Joint Press Conference by Secretary Carter and Minister Le Drian in Paris, France

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian


DEFENSE MINISTER JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Ladies and gentlemen, we have just chaired, together with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, a very dense discussion with the major partners of countries involved in the coalition acting in support of local forces fighting against ISIL.

Our coalition exists since the 19th of September, 2014, when France struck ISIL targets in Iraq for the first time north of Mosul. From that date, the United States was no longer alone. Since then, many countries have joined us, stressing that the fight that we are leading is the fight of all states determined to eradicate a totalitarian terrorist group that has made of its creed the leading astray of a religion and that's its standard.

I'd like to acknowledge the presence in Paris of 11 of our counterparts around Ashton and myself. France, since this date, is one of the key contributors to this effort against ISIL. Our aircraft carrier is near -- (inaudible) -- for the third time in three years. Our air force has been acting daily from two bases in the region. Our army takes part in training the Iraqi and Kurdish elite troops, and the French guns at Qayyarah significantly contributing to the ground offensive of local troops.

Ashton Carter and myself agreed a while back that the defense ministers of the most committed countries should meet regularly to review whether our military effort was meeting the strategic objectives that we set ourselves, and as part of the broader framework that we wish to bring about -- return to stability in Iraq and Syria as soon as possible.

We met for the first time on the 20th of January last. Today is the fifth meeting. We've decided to meet again in mid-December. Our efforts have allowed the progress on the ground and significant victories. ISIL is on the retreat: the losses of Qayyarah, Sinjar and others, and its return in Iraq; Manbij with the Syrian Democratic Forces; Jarabulus and Dabiq freed by the Free Syrian Forces, with the support of Turkey; the infrastructure logistic routes of ISIL constrained.

ISIL hasn't fallen, but it is vacillating. We must increase our effort. The loss of Mosul down the road will be a crushing defeat for ISIL. It will be a major symbolic loss because it's from this town that it chief sought to challenge the civilized world. And it would be a loss of resources because the hundreds of inhabitants will be spared. And ISIL has made the use of these towns a systematic principle, and using humans as shields quite barbarically.

We've devoted our exchanges to current military actions in Mosul. We noted that at this stage, things are going according to plan. It will be a difficult battle, of course, because ISIL has much to lose. But we are determined to support our allies. We're fighting on the ground, and we'd like to commend the courage, the devotion and sacrifice for those who were hit during the fighting.

We also address the next steps, and that will be Syria. Like Mosul, Raqqah is a strategic objective and remains really the focus of our attention. It was the second issue that we discussed and you'll appreciate that I can't go into much further detail on that.

Lastly, we referred to the risk that ISIL cornered might project fighters to our territories. The dismantling of terrorist networks is, of course, the job of our internal security colleagues. We noted that access of the territory held by ISIL has become far more difficult since the loss of Manbij and Dabiq. It's a positive development which mustn't lead us to let up our vigilance because the level -- the threat level remains extremely high.

All in all at this stage in our intervention, our discussions have allowed us to stress the paramount need to maintain the cohesion of the coalition that has demonstrated its effectiveness. We also agreed on the importance of neutralizing ISIL fully to limit its dispersion and its effects on other areas where it might seek to develop, as today in Libya, or in other parts of Africa.

Thank you for your attention.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: (inaudible) -- back here in Paris -- of course, France, our oldest ally. The City of Light is always having a place in America's heart.

In a few weeks here, in fact, everyone in France and around the world, including America, will mark the anniversary of the 13 November Paris attacks. And in the year since, the French people have stood resolute against terror and the United States is proud to stand with France, just as I'm proud to stand here with you, Jean-Yves, one of my closest colleagues, one of our coalition's most capable leaders and also good friend.

Minister Le Drian and I just concluded an excellent ministerial with 11 of our counterparts who represent some of the core contributors to the counter-ISIL coalition's military campaign. And we were honored to be joined at this ministerial by President Hollande, and I know how committed he is too to ensuring the security of France and delivering ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.

The purpose of our meeting today here was four-fold. First, to review the results of our coalition military campaign plan that we devised and set in motion about a year ago. Actually, less than a year ago. Two, to identify what we as a coalition can do to continue to accelerate the accomplishment of that campaign. Third, how we can better protect our homelands, even as we decimate ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And fourth, how to address -- to address how we sustain and evolve the robust coalition that we have built and developed so far in response to this threat.

And let me just briefing address each of those in turn.

First, based on what I saw during my recent visit over the last few days to Iraq and my conversations with Jean-Yves and our fellow ministers today, we were and I certainly am encouraged by the results of our campaign so far in that -- it has been proceeding as planned. As you know, we've recently reached a critical milestone in that plan, with our local partners in the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga having commenced the operation to envelope and collapse ISIL's control over the city of Mosul.

The Iraqis are fighting with skill and commitment and courage, enabled by the coalition. And today, we as members of the coalition resolved to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIL's control over Raqqah as well. In fact, we've already begun laying the groundwork with our partners to commence the isolation of Raqqah. As we meet here, we're helping to generate the local forces that will do so.

This is one of our campaign plan's core objectives; destroying ISIL's parent tumor in Iraq and Syria. And we're on track to do just that. And as Jean-Yves mentioned, we're working also with -- in the area and have successfully worked in the area of Manbij, Dabiq, and other locations in Syria. I also want to commend Turkish forces and local forces with whom they and we have worked to help seal their border because Turkey also has suffered from ISIL.

Second, as we've done every time we've met as coalition defense ministers, we looked at whether and what additional capabilities may be needed to seize emerging opportunities and further accelerate the certain and lasting defeat of ISIL. For example, we already know that there may be additional requirements for more trainers not only for Iraqi security forces, but -- but particularly for local police and border forces.

Third, as our campaign delivers results in both Iraq and Syria and as we combat the ISIL cancer's metastases in places like Libya and Afghanistan, which is another critical objective of our campaign, we discussed what forms ISIL might take in the future.

Here, we particularly focused on the threat to our homelands because helping protect our homelands is obviously another critical campaign objective. And I was pleased that General Tony Thomas, who is the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, joined us for this discussion, and for our part, we have put our Joint Special Operations Command in the lead of countering ISIL's external operations. And we have already achieved very significant results both in reducing the flow of foreign fighters and removing ISIL leaders from the battlefield.

But we need to do more, and that's why we also discussed our responsibilities as defense ministers to help protect our homelands by working closely with our diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement and Homeland Security partners. And we shared best practices and ideas for how each of our countries can improve.

Fourth and finally, the defense ministers broadly endorsed a set of defense policy principles that will help ensure we sustain the coalition and our commitments to it not only for the purposes of helping our local partners win the battle, but also helping to win the peace. After all, we cannot perfectly predict what will happen after our coalition defeats ISIL in Iraq and Syria, so we have to be ready for anything and we have to keep working together.

As long as we do so, I'm confident that we will deliver ISIL the lasting defeat that it deserves. And we look forward to working with Prime Minister Abadi and assessing what support the Iraqis might need in the coming time.

Now, obviously countering ISIL was foremost on my and Jean-Yves' minds today, but our relationship is much broader and deeper than this one issue. So, I'll simply note that we will both be in Brussels tomorrow for the October NATO defense ministerial where we'll discuss the transatlantic alliance's response to Russian aggression in the east of Europe, as well as threats emanating from our alliance's southern flank.

And I'm pleased to say that we'll be continuing these conversations and more next month when Jean-Yves comes to visit Washington D.C., where we'll take steps to institutionalize the strong -- a yet stronger France-U.S. defense relationship that the two of us have built. I'm very much looking forward to that, Jean-Yves.

Thank you all.

MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you, Ash.

There are four questions; two French questions and two American questions. I'll start maybe.

Q: Thank you, a question for both of you.

Secretary Carter, when you spoke in Iraq, you suggested that Mosul and Raqqah would be synchronized. Today, you spoke of generating local forces and laying the groundwork for Raqqah. Is it correct to assume that the campaigns may overlap at some point but won't be simultaneous and -- as maybe once hoped? And then is there any kind of delay in planning here?

And then for Minister Le Drian, are you urging the local forces move faster to isolate Raqqah or -- and how many local forces do you think still need to be generated to accomplish the mission, to actually be able to take Raqqah? Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: To your -- to your first part of your question, yes, there will be overlap, and that's part of our plan and we are prepared for that. And second, there's no delay. This is proceeding on plan, even as Mosul is proceeding on plan.

And for the second question, Mr. Minister?

MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I can confirm the concomitance without giving you the agenda. And I can also confirm that the initial plan is fully respected, so there's no specific request to accelerate. We must proceed as was agreed initially, and this is happening acceptably.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Minister, one of the big questions of concern to us are the reactions of ISIL in the second week of operations. I mean, I don't know how far you can be detailed in specifics on that we spent of reinforcements of hundreds of men from Syria to Mosul. There's talk also of Daesh leaders fleeing from Mosul.

Could you give us some details on that? And the next question -- what -- (inaudible) -- plan is to encircle Mosul to avoid any escape route to the jihadis or an attack from one side from the east with -- that would leave an exit route.

Q: One for you, Secretary Carter. The -- the Raqqah question, with what sort of military power can you launch such an operation? And would that imply a cooperation with our Russian partner?

MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Let me begin by telling you, I can understand the relevance of your question. I mean, you'll also appreciate the relevance of my non-answer on part of your question. But here, I can't reveal the battle plans that would be disseminated on all media networks tonight.

So on the retaking of Mosul, we're continuing according to the initially set plan and progression is happening at a pace that is fully acceptable today.

I'll tell you that on the Daesh-ISIL movement, it's always difficult to predict what's going to happen. Some going to go from Mosul to Dier Ezzour or Raqqah, while others go from Raqqah to Mosul. Well, the issue is first and foremost to get the necessary intelligence to observe these movements, which we have, and to make sure that we can unfold the process on Mosul according to plan.

Let me say at the same time, it's true that the next concomitance step is Raqqah, but the taking of Mosul will have a major effect on ISIL in terms of resources, in terms of its organization, in terms of its management and leadership, very significant effect. And if we maintain the principal according to which, the battle will be difficult, it will be long, it's a very big city and we're moving forward gradually, but sticking to the initial plan.

SEC. CARTER: Well, first, just to -- before I get to your question, to me I've seen reports of fighters moving either from Mosul to Raqqah or Raqqah to Mosul, and I can't confirm them, but I can ask you that if you provide me with their specific locations, I'll ask General Thomas to look into in.

On the second point: What military force is going to take Raqqah? It -- it, as always, and this is a strategic principle of all of coalition operations, that it is capable and motivated local forces that we identify and then enable. That's our general strategic approach, because we're seeking the lasting defeat of ISIL. And a lasting defeat of ISIL can't be achieved by outsiders. It can only be achieved by those who live there.

And therefore, these will be Syrians, enabled by us. And we will seek, as we do -- as we are doing in Mosul, an assault force or a force that comprises the noose around, that we enable. And then very importantly, we're working on, in every one of these cities, the governance and the policing that must occur to make sure that the peace is kept. And that won't be any different than any other -- in Raqqah, Mosul, then in Ramadi, Fallujah, Hiit, Rutbah and so forth.

That's fundamental to our strategic approach, because we want a victory that sticks everywhere. And so it's always local forces.

And with respect to the second part of your question about Russia, Russia is not a participant in our Raqqah plan. We do de-conflict our coalition operations with Russia through a very professional military-to-military channel. That channel is active every day and -- and everyone behaves themselves very professionally on both sides in that channel.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, a question really for both of you. You both long established, and then mentioned again today, the concern about foreign fighters leaving as you have success in Mosul and ultimately in Raqqah. Now that you've all joined together and discussed the issue, can you give us a current assessment of the threat to the homelands? But also, maybe provide a specific example or two of, you know, proposals or some kind of planning to counter this threat, to kind of reassure the public.

And Mr. Secretary, if I may, a quick domestic question that's raised a lot of attention at home. Is -- you're aware that the Pentagon had signaled that it was going to demand reenlistment bonuses to come back, to be paid back by the soldiers who were wrongly paid them. Have you looked into this? And can you -- do you -- can you give us a state of play on where that is?

SEC. CARTER: So, I'll start first on external operations, and then perhaps the minister can speak to that. And then I'll come back to the American issue.

We did discuss external operations today. I think we all recognize that protecting our homelands is a fundamental responsibility of all of us. And so it's our highest priority always. And the collapse and destruction of ISIL in Iraq and Syria will destroy both the fact and the idea that there can be a caliphate based upon this ideology.

That's essential. However, there will continue to be, and there are now, those there or elsewhere who aspire to either coordinating or inspiring attacks in our homeland. And we've all seen that. And we did discuss what to do about that today. We talked about destroying the plotters, their networks, their finances. And General Thomas talked about that in some detail.

Second, interdicting the flow and the travel of foreign fighters. And third, the activities to undercut their messaging on the internet.

So this -- this external operations -- these external operations activities go on at the same time that our Iraq and Syria operations go on. And even after the conclusion of the Iraq and Syria operations, we will be continuing with the external operations. But they will -- we will have the advantage at that of all the -- the -- the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, the loss of the physical caliphate, and a great trove of intelligence and insight into the network that'll help us destroy it everywhere.

MIN. LE DRIAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, if I can just supplement Ashton's response by saying that the threat is there. It was -- it was -- it was there prior to the taking of -- of Mosul and it will still be there afterwards, but in different conditions.

Firstly because one of the hotbeds, one of the crucibles, Mosul would have been taken and the concomitance of the taking of Raqqah would also lead to additional weakening. We agreed there in perhaps lies the major lesson this afternoon. That is that the strength of the coalition should go beyond that point and that pseudo caliphate is a -- a territory-based caliphate, but it's also a virtual caliphate.

Both go together. When the territorial caliphate has been eliminated, it will have problems of -- of resources. And we must continue that into the virtual caliphate and use the various means available and prevent the virtual caliphate from surviving the territorial caliphate. But we have to begin by achieving victory on the ground.

Let me add a further important point. The foreign fighters now have difficulty in entering or -- or leaving because the fact that the area between Azaz and Jarablus has been blocked by the -- the interventions that have -- that have taken place with the Syrian army and the Turks.

The fact that Manbij has been taken by the democratic Syrian forces means that the border is not so porous. And that's an -- an obstacle to the foreign fighters. And that was part of our discussion this afternoon with a strong need for firm action over the longer term.

And the problem of threats, there's a risk of attacks that remains permanent. It was before, remains present. Common resolve is to eradicate fully the caliphate, be it virtual or territorial.

SEC. CARTER: May -- may I -- if you'll excuse me, Mr. Minister, there's just one other part of the questioner's question which -- I apologize to everyone in the French press, but this is an -- an issue back home. But it's -- it's a very important issue, so I want to answer it.

Yes, I'm aware and the first thing I want to say is that anybody who volunteers to serve in the arm forces of the United States deserves our gratitude and respect. Period. I'm aware of the specific issue that you're speaking of. It's got its complexities to it and we are going to look into it and resolve it. I have asked the deputy secretary of defense, Bob Work. He is working on that right now. But it's a significant issue for the reason I indicated.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): One last question.

Minister, from the French news, -- the name of a major player was mentioned, Turkey. You recently -- Secretary Carter, you were in Turkey tomorrow morning, what will you say to your Turkish counterpart after today's meeting? Whereas Turkey is making lots of statements, wants to be present in Mosul and Raqqah and considers this whole region as being part of its natural strategic area.

Second question, if I may? Information refers to human rights violations, very serious ways of executions feared actions are looming of people taken hostage. I mean, have you taken these factors into account in your plan? And do confirm -- I mean, how can they impact the strategy on the ground?

STAFF: Two questions is that? Sorry, that's two.

MIN. LE DRIAN: (Off-mic.).

SEC. CARTER: Sure, go ahead. You go ahead and then I'll follow up, whatever you want.

LE DRAIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): On Turkey. Turkey has been the victim of Daesh-ISIL on several occasions. And for us, Turkey is a key partner in this fight.

The taking of Dabiq is an important significant success that we must underscore. And with Turkey, our objectives must coincide, because we have a common interest in defeating ISIL with those who are in a position to do so. And for that, we must coordinate our efforts to make sure that all our objectives coincide.

And tomorrow, we'll be meeting together with Ashton, our Turkish counterpart in Brussels and we'll discuss both the major challenge for both ourselves and Turkey and the very practical implementation of our shared objectives that we can readily identify.

On the other part of your question that concerns the behavior of ISIL; they're going to use all the most barbaric methods. In other words, the greater the difficulty, the more the -- the methods will be tough and egregious. But we will follow the same responsibility that we have implemented since the start of the coalition.

We have very strict rules of engagement in order to preserve to the full human lives, notably civilian populations. And we have also ensured that there is humanitarian support that is implemented as Mosul is retaken.

That's part of our plan. It's fully factored into our capability.

SEC. CARTER: He answered both questions so well, I can't do anything but agree completely with everything Jean-Yves said.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. CARTER: I really can't.

Oh, one thing. Your premise of your question was wrong, because we both did talk about Turkey, because it's an important member of the coalition. But I'll just add that.