Sep 3, 2021

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript September 3: Afghanistan Updates

Pentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript September 3: Afghanistan Updates
RevBlogTranscriptsPentagon John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript September 3: Afghanistan Updates

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on September 3, 2021 to provide an update on resettling Afghan refugees. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

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John Kirby: (00:00)
… get around to as many people as we can over the course of 30 minutes. And then we’ll toss it back to the General for any closing comments. So with that, General VanHerck, the floor is yours, sir.

General VanHerck: (00:11)
Thank you, John, and good morning. It’s great to be with you again today. I’m here to update you on the USNORTHCOM support to Operation Allies Welcome and I’m also going to provide you with an update on our other ongoing efforts, as John mentioned. In addition to our mission of defending the Homeland, USNORTHCOM continues to provide COVID medical assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and now beginning today in Idaho, while supporting wild land firefighting in the Western United States. Currently, there are approximately 200 soldiers deployed to fight the fire, the Dixie Fire, in Northern California and our MAFFS-equipped C-130s have dropped more than 2.2 million gallons of fire retardant. We’re also conducting Hurricane Ida relief efforts assisting FEMA, the lead federal agency, by providing high water vehicles and road clearing capabilities. USNORTHCOM continues its support of the Department of Defense as a lead combat and command for Operation Allies Welcomed in the continental United States.

General VanHerck: (01:12)
USNORTHCOM is providing oversight and support of the lead federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security. USNORTHCOM’s working around the clock building capacity to support Afghan personnel. Today, our total capacity at eight different installations is approximately 36, 000 and our Afghan evacuate population is approximately 25,600. We’re working to increase capacity to at least 50,000 and we continue to provide culturally appropriate food, water, bedding, religious services, recreational activities, and other services such as transportation from the port of entry to the location of accommodations and some medical services. My team of military, civilian, and contract personnel continue working closely with numerous agencies, both government and non-government, to ensure further requirements and additional capabilities are available for these Afghan personnel.

General VanHerck: (02:08)
I visited four of the eight task forces operating at DOD locations across the U.S. Yesterday, I visited Task Force Liberty at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. I saw the amazing commitment and pride from our service members and inter-agency partners working together to support our Afghan guests. Our nation’s dedicated and talented soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Guardians, and Coast Guardsmen continue to provide Afghan personnel safe harbor so that the Department of Homeland Security continue their immigration process. Since the beginning of this mission, our most pressing priority was to quickly construct safe accommodations, arrange transportation, and provide meals for Afghan guests. That capacity building effort continues. Our team of inter-agency partners, contractors, and the DOD has not wavered in its commitment to temporarily house our guests in the safest conditions.

General VanHerck: (03:03)
This is an unprecedented effort. Along with many partners, we are identifying challenges, resolving issues, and implementing change where needed. I’m grateful for the support of the states and the local community surrounding our installations and for the volunteers and others who are aiding our efforts. Our top priority remains providing a safe and secure environment for our guests to continue their immigration process in order to transition into their new lives in the United States. This has been a massive military, diplomatic, and humanitarian undertaking, one of the most difficult in our nation’s history, and an extraordinary feat of logistics and global coordination under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. We’re honored and proud to assist these Afghan personnel. I’m now ready to take any questions, john.

John Kirby: (03:50)
Thank you, General. We’ll start with [Lita 00:03:52]. She’s on the phone.

Lita: (03:55)
General, thanks a lot for doing this. Just a couple of things. You’re talking about a capacity of 50,000. Can you say, do you expect how many more bases you will need to have in order to meet that expectation? And secondly, can you just give us your thoughts on what you’ve seen on security challenges, any violence, any security vetting issues that you’ve seen or heard about it at any of the camps? Have there been any problems of that regard? Thank you.

General VanHerck: (04:34)
Thanks, Lita. As far as bases, we currently have eight task forces at eight different locations ready to expand if needed. At this time, I do not anticipate needing any additional bases to reach the capacity we need of at least 50,000. As far as security, I’m not aware of any incidents that have made it to my level on the task forces. I believe that’s the question that you’re asking. I would tell you that we’re partnering with not only our military folks, but our federal law enforcement and other agencies to ensure a safe and secure environment for the Afghans. We’re also working closely with Afghans to put a command and control construct in place. Yesterday at Fort Dix at the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Task Force Liberty, I was very impressed to see that we’ve put a mayor’s cell in place where we have military officers and Afghan counterparts in the village, if you will, working together to solve the issues that you’re talking about. But no security issues have risen to my level.

John Kirby: (05:41)
Did you have a question?

Meghann Myers: (05:42)
Yeah. Hi, General VanHerck. It’s Megan Myers from Military Times. I wanted to ask, how many Afghans NORTHCOM has received? How many have been resettled and moved off of installations? And about how long that process is taking and which processes are taking place on bases here?

General VanHerck: (06:00)
Okay, Megan, so more than 25,600 are currently with United States NORTHCOM Task Forces. As far as how long and how many have processed through, it’s more than 800 at Task Force Eagle at Fort Lee. And then, at the other locations, we’re beginning to ramp up. So I would say approximately 1,000, but I don’t have a specific number to give you. That would be best handled by DHS and the Department of State who are responsible for that. As far as the duration, again, that’s really DHS and Department of State. I will tell you that right now, they’re in the policy planning mode for exactly the procedure that will be utilized for either asylum processing or special immigrant visa processing. We look forward to finalizing that. I talked with Mr. Bob Fenton yesterday while at Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst. Bob Fenton is the DHS Lead for Operation Allies Welcome. And he’s working closely with our team so that we become as efficient and effective as possible in the outflow process.

John Kirby: (07:12)
Go ahead.

Travis Tritten: (07:13)
Hi. Thanks for taking this question. Travis Tritten with Could you describe your role in COVID testing and tell us what a positivity rate you’re seeing among the Afghan evacuees? Thank you.

General VanHerck: (07:29)
Yeah, thank you, Travis. Our role at the Task Forces is to test every single Afghan personnel that comes in. They’re also tested at Dulles as well, but that is not done under United States Northern Command. So we’re testing all of them. Last week during my trip, we visited Bliss and McCoy and we saw at one location three positive COVID tests out of more than 1,300, one at another location out of 1,200, and yesterday during my visit to Task Force Liberty, there was no concern expressed by the commanders or any of the medical professionals about COVID positivity rates or testing.

John Kirby: (08:09)
Okay, we’ll go back to the phones, Dan Lamothe.

Dan Lamothe: (08:11)
Hey, good morning. Thanks for your time today. I wanted to ask, I’ve seen a couple of advertisements asking internally for AFPAK hands types military personnel assumably that have some familiarity with Dari, Pashto, that kind of thing. Can you speak at all to what you need in terms of U.S. military personnel that can speak to Afghans who don’t speak English and where you are right now handling that? Thanks.

General VanHerck: (08:39)
Hey, Dan, that’s a great question. So during my visit yesterday, two outstanding officers who were AFPAK hands, one of them was a Space Force officer who recently transitioned to the Space Force from the Air Force and the other was an Air Force officer, who both volunteered to do this mission once they saw the importance of it, both of them fluent in the languages and very helpful. In addition to that, the Headquarters of the Air Force has provided a cultural advisor, again, fluent in the languages to help with the cultural challenges that everybody needs to understand. With regards to interpreters, linguists, those kinds of things to support, those are challenges. We’re seeking as many as we can through the inter-agency process. We’ve also had a request for forces out to DOD for additional support. I’m confident that we’re going to get that support as we go forward. Great people volunteering to help us out.

John Kirby: (09:34)
Okay. Jenny.

Jenny: (09:36)
I’m Jenny … (silence)

General VanHerck: (10:14)
… States Northern Command and NORAD stand ready to provide our mission capabilities. For NORAD, that’s threat warning and attack assessment. For NORTHCOM, ballistic missile defense capability. I’m ready 24/7, 365, if North Korea decides to launch a ballistic missile. I’m confident in our capabilities. I’m aware of the report that you’re talking about. That does not change my posture. We continue to be ready to respond should North Korea elect to launch a missile.

Jenny: (10:44)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (10:45)

Barb: (10:46)
General VanHerck, a good couple of follow-ups. You talked about this mayor’s cell, can you tell us a little bit more? Is this something that’s going to happen at all the other sites? How are you trying to give Afghans more of a voice in their conditions right now? My second follow-up to that is you mentioned a couple of times things not coming to your level of attention. I’m wondering how you’re ensuring that any problems regarding food, sanitation, care, standardizing care, how these do come to your attention so you made sure people tell you when there are problems. What’s that level you’ve set when you want something brought to your attention?

General VanHerck: (11:43)
Thanks, Barb. A great opportunity to talk about the mayor’s cell, and it has been perpetuated across all of the Task Forces. I’m really encouraged with what I see at the Task Forces with sharing lessons and continuous improvement processes. The mayor’s cell is a great idea. We take our military leaders, we put them into the mayor’s cell. They’re responsible for a specific location, maybe a few dorms, a dorm or two, and they have a counterpart on the Afghan side that would essentially be their equal, if you will, in rank. This is great because, not only does it allow the Afghans to express their concerns or challenges or where they need resources or help, it allows us to also communicate with them through the same process and they can perpetuate that information across the entire Task Force and across all of the Afghan population.

General VanHerck: (12:39)
So, for example, the second part of your question, where you may have concerns such as sanitization or something like that, this is a great venue and a method to be able to express that. We have cultural differences and those are things that we’re working on, educating both the Afghans and our people on the challenges that we face from a cultural perspective in understanding that we each understand each person-

General VanHerck: (13:03)
… understanding that we each understand each person’s perspective. And so, this process of the mayor cell has been very influential in helping us get after that. With regards to information that flows to my level, Barb, there are things called commander’s critical information requirements. And I lay those out specifically on things that I want to be notified about. And then, I empower the commanders that worked for me from multiple levels all the way down to the lowest level to when they deem necessary that something’s going to get attention, that they are going to contact me. I’m very confident that if there was an incident of serious nature, that I would be in the loop at this point. And so when I say I haven’t been made aware of any, I’m confident that we’re in a good position there. I can’t tell you there hasn’t been any incidents at all, but they haven’t been serious enough to be addressed at my level.

Barb: (13:53)
Can I just follow up? So just to make sure I understand, nothing has been reported to you, correct me if I’m wrong. And I am still wondering, there have been sporadic reports. I grant absolutely sporadic, of problems of sanitation and food and that sort of thing. Is there anything that you may be just hearing about in your travels around that they’re doing to ensure there’s a standardized process so at all these bases where so many people are located, the local commanders have some standardization and know what they need to look for. But I just want to make sure nothing has come to your level?

General VanHerck: (14:44)
Barb, nothing has come to my level to address. I’m aware of the sanitisation issues you talk about, a text that was posted on social media on August 29th. I believe that text was referring to some conditions at Donna Anna at Fort Bliss, Taskforce Bliss. The reason I became aware was through that text process that allowed me to become aware.

General VanHerck: (15:10)
The mayor cell process that we were just talking about has been influential in helping educate and understand the expectations for our visitors, helping to understand for our contractors who provide a lot of the sanitization support as well. And so we continue to improve. Now, Barb, I would tell you I’m building eight small cities, okay? We’re going to have challenges just like you do across the nation in various locations. And so I’m comfortable and confident that we have processes in place to continue to address any of these challenges moving forward. And so, I look forward to showing you at some point in the future when we can. I think you’ll be incredibly impressed with what we’re doing.

John Kirby: (16:01)

Slyvie: (16:01)
Hello, General. Sylvie [inaudible 00:16:05] from AFP. We heard reports about children separated from their families during the evacuation. Do you have any case of children traveling alone and how do you deal with them?

General VanHerck: (16:22)
Thank you. Great question. So we’ve had a couple of unaccompanied children arrive at our task forces. They’re immediately identified and Health and Human Services is the lead agency to take responsibility for any unaccompanied children. In each case, they have quickly adapted and take responsibility for those children. Each of their personnel are certified, trained, very experienced to handle these cases. We do not retain responsibility for those, but we do identify them and pass them on to Health and Human Services.

Slyvie: (16:56)
Where do they go?

General VanHerck: (16:58)
I would defer to Health and Human Services for that. Health and Human Services I believe has facilities in Washington, DC, near Dulles, where they’re currently housing any unaccompanied children. What I’ve seen is they’re incredibly fast in trying to work to identify where the families are and get them reunited with their families.

Slyvie: (17:20)
Do you have a number?

General VanHerck: (17:22)
I do not. Health and Human Services is the POC and I’d refer you to them.

John Kirby: (17:28)
Let me get back to the phones. Jack Ditch, foreign policy.

Jack Ditch: (17:33)
Hey, thanks for doing this, general. I’m curious if you have an outlay or a ballpark figure of how much it’s going to cost to house Afghan refugees at US bases. Thanks.

General VanHerck: (17:44)
I don’t have that figure. I would refer you for DOD purposes to OSD and the comptroller, but more broadly probably to the lead federal agency. Apologize, I don’t have that data.

Jack Ditch: (17:55)
Okay. No problem. John, if you could take that, that’d be great.

John Kirby: (17:58)
John, I will take it. I suspect that we don’t have a firm estimate right now as we are really just in the middle of this operation, but Jack, that’s a fair question. And we’ll see what kind of context in terms of costs we can get to you.

Jack Ditch: (18:12)
Thanks. Yes ma’am?

Christina Anderson: (18:15)
General. Christina Anderson AWPS News. I’m wondering if you have at this early stage demographics among the task force groups, these tiny cities, and in particular about children with school, starting here in the US what kinds of organizational things are happening to try to make sure that children continue their education and anyone who is ready for university is able to kind of plug into that. Thank you.

General VanHerck: (18:46)
Thanks, Christina. First, I’ll have to defer you to the lead for that as far as demographics. I think I talked a little bit about that last time. We’re seeing close to 50, 50 male female, but with a large percentage of children, but I don’t have the specifics. As far as education, again, DOD is not the lead there. I would defer you to the State Department, Health and Human Services, and the lead federal agency for that information. What I will tell you, it was incredibly heartwarming yesterday during my visit to Taskforce Liberty.

General VanHerck: (19:20)
We were walking through the village. There’s hundreds of kids out. They have coloring books, they have toys, they’re with their families, they’re with their friends, hundreds of them playing soccer, and even got to watch a congressmen play hopscotch with a young female Afghan person that was there and her heart was warmed and she smiled continuously. So it’s not like they’re not doing anything. They’re staying incredibly busy.

Christina Anderson: (19:48)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (19:49)

Louie Martinez: (19:51)
General, it’s Louie Martinez with ABC News. It seems like the population has quadrupled since you were with us last week in terms of the people that you had at these facilities. And I know that at Fort Lee, it was initially for people who were in the SIV pipeline. So they were going through rather quickly. Are the majority now fo these individuals who are in your camps, are they SIVs? And if they’re not, how much time do you anticipate that they’ll spend there, if there’s a certain process that’s involved in terms of not being days, but maybe weeks or months?

General VanHerck: (20:33)
Hey, thanks, Louie. You’re right. Lee was primarily an SIV event. And today, the vast majority of the Afghan population at Lee are in the SIV process. As far as the total number, I don’t have a specific, I’d have to defer you to DHS and State Department of exactly the breakout between SIV and other asylum seekers. But I would venture, I’m speculating a little bit that the vast majority are not SIVs at this time. They are asylum seekers that will be determined how we’re going to work them through the process by DHS as the lead federal agency.

Louie Martinez: (21:15)
And if I could follow up, does that mean that they will remain at those facilities until they get asylum or like the other individuals in the SIV pipeline, do they get transferred out to NGOs if they find housing for them?

General VanHerck: (21:31)
What I expect and talking with Mr. Bob Fenton yesterday, and they’re currently working through the process for how we’re going to onward move them is that each of them will at a minimum go through the medical screening, COVID vaccination. That’s a requirement now for parole, parole being a term that the state uses when you release them into the United States, as part of either special immigrant process or a DHS as part of an asylum process.

General VanHerck: (22:02)
For the duration, that really depends on the capacity we’re going to have at each location and the policy decision that is currently being made right now on what the processing is going to look like. That does not mean there’ll be on DOD installations until they complete that process. Once they go through their screening, once the policy is decided, then they may be released likely in to our country and go through the asylum process as guests of our country, until they get Their either US citizenship, green card, et cetera.

John Kirby: (22:38)
We got time for just one more. And then I’m going to let the general close things out. Sam Lagroan, did you have a question?

Sam Lagroan: (22:44)
Yeah. Hi general, thanks for being here. Can we get an update on the relief operations in Haiti and how those are going and what the US participation is at the moment?

General VanHerck: (22:57)
Sam, I’ll have to defer to Admiral Fowler at South Comm. That’s it in his AOR. Maybe John Kirby has more, but that’s not something I’m responsible for.

John Kirby: (23:07)
Sam, we’ll get you something. I don’t have an update ready for today on that, but we’ll get you something on that. One last one. Go ahead, Barb.

Barb: (23:14)
General, I have a quick follow-up to Louie. So what have you been told, what’s your planning factor if you will, on how long you have to have these military bases prepared and ready, capable to house Afghans, because given what you’re doing, somebody would have given you some kind of planning scenario be ready for as long as? And when you talked about these locations as villages, are families given separate housing? Are they together [inaudible 00:23:55] family or are families in larger dormitories? How is the housing working also for single females and single males?

General VanHerck: (24:05)
Thanks, Barb. Great question. Let me answer that last portion first. So single males will have a single male housing and living facilities. They will not be intermixed with children and the families. Families do have separated areas where we try to put the families together. So some of these areas that are open, what we do is we put temporary walls up to give privacy in accordance with their culture for the families. And single females as well will be allowed the opportunity to have single female housing for them as well. The first part of your question, Barb, let me make sure I understood that. Can you go back to that?

Barb: (24:44)
Just to follow up on what Louie was asking, somebody would have said to you or the military as you construct these base locations to be prepared to conduct this mission for as long as, and what would that have been? What planning guidance have you been given, even if it’s more or less? What’s the guidance you have on how long to be prepared to conduct this mission?

General VanHerck: (25:16)
Barb, we’re prepared to conduct a mission until completion, which will be determined by DHS as far as the processing. I would defer to John Kirby, if he has additional information that maybe OMB or another agency is planning for, but for me, I’m prepared to execute until told otherwise or mission complete.

Barb: (25:36)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (25:37)
Okay. With that general, sir, I appreciate your time today on a Friday. I’d like to turn it back over to you for any closing thoughts you might have, sir.

General VanHerck: (25:43)
Hey, thanks, John. And thanks to the press corps there. It’s a great opportunity to share this story. I think there’s some incredibly positive stories that can come out of the ongoing mission of Operation Allies Welcome. And I’ve been able to see those. It’s a Herculean effort that started all the way in Afghanistan and is working its way all the way here.

General VanHerck: (26:03)
… all the way in Afghanistan and is working its way all the way here to the United States of America. I can’t tell you how impressed I really am with our joint force, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians, Coast Guardsmen, partnered with the interagency and volunteers that are making this mission happen. The pride is simply amazing that I see when I go out and do this, and the smiles and the gratitude and the graciousness of our guests, you cannot overstate how much they appreciate what our teams are doing. The states, the local communities, the volunteers that are coming out, it’s just amazing, and that’s a story that we have to continue to tell.

General VanHerck: (26:40)
I will tell you the mission is not over. For us, it’s actually just beginning. Much to accomplish in the coming days and weeks, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the rest of the interagency to accomplish this mission. I know that DOD and our interagency partners are up to this task. That’s what we do in the department. That’s what we do as Americans, and it’s great to be part of this mission. Thank you very much.

John Kirby: (27:04)
Thank you, General. Appreciate your time today. Okay. I do have a couple of things at the top here, and then I can stick around and take some questions, if you have them. To piggyback onto the general’s comments about wildfire support, with the continuing significant fires in the Western United States, the Department of Defense is delivering requested personnel, equipment, and facilities to assist federal, state, and local partners as they fight these wildfires.

John Kirby: (27:32)
One of the tools provided by the department is the [inaudible 00:27:36] Intelligence Agency, NGA. Firefly provides imagery information from satellites, drones, ground sensors, and cameras, giving wildfire agencies the location and shape of probable fires. It assists with fire mapping and tactical decision support. Firefly offers regular updates up to 15-minute intervals on areas of fire growth and activity without cost or exposure of aircraft.

John Kirby: (27:59)
Recognizing the continuing value of this pilot program, the department recently approved an extension of Firefly support through September of 2022. This extension will provide time for the National Interagency Fire Center in consultation with the Department of Defense to develop a viable long-term solution for future funding and operation of Firefly.

John Kirby: (28:19)
Finally, I think you heard the secretary mention the other day that he’ll be going to the Gulf region here next week. We depart on Sunday, September 5th to visit Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Throughout this trip, the secretary will be meeting with regional partners and military leaders as well, US military leaders as well to thank them for their cooperation with the United States as we evacuated Americans, Afghans, and citizens from other nations from Afghanistan.

John Kirby: (28:50)
He will of course reaffirm our strong defense relationships in the region and again thank them for their superb support. He’ll have a chance to talk to US service members and other government personnel, including our diplomat colleagues to thank them for, again, the skill and professionalism with which they have conducted and continue to conduct this onward movement of people. So with that, I can take some questions, Travis.

Travis: (29:18)
John, I wanted to piggyback on the previous questions on what the general said about the length of time that they may be housing the Afghans. It sounded like from what he said it could be indefinitely, and I’m just wondering if you could give us some more clarity on that. I mean, is the plan to do this through October with the possibility of an extension, or can you give us some more clarity so it just doesn’t sound like this is indefinitely?

John Kirby: (29:41)
Yeah, wouldn’t want to get confused. I don’t think the general meant to indicate that the stay at a base is going to be indefinite. That is not the plan. These are temporary housing locations to help these individuals as they complete their process, and many of them, to Louie’s question, are on different process timelines. If you’re an SIV and you’re farther in the process, then obviously it won’t be as long as somebody who’s not in that program. So it’s going to vary case by case.

John Kirby: (30:11)
But what he was talking about was the mission itself, the general support by DOD to our interagency partners, there’s not a deadline on that. As he said, we’re just at the beginning of this. So we’ll support our interagency partners with the housing function we’re providing for as long as they need it. That’s different than saying an individual family or individual Afghan is going to be on a base for an indefinite period of time. There’s a process, but each one will be different based on the individual case. Did that answer your question?

Travis: (30:42)
I think so. Thank you.

John Kirby: (30:43)
Okay. Yeah. [inaudible 00:30:45].

Mike: (30:46)
Thanks. Mike Brest with the Washington Examiner. DOD still hasn’t said who the targets of the airstrikes were. Can you tell us who the targets were, and if not, why not?

John Kirby: (30:56)
I don’t believe we’ve refused to say who they are. We haven’t given you names, but we absolutely had solid intelligence that this was ISIS individuals who were in the act of imminently carrying out a direct threat to the airport and to our people and potentially to innocent lives outside the airport. The intelligence was very good, and we took the strike in as timely a fashion as we could to prevent this imminent threat. There’s no question on the department’s mind that it was a valid threat, valid target, and it related to ISIS-K. Okay, Louie.

Louie: (31:39)
Yesterday, General Walters spoke about a 10-day limit for individuals in EUCOM.

John Kirby: (31:46)

Louie: (31:47)
What exactly is that, and is there a limit or the individuals in the CENTCOM countries?

John Kirby: (31:53)
Let me get back to you on the CENTCOM. I don’t know. I’d have to get that from central command, Louie. What the general was talking about in Europe, these countries have asked that we keep people no longer than 10 days at these facilities. I think he talked about how we’re working with the countries. We’re grateful for their generosity, and we’re working very hard to meet those guidelines as best we can. I’ll have to take the question on CENTCOM. I don’t know if there’s similar limits on timeframe. Obviously, there’s different capacity capabilities at each of the countries in the region in central command that are helping us host some of these individuals, but I’m not sure that there’s a time limit.

Louie: (32:33)
Each of those, I think I remember he said yesterday it was like 20,000 people, 23,000 people still in EUCOM are going to the United States or they’re going to be housed in other countries

John Kirby: (32:45)
We anticipate most will be coming to the United States, but not all. Again, to some degree, that’ll be determined by the individual family members, and the people that left Afghanistan, we can’t assume that each and every single one of them want the United States to be their final destination.

Louie: (33:04)
So if that clock pulls, I mean, I think it’s by next Wednesday, you would have to have all of those individuals back in the United States.

John Kirby: (33:13)
Well, or not at the bases where they’re at right now, not necessarily all back to the United States. Again, the general’s better to talk to that. I think he talked about that yesterday. Yeah.

Speaker 1: (33:28)
Oh, thank. Two-part question. First, the secretary said in the past week his priority [inaudible 00:33:33] in the face of the pacing threat of China. Does he still stand by his [inaudible 00:33:39] statement now that the Taliban took over Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism could increase in the near future?

John Kirby: (33:47)
The secretary still intends to prioritize the Indo-Pacific region. Absolutely. Nothing’s changed about that. You’ve heard us talk before that in many ways that the terrorist threat, certainly to our interests and the interests of our allies and partners, has metastasized outside Afghanistan. We’re not going to lose focus on that. You heard him say that just the other day, and we’re going to stay laser-focused on making sure we have the capabilities we need to conduct over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere around the world.

John Kirby: (34:19)
Nothing’s changed about our focus on the Indo-Pacific region. It’s no accident that his first trip was to that part of the world. In fact, he went just recently again to Southeast Asia. This trip next week will be his first trip to the Middle East since becoming Secretary of Defense and obviously a very opportune moment for him to be able to thank these countries for their support.

Speaker 1: (34:42)
Okay. Oh, a separate question. The DOD was supposed to complete the global [inaudible 00:34:47] review by as early as late summer. Are you still on track to meet that timeline even after the recent event in Afghanistan?

John Kirby: (34:57)
Yeah, the team is still working on this, and I think we’re still basically where we need to be in terms of the timeline. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (35:04)
John, on the [inaudible 00:35:07], can you tell us if there are any military, Afghan military members, service members among the evacuees?

John Kirby: (35:14)
Yes. There are some.

Speaker 2: (35:16)
Also, on the strike in Nangarhar, why didn’t you name those high-level, high-profile ISIS officials yet? You don’t have the names? You just-

John Kirby: (35:30)
We know who they are. I think at the time, we didn’t release the names because we were in the middle of a very fluid threat environment. Let me see if that’s information that can be provided now. I don’t know. I mean, we know who they are. I don’t know if it’s information that we’re going to be able to provide right now. Yeah, Christine.

Christina Anderson: (35:51)
So back to these taskforce bases here in the US, on the longer-term stays, will there be plans to include among the activities for the children educational types of activities, beginning English, some of those kinds of things, perhaps? I don’t know how long the stay would be, but it seems to me that just having them play day by day is a good thing, but some educational activity wouldn’t [crosstalk 00:36:20].

John Kirby: (36:19)
I would refer you to HHS. That’s really their role. Again, I think to remind, our job is to provide temporary housing space, food, water, sustenance, shelter, religious accommodations, obviously, to make these individuals as comfortable as possible while they go through this process. But you’re asking … Those kinds of questions are better put to HHS and not the Department of Defense. Courtney.

Courtney: (36:50)
Now that there is a little bit of time that the US has been out, is there more clarity on who could be targeted under the CT strikes? Obviously, ISIS-K, we’ve heard about that. I’m assuming Al-Qaeda. What about Haqqani? Are they legitimate, a target that the US could potentially be targeting with counter-terror strikes in Afghanistan, going forward?

John Kirby: (37:12)
Yeah, I don’t want to hypothesize about potential future operations, Courtney. What I will tell you is that we maintain the capability and the responsibility to conduct counter-terrorism strikes that we believe are in the best interest of the United States of America and the American people that we defend. I think I’d just leave it at that.

Courtney: (37:35)
So because there is at least one Haqqani leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who there’s a $5 million what’s the term against him by the FBI. The FBI have offered 5 million for information about him. So theoretically, he’s wanted in the United States. Would he be a legitimate counter-terror target for the US military?

John Kirby: (38:00)
We will conduct counter-terrorism operations that we believe are in the interest of protecting our interests and the American people and when there is the credible threat that needs to be dealt with. I don’t want to speculate about each and every possible circumstance or each and every possible target. I think you can understand why we wouldn’t want to do that right now.

Courtney: (38:23)
One more on that. Now that there’s no US military presence there, who has the authority? Soevery single time that now General McKenzie has a potential target, does he have to get permission from the White House or from Secretary of Defense to conduct strikes in Afghanistan, going forward? I know I’ve asked this before, but I’ll ask it again just to see if there’s more clarity. Now that the Taliban are running the government in Afghanistan, will the US go to them in advance of strikes, not for necessarily approval, but as coordination?

John Kirby: (39:00)
Yeah, I think both the secretary and the chairman talked about this.

John Kirby: (39:03)
Yeah, I think both the secretary and the chairman talked about this just the other day. They want to leave anybody with the notion that we were somehow going to be in some long-term enduring, manufactured cooperation agreement with the Taliban. But to your last question, I mean, each case is going to be dealt with specifically to that case. And that includes issues of authorities. Obviously, General McKenzie has authorities to conduct counterterrorism operations inside his area of responsibility, and we leave it to him and his good judgment to determine how much beyond his own authorities does he want to act or consult. But every case is going to be dealt with differently.

John Kirby: (39:58)
So again, I think the secretary and the chairman laid it out pretty clear. Nobody’s trying to ink some sort of military cooperation agreement with the Taliban. They wouldn’t rule out that there might be occasions when there might need to be some informational component there with the Taliban going forward. Nothing should be lost about the fact that we have a robust over- the-horizon counterterrorism capability. We’re going to try to make it more robust. We’re still in discussions with partner nations about being able to make it more robust, and we’re going to continue to explore options. Again, it’s about defending our interests and our people and the American homeland, and making sure that places like Afghanistan can’t become a place where that kind of a threat, like what happened on 9/11, can happen again. Barbara.

Barb: (40:54)
I want to clarify something you just said to [Courtney 00:40:57], please. I think I heard you correctly. You said you leave it to General McKenzie to decide when he needs to consult.

John Kirby: (41:06)
Right. I know there is a fascination here about… No, Barb, wait. Hang on just a second. There’s fascination here over authorities, and the cases when a commander can do something on his or her own, or they have to float it up the chain of command. I am not going to get into a detailed discussion today about authorities for strikes that haven’t happened yet, and for operations that aren’t planned and aren’t on the calendar yet. Hang on, please. The whole national security team is involved in monitoring the threat streams and the intelligence, and there is in many cases frequent dialogue across the chain of command about taking the appropriate action. And the interest in authorities is interesting. It’s not necessarily relevant to the overall mission, which is to prevent our nation from being attacked again.

Barb: (42:04)
So my question actually is… While that’s a very good explanation, my question is… You said, if I am repeating this accurately, it is up to General McKenzie to decide when he needs to consult. I’m wondering, given everything… Maybe I just misunderstood you. There are processes and procedures [inaudible 00:42:29], one in charge of operations in a particular part of the world. It wouldn’t just be left up to him to decide whether he thinks he needs to tell the president or the White House or the secretary or the chairman. I’m not trying to ask about hypotheticals. I’m just trying to ask, is that really the case that General Mackenzie gets to decide, or did I misunderstand you?

John Kirby: (42:56)
He has authorities, Barb, and there will be times when he’ll be able to act on those authorities. There will be other occasions potentially where there’ll need to be a broader discussion about the intelligence we’re seeing and about the capabilities we can bring to bear to deal with that particular threat. And General McKenzie, if I… I’ll have to go back and look at exactly what I said, but General McKenzie understands how to do this, as do all the other combatant commanders, quite frankly. It’s not just Central Command. Other geographic combatant commands are dealing with terrorist threats in Africa and even in the Indo-Pacific. They understand the authorities that they have, and they also understand that even within those authorities, there might be times when a broader discussion is warranted. And I think, again, it’s not a useful exercise to go through the authorities on each and every possible strike.

John Kirby: (44:02)
What matters is that the American people know A, we have the capability and we’re going to keep the capability, and we’re going to try to make it more robust, and B, we’re not going to lose sight on the threat going forward. And it’s difficult for me on the 3rd of September to tell you exactly what that threat is going to look like in any part of the world on any particular day, except to say that our combatant commanders know the authorities they have, they know the responsibilities they have, and they will act accordingly.

Courtney: (44:28)
I think the reason that the… I’m glad that the combatant commanders know their authorities. I would be troubled if they didn’t. But I think the reason that we’re asking here is because now the situation has changed. There’ve been 20 years that we’ve been covering this war, and now the situation on the ground has changed. There’s no military there, and we’re trying to understand to inform our own reporting how things go going forward. I don’t think we’re asking you specifically, “Can you give us the date and time of each strike and who it’s going to be targeting and where,” but just more broadly how this process is going to work going forward. And I think that kind of process stuff… Call us wonky. It wouldn’t be the worst thing this press corps has been called before, but I think that only informs our own reporting to understand how it’s going to work. So if it’s possible that anyone can explain that going forward, even in a broad sense-

John Kirby: (45:11)
Courtney, again, I think… Maybe I failed. Perhaps I utterly failed here to try to explain it going forward-

Courtney: (45:19)
[crosstalk 00:45:19], not to your face.

John Kirby: (45:22)
…but I just don’t think it’s a useful exercise to talk about every authority process for every potential strike we’re going to take. Just rest assured that our combatant commanders have the authorities they need, and if there’s a need to have a broader discussion inside the national security team about a potential target, we’ll do that. It is not uncommon that that hasn’t happened in the past, and I suspect that that’ll happen in the future. But you’re right, the situation is different. And that’s exactly the point I guess I’m trying to make, is that because the situation is different, these will be taken almost on an individual basis.

Speaker 3: (46:06)
Can I have a follow-up?

John Kirby: (46:06)
Yeah, sure.

Speaker 3: (46:07)
Could you talk a little bit about the urgency of the opportunity in a strike? Is that a factor in this too sometimes?

John Kirby: (46:14)
Time and urgency is always a factor when you’re getting ready to take a strike, particularly against a legitimate terrorist threat. Okay, I got to go. Yeah, go ahead.

Speaker 4: (46:24)
So what is the US’ final destination of the military mission against the terrorists? You say we’re fighting [inaudible 00:46:37] to Taliban, ISK, or another terrorist, what? Do you have any destination for the final destination?

John Kirby: (46:43)
A destination?

Speaker 4: (46:43)
Yes, final destination of the US.

John Kirby: (46:52)
Final destination of the U S when it comes to the terrorist threats? I mean, I think it’s been pretty clear. We want to make sure that we can avoid, prevent, stop a terrorist threat from endangering the lives of the American people, like it happened nearly 20 years ago. And that was why we went to Afghanistan, and it was still the goal. And it is still the goal, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere around the world, to eliminate those kinds of threats to our interests and to our people, to our allies and partners from legitimate terrorist activity, which again, as I said, has metastasized away from Afghanistan in recent years to North Africa, into other places in the Middle East.

John Kirby: (47:45)
And so we’re not going to lose sight on that. We’re just not going to lose sight on that. The secretary’s number one priority, if you go back and look at his message to the force when he took over, is “Defend the nation.” There’s a lot you wrap into “Defend the nation,” a lot. Part of it is the existent terrorist threat and the future terrorist threat, and making sure that we’re not losing focus on that.

Speaker 4: (48:07)
All right, thank you.

John Kirby: (48:08)
Okay, thank you.

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