Carter: "It Is Possible, Just Possible, That In Time," We Might Work With Russia Against ISIS

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DEFENSE SECRETARY ASHTON CARTER: You ask can we work with the Russians? Well, I mean it's possible, just possible that in time, we will be able to do that. So if the Russians change their strategy, their approach, to something that's more like our approach, which is do fight ISIL and work on a political transition in which Assad goes and the structures of government in Syria are sustained so that some decency can be restored to that place for the -- for the people, that's what we have been in favor of. That's not the way the Russians started...

If they get on the right foot then -- and I think Secretary Kerry has been -- been discussing this with the Russians -- there's the possibility that they will contribute in a positive way to this campaign. That's obviously something that we wish for... but that's not how they started… It has to include defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, because that is the beating heart or that is the parent tumor of this thing called ISIL.

Full Transcript:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: A lot of people inside the Pentagon not excited about the prospects of sharing intel and sharing technology and sharing know-how with Russians.

ASH CARTER: Well, that's understandable. If you...

SCARBOROUGH: Well, it is...

CARTER: -- in view of the history...

SCARBOROUGH: -- it is understandable...

CARTER: -- in view of the history, but in all seriousness, the -- the -- you ask can we work with the Russians? Well, I mean it's possible, just possible that in time, we will be able to do that.

But the Russians got off on the wrong foot in this. They started out with a strategy that was deeply mistaken and doomed to fail and that was a strategy that was not to fight ISIL, which they should they were going to do, but that's not what they did, but instead to support the government of Bashar Assad, which has the effect of fueling the civil war, which is the very phenomenon that creates the extremism that leads to ISIL.

So if the Russians change their strategy, their approach, to something that's more like our approach, which is do fight ISIL and work on a political transition in which Assad goes and the structures of government in Syria are sustained so that some decency can be restored to that place for the -- for the people, that's what we have been in favor of. That's not the way the Russians started.

So if they change -- and I have been saying right from the beginning that they were off on the wrong foot.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

CARTER: If they get on the right foot then -- and I think Secretary Kerry has been -- been discussing this with the Russians -- there's the possibility that they will contribute in a positive way to this campaign. That's obviously something that we wish for...

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

CARTER: -- but that's not how they started. … The -- it has to include defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, because that is the beating heart or that is the parent tumor of this thing called ISIL.

At the same time, we have to recognize that it has metastasized outside. That's where catching foreign fighters, identifying them, taking them off the battlefield, dealing with finances, improving intelligence, getting more in the game, controlling borders.

So there's a lot more in -- than -- than Iraq and Syria and a lot more than defense.

But the heart of it has to be defeating them in Syria and Iraq. So let's talk about that for a minute.

In both of those cases, we are striking ISIS from the ground and we are, in Iraq -- are working with Iraqi security forces on the ground to take back territory...

SCARBOROUGH: Do we need more troops?

CARTER: Well, we're prepared...

SCARBOROUGH: More than the 3,500 troops?

CARTER: We're -- the president has indicated a -- he's prepared to do more, including on the ground. But the trick here is this. This gets to the heart of the strategy for the ground campaign, both in Iraq and in Syria.

It's important not only to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but they have to stay defeated. And that means that there have to be capable and motivated local forces that are prepared to sustain the defeat. We know from Afghanistan and we know from Iraq that that's the hard part.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: How important is the military objective of -- of clearing Raqqa? If so, what would it take? And if so, then what?

CARTER: Well, it is important to clear Raqqa and because Raqqa is, if for no other reason, it is the self-declared capital of this caliphate, this Islamic state.

So we're -- our approach to that is to surround it, close it off, and then take it back. They need to be destroyed there. And some reasonable form of governance, which has to be local, has to be restored there so that it doesn't descend into chaos once again.

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