WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was reluctant to say the U.S. is winning the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, saying that it will take time to defeat ISIS but “we will win.”

Speaking with NBC’s “Today Show” on Tuesday, Carter addressed the ongoing conflict with ISIS and said that “winning” will depend on how quickly “we are able to build the forces to sustain the defeat.”

“I think it’s too early to say we are winning, but I think we have certainly inflicted a lot of damage,” said Carter. “It will take some time to inflict defeat upon ISIL. We’re still building the coalition, we’re still building the forces and that’s why I’m hesitant to say we are winning. I’m confident we will win.”

Asked for a timetable and whether he means “decades” of more fighting, he added, “It’s hard to know that either.”

Carter also talked about whether he thought it was a mistake for the Obama administration, for which he is serving as the fourth secretary of defense, to embrace Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prior to his March 25 charge of desertion from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think that anybody at that time fully knew the circumstances,” said Carter. “There clearly is an investigation going on right now and I don’t want to get into that. We do have a principle that we bend over backward in trying to return an American service member.”

Carter was pressed about the awkward contact between Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Stephanie, at his February swearing-in ceremony.

“Oh, I laughed,” said Carter, adding that he and his wife are good friends with the Bidens.


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