Mattis Speaks to Reporters About South Asia, North Korea, Iran By Lisa Ferdinando

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis discussed strategy in South Asia, issues on the Korean Peninsula and Iranian illicit weapons activities, in an impromptu discussion with Pentagon reporters Friday.

“We’ll fight them,” the secretary said, when asked about the strategy in Afghanistan against the terrorists with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating there.

Probably the most challenging part in making assessments in combat is that what counts most in war, including morale levels, is most difficult to quantify.

“Eventually you’ll see a lagging indicator — you’ll see that not as many people want to be recruited into a force that’s getting annihilated,” such as ISIS was in Syria, he said, adding that not as many foreign fighters will sign up for that.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters for the second consecutive day, Mattis said the strategy in South Asia reinforces some of the troops in the region.

“We found some forces didn’t have the American advisors they needed, and the ones with advisors seemed to always win,” he said. ”The ones without them did not fare so well.” The strategy is a regional approach that also focuses on reconciliation efforts, he pointed out.


The protests in Iran have had no impact on his assessment of the country, Mattis said, adding that he keeps his advice to President Donald J. Trump confidential. But the United States watches all the time for indicators of illicit Iranian activities, he said.

Mattis noted that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the nation’s capital last month to see illegal Iranian equipment on display. “So if anyone thinks they’re not exporting ballistic missiles or weapons or explosive boats like down to Yemen, there it is,” he said. “We all know what they’re doing in Syria. We’ve seen what they’re doing from Bahrain to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.”

The displays in the hangar included missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, antitank weapons and a Shark-33 boat used to attack a Saudi frigate. Examination of the weapons trace them back to Iran and industries owned and operated by the Iranian government or Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Mattis said his intent is to “show that to the world clearly.” The Iranian people are not supporting the export of terrorism or “whatever the revolutionary regime people want to call it,” he added.

“They’re not buying it there at home,” the secretary said. “We’re not buying it internationally.”

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 deals specifically with Iranian arms transfers and its ballistic missile program. Iran has repeatedly violated the resolution.

North Korea, South Korea

North Korean and South Korean officials are to meet Jan. 9 to discuss the Winter Olympics, which take place next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Mattis said. “Right now, it is only about the Games,” he told reporters.

Mattis highlighted the close bond between the United States and South Korea, saying the two nations are in “complete lockstep.”

“It’s almost like an old married couple, when we start the statement and they can finish it,” he added.

Joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises have been deconflicted with the Games and will occur at some point after the Paralympic Games, which follow the Olympics, he added.

Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a diplomatic-led effort that requires a diplomatic solution, Mattis said, adding that he provides the “backing for the diplomats.”

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)

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