Feb 8, 2021

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript February 8

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript February 8
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsPentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript February 8

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on February 8, 2021. He answered questions on COVID-19 vaccine distribution and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s order to address extremism within the military. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.

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John Kirby: (00:56)
Okay. Just a couple of points right off the top, and then we’ll get right at it. As you probably saw on Friday afternoon, Secretary Austin issued some guidance to the force about the directed stand down that he ordered to address the issue of extremism in the ranks. Specifically, he had directed commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one day stand down with their personnel. He made it very clear that leaders have the discretion to tailor their discussions with their personnel as appropriate to their command, their location, to their operations. But that such discussions should include the importance of the oath of office that service members take, a description of impermissible behaviors and procedures for reporting suspected or actual extremist behaviors in accordance with the DOD instruction.

John Kirby: (02:02)
This is also, importantly, an opportunity for leadership to listen to the men and women they lead and to their concerns, to their experiences, and maybe even to their possible solutions for how to tackle this problem. The last thing I’ll say on this and the secretary did it himself, but it’s an important point to reiterate is that this is just a step in what the secretary believes will be a very deliberate process to try to tackle this problem. He understands that a one day stand down across the force isn’t going to solve everything, but it might bring to light concerns and experiences that were otherwise not aware. And he was informed by his own experience in the mid ’90s about stuff that was going on in his command, right underneath his nose that he didn’t realize about.

John Kirby: (02:58)
So a real big part of this is, as we say in the Navy, getting down to the deck plates and to try to understand more how the problem… what exists out there in the force. And again, listening to our men and women, as they share their own views and perspectives, which will no doubt, I think, inform whatever procedures, policies, or actions the secretary puts in place going forward. On the personnel front, we continue to welcome new members across the Pentagon. Today we onboarded 11 new employees, and that brings our total to 56. 57 if you count the secretary, out of approximately 350 positions. So we’re chipping away at it and we’re getting more people on board and we’re doing this in a very deliberate fashion. And we will welcome them all. And we’re thankful for their willingness to serve the country. Finally, we’re going to have a busy week here in the building and we look forward to a visit on Wednesday by President Biden, the commander in chief. And with that, I will open it up to questions. I think, Bob, we got you on the phone. Is that right?

Bob: (04:08)
Thanks, John. I just wanted to ask you a couple of other things that you announced last week and whether you have any update on those things. First is, whether you have any more DOD teams that are getting set up at FEMA sites for vaccination assistance beyond what you announced last week. And the second one is whether the service chiefs have provided to Secretary Austin the information he asked him for about their sexual assault programs within, I think, he gave them two weeks. Has that been provided yet?

John Kirby: (04:46)
Thanks Bob. I don’t have an update for you on the request to support FEMA and state and local authorities. We are still working with FEMA to determine what other sites they would like us to populate in this first traunch of 1,110 active duty personnel. And we are still working through the sourcing solutions for the first team and exactly where that’s going to come from. So I’m afraid I don’t have any specific updates for you on that today. As for your second question, the services did in fact, submit their reports on time to the personnel in readiness directed here at the department. And we expect that the secretary will receive a readout of those reports this week, probably midweek. We’re working on that with the schedule. But they did submit and he’ll get a readout later this week and then, as appropriate, we’ll certainly keep you informed. That answer your questions, Bob?

Bob: (06:01)
One quick follow up, if you don’t mind, on that second part. What would be the next step after the secretary gets a readout on what the programs are? What does he intend to do then?

John Kirby: (06:10)
Well, so a couple of things. I mean, certainly these reports from the services will help inform the secretary’s establishment and conduct of the 90 day commission that President Biden ordered which DOD will run. Part and parcel of the taskers that he put out on day two, if you might remember, was to task the services to identify senior leaders, both uniformed civilian and enlisted uniformed to serve as members of this commission. And that too, those names were submitted by the services. So he’ll be using the reports and the readout he gets this week to help him actually populate and organize the work of the 90 day commission that the president ordered. Did that answer your question, Bob?

Bob: (07:04)
Thank you. Yeah. Thanks very much.

John Kirby: (07:07)
Okay. We’ll go to Jennifer San Heimer from… I’m sorry, Steinhauer, New York Times.

Jennifer Steinhauer: (07:15)
Hi. I was just wondering if you have any more clarity on what the situation is than last week on folks in the military getting the vaccine? I inferred from some things you said last week that there’s been a significant refusal, but I know you didn’t have specific numbers. And I’m wondering if there’s been advancement on that.

John Kirby: (07:33)
I’m afraid I don’t have good data for you on that. Let me take the question and see what we can do. But I think it’s important to remember that I don’t think there’s consistency in terms of how commands at the unit level, how and whether, and to what degree they actually keep track of refusals. Certainly, they keep track of vaccines on hand and vaccines distributed, but I don’t know that there’s a uniform reporting process for refusals. And again, it is not a mandatory vaccine and we have a duty to protect certainly the privacy, as well as the private medical concerns of individuals who for whatever reason decline to take it. So I can’t promise you specific data, Jennifer, but what I can promise you is we’ll take a look and see if there’s a better way to quantify this. Tom.

Tom: (08:36)
[inaudible 00:08:36] speaking of data, has the secretary received any more information from the services about the extent of extremism in the military? I know the Marines put out some information. 16 Marines over the past three years were substantiated information of domestic extremism, mostly social media posts, number one. Number two, in his standout order, he talks about supervisors, commanders talking to the troops about proper behavior and so forth, listening to them and maybe coming up with possible solutions. I’m just wondering if the secretary, anyone in the building, do they have possible solutions and will these supervisors and commanders kind of just do their own thing or will they get guidance, readings, information from the Pentagon itself?

John Kirby: (09:20)
As you saw on the directive that he sent out on Friday, he did point them to some resources online that we have, that we encourage them to look at. What he didn’t want to do was be overly proscriptive on this because every command is different, every service is different. And of course, some commands are very much in harm’s way right now. And you have to make sure that they can do this in a way that doesn’t impede their ability to accomplish missions around the world. And one of the reasons why he put that memo out on Friday was to sort of more closely bound it. In other words, making sure that they tried to do this in one day to the degree that they can. And he very clearly laid out that this is about the behaviors that this kind of ideology can insight and can inspire. A reminder about the oath.

John Kirby: (10:18)
I mean, that was very specifically in his memo, something he wants very specifically that he wants leaders throughout the force to spend some time on. And how they do that, I mean, is up to them. I mean, some commands might want to have their members actually recite the oath again and take it again or maybe just study it. So again, he doesn’t want to… I mean, he did try to put, I think, reasonable expectations on the force, but he didn’t want to be overly prescriptive to the degree that these stand down opportunities lacked authenticity, lacked a genuine give and take in a conversation with men and women in the force. So I think that was his intent. And as for your question on data, no, I don’t. And, again, it’s not the kind of thing that we’re centrally tracking here, that OSD has a database that we can just go pull from.

John Kirby: (11:17)
That’s not the case right now. Now, should that be, and should that be something that we take a harder look at as the accumulation of usable data? I think it’s a fair question and I certainly would expect that the secretary and leadership would be taken a look at the data pool and what it exists. But as you know, Tom, because we’ve talked about this a lot, some of that data clearly doesn’t exist here because it’s in law enforcement lanes. Not military law enforcement, but civil law enforcement. And there’s a limit to what we’re going to be able to obtain in that regard. So I take the point, the data pool is important. That’s something we’re going to work through. And then you had another question which I thought was fair. That’s, have there been ideas coming from inside the building? And when he spoke to the chiefs, the other day, many of them did have interesting ideas that I think the secretary believes is worth ironing out.

John Kirby: (12:15)
One of them is education. We certainly need to take a look at how we’re educating potential recruits when they’re still civilians and before they sign on the dotted line, clearly. There’s probably education that we need to do while people are in uniform and in service about the pull of some of these extremist groups. But there was also a very healthy discussion about what do you do when people are mustering out. And some of these groups are very organized. They very aggressively recruit soon to be veterans because some of them believe that they espouse the same ideologies, but-

John Kirby: (13:03)
… believe that they espouse the same ideologies, but more critically, they value their leadership skills, their management capabilities there, in some cases I think there’s a belief because they know how to use weapons. Right? Sp there’s a organized, almost aggressive effort by some of these groups to pull veterans into their circle. So one of the discussions that they had was, to what degree do we really need to take a look at how, when we’re getting ready to muster people out, what are we helping them understand about what’s waiting for them on the other side and who might be waiting for them on the other side.

John Kirby: (13:43)
So I think there was a lot of good ideas shared and the Secretary was encouraged by the seriousness with which the chiefs took it. So, yes, there’s some good ideas coming from inside the building, too. Jen.

Jen: (13:56)
John. One thing, both this administration and the last agree on is that genocide occurred in Xinjiang province and is still occurring in China. Does the Pentagon have evidence that genocide is occurring in China? And if so, what does that require of you as a military?

John Kirby: (14:19)
I certainly wouldn’t speak to intelligence issues, Jen. So don’t want to get into the evidentiary disclosures here, except to say that the department supports the assessment made by the State Department in terms of what’s happened to the Uyghur. And we would refer you to the State Department for further comment on that.

Jen: (14:48)
And can I just follow up with the question on troops around the world. Does the Biden administration have its eye on certain areas where they would like to bring troops home? And could you see a situation where President Biden sends more troops to Afghanistan since there was a swift draw down at the end of last administration?

John Kirby: (15:08)
I would not get ahead of the Commander in Chief in terms of force posture decisions. This force posture review that he has tasked the Secretary to conduct really is just now starting. And as I said last week, we expect it to be complete by mid summer-ish or so. And I think that will greatly inform an inter-agency discussion and decision-making process about where we have troops, where we need more, where we need less. And I would not want to get ahead of that decision making process at all. That just would not be, that would not be wise.

John Kirby: (15:41)
Let me go to back to the phones here. I promise I have to do two on each side, and then we’ll keep coming back. But I had been counseled about this, so I need to make sure that I’m doing it right. Idrees from Reuters.

Idrees Ali: (15:55)
Thanks, John. Quick question on the FEMA request for COVID assistance. Is the expectation that that number of troops required is soon going to go to about 10,000? And if it is, is the Secretary satisfied with the pace at which the request is being sourced? Obviously a thousand or so are about to move out, but is he satisfied that the department is filling that request quickly enough?

John Kirby: (16:21)
The Secretary is satisfied that the services have taken this requests seriously. And I think it’s really important to understand that we have to work in lock step with FEMA, state and local authorities here. So you mentioned the 10,000 number, I know that’s a number that FEMA has acknowledged is in their request. I would tell you that what our focus is on is more towards capabilities and not so much numbers.

John Kirby: (16:48)
And so, I don’t know when it’s all said and done, I can’t say with certainty what the final total number will be. That’s why we’re doing this in traunches, working in lockstep with FEMA and again, state and local authorities, to make sure that we are providing them numbers that they can accommodate and can handle and will be helpful and not overwhelm them with teams showing up before sites had been established and agreements have been worked out with state and local authorities to do this.

John Kirby: (17:21)
So we want to do this at a very deliberate pace so that we’re not overwhelming the system, but we’re also ready to go when FEMA and state and local authorities are ready to have us. Did that answer your question?

Idrees Ali: (17:34)
It does. And just a totally separate topic, President Biden said it’s coming on Wednesday, is there anything in particular he will be announcing? Or is it more of a… Not get to know you, but a introductory meeting at the Pentagon?

John Kirby: (17:46)
Well, I certainly wouldn’t speak for the President in terms of anything that he would have specifically to say. What I would tell you is that what we’re planning for is, for him to get a chance to meet with senior leaders here at the Pentagon, senior civilian and uniform leaders. He’ll have time with them to talk about foreign and defense policy issues as appropriate.

John Kirby: (18:13)
I don’t have a specific agenda of what the topics will be. That would be something for the White House to speak to. And then he will have an opportunity to speak directly to the DOD workforce. And again, I certainly wouldn’t get ahead of the president about what specifically his messages will be. We’re glad to have him here, we’re looking forward to it. But those are really the two aims. To get a chance to sit down and talk to the senior leaders here and then also a chance to address the workforce. Go ahead.

Speaker 1: (18:46)
Thank you John.

John Kirby: (18:47)
You’re welcome.

Speaker 1: (18:49)
On the issue of the US Space Force, the US Space Force have been deployed to South Korea. Can you tell us what is their mission in society?

John Kirby: (19:06)
You’re saying that they have been deployed into the Republic of Korea.

Speaker 1: (19:10)
Yes.

John Kirby: (19:11)
I’m not aware of that. So I-

Speaker 1: (19:14)
[inaudible 00:19:14] reported [inaudible 00:19:16] You should have-

John Kirby: (19:17)
I trust you. I’m not aware of that particular deployment. I’d refer you to the Space Force to speak to their specific operations. Yeah. In the back there.

Speaker 2: (19:25)
Well, thank you very much. I want to follow up the global posture review. I understand you can’t get into the data over it right now. But the Pentagon regards China as the biggest challenge. So will the Pentagon consider the option of increasing the military presence in the Asian Pacific region throughout this review?

John Kirby: (19:49)
My answer would be the same. I mean, I’m just not going to get ahead of decisions that the Secretary hasn’t made yet. And that the whole reason we’re doing a posture review is to get a better sense of the lay down around the world, match it to the strategy and the mission sets. And no decisions about… No changes to force posture in the Asian Pacific are in the offing today.

John Kirby: (20:12)
We will continue to maintain our security commitments to our allies and partners there. And we will continue to maintain rotational force deployments in and out of the region, just like we talked about last week with aircraft carriers. But as to specific force posture hypotheticals, I just don’t think that would be wise to get into. Let me go to the phones again, Dan Sagalyn, PBS.

Dan Sagalyn: (20:42)
Hi. Thanks for taking my question. Can you clarify who will be on the sexual assault commission? Is it going to be just people who work at DOD? Will there be outside experts? Can you tell us what is their charter? Are they going to take outside trips?

John Kirby: (20:56)
Well, thanks Dan. So we know at the very outset one of the things that the Secretary tasked was for the services to come back with senior leaders, again, enlisted officer and a senior SES civilian members to help form the core of this commission. It has not been completely fleshed out yet. So I don’t want to get ahead of that.

John Kirby: (21:17)
I’m not saying that all those members of the sum total, I’m sure the Secretary will want to take a look at that and appropriately resourced the commission to make sure that they are actually able to come up with tangible practical solutions to solving this scourge. And as for whether they’ll go outside, again, I don’t know. But I would not be surprised if in the course of their work are willing to reach out and consult experts outside the Department of Defense. That makes eminent sense and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happens.

John Kirby: (21:54)
As for travel, nobody’s traveling much right now, Dan. So, to the degree travel is absolutely necessary to conduct the commission’s work, I suspect that we’ll take a look at that and take that seriously. But right now it’s just, I can’t get ahead of that right now.

Dan Sagalyn: (22:11)
So at this point, no decisions have been made if outside experts will be on it or not?

John Kirby: (22:15)
No decisions right now about whether outside experts will be on the commission.

Dan Sagalyn: (22:20)
Okay, and the last follow-up question. Does the civilian leadership at the DOD think that the command climate and the situation that was found at Fort Hood, with respect to sexual assault, was that unique to Fort Hood or does the civilian leadership think that the problems at Fort Hood are elsewhere, are at every other base?

John Kirby: (22:38)
You were kind of breaking up there, but I think the question was, do we believe the command climate will have to be looked at as part of the commission’s work based on what we saw at Fort Hood? And I would point you back to what the Secretary has himself said in testimony, that command climate certainly, by looking at the Fort hood report, certainly command climate was a factor. And he would want that looked at across the force.

John Kirby: (23:05)
Now, to your question, does he believe that it is an issue everywhere across the force? I don’t know that he would go that far? But certainly he believes command climate and leadership, and he’s talked about sexual assault, being a leadership issue is certainly a key part of any command climate. So I would fully expect that the commission would consider that in their work going forward. J.J. Green.

J.J. Green: (23:33)
Yeah, Admiral Kirby, it’s good to see you back at the Pentagon. And thank you for this opportunity to question. Two quick questions, the tone of the relationship with the US allies… The President has been very clear about some of the US posture toward some of the nation’s adversaries, like Russia for example. But from a strategic point of view, how is the DOD under Secretary Austin positioning itself to engage with the US’s allies in the immediate future? The Germany troop withdrawal freeze sent a strong message, but I’m wondering what the overall strategy is? And just quickly, how big a factor will the NATO mission factor into any strategy?

John Kirby: (24:12)
It’s a great question and very timely, because as you probably know, the NATO Defense Ministerials is next week and the Secretary is hard at work preparing for that. I think you saw in the statement that he issued after President Biden’s speech at the State Department last week, in that statement, how seriously he addressed the issue of alliances and partnerships and reinvigorating and revitalizing our commitment to alliances and partnerships.

John Kirby: (24:38)
It was no accident that his first call on the first day at the Pentagon was to the NATO Secretary General. He intends to put a lot of energy into revitalizing our commitments to alliances and partnerships. And obviously that goes beyond NATO, of course, but the NATO Defense Ministerials coming up give him a great opportunity to do just that. That answer your question, J.J.?

J.J. Green: (25:08)
Yes and I think… Well, that’s good. Thank you.

John Kirby: (25:14)
Okay. In the back there?

Speaker 3: (25:15)
Yeah. Today General McKenzie said that there’s an increased competition from China and Russia in the Middle East against the United States, which adds another layer of complication to the already instability in the region. What is the Biden administration’s military or defense strategy against China and Russia in Middle East?

John Kirby: (25:43)
There’s no question that Russia and Chinese… Russia and China are involved in areas in the Middle East. And I think you heard General McKenzie speak specifically to the degree to which that-

John Kirby: (26:03)
… specifically to the degree to which Russia has not been helpful in places like Syria. You also heard the secretary talk about the existing National Defense Strategy and his agreement that the central tenants of that defense strategy, that China does pose a pacing challenge to the United States globally, not just in the Middle East, but globally. And that Russia, as they try to be resurgent, very often acts in ways that are inimical to not only our national interests, but the national interests of countless others in the international community. He will, as he goes through this Global Posture Review, take a look at whether or not we are properly resourced and that we are executing the right missions, to make sure that we’re protecting the United States and our national interests against those that would challenge that. So, I don’t want to get into specific Middle East strategy here, since we’re just now starting this force posture review.

Reporter 1: (27:16)
Just a follow up. Also right now, Russia and Iran are fortifying Assad forces in northeast Syria, as the tension is mounting between Assad regime and the SDF. So is the United States prepared to take action if it escalates into a conflict, a combat between SDF and Russia and Iranian backed militias?

John Kirby: (27:39)
I won’t talk about specific operational issues here at the podium. And I’m certainly not going to get into hypothetical, future operations that may or may not happen. But I think you did hear General McKenzie speak today, that we are in direct communication with the Russian military to facilitate air and ground deconfliction. We continue to urge Russia and all of the parties to adhere to mutual deconfliction processes and to not take any provocative action in Syria. Let me go to the phones. Todd South? Oh, you didn’t have a question.

Todd South: (28:22)
No, sir, no question. I wasn’t on for a question.

John Kirby: (28:24)
Sorry. There was a “no” next to your name and I missed it. They tried to write it in bigger font, look at that, and I still missed it without my glasses. Luis Martinez?

Luis Martinez: (28:35)
Hey John, thanks. All my questions have been answered. Thank you.

John Kirby: (28:39)
He did have a “yes” next to his name. I’m taking credit for that though. Zoe?

Zoe: (28:44)
Thank you. I would like to go back to the previous question about General McKenzie this morning. He also said that he’s very concerned about the fate of the foreign fighters for ISIS in Syria. And I want to know what is the message the Biden administration wants to send to the western countries who have citizens in these camps?

John Kirby: (29:16)
Well, I mean, there’s a couple of top points there. I mean, it’s not a new worry that ISIS would want to take advantage of refugee camps for incitement and recruitment and I think the general was reiterating that longstanding concern. And I would also say that we work in tandem with local and coalition partners, as well as the international community, to try to find a multi-pronged approach to reduce the risks that are associated with ISIS fighters in these detention camps and with radicalized individuals. Humanitarian organizations administer the camps, we’re not in those camps, but we have continued to send a message to the international community that we all must work together to try to find local solutions, to try to minimize that risk. And as for specific US policy with that camp in northeast Syria, we would point you to the Department of State.

Zoe: (30:26)
Do you think the NATO allies do enough to take care of their citizens there?

John Kirby: (30:35)
You’ve probably seen before, I mean, we obviously would support states that have foreign fighters to bring them home and to hold them accountable within their own criminal justice systems. It’s not a specifically NATO problem. I mean, many countries have had foreign fighters who have been inspired to join ISIS or to support ISIS. And so again, we call on the international community to help us solve this problem collectively. Joe?

Joe: (31:19)
Thank you, John. I would like to go back to [inaudible 00:31:22] question in regards to the situation in northeast Syria, could you tell us, or could you give us an update about the current status of the US support to the SDF?

John Kirby: (31:34)
So hold on a second Joe, just to make sure I got it. There’s about 900 US service members that are serving in Syria right now. The numbers do fluctuate daily, due to operational requirements. I think it’s important to remember that our mission there remains to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS and US service members that are there are supporting the defeat ISIS mission in Syria, that’s what they’re there for. And they’re working in conjunction with local partner forces northeast part of that country. And that’s been an enduring mission.

Joe: (32:14)
But do you have any idea if the United States is providing any military materials to the SDF? Or there are any military to military training to the elements of the SDF?

John Kirby: (32:33)
Part of the mission continues to be support to the SDF as they continue to fight ISIS in the region. I’m not at liberty to quantify that or qualify that more deeply than that. But as General McKenzie talked about this morning, I mean, that defeat ISIS coalition, which does include members of the SDF, that work continues. Even though ISIS is greatly diminished, that work is still important. Okay?

Reporter 2: (33:05)
Can I do a quick follow up on that?

John Kirby: (33:07)
Yeah.

Reporter 2: (33:07)
Are American troops still protecting those oil fields? Is that still part of the mission, or is that no longer part?

John Kirby: (33:13)
Just, in terms of the… You’re talking about the…

Reporter 2: (33:21)
Oil fields in the northeast.

John Kirby: (33:23)
That company, Delta Crescent Energy, is that what you’re talking about?

Reporter 2: (33:26)
Well, there were a number of oil fields that the US forces were protecting up there, under the previous administration. Is that just no longer part of the mission? Or, is that continued?

John Kirby: (33:38)
I’d say, well except for where appropriate under certain existing authorizations to protect civilians, DOD personnel or contractors are not authorized to provide assistance to any other private company, including its employees or agents seeking to develop oil resources in northeast Syria. I think I’d leave it at that. Go ahead, you’ve been very patient.

Reporter 3: (33:57)
Yeah. Thank you very much. [inaudible 00:33:59] American journalist.

John Kirby: (34:00)
I know you don’t have to introduce yourself every time, I know.

Reporter 3: (34:02)
Because of the mask. Okay. Do you have any updates on also Taliban visiting different country in the region, like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and they already traveled to Russia. Taliban.

John Kirby: (34:16)
Do I have any update on-

Reporter 3: (34:18)
About the peace process in Afghanistan with the Taliban.

John Kirby: (34:21)
About the peace process? Nothing new to say, other than we continue to review the agreement and the degree to which compliance is being met. And there’s been no decisions on force posture in Afghanistan going forward. I think you know that the secretary talked to President Ghani just the other day, last week, a good discussion there. And he continues to participate in inter-agency discussions about our future in Afghanistan, but I don’t have anything to announce today.

Reporter 3: (34:49)
Do you know the reason why the Taliban did travel to Russia, [Iran 00:34:53] and the region, country like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan? People say they get they’re support against United States for peace process.

John Kirby: (35:04)
Yeah. I’m afraid I can’t speak for the Taliban. I’m only barely able to speak for the Pentagon right now. Laura?

Laura: (35:10)
Thanks, John. So just a quick clarification and then a follow up. The Global Force Posture Review, I think you said, is expected to be completed by midsummer. Does that include Afghanistan? And if so, does that mean we won’t go to zero by May and that we’ll still be talking about that [crosstalk 00:35:30]?

John Kirby: (35:29)
We talked about this last week. I don’t want you to think that a review on Afghanistan policy and the Global Posture Review are separate or parallel tracks, each will inform the other. So it’s not binary. And again, no decisions of course, to speak to right now. I got to go back to the phones.

Laura: (35:51)
Sorry. Just a different subject. How have our Gulf partners reacted to the freeze on arm sales and ending intel sharing that was announced last week, intel sharing on offensive coalition operations in Yemen? And how do you mitigate the concerns that this might send a negative signal?

John Kirby: (36:11)
Couple of things there. First of all, I won’t speak for other countries, they should speak for themselves. But the President was very clear in his direction, in terms of what we were no longer going to do to support Saudi led coalition offensive operations in Yemen. That doesn’t mean that the counter ISIS fight in Yemen that we are participating in will not continue, it will. It doesn’t mean that we are not going to continue to support Saudi Arabia as they legitimately need to defend themselves and their people. But again, I won’t speak for other countries. I think the message was very clear, that the war in Yemen has become a uniquely horrific humanitarian disaster and more needs to be done as a government, to try to reduce the effects of that catastrophe and alleviate the human suffering in Yemen. And it was a decision by this administration that a step in that process would be to curtail the support to the offensive operations in the country.

Reporter 4: (37:29)
Can I followup on Yemen?

John Kirby: (37:31)
Go ahead.

Reporter 4: (37:32)
Yeah. I have Yemen and one question on Iran. Today, during the-

John Kirby: (37:35)
You said you were following up on Yemen.

Reporter 4: (37:36)
Yeah. Well, I might as well ask a second question, take my chances.

John Kirby: (37:40)
Yeah, go ahead.

Reporter 4: (37:42)
So today during his address to MEI, General McKenzie said, “We will move out smartly to comply with the direction we were given.” Talking about the decision to cease assistance to offensive operations to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. So has that type of assistance been terminated or not? Is there a date for that? Because it seems, based on his statement, it’s still ongoing. That’s the first one. And the second one, today Russia announced joint maritime exercises in the northern Indian Ocean between Russia and Chinese and Iranian navies. How do you look at such activities? How do you think they impact regional security one way or the other?

John Kirby: (38:37)
On the exercises, I mean, navies exercise. I did an awful lot of that myself. That’s what you do when you’re at sea, sometimes you exercise. And I don’t think a particular exercise in itself, that more needs to be read into it than not. What-

John Kirby: (39:02)
… read into it than not. What we would say is that exercising naval capability is to be expected, and I don’t think we view exercises like this as contradictory to or as an impediment to our ability to defend freedom of the seas and to support our alliances and partnerships around the world. I mean, I don’t want to speak for General McKenzie, but I think you might be reading a little bit too much into this. I mean, the President issued his order. General McKenzie said he’s following the order. The support to the offensive operations are ended, but I can’t speak to every little specific process and I think that’s probably what General McKenzie was referring to. But I think you might be reading more into it than you need to.

John Kirby: (40:11)
The President, the Commander-in-Chief issued an order to end all support to offensive operations of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and General McKenzie is following that order.

Speaker 4: (40:22)
Thank you.

John Kirby: (40:23)
Okay. Take Hope Sec. Okay. Jeff Schogol.

Jeff Schogul: (40:41)
Thanks for taking the question. Last week, I asked whether each service member has a form, a Defense Health Agency Form 207, which indicates whether or not they received the COVID vaccine. I was just wondering if you had heard anything more about this form and whether that might provide a uniform way of deciding whether troops have declined the vaccine?

John Kirby: (41:02)
Jeff, I don’t have a good answer for you today. As I understand it, I’m not sure that form is uniform, no pun intended, but I tell you what, I’m going to take the question, and since you asked about it last time, we owe you a better answer for that.

Jeff Schogul: (41:21)
Thank you. And to what extent is the Defense Department helping to bring Austin Tice home?

John Kirby: (41:26)
We continue to want to see Austin come home. Nothing has changed about our commitment to that. And I am not at liberty to discuss anything more specific than that, other than he’s not been forgotten. Neither is his family, and we continue to want to see him home and rejoin his family. But I just don’t have any updates for you on that. Back in the back there.

Christina Anderson: (41:59)
Thank you for taking my question. Christina Anderson, AWKS News. The Arctic strategy is relatively new, but it was formed at a time when multilateralism and the emphasis was not so strong on partnerships. Is there any thought to now revisiting that in the near future with an eye on strengthening partnerships in the far north?

John Kirby: (42:20)
I think part and parcel of the Secretary’s desire to restore and revitalize alliances and partnerships, I think you’ll see that manifested in places all over the world, and I would fully expect that whatever the approach to Arctic strategy is going forward it will be a multilateral one, it’ll be cooperative, and it will be integrated, not just internationally, but in inside the inner agency. The Secretary has made it very clear that he views climate change as a national security issue because it affects our operations, it affects our facilities. It certainly affects security and stability around the world for which and to which American men and women in uniform have to deploy. And obviously lots of change going on in the Arctic. I think without getting ahead of decisions he hasn’t made, I can assure you that he will be looking at Arctic strategy in a collaborative multilateral way.

Christina Anderson: (43:15)
Follow-up. Just talking about climate change and so forth. Is there any chance the effort to visit biodiversity is part of that overall picture of climate change? Because this is a big issue that’s developing in Europe, for instance, but the U.S., I haven’t seen it reflected in U.S. policy yet.

John Kirby: (43:39)
I don’t have a good answer for you other than to say that he’s certainly going to be, as part of the global posture review and just strategy reviews in general, he’ll be looking at the full panoply of challenges that the climate poses to national security. I don’t want to rule anything in and out of that specifically. I don’t have a good answer for you specifically on biodiversity. But it is on his mind and has been certainly even before he took the job. So more on that later. Back here.

Speaker 5: (44:11)
Will Secretary Austin brief members of the media with the President on Wednesday? If not, when will he brief members of the media? And following up on a question from last week, do you have costs yet on the National Guard presence in the Capitol?

John Kirby: (44:26)
So, again, I’ve characterized the President’s visit and I’ll let the White House speak specifically beyond that. The Secretary will brief you. He’s made that commitment, and I think you can expect that soon. I actually do have an answer for you on that National Guard. So the estimate through March 15th is that the total cost of National Guard support will come to the $483 million. 284 million of that is for personnel and 100.99 million of that is for operations, and that gets us through March 15th.

Speaker 5: (45:18)
Do you have a further breakdown than that for those costs, where that money is spent?

John Kirby: (45:25)
Well, I can break it down by Army and Air National Guard, if you want that. That’s the best I got right here. For the Army National Guard personnel, it comes at 256 million, operations at 165, Air National Guard 28 million for personnel, 34 million for operations. And I’m told that it all adds up. I didn’t do the math myself, but I’ve been told that those numbers all add up. What’s that?

Speaker 6: (45:52)
What about hotels?

John Kirby: (45:52)
I’ll check, but I’m pretty sure that’s factored into these costs.

Speaker 7: (45:57)
Can I ask one more thing?

John Kirby: (45:58)
Sure, you get the last one today.

Speaker 7: (45:59)
Yeah, thank you very much. On youth in Korea, South Korea is doing military exercises on March, next month. Is there any change in the schedule?

John Kirby: (46:12)
I’d refer you to U.S. Forces Korea for their specific exercise regimen. I don’t have any updates on specifically. I’m sorry.

Speaker 7: (46:20)
Why don’t you find it out? Maybe it’s suspended or change.

John Kirby: (46:24)
I’ll tell you what, I’ll take the question and we’ll see if we can find out.

Speaker 7: (46:27)
I always ask the South Korea, but they say it’s your job right here, this podium.

John Kirby: (46:33)
Thank you. Thank you. I will try to remember that, thank you. I will try to remember my job. Thank you. All right. See you, guys.