Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
PETER COOK: Hi, everyone. I apologize for being a little bit late. I was trying to get some last minute information that I will share with you now on a couple of different fronts. First of all, the U.S. military conducted an air strike on a senior Al Qaida operational meeting in northwest Syria on Sunday, resulting in several enemy killed. We assess that Al Qaida's senior leader Abu Firas al Suri was in that meeting and we are working to confirm his death. Al Suri is a Syrian national and a legacy Al Qaida member. He fought in Afghanistan in the '80s and '90s and worked with Osama bin Laden and other founding Al Qaida members to train terrorists and conduct attacks globally. I will not be able to provide more -- much more information beyond that on that particular airstrike.
Separately, the Department of Defense has confirmed that Hassan Ali Dhoore, a senior leader of Al-Shabaab, Al Qaida's affiliate in Somalia, was killed as a result of a U.S. military strike in Somalia carried out on March 31. In addition to being part of Al Qaida, Hassan Ali Dhoore was a member of Al-Shabaab's security and intelligence wing, was heavily involved in high-profile attacks -- attack planning in Mogadishu. He had planned and overseen attacks resulting in the death of at least three U.S. citizens.
We also continue to work with the international community to mitigate conflict in Somalia and to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Somalia. Further, we will continue to assess Al-Shabaab activity and work with AMISOM and our partners in Africa to determine the best way forward to defeat Al-Shabaab wherever they are located.
Also as you saw this morning, the Department of Defense has transferred two more detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Salam Abdu Salam Ghereby and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar to Senegal. As of today, 89 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay and the United States is very grateful to our partner, the Republic of Senegal, for this significant humanitarian gesture and appreciates the generous assistance of the government of Senegal as the United States continues its efforts to responsibly close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
As always in making these transfer decisions, the secretary carefully reviewed the cases and the security assurances provided by the Senegalese government, the safety and the security of the American people remains the secretary's top priority in making these decisions.
And finally, an update to the secretary's schedule, he will address the Statesmen's Forum tomorrow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He will make opening remarks and also participate in a moderated Q&A session with CEO -- President and CEO John Hamre. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Jamie, how are you today?
Q: I'm good. As long as you’re on the subject of outlining some of these strikes and potential kills of -- it was also a report that the United States may have killed the battlefield commander who might have been responsible for the death of a U.S. Marine at a -- at the fire base. Can you give us any details on that?
MR. COOK: I can. I know that Colonel Warren spoke about this in Baghdad over the weekend as well. The person we've identified is Jasim Khadijah. He was an ISIL member and a former Iraqi officer that we believe was directly connected to the rocket attack that you mentioned.
And again, we believe that because of his particular knowledge and his involvement with that part of ISIL's operations, and again, we feel like he played a role in the rocket attacks that did claim the life of Staff Sergeant Cardin.
Q: I know that the Pentagon has been cautious about, you know, quantifying the effect of killing these leaders who can sometimes be replaced, sometimes not. But the success that you've had over the last couple of months in targeting leadership, are you beginning to see a real effect on the battlefield from these killings? Has it gotten critical mass in that sense?
MR. COOK: Well, I think, Jamie it's fair to say that we have seen success on the battlefield on the part of our local -- the local forces we're supporting: both Iraqi and Syrian. And I do not know how much do you want attribute to the fact that ISIL leadership has been undermined by our airstrikes, but we certainly feel like that is making a difference. It is harder for ISIL to organize, it is harder for ISIL to communicate and it is very dangerous to be an ISIL leader right now. And I think these strikes are evidence of that.
Q: Just to follow-up on your opening statement, could you provide us with more details? Where the strike against Abu Firas al- Suri took place. And now, can we consider that all the Al-Nusra Front leaders are a legitimate target for the U.S.?
MR. COOK: Again, it happened in Northwest Syria. I'll leave it at that for now. And we've been targeting Al Qaida leaders for some time, as you know. And that has always been a legitimate target.
Q: And the Nusra Front. If you consider Al Nusra Front leaders a legitimate target?
MR. COOK: We have always considered Al Qaida leaders to be legitimate targets. Of course, Al Nusra has its ties to Al Qaida. And that is something that we've been very upfront about for years. And continues to be an ongoing, active part of our efforts, will be to target Al Qaida leadership.
Q: Will it be manned or unmanned aircraft?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into the operational details Joe.
Q: One more thing here, are you aware of any information that Iran has deployed special forces into Syria?
MR. COOK: We --
Q: This was an announcement by the spokesman of the U.S. – of the Iranian's military.
MR. COOK: I think we've been -- I think we've seen the reports and that announcements from the Iranians in the past, that there have been Iranian forces in Syria. I'm not familiar with this particular announcement that you made, but, it would not be a surprise to us that there are Iranians in Syria.
MR. COOK: Yes, Barbara.
Q: I want to follow up on Jabhat al-Nusra, but let me ask you first. We know that because I think both the chairman and the secretary have referenced you are getting close to refining your options for further action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and there is -- there are a number of meetings happening on this.
Can you just sort of go back for a minute and remind why this new round of options on fighting ISIS, what do you -- what's the goal of these new options, and is there anything you can say about the status of the consideration of them?
MR. COOK: The goal, as the secretary has made clear on numerous occasions -- and the chairman as well -- is to do what the president has asked, and that is to accelerate the defeat of ISIL and to do what we can to enable those local forces in Iraq and Syria to succeed and to do what we can to help them.
And the secretary has made clear over the course of the last few months that we're going to do everything we can, working closely specifically with the Iraqi government, to provide the kind of capabilities they need to achieve that desired effect. And we've been successful at that so far in places like Ramadi where our trainers made a specific contribution to the work of the Iraqi forces, the good work of the Iraqi forces in Ramadi. They provided engineering and bridging equipment, for example.
These are concrete examples of the kinds of things that could be needed in the -- in the future fight with ISIL, whether it be in Mosul or elsewhere, and so we are constantly evaluating those capabilities that can make a difference to the Iraqis and working with the Iraqis as to what their needs may be.
It could be everything again from additional trainers to more engineering equipment, perhaps to adjustments in the -- in the air campaign. But these are all things that will be a constant -- a conversation with the Iraqis, has been a conversation with the Iraqis, the secretary and his -- and his top commanders.
Q: What about options, bold strategies to get to Raqqa? Is there anything that you're looking at now, maybe more U.S. special forces or U.S. advisors going to work with Syrian opposition? Anything you can say about what you're doing to try and get to Raqqa?
MR. COOK: Well, I think what's fair to say is that as we look at Syria -- and I think, again, the secretary has referenced this -- we are doing everything we can to try and apply pressure to ISIL in Syria, in Iraq, in as many different forms as possible to, again, put them on their heels, which we think is where they are at this point in time. And that's going to, again, be about enabling local forces to do their work and to make them as efficient as possible.
We've provided support to local forces, and I think what the big focus would be in Syria, particularly as we -- as you look towards Raqqa, is doing what we can to enable those local forces to make them even more effective and to be able to provide even more pressure on ISIL as those forces isolate Raqqa and eventually do what they need to do to eject ISIL from Raqqa.
Q: Can I quickly, quickly follow up on Joe's question? While this person was clearly al-Qaida, and al-Qaida is tied to Jabhat al-Nusra, was this meeting that you referenced -- well first, was it a -- an al-Nusra meeting, an al-Qaida meeting? Did you strike him because of his previous connections to al-Qaida and his history with al-Qaida, or are you now striking Jabhat al-Nusra?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into intelligence here and operational details. What I can tell you is that we targeted al-Qaida members meeting in northwestern Syria and this individual, who has a long history in Al Qaida, we deemed that he was present at that meeting and we're trying to determine if he's been removed from the battlefield.
Q: Thank you, Peter. Going back to Somalia, fast forward from the 31 of March to last night -- VOA local reporters are saying that there was a nighttime raid by foreign fighters and that two Al-Shabaab fighters were killed in this raid. Can you confirm that this was U.S. forces? And do you have anything else on this raid?
MR. COOK: I -- I don’t. I can take that question for you. I'm not aware of -- of anything involving U.S. forces of that kind. Again, we confirm the particular strike that we carried out against this Al- Shabaab leader, but I'm not aware of the specific incident you're referring to. But we'll take that question and see if I can get something for you.
Q: I had a couple of questions. You said right now it's dangerous to be an ISIL leader. To what extent is the special operations Expeditionary Targeting Force involved in some of these strikes? Are they helping call in more precision airstrikes on some of these terrorist leaders --
MR. COOK: Tony, I will --
Q: -- ISIL leaders?
MR. COOK: You know our reservations about talking about the ETF and any of our special operators and what they're doing, and I’m going to hold to that other than to say as the secretary has, that those forces are carrying out a critical mission, critical part of our effort here and we believe they've made a difference in this campaign. But I'm not going to get into details because we'd like them to be able to operate as -- as efficiently as possible without risk of -- to their own safety and their own operational security.
Q: Have they killed any ISIL leaders in -- in missions that have completed and come back safely?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into more details about what they're doing on the ground.
Q: Another part of the -- another part of the world, China.
MR. COOK: Yeah.
Q: Your annual China report, while it's repetitive and it's an annual event, it always causes a buzz in China. So you usually do it March 1st. What's the status of that document?
MR. COOK: That report -- an annual report is -- as I understand it, is being finalized and we expect it will be submitted in -- in the not too distant future to Congress, as -- as expected.
Q: Not too distant future?
MR. COOK: Yeah.
Q: Before he goes to -- before Carter goes to India, you think?
MR. COOK: I can't put a specific date on it, but I think that report will be submitted soon.
Q: Peter, going back to the GITMO transfer, what specific assurances did the government of Senegal give to the Pentagon that these Guantanamo Bay suspects, these Libyans -- these two Libyans will be held for a long time?
MR. COOK: Lucas, you know we don't provide those details, for -- excuse me -- understandable reason, but that transfer would not have taken place if the secretary was not satisfied with steps that were put in place. Obviously, these individuals had to be reviewed, first of all, to be deemed eligible for transfer, and so the secretary was satisfied after his careful review and scrutiny that this was a transfer -- these were transfers that could be done -- that were appropriate to be done at this time.
Q: I understand you don't want to get into specifics, but will they be in jail for the next five to 10 years or is this more like a 20 to 40 or a life sentence?
MR. COOK: I'm -- I'm not going to get into the details about the specific circumstances these two individuals will deal with in Senegal itself. I would refer you to the Senegalese government, but we worked closely with the government of Senegal, and again, we appreciate their efforts in this behalf. And this will aid us in responsibly closing Guantanamo.
Q: But is the secretary satisfied that these two individuals will be imprisoned for a long time?
MR. COOK: The task for the Secretary again is the safety and security of the American people. And he believes in this instance with these two individuals, this particular transfer, that appropriate steps have been taken.
Q: Lastly, if you were to compare the prison they're going to in Senegal to a prison of the United States, could you make that comparison?
MR. COOK: Lucas, again, I'll refer you to the Senegalese government as to the circumstances around it. The Secretary carefully, as he always does, reviewed these individual cases, reviewed the circumstances around the transfer.
And again, after consulting with the interagency -- this entire process is an interagency process and others had to consider whether or not these individuals were eligible for transfer, made this decision working in close coordination. Our team did, with the government of Senegal.
Q: Peter, can I follow on that please.
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: You know how the population at Guantanamo is down under 90, I think it's 89?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: Okay. What is the status of Mr. Fanning? The vote in the Senate has been held up for months now, because there is one senator from Kansas who doesn't want anybody going to Kansas. Somehow, that would be a threat to the people of Kansas, in his eyes.
What is the status of Mr. Fanning? Is the secretary committed to making him secretary of the Army? Where is that going?
MR. COOK: Mr. Fanning is still the president's nominee for that position.
We certainly look to continue working with Congress to try and expedite his nomination. We think filling that position is critically important. It is a very important position within the Department of Defense, and we think he has the background and the qualities that would make him an excellent fit in that job. And again, this is something that we will continue to work with Congress on to try and address whatever concerns they have about moving that nomination forward.
Q: And what is Mr. Fanning doing here in the building now?
MR. COOK: Mr. Fanning has a -- I'll check the specific title, but he has obviously been waiting to complete the nomination process. But he has a special assistant role, I think is the title. And he is doing a range of things on behalf of the department in the interim period.
But again, we think the best place for Eric Fanning would be in the position of Secretary of the Army and we'll continue to work and the Secretary will continue to work to make that happen.
Yes, in the back. Paul.
Q: Yeah, hi. Going back to the expeditionary targeting force.
When Secretary Carter first announced that this force was being created for Congress, he said that, "its primary role is going to be supporting our allies on the ground, but that they will also have the mandate to do unilateral raids." Can you confirm that that's how they're actually doing some shaking down? Have they mostly been supporting allies and occasionally doing things on their own or what?
MR. COOK: I think I'll stick to what the secretary told you, because it's consistent with how this has played out. That their activities, as we've said from the very start, would be carefully coordinated with our allies, including the government of Iraq most specifically. And nothing's changed from what the secretary said initially.
Q: And then, just separately, there was a report this morning that the Vietnamese military had detained a Chinese cargo ship. Do you have anything on that? Is there any -- has the U.S. maybe gotten involved?
MR. COOK: I've seen those reports but I don't know of any involvement on the part of the U.S. military. I can double check that for you, but we've seen those reports, but I have not seen anything that indicates any involvement on our part.
Q: And it comes at a time of sort of warming between the U.S. military and the Vietnamese military, indeed, both countries in general. Do you see this affecting that at all?
MR. COOK: I'll leave the Vietnamese to describe their own actions in this case. But I think in broad terms, as you've suggested, at this particular moment in time, the United States and the U.S. military is finding a host of partners in the region who would like to do more with us. Vietnam being just one example, and it's an indication of the role we can play to provide stability to the region and, quite frankly, some of the concerns some of those Asia-Pacific nations have about the activities of China in that part of the world.
And so again, we would like to do what we can to promote stability, to try and resolve differences in places like the South China Sea peaceably, and we would encourage all the players in that part of the world to do that.
And in particular, we've talked about the South China Sea and the territorial disputes. We don't take sides in those disputes, we encourage everyone to try and resolve those in a diplomatic fashion, and that's something we'll continue to do while still providing the pivotal role that the United States military does in the Asia-Pacific.
Q: Just to be clear, you see this as China's fault in this instance?
MR. COOK: I'm not aware of the exact circumstances.
I'm just talking in broad terms that we continue to find a lot of our partners in the region, a lot of those countries in the region eager to work with the United States, and we're eager to work with them as well. We would like to see a situation in that part of the world where the peace and stability, the prosperity that has dominated that part of the world for so many years continue and where, as the Secretary has indicated, everybody wins. And that's the kind of situation that we'll be trying to pursue.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MR. COOK: You're welcome. Welcome back to the Pentagon.
Q: Thank you. Two questions.
One, as far as these all conflicts going on around the globe, especially in that region of Southeast Asia, China is rising now, and the U.S. military, I think, cutting budget but China’s budgets are going up. As far as this national security -- this security -- Nuclear Summit concern, what role do you think the Pentagon played in that security conference, or Security Summit because more than 50 leaders were there and all these issues must have been, or were, discussed?
MR. COOK: Well, I know that the Secretary of -- the Secretary did not attend the summit as you know, and he was asked about this the other day, but feels like the United States was very ably represented by the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief.
And obviously, these are important issues. Nuclear issues are critical issues to the United States and to the Department of Defense, and these are issues that certainly, I think as the president indicated, will not be solved by this one summit, but a host of issues, particularly with regard to the risk of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon, these are critical issues not just for the United States but for the global community. And to the extant that conference can further the goal of preventing nuclear weapons from making their way into the wrong person's, the wrong people's hands, again, we think that's a good thing and certainly something we support.
Q: What I was asking that also as far as the military is concerned, or U.S. military, the DOD, what role do you think it will play to -- as far as these nuclear weapons not to go in the terrorists' hands because there are a number of nations that would feel that maybe at the risk of -- that terrorists may get their hands on them?
MR. COOK: Well obviously, it's a significant concern, and something that the United States, other countries are worried about and doing -- actively working to prevent, working in partnership with other nations.
This is something that is a -- is a key concern. We do not want these weapons getting into the wrong hands, and the United States and the Department of Defense specifically will continue to take steps to prevent that from happening.
Q: Finally, Peter, as far as the secretary's visit, anything on the Secretary’s visit to India?
MR. COOK: We'll have more to say and the Secretary will have more to say on the visit.
I know he's looking forward to this visit. And again an important moment for the Secretary and for his Indian counterpart to -- to compare notes, if you will, their assessment of the security situation not just in the region, but in the -- the world overall. And I know he's very much looking forward to his engagement with Minister Parrikar.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MR. COOK: Yes, (inaudible)?
Q: First is a follow-up to Abu Faris operation, you said that it was in northwest part of the country, but where was it exactly? Which city?
MR. COOK: I'm just going to leave it at northwest part of the country for now. I just -- I don't have all of the details in front of me, so just would leave it at that.
Q: And secondly, Turkish president met with President Obama and Vice President Biden last week here, and according to the Turkish officials, Turkey had two demands from U.S. to support the upcoming -- (inaudible) -- operation. First, the -- (inaudible) -- of the Syrian- Arab forces from the Syrian Democratic Forces, and secondly, more U.S. airstrikes against ISIL supporting ground forces, which were supported by Turkey in Mara. Do you have any comment about these two demands? And is --
MR. COOK: I'm going to leave private conversation between the president of the United States and the president of Turkey to the White House and to the Turkish government to -- to detail.
Q: Is there any official negotiation process right now in Ankara? Because they told us that there will be a delegation heading to Turkey and they will be meeting in Ankara on Monday, today. Is there any --
MR. COOK: I'll let --
Q: -- delegation -- (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: I'll let the Turkish government speak to -- to what they feel is appropriate with regard to -- to that meeting. I can just tell you that Turkey remains a critical partner in the fight against ISIL, a critical NATO ally and we'll continue to work closely with -- with Turkey on a range of -- a range of fronts. And I think -- I think, again, the -- the president I think was asked specifically about his meeting with President Erdogan at the conclusion of the Nuclear Summit, and I'd defer to what the president had to say about the relationship in that meeting.
Q: And lastly, can you confirm that there is a joint delegation in Ankara today --
MR. COOK: I'm --
Q: -- (inaudible) -- delegation?
MR. COOK: I'm -- I'm not personally aware. I'm not here to confirm that there is one or is not. I'm not familiar with one myself from -- from this podium.
Q: (off mic)
MR. COOK: Yes, Kristina?
Q: Thanks, Peter.
At the top of the briefing, you mentioned adjustment to the air campaign in the war against ISIS as a possible, you know, option. So I wanted to know exactly what you -- you mean. If you could clarify what you meant by adjustment to air campaign? Does that mean different targeting -- different targets? Does it mean the pace of the air campaign or -- what about the air campaign would -- could be adjusted?
MR. COOK: Well, I think it's something -- it's been constantly adjusted.
First of all, the targeting, as we've gotten better intelligence. I think the secretary has spoken to this repeatedly. As we've gotten better intelligence, our targeting has gotten better, and I think that's something we've seen in recent weeks and months for sure.
Another factor to consider, the contributions from our foreign partners, how they might factor into the air campaign. Does that mean we can alter the tempo if we get additional contributions from foreign countries? Is the -- the assets that we're using -- are there other capabilities we need to consider?
So it's an adjustment that's been ongoing, but one, as just an example of how the operations could change moving forward. But nothing specific, other than the tweaking and fine-tuning that we've been doing all along.
Q: So possibly new targets, like oil fields or other types of -- of things that we haven't yet struck?
MR. COOK: I -- I think it's fair to say that the intelligence picture for us in terms of our targeting has improved substantially since the beginning of the -- the coalition air campaign, and every week, every month, we get a new range of targets. We get new information, particularly from people on the ground, and that has opened up our opportunities.
And the Secretary, as you know, is looking to take advantage of opportunities, and I think I want to just make sure that as you -- as I was talking to Barbara about, you know, things that could change in the future, that part of that would be the air campaign, not just efforts on the ground.
Q: And sorry, just one last thing.
MR. COOK: Yeah.
Q: Would it help if partners actually contributed more assets? Could the tempo be -- would that help the tempo increase? And would that be helpful?
MR. COOK: Well certainly, we've been very welcome, very much appreciative of the contributions from foreign nations already to the air campaign. It's been substantial, everything from fixed-wing aircraft, ISR, to re-fueling, every little bit helps.
And certainly, I think it's fair to say that if countries were willing to provide additional assets, that that could give us an opportunity to increase the tempo. And it could also allow for, again, greater participation by certain countries could mean adjustments in which units, U.S. units are flying, that sort of thing.
So it's moving pieces and putting all those pieces together into a single coherent campaign. Every contribution helps, and again, we're very appreciative of contributions so far. There are other -- if countries are willing to do even more, we would welcome those contributions, or at least certainly discussing what those are.
Q: And speaking of --
MR. COOK: Michael.
Q: I'm often confused about where the semantics are on this, is it the Secretary's view that up until this point, there have been combat operations in Iraq and Syria? I'm just often not sure where that is. What is his view?
MR. COOK: I think the Secretary's been clear that what forces are engaged in in Iraq and Syria is combat. Yes?
Q: (Inuadible) with al-Jazeera Arabic. I wanted to ask a question about Libya please. Over the last several weeks and months, the U.S. has announced different operations in Libya -- (inaudible) -- a group against the Islamic State, a group that the secretary himself is concerned about their growth in Libya.
Is there a long-term strategy to outpace the growth of the Islamic State in Libya?
MR. COOK: I think the strategy -- and the secretary has spoken to this publicly -- is to strike ISIL before it gains a foothold in a place like Libya. Anywhere the metastacist of ISIL, the cancer of ISIL can -- has spread, it is certainly in the United States' interests and -- of our partners in the coalition as well to try and arrest that development, to try and prevent that foothold from taking hold. And I think that's the strategy right now that the U.S. is trying to employ.
Q: Part of -- part of the issues that local populations are oftentimes finding sympathy with the Islamic State over military factions and militias that are on the ground, ones that are sometimes competing and fighting each other.
Is the U.S. confident that you can give coordination to those groups on the ground in addition to other European partners? Are you confident that the current strategy is going to be successful in countering and outpacing the growth of the Islamic State in Libya?
MR. COOK: Well I'm -- we certainly understand that it's a complicated picture in Libya right now, and the most important thing that can happen is for the government there to be able to carry out its important role in terms of simply securing the country for the benefit of the Libyan people. So we think the -- that fostering support for that government of national unity is important right now.
And once the more secure picture they have, the easier it will be to determine what the situation is on the ground for -- in terms of the threats to that government and also to determining exactly where ISIL may be located and how best to confront that threat.
So I think this is something we're going to continue to worth closely not only with forces on the ground in Libya, but with our partners in the region who have a keen interest in making sure that ISIL does not gain a foothold in Libya.
Q: I just want to make a -- just want to go back to the strike in northwest Syria. I just want to make it clear, does the U.S. consider al-Nusra a legitimate military target in the air campaign over Syria?
MR. COOK: We consider Al Qaida members in Syria to be legitimate targets, and that was the focus of this strike.
Q: So you are making a difference between al-Nusra and Al Qaida in this case?
MR. COOK: In this particular strike, which is what I'm referring to, we were targeting Al Qaida members.
Q: Not al-Nusra?
MR. COOK: Again, there's -- al-Nusra has been an affiliate of -- of Al Qaida, and so to the extent that there's a distinction there, we feel like the targeting of Al Qaida members in -- in Syria in consistent with the targeting of Al Qaida members we've conducted in other parts of the world.
Q: So in this case, al-Nusra and Al Qaida are interchangeable?
MR. COOK: In this instance, we're talking about a historic -- Al Qaida members who may be affiliated with al-Nusra. Now, al-Nusra has been an affiliate of Al Qaida, so it's in very much -- one in the same. And in this instance, we targeted someone we know as said -- someone who was present who has had a history in higher leadership of Al Qaida dating back to Afghanistan, and -- and -- so we will await to see what the results of that strike were and whether or not he was removed from the battlefield.
Q: Follow-up on India?
MR. COOK: Hold on. Let me go to Nancy first.
Q: I wanted to follow-up on Luke's question about -- Lucas' question about the Guantanamo detainees. How much did the U.S. pay Senegal to take in and integrate these two Libyan gitmo detainees?
MR. COOK: Nancy, not only do I not have an answer to that question, but we're not going to get into the security precautions and the steps taken to -- specifically with regard to the government of Senegal. I would urge you to check with the government of Senegal. I don't have an answer to that. If there was a payment in this case and -- but in terms of the details of the security precautions there, those aren't things we talk about.
Q: I guess I don't understand why how much of U.S. taxpayer money was used in this case is a security interest and not the public's right to know vis-a-vis this case. I mean, you've referred repeatedly to -- to the government of Senegal, and I guess I don't understand why the Department of Defense --
MR. COOK: I'm -- I'm not sure there was a payment made. I'm happy to ask the question and try to get an answer for you. But I don't -- I don't know that a payment was made in this -- in this instance.
Q: I'm assuming there was something given to Senegal for them -- I'm assuming they didn't do it out of generosity.
MR. COOK: We're -- well, we're greatly appreciate of the government of Senegal for assisting in this --
Q: If it's free, especially.
MR. COOK: Again, we deeply appreciate the -- the actions of the government of Senegal and they're not the first government to step up and -- and provide this kind of assistance in a complicated situation with regard to Guantanamo and -- so we appreciate what they did. I'm happy to take your question if I can try to get an answer for you.
Q: Peter, why the lack of transparency with this issue?
MR. COOK: Well, security precautions, Lucas, if that's what you're referring to specifically, is --
Q: You said the name of country, Senegal, so that kind of goes against the security portion.
MR. COOK: Well, you asked for the specific security steps that the government of Senegal's going to take and we certainly do not feel comfortable describing those. If the government of Senegal does, that's -- that's up to them.
Q: (off mic) five years, five days, 20 years, 50 years -- (inaudible) -- heads cuts off and --
MR. COOK: Again, the test for the Secretary has been and will be the safety and security of the American people and whether or not sufficient steps have been taken to mitigate the risk to Americans. And that is a very careful test that the secretary has had to weigh.
And Lucas, as you know in the past, we haven't discussed the details of those security precautions in other countries, and we're not going to start here with the government of Senegal, in part because we want to continue to mitigate the risks of any individual coming back and doing harm.
So -- yes, Hassim?
Q: I have two questions. One on Iraq. The Turkish foreign ministry has stated today that the United States aircraft has struck a Turkish consular facility in Mosul. Do you have -- can you just update us about this strike, or are you aware of it?
MR. COOK: Yeah. My understanding is the Turkish government has actually issued a release on this, or provided information.
I can tell you that in coordination with the governments of Iraq and Turkey, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve conducted a strike on the 4th of April against an ISIL headquarters located in southern Mosul. This compound functioned as headquarters for senior ISIL leaders, it was a bed-down location, a weapons storage facility.
The ISIL headquarters was the Turkish consulate prior to June 2014 when ISIL took control of Mosul and re-purposed the compound for its purposes. The destruction of this compound will degrade ISIL's ability to coordinate fighters and material in Mosul and across the region, and again, this was something that was coordinated with the government of Turkey and with the government of Iraq as well.
Q: My second question on the new training and equip program. There are some Turkish sources that are saying that Turkey is providing a list of 600 moderate fighters to the -- to the program, and the list is going to also increase to more than 1,000. Can you confirm, or do you have anything on --
MR. COOK: We've talked about the re-start of the training program and the goal of trying to once again provide support and training to specific individual fighters who will be able to organize and take the fight to ISIL, and we've -- I'm not going to get into the specific report that I'm not aware of, but we think this is an important part of the campaign as we move towards Raqqa, as we do more to try and pressure ISIL in as many ways as possible.
Having capable local forces, particularly local leaders, who we can provide resources to and can stay in communication with, we think that's critically important, and that's why we've begun that training program again.
Q: What role the Turks are playing in this -- (inaudible) -- training --
MR. COOK: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of this program, but we've appreciated the support that Turkey's provided in the past, and again, critical NATO ally, a partner and ally in the fight against ISIL. And we'll continue to coordinate and work closely with the Turkish government.
Yes, Laurie, and then I'm going to finish with Jamie and then we'll be done.
Q: Thank you. Fighters that are going to go through this new re-vamped program, are they going to be given any instruction on who they're allowed to engage with? I know the first go-around, they were given instruction not to engage with Assad's forces.
MR. COOK: This -- the people we are training, as from the start, are -- will be focused on the fight against ISIL, which is our focus. And that remains the thrust of our effort in Syria.
Q: And will they be instructed that?
MR. COOK: They will have been vetted and they will know full well that our expectation of these forces is that they will -- these leaders -- is that they will continue the fight, to take the fight against ISIL and will be measuring their success based on that metric. And whether or they get additional support from us, that will be just one of the factors we consider.
Q: So they don't promise that, but that will be the metric of --
MR. COOK: It is part of -- we -- it is our expectation that these leaders are engaged and they've already demonstrated a willingness to fight ISIL, and they've shown success in that regard and we certainly expect that they will continue to do that in this role.
Q: (off mic)
MR. COOK: Last question. Let me go to Jamie and then I'll come back.
Q: Follow-up briefly on Libya, what are the implications for the -- for the fact that there's been significant progress in instituting this unity government in Libya for the potential of the coalition to expand the air campaign against ISIL in -- in Libya?
MR. COOK: I think this is something that we'd want to work carefully with not only the government, but other allies in the region.
Italy's been very involved, for example. That's a -- that's a hypothetical, Jamie, and we want to -- we'd want to work carefully with the -- with the government there to see what it was they felt was appropriate and -- and necessary. And we certainly would carefully coordinate with them before taking any kind of military action, as long -- as well as our other partners in the region, most notably Italy, which has offered to take the lead with regard to -- to coordinating with that government,
Q: Well, the reason I asked is because in the past, U.S. officials have indicated that one of the -- one of the hesitation in expanding into Libya was that the government there really wasn't fully functioning, and as they're making progress, it would seem to perhaps open the door to an expansion in the future.
MR. COOK: So we've shown a willingness already to strike ISIL leadership in Libya, and I think it's -- again, let's let the government have a chance to -- to take shape, to take control and we'll be as supportive as we can be. But we don't want to get into hypothetical situations about future military operations. That's not a place right now to go, just given the fragile nature of that government, what's going on there. And we'll be as supportive as we can be, but -- but we're not at that point yet, Jamie.
I'll go to Bill, and then I'm going to -- got to run.
Q: Just quickly, did these folks go -- on the Syrian T&E -- did they go through the same vetting process that the previous program -- I mean, are these hold-overs from the previous program? And why is there hesitance to talk about numbers when -- when we're referencing these -- these trainees? Is it because the last one ended in such an embarrassment?
MR. COOK: We're trying to do everything we can, Bill, to -- to maintain the operational security for these forces so they can be successful in going through the training and -- and re-entering Syria. We have absolutely learned some lessons from the first go-round, which did not function and -- and was not as successful as we'd hoped.
So we have learned lessons, and in terms of the vetting, I don't know if it exactly mirrors what was done previously, but certainly, these are forces -- these are leaders that have demonstrated a willingness and an ability to participate in the fight against ISIL successfully. We think by further enabling and training these forces, these leaders, that they will enhance the overall fight against ISIL in Syria.
And again, these are forces that we think can -- can be successful, and with additional support from the United States, will be able to carry out that mission even more effectively.
Q: Did you hear about how U.S. Navy busted an Iranian dhow? Pretty big story today coming out of CENTCOM. Do you have anything on that? Do you see an increased Iranian aggression in the region, Peter, in light of U.S. Navy busting this dhow with Iranian weapons, thousands of Kalashnikov's, RPGs, machine guns?
MR. COOK: I just would say that, you know, this is the third of these, if you will, seizures in the -- in the -- in recent weeks and I think it is a testimony to the -- to the work of NAVCENT in terms of keeping an eye on activities in the Gulf region, and particularly, potentially destabilizing activities on the part of the Iranians. And that's exactly why they're there, that's why we have that presence.
And I think it was good work on -- on their part, and again, an indication of the kind of vigilance that the U.S. military will maintain in that part of the world because of the -- the -- the threat of destabilizing activities and activities that -- again, that we've been worried about from Iran for some time.
Q: Have you seen Iranian destabilizing activities increase over the past few weeks overall?
MR. COOK: I don't think our picture of Iran has -- has changed all that much. They have shown a willingness to -- to conduct themselves in ways that we don't think are -- add to stability in the region, separate and apart from, of course, the agreement -- the nuclear agreement, and that's always been a concern of ours and that's why we'll continue to be vigilant as -- as NAVCENT was in this particular instance that you're -- that you're referring to. Alright. Thanks, everybody.
Q: (off mic)
Q: One more --