Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White; Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.
DANA WHITE: Good afternoon, everyone. Glad to see everyone back.
I'm glad that Congress was able to conclude the shutdown and get us all back to work. Shutdowns create a great deal of anxiety for the military, for their families and for the communities that support them. It's important to remember that Congress approved, by overwhelming bipartisan support, $700 billion allocation for defense, and the president signed it into law.
I'm optimistic that Congress will do their job, pass the budget and write the check. We are under a C.R. until February 8th. C.R.'s are wasteful, they're destructive and the longer that they go, the worse they are. We need a fully funded F.Y. '18 defense budget.
The secretary unveiled his national defense strategy last week. The strategy will drive our fiscal budgets from F.Y. '19 to 2023, but we need a budget to implement a strategy. So with that, I will open it up to questions. Lita?
Q: Hi, thanks, Lolita Baldor with A.P. Dana, and hopefully General McKenzie, can you give us a little more clarity on this safe zone in Syria and what the U.S. -- what is safe, who is safe? And how far will the U.S. -- would the U.S. be willing to allow that to extend?
Does that include what Turkey has suggested, which could be considered ethnic cleansing? Is the U.S. going to allow Turkey to extend that type of safe zone across the length of the borders? Can you just give us a little bit more clarity on where those discussions are?
And then for the general, Turkey has once again asked the U.S. to stop providing weapons to the Syrian Kurds. Can you give us an update of where that is?
MS. WHITE: Currently we are working very closely with Turkey. They are a NATO ally and they have legitimate security concerns, so we're going to continue to engage with them. That it's very important for all parties to remember that the common threat is ISIS and we need all parties to focus on that mission. General?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: So let me just build on what Dana said. Clearly we continue to talk to Turks about the possibility of a secure zone, whatever you want to call it. We've looked at that for a couple of years in various different iterations, and no final decision on it yet.
Our military commanders are still talking, so I would just say it's a concept that's out there, it has been looked at before and it's been widely discussed in public before. So it's simply an idea that's floating around right now.
What I would tell you though, just to build on your question a little bit, would be that particularly in Afrin, operations -- Turkish operations in Afrin and all operations in Afrin that have the effect of inducing friction into the equation, of making it hard to focus on why we're in Syria, which is the defeat of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley, are a negative thing.
Having said that, we also recognize Turkey has a legitimate national security interest and they're very close to the problem, they're the only NATO ally that actually has an active insurgency operating on their territory, so we understand all of those things.
The last point I'd make is, we haven't trained or provided equipment for any of the Kurds that are in the Afrin pocket. You know we tend to -- we're focused on the Euphrates River Valley, operations to the south and to the east.
Q: Right, but they -- I think Turkey is also referring to those, that's why -- what is the status of that? There had been discussions a while back about the U.S. either, at some point curtailing or ensuring the weapons -- that the U.S. was providing to the Syrian Kurds. Has that gone...
GEN. MCKENZIE: We definitely track those weapons that are provided to them, we ensure that they, to the maximum extent possible, don't fall into the wrong hands, and we're continuing discussions with the Turks on those issues.
MS. WHITE: Missy?
Q: Hi, thank you. Just a couple follow-ups to Lita's question. So what will the response be if the Turks do press on to Manbij? How does the Kurd offensive in Afrin affect the overall strategy in terms of defeating ISIS and helping Syria end the civil conflict that has had so many spillover effects for the whole region? And when was the U.S. military notified of the start of the Afrin operation.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. So let me just take the middle part of your question first, because I think it's actually the most important question. The degree to which operations in Afrin draw focus from what's going on down the Euphrates River Valley is the degree to which it doesn't advance coalition objectives in the theater, which are to finish the -- finish ISIS in Syria.
So, it actually is not helpful to have these operations go on, we recognize that. And we're working with Turks to try to minimize it. I can't speculate on whether or not they'll chose to go to Manbij. That's a future, you know, hypothetical that of course we look at. But just not ready to comment on it at this time.
But I think the degree which focus is taken off the reason we're Syria, which is to go after ISIS, is the degree to which it damages the overall efforts. And Turkey's a part of that overall effort at as well.
Q: Speaking to the Manbij, I know you that you don't want to speak to whether or not they'll go, but you know, what precautions are being made for American personnel since they're patrols that are conducted routinely in and around Manbij?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, we continue to -- Turkey is part of the coalition. We continue to do coordination with them across the board on everything. Commander's on the ground and the theater commander, General Votel, have -- taken continual analysis to take a look at the tactical situation on the ground to ensure that our forces are going to be safe and secure.
Q: And the last question was when were you notified of the beginning of the -- the Afrin operation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: We were notified prior to the beginning of the operation.
Q: And you found out about it from the Turks? I mean, not from another party, they notified you directly?
GEN. MCKENZIE: They notified us directly.
MS. WHITE: Joe.
Q: Thank you so much. My question is for both you. You keep saying that Turkey is part of the coalition, and everything is Turkey doing right now is literally out of the coalition mission.
My question for you is, if Turkey decides to ban the U.S. Air Force to use Incirlik, is it the Pentagon thinking right now, studying other alternatives, other options, than using Incirlik?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So first of all, I'm not going to talk to Incirlik specifically. But I would tell you that people like me are paid to study alternatives all the time. We have alternatives for a broad variety of continuances, many of which we hope never occur.
So go back to you're the first part of your question, actually. Turkey does do a lot of things with the coalition. I would agree that what's happening in Afrin is not particularly helpful to the overall coalition effort.
But we're trying to very hard with the Turks to accommodate their national security interests, with the reasons why we are in Syria as well. And we think to a large degree, there's overlap. There's certainly areas that we disagree with. But we think we have an opportunity to perhaps come together and those discussions are continuing.
Q: (Inaudible). Have you see any evidence that Turkey is pushing its military or its loyal groups towards Manbij and if Turkey is doing so, will the U.S. led coalition be ready to defend its partners, mainly the SDF and the YPG?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'm not going to comment on a future hypothetical operation.
Q: This could happen, sir.
MS. WHITE: Idris?
Q: Could you talk about your, or the U.S. military's conversations with the YPG leadership? Because obviously you're in contact. What are you hearing from them, and have they expressed their concern about the operation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Yes, I'll defer you actually to OIR. Task Force OIR would be able to give you a lot better information on that. I would tell you that we do in fact have those conversations, we have, you know, forces that are with them. But I would go down a level lower to get more specific detail on that.
Q: And just a separate issue, Qatar announced that it was in talks with Russia to buy the S-400. Your reaction to that given that it's not the first country to, you know, talk about buying gifts for (inaudible) and Turkey's already announced that its buying one. What's your reaction to that?
MS. WHITE: These are sovereign decisions.
Right here in the middle. Yes?
Q: For North Korea, recently North Korea want a military cessation of U.S. and South Korea nuclear exercises. Does the U.S. have any schedule to temporary or permanent military exercises cessation of (inaudible)?
MS. WHITE: The only -- it's a deconfliction during the Olympics, and that's the only thing that's been announced.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, Dana, I would just amplify that. We haven't suspended. We're deconflicting during the period of the Olympics, and exercises will continue immediately after the Olympics.
Q: No suspension?
GEN. MCKENZIE: There's no suspension contemplated.
Q: OK, the second question. Senator -- Secretary Mattis has scheduled to meeting with the South Korean Defense Secretary Song Young-moo this weekend in Hawaii. What issues will be raised at this meeting?
MS. WHITE: The secretary will meet Minister Song. It will be a continuation of the conversations that they had in Vancouver. They will talk about areas of interest -- of mutual interest to include the intercontinental -- inter-Korean dialogue, as well as a myriad of other issues that we share.
Way in the back.
Q: Good morning or good afternoon. There was a report from (inaudible) this morning that two Americans were killed because of Turkish incursion into Afrin. Do you know anything about that, please?
MS. WHITE: I don't. I have not seen that report.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I've got nothing on that at all.
MS. WHITE: Jeff.
Q: I apologize if I'm behind on this -- has the Defense Department categorically said whether the footage that is reportedly helmet-cam footage from the Niger, whether it's authentic or a fake?
MS. WHITE: I'm aware of the report, and we have not confirmed the authenticity of that.
Q: Can I follow up briefly on that? Has the Pentagon -- has anyone in the Pentagon seen the video?
MS. WHITE: To my knowledge no one has seen the video.
MS. WHITE: Carla, sorry.
Q: On Pakistan ...
MS. WHITE: I'm bad with names, I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
Q: I have two questions similarly related. First the U.S. embassy spokesman has rejected Pakistan's foreign ministry claims that a U.S. drone targeted an Afghan refugee camp in the Kurram tribal region. Can you talk about that? Was there indeed a drone strike?
And then also, a Pakistan military spokesperson has said that on Jan. 24 a drone strike near the tribal areas targeted individuals who had been mixed with Afghan refugees. Are either of these drone strikes accurate?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'll stay with the embassy statement on that. I have no further information beyond that.
Q: Even for the second drone strike, as well? They haven't commented on that.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'll take a take a look at that. I don't have anything on that.
MS. WHITE: Here. Over here.
Q: Thank you, madam. Thank you, general.
As far as the U.S.- Pakistan relations are concerned if you can (inaudible), the day before yesterday at the CSIS Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. said that, please -- he was telling the U.S. please do not blame Pakistan for your failures in Afghanistan, because of the failures in Afghanistan you are blaming and punishing Pakistan.
So, where do we stand as far as a presidential announcement on Pakistan's concern? At the same time, U.S. and Pakistani generals are meeting -- or they have met on the ground there. So where do we stand?
MS. WHITE: Well, we've said many times that this is an inflection point in the relationship. We want Pakistan to be a part of the solution in the region. This is the South Asia strategy, and it's about regional security, and we want Pakistan to work with us, because terrorism is a threat to both -- to all of us.
Q: And, madam, the ambassador also said that Pakistan does not want anybody in Afghanistan, but only China, even not U.S. or India or anybody. And they're saying, but what I'm asking you, if the bombing is still going on in Afghanistan, can you have peace in the region or in Afghanistan without the full cooperation of Pakistan?
MS. WHITE: We want to have Pakistan work with us to provide regional security. The administration has taken a regional approach and Pakistan should be a part of that solution.
Q: Yeah, Pakistan has said that it has stopped cooperating with the U.S., its military and security elements, all intelligence cooperation of the United States. Have you seen that happening?
MS. WHITE: I'm not aware of that.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I would just say that as of now, the ground and air lines of communication that pass through Pakistan to support our forces in Afghanistan remain open, remain working, so I think that's a pretty strong signal of Pakistan's position.
Q: What percentage of the supply lines to Afghanistan are dependent on Pakistan?
GEN. MCKENZIE: It varies and I'm not prepared to give you a precise figure. We have a number of alternatives should those lines be closed, and again there's not something I'm going to be able to go into in any detail.
Q: But can you give us a sense, is it a significant amount of -- more than half of them, one quarter...
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'm not going to speculate beyond that.
MS. WHITE: Tony?
Q: Just a couple of domestic questions. The Nuclear Posture Review, what's the status of its release? And will the final version be materially different than the widely publicized linked version?
And for General McKenzie, broadly what will the public learn about U.S. nuclear policy from the NPR that basically that they don't know today? Broadly.
MS. WHITE: So in terms of release, we are still looking at early part of February for the release. What I can tell you is there's still tremendous support for the triad, and that we are about ensuring lethality, and that means having a credible nuclear deterrent.
Q: Will the draft -- will the final be much different than the draft, or is it pretty much just dotting I's -- a glossy cover?
MS. WHITE: You'll have to wait for February, Tony.
GEN. MCKENZIE: So, without speculating anymore about the contents of the -- the NPR itself, I would tell you that we have affirmed the utility of the triad to a variety of studies going back several years. You know, sometimes the triad comes under attack, is not being sufficiently flexible enough.
But I think world developments have actually reaffirmed the importance of the triad and the inherent flexibility that the triad gives the president to respond and to deter potential adversaries.
Q: On that -- that triad weapons question, the F-35, this week the Pentagon's weapons tester sent over his annual report to the secretary and OSD leadership that paints a rather dense technical but critical assessment of the program as it's approaching major combat testing later this year.
Reliability is poor. Availability of spare parts is poor. This is Pentagon's largest program in history. What response is this -- what are some of the actions DOD is taking in response to this report, to arrest -- to improve reliability, to get more spare parts in the field and get this plane ready for this major combat testing in increased quantities?
MS. WHITE: It's an independent report, and it's a very critical report because these kinds of reports provide us with the roadmap and suggestions for what we can do better. But we did get it yesterday, it was just released and leadership is reviewing it and its recommendation.
I think it's important to remember that Secretary Shanahan and Ms. Lord are dedicated and are in robust conversations with industry about the program. And they are committed to ensuring that we get maximum value for every dollar that's entrusted to us.
But we did get the report just yesterday, so I'm happy to come back to you with more details.
Q: If you can come back in terms of some of the reliability, spare parts, issues that are important to the military when these planes aren't flying at their full capability.
MS. WHITE: Absolutely.
Q: Was it a mistake for Pentagon officials to say the U.S. military is training a 30,000 person border force to train the SDF to go in the border with Turkey?
MS. WHITE: Let me clarify. What we're doing there, is we're focused on training internal security forces. Again, Turkey has a legitimate concern about its internal security. As the general said, it's the only NATO ally with an active insurgency.
So our focus is ensuring that those internal security forces are able to hold the areas that have been liberated from ISIS, because our focus is ensuring that ISIS does not re-emerge as a threat.
Q: So it's not a border force?
MS. WHITE: It is a force that is focused solely on internal security, it is not a border force.
Q: General, are you seeing any U.S.-backed Syrian fighters returning from eastern Syria to Afrin?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Not yet, we'll watch that closely. That goes back to the issue of Afrin, the degree to which operations in Afrin changed the focus from why we're there, which is the defeat of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley, is the degree to which it's counter-productive to the campaign.
So, any reasonable person could suspect there's pressure rising for that, and we'll watch that closely and that is a dangerous thing, and we need to keep our focus on why we're there, which is the defeat of ISIS.
MS. WHITE: (inaudible)?
Q: (Inaudible), Al Jazeera.
A quick follow-up on Turkey, so a question for both. It's not only Afrin. The Turks are now asking for Manbij, and they're asking U.S. troops apparently (inaudible) in order (inaudible) to -- they're asking U.S. troops basically to be out of the area, because the Turks seem to be expanding the military operation. And we're wondering, where does this put the U.S. military? It's kind of a difficult dilemma on the ground, where are you sure here?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, so I'm not tracking a movement to Manbij. Just not tracking it, I'm not saying it couldn't happen in the future, it's a future hypothetical contingency that I'm not going to be able to speculate on.
I would tell you that wherever U.S. troops are, they're going to be able to defend themselves, and we coordinate very closely with the Turks on that. They know where our forces are, there's no mystery about where they're going to be.
And I can't further can't speculate about what may or may not have happened in a presidential-level discussion, I just don't know.
Q: Just a quick follow-up also for the policy issues -- we're not anywhere near a looming crisis in Washington, our capital?
MS. WHITE: We're not in a crisis, Turkey is an ally, and we're going to work with them, but this current issue, (inaudible), is a distraction. And we have to focus as allies and on the mission at hand, and that's defeating ISIS.
Hi, here in the back.
Q: Hi, Caitlin Kenney with Connecting Vets. It was announced today that the U.S. was working towards sending an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, to Vietnam in March. I was wondering if you had any more on that statement and what that message is sending to our regional presence?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I don't know the specifics of that, of the carrier visiting Vietnam, but I will tell you that carriers are profound symbols of the might and resolve of the United States. They send a reassuring signal to allies and regional partners.
And they send a signal also to those who don't wish us well. So, there are a lot of good reasons to send an aircraft carrier to Vietnam. Although I need to emphasize again, I just don't have knowledge of that. If there was a release today, I just haven't seen that yet.
MS. WHITE: Ryan?
Q: One quick one, thank you. Just one quick one to follow-up on Manbij. The deputy prime minister of Turkey asked specifically -- or the foreign minister, I think, actually asked specifically for U.S. troops to leave Manbij.
Is there any plan for U.S. troops to leave Manbij right now?
GEN. MCKENZIE: That's a policy issue that I'm not going to be able to give you anything on.
MS. WHITE: (inaudible).
Q: And, general, you said you haven't seen any YPG elements moving from Eastern Syria to Afrin. But what is the purpose of the U.S. support to those groups? What will be the consequence if they leave their posts and go to Manbij?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think, very reasonably, if someone leaves the fight against ISIS and goes somewhere else, that's one less person in the fight against ISIS. So that's a powerful concern to us, and we would seek to try to prevent that. First of all, by assuring all parties that there's no reason to go back and fight in Afrin, and we'll continue to work that with our partners on the ground in the Euphrates River Valley, even as we work it with our Turkish allies and their operations that are in Afrin.
You make a good point. I mean, there is a danger that you can lose focus on keeping the main thing, the main thing. The main thing for us is the defeat of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley.
MS. WHITE: Barbara.
Q: Coming back to whichever one you can answer, -- well, Dana, to start with you, a second ago, you called the Turkish offensive into northern Syria a distraction. How do you square that with also saying that Turkey's an ally and you support them? And I understand fully your point about, you want everybody to fight ISIS, but if Turkey does have the security concerns, calling what they're doing a distraction, I would ask you to square that. And to follow up on what a couple of other folks have asked about, the foreign minister of Turkey is publicly saying that Turkey wants U.S. troops to leave Manbij.
I don't -- to honestly press you both on that point rather than being a policy question, I think the question is, are you aware, is the Pentagon aware, that U.S. troops have been asked to leave a location? That wouldn't actually be policy, it would be a military question.
MS. WHITE: So, to your first question, I think it's a matter of priorities and common interests. We are helping Turkey with the active insurgency that they have. We're talking to them about those security concerns; we take them very seriously.
But the common threat to all of us is ISIS. And the job is not done. And so we need to get everyone focused on that. And we will continue to talk to Turkey. We ask that Turkey de-escalate. But again, the focus, the priority for us, is to defeat ISIS.
Q: And on the question of U.S. troops being asked by an allied government to change their position, I would put to you that I think that's a military question, not a policy question. So is the Pentagon aware of this statement from Turkey? And what can you tell us about it?
MS. WHITE: I'm aware of the statement, but I don't know that we've made any changes in our posture.
GEN. MCKENZIE: So, you're right, Barbara, ultimately it is, of course, a military question, because it involves forces on the ground. However, it's a military decision that'll be guided by our policy. And our policy is going to come from Department of State working with the Turk foreign minister, and ultimately through Secretary Mattis. So sure, there will ultimately be a military expression of this, either they'll stay or they'll go. Don't know what the answer will be.
But nonetheless, it really is a policy question because the question emanates from the center of Turkish policy, which is the foreign ministry. So our Department of State will work it -- we have contingency for everything and we can do what we're told. But it's still, I think, working at that level.
Q: I'm sorry, I just want to be sure I'm clear, sir. You -- the joint staff, the Pentagon, the military side of the Pentagon, you are aware of this Turkish request, it is a true and valid request by Turkey that you're aware of?
MS. WHITE: I have only simply seen the news reports.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'll defer to Dana on that. I'm not able -- I can't give you greater clarity on that right now, Barbara. I just can't. I have to go back and take a look at it. There have been a lot of statements. I'll commit to you to come back and tell you what we know about it. Speaking to you right now, I can't call it up.
Q: (Inaudible) can come back to it. Thank you.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Certainly.
MS. WHITE: In the far back.
Q: Thank you. Felix Wong with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.
In the newly released National Defense Strategy, China and Russia have become the major competitive adversary to the United States. And just the beginning of this week, the Chinese MOD, Ministry of Defense, and also the Foreign Affairs Ministry, have claimed that this strategy is more of a Cold War and zero-sum game rhetoric. It brought up the arms race.
And what's your comments on that? And also, what do you see of the future U.S. and China, military to military relationship specifically in the South China Sea and East China Sea and West Pacific region? Thank you.
MS. WHITE: The NDS is about near-peer competitors, China and Russia. Both countries have taken actions which undermine the very international norms that, in fact, both of them have prospered from. So we're going to continue to ensure that America is never in a fair fight, that we maintain a competitive advantage. But to do that, we also need to ensure that we have a budget, and we have a commitment for growth in that budget.
We can't implement a strategy that doesn't have a budget. So it's important that we move at the speed of relevancy. And the National Defense Strategy is about that. It's not about a Cold War; it's about looking towards the future. And as we look to the future, China and Russia are -- we have to think about them because they are undercutting the very international norms that they've thrived upon.
COL. MANNING: Dana, we have time for a few more questions.
MS. WHITE: OK. Carla.
Q: Thank you. I just want to go back to Manbij. About 10 minutes ago, general, you said you were not tracking a movement from Turkey to Manbij. But we're also aware of the foreign ministry's statements. So I'm just...
GEN. MCKENZIE: I'm sorry, I thought I said I was not tracking movement from the Euphrates River Valley by SDF to Manbij.
Q: SDF to Manbij.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Clearly we're tracking movement by Turkey to Manbij.
Q: OK, all right. Thank you, sir.
I wanted to make sure, if the United States and Turkey are talking on a daily basis, that was not clear that...
GEN. MCKENZIE: Yeah, I'm sorry, I may have misspoken. I can't remember what -- the intent I intended to convey was that we're talking about SDF forces moving from the lower Euphrates River Valley back toward Manbij and Afrin. That's the point I was making, not about Turkey. We we have a pretty good idea of what's happening there.
Q: Thank you for that clarification.
MS. WHITE: Right here.
Q: (Inaudible). I want to switch gears and ask about the recent precautionary landings in Okinawa. We had a third one this month, earlier in the week. The Japanese government has, you know, asked you to ground the fleet and -- or the planes and kind of test them all and make sure that they're safe. I'm wondering, I know that Secretary Mattis had spoken to his counterpart. I know that you are in talks with the Japanese government, as always. But, I'm wondering if there's kind of a disconnect. Why haven't you been checking? Why haven't you grounded the planes? Is there any reason that they're still flying?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Well, they fly to train. And part of the actual process of doing a maintenance check on an aircraft is to take it all off. You can only do so much with an aircraft on the ground. I don't know the exact circumstances of the last one, which I believe was a Cobra with a precautionary emergency landing, probably a chip light or some indicator that required him to put down on fairly short notice.
You know, these actions are taken out of an abundance of caution, and they don't reflect, necessarily, a dangerous flying activity, or anything else. And obviously, the forces that are based on Okinawa, as other U.S. forces that are in Japan are there as part of our mutual defense pact with Japan. If we're going to be prepared to fulfill our responsibilities under that pact, we're going to need to be able to continue to train, even as we trained with a heightened sensitivity toward what people in Okinawa are worried about. But we have to be able to continue to train if we're going to be able to support our Japanese allies.
Q: Is there any reason these incidents keep happening? I mean, three before the month of January and over -- it just seems kind of like a lot.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Well, it might be more useful for you to look at overall aviation safety trends and statistics, and the number of precautionary landings that occur across any large aviation fleet over a given amount of time.
And again, I come back to the point with this is caution. This is genuine concern with these airplanes, to choose to execute a PEL. So, I'm not particularly concerned by it, but I'd have to go back and take a look at the statistics in order to give you a better answer. But I'm not prepared to agree that it represents a ramp up, or some kind of aberration.
MS. WHITE: Thank you all very much.
The responses below to Taken Questions from today's press briefing, or points therein that further clarification was requested on later, are attributable to Col. Rob Manning III, Director of Defense Press Operations:
QUESTION: U.S. Embassy spokesman has rejected Pakistan foreign minister claims about drone strikes. Are either drone strikes accurate?
RESPONSE: In response to Pakistan government claims that the U.S. military conducted air strikes in Pakistan on January 24th, I can confirm that there were not any Department of Defense air strikes outside of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Are we aware that the Turkish foreign minister told the US to move our troops out of Syria?
RESPONSE: We are of course aware of the statements made this morning. The U.S. is engaged with the Turkish government at all levels to develop a solution which addresses Turkey's security concerns and ensures there is no decrease in pressure on ISIS. This situation can only be solved through mutual cooperation. We stand by our NATO ally, and will continue working with Turkish officials to negotiate a solution that addresses their concerns.
QUESTION: Are there US-backed forces moving towards Manbij?
RESPONSE: Partner forces in Syria are not under the command and control of the Coalition and we do not speak on their behalf regarding ground movements. Our local partners are focused on stability and deterring ISIS. We will not condone the use of any Coalition-provided weapons and equipment for any purpose other than to defeat ISIS. If we identify any group or individuals violating this agreement, we will investigate and cut off equipment support.
QUESTION: Did the General say/mean that we are tracking Turkish troops moving towards Manbij?
RESPONSE: We have not seen any indication that Turkish forces, at this point, are moving toward Manbij.
QUESTION: Was the General correct in saying that the policy on removing US troops from Manbij is still undecided?
RESPONSE: We do not discuss future military actions or plans. We are urging Turkey to deescalate, exercise caution and avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American Forces.
QUESTION: [Regarding the F-35] What are you doing about the reliability and spare parts and issues identified in the report?
RESPONSE: The Department is reviewing the report, and we'll take appropriate steps to work with our partners to find implementable improvement opportunities with the Joint Strike Fighter program.