Carter toasts Aviano airmen during stop on last global trip
December 13, 2016
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Ash Carter paid tribute Tuesday to the airmen of the 31st Fighter Wing during the latest stop in what’s likely to be his last trip around the world as U.S. defense secretary.
Addressing about 350 airmen in one of the hangars, Carter alluded to missions in the Middle East, Africa and Europe that airmen from the wing have taken part of in the last year, saying their efforts are making a difference.
“You are right here, right now at a strategic time,” he said.
He said operations in Mosul, Iraq, where the U.S. is supporting Iraqi forces trying to retake the city from the Islamic State, “are proceeding exactly according to plan.”
“It’s a tough fight, but we knew it would be,” Carter said.
In Syria, allies are within 14 miles of Raqqa — the de facto capital of the extremist group — and Carter said he expected similar results there eventually.
The defense secretary, who flew in to Italy from Israel, heads next to London. A planned visit to soldiers in nearby Vicenza was scrubbed because of weather concerns. His trip has already taken him to the Middle East and Asia.
Carter touched briefly on a number of topics during the first of his two days at Aviano. He largely skirted questions from reporters about political controversies in Washington — where a new defense secretary will soon take his place.
He said he wasn’t concerned that President-elect Donald Trump would make sweeping changes in Pentagon-run operations and projects because “they are all things that make sense.”
He said he expected there would be a smooth transition to his successor. Trump has nominated retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who must be confirmed by the Senate.
Carter is scheduled to spend more time with airmen Wednesday before flying to London, where he is expected to meet with allied defense ministers to discuss strategy in the fight against the Islamic State.