May 3, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing Transcript May 3
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a news briefing on May 3, 2021. Read the full transcript of the press conference here.
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John Kirby: (00:00)
We continue to assist the government and the people of India, as they continue to struggle with their COVID outbreak, US Transportation Command and its components continue to demonstrate their capability to provide immediate assistance to a partner nation. So, working with the Defense Logistics Agency and our inner agency partners, three US Air Force C-5 Super Galaxies and one C-17 Globemaster are continuing to deliver critical supplies. The third aircraft will arrive later today in India and the fourth flight will arrive tomorrow. Once all four missions are complete, the four aircraft will have delivered tons of very needed critical supplies, both in terms of oxygen generation capabilities and personal protective equipment. And obviously we’ll continue to assess the situation going forward. We’ll stay in touch with our counterparts in India should there be a need for additional help. The secretary was very clear in speaking to his counterpart in India that we’ll continue to do whatever we can to help.
John Kirby: (01:13)
On exercises. I think, as you also know the long planned publicly announced DEFENDER-Europe 21 exercise has kicked off. The pre-staging for that exercise began back in March. As you know, it’s a large-scale US Army, Europe and Africa led multinational joint exercise designed to build strategic operational readiness and interoperability between US NATO allies and partner forces. It involves 28,000 US allied and partner forces from 26 different nations. And it’s defensive in nature, focused on deterring aggression while preparing our forces to respond to crisis and conduct large scale combat operations if necessary. The exercise encompasses several different linked and associated joint and multinational exercises. So, there’s many smaller exercises nested up into DEFENDER-Europe all in support of our national defense objectives and NATO’s deterrence objectives.
John Kirby: (02:11)
In fact, last week, the USNS Bob Hope arrived off the coast of Albania in advanced of a joint logistics over the shore exercise. Again, one of the exercises nested into DEFENDER. Tomorrow, the EUCOM Commander General Wolters, along with other DOD leaders, diplomats and Albanian leadership will participate in a kickoff event in Albania. General Wolters will provide opening remarks which, with the Albanian ministry of defense and EUCOM, we’ll live stream. So, you’ll be able to see that on their Facebook page and will later be posted to the EUCOM website. The DEFENDER-Europe exercise is going to conclude in June, but not before demonstrating joint force readiness, lethality and interoperability, reinforcing the US commitment to our allies and partners and providing an outstanding opportunity to highlight the superb job our men and women are doing every day in the region, the Balkan and Black Sea regions particular, and throughout Europe and the Africa area of operations.
John Kirby: (03:09)
On another exercise note, today the Air Force is kicking off exercise Northern Edge 21 in Alaska. Northern Edge is a US Indo-Pacific command sponsored Pacific air forces led joint service field training exercise, apologize. Approximately 15,000 service members and 240 aircraft are participating in the exercise, which is focused on high-end realistic war fighter training to develop an improved joint interoperability and enhanced combat readiness. So, lots of exercises going on in lots of important parts of the world. And with that, I’ll take questions. Lita.
Thanks John, a question about Afghanistan. There’s been some particularly deadly Taliban attacks in Afghanistan over the last number of days. Is the US concerned about this increase in Taliban attacks? And do you believe there is a threat now to some of the Afghanistan, the larger cities in Afghanistan, considering the Taliban have mostly been confined to a lot of the smaller rural areas?
John Kirby: (04:22)
Well, I won’t get into threat assessments about what might happen in the future. What we’ve seen are some small harassing attacks over the course of the weekend that have not had any significant impact, certainly not on our people or our resources there and bases. And I think you’ve also seen over the course of the weekend that General Miller certainly has at his disposal response options to make sure that he’s protecting our troops and our people. So, we’ve seen nothing thus far that has affected the draw down or had any significant impact on the mission at hand in Afghanistan. Tom.
John, if we can stay on Afghanistan. The administration says it’s going to continue to support the Afghan military going forward when all troops leave and all contractors leave. We asked General McKenzie about that. He said they’re looking at innovative ways to support the Afghan military with maintenance. Do we have any sense of the way ahead on that or when you’ll come up with a plan that you can share with us? Number one. And also with the special immigrant visas. I know it’s a state department issue, but-
John Kirby: (05:56)
I can see the smile under your mask.
Right. But a number of retired officers, General Petraeus and others, have said the US has to do more. Are you assisting, first of all, the Afghan translators and maybe the state department in moving forward on this or anywhere from 11,000 to 30,000 SIV people that would like to get out?
John Kirby: (06:18)
So, on the first question, General McKenzie is exactly right. The bilateral relationship with the Afghan National Security Force is going to change once we are no longer on the ground there. The secretary has talked about this. We’re still working our way through the details of exactly what that relationship’s going to look like going forward. It’ll be largely of a financial nature because we’re not going to have a US troops on the ground in the same assistance roles that they are now. So, it’ll change and not only are we exploring over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities to make sure we’re still keeping Americans safe, but what would outside Afghanistan or over the horizon support to the Afghan National Force look like to include the possibility of some contract support happening outside the country or maybe even virtually.
John Kirby: (07:20)
Obviously, some contract support as we’ve talked about, they’re reliant on that. Especially the Air Force. And some of that will likely still have to happen in the country, but it will happen in a different contractual arrangement than what exists right now.
John Kirby: (07:38)
Short answer is, Tom, we don’t know all the answers to that. And General McKenzie and General Miller are working hard as part of their planning process to provide and tee up options for the secretary to take a look at. But the larger narrative that General McKenzie stated is accurate. We are going to continue to support Afghan National Security Forces. It’ll just be a different kind of support. And it won’t be as tactile as it is right now when we’re still in country.
Can you give me a sense when you’ll come forward with a-
John Kirby: (08:08)
No, I don’t have a deadline for you or a timeline on this. I mean, they’ve been working on this actually since the president’s decision and we’re still working our way through that. I suspect that there will come a time where we will be able to quantify this for you and put more context around it, but we’re just not ready right now.
John Kirby: (08:28)
On your second question on the special immigrant visas. I do have to refer to my colleagues at the state department to speak to that. The only thing I’d add is the secretary is well aware of the support that we received over the last 20 years from Afghan nationals in various capacities. He’s also well aware of the risks that those individuals took and still take, and their families still take, from their support to not only the United States, but our NATO and coalition partners as well. And he is in conversation with Secretary Blinken about how we meet our obligations to them and to the risks they took on behalf of our country. But again, I don’t have specific details on how that program is going to manifest itself. And it is largely a state department program to speak to.
John Kirby: (09:21)
Yeah, back in the back, Joe.
Thank you so much, John. After what we have seen last week, the Navy has released some video footage showing Iranian boats that belonged to the IRGC harassing US Navy ships. I would like to know from you if the secretary believe that the US military has to have a hotline with the IRGC in order to de-conflict tensions in the region in a similar way that the US military has in Syria with Russia?
John Kirby: (09:58)
Well, look Joe, to some degree when you’re at sea you already have a hotline. It’s the bridge-to-bridge radio. We have radio communications. And there were radio communications throughout those incidents with those IRGC boats and the commanders on those boats, repeatedly warning them about what they were doing. So, you don’t need a hotline with the IRGC to communicate. I mean, you can do it in real time. And the real risk as we talked about in a situation like that is the risk of miscalculation. Now, obviously this one didn’t become violent and that’s a good thing, but it was unnecessary, it was unsafe and certainly unprofessional. And it doesn’t lead to better security and stability there in the Gulf. But again, we have direct bridge-to-bridge communications. Obviously, they didn’t abide by that and they didn’t listen to the warnings, but it’s not like we don’t have an ability to reach out in real time.
Beyond the bridge-to-bridge communications, does the secretary believe that those communications should be on a higher level?
John Kirby: (11:06)
We have, as a government, have made clear through diplomatic channels our concerns about IRGC navy activities. We also understand, and I think you understand, Joe, that the IRGC is not the Iranian state navy and doesn’t have the same reporting structure as the Iranian state navy. Our interactions with the Iranian state navy have remained professional, but that’s a whole different reporting chain up to the elected government and the IRGC doesn’t report along those same lines. So, we have made it clear to Tehran our displeasure and our concern about this. We’ll continue to do that, but I don’t believe that there’s a need nor I would suspect, no appetite for any sort operational or strategic communication between us and the IRGC. We have diplomatic channels that we work through appropriately to communicate our displeasure to Tehran. And obviously we don’t have a diplomatic presence there, but there are diplomatic channels that we can avail ourselves of. Okay? Ellie Watson, CBS.
Ellee Watson: (12:20)
Hi. Thank you. I’m just wondering if you guys have anything on this Chinese rocket that could make an uncontrolled re-entry in the next few days?
John Kirby: (12:30)
I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your question, Ellie. I’m not familiar with that issue. We’ll take that one and see if we can get something back to you. Abraham.
Yeah, thank you. On the Secretary Austin’s trip to INDOPACOM and he’s meeting with Admiral Aquilino, can you tell us anything about that meeting, how the conversation went, what he was talking about and how the secretary has in his first few months strengthened US posture towards China in the Indo-Pacific? And then secondly, on the DEFENDER exercise, I wondered how the grouping of 30,000 US and allied and partner troops on the NATO border near Russia is different from Russia’s massing of troops for exercises on the NATO border.
John Kirby: (13:14)
Well, look, I’m not going to speak to what Russia claims was an exercise. As I’ve said repeatedly, they should have to answer questions about what they’re doing. And by the way, Abraham, I mean, there’s still a lot of forces along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea. And it’s still never been completely clear what the intentions were. So, that’s a great question for Moscow and I hope you pose that question to them about this.
John Kirby: (13:48)
European DEFENDER, this is a exercise that’s annual. We’ve been doing it a long, long time. And as I said in my opening statement, it’s a defensive exercise and it’s one that helps us build interoperability. And here’s the other thing that’s different, right? We actually come to the podium-
John Kirby: (14:03)
And here’s the other thing that’s different, we actually come to the podium and tell you about it. I told you how many troops. I told you how many nations. I talked about specifics in terms of what they’re going to be exercising. And the reason I did it today, Abraham, is because this exercise goes through mid June and you’re going to get sick of hearing me talk about European defender from the podium because I’m going to continually talk about what we’re doing. It’s called transparency. It’s a wonderful thing. And we’re not getting that out of Moscow, and we haven’t.
John Kirby: (14:27)
So that’s a big difference right there. It’s a defensive exercise and you will be able to hear us talk about it and communicate to you and to the world what we’re doing and why. On the secretary’s meeting with the Admiral Aquilino, it was a really a chance for the two of them to get to know each other better. They didn’t have a previous long-standing personal relationship, obviously Admiral Aquilino eminently qualified for this job coming from Pacific fleet, just beginning and I think the secretary wanted to have a chance on his first day to just, again, get to know them better talk about both their perspectives each on the region and on the responsibilities of INDOPACOM.
John Kirby: (15:11)
And it was a very cordial meeting, lasted 30 to 40 minutes and covered the waterfront, no pun intended, of the kinds of things you would think that they would want to talk about. And no question, the pacing challenge that is China and INDOPACOM’s role in helping us meet that pacing challenge was a major topic of that discussion.
Can you speak to any of Secretary Austin’s accomplishments in his first few months to enhance the US posture in the Indo-Pacific region?
John Kirby: (15:43)
Well, the most obvious thing that I can point to is the China task force that he has stood up and that they’re continuing to do their work. We expect the task force to complete their reviews and submit their recommendations to the secretary in early to mid June, somewhere around there. That’s about what Dr. Rattner said it was going to be, sort of a sprint a few months. They’re still fleshing their workouts. So I’m obviously not going to get ahead of that, but I think the China task force is the most clear manifestation of how seriously he’s taking China as a pacing challenge.
John Kirby: (16:19)
I also think, and I don’t want to get ahead of budget specifics, but we’re getting ready to unveil DOD’s, the president’s budgets for DOD, that will come in due time. But I think you’ll see this larger concern about great power competition and our focus on that part of the world reflected in, in budget priorities. But again, I won’t get ahead of the specifics on that. I also would add just one last thing, and not that you need to be reminded, but I will anyway, that his first overseas trip was to the region and his first visit was to Tokyo and to Seoul to meet with two important allies about (a) reinforcing our commitment to our treaty alliances and our commitments there in the region, but also to listen to them about what they’re seeing in the region and the threats from their eyes, and to listen to them about their concerns about China’s increasingly aggressive and coercive behavior.
Thank you, John.
John Kirby: (17:20)
Yeah. You bet. Let me go back here. Laura Seligman, Politico.
Laura Seligman: (17:25)
Hi, John, I have a couple of questions for you. First of all, North Korea warned the Biden administration again this weekend about a tussle policy against the nuclear program saying that it was a “big blunder.” Do you have a respond to this? And how will the completion of the policy review change how the Pentagon responds to future missile launches?
John Kirby: (17:46)
Well, look, I won’t speak for the National Security Council in terms of the policy review, but I think it’s apparent that the administration is committed to the denuclearization of North Korea and to greater stability and security on the peninsula, to reinforcing and revitalizing our alliances and partners partnerships in the region. Because the threat of from Pyongyang doesn’t just affect the peninsula, it affects our allies and partners, and it also affects the safety and security of the American people. But as for the specifics of the policy execution going forward from a diplomatic perspective, I would refer you to NSC into the State Department to speak to that.
John Kirby: (18:31)
The only thing I’d add, and the secretary said this if you had a chance to listen or read or watch his speech that he gave at the INDOPACOM chain of command over the weekend on Friday, is that we will support diplomatic efforts. We stand in support of the State Department as they pursue peaceful political diplomatic options to make the region safer and more secure and that includes making it safer and more secure from the threat that North Korea continues to pose.
Laura Seligman: (19:06)
And just a second question. I was wondering if you could comment on the attack in Burkina Faso today, likely by ISIS militants. Do we currently have any US Special Forces on the ground and how will they respond?
John Kirby: (19:19)
I don’t have anything on that one. You surprised me with that. I’m going to have to take that question. We’ll try to get you an answer back. I just don’t know. I’ve not heard reports of that attack. Tara.
Thanks. So a couple of questions for you. First on vaccines. Last week, President Biden suggested he would leave it to the military to decide whether service members would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Are there any discussions going? Is the secretary considering making the vaccine mandatory for service members?
John Kirby: (19:48)
He’s not made any decisions to change it from being a voluntary vaccine. No.
In specific circumstances, is it required such as like the C5 crew that just went to India because of the outbreak there? Would they have been required to be vaccinated?
John Kirby: (20:04)
It’s still a voluntary vaccine because it’s under emergency use authorization. I would remind that obviously we encourage the men and women of the department and their families to take the vaccine. We believe they’re safe and effective, and all the information is publicly available about the efficacy of these vaccines. Secretary continues to want to encourage people to elect to take the vaccine. I don’t know if the crew members on those aircraft have been vaccinated or not. That wouldn’t be appropriate for me to say anyway, but I’d also remind, Tara, that in addition to encouraging informing members to take the vaccine, we also abide by all CDC guidelines in terms of social distancing, wearing of masks, and basic personal hygiene.
John Kirby: (20:54)
And those are requirements that are laid upon the force no matter where you are serving in any capacity. So we still observe those CDC guidelines. The vaccines are still voluntary.
And then the last one on the budget. You said coming out soon, do you have a date for budget rollout?
John Kirby: (21:14)
I don’t. I’d refer you to OMB. They decide that.
Secretaries go before Congress, will they be talking to lawmakers without actual numbers? Or is the secretary himself expecting to maybe end up being testifying before Congress with just maybe a skinny budget?
John Kirby: (21:30)
Well, I mean, we to wait and see, Tara. I can’t get ahead of OMB on this. So I can’t tell you with great specificity when the secretary’s testimony starts whether or not there’ll be a budget on the table at that point. As you’ve already seen, the combatant commanders, of course, they always do their posture hearings, oftentimes without a budget necessarily being laid out there. But the service chiefs are already starting to testify too, and we fully support the role of Congress and oversight here and the requirement for our senior military leaders to be as honest and candid with them about their requirements and what they believe they need to execute the national defense strategy.
John Kirby: (22:17)
But again, I just can’t, but it’s a hypothetical. I won’t get ahead of OMB and their timeline, nor can I then predict whether the secretary’s first hearing will be pre or post the delivery of the budget. But obviously take these hearings and Congress’s oversight very, very seriously. And with or without a budget on the table, the secretary, the chairman and all the military leaders will, and they have been as candid as they can be about the threats and challenges as they see them. Okay. Sylvie.
Hello. Do you have any detail on the attack today against the Balad base in Iraq? Do you know who is responsible? Do you intend to reciprocate?
John Kirby: (23:09)
We’re aware of press reports of an attack at Balad in Iraq. I think you know, Sylvie, that Balad is an Iraqi base. There are no US or coalition troops assigned there. There’s a private US company that does have contractors working there. And initial reports that we’ve seen are that there are no US casualties or damages. I’d have to refer you to the Iraqi ministry of defense for more details because it is their base. So I have not seen a credible claim of attribution. And again, this is really a question better put to officials in Baghdad since it’s their air base.
John Kirby: (23:47)
Speaker 1: (23:48)
John, can I [inaudible 00:23:49]?
John Kirby: (23:49)
Speaker 1: (23:50)
How concerned are you with the repeated attacks on Balad? We understand that there are no US soldiers, but there are contractors. How concerned are you?
John Kirby: (23:58)
Of course, we’re concerned about any use of violence by any group in Iraq. And I would remind, again without speaking to attribution here because we’ve only seen press reporting on this, that the purpose for the US in Iraq at the invitation of the government is to continue to prosecute the war against ISIS, the operations against ISIS. That’s what we’re there for. We’re there to help Iraqi security forces as they also prosecute operations against ISIS. So any violent attack on them or us is of concern. And it does show that again without attribution that it’s still a dangerous mission.
Speaker 1: (24:49)
Can I followup on the ISIS? But the issue here is that General McKenzie, who probably you also before talked about, that that is a message that was sent to the Iranians, that that is a message that was sent also to the militias. And we thought that we have the deterrence but it seemed that we don’t have deterrence.
John Kirby: (25:10)
That you get occasional attacks doesn’t mean that all deterrence measures aren’t working. I mean, obviously you want zero, but as the secretary has made clear that we take the safety and security of our people over there very, very seriously. And if, and when there’s a need to respond in a kinetic way, we’ll do that and we’ll do that in a time and a place of our choosing. After the first attack and then our response to a staging base in Syria, you guys asked me this same question after there was yet another indirect fire incident.
John Kirby: (25:51)
Clearly, we don’t want to see that happen, but you can’t draw a line from the fact that it happens every now and then, right to, well, there’s no deterrent capability, or you haven’t sent a strong enough message since we don’t know who did this, and we don’t know why they did this. So again, this is an Iraqi issue to speak to and to investigate. We’re going to respect that. We’re also going to do whatever we need to do to make sure that we’re adequately protecting our troops on the ground and our national security interest there in Iraq.
John Kirby: (26:22)
Jeff Seldin, VOA.
Jeff Seldin: (26:24)
Thanks very much for doing this. You, the Pentagon and you, as commanders in Afghanistan have been very clear about the fact that the US will use force if necessary to protect troops as they withdraw. Can you clarify though, what type of help or what type of support, kinetic support is being offered to Afghan forces and have Afghan forces at this point with some of the incidents that we’ve seen over the weekend, have they requested any sort of kinetic help or any sort of support from US forces?
John Kirby: (26:54)
Yeah. Jeff, that’s a better question put to central command. I’m not going to get into tactical discussions here at the Pentagon podium. I think you’ve seen General Miller make clear that that to the degree we can, we are going to continue to support Afghan national security forces. Obviously, that support will change over time as our resources continue to dwindle in Afghanistan, but that support is ongoing. And even before the change of mission, even before the president’s decision, we’ve made it a habit not to speak to the details of that kind of support in a tactical way.
John Kirby: (27:32)
So I’d refer you to Centcom on that.
Speaker 1: (27:35)
Follow up, if I could. Has there been any progress on any of the talks with countries in the region about basing agreements or ways to make the over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities a bit easier or more effective?
John Kirby: (27:49)
There’s been no decisions made that I’m aware of in terms of overseas basing with neighboring countries. There is a lot of work and effort being put in right now to determining what over the horizon counter-terrorism-
John Kirby: (28:03)
… put in right now to determining what over the horizon counter-terrorism capabilities we’re going to have, we’re going to employ, and options that we’re going to be able to take advantage of. And as the Secretary has said, we certainly will support any diplomatic efforts to try to pursue options with neighboring nations, but that would really be something led by the State Department. [Janney 00:28:23]?
Thank you, John. On the interceptor missile system, it is reported that the Department of Defense is supporting to develop an interceptor missile system to defend nuclear missiles from North Korea and Iran. Do you have anything on this?
John Kirby: (28:55)
I don’t have much, Janney, except to say that there’s acquisition planning to carry two interceptor contractor teams through what we call critical design review. And once that’s complete, the Missile Defense Agency, will make the choice, as we say in Pentagon language, will “down select” the two proposals to one to a single vendor to proceed with the remaining development, testing, and production efforts of this kind of capability.
For the next generation of interceptor missile system?
John Kirby: (29:39)
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
[inaudible 00:29:44] cost a lot, so how are you going to?
John Kirby: (29:48)
I think there’s an initial cost estimate, and this is lifecycle estimate for the next generation interceptor, of a bit more than $17 billion. But that’s lifecycle. That’s procurement.
John Kirby: (30:10)
Let me just put my glasses on and make sure I’ve got this right. The total is $17 billion. More than $17 billion, lifecycle estimate. It’s a lifecycle estimate. That’s not a budget line item. It’s an assessment by CAPE over the life cycle of the program to include the research development, acquisition, and then service support and maintenance going forward.
Speaker 2: (30:39)
John Kirby: (30:40)
Speaker 2: (30:41)
Several times when we ask questions about what’s the force going to be in Afghanistan or Iraq, you refer to the ongoing force study, worldwide study of what the force posture will be. I’m wondering two things on that. One, is there a timeline for when that report, that review will be completed? And second, you have used the word everything’s going to be considered in that for review. Does everything mean Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force? Or does it also mean Coast Guard and Merchant Marines? What does everything continue?
John Kirby: (31:15)
Everything means everything.
Speaker 2: (31:16)
Well, the reason I ask that specifically is, the Coast Guard has been involved now in the last three weeks in an incident in South China Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Black Sea. The Coast Guard is being used more and more far from our coast. Are their assets going to be part of it, the Merchant Marine assets? What assets are considered in the force part? I’m not asking you to get ahead of it, I’m just asking you to give transparency.
John Kirby: (31:41)
It’s like you guys know what I’m going to say. As you asked the question, you’re right, I’m not going to get ahead of it. But to your question, and it’s a fair one, so first of all, we need to distinguish, because I think when you first asked the question was, Afghanistan is-
Speaker 2: (32:03)
[crosstalk 00:32:03] we’d ask if you would refer to us. That’s all going to be taken care of in this big review.
John Kirby: (32:07)
Well, I’ve been clear. I mean, since the President made his decision on Afghanistan, that draw down process and the removal of U.S. Forces that’s separate and distinct from the Global Posture Review. The Global Posture Review is ongoing. Again, as we’ve talked about it, we expect it to be able to wrap up probably late summer, that timeframe. There is no exact deadline on it. The Secretary wants them to do it right, not fast. It will take a comprehensive look at our resources around the world and try to look at whether those resources are aligned to our strategy and to the National Defense Strategy. Now, we are still operating under the National Defense Strategy that was released a couple of years ago, but there is also an effort inside OSD at the direction of the Secretary to take a look at the NDS and revise and be able to craft and develop a new National Defense Strategy. So these two efforts are ongoing at the same time and are informing one another. To your other question, about the Coast Guard-
Speaker 2: (33:19)
You used the word resources, and that’s what I’m going to get back to. Are the resources that are being considered as part of this study, my word, not yours, this study, just what we would refer to as DOD resources?
John Kirby: (33:32)
Speaker 2: (33:33)
Or would they include things like the Merchant Marines, the Coast Guard, something else?
John Kirby: (33:38)
As you know, particularly, the Coast Guard, they do execute certain DOD missions. And, obviously, the Global Posture Review will be informed by their continued support to the Defense Department, knowledgeable, of course, that they primarily report through the Department of Homeland Security, but that they are in supportive of DOD around the world in some very important places. And clearly, the Global Posture Review will be informed by that support and by the likelihood that we’re going to continue to need that support from the Coast Guard going forward. Yes.
Speaker 1: (34:16)
Thanks, John. So do you go back to the IRGC Navy. You made the distinction between that Navy and the official Uranian Navy. Obviously, the U.S. is currently engaged in negotiations with the Iranian government in Vienna. Does that distinction changed the way you operate around the IRGC Navy? Because the end of last month, we saw that one ship was actually engaged in warning shots. I mean, from your own assessment, what is the IRGC Navy trying to do with U.S. ships there?
John Kirby: (34:57)
I think that’s a question that should be asked of Tehran. I am not going to speak to what their intentions are. Our commanders at sea have the right and the responsibility to defend themselves against threats. And you’re right, this incident a week or so ago did finally result. What ended up finally breaking the fever, if you were, were warning shots fired. Nobody wants to even see it come to that point. And our commanding officers at sea understand the difference between the IRGC naval assets and the way they operate as opposed to the way Iranian State Navy commanding officers operate. It’s a completely different reporting chain, a completely different type of assets that they have available and certainly we’ve seen different conduct, and our commanding officers understand the difference there. But regardless, they have very clear rules of engagement, which we won’t talk to publicly, and they have very clear responsibilities to protect themselves their ships and their crews. And they’ll do that.
Speaker 1: (36:10)
I’m asking this because Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, he’s the Commander of the IRGC Navy, on Friday to press TV, Iranian TV, he said, “Every ship entering the Persian Gulf has to identify itself.” Are you planning on having U.S. ships identifying themselves and abiding by this requirement?
John Kirby: (36:32)
I know of no such requirement. I know of no such requirement. It’s an international strait, and we continue to sail and operate in accordance with international law and international custom. And we’ll continue to do that.
Speaker 1: (36:49)
Thank you, John.
John Kirby: (36:50)
In the back there.
Speaker 3: (36:51)
On recent ISIS attacks, especially in the disputed areas in Iraq, there has been an increase in IISIS attacks. An Inherent Resolve spokesperson tweeted that they were working with the Iraqi and Kurdish government to help them curb the ISIS attacks.
John Kirby: (37:11)
The spokesman for who?
Speaker 3: (37:13)
Operation Inherent Resolve.
John Kirby: (37:14)
Speaker 3: (37:15)
Coalition. I’m just wondering what can you do to help both sides to control the area? Kurdish officials see creating a joint Peshmerga-Iraqi Army in those areas would reduce those attacks. Is that something that you would be in support of?
John Kirby: (37:35)
Those are decisions for Iraqis to make. Again, this is their country and we wouldn’t get involved in those kinds of specific discussions. That’s for Iraqi leaders to decide and to work out. I did not see the spokesman’s comments, but it sounds like from what you’re telling me, it’s very much in keeping with the relationships that we have in the region with government leaders and the focus on making sure that what we’re aligned against and what we’re working towards is counter ISIS missions and counter ISIS capability among the Iraqi Security Forces. But, again, that’s a question better put to Iraqi leaders.
Speaker 3: (38:16)
It was just a tweet from him, but he was saying that they are working with the Iraqi and Kurdish government to respond to the violent extremist.
John Kirby: (38:25)
Again, I haven’t seen the tweet or the statement, so I’m loathe to get into more detail. But it sounds to me like, if that’s in fact what was said, it’s very much in line with our policy and our approach inside Iraq. And again, at the invitation of the government. Yes, in the back.
Speaker 4: (38:42)
Al-Qaeda recently issued new threats to the U.S. What’s the Pentagon’s assessments of these threats and of Al-Qaeda’s capabilities 10 years after Bin Laden’s killing?
John Kirby: (38:55)
I haven’t seen the statements that you’re referring to. The President has been very clear. Again, I haven’t seen them, so I’m not saying they aren’t out there. I just haven’t seen them. So I’m not going to react specifically to comments I haven’t seen, except to say that the President has been very clear that we have an obligation to continue to protect the American people from the threat of terrorist networks, terrorists that can and are willing and able to threaten the homeland. And we’re going to keep the press up. Nobody is suggesting that Al-Qaeda has gone away, or the threat of Al-Qaeda is gone. 10 years after the raid which killed bin Laden, it’s still a threat and we still have to be focused on that threat.
John Kirby: (39:46)
And as I just said, in the previous question, ISIS, as an outgrowth of Al-Qaeda, is also still a threat. And that’s, again, one of the reasons why we’re in Iraq. Nobody’s taking our eye off the continued challenge that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks continue to pose. It is a greatly diminished threat, no question, since 9/11 and Al-Qaeda is a greatly diminished network in terms of its reach and its power. But it still exists. It still does pose a threat, not only to us, but to our allies and partners in the region. And, again, we’re not going to lose focus on that.
Speaker 4: (40:25)
Do you have concerns that Al-Qaeda might try to return or seek the opportunity after the withdrawal from Afghanistan?
John Kirby: (40:33)
We always have concerns about threats to our national security interests and to our people and to those of our allies and partners that are posed by terrorist networks. Nothing’s changed about the concern that we have into making sure that another attack like 9/11 can’t happen. And we’re almost 20 years on, and there hasn’t been one. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. A lot of hard work, a lot of blood, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of lessons learned that have prevented yet another attack like 9/11. And I don’t think you’ll see anything but a continued focus by this administration on making sure that it doesn’t happen again. Yeah, go ahead.
Speaker 5: (41:13)
Question and a follow-up. The Turkish military is currently conducting an operation in Northern Iraq to uproot PKK camps over there. In the past, we know that the United States provided some ISR support. Does the U.S. military currently support this operation or no?
John Kirby: (41:29)
I’m going to speak to operational matters from the podium.
Speaker 5: (41:33)
On IRGC, we know that the previous administration designated this group as a terrorist organization, and, of course, they are harassing U.S. ships and you guys are communicating with those groups, the designated terrorist group. Is it permissible under the law to communicate with a terrorist group, a designated group?
John Kirby: (41:55)
What group are you talking about?
Speaker 5: (41:56)
IRGC. The previous administration has designated IRGC as a terrorist group, as you know.
John Kirby: (42:02)
What I said was we’re talking to them on-
Speaker 6: (42:03)
Is a terrorist group, as you know.
John Kirby: (42:03)
What I said was. We’re talking to them on bridge to bridge radio in the middle of an incredibly unsafe and unprofessional exercise of hostile activity in the Gulf. That is not some sort of diplomatic exchange. It’s getting on the radio and telling somebody that what they’re doing is unsafe and dangerous and they need to knock it off. I don’t think that … There’s certainly nothing to apologize for there, and there’s certainly nothing inappropriate about doing it. It’s what Navy commanding officers have to do on occasion, unfortunately, to better protect their crews and their ships. That’s not diplomatic communication. That’s bridge to bridge, knock it off communication, and it’s important. Let me take one from the phone. Let’s see. I didn’t get a Megan from Military Times.
The White House on Friday indicated that they were looking into the possibility of making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for troops during this emergency use authorization has the white house reached out to the secretary or to OSD at all to consult, and does the Secretary or OSD have a position on whether making the vaccine mandatory now would be an improvement to current readiness levels?
John Kirby: (43:28)
I’m not aware of any communication from the White House with respect to this issue, Megan, and as the Secretary has made clear, it remains a voluntary vaccine under emergency use authorization. We continue to be focused on informing and educating our men and women to make the best decisions for them and for their family and for their teammates. As the President said last week, and we would agree, and we’ve seen it in the force, that the more and more people who elect to take the vaccine leads to more and more people also making a similar decision, and that’s where our focus is right now. Yeah, in the back?
Speaker 7: (44:05)
I want to follow up about North Korea policy review, just to clarify. Does the review have no direct impact on the false postures, capabilities, and the military exercises of the US forces in Korea?
John Kirby: (44:24)
The policy review is complete, and I’d point you to our White House colleagues to speak to more detail about how they want to see that policy executed. As I said, whatever the outreach looks like to help with the denuclearization of North Korea, the Department will support that. We also have concomitant Alliance requirements on the peninsula with our South Korean allies to continue to make sure we are, as the saying goes, ready to fight tonight. That work continues. We have from the Department of Defense perspective, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to the treaty alliance with South Korea. Okay. I got time for a couple more here. Steve [Losi 00:45:19], Military.com.
Hi, regarding the announcement about the cancellation of the border projects. Can you describe, is there any more of a picture on how much money exactly the Pentagon might be expecting would become available again, as a result of the cancellation of these projects?
John Kirby: (45:41)
Question Steve, we’re working our way through that right now. I don’t have details for you on specifically what this is going to mean in terms of reinvested dollars or a dollar sunk that can’t be recouped. We’re still working our way through that. Paul [Shankman 00:45:59] , US News.
Yeah. Hi, John, can I ask you to take the question about whether the Defense Department is doing any reviews about a potential mandatory order for military forces to take the vaccine? Jake Sullivan talked about this on Friday at the Aspen Security Forum and he said, and this is a quote, “That is something the Defense Department is looking at in consultation with the inter-agency process.” That sounds different than what you just said earlier.
John Kirby: (46:28)
Yeah. Paul, I’m happy to take the question, but again, I know of no such a change in our policy. We continue to focus on informing and educating the force. Again, our acceptance rates are getting better with each passing week, but I’m happy to take that question.
That sounds different, so I just wanted to be sure that we understood what you were saying. Then going back to Afghanistan, the Special Inspector had some fairly troubling report last week about some statistics for the AAN DSF, including that insider attacks have increased by 82% in the first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of last year. I wonder how concerned the Department is about that trend and whether it believes there’s anything that the US and the coalition can do about that before it leaves by September 11th.
John Kirby: (47:21)
Obviously, we have concerns about the insider threat and we have for quite some time. Sadly, it’s not a new threat, and it is of concern. As the Secretary has made clear, as Generals McKenzie and Miller have also said, that in this, in the period between now and our complete draw down, we’re going to continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces in whatever way we can. That relationship will change after we’re we’re out of the country and after the resolute support mission is over. In the time that we have remaining, to the degree that we can assist the Afghan National Security Forces, we’ll continue to do that. Yes, it’s of concern. It’s also of concern to Afghan National Security Force leaders. It’s not like they’re not aware of this as a potential problem for them going forward. Tony? Tony? I already got you, Janie. Tony. Yeah.
John Kirby: (48:33)
Yeah, he had his hand up, too. You’ve already had a question. Tony hasn’t.
The last one.
John Kirby: (48:38)
You want Tony to get the last one? You want to get the last one?
John Kirby: (48:41)
Tony, it’s up to you. What do you think?
Would you mind?
Oh, okay. [crosstalk 00:48:47]. Of the China task force, when it’s complete, what are your plans in the interest of “transparency,” debrief on it?
John Kirby: (48:55)
I love how you do air quotes on transparency.
Yes, because I’m skeptical.
John Kirby: (49:01)
Speaker 8: (49:01)
We didn’t see a crib sheet this time, or whatever [crosstalk 00:49:04].
Speaker 9: (49:03)
You said you were going to ask [crosstalk 00:49:06].
John Kirby: (49:07)
I think there’ll be, we will obviously be as transparent as we can be about the results of the China task force. I don’t think it will be a shock to you that there will be some things that the China task force comes up with that we’re not going to want to talk about publicly, but to the degree that we can lay out what they found and their overarching recommendations to the department. Again, remember what this is about, is about helping the Secretary to organize the Department, resource the Department, develop the right operational concepts to meet the pacing challenge. To the degree we can be transparent about those recommendations, we will be. Exactly what that’s going to look like Tony, right now, I don’t know. Is it going to be a piece of paper we give you? Am I going to be able to bring Dr. Ratiner up here to the podium? We haven’t worked out the specific details of that transparency, but we obviously are going to want to be as transparent with you and with the American people as we can.
When the budget does come out, one of the items that’s going to get a lot of scrutiny is the F-35 fighter. Two weeks ago, Paris had a hearing, the two congressional committees had a hearing, nobody from OSD was invited, but can you talk a little bit about the level of scrutiny the aircraft program has received in the ’22 budget drill, not specific to numbers, but the level of scrutiny it’s receiving?
John Kirby: (50:25)
Again, without getting to specific budget issues, this is a critically important program to the Department. You know that. The Department remains committed to the F-35 going forward, as do so many of our allies and partners. The Secretary and the Deputy Secretary are certainly mindful of problems within the program. We take those problems and those challenges seriously. Again, I think you’ll see reflected in the budget going forward, our continued commitment to this program. Again, without getting into specifics, I can assure you that program difficulties are being fleshed out and dealt with in the budget preparatory process. Okay. I think that’s all I … You had one more, right?
When will the development be completed, in preceptor missile development? When would the development be completed?
John Kirby: (51:33)
I’m not prepared to speak to specifics about the completion yet. We’re not at that stage yet. Okay. All right. Thanks, everybody.