Apr 12, 2022

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds briefing 4/12/22 Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds briefing 4/12/22 Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsJohn KirbyPentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds briefing 4/12/22 Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds briefing 4/12/22. Read the transcript here.


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John Kirby: (00:01)
This follows a constant dialogue and conversation that the Secretary has with the Minister. They talked about all the things that the United States is doing to help Ukraine defend itself. Mr. Reznikov thanked the Secretary for that support and offered his assessment of the situation on the ground, as you might expect. Secretary Austin highlighted again, our ongoing efforts to deliver security assistance to Ukraine, as much as we can and as fast as we can and our commitment to meet Ukraine’s most urgent needs and evolving battlefield requirements. Obviously all this was done in the context of what we continue to see is Russia’s re-prioritization of the east and the south. And of course, the Secretary talked about our coordination efforts with other allies and partners. We’ll have a full readout of the meeting a little bit later, probably before the briefing is over. With that, we’ll take questions. I don’t see Bob or [Lida 00:01:06], so okay.

Andres: (01:08)
Two quick questions. There were some social media reports about some equipment moving to Russia’s border with Finland. Have you seen anything, any buildup? Secondly on Mariupol, it does increasingly seem like it will fall at some point. And I was just curious, there’s this sort of narrative being built up in Russia that if Mariupol is taken by the Russians, it would be a massive success and it would change the tide of the war and then they could refocus back on the west again. And I was just curious how your assessment is if, not if, when Mariupol falls what that would mean.

John Kirby: (01:40)
Well, first of all, I don’t think anybody here is ready to be fatalistic about what happens in Mariupol. But your first question, no, I have not seen anything to confirm social media reports about Russian equipment, weapons or systems or forces near Finland. Our assessment today is that a Mariupol is still contested and that the Ukrainians are still fighting to defend Mariupol from a Russian seizure of it. You’ve seen the images yourself, you’ve seen the devastation that Russian airstrikes have brought on Mariupol and the city. But our assessment is that the Ukrainians are still fighting for it. Look, it’s obvious that the Russians want Mariupol because of its strategic location. They’re at the south of that Donbas area and right on the Sea of Azov. It’s a major port city, one. Two, it would provide them an unhindered land access between the Donbas and Crimea. And three, because it’s to the south of the Donbas area, if in fact what they say is true that they want to secure for themselves that Donbas area, the area that they claim is predominantly basically Russian provinces, then Mariupol from a geographic perspective you can understand why that would be important to them in terms of their efforts in the Donbas. So it has significance on many levels. It also has great significance to the Ukrainian people because of what it represents to their economic lifeblood. And because it is their city and it’s part of their country and they haven’t given up on it and we’re not giving up on them either.

Silvi: (03:53)
Can you confirm that some of the US marines who participated in some exercise in Norway recently stayed in Europe? Can you tell us how many and where?

John Kirby: (04:08)
We already talked about this [Silvi 00:04:10]. There was a Marine exercise in Norway, cold response. And most of the Marine units that participated did redeploy back home. But, I announced this last week, we kept some headquarters elements and we kept some F-18 strike fighter aircraft, a few, half a dozen or so, kept them in the region. So we’ve already talked about this. [crosstalk 00:04:42] Nothing new.

Silvi: (04:44)
It was on the Eastern flank? Or did you keep them [crosstalk 00:04:48]-

John Kirby: (04:47)
Yeah, I’d have to go back and look exactly where they went, but it was, I think they were largely, we were going to redeploy them into the Baltic region, but we can get you a better answer on that. I don’t have their exact locations with me today, but this is not new, this is something we talked about at the end of the exercise. Yeah [Dar 00:05:07].

Dar: (05:06)
Thanks, John. I wanted to pull up on Andres’s question to the extent that you can, why do you think that Mariupol is potentially in danger of falling where Kyiv held? Was the Pentagon ever able to get weapons to Mariupol much like it was able to get fortified defenses to Kyiv in time.

John Kirby: (05:27)
Were we able to get?

Dar: (05:30)
Any of the weapon shipments that went in the security assistance to-

John Kirby: (05:32)
We don’t designate where the Ukrainians use the systems that they’re getting from us and from any other nations. We get them into Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces literally drive them in and where they drive them to and how they’re applied that’s up to Ukrainian armed forces. We don’t get to decide and we don’t dictate where our security assistance is used, that’s really up for the Ukrainian. So I can’t answer that question, only the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense could answer a question about how much security assistance that were provided to them is and has been used in Mariupol.

John Kirby: (06:16)
Look, I mean, I can’t speak with the great specificity as to why they had a harder time in Kyiv than they appeared to be having in Mariupol. I mean, they are two different cities, two different geographies, two different levels of effort by Russians and by the Ukrainians. The point is it is a strategic city for the Ukrainians too, and they continue to fight over it. Again, we continue to maintain that it’s contested.

Speaker 1: (06:51)
As you know, defense official today said the US provide useful information to Ukrainians to defend themselves. Ukrainians [crosstalk 00:07:00]-

John Kirby: (06:57)
I’ve said that myself.

Speaker 1: (07:01)
Yes, Ukrainians are massing tanks and artillery to the east, to Donbas area. We saw them in the previous six weeks they have waged as successfully insurgency against Russians, but now they are going to a conventional phase to kind of fight against Russian. Do you think it’s logical or wise militarily to go against Russians in a conventional formation?

John Kirby: (07:26)
You’re asking me to give a report card to your assessment of the Ukrainian military strategy? I’m not going to do that. And we’re not going to talk about how the Ukrainians are deploying and using their forces or systems and security assistance that they’ve been getting. That’s for them to decide and for them to speak to if, and when they’re ready to speak to it. They continue to fight bravely for their country. We continue to try to support their efforts to do that through truly an unprecedented level of speed, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.

Speaker 1: (07:57)
Also, of course, I know that Ukrainians are taking care of the security assistance that you are providing. Do you track if the security assistance that you provided is being transferred to the east? And is it that kind of [crosstalk 00:08:13]

John Kirby: (08:13)
No. We get the stuff into Ukrainian hands and we know that’s happening, Mr. Reznikov confirm that again today. But it belongs to them at that point and where they decide to employ it, how they employ it with what units they provide, that is a Ukrainian decision to make. We respect, of course, their right and their responsibility, it to manage that assistance the way they see fit. It’s up to them to decide. Yeah, in the back there.

Valerie Insinna: (08:47)

John Kirby: (08:47)
Who are you?

Valerie Insinna: (08:48)
Valerie Insinna with Breaking Defense.

John Kirby: (08:49)
Oh. Hey, how are you?

Valerie Insinna: (08:50)
Hi, nice to see you. Sorry to take focus away from Europe, but Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, is reporting that the US, UK, Australia have informally asked Japan to become part of a-

Valerie Insinna: (09:03)
… UK and Australia have informally asked Japan to become part of AUKUS. Can you confirm that report at all?

John Kirby: (09:07)
I cannot. First I heard of it.

Valerie Insinna: (09:09)
Okay. Then if I could ask about Europe, Slovakia is considering giving its MiG-29s to Ukraine. Is there any talks with the DUS about potentially speeding up the delivery of its F-16s to Slovakia?

John Kirby: (09:28)
I’ve heard some reports about this potential Slovakian decision. We don’t have anything on that. Certainly we would refer you to the government there in Bratislava to speak to. Again, if that’s true, that’s a decision that only they can speak to. And I’m not aware of any discussions about accelerating F-16 sales as a result of this. I mean, I don’t have anything on that. I’m sorry. Barbara Star?

Barbara Star: (10:02)
I wanted to follow up on your statement last night about reports of chemical munition used by the Russians in Mariupol. And you said in that statement that the US has had concerns about Russia potentially mixing riot control agents, tear gas, with chemical agents. Can you give us a bit more of the US assessment on that? Is there something relatively new that you’ve been tracking since the invasion and all the aggressive action by Russia? Is this more something that you’ve been seeing for some time? Can you give us some context and perspective on this notion that they may be mixing up their own version of chemical agents?

John Kirby: (10:59)
Well, look, I think as you know, we have tried to share with you intelligence that we see and we feel that we can and we should make public. And this is something we have had justified reason to be concerned about, that in the prosecution of this war or that this could be a tactic they might employ, which is to try to mask a potential more serious chemical attack with riot control agents. Again, it comes from a mosaic of information we’ve gleaned. It’s related more to what is unfolding in Ukraine rather than some long historical practice. Although I would add that the Russians have certainly proven more than willing to use chemical weapons when it suited them in the past. I mean, this is a military that has a history here. But it’s more related to what we’ve been picking up in terms of the invasion of Ukraine.

John Kirby: (12:14)
I want to add though, Barb, as I also said in that statement last night, that we cannot confirm these reports that have been emanating on social media about the use of potential chemical agents. I think the social media was reporting that it was through the use of a drone or something like that, and we just are not able to confirm it. We’re obviously taking it seriously and we’re monitoring it. We’re trying to do the best we can to figure out what, if anything, happened, but we’re not in a position to confirm it right now. Yeah.

Speaker 2: (12:52)
I’ll ask you about the botched US airstrike in August I Kabul that killed 10 Afghans, including children. You had said before that it was the DODs intention to compensate family members or potentially bring them to the United States. And we haven’t gotten any kind of substantial update on that for months. Should we assume at this point that those efforts have failed?

John Kirby: (13:20)
No. Carla?

Speaker 2: (13:22)
If I could follow up? And obviously, the secretary of defense has initiated this review of policies on civilian casualties. Are these types of efforts to pay victims or family members of victims, is that going to be part of this pro review process? And is DOD looking to come up with a better way that allows it to make these types of payments? Because obviously you’re going to be-

John Kirby: (13:51)
You’re talking about the ex gratia payments. Look, as you know, we do have a process in place now. The secretary stood up a Civilian Harm and Mitigation Response Program. They’re going to look at the panoply of things that we do or don’t do as well as we should to avoid civilian harm. And I don’t know to what degree they’re going to look at the value of ex gratia of payments, but I would certainly think that would factor into their decision making in terms of lessons learned and what maybe we need to do better or do more of or do less of. I don’t know.

John Kirby: (14:27)
So I would say yes, in terms of the umbrella of things that group’s going to look at. Ex gratia payments will probably be a part of that, but they’re just now starting their work. Interestingly, I mean, I’m actually glad you asked the question because it is still relevant to us, and for a lot of reasons, not just about what happened at the end of August. And no, we don’t have an update on the [Amati 00:14:55] family, but I can tell you we haven’t given up on idea of trying to get them back to the United States and certainly do right by them financially. That process is still working, and we’re very actively going after that.

John Kirby: (15:05)
I know there’s not a lot of progress to show you right now, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of work being done. That’s a difference right there between the United States and a country like Russia. We actually take it seriously. We actually mourn the deaths that we cause. And while we’re not perfect in terms of how we’ve investigated them or how we’ve talked about them, we do investigate them and we do talk about them. Sometimes we have to be driven to a better answer sometimes by media coverage, but at least we stand up here and we take the questions about it. It matters to us, and we actually do want to get better at it, and we acknowledge that we’re not always perfect when it comes to civilian casualties. Lots of chinks in our armor, and we admit that.

John Kirby: (15:50)
What do you hear out of the Russians today? What do you hear out of Moscow? What do you hear about Putin just last night? It’s the west. We’re throwing bodies on the street and making it look like it was an attack by the Russians. No acknowledgement that they have caused a single civilian death, and certainly no remorse, certainly no talk about investigating it or owning up to it or making right by it or trying to learn lessons from it. That’s a big difference here. And unfortunately, it’s the people of Ukraine that are paying the price for Russia’s complete disregard for the right of innocent civilians to live their lives freely without having to worry about being killed. Carla?

Carla: (16:34)
Thank you. I just want to follow up on what Barbara was asking about, but not specifically to Mariupol, because I know you can’t confirm the chemical weapons attack. And so I don’t want to do a hypothetical, but if you could give us some understanding you in general of the considerations that the administration is taking in preparing for response to a chemical weapons attack. Can you tell me if the scale of the attack is going to term that or if it’s going to be the type of chemical agent used? What are some of the thought processes that you guys are going through when you weigh response to chemical attacks?

John Kirby: (17:08)
Yeah, it won’t surprise you, Carla, I’m not going to get ahead of where things are right now. We’re reviewing this, we’re doing the best we can to analyze it. We don’t have a definitive conclusion one way or another. And I think we just need to talk about where things are and not where things might be in the future. The president has been very clear, and he’s talked about this on numerous occasions as has Secretary Austin, that the use of biochemical weapons against the people of Ukraine would elicit a response, not just from the United States but from the international community. What that response would look like from us or from anybody else, we just don’t know right now. And I don’t think it’d be helpful for us to try to get ahead of where we are right at this moment. Okay? I know it’s not a great, satisfying answer, but it’s a truthful one. Megan?

Speaker 3: (17:55)
A Virginia lawmaker announced he was going to resign today over some comments he made on Facebook recently, some really horrifically racist comments he made about the secretary.

Speaker 3: (18:03)
… recently, some really horrifically racist comments he made about the secretary.

John Kirby: (18:03)
I’m aware of them.

Speaker 3: (18:05)
Does the secretary have any response to that situation or to his resignation, or to having to field those comments while he’s trying to work on diversity and inclusion initiatives here?

John Kirby: (18:15)
Yeah. I think where I’d put this is just, the secretary is very proud of his service to the country, proud of his ability as an American to go to West Point, to become an army officer, to serve this country in combat for much of the last 20 years, and he’s certainly very, very proud of his ability to lead the department here as Secretary of Defense.

John Kirby: (18:46)
People matter greatly to him. I’ve known the man for 15 years. Everybody matters to him. No matter who you are, no matter where you came from, no matter what your background is, he believes that if you’re qualified and you want to serve this country, you should be able to do it and you should be able to do it without fear of discrimination or harassment. And in his view, there’s no place in the Department of Defense for comments like that, for the actions that come from comments like that, and that’s why he’s working and continues to work so hard to continue to improve the readiness of the force, which he believes is directly tied to our diversity, that that’s a part of who we are. It’s one of the things that makes this military so great. And so he’s, even in light of those truly irresponsible, mean spirited, indeed wicked comments, he’s going to be focused on leading the department forward and trying to continue to set an example going forward. That’s where his head is.

John Kirby: (20:04)
Yeah, I already got you. No, I can get you later. Heather?

Heather: (20:10)
Thank you so much. I was wondering if you could talk about the maritime effects on Mariupol, if you’re seeing any strikes coming in from ships in the sea as they continue to bombard Mariupol?

John Kirby: (20:24)
Look, I don’t have perfect knowledge of every missile or long-range fire that the Russians are firing into Mariupol. It continues to be under attack from airstrikes. We’ve seen that the Russians have focused a lot of the airstrikes on Mariupol and on the Donbas area. That’s where the preponderance of their air activity seems to be centered. We have seen in the past, Heather, I can’t speak for today but we have seen in recent days and weeks the Russians using their surface combatants in the sea of Azov to fire cruise missiles onto shore, but I couldn’t tell you how many have landed in Mariupol or what the specific targets were. But it has been their practice to supplement their airstrike activity with cruise missiles fired from surface combatants at sea. Yeah, [Goyle 00:21:23]?

Goyle: (21:24)
Thank you. Two questions. One on India, one on Pakistan. As far as India is concerned, US India relations or military to military relations, we just had two plus two.

John Kirby: (21:35)
Yes, we did, yesterday. Second

Goyle: (21:41)
Defense ministers and the foreign ministers of India were here and I met with the Secretary Lloyd and also Secretary Lincoln. So is there any breakthrough as far as US India military to military relations are concerned because after the Ukraine, what India neutrally stood at the UN-

John Kirby: (22:02)
So all the ministers had a chance to summarize their visit yesterday, the meeting, and I’d point you more specifically to the transcript of the press conference because I think they all talked about the things that they talked about. The secretary was very proud to announce that we signed a new space situational awareness agreement with India just yesterday. He had a chance to talk to the defense minister, Defense Minister Singh about advanced capabilities and technologies, working with them on AI for instance, and 5g and space and cyber capabilities, all that was part of it. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether those are breakthroughs or not but clearly what we saw yesterday was more concrete examples of the ways we’re going to continue to work with India to strengthen this defense partnership. And you heard the foreign minister speak for his country’s views and policies with respect to Ukraine. I’d leave it at that and point you to the transcript on that. I think he was very candid about their own concern about the conflict going on in Ukraine.

Goyle: (23:04)
And John, any new agreement as far as the military to military with India yesterday, and also if secretary of defense is going soon to India?

John Kirby: (23:16)
I don’t have any travel to announce today, Goyle, but in terms of specific military to military agreements, again, take a look at the space situational awareness agreement that we signed just yesterday. So yeah, there was something new yesterday and it was that agreement and the secretary talked about that, and we’re very proud of it and looking forward to working on space situational awareness with India going forward.

Goyle: (23:39)
And John, as far as crisis in Pakistan is concerned now, Pakistan have a new prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, of course, the brother of ousted prime minister, Mr Sharif. And former prime minister, Imran Khan, until the end of his ousted by the parliament, was blaming US and the US military for his ousted. My question is if anybody is in touch with the military to military in Pakistan, or as far as his claims that US is responsible for his ousted, and now, the future of US Pakistan relations under the new leadership.

John Kirby: (24:17)
I think you can understand that we’re not going to comment about domestic politics inside Pakistan, Goyle. I don’t have any conversations with the new prime minister or his government to speak to today. This obviously all just happened. We recognize that Pakistan plays a key role in the region. We recognize that Pakistan and the Pakistani people are themselves victims of terrorist attacks inside their own country. We recognize that we have shared interests with Pakistan with respect to security and stability in that part of the world and we do have a healthy military to military relationship with Pakistani armed forces and we have every expectation that will be able to continue to be the case.

Goyle: (25:07)
And John, finally, because crisis is still going on in the streets with the former prime minister and also with his very large crowd of supporters, and military may intervene because of those things going on. Is US ready in any case if something like this happens in Pakistan?

John Kirby: (25:28)
I don’t foresee any us military role here and I’m certainly not going to, again, wade into internal domestic politics in Pakistan.

Goyle: (25:38)
Thanks, sir.

John Kirby: (25:38)

John Harper: (25:39)
Thanks. John [Harper 00:25:40] with [inaudible 00:25:41].

John Kirby: (25:39)
Hey. Long time. How are you?

John Harper: (25:40)
Hey, good to see you. Yeah. How much have DOD stocks of Switchblade drones been drawn down as a result of the security assistance to Ukraine and what plans are in place to replace those?

John Kirby: (25:54)
Yeah. As I have with other systems, I’m not going to get into quantifying the impact on our stocks. I would just tell you that this is something we’re watching every day and the secretary is comfortable that our own readiness across all the systems that we’re providing to Ukraine, our own readiness has not been hampered. This was not a system that we had bought in large quantities, I will just go so far as to say that, but those first 100 have been shipped. The vast… I shouldn’t say vast majority, a significant number of those first 100 we know have gotten into Ukraine. I suspect the rest of it will not take very long and I’m not going to get ahead of the potential for additional draw down packages but, again, President Biden’s been clear, we’re going to continue to look for ways to help Ukraine defend itself so I certainly wouldn’t rule out additional shipments of those kinds of systems in the future.

John Harper: (26:52)
And is DOD planning to buy more of those to replenish its own stocks?

John Kirby: (26:56)
Yeah. Again, I’m not going to get into replenishment issues or supply issues on our own. Obviously, we will do what we need to do…

John Kirby: (27:03)
… supply issues on our own. I mean, obviously, we will do what we need to do to, A, help Ukraine continue to defend itself with systems we know that they can use or will use or are using, and make sure that our own readiness also can be preserved across those systems as well. Yeah. Rio.

Rio: (27:19)
Thank you. I want to follow up about the U.S.-India 2+2 Meeting. The Secretary said yesterday-

John Kirby: (27:25)
But you got a question yesterday.

Rio: (27:27)
Oh yes, but I have a follow up now. The Secretary said yesterday, the U.S. will consider a range of options to make the U.S. systems, U.S. military equipment more affordable. Could you tell us a little bit specifics about what system the Secretary has in his mind and how the U.S. will make it more affordable?

John Kirby: (27:50)
No, and no. I think we’re going to have these conversations with India going forward. I’m not going to get more specific than the Secretary was yesterday. What matters here, Rio, is that we have an important defense partnership with India and we’re going to look for ways to continue to improve that going forward, but I’m not prepared to speak to specific systems or affordability at this time. We are committed to India’s modernization needs, their efforts to build, and to field a more modern military. We’re committed to helping them do that.

Rio: (28:24)
Quick follow up. So do you consider offering the U.S. defense system to India at a affordable price to encourage India to [crosstalk 00:28:34]?

John Kirby: (28:34)
I think I’m just going to leave it where we did yesterday, Rio. Yeah.

Speaker 4: (28:39)
We just got read out of the call, so it did go out.

John Kirby: (28:40)
Excellent. I told you it would come out while we’re in the briefing.

Speaker 4: (28:42)
And you were right, yes sir. And it says that the Minister was able to share his assessment of the situation on the ground.

John Kirby: (28:48)
Which I said in my topper.

Speaker 4: (28:49)
Yes, but I’m just curious, did they also share any assessment about how Ukrainian’s fighting forces are continuing to do? There’s been so much focus on the equipment that’s been sent in? The forces, are they still able to go in with the same strength that they had at the beginning of the war? Has there been any concerns that this fight, they won’t have the same manpower they did at the beginning?

John Kirby: (29:11)
Well, look, no question, they’ve taken losses, losses to troops, losses to systems and capabilities. There’s no question. This is war. The Russians, too, have taken not insignificant losses. And I don’t want to get into more detail than the readout in terms of the discussion, but, yes, of course, Minister Reznikov gave the Secretary his assessment of the situation there and of, just in general terms, how Ukrainians are responding themselves to this new focus by the Russians on the Donbas in the South. So the short answer to your question is, yes, that was part of the discussion. But I would just like to remind, and certainly you can’t make up for the loss of a soldier or an individual, a civilian. So many innocent people have been killed. You can’t replace that. You can’t make up for that.

John Kirby: (30:16)
And we grieve along with the families that are affected by those losses. But in many, many cases, you can help make up for inventory losses, either through usage or damage or strikes by Russians. You can make up, and we are, where every single day there are more weapons and more systems flowing into Ukraine and they are the kinds of weapons and systems that we know they’re using. Minister Reznikov reinforced that again today. It’s the kind of things that they know how to use, or if they don’t, like the Switch Blade, we’re getting them what they need to know to use that. It’s not a very complicated system, but we’re getting them there as fast as we can so that they can replenish and can stay in the fight. And they have stayed in the fight.

John Kirby: (31:03)
I mean, I understand, and as we should be, rightly focused on what’s happening in the Donbas in the South, but let’s remember where we were just a few days ago when it wasn’t clear whether the Russians were really going to give up the efforts to take Chernihiv and Kyiv and Lviv, and they have. And that’s not by accident. That’s not just due to the fact that the Russians failed on their own accord, and they did. It’s also due to what the Ukrainians were able to do to defend their country and defend their capital, to push back on the Russian advance, even attacking them as they were retreating. That too wasn’t an accident. That was born out from eight years of good training from the United States and the U.K. and other allies and the security assistance that they’re getting. So while certainly they are expending resources, we are doing the best we can to fill those coffers back up as fast as we can. Okay. Thanks, everybody. Got to go. (Silence).

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