Aug 13, 2021

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 13: Afghanistan Update

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 13: Update on Afghanistan
RevBlogTranscriptsPentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript August 13: Afghanistan Update

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on August 13, 2021 to provide an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

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John Kirby: (00:01)
So look as we head into the weekend, I thought it would be helpful to just give you a brief update about where things are with respect to the military support to the state department in Afghanistan. And I want to say at the outset, and I probably should have said this yesterday, you guys know that this is a planning organization, that’s what we do here. Planning for these sorts of contingencies is not unusual, in fact, it’s quite common. And one of the reasons why we have been able to react as quickly as we did in just the last day or so is because we had plenty of contingencies planning in the works. In fact, a lot of it complete because we were, as I’ve said many times from the podium, watching consistently the security situation on the ground.

John Kirby: (01:03)
So I can give you a brief update, a few additional details since yesterday. Now, as I do this, I think you can understand that I’m not going to have every detail that you might want. There’s operational security that’s still going to be a concern and we’re going to observe that here, just like as we have throughout the entire draw down process. But I can tell you a couple of things. First, US forces Afghanistan forward continue to provide security at the Kabul airport and at the embassy, these are the existing security elements that were already in Kabul. This comprised of attack and lift aviation assets, infantry, security personnel, and some intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets that are already there at the airport. And they stay there and they are still doing their jobs in terms of internal security there at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

John Kirby: (01:59)
The troop movements that we mentioned yesterday are happening as we speak. Three battalions are preparing to move from their current locations in the central command area of responsibility to Kabul. And they consist of a Marine battalion that was already pre-staged in the region and has lift sustainment and support capabilities. Another Marine infantry battalion from a Marine expeditionary unit and a US Army infantry battalion. Now some elements one of the Marine infantry battalions are already there in Kabul, just the leading element, they’re there. The rest of their forces will continue to flow over the next couple of days and I expect that by the end of the weekend, the bulk of the 3000 that we talked about yesterday will be in place, probably not all, but the bulk. From the United States, the brigade combat team that we mentioned from the 82nd airborne division that is prepared to go to Kuwait as a ready reserve force, they are now preparing to deploy. I do not have information that suggests they’re on the way right now, but I suspect that in very short order they will start to deploy and to arrive. Movement of some of the enablers that we talked about yesterday, designated to support the special immigrant visa processing in the region, that is also begun. These are primarily medical personnel. I think I told you yesterday, it’s a mixed medical personnel, some military police, some electrical engineers, that kind of thing. They are preparing to go, I do not have an indication today that they have actually left. And again, they are not going into Afghanistan, they are originally going to be sent into the region for further use as needed to support the SIV process.

John Kirby: (03:59)
Now, as far as aircraft are concerned to support the movement of a civilian personnel. TRANSCOM is as we speak working on their plans and their sourcing solutions with air mobility command and working it out with central command as well, to support this mission. Forces in support requirements are going to be rapidly assessed by their planners, they’re working on. And while we’re not going to be able to give out a lot of detail today, again, the plans in sourcing for aircraft support and airlift are being worked out. We’ll have more to say about that when it’s appropriate and when we can. But I do want to stress that airlift will not be a limiting factor in this mission. Airlift will not be a limiting factor. And as I said yesterday, it’s not all going to be a military aircraft that are used, Hamid Karzai International Airport is still open, commercial flights are still going in and out. I don’t want to convey the sense that every lift of every individual is going to be done on a gray military aircraft, though they will be made available to support. And as I said, it’s not going to be a limiting factor.

John Kirby: (05:15)
And then finally, I just want to foot stomp something I said yesterday, this is a specific narrowly focused tailored mission to help with the safe, secure movement of the reduction of civilian personnel in Kabul, as well as to help support the acceleration of the special immigrant visa process by the state department. That’s what we’re focused on. And as we get more information and I’m able to provide it to you, I will, with the understanding that there’s going to be operational security concerns and I’m not going to be able to provide every level of detail that I’m sure you want. We’ll be as transparent with you as we can. Bob.

Bob: (05:56)
Hey John. You mentioning that the bulk of the three battalions will be there probably by the end of the weekend, you said, so at the end of Sunday, do you anticipate then that the operation would begin that day?

John Kirby: (06:09)
The operation has begun Bob. I mean, the movement of forces to Kabul has begun, the military side of that. I can’t speak to the timing of the state department with respect to their reduction. We wanted to make sure that we were in full support of them and that we were getting on station as quickly as possible and that’s what we’re focused on. As for when departures will occur and how many on a daily basis, that’s really my colleagues at the state department for them to speak to

Bob: (06:39)
Can I ask a follow-up?

John Kirby: (06:40)

Bob: (06:41)
So given the events of the last 24 hours with three or four additional cities falling to the Taliban, and the Taliban, apparently, moving closer to Kabul. How likely is it that you will be able to complete that draw down of forces by August 31st, as opposed to staying to ensure the security of the embassy afterwards?

John Kirby: (07:08)
Well, obviously we’re going to be watching the security situation day-by-day, Bob. And I can’t speak for what that’s going to look like in days to come, what I can tell you is where we are now, where we are today. And the mission that we’ve been assigned is to support the state department’s reduction in personnel by the end of the month. And so that’s what we’re focused on. That’s the timeline we’re focused on. And if we need to adjust either way, left or right, we’ll do that, but we’re going to always be looking at the security conditions in the ground. [Tara 00:07:40].

Tara: (07:42)
Thanks, John. With the airlift planning that’s going on, are you planning to make the airlift available for hundreds of people getting out of the country? Thousands? As you know there were thousands of people based at US Embassy Kabul and there’s as many as 18,000 interpreters that were looking to get out. So can you give us an order of magnitude of this airlift mission?

John Kirby: (08:01)
What I can’t do is tell you exactly how many on any given day .but what capacity, as I said, is not going to be a problem. And we will be able to move thousands per day, but that’s just the airlift capacity that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to end up with that every day. It’s going to depend on the processing and how that goes. So what we want to be able to do is to get there fast and get there capable, and be able to provide as much capacity to the state department as we can. And our intention is to be able to move thousands per day.

Tara: (08:44)
Okay. Separately, as we’ve seen the different provincial capitals fall is the department of defense surprised at how quickly it seems that Afghan national army has collapsed under Taliban pressure?

John Kirby: (08:59)
We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving. And as we’ve said from the very beginning and it still is, a moment for Afghan national security and defense forces, as well as their political leadership. No outcome has to be inevitable here. I’m not going to speculate about surprise. We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real time and it’s deeply concerning. The deteriorating conditions are a factor, a big factor, in why the president has approved this mission to help support our reduction of personnel there in Kabul. So, I mean, we’re adjusting as best we can given those conditions. And again, this is a moment for the Afghans to unite, the leadership and in the military, no outcome has-

John Kirby: (10:03)
… to unite the leadership and in the military, no outcome has to be inevitable here.

Tara: (10:05)
Just one last, if the Taliban continue across and take Kabul, what happens to the continued support that DOD had been planning to do for the Afghan National Security Forces, such as the contracted air support or the fuel that DOD was committing to send? Are you all starting to have conversations about at what point does that support have to be cut off to keep it from going into the hands of the Taliban?

John Kirby: (10:28)
We’re still supporting the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces. We’re still supporting the Afghan government, the elected government in Kabul, and that’s what we’re going to be focused on doing. It would be easy to speculate about what the future of Afghanistan looks like right now, but I think we want to focus on what we are doing. We are supporting the Afghans in the field where and when we can, we’re still working on contract support for Over-the-Horizon. We’re still making sure we have robust Over-the-Horizon counter-terrorism capabilities in the region so that we can’t suffer a threat from Afghanistan again. We are focused on the security situation as we see it now and what we’ve got to do, the missions we’ve been assigned by the Commander in Chief. And I’ll let the political situation play out. That’s really not something that we’re overly focused on right now. Yeah, Silvia.

Silvia: (11:21)
You are speaking about the Over-the-Horizon. Obviously, the US has been conducting airstrikes regularly every day for the last few days, and you didn’t stop the advances of the Taliban. So if you cannot stop the Taliban from Over-the-Horizon, what you are trying to do right now, how are you going to stop Al-Qaeda from Over-the-Horizon?

John Kirby: (11:51)
The Over-the-Horizon counter-terrorism strikes and capabilities still exists and will exist going forward and we have never said that airstrikes are a panacea. You said we weren’t able to stop the Taliban, we have said from the moment we started drawing down that we’re going to continue to support them where and when feasible with the understanding that it’s not always going to be feasible. And we’ve never argued that our airstrikes from the air were going to turn the tide on the ground.

John Kirby: (12:28)
What we have said is that the Afghans have the capability to do that. And we still believe that they could make a difference on the ground. We will do what we can from the air, but they have the advantage, they have greater numbers, they have an air force, they have modern weaponry. It’s indigenous forces that can make the difference on the ground. So our support to the Afghans was really done in that vein.

John Kirby: (12:55)
And again, as for counter-terrorism, as you heard the Secretary himself, there’s not a scrap of the earth that the United States military can’t hit if it’s needed. And when it comes to disrupting a counter-terrorism threat that we know is emanating and is serious enough, airstrikes can be effective in that regard.

Speaker 1: (13:16)
Are the troops heading into Kabul going to get eminent danger pay for this deployment?

John Kirby: (13:19)
I don’t know.

Speaker 1: (13:20)
Can you take that?

John Kirby: (13:21)
I can take the question, but I don’t know. Jeff Seldin, VOA.

Jeff Seldin: (13:28)
John, thanks very much for doing this. You’ve said that the US is going to continue to conduct the airstrikes in support of the Afghan Security Forces when and where it’s feasible. But with the focus now on the battalions that are heading into Kabul to secure the embassy and the airport and facilitate getting the civilians out, how much is that going to lessen the availability of airstrikes for Afghan Security Forces?

Jeff Seldin: (13:53)
And also following up on what Sylvia asked, given that US air strikes didn’t seem to deter the Taliban in other areas, how much concern is there that they won’t be scared of potential US airstrikes if they decide to move on Kabul and US assets or personnel there?

John Kirby: (14:10)
Well, I’m not going to speculate about moving on Kabul. And I’ve never talked about future operations. I’m not going to start doing that today, Jeff. But to your other question, the kinds of support that we are providing and able to provide Afghan National Security Defense Forces in the field, those authorities still exists, those capabilities still exist and General McKenzie can use those capabilities to the degree that he sees most fit.

John Kirby: (14:44)
That is a separate and distinct set of missions than what we have now been ordered to do in terms of helping with our State Department colleagues reducing the size of their footprint in Kabul. And so those are two separate sets of authorities and capabilities and I think that’s about where I’ll leave it. Yeah, Courtney.

Courtney: (15:05)
You said a couple of times that you’re concerned with the speed with which the Taliban has moved, but I think the big question is not the concern about the speed, but surprise. So again, I have to ask is the military or the Pentagon or the administration or everyone surprised by how fast the Taliban has been able to move through parts of the country?

John Kirby: (15:27)
Courtney, we saw the Taliban making advances even before the Biden administration came into office. We saw the Taliban making advances at the district level before the President made his decision.

Courtney: (15:40)
But not like we’re seeing now, this is a different ball game in the last week or so. So I mean, these specific gains, taking these major cities like Kandahar and Heart, Lashkar Gah looks like it’s fallen. I mean, has that caught the military off guard, the speed with which they’ve been able to do it?

John Kirby: (15:53)
We have been watching this from a very early period, right after the President gave us the order to draw down, we certainly have been watching what the Taliban has doing. We have noted and we have noted with great concern, the speed with which they have been moving and the lack of resistance that they have faced. And we have been nothing but honest about that. And I think I’ll leave it there.

Courtney: (16:17)
What about the lack of resistance that they may face in Kabul? Is there a concern that the Afghan military will not fight for Kabul?

John Kirby: (16:23)
That’s a question for Afghan leadership to determine for themselves. Obviously, as I’ve said from the beginning, we want to see the will and the political leadership, the military leadership, that’s required in the field. We still want to see that. And we hope to see that, but whether it happens or not, whether it pans out or not, that’s really for the Afghans to decide.

Speaker 2: (16:45)
You’ve said here many times that Afghanistan cannot and will not become a base from which to launch attacks against the US homeland or its allies. Does the speed of the Taliban events shake your confidence in that statement?

John Kirby: (16:55)
No. Steve, from

Steve: (17:01)
Hi, thanks for doing this. Are any additional air force squadrons or aircraft heading to the Middle East for this? And then could you also speak to any of the rules of engagement troops on the ground will have?

John Kirby: (17:14)
I have nothing to announce or speak to it with respect to additional air force assets. I’ve told you… I’ve given you pretty much the lay down of exactly what we’re sending to support this movement. That said, I also said, in fact in my opening statement, that there will be airlift provided. Clearly there’s going to be an Air Force role here with respect to airlift. But in terms of combat aircraft, I know of no such moves to do that. And as I said, I’ve laid out for you now twice what the movements would be. And I’m not going to speak about rules of engagement, we never do that from the podium. David?

David: (17:49)
I know you said you won’t speculate about movements on Kabul, but how would you describe the situation now? Is Kabul under threat? Is Kabul isolated? What is it?

John Kirby: (18:04)
Right now, without getting into a battlefield assessment every day, I don’t want to do that, but… Kabul is not, right now, in an imminent threat environment. But clearly, David, if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul. Now, what they want to do if they achieve that isolation, I think only they can speak to. But you can see a certain effort to isolate Kabul. It is not unlike the way they’ve operated in other places of the country, isolating provincial capitals, and sometimes being able to force a surrender without necessarily much bloodshed.

John Kirby: (18:56)
Again, I can’t speak for what their intentions are. What I can tell you is that we’re taking the situation seriously and that’s one of the reasons why we moved these forces, or we’re moving these forces into Kabul to assist with this particular mission because we know that that time is a precious commodity here.

David: (19:14)
Is it isolated now?

John Kirby: (19:17)
I don’t want to get into a specific intelligence assessment on the battlefield. I just don’t want to do that. But clearly from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated.

David: (19:32)
Let me try it this way, the main arteries going into Kabul-

John Kirby: (19:37)
Again, I’m not going to get into a conditions on the ground assessment every day about avenues and lines of communication, except to say it certainly appears that the Taliban is trying to isolate the city and they have throughout this the last few weeks, you’ve seen it for yourself, taken over border crossings, taken over highways and major intersections to control lines of what we call-

John Kirby: (20:03)
… to control lines of what we call communication and lines of revenue and those kinds of things. I mean, I can’t speak, and I won’t speak specifically to what the situation is in Kabul right now.

Lucas: (20:14)
John, many times this week, you’ve said the Afghan forces had the advantage. What proof can you offer as the Taliban have taken over now vast majorities of the country and they’ve now surrounding Kabul?

John Kirby: (20:24)
That the Taliban have moved with the speed with which they have, and that the resistance that they have faced has been insufficient to stop those, to check those advances does not mean, Lucas, that the advantages aren’t still there. You have to use it. You have to be willing to apply it.

Lucas: (20:45)
[crosstalk 00:20:45] John, you’re saying that they have all the advantages as they’re getting crushed on the battlefield. It makes no sense to say they have the advantage. That Taliban appear to have all the advantages right now.

John Kirby: (20:54)
Lucas, I appreciate the effort, again. They have greater numbers. They have an air force, a capable air force, which by the way is flying more airstrikes than we are, every day. They have modern equipment. They have organizational structure. They have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years. They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages. It’s time now to use those advantages.

Lucas: (21:22)
Is the US military prepared to evacuate all Americans from Kabul and help close the US embassy in Kabul if the State Department requested?

John Kirby: (21:30)
Our mission right now is to help the State Department reduce their personnel, their civilian personnel, in Kabul, and to assist with their acceleration of the SIV immigrant visa process, the special immigrant visa process. That is what our focus is on right now.

Lucas: (21:44)
How close is the US government to closing its embassy in Kabul?

John Kirby: (21:47)
You’d have to talk to my colleagues at the State Department. They get to decide that. They have made it clear though, that as of today, they are reducing, not eliminating, their diplomatic presence in Kabul. We are simply helping them support that reduction.

Lucas: (22:03)
After a night of sleeping on it, are these 3000 US troops going to Kabul, is this a combat deployment?

John Kirby: (22:10)
I didn’t sleep on that question, Lucas. I thought I answered it pretty well yesterday. Louis

Lucas: (22:16)
John, these soldiers and Marines, they are fully kitted out, putting on night vision goggles, landing in Kabul, taking positions at the airport, they’re going to a combat zone, are they not there?

John Kirby: (22:27)
They are certainly going into harm’s way, Lucas, and they will have-

Lucas: (22:30)
Is this a combat zone?

John Kirby: (22:31)
Lucas, they will have the right of self-defense. They will be armed. And as I said yesterday, and I don’t think I could have made it any more clear that if there is an attack upon our forces, our commanders have now and always have had the right and responsibility to defend themselves. And any attack on our forces in Afghanistan will be met swiftly with a forceful and an appropriate response. And I know, listen, I know you want to get into the nomenclature here. Nobody’s walking away from the fact that this is potentially dangerous. In fact, I think one of the things I said at the opening of the press conference was I’m not going to provide a lot of operational detail because we know it’s dangerous.

John Kirby: (23:09)
We’re all mindful of the perilous situation in Afghanistan and the deteriorating security situation, Lucas. And I find it a little… I find it frustrating that you’re trying to pin me down on a nomenclature here like we’re afraid to say the word combat. After 20 years of being in Afghanistan, we understand what we’re facing right now. We’re taking the risks very, very seriously. And our troops and their leaders will have all the rights and responsibilities that they need to protect themselves and their comrades.

Lucas: (23:42)
Did the defense secretary recommended this withdrawal of American troops from Kabul?

John Kirby: (23:47)
I’m sorry.

Lucas: (23:47)
Did the defense secretary recommend the full withdrawal of US troops from Kabul before this week, of course?

John Kirby: (23:53)
I’m not going to talk about the secretary’s recommendations to the commander in chief.

Lucas: (23:57)
Don’t you think it’s important for history, for the transcript, for the people watching this briefing right now, did the defense secretary support the full US military withdrawal from Kabul?

John Kirby: (24:06)
Lucas, I’m not now and I haven’t, never will talk about the secretary’s advice and counsel to the commander in chief. That’s totally inappropriate. The president has made his decision and we are executing that decision. He has also made additional decisions such as helping the State Department reduce their personnel. And we’re going to support that too.

Lucas: (24:26)
Now some veterans think that the Americans should just pull everybody out of Kabul. US government should pull all Americans out of Kabul and then just level the embassy. What do you think about that?

John Kirby: (24:38)
I think that one of the great things about this country is that people are free to express their opinions about anything that they want. What I’m here to do, Lucas, my job is to articulate the policies that we’re executing and the way in which we’re executing them. And that’s what my focus is today to tell you what we’ve been ordered to do and how we’re going to execute it those orders.

Lucas: (24:58)
Is it time just to pull all American shout right now and destroy-

John Kirby: (25:01)
Lucas, we are focused on helping the State Department reduce their footprint in Kabul. That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what we’re going to be doing. Louis.

Louis: (25:09)
I’d like to follow up on Lucas’s fourth question.

John Kirby: (25:13)
As opposed to the 14th?

Louis: (25:17)
Yes. You were talking about how the troops there have the inherent right of self-defense. That was actually going to be my question. There is a tactical purpose for sending these troops there which you have described in very general terms. I know you don’t want to get into specifics. But is there a secondary effect that you’re having by sending these troops there into Kabul, which is sending a message to the Taliban? These troops are here, don’t attack us. We’re here to carry out our mission. And at the same time saying, we are here to support the government of Kabul, don’t attack Kabul.

John Kirby: (25:55)
Are you suggesting that there’s a contradiction there?

Louis: (26:00)
No, no. I’m trying to ask, is there a messaging intention as well by sending these troops there as well? I understand the primary mission there is to do this, protect the forces… Protect the Americans and the Afghan [inaudible 00:26:16] and your families as they leave. But at the same time, is there a secondary effect that you’re gaining by sending these troops there, which is to message the Taliban, don’t attack us while we’re doing this?

John Kirby: (26:28)
The main purpose for these troops is to conduct this particular mission. And as I said yesterday, the secretary made his decisions based on prudence. To make sure that you have what you need and that you have reserve if you need reserves, because we don’t know exactly how the situation is going to unfold. And he didn’t choose these units or this approach to send a message. He chose these units and this approach to accomplish a mission and to make sure that he had enough capability and capacity to do it safely and in an orderly fashion. That said, and I’ve said this now three or four times, if these forces are attacked and threatened, we have the ability, the right of self defense and we will respond in a forceful and appropriate way.

Louis: (27:25)
And just one quick follow-up, we’ve talked about the troops from the 82nd Airborne going into Kuwait that could be on standby if needed. Is their mission going to be, if they are needed, exactly like the ones from the 3000 that will be arriving by the end of this weekend or would be something different?

John Kirby: (27:43)
I’m sorry. Say that again?

Louis: (27:44)
Sure. No problem. The brigade or the BCT headed to Kuwait, if should they be called upon, are they going to be doing exactly what the 3000, the three battalions arriving in Kabul by the end of the weekend or is there some thinking that maybe they might do something else?

John Kirby: (28:03)
They are a ready reserve force that we would have available to us should they be needed for any number of security missions. And again, I couldn’t begin to speculate right now what those missions would look like. But they will have capabilities that are commensurate with the infantry battalions that are going to Hamid Karzai International Airport over the course of the next few days.

Louis: (28:31)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (28:31)
Go on.

Speaker 3: (28:32)
Thank you. Question is that Pakistan is now blaming now, again, US for the crisis in Afghanistan. And also prime minister of Pakistan, he already endorsed the Taliban government in Kabul. And finally, if any country in the region including India ask US help in this mission of the evacuation?

John Kirby: (29:02)
I don’t know of any other nations involved in this. I mean, these are sovereign decisions that nation states have to make. As I said yesterday, should we be asked to support any movement by our allies and partners, we can do that and we will do that. But I don’t know of any such request or such requirements. And, look, just broadly speaking, what we said before is any of Afghanistan’s neighboring nations and any nations in the international community that believe they have, or want to have a stake in the future of Afghanistan, we simply would urge them to act in ways that helps lead to those kinds of better outcomes for the Afghan people and to help us continue to pursue a negotiated political settlement. Dan Lamothe.

Dan Lamothe: (30:01)
Thank you, John. You said yesterday that you-

Dan Lamothe: (30:03)
Thank you, John. You said yesterday that you thought this was the right time for this mission. Lawmakers from both parties, lots of nonprofits, lots of Afghans would say that the right time for this mission with SIVs was actually back in May or June. Can you square those two things? Why did it take so long? Thank you.

John Kirby: (30:23)
We said for quite some time, Dan, that we know we have a moral obligation to help those who helped us and that we were ready, willing, and able to support efforts to move special immigrants, people applying for a special immigrant visa out of the country and to locations, and we have met that obligation. It is a process that, as you know, does not reside here at the defense department and a process that has requirements, so what I can tell you is from a DOD perspective, it’s not something we ever lost sight of. It wasn’t an obligation. We just, all of a sudden forgot and then came around to, and as I said at the outset, we’ve planned for a lot of contingencies, and this was certainly one of them. Tony Capaccio?

Tony Capaccio: (31:19)
Hi, John. I had a couple of questions. You said DOD is a planning organization. Has CENTCOM presented to the secretary or the joint staff a contingency plan to reintroduce US combat troops, ala what we did in 2014 in Iraq, if the White House requests? Has that such a plan been crafted?

John Kirby: (31:39)
Yeah. That we are planning organization is true, Tony. What’s also true is we don’t talk about every single plan on the books. Our focus right now, Tony, and the plans that we are executing are to meet the president’s draw down requirement by the end of this month, and to assist in the draw down of state department personnel also by the end of the month, and I’m not going to speculate about what things look like going forward. And again, I would remind, Tony, that this mission is a narrowly focused, very specific, tailored mission to support the state department at this particular time.

Tony Capaccio: (32:19)
And a second question.

John Kirby: (32:21)
Go ahead.

Tony Capaccio: (32:23)
Okay. Second question. You’ve heard the narrative and the questions from reporters and everybody else about is this a repeat of the fall of Saigon? You’re not a historian but I know that, secretary, a number of you guys are thinking, how do you answer that question? Can you give a sense of where the analogy is apt and where it’s a very bogus, fallacious analogy to equate what’s going on now with the potential fall of Saigon?

John Kirby: (32:47)
Yeah. Tony, what I can tell you is we’re not focused on the history of the Vietnam War. We’re just not. We’re focused on meeting the requirements that we have today. That’s where our head space is. Certainly, we’ve seen the punditry and the commentary. I think it’s best to leave that to historians. What we’re focused on is making sure that we meet our commitments to our state department colleagues and that we continue to meet our commitments, while we have the authorities and the capabilities, to our Afghan partners on the ground.

Tony Capaccio: (33:22)
[inaudible 00:33:22].

John Kirby: (33:22)
Mike. Mike, go ahead.

Mike: (33:27)
What’s it going to say for our 20 year war in Afghanistan if it ends with the Taliban rolling into Kabul in US made [M Rafts 00:33:34] and Humvees, and carrying weapons that our allies turned over to them?

John Kirby: (33:39)
Look, Mike. Again, I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t see the future. And what I can tell you is our troops who deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11 did what they were sent there to do, which was to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for terrorist attacks upon the homeland, and to severely degrade the capabilities of groups like Al-Qaeda. In the process of that effort, a lot of progress was made in Afghanistan, progress, which we obviously don’t want to see put at greater risk. Going forward, we’re going to do a couple of things. We’re going to make sure that a terrorist threat can’t emanate from Afghanistan again by maintaining robust over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities in the region. And we’re going to continue to support our Afghan partners bilaterally through maintenance support, through financial support, and we’re going to continue to want to see a stable, secure Afghanistan. The other thing I would say is that we want to continue to see that there’s a negotiated political settlement here for governance going forward. So that’s what our focus is on right now.

Mike: (34:56)
So you don’t think the Taliban is interested in negotiating? They seem not interested in that. I mean, do you really think that they are legitimate negotiating partners?

John Kirby: (35:02)
I think that’s a question for Taliban leaders to speak to. They have a team in Doha. They have participated in the past in negotiations. Now, whether they’re still interested in that or not I think is for them to speak to. We are still interested in seeing that outcome and so should the rest of the international community.

Tara: (35:21)
Maybe one follow up on Mike’s question on the weapons. Will the US allow, if it looks like the Super Tucanos or other advanced aircraft that we’ve provided Afghan forces over the years, will the US allow those aircraft to fall into Taliban hands or are there plans underway to make sure that doesn’t happen?

John Kirby: (35:39)
I think you can understand why I’m not going to speculate about that, Tara. There is an Afghan Air Force in place, they are flying missions every day. We have made commitments to help improve their capabilities. Those commitments remain in place, including refurbishing Black Hawk helicopters, helping them finance the refurbishment of some of their MI-17s in terms of financial contractual support, and then the provision of Super Chicanos. I’m not going to speculate about the destruction of property going forward. We are going to continue to stay focused on making sure they have the capabilities to use in the field.

Tara: (36:19)
But would you say that the US would not allow those aircraft to fall into Taliban hands?

John Kirby: (36:23)
We are always worried about us equipment that could fall into an adversary’s hands, and that’s something we never lose focus on. And what actions we might take to prevent that or to forestall it, I just simply won’t speculate about today. Paul from Politico. Okay. I guess Paul’s not there. Jeff Schogol?

Jeff Schogol: (36:56)
Thank you. I just wanted to clarify something you had said earlier. You said with the airlift, the military will be able to move thousands of people per day. Were you speaking specifically about Afghans? So should I say John Kirby said the military will have the ability to move thousands of Afghans and their families per day?

John Kirby: (37:18)
Jeff, I think you can surmise that when I say thousands of people, that would include a population of Afghans, of course, that are being processed through the special immigrant visa program, including their families. Okay. That’s about it for today. Thank you. Thank you very much. We’re all set. We’re all set.

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