Apr 5, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript April 5
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on April 5, 2021. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
John Kirby: (00:00)
… security and happiness in the military home. And we’re grateful for all the moves and all the time away from mom and or dad that they have to endure, and we’re grateful as well for them. So with that, taking questions. I don’t think I’ve got Bob [inaudible 00:00:17] on the phone. So Jen, we’ll go with you first.
I have two questions, John. I’d like to follow up on the Fort Sill sexual assault investigation that the Army’s carrying out. There were reports that up to 22 soldiers have been suspended. Is that accurate? And some are calling this Fort Hood 2.0. Is that an accurate description? Are you concerned that there’s a kind of sexual assault environment down at Fort Sill that could have led to such a serious case?
John Kirby: (00:46)
I can tell you, the Secretary has been kept informed about the investigative efforts at Fort Sill. We obviously won’t say anything from this podium that will get ahead of that investigation. So I’m not in a position to confirm specific actions that the Army has taken. The Secretary knows that the Army and Army leadership is taking this incident seriously. And as I said, he’s being kept apprised, but it would be really imprudent for us to talk to any specifics about the case being evaluated, as well as jumping ahead and speculating as to where this investigation is going to go and what it might portend or what it might say more broadly about Fort Sill. The only other thing that I would add is that he knows, the Secretary knows, that Army leadership is providing the necessary support to the victim and to the victim’s family.
And separately, there have been new reports about Russian activities in the Arctic, including some satellite imagery that show new bases, testing of weapons. How seriously concerned is the Pentagon about… Have you seen any tests of hypersonic weapons or what are the dangers of the kind of unregulated testing that’s taking place? How concerned are you about Russia’s activities in the Arctic?
John Kirby: (02:23)
Well, without getting into specific intelligence assessments, obviously we’re monitoring it very closely. Nobody wants to see the Arctic as a region become militarized. We obviously recognize that the region is key terrain that’s vital to our own Homeland defense and as a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the Homeland, which would make it vulnerable to expanded competition, if you will. We’re committed to protecting our US national security interests in the Arctic by upholding a rules-based order in the region, particularly through our network of Arctic allies and partners who share the same deep mutual interests that we do in exactly that order. But I won’t talk to specifics in terms of how we assess what’s going on there.
So you can’t say whether Russia has broken any treaties there?
John Kirby: (03:24)
I think I’ve gone about as far as I’m going to be able to go today. Obviously we’re watching this. And as I said before, we have national security interests there that we need to protect and defend. And as I said, nobody’s interested in seeing the Arctic become militarized. On the phone, [Edriss 00:03:45]?
Thanks, John. If I could ask about the National Guard troops on the Capitol Hill, it does appear that the incident on Friday was sort of a lone wolf rather than some sort of coordinated right-wing attack. Given what happened on Friday, do you anticipate a change in the Guard mission on the Capitol or do you still expect all troops to essentially be removed around mid May?
John Kirby: (04:12)
There’s an investigation ongoing and certainly we’re not going to get ahead of that. I don’t have any changes to the mission of the National Guard troops that are on Capitol Hill to announce or to speak to today. And again, we, as the Secretary said on Friday, certainly extend our condolences to the family of the officer who was killed. And again, it’s a reminder of how important our law enforcement people are, our personnel are. And we’re grateful for the support that the National Guard is still able to provide and was able to provide that day. But as for specific outcomes that might come with this in terms of the National Guard mission, we’re just not there yet. Tom?
Tom : (04:57)
John, you said the Secretary would be meeting with the Chiefs this week now that the stand down is over to get their sense of what they heard, what’s coming up from the services. Do we expect any readout from his meeting with the Chiefs and also what are the next steps here, if any?
John Kirby: (05:11)
So the meeting hasn’t happened, you’re right. The Secretary does expect this week to meet with the service secretaries and service chiefs, as he does normally, but what we expect, at least a topic of conversation in this meeting, will be to get their feedback on how they conducted the stand down, what they learned, the experiences that they could pass on to him and whatever lessons they might want to offer. I won’t get ahead of the Secretary’s decision space here. I’m sure that what he hears from the services will help inform whatever decisions he makes going forward. You also ask will there be a readout. I fully expect that I’ll be providing some sense of how that meeting went and just in broad terms what the Secretary learned.
Tom : (05:55)
John Kirby: (05:58)
Yes, sir. They just asked the question about the National Guard, there being any changes. But my question is not as far as the Guard goes, but as far as the fencing around the Capitol, has there been any word on any changes? Are they going to put more fencing up after the incident that happened or is there no changes to that as well?
John Kirby: (06:22)
I’d refer you to the Capitol Police for that question, Terese. That’s not a question for the National Guard or for the Pentagon, but for Capitol Police, Barb?
On Afghanistan, so we now know a few days ago there was another Taliban attack that they claimed credit for at FOB Chapman, which is a well-known location since the CIA lost so many people there. And there were in fact US personnel at Chapman when the indirect fire attack occurred. Where does this leave the thoughts about whether it’s even possible to trust the Taliban since this is only the latest in an apparent series of attacks against bases where US troops are? But in terms of this one alone, you’re trying to negotiate, you’re less than 30 days out, and they conduct another attack against a base where US personnel are. Where does this leave the interest level in trying to negotiate with them and trying to even think about getting out by May 1st?
John Kirby: (07:27)
I certainly won’t speak for our negotiators and for the diplomats at the State Department. That process still continues. We still want to see a negotiated settlement to the end of this war. And it’s clear to us here at the Department of Defense that our colleagues at the State Department and our negotiators are taking this seriously, and they continue to try to press for a diplomatic solution. I think clearly, as the President himself has indicated, it’s going to be tough to meet May 1st as a deadline for the complete withdrawal. Logistically just tough to make. That said, the review is ongoing. The President hasn’t made a decision one way or the other about force levels in Afghanistan or missions in Afghanistan. And as the Secretary himself said when we were in Kabul just a couple of weeks ago, that he’s confident that whatever the decision is, if that decision involves a withdrawal, that General Miller and General McKenzie will be able to do so in a safe, orderly, and effective way.
Let me follow up on two points. Still, the Taliban are now openly attacking bases where US personnel are located. Does that concern you? And you also just said there hasn’t been a decision on missions, is the actual-
John Kirby: (08:53)
I meant follow on or future missions. I mean, they’re still conducting the mission that they’ve been assigned now.
Well, is that mission open to being rethought in this process of some other mission in Afghanistan than what you’re doing now?
John Kirby: (09:10)
I won’t get ahead of the Secretary’s decision-making.
And how concerned are you now given what happened at Chapman just a few days ago, while these negotiations are going on, that they’re continuing to attack bases where US personnel are located?
John Kirby: (09:22)
Obviously we all think the violence is too high and the Secretary has said that himself, and clearly the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman is of concern. And I want to correct my last answer to you. I said, I wasn’t going to get out of the Secretary’s decision-making. I meant to say the President’s decision-making. The President gets to make this decision. That was my bad. Yes ma’am, in the back.
Speaker 12: (09:49)
I have two question. First, do you have concerns regarding the situation in Jordan, the stability of the Kingdom? And also, did you reach out to any of the Jordanian officials? The second question, I understand that there’s no decision about the troop level in Iraq, but can you please update us on when or where we are in the process? Did the Secretary present his recommendations yet to the President, is the President now like that he needs to make the decision? Where are we in this process?F
John Kirby: (10:28)
As for the President’s decision making process, I would refer you to my colleagues at the White House to speak to that. And I certainly am not going to make it a habit of speaking here publicly about the Secretary’s counsel or advice to the Commander in Chief. That’s just not something we’re going to publicly speak to. There’s still a review ongoing. The President hasn’t made a final decision about troop posture in Afghanistan. We’re still very much executing to the mission that we had been assigned and what our troops are still there executing. And if and when that changes, then we’ll adjust. I won’t get ahead of that process.
John Kirby: (11:10)
On Jordan, obviously we’re watching the situation closely. It’s really a question better put to the State Department. The US government has been in touch with Jordanian officials. We have a very strong military to military relationship with the Kingdom. We obviously, our focus is on making sure that that relationship and our shared security interests in the region remain foremost in our minds. Okay, Abraham.
Yeah. Thanks John. Two questions. One, Southern Command announced the movement of some detainees at Gitmo to consolidate. So I wanted to ask if the Secretary has any update regarding the NSC process, evaluating how Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility might be closed? DOD presumably has a role in that. Can you describe what DOD has been doing for the past two months regarding that process? And then separately, can you talk at all about the Russian troop buildup on the Ukraine border? Has there been any determination made as to if that is training, if that is offensive? Do you have anything new to report about that?
John Kirby: (12:14)
Gitmo, the Secretary fully supports President Biden’s desire to close the facility, to close the detention facility there. The thinking behind that and the process of reviewing how to do that is one being led by the National Security Council and by the White House. And so the Secretary provides his views and in his counsel, and I won’t get ahead of that process over there. But clearly the Secretary agrees that it’s long passed time to close that detention facility.
John Kirby: (12:50)
Your second question, I knew I’d forget… Oh, Russia and Ukraine, right? Russia, Ukraine. I don’t have any additional assessments to talk to you today. As you know, we’re not going to speak about intelligence matters. The Secretary as you know was in touch with the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, and he pledged in that call and we pledged publicly to standing up and supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and calling on Russia to respect that territorial integrity.
I got a couple of quick follow-ups. Is the Department of Defense sharing intelligence with Ukraine to assist them in that process?
John Kirby: (13:28)
I won’t talk about intelligence issues from the podium.
And then from Gitmo. Presumably DOD is doing something on that review, or is this fully handled by NSC?
John Kirby: (13:38)
No, no, no. Of course we have a role to play, as I said. And we’re a participant in that discussion. There’s no question about it. But I simply won’t get ahead of our colleagues at the White House in terms of how that process is ongoing.
John Kirby: (13:53)
Okay. Peter [Lowy 00:13:56].
Hi, John. Thanks very much. There was a question about an hour ago in the State Department briefing about rejoining the Ottawa Treaty and landmine ban. And while that would be a question for the administration, the State Department did say specifically on the use of landmines we would refer you to the Department of Defense. So I’m following up on that and wondering what is the current Department of Defense landmine use policy and why does the department still need/use them? Thanks.
John Kirby: (14:33)
Let me get back to you, Peter. I’m going to take that question. I wasn’t aware that that question had been raised earlier today at the State Department, and rather than try to wing it here, I’m going to take that question and we’ll get you an answer back.
Thanks very much.
John Kirby: (14:45)
You bet. Jared.
Hi John. Thanks for doing this. We’ve seen reports and the White House has said that the strategic dialogue with Iraq is supposed to be commencing this week. Have any department officials spoken with Iraqi officials ahead of the talks and is the presence of 2,500 US troops in Iraq on the table for these discussions?
John Kirby: (15:06)
We routinely talk to our counterparts in Iraq, as you know, because we do have 2,500 or so troops there that are in a counter ISIS mission which requires a deep partnership with our Iraqi Security Force partners. I’m not aware of any specific conversations that have occurred here from the department with respect to the strategic dialogue. It is really a processes that is being handled by our State Department colleagues. But again, we share the Iraqi goal of having a security forces capable of defending Iraq’s own sovereignty and of denying terrorist groups the use of Iraq as a base for operation. The coalition continues to support partner forces in Iraq and in Syria with advising, air support, the provision of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and conditions based equipment divestments. Though ISIS is by orders of magnitude not the organization with the capability they once were, they are still a threat and we are still on the ground in Iraq assisting and advising our Iraqi partners, at their invitation to be there.
John Kirby: (16:13)
How should we see the movement of the carrier Eisenhower going to the CENTCOM area? And part of it, it seems that they are joining the fight against ISIS.
John Kirby: (16:23)
You saw that over the weekend, USS Eisenhower and her associated strike group ships and aircraft formally entered into the Fifth Fleet, the Navy Central Command area of operations. And they’re there to support a myriad of tasking that General McKenzie might have for them there. I won’t get into the specifics of what that tasking might be over time, but it’s a multi-mission set of capabilities that a carrier strike group brings. It also brings great flexibility. Yes?
Speaker 9: (17:02)
Thank you. I want to ask you about North Korea policy review. Last week the National Security Advisors of the United States, Japan, South Korea had [inaudible 00:17:18] to complete the review. In the joint statement mentions they agreed to work together to enhance the deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. Do you expect a change of posture, military exercises, capabilities after [inaudible 00:17:37] finishing this review?
John Kirby: (17:39)
Well, the review is ongoing, and so it’d be premature to speak to specific outcomes of that. Obviously we’re all committed to the denuclearization of North Korea and to security and stability on the peninsula. We always take a look, in any normal year, about the degree to which the frequency with which and the scope of military training around the world, but certainly there on the peninsula as well, to make sure that we’re as ready as possible to deter, and if deterrence fails, to defeat any threat. And we take our commitments to the alliance that we have with the Republic of Korea very, very seriously. And I just won’t get ahead of a review that isn’t complete yet, but we’re all committed. And I think you saw coming out of Annapolis that our counterparts in Japan and South Korea share that same commitment. Jared?
Hi John. I don’t have a second question at this time.
John Kirby: (18:42)
Oh, did I already ask you? Tom?
Tom : (18:49)
Hey John, thank you very much. I have two questions today. The first one comes from one of my superiors and one of my hosts at a station in Wisconsin in regards to the stand down. He asked me to ask you if you have to remind people to follow their oath, doesn’t that tell you the scope of the problem?
John Kirby: (19:09)
Okay. And your second question?
Tom : (19:12)
The second question is a more broad one and no regard to any specific incident at the moment. As a former officer, I’m speaking to you, and thinking of your conversations with your colleagues, what is your reaction to when an order or directive is issued and it is ignored, flaunted, or not obeyed?
John Kirby: (19:30)
Well, those are two very interesting questions, Tom. I think, as we’ve said this before, extremism in the ranks is sadly not a new problem. And to some degree there’s been elements in the ranks since the Civil War. And what happened in early January, as I’ve said before, was something of a wake-up call for all of us here in the Pentagon, given that there was a population of veterans and at least one reserve officer that we know of that participated in an attack on the Capitol while Congress was in session conducting the people’s business. And so it would be irresponsible for us not to take that seriously.
John Kirby: (20:27)
And as for the oath, first of all, to your other question about what does this say about the scope, we don’t understand the full scope of the problem. That’s one of the things we’re trying to get our arms around is is how deep, how broad, and how menacing the problem might be inside the ranks. We think it’s probably less than what the headlines might suggest and more than what we’re comfortable with. But as the Secretary has said, even a small number can have an outsize effect on morale and cohesion. And certainly the behavior that this kind of ideology could espouse could have a direct impact on good order and discipline, as well as the safety of our teammates.
John Kirby: (21:06)
We make no apologies for taking time over the last couple of months to pause and consider the oath that we take. And asking during the stand-down for people to reconsider that oath isn’t an indication that the vast majority aren’t, quite the contrary. In fact, the Secretary has made that very clear. 99.9%, he says, serve with honor and dignity and character and respect that oath. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to take a moment out and read it again, revisit it. There’s some great active verbs in that oath. And maybe just focusing on some of those verbs is a good thing, it’s a healthy thing. Many of us, and I’m no longer in uniform, but certainly over the course of my military career, I had to take that oath many, many times. And every time, even when I attended a promotion ceremony where I wasn’t the guy being promoted, when it was being given to the individual being honored, I still took a moment to just think about those words and what they mean.
John Kirby: (22:09)
It’s a promise to the American people, and it’s a promise to support and defend a founding document. And there is absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, there’s everything right about taking a few moments out and reconsidering it. And the fact that we did this during the stand down, and we asked people to reconsider it, isn’t an indication of a lack of faith or trust in them. It’s quite the contrary. It was a chance to restore… Not restore, to revisit that faith and confidence. And then, I’m sorry, your second question was more personal about me. What was it?
Tom : (22:44)
Well, it was about you and other officers. When you give an order or give a directive and that order is ignored or flaunted by the troops or those in the ranks, what is the reaction to the officer corps or on officer?
John Kirby: (22:57)
I mean, that’s a question that I don’t think I have anywhere near the requisite time here today to talk about, Tom. I mean, one of the foundations of military service is the importance of the chain of command and the duty that all of us have, when I was in uniform, to obey lawful orders given by your chain of command. And when those orders aren’t obeyed, there are repercussions for that. Some more serious than others, given the order, given the circumstances, but there’s certainly repercussions for that. It’s, again, lawful orders being obeyed promptly and effectively is one of the hallmarks of military service. It’s one of the things that makes us so effective on the battlefield and effective off the battlefield. It’s something that we all take seriously.
Tom : (23:54)
Thanks a lot.
John Kirby: (23:55)
You mentioned veterans being involved in the January 6th events. Has the department been in discussion with either veterans groups or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to try to get at that aspect of the problem, since obviously you don’t have authority over former service members?
John Kirby: (24:14)
We don’t, you’re right. We don’t have authority over veterans. I know that Secretary Austin and Secretary McDonough have had a conversation about this general problem. I would refer you to the VA for their thoughts on this. But we do have purview while individuals are still in the ranks. And one of the things that we’re looking at is what are we doing to help prepare them for the transition to civilian life? And we know that some of these groups are actively recruiting veterans because they know they have leadership skills, they have weapons training, they are good organizers. And so we’re asking ourselves, what are we doing to better make sure that as we prepare for future veterans, that they’re able to make that transition in an informed, educated way about who and what is waiting for them on the other side.
John Kirby: (25:05)
Can I just ask a quick question about hypersonics. Well-known the Air Force is about to test its first hypersonic air launched missile, and you’ve seen the Russians and the Chinese devote a lot of their funding to developing hypersonics. How important are hypersonics that go five times the speed of sound for the US military?
John Kirby: (25:29)
It’s an important capability that, as you rightly pointed out, Barbara, we are involved in exploring and in resourcing and better understanding the research and development side of this. So again, I won’t get into specifics here other than to say that we’re mindful of the importance of this capability and we’re also mindful of the pursuit of this capability by other nation states that would potentially challenge our national security interests. Okay. Thanks everybody.