Press Gaggle at the Pentagon with Secretary Mattis

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: How you doing? You guys look cold, what've you been doing out here?

(CROSSTALK)

... cold.

Q: …three hour, because I have to ask question about Afghanistan that (inaudible) killing, a really tough situation. Any comment?

SEC. MATTIS: We are going to do our level best to protect the Afghan people. You have 41 nations working in the largest wartime coalition in modern history – stop and think about it. I know it's been going on a long time. The largest coalition in modern history to fight a war under NATO, 41 nations, and their devotion is to ending the war and to protecting the Afghan people.

It'd be nice if the Taliban would get a line with the reconciliation effort and stop murdering their own people, but yeah we'll -- we'll keep at it.

Q: Thank you so much. Are you optimistic about the peace process in Afghanistan? (Inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: It is -- it is picking up momentum. We have to see if everyone stays sincerely aligned.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the border, do you expect the troops deployment to be extended beyond December 15th?

SEC. MATTIS: We'll react to the Department of Homeland Security if they ask for it. Right now we're -- we're working with them on the staffs. It comes down to logistics issues right now primarily -- how many miles of wire do they need, how much they defined.

The POE's -- the Ports Of Entry -- are pretty much, I think, done. There's a little on the flanks of a couple of them we're still working on. So we'll have to see if the -- if the request extends further.

Q: You haven't received one yet?

SEC. MATTIS: They're working on it right now and I know I have not received it yet, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... surge at the Tijuana checkpoint, the thousands of migrants that are there, the images we saw this weekend. Will the troops be involved in keeping those migrants from crossing into the U.S.?

SEC. MATTIS: Border Patrol -- it's who you saw and that's who will continue to be responsible for the border. Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary? Just the other day, you said that there still needed to be work done on accountability of what you called the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Now, today the administration's position is the crown prince, there is no direct link, no direct connection from him to the murder.

What has changed? What now -- why now that position? Do you now believe it's a closed issue, that he is not involved and what makes the administration believe that?

SEC. MATTIS: I don't think there's any change at all, if I -- if I heard your question correctly, Barbara. We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved -- not the intelligence community or anyone else. There's just no smoking gun.

We have not changed and accountability for the murder is our expectation of everyone involved in the murder. Accountability is our position -- has not changed at all, and by the way I have read all of the intel -- I have personally read all of the intelligence, I have read all of the translations.

Q: Sir, is it correct the CIA (inaudible) come to a conclusion on these matters that expressed high confidence ...

SEC. MATTIS: There -- there, you need to go to the CIA for that.

Q: And have you listened to the tape?

SEC. MATTIS: No I cannot understand that language, but I have spent more than enough time in service of our country. I know what grim circumstances can be. I needed to see what was said, and I read the translations of what is alleged to be the tape.

We do not have the tapes -- we do not have the tapes. At least I'm not aware that we do have them, but I have read the translation twice the day they were given to me and -- excuse me -- and I have also read (inaudible) about 10 -- two weeks ago, 10 days ago, as I reviewed once again all of the intel that we had, and I will just tell you there is no -- there is no smoking gun, but our position has not changed.

We expect accountability ...

Q: No smoking gun connecting the crown prince to the murder?

SEC. MATTIS: That is correct.

Q: Sir, how would you ...

(CROSSTALK)

... how would you assess this morning's discussion with the senators?

SEC. MATTIS: Very penetrating on both sides. We explained what we were doing, they explained their questions and the various points of views on -- on the murder and on what we are doing in Yemen. So it was explored at -- at length for a little over an hour.

It was a good -- I would characterize it as a very good and even, in terms of addressing all of the various points, pretty exhaustedly.

Q: Thank you. Can you elaborate on why Gina Haspel was ...

Q: ... are you confident that you're going to get the support from the Senate that you need to -- to (inaudible) or are you worried that it's going to go the other way?

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, I -- I -- I don't forecast things like (inaudible), so I -- I don't know.

Q: Can you clarify what you just told us about the border that there is -- there is a request currently underway to extend the troops, or what did you mean by that?

SEC. MATTIS: No -- no, we are -- we are -- we meet daily with the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Commissioner of Border Patrol and his people daily, and every day we're crossing off what we're doing.

We're in some cases canceling certain things that we thought we needed before, they don't -- now they determine they didn't and other things come up, so we're working it. You know, just -- it's normal -- normal execution of tasks.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... questions on Yemen this morning. A lot of senators came out and said that they were switching their votes, I was just curious what happened in there, why you think there was a change in position from so many senators.

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, I -- I -- actually I just got back from over there and I haven't seen the news, and I -- I haven't talked -- I talked to a couple of them walking out, but I -- I prefer because their vote is a -- at least a private matter until they do it to let their votes speak for their position.

Q: You talked about needing an exhaustive discussion and thorough ...

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.

Q: ... was it contentious at all? Did you get a sense that there was a frustration about the U.S. position military on Yemen?

SEC. MATTIS: Some -- some expressed some frustration, but it was not a -- I would just say it was a, in many cases, heartfelt, it was also data-driven and -- you know, what did we know, what did we not know ...

Q: On Yemen or on -- on ...

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: On -- on both -- on both issues, excuse me, yeah, thank you.

Q: Sir? A follow up on the border, please. Last week, you authorized or the president authorized the use of force by the military. What kind of aggression will we have to see to see the military using force?

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, it keeps coming up. Our principle jobs there right now are the logistics jobs -- you know, putting in the barriers, you saw us have -- Border Patrol had to close the border, we -- the United States had to close the border at one point, and there you saw the preparations were ready, that sort of thing.

As far as the use of force, the Border Patrol is using what they believe is appropriate. We would be backing them up, they have multiple lines in front of them so right now I can't even forecast what would be necessary after seeing the Border Patrol's response under the pressure that we saw this last weekend.

Q: Mr. Secretary? (Inaudible) that's going on there, the -- it escalated with the capture of those ships. Would you say those folks -- what's the way forward for the United States and NATO and Europe, really?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, the secretary general has spoken on it, our secretary of state representing foreign policy has spoken on it. It was obviously a flagrant violation of international law, it was, I think, a cavalier use of force.

It injured Ukrainian sailors, it was contempt really for the traditional ways of settling these kinds of concerns if they had any, and when you think that there is a treaty between the two countries, that permits exactly what happened, it just shows that Russia cannot be counted on right now to keep its word.

Q: Do you think it's worth putting some kind of military ...

(CROSSTALK)

Sir, do you think it's worth putting some kind of military show of force ...

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: No, no ...

Q: Do you need this jacket, sir? (Laughter,)

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: It'd look pretty good on me. (Laughter.)

But thank you.