have —
MR. COOK: Sorry.
Q: — confirmation that the strike targeted at Jihadi John in fact killed him?
MR. COOK: David, I don’t have any further confirmation of that. We certainly feel confident that we hit the target that was intended, and — but at this point, we don’t have any additional confirmation that the strike was successful. We certainly hope that it was.
Q: Thanks. I want to go back to — to Secretary Kerry’s remarks regarding this cooperation with the Turk — Turks on — in terms of entering an operation.
He — what he said exactly — he said, “we will be entering an operation with the Turks to secure the rest of the Turkish-Syrian border” — the 25 percent is still under the control of ISIL.
So if he meant, about this smuggling or foreign fighters issue, is DOD involved with these efforts? Are you working with the Turkish authorities to secure the border? Do you have any personnel or advisory in Turkey specifically on this mission?
MR. COOK: As I said, we’ve been working with Turkey on a host of issues. They’ve been part of this coalition. We’ve been working on border issues. I did not see the secretary’s comments directly, and I — I have a hard enough time keeping track of my own secretary, much less Secretary Carter.
So I’ll refer you to the State Department to exactly what the secretary was referring to, but I — make clear that we’ve been working with the — the Turks, and have talked about these border issues for — for some time.
And anything further that can be done to bolster the security along that border — particularly the flow of foreign fighters — we believe is a — is a — would be a good thing.
Q: No, my question is, is there any DOD personnel in Turkey specifically working on those issue?
MR. COOK: I’m not going to get into details about something that I’m not entirely sure you’re referring to. So at this point I’ll refer you to — to the State Department for clarity on what Secretary Kerry was talking about, and — and leave it at that. I think that’d be the wiser thing for me to do.
Q: (inaudible) — on — on secretary’s meeting with General Sharif today — was the issue — what was the issue of Afghanistan discussed with him?
And secondly, do you think — does the secretary think that Pakistan is taking enough action against Haqqani Network for the secretary to certify to the Congress for the release of 350 million CFR funds?
MR. COOK: Yeah. I — we’ll talk to — with you in just broad terms about the conversation, but they discussed Afghanistan, and the — and the situation in Afghanistan, and how there continues to be issues along the border, and what can be done on the Pakistani side of the border, as well as in — within Afghanistan, to try and foster a more stable situation, because it’d be in the interest of both countries.
And they talked about that. And, again, with regard to — to —
Q: Haqqani Network.
MR. COOK: — to — yeah, the Haqqani Network, the secretary made clear that — that the United States feels strongly about the need to — to go after groups like the Haqqani Network that threaten the United States, threaten, certainly, U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.
And they both talk about the — the need to — to address that — that issue, and other groups that pose a threat not only to — in Afghanistan, but — but to Pakistan itself.
And so that was part of the larger conversation.
Q: (inaudible) — said that — (inaudible) — Pakistan — (inaudible) — operations in Pakistan and — (inaudible) — Afghanistan. But given the recent reports, does the secretary believe that Pakistan needs F-18s to fight against terrorism? Is that a useful tool — (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: We — there wasn’t a discussion of particularly military hardware during the course of the conversation. And so they talked in broad — spoke in broad terms about the counterterrorism effort and the sacrifices the Pakistanis have made, and the need for even additional effort in this area, again, on both sides of the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Q: Can you expand a little bit on the de-conflict issue a little bit more?
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: You guys have had this agreement in place for some weeks. Was this kind of really the first time that the U.S. and Russia have had to de-conflict because of the nature of the geographical differences where you were working? Or can you characterize, like, was there — have there been daily conversations or is this the first time?
Then also how — how much time did they give you advance notice on this operation overnight?
MR. COOK: My understanding is this was the first instance in which the Russians did provide us advance warning of some of their operations. I don’t have the exact amount of time they gave us, but it was professional, is my understanding, and there was advance warning in which — giving us the opportunity if we had had aircraft in the area, that we could have made adjustments. That wasn’t necessary in this case.
Q: (inaudible) — addition of the kind of increased strikes from France change the kind of calculus of the de-confliction situation? Or how does that change it at all, if anything?
MR. COOK: Yeah. I — right now, Gordon, it hasn’t changed anything for us, for the coalition, including the French. We’re going to continue to hit our targets. The French are hitting their targets and the Russians clearly have — have their own. We’re not coordinating or cooperating with the Russians in terms of targets, but we are taking these steps, these important steps to make sure that our pilots, our crews, and the Russians crews for that matter, do not come into conflict with one another. And in this particular instance, that system — those protocols did work effectively and — and — but that, to my understanding, is the first time that that’s been triggered.
Q: You have said that the Russians are striking — hitting their targets, and the French are doing the same thing. What is the — the significance of striking, bombing — (inaudible)? And why not like Mosul or other cities?
MR. COOK: Well, we are — the coalition is hitting other cities as well. And we have other targets beyond Raqqa on our list. I think you can tell that from the reports we’ve been providing to you on a regular basis. Raqqa is the center point of much of ISIL’s operations, their self-appointed capital. And so it’s not surprising that they would be a primary target not just for the coalition, but — but for anyone who wants to go after ISIL.
Q: Just a quick follow-up on that.
Last Friday, the same day when the Pentagon announced striking Jihadi John, we have seen the attacks in Paris. The day before, we — the Pentagon has announced the liberation of Sinjar, and we have seen ISIS committing the suicide attack in Beirut.
The question is: Do you see any relation by — the question is, if you hit ISIS inside Syria and inside Iraq, do you think this will diminish its capabilities to come back (suicide ?) outside — outside the Syrian and the Iraqi territories?
MR. COOK: Our goal, Joe, is to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. And that is, wherever ISIL is conducting its business. And right now that is primarily in Syria and Iraq; we’re going to continue to take the fight to them because we believe that taking the fight to ISIL in these areas will also reduce the chances of their ability to hit us here in the homeland in the United States, and other countries as well.
And we’re going to continue that effort. That we’re also going to do everything we can in the United States as the Department of Defense and as a — as a government to protect Americans here at home as this fight continues. And that involves a host of other agencies as well taking steps — the necessary steps — to protect this country as we’ve been doing for some time.
In the back.
Q: (off mic) once again on your — on my question about de-consulting (ph) with Russia. So you said that they, in this case provided a professional amount of time to explain what they were going to do so that the U.S. could adjust to their plans if they conflicted. So what happens when there is a conflict?
Does the U.S. then get out of the way? Do they push back on Russia? What — what happens there?
MR. COOK: We haven’t adjusted our plans up to this point. Our missions flew as normal yesterday and you’re talking about a hypothetical situation that has not come to fruition, if you will.
We are confident in our ability to conduct out operations safely and effectively. We’re going to continue to operate at the same pace, if not a higher pace going forward. And we don’t see any prospect right now for — for a problem.
And if it reaches a point in the future where we have to have another conversation, we have a mechanism with which to do that, but we don’t anticipate that’s a problem. We’re going to continue to wage our campaign as planned.
Q: That must be something that this building is considering, right? I mean, Russia is expanding its campaign swiftly, and it’s getting very, very close where the U.S. is conducting its campaign. So, I mean what’s —
MR. COOK: We have excellent situational awareness for our pilots. We feel confident that they can conduct their missions going forward in the short term, in the medium term, and in the long term without interference from Russia. And again, we have this protocol in place, which is anticipated to address these kinds of situations.
It worked in this instance, we believe it will work going forward, and if we have to adjust it, we’re prepared to have that conversation, but we’re not there yet.
Yes, let me go over here, and then I’ll try and wrap up because I’ve got to go to a meeting in four minutes.
Q: Peter what is the understanding on the Saudi use of those smart bombs. Where they cannot use them — the proposal that’s going up to Congress? And also, given the — the general contentment on what the air status is, does that mean that we’re not pushing for implementation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty?
MR. COOK: Well, first on your first question, this is an arm sale. Involves the State Department and not just, say broadly, that obviously we — precision guided munitions —
Q: Are they going to use them in the Yemen — where — where are they going to use them?
MR. COOK: I’ll — I’ll leave it to the Saudis to characterize where they’re going to use —
Q: We have (operations ?)? (inaudible)
MR. COOK: We’re going to refer you to the State Department which conducts, actually, is responsible for these kinds of sales, but we’ve —
Q: (inaudible) — has a say in these things —
MR. COOK: We — as we’ve talked about in the past, with regard to munitions, we feel strongly about doing everything possible to limit the potential for civilian casualties, including on the part of our partners, and that’s the same with Saudi Arabia, and we’ve delivered that message in the past.
Q: So what are they going to use on them?
MR. COOK: I — I can’t speak to — to something that happens in the future.
Q: (You ?) have to know. Congress is going to ask.
MR. COOK: Exactly, and that’s the appropriate role for Congress, and these are questions that are part of any sale of — of military equipment —
Q: (off mic) billion dollars.
MR. COOK: — I — correct, and this is something noticed that’s gone to — to Congress, and these are questions Congress obviously has the prerogative to ask, and part of the — the entire sales process that’s — as I mentioned, is directed by the — by the State Department specifically.
So I’m not going to look into the — the future, into a crystal ball. I can’t anticipate. Tony?
Q: And Article — Article —
MR. COOK: I’m sorry, your Article 5?
Q: — Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Is there any push to use it? A number of the candidates have been calling for the implementation of Article 5.
MR. COOK: Yeah, actually, this is a — a decision that would be — to invoke Article 5 would be something that — that France makes. So this is a — a decision for the French, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the French.
This is a difficult moment for them. We have tried to provide as much support as we can, and we respect whatever decision they make with regard to NATO.
Q: So we would be supportive of their implementation?
MR. COOK: We — we would respect any decision the French choose to make in this area. Tony?
Q: (off mic) General Austin’s here for these meetings with the secretary. Can you see if he would do a briefing? He was reluctant, but he did one last year. (off mic)
MR. COOK: I will — I will take that under advisement and pass it along.
Q: I have a space question, not related to Iraq, Syria or France.
MR. COOK: Yep.
Q: Yesterday, the space world — United Launch Alliance announced they were not going to compete for the first competitive military space launch, leaving SpaceX virtually the sole source.
My question for you is — one of their reasons was this — the Pentagon declined to give then a waiver to use Russian-made RD-180 engines. A waiver to the current law, and that was one of the reasons they felt they couldn’t compete.
In retrospect, does DOD regret that decision? And why did you make it in the first place?
MR. COOK: Well, I’m not going to talk about the source selection process for a process that’s ongoing right now. So I can’t’ talk about a contract that hasn’t been awarded yet.
So I would leave it to the companies to — to discuss whether or not they bid or did not. But — point you back, Tony, to the comments of the deputy secretary, who said that the — the consideration was made as to whether or not a waiver was necessary at this particular moment in time.
Their determination was a waiver was not necessary, and nothing’s changed since the deputy secretary made those comments.
Q: No regrets, though, that you’re going to have a sole source, basically, for the first competitive launch — military competitive launch program?
MR. COOK: I can’t talk about a contract award that hasn’t been made yet, but these were considerations that the deputy secretary and others looked at carefully at that time. These are rules put in place by Congress, and we have to abide by those rules.
And the deputy secretary, again, working with others here, looked carefully at this situation, and decided that, in this instance, at this particular moment in time, a waiver was not — not merited so.
I’ve got a — last question here, and then I’ve got to run.
Q: Japanese (land ministry ?), on November 17th, sued — sued Okinawa governor, and is (sending a long, long land feud ?) between the central government and Okinawa prefecture over U.S. military base and construction to the (code ?).
Do you have any comment about that?
MR. COOK: The Department of Defense continues to believe that, with the help of the government of Japan, that this project will be able to move forward. We thank the government of Japan for its efforts in this regard, and, again, we believe that ultimately — that the relocation of that facility is in the best interests of the people of Okinawa, as well. And we’re going to continue to work closely with the government of Japan moving forward to try and make that happen.
So, thanks very much, everyone. Appreciate it.