Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
PETER COOK: Good afternoon, everybody.
I have some important announcements today before I take your questions.
I want to begin first with an important development in the counter-ISIL campaign. In February, coalition forces captured Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, aka Abu Dawud, ISIL's emir of chemical and traditional weapons manufacturing, during an operation in Iraq.
His capture removed a key ISIL leader from the battlefield and provided the coalition with information about ISIL's chemical weapons capabilities. Daoud was transferred earlier today into the custody of the government of Iraq.
Through Daoud, the coalition learned details about ISIL's chemical weapons facilities and production, as well as the people involved. The information has resulted in multiple coalition airstrikes that have disrupted and degraded ISIL's ability to produce chemical weapons, and will continue to inform our operations into the future.
We are limited in what else we can say about his capture and what we have learned from him because we do not want to compromise ongoing operations.
I also have an update today regarding women in service. Today, Secretary Carter formally approved the final implementation plans prepared by the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command to integrate women in to all combat roles. Before the secretary's approval, the deputy secretary of defense, Robert Work, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, co-chaired an implementation group that reviewed each of these plans in detail.
They determined that all of the plans adequately addressed Secretary Carter's seven guiding principles. Those principles, you may recall, were: transparent standards, population size, physical demands and physiological differences, conduct and culture, talent management, operating abroad, and assessment and adjustment.
The secretary is pleased with the effort and consideration each of the services put into their plans in ensuring that they meet those guiding principles.
We'll issue a statement after this briefing with additional details on the secretary's approval, including links to the implementation plans themselves from the services, and a link to additional comments from the secretary on these plans that will be posted to his medium.com page.
I encourage you all to check those links out.
And one final note, this evening Secretary Carter will travel over to the White House to attend the state dinner for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canada is an important ally for the United States and a key contributor to the counter-ISIL effort.
As the secretary noted at the NATO ministerial in Brussels last month, Canada has agreed to triple its training effort in northern Iraq, double its intelligence efforts as well, and is making additional nonmilitary contributions. And the secretary I know is looking forward to that event this evening.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: Peter, regarding your first announcement about the chemical weapons, can you say more about -- you said multiple -- I believe you said multiple airstrikes followed from the collection of this information, from the detainee. Can you say when and how many? And against -- did you say facilities that -- airstrikes were against facilities? And finally, did -- did these operations eliminate their chemical weapons capabilities?
MR. COOK: Let me take the second part of your question first.
We're confident that the strikes that have been conducted have disrupted and degraded their chemical weapons capabilities. I'm not going to say that we've knocked it out in full, but we feel confident that we've made a difference with regard that. And this information was very helpful inn conducting these strikes.
And they're going to continue to inform -- again, this information will continue to inform our operations in the future. But, Bob, we feel -- we feel good about the damage we've done to that program, to that -- those capabilities. And again, it's going to inform our operations going forward.
I'm not going to get into details about the kinds of our operations that we've been able to conduct, in part because I don't want to get into tactics and things like that that might in any way compromise ongoing operations. But again, multiple airstrikes that have been targeted specifically as a result of information we were able to get.
Q: To push you a little further on that, without revealing tactics, I'm asking how many facilities or people were hit associated with the -- (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: Yeah, again, Bob, for a variety of reasons, I'm going to be really careful here and just because of the fact that we have ongoing operations, that I'm just going to keep it to multiple airstrikes at this point, that have been conducted as a result of this detention and the information we learned from this individual.
Q: By ongoing operations, you mean there are continued -- there are additional airstrikes targeting these -- this --
MR. COOK: We believe that the information we've been able to obtain will allow us to conduct additional operations.
So, yes, Barbara?
Q: I'm sorry, but I'm going to continue to try and press the point, because the Pentagon is saying here "disrupted and degraded." Being as it's chemical weapons in Iraq, when you say "disrupted and degraded," can you give us any information, any data, any evidence, any information to back up that statement the Pentagon has made that they're disrupted and degraded? Anything you can say about what has led the Pentagon to come to those words and that conclusion today?
MR. COOK: Barbara, I'm going to stay where I am right now, because of those ongoing operations. But again, there have been specific targets hit as a result of this information. That includes -- I will be able to at least say that it does include facilities that we believe were part of their chemical weapons capabilities. And I'm going to leave it at that because we want to be able to engage in additional operations that we think will further disrupt and degrade their chemical weapons capabilities.
Q: All right. Let me ask you this. Again, it's the Pentagon that is publicly saying "disrupted and degraded." Can you say how much disrupted, how much degraded? Do they still have, since it's well understood ISIS makes mustard agent itself. It's not like it goes and buys it anywhere. They know how to make it and they make it.
How disruptive? How degraded? What's to stop them from simply making more of it?
MR. COOK: Again, Barbara, we feel confident that we have disrupted and degraded. I'm not going to put a metric on it, a measurement. But based on the information we've received, we are confident we have done damage to their chemical weapons capabilities. We do not believe at this point we've been able to curtail it entirely. We think that would be difficult, given as you said, their demonstrated ability to obtain some of these materials.
But we feel good about what's been accomplished here. And we also want to make the point that we're not done. And we have additional operations that we believe will further disrupt and degrade their chemical weapons capabilities, in addition to every other aspect of our campaign against ISIL. This is just another component.
Q: My very last question. So, from what I take from what you're saying is realistically, you're saying that the U.S. military coalition could not at this point eliminate ISIS's chemical weapons capability.
MR. COOK: We certainly are going to do everything we can to try and -- and prevent ISIL from carrying out any attacks, whether it's with the chemical agents or otherwise. But we feel confident that these actions have played a role in degrading and disrupting their chemical weapons capabilities up to this point, and that additional operations will continue in that same vein.
MR. COOK: Again, Barbara, we -- we're not going to get into metrics here. I think we are doing everything we can to eliminate ISIL. And if we're successful in that, we're certainly going to address this particular area of concern.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
On the stolen files that the Germans have in their possession that supposedly have 22,000 foreign members of the Islamic state, has the United States seen these files? Is Germany sharing those with the United States? Has the United States been able to verify that they are authentic?
MR. COOK: From this podium here, we're aware of these reports and aware of what's been reportedly publicly, but I can't get into confirming whether or not these files are -- contain information that is authentic or anything like that. So, I'll refer you to the intelligence community in particular to see if they have something more to say on this topic.
But we certainly are aware of those reports and -- and any information that gave us a better insight into the members of ISIL certainly would be helpful to the Department of Defense and to our overall coalition effort to ultimately defeat ISIL.
Q: And then a quick follow-on, the raid in Somalia. Can you confirm that U.S. forces were involved in that raid? And we've been hearing different reports -- 12 Al-Shabaab militants killed. We've heard 15. Do you have an update on that?
MR. COOK: Yes, I believe this question came up yesterday. Again, I'll restate what we said previously, that there were U.S. forces in a train, advise and accompany mode, as they have been in the past in Somalia. And that there was a small number of U.S. forces involved. I'm not going to get into the final assessment of that action.
Again, this was carried out in conjunction with the government.
Q: And how many Al-Shabaab militants were killed?
MR. COOK: I'll refer you to the government of Somalia for that.
Q: One on the chemical weapons issue and then one on North Korea.
MR. COOK: Yes?
Q: What's the size and scope of ISIL's chemical weapons program? And does it pose a threat to Iraqi and U.S. -- Iraqi troops and U.S. advisers?
MR. COOK: Well, Tony, we've seen them demonstrate a willingness to use these agents previously in Syria and in Iraq. So obviously, it's an obvious concern both to the civilian populations in those places and to our forces, one reason why we have conducted these strikes. And in particular, that this particular individual was of such value to us.
And so we obviously have concerns about that program and want to do everything we can to try and reduce those capabilities. And that's what we've done in this instance. Again, they've demonstrated a willingness to use it. That alone is reason for us to do everything we can to reduce their ability to use these kinds of weapons.
Q: Do you have a sense, though, of stockpiles? I mean, you were a reporter on the roads -- marched to war when the administration, the Bush administration made a lot of claims that turned out not to be true. So I'm sure you're naturally skeptical. But what's this -- what's the sense of scope here in terms of their inventories? You know, mustard gas or what?
MR. COOK: Again, Tony, I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments from here. But they've shown -- demonstrated a willingness to use it. That alone is a cause for concern for us and should be for everyone. This is -- these are, you know, violations of international law. Obviously, ISIL hasn't shown a great willingness to abide by international law.
But these are -- these are agents that obviously cause tremendous suffering for people, and we've seen -- we've seen their use demonstrated in Syria and Iraq and we're going to continue to do everything we can, working with our coalition partners; of course, the Iraqi government as well, to try and address the risk of these agents of being used in any form or fashion whether it be against U.S. forces, coalition forces, or certainly civilians on the ground.
Q: Okay. I need to shift gears to North Korea and the missile issue.
A couple days ago, you said the United States has not seen North Korea demonstrate a capability to miniaturize a warhead. Today, Admiral Gortney, the head of the Northern Command that's in charge of protecting the country, said, "I assess it's the prudent decision on my part to assume that he has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapons and put it on an ICBM today."
Is there a contradiction between your statement and his?
MR. COOK: Absolutely not. We have not seen them demonstrate this capability. But Admiral Gortney, as you would expect a commander in his position, that the American people would expect, that he would be doing everything in his power to be prepared for that eventuality. And he's doing what he should be doing to prepare for that threat, should it become a reality.
And at this point, again, we've not seen them demonstrate that capability, but he is doing exactly what he should be doing in preparing his forces and our U.S. -- our U.S. forces overall to be able to respond to that challenge.
Q: He assumes they have it. You said they haven't demonstrated it. So those are internally consistent?
MR. COOK: He is doing the appropriate, proper planning that you would expect of a commander in his position.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Earlier this week, General Austin said he's provided his recommendations on how to accelerate the fight against ISIS to his leadership. Has Secretary Carter received those recommendations? And what are the next steps from there?
MR. COOK: Yes. Again, just to reiterate what I said the other day, of course, the secretary speaks regularly with General Austin. They've been in constant communication, if you will, with other commanders in the counter-ISIL fight, assessing needs going forward, talking to our coalition partners.
And so I think that conversation continues. Obviously, he gets great insight every time he talked to General Austin. And General Austin and General Votel and others will continue to provide the secretary with their best military advice; share with the president as well, of course, as to what the -- what additional needs might be out there.
But there's no decisions that have been made at this point.
Q: Is there a timeline by when he must provide his recommendations -- the secretary might provide his recommendations to the president?
MR. COOK: It's an ongoing conversation. Of course, the secretary speaks with the president on a regular basis, as he does with his commanders. And there's no formal deadline. But again, I would expect that these conversations will continue in the coming days as we move closer to the next steps in this fight against ISIL. And every effort that we can bring to bear to try and accelerate this fight and accelerate the defeat of ISIL will certainly be -- be put on the table for consideration.
Q: Just one more thing. Over a dozen Republican senators introduced a resolution today calling for ISIS -- suspected ISIS terrorists to be detained at Gitmo. What is the Pentagon's response or thoughts on that plan -- on that idea?
MR. COOK: I haven't -- I haven't seen that legislation. Again, I would just refer you back to what we've said previously about detentions that take place. We would anticipate that -- that detentions in the counter-ISIL fight would be most likely of a short-term nature and that, as in the case of this detention I referenced today, handed off to the appropriate local authorities, in this case the Iraqi government.
Q: Just to follow up a little bit.
MR. COOK: Lucas?
Q: You say that the detentions of ISIS suspects will be -- of militants will be of a short-term nature, but this is a long-term conflict. How do you square that with only detaining them for a short time?
MR. COOK: Our hope, Lucas, first of all, is that this is a conflict that we can -- that we can defeat ISIL in as quick a fashion as possible. We'd like to be rid of this thread sooner rather than later. So first of all, the premise of your question, I don't necessarily accept at -- at the beginning.
Second of all, again, these are -- we just talked about -- we don't want to gaze into the future, hypothetically speaking about potential for detainees. But we've been waging this fight for some time now, and there've been a few individual detentions in which they have been handled in this fashion, and I think that's the best template right now for how this would be handled going forward.
Q: And when you turn over those suspects -- over to the Iraqis, does the United States still have access to those suspects?
MR. COOK: Again, we have -- we've worked this out carefully with the Iraqi authorities. These are our partners in the fight against ISIL, and we're satisfied that -- that the coordination between our two governments will allow for -- for proper exchange of information as necessary.
Q: Just a simple yes or no -- when you turn them over to the Iraqis, does the United States still have access to them?
MR. COOK: Again, Lucas, every individual case -- I can't predict the future. But we feel confident that we have the cooperation of the government of Iraq in this particular instance, and we expect the same going forward.
Q: Congress has said that the Pentagon failed to give them a plan on dealing with these detainees. What is the status of that plan to tell Congress how would are going to deal with the detainees going forward? Are you working on this plan? Is there a timeline to reveal?
MR. COOK: I'm not sure exactly which plan you're talking about. Just so I'm -- just so I'm clear.
Q: On the closing Guantanamo plan, part of the request from Congress was a plan from the Pentagon, how to deal with the detention of ISIS fighters from the battlefield. You say short-term, but it seems a little bit ambiguous on what the plan is.
MR. COOK: I believe that plan had specific language in there about the prospect of potential detainees in the future -- that they'd be assessed on a -- on a case-by-case basis, and -- and that's what we expect.
Q: When you say case-by-case basis, if -- if -- many generals -- officials here in this building have said this war --
MR. COOK: There are --
Q: -- against ISIS is going to go on for a long time, yet you're only going to hold these guys for a short term. I know when I walk out of here, sometimes I forget to ask you questions. If you want to go back and ask a detainee something, don't you need to hold them long-term? Isn't that what people at home expect?
MR. COOK: -- again, Lucas, I'm not sure it does as much good to -- to talk in hypotheticals. We have a concrete example of a -- of an ISIL detainee that -- again, we received information from this person, we've handed them over to -- to Iraqi -- the Iraqi government, and we think that's a template for -- for future cases.
Q: That doesn't sound like a hypothetical. It's an example --
MR. COOK: No, it -- it's a concrete example of what's happening with a real-world situation.
Q: Does it -- is this -- task forces go out and get guys and capture them and get information to set up other strikes, as you've just read out at the top of the briefing, how is holding them only a short time -- how does that make sense? I think people at home would find that very confusing.
MR. COOK: Again, we have a government on the ground in Iraq, a partner in the fight against ISIL, that we feel confident we can rely on in this instance, and that provides, perhaps, a difference in this equation than you're -- than you're considering.
We have a partner on the ground -- a sovereign government that we're working with in close coordination. I think maybe that's the difference here. Yes, Joe?
Q: Peter, a few -- a few clarification -- back to -- to your opening statement. So the capture of the ISIL leader was coordinated with the Iraqi government? That's what I understand from you?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: And could you share with us more information about where was he captured, what part of Iraq?
MR. COOK: For a variety of reasons -- operational security more than anything else -- we're not going to reveal more details about that at this time.
Q: Is there any relation between the capture of -- I think Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar and the strike that targeted Shishani a few days ago?
MR. COOK: Again, I'm not going to get into details, Joe, about the circumstances around his capture, because we are, as you know, very concerned about revealing anything of an operational nature that could provide insights to our enemy, and we're going to continue to maintain that -- that position. I hope you would understand why.
Q: Peter, getting back to these chemical munitions sites, or storage sites, analysts over the years have said you've got to be very careful when you hit these sites. You don't want to create a plume of poisonous gas or -- or so forth that -- you know, harm the -- the population.
They say you have to use special ordnance to kind of almost cook the stuff in place. Can you say anything about any special ordnance being used to take these sites out, or any special care?
MR. COOK: I can certainly speak to the -- to the last point, in that all of our operations in this regard would have, of course, factored in the risk to -- to the civilian population, as we do in an -- in an ordinary strike.
In this case, given the sensitivities here, you can be sure that that's something that's been factored into -- into the operational planning that's gone behind all of these operations.
Q: Can you say anything about special ordnance being used, or can you take that question?
MR. COOK: I'm happy to take that question and do my best with it, but -- again, for some of the same reasons I've just said to Joe, I'm not sure we're going to get into many details. But I will take the question.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
Yesterday, North Korea fires another two short-range burst missile in South Korea east coast. (inaudible) Do you have any comment on North Korea's actions?
MR. COOK: It's another provocative action by the North Koreans, and only further escalates the tensions on the -- on the Korean Peninsula. And of course we're concerned by that -- concerned by all their recent activities, the rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea, and it just makes us stand that much closer, if you will, to our South Korean allies.
And so again, it's -- it's consistent with their previous behavior, and we don't think it does anything to bolster stability and -- and confidence on the Korean Peninsula. It -- it only adds to that instability.
Q: North Korea has miniaturized nuclear weapons. If this were true, how would U.S. respond?
MR. COOK: Again, we talked to -- I was talking with Tony about this. We haven't seen them demonstrate that capability. We feel confident that our defensive steps that we've taken -- that our posture in the region and our preparations adequately account for the threat posed by North Korea.
Q: Peter, Israel's defense minister is going to be here, I believe, Monday and Tuesday. I believe he's scheduled to meet with Secretary Carter at some point during the trip. Can you just kind of preview what they'll be discussing?
MR. COOK: Let me -- I don't want to preview a meeting that hasn't yet taken place. So I'll get you more information if I can, but they've had regular conversations. This is obviously someone he knows very well -- Minister Ya'alon -- and they've had a range of conversations over the last few weeks and (inaudible).
You know, of course, that the secretary traveled to the region not too long ago, spent time with Minister Ya'alon at the -- at the border with -- with Lebanon. And this is a -- this is someone he knows well.
They have a host of areas in which they have reason for -- for conversation. Obviously the defense of Israel and the steps the United States -- additional steps the -- the United States can take to help bolster Israel's defense -- those are things that are always conversation.
So -- but in terms of the specific agenda, I don't have that for you at this point in time. But you can be sure that those -- those issues will be front and center.
Q: One question about the train and equip program. Last Tuesday, General Votel informed the committee of the Senate, made announcement and saying that U.S. military will use a new phase of train and equip program training Syrian rebels.
Did the U.S. military learn about the lessons of the previous failure of this program? We have seen -- (inaudible) -- for only -- (inaudible) -- fighters combating in Syria. So, what kind of lessons did you learn from this previous fail?
MR. COOK: I think, as General Votel has testified previously, I mean, there are obviously significant lessons that we've learned from the start of that program to where we are today. One of the most important things, of course, is we've learned a lot more about the people in Syria, those forces that are taking the fight to ISIL. We have a much better understanding of who they are, who we have confidence in that will be willing to carry out that mission to take on ISIL.
And we have a much better understanding of the landscape than we did when that program first began.
Q: Some of those fighters told us that they were -- they were not so motivation because they were just allowed -- authorized to fight only against ISIS, but not against Bashar; that they wanted first to fight against Bashar. So this time in this new program, they will be authorized to fight against Bashar?
MR. COOK: Again, this is a question I know that General Votel got the other day. Our focus is the fight against ISIL and will remain the fight against ISIL. We would expect, again, that the forces that we're going to support on the ground in Syria, that that is their primary mission.
Q: And how many fighters does the U.S. military want to train this time?
MR. COOK: Yes, we're not going to get into numbers at this point. But again, we feel confident that enabling local fighters, particularly leadership figures, can further enhance the fight against ISIL both in terms of the resources we can provide those leaders, communication with those leaders. That kind of coordination absolutely can make a difference in this fight.
Q: Last question on this point. A fighter from this battalion told us that last time that there was attack of Nusra Front, they called for U.S. military to help, but the U.S. military did not respond at that time. Do you have any -- do you have any information about that?
MR. COOK: I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to. But again, we're looking at this program going forward. We know the lessons we've learned. They're not insignificant. I think the secretary has been quite candid about the problems with the T&E program after its initial launch. We've learned a lot.
We also believe that this is a capability that can enhance the fight against ISIL, can accelerate the fight against ISIL in Syria. And that's why I think you're hearing our top military leaders talk about steps that we can take to take advantage of that.
Q: Back to the chemical facilities. We get the summaries of the strikes every day, on daily basis. And we haven't seen any strikes -- we haven't seen the chemical facilities mentioned in these summaries. Could you just help us to understand why they were not mentioned? Did they happen over the last night? Or were they omitted from the summaries?
MR. COOK: Again, these are strikes. I'm not going to get into specific details strike by strike. We do provide significant amount of information about the strikes we carry out on a daily basis that you receive. And I think you'll find that that information is consistent with what we're talking about here.
Q: But there's no mention of chemical weapons facilities.
MR. COOK: I believe, again, I'm not going to get into specific targets here that we've hit. But we feel confident that the information we've provided in those is consistent with the information we're sharing with you here.
Q: But you always talk about specific targets. It could be, you know, an arms depot. It could be fighting --
MR. COOK: I'm not going to identify which of these strikes relate specifically to this individual, the information we've learned.
So -- but we believe -- but we're confident -- not at this time -- again, because we don't want to compromise other ongoing operations. We're going to take every step we can to preserve our ability to use this information in a going-forward basis. We have more targets to consider here. And again, even -- there are aspects to this that we do not want to compromise ongoing operations. I think it would be irresponsible for us to do that, given the information we have and what we hope to carry out in the future.
Q: But you're saying that -- (inaudible) -- to the strikes, and yet you're not saying when the strikes were. There's no mention in the press releases of chemical weapons facilities.
MR. COOK: I don't have all the releases in front of me. I'll go back and check them, Bob, but I believe there are references to facilities that have been hit in the past. We've identified targets that were weapons facilities. We may not be exclusively specific to this in part because we do not want to reveal information to our enemy that could, again, compromise future operations. We think that's an appropriate consideration going forward. We do not want to jeopardize those operations.
We would like to do more damage to their chemical weapons capabilities. And we're going to preserve what we think is necessary to be able to do that.
Q: You mentioned agents. And is this -- is this sulfur mustard only? Or do they have additional agents beyond --
MR. COOK: We've seen them use particular sulfur mustard agents. Bob, I'm not going to get into more detail, but we think that's consistent with the capability that ISIL has demonstrated so far.
Q: (inaudible), is what I'm saying. There are others that -- (inaudible) -- mentioning -- (inaudible). Is that one they're using?
MR. COOK: Yeah, I believe there have been reports about the use of chlorine as well. Those are two that we've seen demonstrated publicly. And I'm not going to get into more details about what other capabilities they may or may not have.
Q: You say reports. Is that --
MR. COOK: Yeah, there have been reports of --
Q: -- your reports or public reports?
MR. COOK: There have been public reports of their use of --
Q: Or your -- your information?
MR. COOK: Again, we've seen them use sulfur mustard agent. Just to be clear, chlorine has a different technical definition, if you will. Not everyone considers that in its form a chemical weapon. Obviously, it's got very severe effects on people. And so we have great concern with the use of that as a weapon on the battlefield as well.
And it's not that we have any less concern about chlorine, but it is -- technically it does have a different designation.
Q: Peter, can I follow up on two things briefly?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: Okay. There is simply no, as we're all saying here, and I think we agree -- there is no mention in any of your public press releases of the word "chemical" in any of the targeting press releases where you tell us what you have targeted. It is simply not mentioned.
So for purposes of reporting accuracy, can I ask you: Are there other targets? Are there other types of targets that you hit that you're not telling us about? Should we -- must we now consider these daily press releases to be less, with all due respect, than full disclosure? Should we be skeptical, because you are not --
MR. COOK: You shouldn't. We are providing you information. We're not going to reveal operational details that could compromise additional operations. But we have provided information to you about strikes against facilities, weapons facilities and we're going to continue to do that. We're going to be as transparent as we can be, Barbara.
And again, we are dealing with a situation. Not all these strikes necessarily reflect strikes against an individual facility. As you've said before, it could involve people who are part of this program; could involve other aspects of the procurement of these -- of these agents that don't necessarily reflect a chemical weapon.
Q: I have a follow-up. These press releases to the news media that should in fact be considered not the full list of targets that you may hit on a given day. There are --
MR. COOK: Barbara, I'm being as up front with you as I can be. We are providing you all a regular list of those targets.
Q: Is that list fulsome?
MR. COOK: It's fulsome as it can be, yes.
Q: But it's not fulsome. It is not the complete list.
MR. COOK: It's a complete list.
MR. COOK: No, no, no. I'm saying it should be -- you should consider that a list of the targets that we struck, the coalition has struck.
Q: (inaudible) -- target on there. We didn't get the chemical weapons target on there. We assume what you're telling us is fulsome. So I'm trying to give you the opportunity here to say clearly it is not.
MR. COOK: -- information on that specific target that you mentioned.
Q: I don't see a Shishani target on the list.
MR. COOK: We provided you a news release regarding the targeting of that individual.
Q: I'm asking about, with all due respect, the regular press release that goes to the news media that is available to the American public that you -- that this department, not you personally, say is the list of targets the coalition, led by the United States --
MR. COOK: We are providing information regarding coalition air operations that is detailed; provides a significant amount of information on regular basis. We are not going to provide information, Barbara, that we think could compromise future operations. And --
Q: Okay. You've answered my question. This is not fulsome.
My other question is, on North Korea, I'd like to follow up on Tony's question. General Scaparrotti and Admiral Gortney, two of the most experienced commanders out there, have now both said exactly the same thing, that as commanders, they feel they must assume -- we're not talking about North Korean testing -- that they must assume for planning purposes, their military planning, North Korea has a miniaturized warhead.
Not talking about testing. Does the secretary of defense agree with his commanders, General Scaparrotti and Admiral Gortney, for U.S. military planning purposes, does the secretary agree, he himself, does he now assume for planning purposes North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead?
MR. COOK: The secretary believes that his commanders in -- who deal with this Korean threat, are doing exactly the right thing in -- they are doing exactly the right thing in preparing and assuming that North Korea has this capability. And we have not seem them demonstrate this capability, but of course, they're doing exactly what the secretary would hope they would do, and that is preparing for that consideration and preparing defensive measures that would be in place to protect the United States and protect our allies in the region, which is exactly what they should be doing.
Q: Does the secretary of defense assume for his own military planning that North Korea -- does he feel he has to assume that North Korea has miniaturized a warhead, separate from the testing issue? Does he believe he has to assume that now?
MR. COOK: I think the secretary of defense believes that it is prudent planning for this department, for those commanders, to make, prepare for that kind of scenario, even though we have not yet seen them demonstrate that capability. They are doing a prudent thing. The secretary is supportive of the actions they're taking as commanders to prepare for, again, that kind of scenario.
Q: So to clarify in my own mind, U.S. military planning now assume -- planning now assumes that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead.
MR. COOK: The commanders who are responsible for these activities have done the appropriate thing to assume, to presume, assume that they have this capability or that they're certainly trying to obtain it. That does not mean that they have that capability. They've not demonstrated that, but they are doing the prudent, appropriate, proper things -- the kind of things that I think the American people would want them to do in their positions.
I've got time for one more.
Q: Can I ask you to follow up -- you were in the interview with Charlie Rose a couple of weeks ago when the secretary was asked about this question. He said that categorically they had nuclear warheads. You should get the transcript. They have nuclear warheads.
That applies -- he feels they've miniaturized them. I think you were in the room when he said it. I mean, how do you square Carter's statement with your answer to Barbara?
MR. COOK: Tony, again, I'm just going to go back to the view of the U.S. government, of this department has not changed in terms of them demonstrating the capability. That has not changed. So, those commanders that you talked about, the secretary, again, they need to -- they see what the North Koreans are attempting to do.
We need to assume that they could develop this capability. And as a result, we need to prepare accordingly. That is the -- that is the appropriate step for this department to take, but we have not seem them demonstrate that capability, and that's the important distinction here.
Q: What about the pictures they showed a couple of days ago? They look like big beach balls or something, you know, for want of a -- (inaudible). Has the department analyzed those images?
MR. COOK: I'm not sure exactly what pictures you're talking about, so I can't say if somebody has looked at these pictures.
Q: (inaudible) -- shows that -- (inaudible), they like big bowling balls -- (inaudible). Is this really they -- (inaudible) -- or they come from some other country -- (inaudible).
MR. COOK: I have not seen those pictures, so I'm happy to take that question and see if we have any thoughts on the large balls that you saw on Korean television.
Q: Can you take one other question for me, Peter?
Q: Can you take one other question, back to the -- Barbara, the exchange you had earlier about the airstrikes and the -- (inaudible).
MR. COOK: Yes?
Q: Can you take the question: Isn't it a fact there are strikes that are taking place potentially on a daily basis that are not released to the public? That are not part of the press release? Can you take the question of how many strikes there actually have been?
Because we have a tally that CENTCOM provides that's quite helpful.
MR. COOK: Very detailed.
Q: It is very detailed, but you --
Q: -- just indicated now that there are strikes that are occurring that aren't included in that.
MR. COOK: To be clear, my understanding is that that summary includes coalition airstrikes. We had an individual case that she asked me about. I'm not sure if the individual high-value target that was hit was reflected in that list, but we had a separate news release detailing that. It may well be -- have been included. I don't know that off the top of my head, but I'm happy to take that question.
Q: -- chemical weapons. The follow-up -- and I understand you don't want to talk specifics and what not, but I think we all rely on those as -- you know, we're not there. We aren't seeing all these strikes, obviously, so we rely on those as the totality of all the strikes that are occurring in Iraq and Syria by the coalition.
So if in fact there are strikes, which is my understanding of what you said --
MR. COOK: I'm happy to take the question. I don't want to create any mis-impression. I am not aware that there are additional strikes that are not included in those strike totals. Again, we're not going to provide details on anything that might reveal additional operations, for understandable reasons. But we're going to try and be as transparent as we can. And I'll take the question and see if we can get it answered for you.
Q: I guess I just don't understand, then, the strikes that have occurred -- that were on some chemical-biological targets that occurred because of a questioning of the detainee, which I know you don't want to talk about. I get that.
MR. COOK: Those strikes -- those strikes don't necessarily, as I pointed out to Barbara, don't necessarily mean they were at a particular facility that was producing this. This could have been -- I'm just talking again hypothetically -- could have been procurement facilities that have nothing to do with the finished product, but maybe, again, could have been part of the -- the operation -- could've been part of the larger effort.
We, again, carried out multiple strikes that we believe disrupted and degraded their chemical weapons capability. That does not mean that we were hitting stockpiles with every single one of those strikes. There could have been a range of targets reflected within that.
And again, I think that's consistent with what we've shown you in -- in our -- our strike totals. And again, they could reflect targets that we've hit to -- to hit weapons facilities. So I -- I don't think we're talking about different things here, so.
Q: I'm sorry, but I understood you -- I'm very sorry, Peter, but we don't want to have you leave with any --
MR. COOK: I do not want to leave without any --
MR. COOK: -- with any -- any daylight between you and me, Barbara.
Q: My question is this, and it's, I think, the same exact one as Courtney's. I understood you to say that releases were not full in their facts.
So number one, do those -- forget everything else -- do those press releases to the American public list every strike that the U.S. -- that the -- that you conduct? Number one, do they list them all?
How many are there that you have not told us about? Just the total number, unless you want to give us all the details on the one you haven't told us about.
And third, please explain in -- in -- if you will take the question -- what are the categories of strikes that you are less than fully disclosing in your descriptions? Because there's been nothing that says chemical, there's been nothing that says Shishani. So we need to know -- what kinds of strikes are you not telling us about? Because, as journalists, I assume that press release is full in its facts, and --
MR. COOK: I -- I believe those press --
MR. COOK: -- I believe those press releases fairly and accurately represent coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and we have provided detailed information on strikes --
Q: You haven't said, "chemical", you haven't said, "Shishani". How can they be full -- how can they be fully factual?
MR. COOK: Barbara, you are not --
Q: So all we're asking you is, tell us the categories of things that you're not willing to publicly disclose.
MR. COOK: I believe that those strike totals have included details about strikes against weapons facilities. That is a --
Q: Chemical weapons, Peter. (Off-mic.)
MR. COOK: A weapon facility, Barbara, could be a number of things. And again, this guy --
MR. COOK: I know. I think -- I think --
Q: -- I mean, we're talking weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There's a long history --
MR. COOK: I know.
Q: I think every person in this room, starting with you -- we all want to be as accurate as possible. So we're asking for you to assist in that, and I think you understand the questions.
MR. COOK: I -- I will -- I will assist in that. I will again reiterate that the coalition -- the detailed list of strikes, which I -- I will agree with Courtney is very detailed -- it is, I hope, helpful to you all.
We do this at -- because we want to be transparent, because we've had requests from the news media to be as -- as up-front as we can be. We will continue to be as up-front and as transparent as we can be.
We believe those fairly and accurately represent coalition air operations, airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Again, there's a level of detail in those strikes that we think is very informative, and we will do everything we can to be more informative if we can be.
The one thing we won't do is provide information that could jeopardize ongoing operations, future operations, and we're going to limit the release of that information. I think it would be irresponsible for us not to.
But I appreciate where you're coming from, appreciate what Courtney had to say. We will do what we can --
Q: -- the part that doesn't make sense to us is you're -- we're talking about strikes that have occurred in the past, and you're saying that your concern -- the concern is about -- about future operations.
But what -- what are you hiding from the enemy? Did you think they didn't notice when you blew up one of their buildings?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to tell you what I'm hiding from the enemy.
Q: Well, I -- they -- you -- I mean, if you're concerned -- though -- they notice when you blow up one of their buildings. I -- you know, you're not even hiding it. We get the pictures from them, frankly, because that's -- they post pictures on Twitter.
So I -- I guess what I -- what I don't understand is, when we're talking about past strikes, what is the security concern about -- about telling us that they have occurred -- about a strike that has occurred?
MR. COOK: Were you done? We've -- we've provided them.
Q: So -- so you're telling us -- and again, I just -- you know, you keep saying that -- that -- that the press releases represent the airstrikes. Can you just say yes or no?
Are those press releases the totality of all the strikes that the coalition is carrying out? Are there any that are not being disclosed to us? The -- it's -- it's a really simple question. It's yes or no. Are they not being disclosed to us?
MR. COOK: They're -- that compromises coalition air operations -- the coalition air operations -- the airstrikes that we've been conducting.
MR. COOK: No, I'm telling you -- the airstrike totals represent coalition air operations -- what we've been doing, in detail.
Q: I mean, you're declining to say it in a clear way. I -- obviously, I -- I -- am I -- am I crazy here? Please, tell me, everyone. Let's do a vote. We'll Donald Trump it. Let's do a vote. Who says I'm crazy?
This is a really simple yes-or-no question.
MR. COOK: Let me put a fine point on this. Those airstrike totals represent a -- a coalition air operations -- list of those strikes that we've carried out in Iraq and Syria.
Q: Is it all of them?
MR. COOK: I'm not -- I -- I'm not going to -- I'm not going to get into, again, anything that could compromise additional operations. We think it is a fair and accurate representation of coalition air strikes. If there's any other detail and information we can provide for you, beyond these very detailed, every-single-day reports, we'll make that -- I'll check and make you aware of it.
Q: If you can take the question if there are some that have not been disclosed --
MR. COOK: These are detailed. I think any fair reading of those would suggest that they -- would indicate that they provide incredible detail on --
MR. COOK: -- we've -- we've -- it's a detail you'd like to have? We have detailed strikes against weapons facilities -- a range of weapons facilities. Okay?
Q: How do we know which one's the chemical? I mean, it could be anything. It could be a guessing game.
MR. COOK: I'll take that -- I'll take that question. But we believe it's a more than fair and accurate representation of what we're doing. We believe we've been incredibly transparent, and we're going to continue to be transparent.
Understand your desire for more information. Please understand our desire to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent information from reaching the enemy that could harm our ability to ultimately defeat this enemy, and we're going to be very, very mindful of that.
I hope you would understand that, and at the same time, being as transparent as we can be -- not only with you all, with the American people about what we're doing. And I think, again, that's a test we -- we expect to meet.
So thanks, everyone.