Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook
PETER COOK: Good Friday, everybody.
Got a quick statement and then I'll get to your questions.
I wanted to begin by drawing your attention to the statement CENTCOM released just a short time ago from General Votel concerning Turkey and any suggestion General Votel supported the recent coup attempt in that country. You have his statement refuting that, but I wanted to reiterate a few things from this podium, if I could.
The United States has repeatedly condemned the failed coup in Turkey and we continue to convey our absolutely support for Turkey's democratically-elected civilian government and democratic institutions. Turkey is a close NATO ally and a vital member of the counter-ISIL coalition. The U.S. military has worked very closely with our Turkish allies for decades to counter a wide range of threats to our common security.
At all levels of our military hierarchy, we are in regular communication with our Turkish counterparts. As General Votel said at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Turkey's been an extraordinary and vital partner and any reports that suggest General Votel expressed support in any fashion for the actions of Turkish military officers who undertook illegal military action against the Turkish government are factually inaccurate.
Likewise, as Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford have made clear previously, any suggestion anyone in the department supported the coup in any way would be absurd. We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with Turkey going forward.
Separately, I also wanted to mention that CENTCOM announced yesterday that it has initiated an assessment to determine whether a U.S. airstrike conducted Thursday near Manbij, Syria may have resulted in the unintentional deaths of civilians. That assessment is still in its early phase and we do not have all the facts at this time and we do not have any conclusions.
Again, this assessment was triggered by CENTCOM's own internal reporting, and that only highlights the seriousness with which our forces take the issue of civilian casualties and the obligation to protect innocent lives on the battlefield.
The United States and our coalition partners have taken exceptional measures to minimize the risk to civilians in this conflict, and I think it's important to contrast the seriousness with which we treat these issues, the care we take to protect innocent lives and our accountability and transparency with the enemy that we are fighting.
ISIL has launched a series of attacks in Iraq and Syria in which civilian deaths were not an unintended consequence; civilian deaths were the intent.
ISIL has proudly claimed responsibility for attacks just this month that have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including the July 4th attack in Baghdad that killed more than 140 people, and a bombing just this week in Al-Qamishli, Syria, that killed more than 40.
And of course, it has also claimed responsibility for terror attacks -- horrific terror attacks outside Iraq and Syria.
We will continue to work hard every day to execute our mission, while doing our best to minimize the risk to innocent civilians, and to be transparent and accountable about those efforts. We do not expect ISIL to do the same.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Lita.
Q: Just to further clarify on the Turkey thing, General Votel also made some specific comments about his concerns about the impact of the coup, and said that he is concerned that the U.S. has had relationships with a lot of Turkish military leaders, and that he's concerned that the coup might have an impact on that.
Does the secretary, or does the Pentagon agree with that assessment, that there are concerns about the impact of the coup on U.S. relations with the military there?
MR. COOK: Well, as I pointed out, we've had excellent military relations with Turkey for decades, and we continue to have excellent military relations with Turkey.
What I think General Votel was referring to specifically, is that we are engaged in active operations right now with Turkey -- certainly, the counter-ISIL campaign is a -- is the -- the best example of that at this moment.
And as I heard his comments yesterday at Aspen, he was referring to the fact that in come cases, our counterparts may not be in those same positions at this time and to ensure that we continue to operate effectively with -- with the Turkish military.
He was addressing the concern that that continue, and he talked about the excellent cooperation we've got in the Turks, and just making sure that that cooperation continues and that nothing affects our operations.
So far, as he indicated again, our operations at Incirlik are -- continue. And I think, understandably, the CENTCOM commander who is responsible for those operations with regard to ISIL was expressing that concern to make sure that there is nothing -- that we don't miss a beat here. And I think that was what he was trying to convey.
Q: But I mean, he specifically said, "I am concerned about what impact it -- what the impact is on those relationships as we continue to move -- move forward."
So, are you saying the secretary does or does not agree that there is a concern about the impact on the military relationship?
MR. COOK: I think what we -- the concern that General Votel expressed that I think it is fair to say that -- that we all share is making sure that our operations against ISIL are not impacted.
The secretary has received assurances from his counterpart that that's not going to happen. As the operational commander responsible for CENTCOM, and obviously with regard to the -- the overall mission, General Votel was expressing his concern that that not happen.
The secretary would share that -- that concern, but he has had assurances from his own counterpart that that's not going to happen. And -- and that's certainly -- we would -- we want this operation to continue seamlessly, and I think that's what General Votel was expressing as well.
Q: Just one other -- quick thing on that. One, he -- and then he also said that some of the people -- some of the military officers that the U.S. has been dealing with are indeed in jail. Is that your understanding also?
MR. COOK: I'm going to leave it to the Turkish -- (inaudible). I do not know the disposition of everyone involved.
Q: And then he -- he made one other comment that seemed to suggest that while power's back on et cetera at Incirlik, that there are some outstanding issues that continue to be at least somewhat problematic there. Can you talk about what may -- what some of those may be?
MR. COOK: I'll -- I'll refer you back to -- to CENTCOM and General Votel.
But obviously, you know we had the concerns about the power situation at Incirlik. We are up and running again and at this point in time, we want to make sure that nothing in our fight against ISIL is interrupted, that if anything, we can accelerate that effort, whether it be from Turkey or from -- with our partnership with other coalition partners. And I think that is the concern that General Votel was expressing.
And we have an opportunity here to -- to truly accelerate this campaign and we want to follow through on that. We believe all the members of the coalition, including Turkey, would like to do the same thing. We all share a common enemy in ISIL.
Q: (inaudible) -- move to Syria for -- for just a minute. Two questions.
Firstly, the Russian and Syrian governments announced yesterday this sort of humanitarian operation in rebel-held parts of Aleppo saying they wanted civilians to sort of be allowed safe passage.
Firstly, was the Pentagon in coordination with the Russian -- were we coordinated with before the announced was made? And secondly, do you think this is a sincere effort or is this sort of a rouse, as some officials have called it, to get civilians out and then be able to strike those areas?
MR. COOK: Again, we're not in negotiations with the -- the Russians. Secretary Kerry has been negotiating. As you know, the State Department's been in the lead with regard to our conversations with -- with Russians, so I'll leave it to the State Department to characterize those. I understand even Secretary Kerry was asked about this today.
So we did not have any coordination or understanding about this corridor that's being discussed by the Russians, so.
Q: Second thing on the Manbij sort of assessment that you've started, this obviously isn't the first time in this month that there's been an assessment -- I mean – there’s only U.S.-led coalition air planes in that area, so it's very unlikely that it's anyone but a U.S.-led coalition partner.
The opposition has called for strikes to stop. So I mean, at what point do you say, "Olay, let's stop, let's look at what the problem is and then move forward"? Because I mean, obviously -- I mean, the number is pretty enormous for these strikes to be taking place and for them to continue while the investigations continue.
MR. COOK: This is, Idrees, a critical part of the effort right now against ISIL. We've described how important Manbij is. We've described how complicated this situation is with regard to the forces taking on ISIL, the urban environment that -- that this is in, the fact that ISIL has been dug in, ISIL has been willing to place itself in and around civilians.
This is a complicated situation and we will continue to apply the rigor that we always do in terms of minimizing the risk to civilians, but we are supporting those forces because this is, as I said before, a critical moment in this campaign. This is a critical piece of territory. It is a place where we feel strongly that ISIL has planned external attacks outside of Syria.
And that makes it all the more important why those local forces that we're supporting can capture this territory and -- and remove ISIL from this area, and that requires air support by the coalition that we'll continue to provide. But obviously, this is a situation -- this most recent one, there have been -- there's at least one other strike in which, again, a credibility assessment has already been conducted and determined to be credible, that we're going to apply the rigor and the diligence needed to find out exactly what happened here.
And take whatever lessons we learned from that and apply that to our -- how we conduct our missions. But this is a difficult environment, and I would be clear about that, the urban environment here and the complicating factor about the enemy we're targeting, what they're doing with regard to the civilians around them.
They are not taking steps to protect civilians -- innocent civilian life.
Q: (inaudible)…it doesn't seem to be working, because why not get the assessments complete, and learn from them, and then make those changes and continue?
Because I mean, obviously, if people are dying on the ground, they're not going to be in support of the U.S.-led coalition strikes. I mean, it's not winning hearts and minds of, you know, you have sort have used strategies in the past.
I mean, it just doesn't seem like a smart idea to continue striking even those civilians -- (inaudible) -- killed.
MR. COOK: Well, those -- those local forces we're supporting might have a different view if we weren't conducting those airstrikes in their -- in their support.
I -- I imagine you would be asking me some of the same questions if those forces came under attack from ISIL, because we weren't providing some of the air support to them.
So, we are using -- again, the coalition is using very careful scrutiny in how we continue these operations. We will continue to review these particular instances in which there is -- at least a -- claims of civilian casualties being present. Is that were the case, how did that happen? What, in our operational system, needs to be reviewed and looked at?
But we will continue to -- to take this fight to ISIL and to apply the rigor to these airstrikes that we have from the start of this campaign.
Remember, we've had thousands of airstrikes at this point. We have taken every possible step we can to try and reduce the risk of civilian casualties. And we believe that track record is -- is an excellent track record, and that we have taken many instances in which we have not carried out strikes because of that risk. And we'll continue to do so.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Jabhat al-Nusra has now detached from Al Qaida, and they've rebranded themselves Jabhat Fath al Sham, or some -- something like that.
Will the DOD continue -- strike this new group? And does that change whether -- you know, the DOD's calculation of whether it will continue? Or does there need to be a State Department designation?
MR. COOK: The -- just because they changed their name doesn't mean they've changed their -- their actions.
And this will continue to be a group that -- that we'll continue to focus our -- our efforts on for the understandable reason that this is a terrorist group that has, in the past and continues to threaten the U.S., the United States, American citizens and -- and our interests.
And so, a name change alone, it's -- it's actions, not names and words, that we'll be watching going forward.
Q: So, the DOD will continue to strike this group, whatever they are called?
MR. COOK: It remains -- again, a -- a terrorist target, as it has been for some time.
Q: A couple of clarifiers. The assessment that you opened with, that's for the July 23rd strike? There hasn't been a third civilian casualty incident?
MR. COOK: I'm referring to an incident that CENTCOM issued a statement last night regarding an airstrike in and around Manbij that occurred yesterday.
Q: So, there is a third incident, then?
MR. COOK: Yes, this is a third incident with regard to the -- the previous ones that they've discussed. This is a third incident that took place yesterday.
Q: Okay. And then shifting to Turkey, there was a protest outside Incirlik.
Could you give us an update on -- for the U.S. personnel that are inside the base, do they have any ability to move within or out of Incirlik? And what sort of force posture measures are being taken to protect the personnel at the base?
MR. COOK: Well, you know I'm not going to get into all the force posture -- all the security precautions that we have in place for our forces. But we've been at an elevated force protection level at Incirlik for some time. We'll continue to take every step we need to to make sure our personnel and other coalition personnel are as safe as possible at that -- at Incirlik.
It remains a foremost concern, foremost priority for us and will continue to be so. But our operations continue.
Q: So can they move in and out of the base right now or are they all stuck on base?
MR. COOK: I'm -- I'm not going to get into all the security precautions in place right now with our personnel.
Q: Then last -- this morning, the Marines put out a statement about an F/A-18 crash in California. There are reports that it occurred during a combat simulation known as Air Assault Course. Can you confirm those reports?
MR. COOK: I'm going to refer you back to the Marines -- (inaudible) -- right now. We're working together to defeat ISIL, the common enemy of ISIL, and -- and again, we'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq and seek their help in making sure any issues about force protection for our personnel are addressed.
Q: Could I just ask when we should expect to see results of the civilian casualty assessments in both the 19th case and the 23rd?
MR. COOK: I would imagine that the credibility assessments -- they generally take a matter of days. I'll leave it to CENTCOM to give you the specifics, but I think in a short amount of time, we'll have a sense of the credibility assessments in these cases as to --
Q: (inaudible) -- credibility assessment for the one --
MR. COOK: First one's been --
Q: -- on the 19th has already been done.
MR. COOK: Yes. So I'll leave it to CENTCOM to -- to walk you through the -- the timetable, but the actual formal investigation I know will be conducted as quickly as possible, but they will want to get as many facts as they can from as many sources as they can, our own internal operational resources. So -- but I'll leave it to CENTCOM to give you a better sense of the actual timeline.
Q: I just also wanted to ask you about the numbers. So I think the number of affirmed civilian casualties all totaled from the coalition in the campaign is something around 55, and each of these incidents around Manbij are -- one of the incidents would, if we believe the numbers that are coming out of Syria, would be higher than all -- all the deaths that have been reported by the coalition from the last two years.
And as you said yourself, there are more than 1,000 airstrikes that have been conducted. So what's -- are you confident that the reporting structure that is in place in CENTCOM is capturing all of the civilian casualties potentially being caused by these airstrikes?
MR. COOK: I'm confident that the structure that we have in place is rigorous and thorough means by which determining those instances in which allegations of civilian casualties can be deemed credible or not. We -- the rigor that our forces apply to this, again, both in the original targeting and in the assessment afterwards, when there are allegations is extremely strict and rigorous, and will continue to be so.
And the number you provided, the 55 number is the same number that I understand that we have at this point. Obviously, we regret any loss of innocent life in this conflict. And we'll continue to do everything we can to -- to minimize it, and these instances in which there are reports of civilian casualties in and around Manbij will be properly scrutinized.
And that is -- I think you heard from the secretary and General Votel at the counter-ISIL meeting the other day, that's a reflection of how we conduct ourselves in these -- in this conflict. It is a reflection of our values and the respect we have for civilians in these conflict zones, and the steps that we're trying to take to minimize that.
And in those instances in which there are civilian casualties, we will be as transparent as we can be about how this happened, and try and learn whatever lessons we can at the same time.
Q: And just lastly, in the interest of transparency, why are the dismissed allegations of civilian casualties not being released by CENTCOM?
MR. COOK: In terms of credibility assessments that --
Q: CENTCOM is releasing instances where the U.S. has confirmed that there have been civilian -- civilian casualties. But all of the other reports of allegation of civilian casualties, which CENTCOM is going through its process and then dismissing are not being released.
MR. COOK: Because someone at -- the process involved has looked at this to determine whether there is credible evidence to suggest that there were civilian casualties, and that that process has concluded that there -- was not a credible allegation. And --
Q: How can we -- (inaudible) -- that process if we don't know what the allegation was, and don't know what (inaudible) it was dismissed?
MR. COOK: I'll -- I'll refer you to CENTCOM if there's particular instances in which you have questions.
But we have tried to address the ones that were brought to our attention. And CENTCOM has a strict process for this -- the U.S. military has a very strict process for this. And we are trying to respond to the instances in which there are credible allegations. And we go through a process -- a very strict process in trying to determine what that is.
That includes, as I mentioned before, not just our own operational evidence, but things that might be collected outside -- social media, videos, and personal accounts.
This is a conflict zone right now. And our ability to collect information in each and every one of these instances, given the limits in terms of American personnel on the ground are -- are not insignificant in some circumstances.
So, that is also a factor we have weight in, in determining these credibility assessments.
Q: But I'd like to follow up on that, if I may, and a couple of other things as well.
It's not just the ones that you deemed not credible, but the ones where you are able to come to no conclusion, perhaps because of all the factors you raised.
And this is a policy matter. This is -- I'm assuming that Central Command obeys whatever DOD policy is. The secretary comes up and talks about this all the time on civilian casualties.
So, can we circle back with you right now, and ask you to take the question -- how many, in addition to the 55, how many other cases, how many other people, human beings -- comparing apples and apples here on 55 -- how many others have you looked at, and you deem not credible? How many others have you looked at and you simply can come to no conclusion?
Could you try and get us an answer to that? Because that's a department-wide question, so anything you can do to throw your weight behind us and get us an answer --
MR. COOK: We will continue, Barbara, to be as transparent as we can be about these -- yes, we will continue to try and do that, and to try and respond as clearly as we can.
We provided specific numbers in these instances, CENTCOM continues to do that. If you have particular instances, it would be helpful for us to be able to respond to specific cases.
Q: I -- personally as a reporter, I would like to see the overall numbers. I cannot give you time, date and place because I don't know what else they've looked into.
So on the basis of public transparency, can you get a total number for us, how many people -- civilians?
You deem the allegations of a civilian casualty not credible. How many people, civilians have you not been able to come to a conclusion about one way or the other, because perhaps of lack of information and data?
We have no way of knowing what they are. We would like to know. We are asking you guys, what are those two sets of numbers?
MR. COOK: I'll take your question, Barbara.
And again, I will stand by the process that CENTCOM and this institution have had in place for some times in terms of the rigor and the numbers that we are providing. If there is more transparency that we can provide, we certainly will try and provide it.
Q: I think what we are looking for is the other two-thirds of the equation here beyond the 55 that they're -- that they are able to acknowledge. So anything you could do to get that additional transparency --
MR. COOK: Understood.
Q: My other two questions, very quickly, are, General Votel yesterday, what he said was that he had some concerns. So, in fact, are U.S. military operations against ISIS out of Turkish bases 100 percent back to pre-coup operations, activities? Is there any area in Turkey where you are not back to where you were before the coup?
MR. COOK: I think, as General Votel indicated yesterday, Incirlik is back up and running.
Our cooperation with the Turks remains excellent, and we continue our operations. As we've heard from the Turkish minister of defense and the secretary himself, their cooperation going forward in this campaign remains intact.
We are -- the only concern I think that General Votel was expressing was a concern that there would some sort of interruption going forward.
We certainly don't anticipate or expect any, but we are in a very complicated environment right now, where we want to apply as much pressure on ISIL as possible, and whether it's in Turkey or elsewhere, we don't want any interruption going forward. I think that is the concern that he was expressing.
Q: What is the interruption going forward that worries you?
MR. COOK: We had an interruption in Incirlik for a few days, as you know.
We don't have any indication of problems at this moment in time, and we would just like to maintain that. That was I think what General Votel was expressing yesterday at Aspen.
As he said publicly at Aspen, we've had excellent cooperation from the Turks. We want to make sure that continues. We have every reason to believe that it will based on the conversations that we are having with the Turks.
Q: To Barbara's point, he was asked very specifically, "Are you talking about potential future concerns or already existing concerns?" He very specifically said his current existing concerns are about the impact on the relationship; that currently right now, he is concerned that the coup is impacting U.S. military -- he said relations and then further clarified military -- with U.S.-Turkish military relations, that he was afraid of that impact.
MR. COOK: I think -- as -- I think if you heard what he had to say, he expressed his concerns about the fact that in some cases, U.S. military counterparts are not necessarily there to have the same correspondence that they did before the coup.
Q: He said they were in jail.
MR. COOK: He -- I'll leave -- he did refer at one point to that. But I think the larger point here is that we have excellent military-to-military cooperation, have had for some time with the Turkish military. If -- if you are no longer able to talk to a counterpart that you've dealt with for some time, there's a concern that there might be some breakdown in communication. We are trying to work through that with the Turks and have every confidence we'll be able to do that. I think that's what General Votel was speaking to.
Q: So, Peter, confidence to be able to do that. You're suggesting with those word choices there is a situation right now and confidence to be able to do that is in the future. So the bottom line is there are Turkish military personnel in jail in Turkey as a result of the coup that you were dealing with that you can no longer deal with and you're rebuilding that relationship. Is that accurate?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to characterize what -- the disposition of all those people, but I think it is, as the Turkish government has made clear, there are changes within the Turkish military and we are, in some cases -- and it's not just the United States but other countries that may have had military-to-military relations with the Turks -- now may be dealing with new individuals. And we'll work through that and that's what we're doing, and I think that's -- our military communications with the Turks will continue as they work through these issues themselves.
These are domestic issues for the Turkish government, for the sovereign Turkish government and we will continue to work through that. We happen to be involved in a campaign right now against ISIL with Turkey and other coalition countries in which we do not want to see that campaign miss a beat. And we are going to work as diligently as we can to make sure that doesn't happen.
Let me move over. (inaudible)
Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions.
One, common enemy ISIL, they are killing thousands of innocent people and also spreading into Europe and also in Asia, including in the South Asia region. And now, at the State Department, more than 20 nations are meeting religious and ethnic minorities under ISIL, including India and U.S. counterterrorism. So what role do you think Pentagon is playing at this meeting at the State Department against ISIL?
MR. COOK: Well, we obviously had a significant meeting at the State Department last week in which we had both the defense ministers and the foreign ministers of all the coalition countries engaged in the fight against ISIL.
As the secretary has said for some time, there's a military component to this campaign, but there is certainly -- that is not sufficient in and of itself to deal with the threat posed by ISIL. There are efforts that we need to -- in terms of both political and stabilization economic efforts that need to be -- need to be conducted in order to make sure that ISIL is defeated and stays defeated. And there are other efforts to reach out around the world to try and address questions about this hateful ideology and what can be done in terms of making clear that ISIL is -- is a threat just in terms of its -- the message it's sending around the world.
So these are all things that -- that I'm sure my colleagues at the State Department are engaged with there. We're focused here on the military campaign and -- and very focused on it.
Q: Who's training them and arming them, supplying arms? It takes training and arms to kill innocent people. Are you -- (inaudible) -- them who is behind these two --
MR. COOK: As part of our overall campaign, we're going after not only their weapons caches, those weapons that in many cases they've been able to recover within Syria and Iraq from territory that they've -- that they've taken.
We're going after their finances, we're going after their oil assets. We're going after their ability to -- to tax people. We're approaching it from each and every front, including the weapons that they're maintaining.
Q: And -- (inaudible) -- on -- on South China Sea. How dangerous is the situation now? China and Russia is now -- have moved on their exercising. And also, China is threatening those nations in the region after this Hague outcome.
So, some -- this maybe leading to a third world war, because if China continues its behavior the way it's going on, something -- (inaudible) -- are saying in Washington.
MR. COOK: Well, we -- certainly, that's not something we're -- there's plenty of reasons to believe that tensions over the South China Sea, in light of this ruling, that there's an opportunity for all of the countries in that part of the world to resolve their differences there peacefully.
That has been, certainly, our goal. A diplomatic resolution is the most appropriate way to resolve these issues.
We don't take any particular stand on the claims here, as you know. But we do encourage peaceful resolution.
This particular ruling presents an opportunity for countries to pursue those kinds of avenues of resolution, and if anything, this should be an opportunity to reduce the -- the very tensions you talked about.
Q: Peter, the president's -- I will go back to Turkey, by the way.
President Obama and President Erdogan -- yeah. And also, defense chiefs and also top commanders spoke to each other, and assured each other that the cooperation between the two countries are going to excellently continue.
But why is that a concern within the military? The United States -- the U.S. military that change of some people on the ground would affect their relationship between the two militaries?
MR. COOK: I think what General Votel has expressed, what you've heard from Chairman Dunford and Secretary Carter is that we -- we don't expect that it's going to have an impact on the relationship, and we certainly don't want it to.
I think -- what we heard from General Votel is that the relationship is so extensive, our military-to-military relationship, built up over years as a NATO ally, and that there's significant interaction that has been taking place over the years at lower levels than the highest levels of the military.
And the only concern being expressed is that, in some instances a counterpart may not be there who you worked with directly. Now, you need to find out who that new person might be.
I think it's just the operational flow of -- of that engagement that we want to make sure doesn't miss a beat. And I think that was the only that -- that was expressed.
Q: Yeah, but you -- those who have been removed are also replaced at the same time.
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: So -- so -- (inaudible) -- not even one day that you will have another individual on the ground. And the procedures are clear; so why is it -- this concern -- (inaudible)?
MR. COOK: I think you just explained what we hope happens in this instance.
I think that's what General Votel was expressing. Professional military relations between our two countries have been excellent. We want to make -- make sure that they continue that way. And you've heard that, as you said, from the highest levels of -- of the Turkish military and from the highest levels of the U.S. military, that's our goal.
That's -- this is an important NATO ally, important, vital partner in the fight against ISIL. And we don't want to see anything that -- that might interrupt that. And we have no expectation that there -- that there will, especially in light of the comments of support from both folks in positions of power in Turkey, and of course, the senior leadership here.
Q: And then, just one last question.
You know, they're having a lot of claims against General Votel now, against General Campbell before. And also CIA Director Clapper also had some comments which -- (inaudible) -- a lot of discussions in Turkey.
Could you assure the Turkish public opinion that none of those plotters had good relations with the United States?
MR. COOK: I can assure you that, as I said at the beginning here, any suggestion that any member of the Department of Defense supported or played a role in the attempted coup in Turkey, that that would be absurd to suggest that.
You have heard that from Chairman Dunford, you have heard that from Secretary Carter. It is almost laughable. And so, it would be a concern if that suggestion is being portrayed out there. It does not reflect the professional military relationship between our two countries.
Q: So the plotters have no relations with the U.S. military at all? Good relations?
MR. COOK: We have excellent relations with the Turkish military.
And what I'm saying is that the suggestion that anyone in the Department of Defense, any of the uniformed officials you just referred to, had any role or had any support for what took place in Turkey would be wrong.
And we have condemned the coup. We have supported the democratically elected government of Turkey and will continue to do so. We will continue to maintain the excellent military to military -- the defense relationship with Turkey.
Q: Thank you Peter, the Secretary of the Army Fanning will be in South Korea early next month. Do you know what is the purpose of his visit to South Korea for next month?
MR. COOK: I know that Secretary Fanning is making a trip through Asia and has several stops. I will refer you to his office and the Army for his itinerary.
Q: So when he visits South Korea, then he will visit other sites --
MR. COOK: I'll leave it to Secretary Fanning and the Army to tell you his exact schedule. I honestly don't have it in front of me.
Q: When does the United States have additional plan for South Korea?
MR. COOK: You mean a second site?
MR. COOK: As we've discussed, the THAAD deployment, the alliance decisions to move forward with THAAD -- at this point, we are working through the issues with regard to this deployment. We are focused on that at this point.
Andrew? My fault, I saw Andrew here.
Q: Is the U.S. flying strike missions out of Incirlik currently?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: It's currently ongoing?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: Okay, based off of what's been said lately -- General Votel is the second commander to be brought into this, does the U.S. have contingency plans if Incirlik is cut off?
MR. COOK: As we have said, even when we were not able to fly missions, we are able to mitigate and deal with instances in which we are unable to fly from certain locations, we have the ability to adjust and accommodate that.
But Incirlik is a critical location, and we would -- the coalition would prefer to fly from Incirlik for a variety of reasons. We think it's an important capability and we greatly appreciate Turkey allowing those missions to fly from -- from Incirlik. But we do have the ability to adjust.
As you know, previously we did not have access to Incirlik and we conducted missions, but we anticipate being able to fly from Incirlik and we're doing so right now successfully.
Q: Can I follow on that?
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: So yesterday, there were some protests just outside of Incirlik, Turks who were saying that they didn't want the U.S. presence there anymore and they're didn't want the U.S. to be able to conduct strikes missions. They -- they held up really graphic photos of people who have been killed by airstrikes in Syria I think it was, but maybe Iraq and Syria. I don't know.
Is there any concern on the -- from the Department of Defense that the U.S. access to Incirlik will be cut off in the near future, not just because of what's (inaudible) the political instability but because of a lack of public Turkish support for the U.S. role there?
MR. COOK: As the secretary has detailed, he had a good conversation with his Turkish counterpart in which they both agreed on the need to maintain the fight against ISIL and on our continued cooperation on that. Incirlik is a key part of that and we have no indication of anything other than Turkish cooperation with continuing those missions from Incirlik. And we're doing so, as I just said to Bill, even today.
Q: So the have not approached the U.S. about any change in the U.S. access or role or abilities, any kind of parameters of what the U.S. military can and cannot do out of Incirlik in recent days?
MR. COOK: We are -- we are flying missions, as we were before, and again, we're appreciative to the Turkish government's help in restoring the power and getting those flights back up and running. And they are flying as we speak.
Q: And I have another random one, unless someone else had another Turkey one.
Q: Well, that just -- that wasn't her question. Her question was had they communicated with the U.S. government or the Defense Department about modifying that?
MR. COOK: The communication, again, that the secretary of defense received from his counterpart is our cooperation, our efforts focused on ISIL will continue, and that includes Incirlik.
Q: I have a Manbij question. This --
MR. COOK: Let me -- hold on.
Q: Has there been another call since the July 19 call between Secretary Carter and his counterpart?
MR. COOK: I'm not aware of a direct call between the secretary and -- and his counterpart. I know that there have been other communications with the Turkish military at other levels.
Q: I have another random one, then.
MR. COOK: Okay. Go ahead.
Q: Chelsea Manning is saying that he -- he called his attorneys and said that he's now being considered -- I'm sorry. I apologize. She is now being considered for the potential for indefinite solitary confinement because of her suicide attempt earlier this month.
What's the department -- I guess, can you -- can you run us through -- if someone, if a prisoner in a U.S. military facility -- I know it's an Army facility -- but in a U.S. military facility, if a prisoner attempts suicide with some sort of an illicit item, with an illegal item that they're not supposed to have, is the common practice to then to -- for the punishment to be solitary confinement? Are you aware of that? And are you aware of the specific case, these allegations that she's made through her attorneys?
MR. COOK: I'm not aware and I don't quite honestly from here know the exact protocol in those instances, so I'd refer you back to the Army first of all. But I'm happy to take the question. But I think the Army's probably your best bet for this specific case.
Q: So -- I mean, just given the high-profile nature of this case, though, is that something that -- is that something that the department -- that the larger DOD might get involved in if that -- an allegation like that that -- specifically that she is alleging through her attorneys that she's being targeted because of her sexuality and because of the nature of her crimes and being treated differently and that with this suicide attempt -- you know -- (inaudible) -- acknowledged that it was a suicide attempt several weeks ago -- that because of that, she's being treated differently?
Is that something that DOD might -- would get involved in, that specific allegation even though it's an Army facility?
MR. COOK: I'm not aware of any DOD involvement in this case. Like I said, I'm not tracking the specific suggestion or the claim from -- from the individual. So, I'm going to refer you to the Army, because I -- I don't have a solid answer for you on that, because I don't know the specifics here.
But I am sure that what you're going to hear from the Army will be the details about how they handle these cases in terms of people who are incarcerated. And -- and -- but I'll leave it to them to refer you to the actual protocols they follow.
So. Yes, Carla.
Q: Thank you. On Manbij, considering how important it is for the United States to not kill or wound innocent civilians, and considering Manbij is to the anti-ISIL coalition, is there a concern here at the Pentagon with the Syrian-Arab coalition's calling in of strikes?
Have there been any measures to retrain or kind of double down on the efforts on how they would conduct a strike, and how they -- they look into civilians in the area?
MR. COOK: I -- Carla, as I think I've pointed out before, every time we conduct a strike, we're looking at the individual circumstances of each strike, first of all, of the targeting to begin with, and each one of those strikes afterwards is assessed.
Certainly, in instances in which there are credible claims of civilian casualties, we'll go through and carefully examine exactly what took place there to see if there are lessons learned on -- that can be applied to -- to future missions.
But at this point, again, we're still getting the facts on these individual cases, these allegations. And -- and we'll work through those, and we will, as we have in the past, apply that knowledge to what we're doing going forward.
But we expect this air campaign will continue to be a critical part of our effort against ISIL, not just in Manbij but elsewhere. And we will take those lessons learned as appropriate.
Q: So, are there any immediate lessons learned, while -- while the evaluation process is underway?
MR. COOK: While we continue with each and every one of these strikes, we're looking at the circumstances on the ground at that particular moment in time, applying our normal set of tests.
And if there are additional tests that need to be applied in light of what's happening, these credibility assessments will inform us of that. But those are ongoing, so.
Q: Peter, any -- any change to the status of the dependents in Turkey? Any plans to move them out? Is voluntary evacuation still available to them?
MR. COOK: Well, you know, we had an ordered departure in Turkey. So, those dependents have already left in -- at Incirlik.
Q: We were told there's still about 100 left.
MR. COOK: Yeah. I'll check and see if there has been any change in their status. I'm not aware of any at this point. But the vast majority of dependents have already left Turkey as a result of those -- those steps taken some time ago.
But I'll take the question and find out.
Q: You don't think that there's 100 dependents still there?
MR. COOK: No, I -- that was my understanding as of last week. So, I'm not sure if there's anything that has happened in the interim period.
Q: (Inaudible), Peter, just -- I'm not clear on the connection of the secretary with Minister Isik of Turkey.
The only contact they've had was on July 19th?
MR. COOK: They had a phone call. I don't even know the date off the top of my head. They met shortly before that in person.
Q: Is the secretary considering what has happened since? Is the secretary trying to get a hold of him right now?
MR. COOK: The secretary -- as I said, has an excellent relationship with the minister of defense in Turkey.
They had an excellent conversation on the phone, an extensive conversation to discuss some of these issues. Some of the issues they've discussed have been resolved, including the situation at Incirlik.
And we continue to have excellent military -- an excellent defense relationship with Turkey at various levels. And we'll continue to do so. And -- in part, because we are engaged in this campaign with them against ISIL.
We are talking with them on a -- not just a daily basis. Every single day, at various levels to make sure that we are conducting this -- this campaign as effectively as possible. We are also a NATO ally; have those contacts on a daily basis as well.
Q: But there has been no contact between the secretary and Minister Isik since July 19th, since that phone conversation?
MR. COOK: I don't have any conversations to read out to you at this time. So.
Q: Just to follow up.
Q: I think the harder question, though, is with the accusations that are being levied against some of the top U.S. commanders, we're trying to figure out at what level communications are occurring between the government and military of Turkey, and U.S. government and U.S. military, given the importance of --
MR. COOK: There have been substantial conversations.
Q: Right, but -- (inaudible).
MR. COOK: I've described you the secretary's remarks. I know that the chairman has had regular contact with his counterpart. I'll leave it to the chairman's office to describe those.
But these conversations continue at the highest levels. I think General Votel referred to -- to his conversations, in addition.
So, this is an important relationship. We're going to continue to have these conversations, and -- and work through these issues.
Q: Well, do you know, Peter, if anyone has had discussions, like today, to help clarify or clear up some of the apparent misconceptions with what General Votel and/or everyone said --
MR. COOK: General Votel has issued -- issued his own statement to make clear some of the suggestions that came from -- from his comments that were, I think, to General Votel's take, misreported, or certainly misunderstood.
And I think he wanted to make that clear. And this --
Q: Right, but is there something other than a press release? Has there been like a -- do you know of any conversations, like today?
MR. COOK: I can't read out each and every one, but I can assure you that even today, there have been contacts at the highest levels of the U.S. military with Turkish counterparts.
And there -- and there were yesterday, and there will be going forward, whether it's as part of NATO, as part of the counter-ISIL coalition, we'll continue to have those conversations with the -- with the Turkish -- our Turkish counterparts as appropriate.
Q: I know you don't speak for the State Department, but are you aware of any --
MR. COOK: Absolutely.
Q: Are you aware of any U.S. government -- department reaching out or -- or representative reaching out to address these misconceptions that General Votel is siding with the coup plotters?
MR. COOK: I mean, we're trying to make as clear as possible from here -- you've heard earlier this week on Monday, the chairman and the secretary talk about these issues when reference to these absurd allegations or suggestions that General Campbell played some role.
I think we're being as clear as we can be about the Department of Defense, and the top leadership here and our views on some of the suggestions that had been laid out there that somehow the Department of Defense, or people within the Department of Defense knew something or supported in anyway this coup.
That is factually inaccurate.
And with regard to -- to others, we have -- I'll leave it to the State Department to characterize their conversations. But -- so. I'll leave it to the State Department to speak for itself.
But I think our leadership here has been clear on this point, and I think General Votel has only emphasized that again today.
Q: But I think the reason that this continues to have legs is that, while the DOD is speaking -- is putting out these statements and whatnot, the Turks don't seem to be disavowing these claims.
So, is there any effort to work with these close partners that you've said over and over you have such a close relationship with, and encourage them to come out and disavow the claims that very senior four-star U.S. military leaders, and the head of all -- in national intelligence in the U.S. were not behind the plot?
And why -- and what -- and why is it? Why are the Turks not coming out and saying that the U.S. didn't have a role behind this?
MR. COOK: I will leave it to the Turks to -- to speak for themselves.
We will continue to, as best we can, make clear to -- to the Turkish people and to anyone who cares to listen that, again, our relationship with Turkey remains a solid defense relationship. We look forward to continued cooperation with this vital key NATO ally going forward and -- and we will make it clear, based on the facts of the appropriate relationship that we have with the Turkish military, (inaudible) that will continue.
Again, I'll leave it to the Turks to characterize what's going on for -- for themselves. But I think individuals here, including General Votel, who have had others suggest words that they did not say, will continue to say clearly how important this relationship is and how we'll continue to have those conversations to try and clear up any misperceptions that may be out there.
Q: Peter, can you take the question and maybe get back to us on any specific calls or conversations that anyone either within the Pentagon or in the U.S. military had with the Turks today other than -- I mean, I -- I don't think we could assume that the Turkish people are reading General Votel's press statement.
So I mean, any sort of specific --
MR. COOK: We're counting on you all to spread that word.
I'm looking at (inaudible) right here. I'm hoping that he's --
Q: I mean, other than --
MR. COOK: -- reports a few things from this news conference.
Q: I'm assuming you all don't rely on speaking through the media to another country, so --
MR. COOK: No. We absolutely don't. And I --
Q: So could you --
MR. COOK: I will --
Q: -- maybe just get back to us and say --
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: -- what specific conversations anyone at a high level has had in the wake of these recent allegations.
MR. COOK: Let me -- I want to make absolutely clear though, Lita, that these conversations separate and apart from today happened yesterday, that -- whether it's our folks at EUCOM who talk every day in some cases with their Turkish counterparts, this is a relationship that is so long-standing, so normal in its exchange of information -- and General Votel talked about the exchange of information, the integration that we have in terms of our operations with the Turks.
We can't fly out Incirlik with -- of course, without the active participation of -- of the Turkish military. We're doing that everyday and at the highest levels, we have continued conversations with them. I will see if there's -- if there's something we can get for you that -- that highlights that. But what I -- my point is is that that's not unusual; that happens all the time and will continue to happen.
Q: How -- how helpful is it -- (inaudible) -- long-standing military relationship when the president of that country in saying to a U.S. general, "Know your place, you are taking the side of coup plotters," if the translation with BBC is -- is accurate. How helpful is that?
MR. COOK: We -- General Votel has -- has spoken to this himself today to make clear that -- that any suggestion that he supported in any way what took place there would be factually inaccurate.
And I think we're trying to do -- make that as abundantly clear as we can and to be as constructive as we can in terms of making sure that our defense relationship there, that -- that there are no questions about the solid -- the importance of that relationship and the need for continued cooperation in which we expect and hope to see for decades more to come. And this is critically important right now because of the counter-ISIL campaign, and of course, both being long-standing NATO allies.
I know you have -- you have one more question, then I got to go.
Q: I just want to follow-up on Courtney's question.
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: Would you like to see Turkish officials disavow this idea that the U.S. was involved in the coup? Because the reason this has legs is because, as Courtney said, is because every time the suggestion comes up, it is not being denied on -- on the part of Turkish officials --
MR. COOK: We will let -- we will let the facts speak for themselves and I will let the Turkish government and Turkish officials speak for themselves. We -- the secretary just had, as I said, an excellent conversation with his Turkish counterpart. He has a great relationship with him. We're confident that the relationship between the United States and Turkey, the defense relationship will continue and will -- will not be in any way impacted by this.
We will let the facts speak for themselves. We will let General Votel and others make clear if there are any misperceptions about -- about our views on this. We're trying to be as crystal clear as we can. We want to continue our -- the military business that we've conducted for decades with the Turks and we have every expectation we'll continue to do so.
Q: Can I have just one clarification?
When you're talking about all these calls that have been going back and forth, the many, many, many, many, many calls you guys have back and forth with the Turks, you're not saying that one or any of those calls dealt specifically with General Votel and his -- and this alleged -- him being involved in the coup, right? That was not your insinuation by that, right?
MR. COOK: We have conversations every day with the Turks, but --
MR. COOK: But since -- I think it is fair to say that since the coup attempt, of course there have been conversations at the highest levels of the U.S. military with the Turkish military, and in addition, not just us. Of course, President Obama spoke with President Erdogan --
Q: But again, specifically about General Votel and any allegations that he might have been specifically involved. That's -- that -- because I just want to be clear when -- because Lita -- since Lita asked you to take the question and come back, if -- if you come back to us and say there were calls, blah, blah, blah, all these calls, I guess the --
MR. COOK: I -- I'm saying that we --
Q: My --
MR. COOK: We've --
Q: I just want to be clear that it -- so we understand --
MR. COOK: I'm not referring to any particular -- to General Votel -- that there have been since the coup regular communications with -- at the highest levels of the Department of Defense with our Turkish counterparts.
Q: (inaudible) -- since yesterday, Peter.
MR. COOK: And -- and you --
Q: Since -- since the president --
MR. COOK: There have been -- I know there have been some in the -- in the last 24 hours. There have been some in the last 48 hours and that is not unusual because we're talking to them all the time. We have to be.
Q: (inaudible) -- General Votel to Turks directly. Has anybody in this department refuted the claim that General Votel might had been involved?
MR. COOK: General Votel has refuted that claim publicly.
Q: (inaudible) -- he has done that in a press release. So has the secretary, has the chairman or has General Votel directly refuted this to the Turks?
MR. COOK: I -- I can't answer that -- I can't answer that question because I don't know everyone's phone calls today with the Turks. I will --
Q: (inaudible) -- directly refuted it with them?
MR. COOK: I will -- I will take that question, but I can assure you that that message from General Votel, from -- hopefully for myself from this podium and others within the building, any suggestion that General Votel --
Q: (inaudible) -- such a great military relationship with them --
MR. COOK: I just -- I'm not -- I don't know the substance of every single phone call we've had today.
Q: Can you take the question?
MR. COOK: I'll take the question.
Q: Well, that's a high-level call. I mean, that is --
MR. COOK: Exactly.
Q: This is the head of all U.S. Central Command. This is -- he's a four-star general with 30-plus years. I mean, that's a high level call that I would think that -- that the Department of Defense would know was going to happen. If some -- if -- whether it was General Votel or someone on his behalf was calling --
MR. COOK: We had lots of things to talk to the Turks about --
Q: (inaudible) -- in Turkey right now. You know, I mean, you understand. We're not asking for every little phone call back and forth -- (inaudible) -- you know, order food or -- I don't know. We're asking about a very specific high level call. So if it's possible to take that.
MR. COOK: I will -- I will try and get that question answered for you.
Q: If you could get the ones about ordering food - that would be great.
MR. COOK: Okay. Just -- just to round it out.
Q: General Dunford is going to go to Turkey -- (inaudible).
MR. COOK: I will -- I will leave it to the chairman and his staff to -- to tell you about his schedule and itinerary.
MR. COOK: Okay. Thanks, everybody.