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Mattis Describes Middle East Trip as Successful In Building Unity

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said his recently concluded Middle East trip was successful, adding that collaboration, the spirit of shared understanding and unity were what he took away from his official meetings with heads of state and military and diplomatic leaders.

The secretary made his remarks yesterday to reporters traveling with him on his return trip to Washington after visiting Oman, Afghanistan and Bahrain the past week.

On Afghanistan, the secretary said its government “has been through some tough times and I think … internally, they have overcome some of those challenges and are continuing to move forward.”

Mattis also said he sees more of an alignment now [between] military [and] non-military aspects of the campaign [to achieve reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban] than I’ve seen in the past going the right direction,” Mattis said.

“Right now, it’s clear the wind has gone out of the Taliban’s sails some months ago,” the secretary said in response to a reporter’s question. “That … I can show you objectively.”

And for the first time in more than a decade of war, he said, “we saw, here, several months ago, all six [Afghan] Army corps on the offensive. That’s never happened before. We’ve used one corps, maybe a second corps, not often a third. Now, all six are on the offensive, and I believe you’ll see more of that, due to the realigned NATO forces — the train, advise, assist [forces].”

Productive Bahrain Visit

The secretary’s meetings in Manama, Bahrain, were very productive, he said, noting the United States is working with Bahrain “to interdict any kind of terrorism support coming into their island kingdom there.”

Mattis added that he and Bahraini officials also “discussed in detail our already-strong defense relationship and everything they’re doing themselves and with other allies in order to make this relationship work. We talked about [Gulf Cooperation Council] unity and the need for it right now in very open terms back and forth. What are the obstacles? What has to be overcome? [I got] a lot of good advice from them — particulars, not generalities.”

Also while in Bahrain, the secretary met with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and Marine Corps Forces Central Command leaders, and he addressed more than 1,000 service members assigned to the Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters.

National Defense Strategy

“They referenced in the briefings how they’re taking our National Defense Strategy and putting it in action,” Mattis said of his meetings in Bahrain. “ … I was amazed at how some of the youngest sailors and Marines in the room know the defense strategy, were reciting parts of it, and asking for more clarity in how we’re going to execute it. So it was very heartening, actually.”

Mattis said he heard accounts of Iranian destabilizing efforts in the region during his trip, noting Iran now seems to be meddling in Iraq’s elections.

“[We] have worrisome evidence that Iran is trying to influence, using money, [for] the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes,” the secretary said. “It’s not an insignificant amount of money, we believe. And we think it’s highly unhelpful. Iran should leave the Iraqis to determine their own future.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk @MoonCronkDoD)