By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter today wished the men and women of the Defense Department a well-deserved Independence Day holiday, and said some service members would be working worldwide July 4th to secure the country and protect citizens, allies and partners.
Carter was joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey during a briefing of the Pentagon press corps here, and took questions about Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“As recent terrorist attacks overseas remind us, those who seek to harm this nation and our friends take no holiday, and neither do we in the Department of Defense,” Carter said.
The secretary also announced that President Barack Obama’s choice to become the next Marine Corps commandant is Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller, now commander of Marine Corps Forces Command and Marine Corps Forces Europe.
Carter made the announcement alongside Dempsey, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the president’s choice to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs when Dempsey retires in October.
In answer to a question about the number of personnel completing the department’s train and equip program in Syria, Carter acknowledged that fewer are completing the program than are volunteering.
Carter said he expects the number of fighters completing the program to grow but that two factors contribute now to the smaller numbers coming through the program. One is the need to vet program volunteers, he said, calling vetting a principal U.S. requirement.
“Only a fraction of those who step forward, willing to take this mission on, go through vetting and pass through that vetting,” the secretary said.
“Second is the requirement that they be willing, at least initially, to fight ISIL. And that is the principal purpose of their being trained and equipped,” Carter added.
Elsewhere in Syria, the secretary noted substantial gains being made by Kurds in the north and by opposition groups in the south supported by the department and who support U.S. goals of combating ISIL.
In Iraq, Carter said, 8,500 Iraqi security force fighters and about 2,000 members of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service have been trained in the department’s training facilities.
At Al Taqaddum Airbase in central Iraq, 500 Sunni tribal fighters have been recruited and are in training, he said, adding, “That's roughly the monthly throughput of the facility that we're trying to set up. And then there's Al Asad [Air Base] and other training bases.”
Lasting ISIL Defeat
Carter added, “The only way to have a lasting defeat of ISIL is to have someone who can govern and secure territory once ISIL is defeated. That has to be a local force on the ground. That's why the strategy calls for the United States to help train and equip, and then help enable local ground forces.”
That’s as true in Syria as it is in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, he said, “so that is the strategy that will both provide for the victory over ISIL or the defeat of ISIL, and … for that defeat to stick and endure.