Department of Defense Press Briefing by Mr. Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Mr. Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room
October 1st 2015
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PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody.
Want to begin today with the latest on our conversations with Russia. This morning, Defense Department and Russian defense officials held a secure video conference to discuss mechanisms for the conduct of safe air operations over Syria.
This meeting was an initial step, as agreed by President Obama and President Putin earlier this week, to ensure no accidents occur as a result of Russia's commencement of airstrikes in Syria.
The video conference lasted a little over an hour, and was cordial and professional. The U.S. provided an initial proposal to enhance safety, prevent miscalculation and avoid actions, activities or operations that could escalate tensions.
The Russians outlined some of their own ideas. Both sides agreed to consider the proposals and provide feedback in the coming days. During the discussion, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin reiterated Secretary Carter's position that the focus of military activities in Syria should be on defeating ISIL.
She also noted U.S. concern that areas targeted by Russia so far are not ISIL strongholds. She made clear the immediate priority should be on taking steps to ensure the safety of air crews operating over Syria.
Some of the steps outlined by the United States to achieve that: air crews should follow international rules for safety of flight, ensure navigation through professional airmanship, including use of appropriate and active communications and avoiding actions that could cause unnecessary confrontation.
In the meantime, the United States and the coalition will continue our ongoing air operations, as we have from the very beginning. We've conducted a number of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria over the past 24 hours, and these strikes will continue.
And with that, be happy to take your questions. Lita.
Q: Peter, two questions on -- just to follow up on that.
What was the Russian reaction to Elissa's comments to them about the doubts about their -- who they're striking? Can you give at least some context about what they may have said in response? Did they defend it?
And secondly, [Lieutenant} General Otto, this morning, suggested that the U.S. would obviously not be likely to share intelligence with the Russians, that it was -- would mostly be focused on making sure planes don't run into each other. Is that an accurate assessment?
MR. COOK: On your first question, I'm not going to get into the details of the call itself. I'll let the Russians speak for themselves. I will say simply that, again, it was cordial and professional. Secretary Slotkin made her points clearly to the Russians.
There was engagement back and forth, in terms of some of the ideas put on the table, and a general agreement that both sides would consult with their ministries and decide on the next step forward, including the possibility of another call -- another secure video conference in the coming days.
Q: The second part?
MR. COOK: And the second part, we don't have any plans to share intelligence with the Russians, and -- and I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Peter, has there been any communication with Russia so far, including on this call, that would be a warning to them, the same way you warned the Syrian government to stay away from U.S. operations or -- you know, risk some sort of retaliation?
And would the United States have any legal authority to strike Russia were it to after moderate Syrian rebels supported by the United States? The United States has said that it would go after Assad's forces if it were to strike Syrian rebels that were supported by the United States. Has that position also been translated toward Russia, and has the Pentagon communicated that?
MR. COOK: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of the call itself, other than to say this was a cordial and professional exchange between the two governments, between these two defense departments.
With regard to the -- your second question, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations, as well. We have made clear the importance of the moderate Syrian opposition, in terms of Syria's political future, and that anything done to harm that moderate Syrian opposition is counterproductive to the end result that we believe is necessary, and that is a political transition in Syria.
This isn't going to be solved militarily, and so we've made that point clear form the start, and will continue to do so.
Q: Is the United States prepared to defend that opposition against any comers, regardless of whether they're Russian or Syrian or Nusra or ISIL?
MR. COOK: Again, we've made clear -- again, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations here. But we have -- right now, our focus is the fight against ISIL. There are moderate opposition forces that are taking the fight against ISIL who are getting our support right now.
We believe the Russians should be doing everything they can to take the fight to ISIL as well, and to push forward while there's this military action, separately, on a political transition, to support a political, diplomatic effort to try and finally bring peace to Syria.
And we think those things moving in parallel, as the secretary has talked about, are the most important steps that can be taken right now.
Q: Thank you, Peter.
The Russians are saying that they're hitting the Islamic State and terrorists. Colonel Warren told us today that it does not appear that they're hitting the Islamic State. Secretary Carter said yesterday it does not appear that the Russians are hitting the Islamic State.
Have you, or has anybody, been asking the Russians for proof that they are hitting Islamic State targets?
MR. COOK: Our assessment, as you heard from the secretary himself, yesterday, is that they do not appear to be hitting targets in ISIL -- areas where ISIL is operating.
We have encouraged them, once again, to focus their attention on ISIL, have asked about their intentions going forward, and I think that's part of the conversation that's gonna -- that began today with this video conference, and we'll see where it goes from here.
Q: All right, and thank you, but have they given you any proof about the Islamic State? Because they keep saying they're hitting the Islamic State -- and have you asked for any?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into the -- again, the details of the call today. Minister Shoygu and the secretary spoke some time ago. Our conversations with the Russians have been limited at this point, as you can tell. And so we're -- began that conversation, took the next step in that conversation, today. And we'll see where it goes from here
We did have a cordial and professional conversation between the military professionals representing both countries, and, again, we'll see what happens in the next stage of that conversation.
Q: Senator McCain says that the Russians have hit the Free Syrian Army location. Is that -- is he right?
MR. COOK: I'm -- can't from this podium tell you exactly what they've hit, at this point. Seen reports about some of their strikes, but I can't confirm exactly what they've hit or what their target was. I'd ask you to -- suggest you talk to the Russians.
Q: A follow-up?
MR. COOK: Jamie?
Q: Senator McCain also issued a statement today questioning the value of these de-confliction talks, essentially saying -- arguing that engaging in these talks with the Russians is essentially legitimizing the Russian operations, which are continuing to kill Syrians on behalf of the government of Bashar al- Assad, and also Syrian opposition forces that we support.
Would you respond to the idea that the very -- this very engagement with the Russians is adding a legitimacy to -- to a policy that the United States opposes?
MR. COOK: At this point, Jamie, we think it's appropriate, given the conversation President Obama had with President Putin, given Secretary Carter's conversation, that it is worthwhile at this moment to pursue with the Russians steps that can be taken to promote the safety of the air crews operating over Syria.
Coalition air crews -- again, priority for us is the safety of those air crews. Everything that we can do to try and preserve their safety, ensure their safety going forward, we're going to try and do at this point, to the extent that we're able to discuss these issues with the Russians.
We had a professional conversation with them, outlined some steps, we think, that can be taken in the immediate term to try and achieve that. But we're going to continue flying our flights, and we're going to continue to, again, make clear that the safety of our pilots is critically important to us.
Q: Well, understanding that safety is always an issue in a war zone, but -- and also -- but given the fact that the United States hasn't stopped flying in Syria, as Colonel Warren pointed out this morning -- it's still conducting airstrikes even though the Russians are also conducting airstrikes.
And a continued we conducted those airstrikes the entire time the air force of -- of Bashar al-Assad was flying airstrikes, is de-confliction really the -- I mean, is it -- is it really necessary, considering the U.S. has a pretty good idea where all the Russian planes are? It doesn't seem to be affecting operations up to this point, and -- and again, it -- it is legitimizing the Russian air operations there?
MR. COOK: At this point, Jamie, the view is that if we can take steps to avoid miscalculation, misjudgment, to avoid some sort of accident happening in the skies, we are going to at least engage in that conversation right now with the Russians, and we'll see where that goes.
This does not mean that we are condoning, if you will, what Russia's done, supportive of what they've done. We've raised questions about their actions so far. But this is an effort to try and -- at a minimum -- ensure -- take every step possible we can -- to promote the safety of the coalition pilots who are engaging -- putting their lives on the line every day over Syria.
Q: Iraq Prime Minister Abadi said today that he welcomes Russian airstrikes against ISIL inside Iraq. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. COOK: Iraq is a sovereign nation. We've worked closely with the Iraqi government, with the prime minister, in terms of the fight against ISIL. We'll continue to do so. So we'll -- we'll let the Iraqis speak for themselves.
But we've worked closely with the Iraqis, we'll continue to work closely with the Iraqis, and if at some point in the future, there's -- we need to raise concerns, we will.
Q: What's the Pentagon position if Russia starts bombing ISIL inside Iraq? Would you welcome that?
MR. COOK: That's a hypothetical that I don't want to get into right now. It's not something we've seen, and so until somebody makes clear that that's going to happen, I don't wanna get into hypotheticals.
Q: The communication with the Russians today was only about Syria?
MR. COOK: The focus was on Syria. The focus was on Syria.
So, yes, Courtney.
Q: On the -- the call, you said the possibility of another call. So at this point, no other calls have been scheduled, right?
MR. COOK: No other calls have been scheduled. Both sides wanted to review the proposals and look at them in more detail, share them with their -- in -- Secretary Carter, for example, and with Minister Shoygu, and decide on the next step.
But I would anticipate that we'll have some decision on a future call within the coming days.
Q: And then -- I know you don't want to talk about targets or -- of the Russian airstrikes, but can you -- at this point, can you say with certainty that no U.S.-trained Syrian rebels have been targeted or struck by Russian airstrikes?
MR. COOK: I can't say with certainty, because I don't know exactly what the Russians have been targeting. We haven't -- don't have a clear picture, as yet, as to exactly what they've hit in every instance.
So I can't say that with certainty, and again, we don't have a clear picture of their intentions at this point, and so it's impossible for me to judge with certainty exactly what they've done on the ground.
Q: And the fact that the Russians are flying strikes now doesn't change the U.S. and coalition responsibility towards those U.S.-backed, U.S.-trained rebels on the ground in Syria, which -- Secretary Carter has said in the past, you know, the U.S. has a responsibility to respond to them, to protect them.
The fact that the Russians are flying doesn't change that responsibility to those rebels in the ground, right? To protect them, and to respond when they need -- are in -- in trouble?
MR. COOK: I'm not gonna get into, again, hypothetical situations.
Q: It's not hypothetical, though.
MR. COOK: It is hypothetical.
Q: Because the Russians are flying...
MR. COOK: The Russians are flying.
Q: ...the U.S. has said that they have a responsibility towards those -- towards them. So does the fact that the Russians are flying now change the situation between the U.S. coalition and those Syrian rebels on the ground? It's not hypothetical, it's actually occurring. Does it change it?
MR. COOK: They're -- you're talking about a hypothetical situation, in which case specific opposition forces would be targeted, and we don't have that situation right in front of us right now.
So I'm not going to get into that particular situation. Again, our support for the moderate Syrian opposition forces -- the reason we're backing them is because they are critically important to the future of Syria, to the political transition that we believe needs to take place, and we believe Russia needs to also agree needs to take place, needs to support.
We're hopeful that they will do that on the diplomatic track, and that, again, their efforts -- their military efforts -- can be focused specifically on targeting ISIL. That would be the most beneficial use of Russian military force right now.
Q: You said you have no clear picture about the situation right now on the ground in Syria. But throughout the Russian build-up at the air base in Latakia, the Pentagon had a pretty clear idea of what was going on. What's changed? Why don't you know what's going on on the ground in Syria?
MR. COOK: What I'm talking about are specific targets and, again, I'm not going to get into intelligence from up here, Lucas, but what I'm talking about are specifically what the Russians may have been targeting, and why they were targeting those things -- those locations -- these are questions that you should put to the Russians.
Q: Right now you say you don't -- you don't have this situation now where the moderate Syrian opposition is being targeted, but we know from the last few days that's who the Russians are doing. Some people at home would say that the Russians are giving the middle finger to the United States. How do you respond?
MR. COOK: Lucas, it's -- again, I want to emphasize something really important here, and that is for Russia's actions to be as constructive and positive as possible would be for them to join in the effort against ISIL. And the moderate Syrian opposition forces are -- need to be part of the solution here.
They will be part of the political transition ultimately. The sooner the Russians can be focused on those efforts to try and go after ISIL, the better, and that's the message we're going to continue to deliver.
Q: But right now, there's no evidence that the Russians are targeting ISIS, so what's the problem?
MR. COOK: Again, it's part of our conversation, Lucas. We're going to continue to encourage the Russians to take steps to target ISIL going forward, and at this point, you know, the Russians -- their intentions right now, you need to ask the Russians. But that's the -- that's the message we've delivered. That's the message we'll continue to deliver to the Russians as we begin these conversations.
Q: You say we may in the future do another VTC -- you're saying we're going to see where these conversations go in the next couple of days. There doesn't seem to be much urgency in what you're saying about these conversations with Russia.
MR. COOK: We just -- we just got off the phone. I mean, we just -- it literally just wrapped up a short time ago. The -- it was clear from the conversations that took place that there will be another effort to engage to see where this goes, but they did not schedule a specific follow-up call at this time because they want to -- both sides wanted to review what was discussed at that time.
So I would not suggest it's a lack of urgency, but this call was just completed.
Q: Was there a sense of, OK, you know you have to talk to your principles and take to everyone, but you need to get together and sort this out soon because both sides are flying -- you just said the U.S. intends to continue --
MR. COOK: Yes. We made -- we made crystal clear that at a minimum, the priority here should be the safe operation for the air crews over Syria, that that at a bare minimum needs to be discussed in the immediate future. And that was obviously the focal point of much of the discussion today and will be, I imagine, going forward.
There are steps that can be taken. We've suggested some that can improve the safety, avoid the possibility of misjudgment and miscalculation over the skies in Syria, and that is something we think would be important to do at this point.
Q: (off mic) ministry just tweeted before we came in that jets had returned from doing more strikes today. Are you able to confirm any additional strikes that they might have done today.
MR. COOK: I know that there have been media reports about airstrikes, but I can confirm any Russian strikes from here.
Q: Do you have a total at all on how many they've done?
MR. COOK: I don't. Not right here. Barbara?
Q: Can I just go back to Lucas' question for a minute because I still don't understand. In the last several weeks, the administration has known airframe by airframe what the Russians are brining into Syria. So how is it that you don't know what they've been striking? How is it -- and I ask this because every senior official in the last 24 hours has -- I believe, including the secretary, has said that they are not striking ISIS targets, and so you're concerned about it.
So I don't understand how you cannot know what they're striking. How do you not know?
MR. COOK: Well Barbara, I think the point the secretary made and the point I'm trying to make as well is that they're not striking targets in areas that are controlled by ISIL. And that in and of itself is a concern for us. And we've noted that concern.
MR. COOK: In terms of the specific detail, I'm not going to get into intelligence from here, as you can understand. But in terms of the specific locations, their specific targets, I would refer you to the Russians as to exactly why they've selected certain targets.
Q: Peter, you -- I believe I heard you say -- maybe I'm wrong, but I believe I heard you say that the U.S. does not have a clear picture yet of exactly what the Russians are striking. My question is I don't understand how that can be, how the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community, more than 24 hours later, does not have a picture of what the Russians are striking?
MR. COOK: As I pointed out, Barbara, we have a sense of the areas that the Russians have delivered strikes. I'm not going to get into intelligence here, but it is, in terms of their intentions and why they hit certain targets, we don't know what that is. And so that's for the Russians to try and justify.
What we've made clear is that the areas they've hit appear to be in an effort to try and bolster and support the Assad regime, which we think is, as the secretary said, like pouring gasoline on the fire here. The effort should be focused on ISIL. And everything that can be done towards that end would be a positive. And right now what we've seen so far is that the Russian strikes have been targeted in areas where ISIL is not operating. And that causes us concern.
Q: Do you know where the Russians are striking?
MR. COOK: We have -- yes, we have an understanding of what they've -- where they've -- where they've struck. We don't have all the details. We don't have assessments of exactly where -- what's -- what's happened on the ground or why particular targets were hit, and what the immediate results of all those airstrikes were.
But we have an understanding of what they're doing. We don't have a clear understanding of their intentions. And we certainly don't see at this point that the Russians are targeting ISIL in the way that we believe would be the most productive and beneficial.
Q: (inaudible) in your meeting you had a -- discussed how to avoid accidents with the Russians. But from an operational point of view, does the very presence of Russian fighter jets in the Syrian airspace significantly complicate or limit your ability to go after ISIS?
MR. COOK: We are continuing to fly our missions. As I pointed out, we have not stopped. But as soon as you introduce other aircraft into the airspace, of course there's the possibility for a miscalculation, for an accident. So we're taking steps right now to try and prevent that from taking place, taking steps that can at least minimize the risk for the pilots flying right now. But they're going to continue flying their operations as they did today.
Q: Did it limit your ability because there are more…
MR. COOK: We have not -- we have not limited what we're doing because the Russians are there, but we're trying to take steps right now to limit the risks to the pilots as they fly.
Q: (inaudible) it is going to sound a little blunt. And, you know, I don't want to (inaudible).
Q: (inaudible) an important question. And you have -- you know, U.S. pilots flying on missions with one objective. You have Russian pilots out flying missions, as you say, with a very different objective. And there is the risk of if you don't know what's going on in these conversations in the secure video-conference with the Russians, there is this fear that maybe the U.S. and Russia could wind up clashing over these competing objectives.
Is there a risk? Is the Pentagon concerned about a risk that that could happen? (inaudible) clash in the air, that the Russians and the United States could wind up having an actual fight over Syria about targets?
MR. COOK: And that's exactly why we're having this conversation with the Russians, why we did today, to try and reduce that risk, eliminate that risk if possible. Obviously, you've got aircraft flying over Syria. So far, we haven't seen any indication of confrontation or an issue, but we don't want to cross that bridge if we can avoid it.
And that's what we're trying to do. And we've again made suggestions on how we can proceed so that there is no risk of that, or at least the risk is minimized for sure. And we are encouraging the Russians to consider some of the ideas we've put on the table. And that's part of the conversation that's going to be ongoing.
But you're correct. It does raise risks. And -- but we're taking steps that we think are appropriate to reduce those risks right now. And at the same time, encourage the Russians to turn their attention on the most important task at hand, and that is defeating ISIL.
Q: But do you have any idea (crosstalk) the objective, I don't see how you can reduce those risks through procedures. You know, the procedures are good and well when you agree on certain objectives, but if you don't agree on the objective, then how could procedures (inaudible) help you?
MR. COOK: We know what our objective is. We've urged the Russians to have the same objective, which is to defeat ISIL. In the meantime, we are, again, taking steps that we can, beginning this conversation at a very professional level. These are professional air crews on the U.S. side and we hope on the Russian side as well.
And they are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of miscalculation, the risk of a misjudgment, the risk of a confrontation. And we're going to continue to take these appropriate steps to do that, while acknowledging we differ with Russia in substantial areas in terms of policy in Syria. And we're trying to work that -- on those differences at the same time, particularly on the diplomatic front with Secretary Kerry.
Q: Any idea what the -- the -- you know, you've mentioned a couple of times that we've given them suggestions. Can you give characterize in any broad way what that is? For instance, is it -- does it involve some sort of air traffic control or exchange of flight times or...
MR. COOK: I'll give you one example, which I think might be helpful. One is to use particular international frequencies that can be used at a time of distress. And second, that -- a question has been raised about exactly how that conversation between aircraft, what language would it be in. Those are some of the questions that we're trying to -- to address, and in the course of these conversations to try and make it as efficient and professional as possible for these air crews so that there is no misjudgment or miscalculation in the air.
So that would be one example. Its -- there are other things being discussed, but I think that -- I think helps frame a little bit what we're talking about here, how that engagement and encounter in the air could be addressed immediately by those crews.
Q: The discussions that you had with the Russians, were they based area or was based on the groups that they targeted?
MR. COOK: I'm -- we talked about, again, trying to reduce the risks to the pilot is the primary focus of the conversation. And there were exchange of ideas, but I'm not going to get into details beyond that in terms of the bigger picture here. That's the focus -- that's the primary focus right now of this conversation.
Q: Did you discuss, for example, who is moderate? Because clearly there is a difference between (inaudible).
MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into details of the call itself. And this was primarily focused on specific actions that can be taken immediately between the air crews that might be able to reduce risk as they both fly over Syria.
Q: (inaudible) ceasefire reached last week between (inaudible) Army -- Army of (inaudible) and Assad regime. Are you concerned about these airstrike -- Russian airstrike? There was -- there will be an escalation between Army of (inaudible) and Assad regime again in the region?
MR. COOK: I think that obviously we have concerns about the Russian airstrikes in general and the focus by the Russians so far. So, I'm not going to speak to one particular aspect of it -- the larger aspect of the Russian campaign so far because it's not focused on ISIL as best we can tell. That is cause for concern for us. So...
Q: Peter, I guess I’m trying to wrap my head around….
MR. COOK: Sure.
Q: ... one element. Because we already know that the coalition has already taken steps to protect Syrian rebels on the ground previously, during -- when the trainees were sent back in the first time. Since we already know that happened, it was made clear to us at the time that the U.S. would do that when needed.
I'm trying to understand, if the U.S. pilots have been given any guidance as to whether they should or should not seek any action if they're in the air and they see a strike by the Russians that targets U.S.-backed rebels.
Has there been any guidance given to the pilots on what they should do in that instance, or should we interpret the non-answers we're getting today and yesterday as the U.S. rethinking or backing off that statement, made early on, that the U.S. would protect them? Should we interpret the non-answers as the U.S. rethinking, reassessing or backing off that?
MR. COOK: I think you should take our answers right how as not wanting to venture into hypothetical situations, and as we said...
Q: But it isn't hypothetical, because it already happened. So it's already happened...and there was a stated policy at the time. Has that policy changed?
MR. COOK: ...I think they were unique circumstances when that was discussed previously, and I'm not going to get into a situation here of talking about hypotheticals in terms of what might happen in the future.
What I can talk to you about is, again, our continued support for the Syrian opposition -- for moderate Syrian forces, and our encouragement for the Russians to join in the effort against ISIL and to do what is possible to support those moderate forces, because they're going to need to be part of the ultimate solution in Syria, at the end of the day.
Q: So I don't think we knew that, at the time, that was a unique -- so you're saying that that situation where the U.S....protected those was a unique thing. That was a one-time deal? I don't know that we were -- that was explained that way...
Q: ...at the time.
Q: And I -- also in testimony -- Carter's testimony.
MR. COOK: So, again, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations about troops on the ground right now. All I can tell you is that our efforts to support the Syrian opposition will continue -- the moderate Syrian opposition. And our efforts to go after ISIL are going to continue as well.
And we are trying to bring the Russians along to the same notion. And that's going to be the focus of our efforts, and I'm not going to get into situations -- discussions of things that -- that we don't think have occurred yet.
And so I think that's -- I think that's -- the way to articulate it right now, best, is we are trying to do what we can to take the fight to ISIL, to encourage the Russians to do exactly the same thing, and...
Q: But who's to say there are no plans, that the U.S. at this moment has no decided policy or plans what to do if this happens? We can say that the U.S. doesn't know what it will do at this moment if that happens.
MR. COOK: I think you can say that we were going to continue to bring the fight to ISIL, and not going to get into hypothetical situations...
Q: Peter, you (inaudible) get into the hypothetical, right? You keep saying that...
MR. COOK: ...that don't exist. I'm...
Q: ...but this is a policy. We were all under the impression, from Secretary Carter, that the policy was, if these U.S.-backed rebels came under attack, the U.S. and the coalition would respond.
MR. COOK: We...
Q: He said -- he testified that on the Hill.
MR. COOK: Yes.
Q: OK. That was the policy. So the question here is not a hypothetical. It is, "is the policy -- has it changed?" That's all. We're not asking you to talk about times when it's going to happen, when it may have happened. Has the policy changed given...
MR. COOK: Our support for those U.S.-backed rebels is the same. I'm talking about the broader picture. About moderate -- there are lots of forces -- lots of people on the ground in Syria. There are lots of players, and I'm not going to broadly speculate on hypothetical situations with every single group on the ground.
MR. COOK: What I'm saying -- what I'm saying is we will, again, do what we can to support the moderate Syrian opposition. We continue to do that in a whole range of ways, and that is going to continue -- and that is going to continue going forward.
I'm not going to get into specific situations, hypothetical situations or otherwise, but we are going to continue to support those forces in a whole host of ways, and we're going to continue our air operations as well.
We're not going to be deterred by what we're seeing right now. We're going to do everything we can to promote the safety of those air crews going forward, and we're going to continue to bring the fight to ISIL, and...
Q: OK, so it is pretty clear that you're not prepared to answer the question in the way that we're asking it, so I would ask this.
MR. COOK: OK.
Q: Again, not about a hypothetical, but what we're asking is if a clear statement from the secretary of defense that was the policy of this building is still operative today, and if you're not prepared to answer that now, can you take that question and answer it directly, is it -- are the secretary's previous statements about the responsibility and obligation of the United States to support the rebels that we trained still operative today?
MR. COOK: Those -- those...
MR. COOK: ...those -- I'm -- again, I'm going to refer you that his statements with regard to those forces is still consistent today, but not everyone in Syria -- there are lots of players, and so I don't want to characterize our support for those U.S.-trained forces as opposed to -- to somebody else.
So I'm not going to get into broad discussions about each individual group. There are many players. The larger picture -- the larger picture here is we're going to continue to support the Syrian opposition forces, and -- moderate Syrian opposition forces -- and we're going to continue to take the fight to ISIL, and we're going to do that just as we've been doing it over the last few weeks and months, and I think, in that regard, nothing's changed.
MR. COOK: I'm going to take one more question, and then I'm going to run. Carla.
Q: Thanks, Peter.
Since this is a planning building, and Russia has been in Syria for quite some time now, has the United States planned, in the event that Russia were to interfere with some of the strikes against ISIL, or to intervene or interfere and strike -- without making it hypothetical, because this is a planning place and this is -- they have been there for weeks.
Has that plan -- is there a plan if Russia were to interfere?
MR. COOK: We've been well aware of what Russia's been doing in Syria. We have taken appropriate steps to assess what's going on there, take the necessary precautions on behalf of our operations there, and we're going to continue to do so.
But we're also having this conversation with the Russians now about trying to reduce the risk to pilots flying over Syria. It's again, an exchange of proposals at this point, and that conversation's going to continue.
But we have taken steps to protect our crews, to take necessary measures to ensure their safety going forward, and we, again, are going to continue to do that, and place a high priority on the safety of those crews going forward.
Q: (off mic) right now to tell the Russians what they can and cannot bomb so that this thing doesn't escalate any further?
MR. COOK: Lucas, as I said, we noted our concerns about where they've targeted so far, and how it's inconsistent with their own stated goal of defeating ISIL, and we're going to do everything in our power to, again, compel the Russians to take the fight to ISIL and to focus their energy and efforts there. That would be the most productive use of Russia's time and energy, and that's a message that we're going to continue to deliver.
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Department of Defense Briefing by Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Col. Warren via DVIDS in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room
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