Media Availability with Secretary Hagel in Kuwait, Dec. 8, 2014

KUWAIT–(ENEWSPF)–December 8, 2014.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: All right, folks, just like we’ve done this before. The secretary won’t have an opening statement. We’ll just go right to a couple of questions. We don’t have a whole lot of time, as usual, so we’re probably only going to take about two, maybe three.

And sir, with that, I’ll give you the podium, and we’ll go with — who’s first?

Q: Sir, can you address — can you address the issue that’s come up recently? Did the — the Afghan government express concern about the drawdown plans, specifically, and if so, what is it that they’re looking for in their conversations with you in the last few days?

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I — I think I generally mentioned this yesterday that during my conversations with President Ghani and CEO Abdullah, we talked about everything.

We talked about timelines, we talked about force protection, continued support, and these are areas that we — we talked about.

He did not make specific requests. He did not press me on any specific issue. But we talked about all of them, and — and I understand he discussed it as well in London and in Brussels at the NATO ministerial and some other…

Q: (off mic) a formal request?


Q: Did — did you walk away with a sense that they had concern about the current drawdown?

SEC. HAGEL: I think you’d have to ask him how he would define that.

But I think it’s natural. He’s just taken over as president. He’s not unfamiliar with all the missions and all the — and all the dynamics of our timeline, of our transition numbers with our ISAF partners.

But I think as any president — and I’m glad he’s taking time himself, that he’s not deferring this with someone else. He’s thinking through it. He’s asking questions that I think he should ask. He’s the new president of that country, and he has that responsibility.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Next? Who we got next?

Q: I’ll ask a question about ISIL.

SEC. HAGEL: Never heard of them.

Q: … in Iraq, in particular. Are they on the ropes?

SEC. HAGEL: I don’t think I’d describe it on the ropes.

I do believe and know — and we have measurable, tangible means of measuring this — that the Iraqi security forces, Peshmerga, along with coalition support and help, including the United States, has, in fact, allowed the Iraqi security forces to take back some ground. It’s given them some new momentum, organization, structure. They’ve taken initiatives. They continue to take initiatives.

As I’ve said many times, as all of our generals have said many times, this is a long-term effort. It’s difficult. There will be setbacks. There will be victories.

So I think that’s where we are, and I look forward to getting some firsthand assessments of that here soon.

Q: Mr. Secretary, after the Yemen raid, that country has come back into focus, can you talk a little bit about what the U.S. and the allies will do in the event that country goes back into chaos, specifically military support?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think as you all know, we’re working with the Hadi government in Yemen and have been working with the Hadi government to support them and their efforts to deal with terrorist attacks that continue, AQAP, specifically. We’ll continue to do that.

This is a difficult fight. It’s difficult for the government of Yemen. It’s a dangerous area. This too is going to a long-term effort.

But I think you have to measure these things, as always, in a longer-term framework. It isn’t just who won today, and — and who wins tomorrow, but it’s — are the trend lines in the right direction? Are — are there metrics here that show that the country is eventually moving towards stability?

Are — are there areas of — of progress? Yes, I think there are, but this is long-term. This is dangerous. This is going to take — it’s going to take some time, and we’re continuing to help them and, as you know, support them.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, we have — we have time for just one more.

Q: Just on Iran and Iraq, there were these airstrikes by the Iranians the other day. Do you see the role of Tehran expanding, their — their military operation expanding in Iraq, and are they playing a helpful role at the moment (off mic)?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, as you know, we don’t coordinate with Iran. We don’t plan or coordinate any military operations with them.

They are threatened by ISIL just like every government in the Middle East is — is clearly threatened by ISIL. What the Iranians do to protect themselves against ISIL is — is an independent decision that they make.

Now, that said, we’ve said that it’s in the interest for all countries in that area to support the government of Iraq, as the government of Iraq has taken the lead in these efforts to defeat ISIL and as I just described, at least the progress that we see being made along the support from United States and our coalition partners.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, thanks, guys. We’ve got to run.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.