Defense Secretary says he’ll visit Alaska this week, little else

Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies at a Senate hearing. (Photo: DoD)
Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies at a Senate hearing. (Photo: DoD)

Another member of the president’s cabinet is coming to Alaska. Defense Sec. Ashton Carter revealed this morning that he’ll visit the 49th state some day this week.

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Details are scarce, but Sec. Carter let slip his travel plans at a Senate Armed Services hearing, after agreeing with Sen. Dan Sullivan that the military should have a serious operation plan for the Arctic.

“And we’ll have a chance, actually, to discuss that in Alaska later this week,” Carter said.

That was all he said about the trip. A Pentagon spokesman confirms Sec. Carter will visit this week and says they’ll release details in the coming days. Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Sen. Sullivan, says the secretary expects to land in Fairbanks.

At the hearing, Carter was oblique when Sullivan asked him to confirm news that the U.S. sent a ship into waters China claims for itself.

“We have said, and we are acting on the basis of saying, that we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits,” Carter said.

Sullivan asked again.

“There have been naval operations in that region in recent days,” Carter acknowledged.

When Sullivan was done, Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the committee, said it’s frustrating that Carter is keeping mum about a known operation.

“You refuse to confirm or deny something that’s been all over the media, and confirmed by everyone, and you come before this committee and say you won’t comment on it?” McCain asked, voice laden with incredulity. “Why?”

Carter cracked.

“I’m going to not be coy with you,” he said. “I don’t like in general the idea of talking about our military operations, but what you read in the newspaper is accurate.”

Sullivan is a critic of what he sees as the Defense Department’s inaction in several parts of the globe, including the response when Chinese military ships were spotted within the 12-mile territorial zone off the Aleutians.

U.S. Defense officials concluded it was “innocent passage,” that the Chinese were heading home after a joint exercise with the Russians.  Sullivan said it was more like provocation.


Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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