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Media Availability with Secretary Carter at Kandahar, Afghanistan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
February 22, 2015

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Okay, you guys have done this before. Obviously this is on the record. We don't have a whole lot of time. You know we got to get going to Kuwait. So we'll have about 10 minutes total for this.

The secretary will not be giving an opening statement since you've already heard him talk to the troops here at Kandahar. I'll bring him right to the podium. I'll call on you if that's okay, so we can just keep this moving. And please limit your follow-ups. Let's make it as a community for everybody else.

Okay, with that, Mr. Secretary, who's first? Jon, you want to go?

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Yesterday your remarks at the presidential palace you said that the administration was rethinking the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan. And I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit. Were you thinking in terms of doing more unilateral raids or expand your footprint in other areas of the country? Can you kind of flesh that out?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Well, I think the reason to rethink the CT mission here in Afghanistan is first of all related to the rethinking that -- the ISIL phenomenon and just in general social media and other ways in which the terrorism phenomenon changes over time causes us to rethink. And that's different from the very early years when we came into Afghanistan.

And you can never forget this in the first place because of an Al-Qaeda attack upon our country. The ways and means of terrorism have changed over time. And it makes sense to take account of that. And that applies here. It doesn't apply only here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, now that you had a few conversations and made some observations firsthand here in Kandahar. Can you give us a sense of what your inclination is now with regard to keeping Kandahar operating (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER: I really can't. I'm sorry. I really can't for the reason that I -- my advice needs to go first, obviously to the president. And so I'm not prepared to share conclusions except with him when I've reached them.

And but I just -- I will say, just speak to what's going on here in Kandahar right now, which is the train, advise and assist mission, how much progress has been made by the Afghan Security Forces. Of course there's a lot more work to do, which is the whole reason for the train, advise and assist mission in the first place. But the Afghan Security Forces have become a powerful force in their own right, and good partners in their own way.

And as I indicated in my remarks earlier, Afghanistan can be a partner of the United States for many years to come. That's what I meant when I said we're going to be here. Afghanistan's going to be here. We're going to be partners for a very long time, long after this conflict and our presence that they have here in association with this campaign is over. This will still be an important part of the world and Afghanistan can be an important part -- an important partner for the United States and therefore an important part of our overall future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to jump around a little bit to Ukraine. During your confirmation hearing you said you were (inaudible) support of the provision of lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government. Since then events have been changing pretty rapidly in Ukraine. There is a ceasefire that's been in tatters already.

Have you had -- I know you've just -- you've been on the job for less than a week. But have you had any conversations with the president or other members of the cabinet about that policy for providing weapons potentially to Ukraine? And do you think this is something -- there's going to be a decision coming, that's going to be forthcoming in the near future on that?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I mean first of all, I— I meant what I said, namely, which was that we are supportive of the Ukrainian government in its efforts to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. You know fundamentally the support has to be political and economic. But there can be a security dimension to it also.

And I'm, as I indicated in my testimony, open minded about what form that can take. I have not yet, having been in the job just a few days, made my own assessment of that. And of course I couldn't share that assessment if I had with you before I shared it with the president anyway. But.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead, Justin.

Q: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, last week was a bit of a controversy following the CENTCOM briefing on Mosul. As you're aware, Senators McCain and Graham sent a letter to the White House asking why essentially in their minds too much was exposed at that briefing in terms of planning and numbers and timing specifically in April-May timeframe for the launch.

Did you know anything about that briefing beforehand? Do you object to the things that were released in it? Do you have any response to McCain?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think -- look, I think it's an important thing for our -- us, that is the Department of Defense to keep the public informed about what is going on to the extent that is possible and consistent with security and other considerations. We have a very important obligation to make sure that the Congress is informed because they have a role to play in our system with oversight.

I said yesterday with respect to operations to take Mosul that the important thing there is that that operation succeed, and that it be -- we fully prepare for an Afghan (sic) led, us, U.S. supported successful campaign in Mosul. And that -- the timing will be and should be determined by when that operation can be successful.

Q: (Inaudible) that timeframe?

SEC. CARTER: I also said yesterday that if I did know today, and of course no one knows the date because what I just said was we need to make sure that we're ready for that and that it can be successful. That isn't the kind of thing you reveal anyway in advance.

STAFF: We have time for two more. Candice?

Q: Secretary, you were asked by one of the troops about micromanaging by the White House. And I know you said you'd speak to the president candidly. But are you confident that your voice will be heard?

SEC. CARTER: Two things about that. The first is that you know I can be of help to the president as his secretary of defense, not only because of my own knowledge and experience but because our institution is filled with knowledge and experience. So I want to make sure that we're offering that help to him because it's a complicated world and I think that we can help him.

And I think that good thinking and good advice is something that this president, and in my long experience all presidents find valuable. So I think I'm confident that I'll be listened to. You can never be sure that president will choose the course you've prescribed or the advice you give. But I'm confident that I'll have an opportunity to be heard and that I will be heard.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Last question, Dan?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you’ve made a decision to have a civilian be press secretary (inaudible). Do you have any thoughts generally about military roles you think the media (inaudible) military public affairs officers facing very political questions and issues about what programs and so forth. Do you have any thoughts (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER: Two thoughts. The first is that I intend to be myself very accessible to you, as I do—as I do now so that thing one is you can count on that.

And the other thing is that it is appropriate for the military to speak. There're lots of briefings and informational sessions. It's part of the job and it's part of being the military of a democracy to communicate what we're doing. And so we'll continue to do that.

We have an obligation to do that to the public. That was alluded to in the question previously. And that's perfectly appropriate.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks, guys. We're going to have to get going now. Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Okay, thank you.

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