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DOD Leaders Look to Future, Reflect on End-of-Year Results

WASHINGTON--Congress' passage of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act yesterday will enable the Defense Department to adapt to the challenges posed by great power competitors, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said. 

Esper said President Donald J. Trump will sign the act into law today.

Officials take questions from media.
Pentagon Questions
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley brief the media at the Pentagon, Dec. 20, 2019.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Warren Smith
VIRIN: 191220-D-MG926-020

The act also authorizes the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as the newest branch of the armed forces, the first in more than 70 years. 

"We are looking forward to beginning a number of important modernization programs in areas such as hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and directed energy that have been held back because of the [continuing resolution]," he said.

Reflecting on 2019, Esper said he is content with the progress DOD made toward implementing the National Defense Strategy. He also said the transatlantic alliance with NATO is on the right trajectory following a leadership meeting earlier this month.

"We have consistently pushed our NATO allies to contribute more to our shared security, and many of them have responded with greater contributions to defense spending and an improved focus on war-fighting readiness," he added. "This is resulting in a stronger, more capable NATO alliance." 

The secretary said the United States must deal with the world we live in, not the one we want. "As we focus on long-term competition in China and Russia, we will not lose sight of our national security interest in the Middle East. Our troops deployed throughout the region continue to do great work to ensure ISIS remains defeated and to deter further Iranian aggression," he said.

Esper extended his appreciation to military members — especially those who are in harm's way — for their service far from home over the holiday season. 

He also reemphasized DOD's commitment to continued reforms in the new year. A DOD-wide review has netted more than $5 billion in savings, he said. He also added that as DOD expands the process beyond the fourth estate to other parts of the department, it will continue to free up resources to invest back into the department's top priorities.

Joining the secretary at the Pentagon press conference was Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley brief the media at the Pentagon, Washington D.C., Dec. 20, 2019.
CJCS and SD at Joint Press Briefing
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley brief the media at the Pentagon, Washington D.C., Dec. 20, 2019.
Photo By: Marine Sgt. Warren Smith)
VIRIN: 191220-D-MG926-023

The Washington Post published what is called the Afghanistan Papers that suggested public and private statements about the Afghanistan war are different.

"There is an assertion out there of some sort of coordinated lie over 18 years," Milley said. "I find that … more than a bit of a stretch. I find that a mischaracterization from my own personal experience. You're looking at probably hundreds of general officers, State Department employees, CIA, Department of Defense folks. I just don't think that you can get that level of coordination to do that kind of deception."

The so-called Afghanistan Papers were an attempt in about 2,000 pages to do interviews looking backward to determine lessons learned for the force as it goes to the future, the chairman said.

"We have a mission in Afghanistan, that is to ensure that it … never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists," Milley said. "So until we are confident that that mission is complete, we will retain a presence to do that."

None of us wants forever wars, Milley said. "It has to do with national interest, with the realistic appraisal of what adversaries and enemies of the United States of America are doing and what their threats are to America."

DOD weighs the costs, benefits and risks associated with that, he noted. 

"And that's why we are where we are in the various parts of the world. Specifically, with respect to Syria, we are there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS," Milley said. 

The United States' original objective going into Afghanistan on Oct. 7,  2001, was to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a platform to launch terrorist attacks on the United States, and, to date, that has been successful, the general said.

"… [There] is only one way that [the Afghanistan war] is going to end and it is a negotiated solution with the Taliban and it is going to have to be an Afghan-to-Afghan solution. That is what we have been saying for years," Milley said.

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