Apr 10, 2023

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 4/06/23 Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 4/06/23 Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsKarine Jean-Pierre White House Press Briefing TranscriptsPress Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 4/06/23 Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 4/06/23. read the transcript here.

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Karine Jean-Pierre (00:00):

I heard a, “Knock them dead.”

(00:02)
All right, everybody, happy Thursday. Good afternoon. I have a few things at the top before I turn it over to the Admiral. As I was walking out here today, we saw news that Republican legislators in Tennessee were preparing to vote on the expulsion of three Democratic officials who stood in solidarity with children and families peacefully protesting for action on gun safety. The fact that this vote is happening is shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent. Across Tennessee and across America, our kids are paying the price for the actions of Republican lawmakers who continue to refuse to take action on stronger gun laws. The President will continue to call on Congress to take action to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, require safe storage of firearms, eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability, and require background checks for all gun sales, and state officials must do the same.

(01:07)
This has been one of the worst weeks for of 2023 so far in terms of anti-LGBTQ bills becoming law in states across America. Three anti-LGBTQ laws have been enacted so far this week in Kansas, Indiana, and Idaho. Just yesterday, the North Dakota Senate passed 10 anti-LGBTQ bills in just one day, a single day record. In Kansas, the state legislation overrode Governor Kelly’s veto to make Kansas the 20th state that has banned transgender kids from participating in school sports. With the enactment of a new law in Indiana, 14 states have now banned gender-affirming healthcare, while some of these laws are currently blocked by courts. This is a dangerous attack on the rights of parents to make the best healthcare decisions for their own kids. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 50% of transgender youth in the US, which is estimated to be more than 150,000 kids, live in states in which transgender youth have lost access to, or at risk of losing access to gender-affirming care.

(02:28)
Look, this is awful news, let’s be very clear about that. LGBTQI+ kids are resilient, they are fierce, they fight back, they’re not going anywhere, and we have their back. This administration has their back. We are so proud of the kids across this country who have organized protests and school walkouts to tell the politicians in their states to stop this legislative bullying. I know that these political attacks can really take toll on people’s mental health, so I want to say directly to LGBTQI+ kids, you are loved just as you are, just the way you are. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you call 988, the National Crisis Hotline, and dial the number three to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQI+ kids. This is a new service that the Biden administration is proud to offer during these incredibly hard times for these trans kids.

(03:36)
Now, one last thing before we move on to the briefing on Sunday-

Speaker 1 (03:41):

I’m so sorry, the In-Town Pool-

Karine Jean-Pierre (03:43):

So, the In-Town Pool has to gather for the President’s departure, and we’ll just continue. So, if you all want to go ahead and do that, feel free, and then we’ll still continue with the briefing.

(03:57)
So, just so we can go quickly here, I want to give you guys a week ahead, as we normally do on Fridays. On Sunday, the President and the First Lady… Let’s do this quietly, friends. Thank you.

(04:12)
On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will return to the White House from Camp David. On Monday, the President and the First Lady will host the 2023 White House Easter Egg Roll, a tradition dating back to 1878. A teacher for more than 30 years, First Lady Jill Biden is continuing her theme of EGGucation for the event, transforming the South Lawn and the Ellipse into a school community full of fun educational activities for children of all ages to enjoy. In addition, the time honored traditions of rolling and hunting eggs. This year’s White House Easter Egg EGGucation Roll will also feature a schoolhouse activity area, reading nook, talent show, field trip to the farm, picture day, a physical EGGucation zone, a snack time tent, and more.

(04:57)
On Tuesday through Friday, the President will travel to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The President will first travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland, from April 11th through April 12th, to mark the tremendous progress since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago, and to underscore the readiness of the United States to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities.

(05:23)
The President will then travel to Ireland from April 12th through April 14th. He will discuss our close cooperation on the full range of shared global challenges. He will also hold various engagements including in Dublin, County Louth, and County Mayo, where he will deliver an address to celebrate the deep historic ties that link our countries and people. On Monday, we’ll have some more to share about the details of that trip.

(05:49)
Now finally, as many of you know, over the past many months, departments and agency key to the Afghanistan withdrawal have been conducting thorough internal after-action reviews, examining their decision-making process and execution. Those reviews fed into a process looking across the administration. And today, the NSC will also be releasing a document that provides our perspectives, outlines, in broad strokes, some of what we learned, and how we have already implemented those lessons in other global challenges. My colleague, Admiral John Kirby is here today to discuss that document with all of you today and answer your questions.

(06:33)
And with that, Admiral, the floor is yours.

Admiral John Kirby (06:34):

Thank you. Afternoon, everybody.

Speaker X (06:41):

Good afternoon.

Admiral John Kirby (06:44):

So, I want to start today by, again, updating you, as Karine said, on the administration’s work to assess the withdrawal from Afghanistan. As you all know, over these many months, departments and agencies key to the withdrawal conducted thorough internal after-action reviews, each of them examining their decision-making processes as well as how those decisions were executed. Today, they are making those reviews available to relevant committees in the Senate and in the House, as previewed by secretaries Blinken and Austin in testimony last month.

(07:17)
Those reviews, as Karine said, rightly, fed into a process looking across the administration. So today, we are also making available to all of you, and to the public, a document that provides our perspectives on the withdrawal, and outlines, in broad strokes, some of what we learned as well as how we are already implementing some of those lessons. That document will be posted to the White House website at the conclusion of my briefing, but I’d like to take some time, if you’ll allow me, to provide you an overview.

(07:46)
First and most critically, the President’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan was the right one. The United States had long ago accomplished its mission to remove from the battlefield the terrorists who attacked us on 9/ 11, and to degrade the terrorist threat to the United States from Afghanistan. And now, with that war over, we can more squarely address the most pressing challenges of our day. America is on a stronger strategic footing, more capable to support Ukraine and to meet our security commitments around the world as well as the competition with China, because it is not fighting a ground war in Afghanistan. Of course, we continued to address terrorist threats, which, as the President accurately assessed, had migrated to other parts of the world through effective over-the-horizon operations, including those that took out the leaders of A Qaeda and Isis, al-Zawahiri and Hajji Abdullah respectively.

(08:45)
While it was always the President’s intent to end that war, it is also undeniable that decisions made, and the lack of planning done by the previous administration significantly limited options available to him. President Biden inherited a forced presence in Afghanistan of some 2,500 troops, that was the lowest since 2001. He inherited a special immigrant visa program that had been starved of resources, and he inherited a deal struck between the previous administration and the Taliban that called for the complete removal of all US troops by May of 2021 or else the Taliban, which had stopped its attacks while the deal was in place, would go back to war against the United States. The President’s transition team asked to see plans for that removal. They asked to see plans for a security transition to the Afghan government, and they asked to see plans to increase the processing of special immigrant visas. None were forthcoming.

(09:47)
Transitions matter, that’s the first lesson learned here, and the incoming administration wasn’t afforded much of one. Thus, President Biden’s choice was stark, either withdraw all our forces or resume fighting with the Taliban. He chose the former, but even in so doing, secured extra time to conduct that withdrawal, stretching it out to August. And that’s the second point worth making. Despite having his options curtailed, President Biden led a deliberate, rigorous, and inclusive decision-making process that was responsive to facts on the ground. He focused keenly on the need for proper planning. In fact, President Biden directed his top national security leaders to begin planning for a withdrawal even before he had made the final decision to leave Afghanistan. He ordered troop reduction plans, plans to turn over bases and equipment to the Afghan government, as the previous administration had negotiated, plans to draw down our diplomatic presence, and plans to evacuate both American citizens and Afghan allies alike. Indeed, evacuation planning started in spring of 2021, and the President ordered additional military forces pre-positioned in the region by mid-summer in case they were ever needed.

(11:01)
Throughout, President Biden insisted that his team planned for worst case scenarios such as the fall of Kabul. Even though the intelligence community’s assessment when he was making the decision in early 2021 was that Taliban advances would accelerate only after the withdrawal of US forces. The President repeatedly requested assessments of the trajectory of the conflict from his military and his intelligence professionals. No agency predicted a Taliban takeover in nine days. No agency predicted the rapid fleeing of President Ghani, who had indicated to us his intent to remain in Afghanistan up until he departed on the 15th of August. And no agency predicted that the more than 300,000 trained and equipped Afghan national security and defense forces would fail to fight for the country, especially after 20 years of American support.

(11:55)
In fact, the assessment was that the promotion of Acting Defense Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, would actually strengthen their resolve to stay and fight. And so another lesson learned was the need to plan early and extensively for low-probability, high-risk scenarios. I should note here that our experiences in Afghanistan informed our decision to set up a small group of experts for worst-case scenario planning on Ukraine, which included simulation exercises, and our ability to forcefully and plainly speak publicly about the risks we saw of a pending invasion. Now look, there’s always going to be tension between highlighting warning signs that a country may collapse, and undermining that same government, and that’s a difficult balance to strike. But in Ukraine, and before that in Ethiopia, for that matter, we prioritized earlier drawdowns of our personnel when each of those capitals were under threat. In fact, months before Russia’s invasion, we released intelligence with trusted partners and our warnings about the invasion grew louder and more public. This aggressive approach allowed us to organize with our allies and help enable Americans in Ukraine to depart safely. And just to remind, we continue to facilitate the safe departures of Americans from Afghanistan when they tell us they are ready to leave, and we have proudly welcomed nearly 100,000 of our Afghan partners and their family members to the United States. Many of these families left Afghanistan after the withdrawal, and they continue to arrive on a regular basis.

(13:35)
Now, I’d be remiss here if I did not also express our gratitude to the many private and nonprofit groups, including those comprising veterans of the war who helped us identify, contact, and arrange for the safe transport of thousands of these brave Afghans. Without their help, or the incredible assistance we received from countries in Europe and the Middle East that allowed us to use their facilities as way stations, we could not have moved as many people as quickly as we did. And that’s yet another lesson that we learned, this one about the power of allies, partners, and friends.

(14:09)
Now, we know we need more help, which is why we urge Congress to assist us in improving the special immigrant visa program, and by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, both of which will make it easier for us to keep meeting our commitments to our Afghan allies.

(14:26)
No comments, none, about this withdrawal would be complete without mention of the deadly attack on the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport on the 26th of August. The President at the time made it clear to operational commanders that force protection remained his highest priority. In those tense days when the threat was particularly high, he accepted the recommendation of his national security team to extend the timeline for evacuations only after his senior military officials confirmed that they had sufficient resources and authorities to mitigate threats, including those threats posed by ISIS-K. He trusted the best judgment of his leaders on the ground to make all operational decisions, including with regard to Abby Gate. The President and the First Lady will always honor the sacrifices of the 13 service members who were killed in that attack, and we will never forget their families. We will mourn with them, remember with them, and support those Gold Star Families.

(15:29)
We mourn as well the loss of those Afghans killed by that suicide bomber on that day, and others who lost their lives during the withdrawal. And we will always honor the bravery and selflessness of every member of the military, the foreign service, the intelligence community, and our civil service, who made possible the largest airlift evacuation in military history, and all under the constant threat of attack. The effort was certainly not without days of pain, hardship, or bloodshed, but neither was it without courage, or poise, or professionalism. For all the lessons that we take away, we should remember that over 20 years of war, and in its final days, these men and women saw things, and did things, and carry things with them that you and I will never fathom. We must make sure that they and their families know that their service mattered. We must make sure they get the help and the support that they need. We must make sure that their legacy is never forgotten. They ended our nation’s longest war. That was never going to be an easy thing to do, and as the President himself has said, it was never going to be low-grade, or low-risk, or low-cost. We should be humble enough to let that also be a key lesson learned from Afghanistan.

(16:46)
Thank you. I’ll take some questions.

Speaker 1 (16:47):

Go ahead.

Ed (16:48):

So John, thank you for doing this, but I think I speak on behalf of my colleagues in this room, and we want the record to reflect this was sent to us about 10 minutes before the briefing began, with little notice, and it’s the very definition of a modern major holiday news dump. Releasing this at the beginning of the high holidays, and after months of requests from Republicans and the broader Republic. So why today? And, is this all we get? And, is this a response to the studies that were done by the agencies, or is this considered a summary of it?

Admiral John Kirby (17:24):

There’s a lot there. This is the result of months and months of work by individual agencies who were participating in the withdrawal to voluntarily review that withdrawal, which they did, and they worked through that. These documents are classified, and we felt it was the responsible thing to do, after those reviews were done, to then run a process across the administration to take a look at those reviews ourselves across the Interagency, work our way through it, and then provide them to the relevant committees and leaders on the hill, which we did today. We think that was the responsible thing to do.

(18:10)
And what you’re seeing today is the result and the culmination of an awful lot of work, Ed. No effort here to try to obfuscate or try to bury something. It’s an effort to try to be as open, as transparent as we can be. And what you’ve got in that document there is a pretty fair summary of our perspectives of the work over those many months, and pulling, and collating a lot of those lessons learned together. And we’re trying to present certainly the key lessons learned, the ones that we’re able to share more openly and more publicly with you. And I’ll tell you this. I’ll stay here as long as you want, but you got questions after the briefing today, you know how to get ahold of me, we’ll answer whatever you have.

Ed (18:54):

I got two specific ones about what’s in this document after a speed-read here. On page eight, the President received and accepted the unanimous advice of his top national security official to end the evacuation on August 31st. What is the definition of a top national security official? Because we know, for example, that General McKenzie, who was then head of CENTCOM, has said he objected to aspects of this. So what’s the definition of a top national security official?

Admiral John Kirby (19:18):

I am loath to get into the individual advice that individual members of the President’s team give him. That would not be appropriate for me. But I can tell you, having lived through this as well at the Pentagon, that the President specifically asked his team, “Should we extend past the 31st?” He specifically asked them to go back, and look, and see what that would look like because we had secured this additional time from the Taliban to the 31st of August, and the team did that. The team did that, Ed, not just at the highest levels of the Pentagon, from the Secretary, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to General McKenzie, but even the operational commanders on the ground, and there were numerous flag and general officers on the ground at the airport. All of them took a fair look at the President’s request and came back to him-

Ed (20:09):

But are they all top national security-

Admiral John Kirby (20:11):

… and said that it would not be advisable given the high threat environment. Remember what also happened on the 26th, that attack at Abbey Gate, and then we had a very high temp between the 26th and the 30th in which of course there was a kinetic strike taken in downtown Kabul. There was high temp, and so the advice of his senior national security team, all the way up to the senior levels of the Pentagon, advised him that the 31st was the appropriate date to end that evacuation.

Ed (20:40):

There’s four pages here of blame on the previous administration, or this White House’s explanation of what the last White House did regarding Afghanistan. Nowhere in here does there appear to be any expression of accountability or mistake by either the President himself, or others. Is there any for what happened?

Admiral John Kirby (21:00):

I would argue that the very fact that we voluntarily, the agencies voluntarily decided to go conduct after-action reviews… Nobody told them to do that. That wasn’t legislated by Congress. They did that on their own. And the fact that they did that, and that we are now placing it on the Jill for Congress to look at, the fact that we digested and distilled some of the key points of that and gave it out in a public document, the fact that I’m up here talking to you about it, I think shows you how seriously the President felt about learning lessons from this withdrawal.

(21:31)
I would also point out to you that the work isn’t over. So number one, even before you got that document, some of those lessons were applied. I talked about Ethiopia, I talked about Ukraine. And number two, it’s not like the work is all over. The President signed the legislation enabling the Afghan War Commission to be formed, and we’re going to continue to work and cooperate with that. That’s going to look at the whole 20 years. America’s longest war deserves a lengthy review and lengthy study, and the President’s committed to that.

Speaker 1 (22:05):

[inaudible 00:22:07].

Speaker 2 (22:06):

Thank you. In reading this, you seem to be conceding that evacuation should have happened sooner and faster, saying, “We now prioritize earlier evacuations,” noting that today you would message evacuations more aggressively. I understand you’ve made clear the President does not have any regrets about his decision to withdraw, but in hindsight, in reading this, does the President have any regrets about how this withdrawal was carried out?

Admiral John Kirby (22:28):

The President’s very proud of the manner in which the men and women of the military, the foreign service, the intelligence community, and on and on and on, conducted this withdrawal. But look, I’ve been around operations my entire life, and there’s not a single one that ever goes perfectly according to plan. Things happen, sometimes enemies get a vote, and you always want to learn from that. And one of the things that we learned, and I’ve talked about it here in my opening

Admiral John Kirby (23:00):

Statement as well, is that balance of striking when do you pull out when a government is under threat, particularly a friendly government, and do so in a way that doesn’t undermine the very government you’re trying to support. That’s a tough balance to strike. And it’s different in every single case. And as I said, we learned from Afghanistan and we applied that lesson in Ukraine and Ethiopia, that being aggressive in the information space and being willing to move a little sooner may be the best thing.

Speaker 2 (23:32):

But, does he wish he had done things differently?

Admiral John Kirby (23:35):

I think everything is laid out here in this document about the main takeaways, the main lessons that we learned. And again, the President’s enormously proud of the men and women who conducted this withdrawal.

Speaker 2 (23:46):

And just one last thing. On the last page here you note that the speed and ease with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan suggests that there was no scenario except a permanent and significantly expanded US military presence that would’ve changed the trajectory. I wonder what is your message to the veterans, to the families of the fallen who may read that and wonder what was the point?

Admiral John Kirby (24:06):

The President said many times that the mission that we originally were sent in to Afghanistan for was accomplished a long, long time ago. Remember, they were ordered in under President Bush to avenge the 9/11 attacks and to go specifically after Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda and decimating and degrading Al-Qaeda’s capability in Afghanistan was a mission that we accomplished a long, long time ago. And over time, the President has talked about this, the mission in Afghanistan morphed into something it wasn’t intended to originally be. Just because the mission changed over time under previous administrations and leadership and scenarios doesn’t mean that anybody who served in Afghanistan doesn’t have something to be proud of… Sorry, doesn’t have service to this country that they can take with them the rest of their lives and feel honorable about it. They didn’t make those decisions. They signed up, they raised their right hand, all volunteers at a time of war to say, “Yeah, put me in. I’m going to go fight.” And some of them didn’t make it back and everybody that made it back made it back a little bit different than when they left. And the President and the First Lady understand that and respect that, and they should know that they’ll always have the commitment of the Commander in Chief and the respect of the country for doing that.

Karine (25:29):

Mandy and then [inaudible 00:25:31] We’re going to get around everybody [inaudible 00:25:33]-

Manita (25:33):

Thanks Karine. The report says the Trump administration’s four years of neglect, including deliberate degradation left Afghanistan operations and despair. Could you be specific about deliberate degradation? What are you specifically referring to?

Admiral John Kirby (25:48):

There are many aspects if you look at the Doha Agreement and what led up into that. When President Trump took office, there was more than 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, he took it down to 2,500. He negotiated the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners that were being held by the Ghani government without consultation with the Ghani government. He negotiated the Doha agreement with the Taliban without the Ghani government in the room. And he all but froze the special immigrant visa program, which had been providing opportunities for some of our Afghan allies to get out of the country and to come back. So it was a general sense of degradation and neglect there that the President inherited.

(26:52)
And do not underestimate the effect that Doha Agreement had on the morale and the willingness to fight on the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces. It had a very corrosive effect on their willingness to continue to fight for their country. Now we didn’t see that. We didn’t see that. And part of the reason we didn’t see that is because we couldn’t see the plans that the previous administration allegedly worked on during the transition. As I said in my opening statement, none of those plans were forthcoming.

Manita (27:27):

So would you say that the points that you just listed especially were the ones that made this transition?

Admiral John Kirby (27:32):

Those were some of the key ones.

Manita (27:33):

Okay. And a quick follow up on what the report says about the administration not broadcasting loudly about any potential worst case scenarios out of concern it would signal lack of confidence in the Afghan government’s position. We obviously ended up seeing Ghani flee the country. And so was that a well-thought-out decision?

Admiral John Kirby (27:54):

What was a well-thought-out decision? His decision to flee?

Manita (27:58):

Not broadcasting loudly any concerns about the lack of confidence in the Afghan government?

Admiral John Kirby (28:04):

Yeah, I think as I said, it is a different balance to strike and we were having internal conversations. In fact, we had conversations with the Ghani government about our concerns over what was happening in the countryside throughout Afghanistan there in early August. And where we came down on was not calling for an evacuation sooner because we didn’t want the Ghani government to collapse. And we had every assurance made by President Ghani that he wasn’t going anywhere, that he was still in charge, that he still had a viable administration. And so when do you make that call? And it’s difficult, it’s tough to do it in the moment, and nobody can predict the future.

(28:50)
Again, as I said, we learned from that experience and we applied a more aggressive approach, if you will, in Ethiopia and in Ukraine. But every instance is different. Every capital that’s under threat is under a different kind of threat and you have to evaluate it.

Karine (29:09):

Phil in the back, I promise I’ll come back [inaudible 00:29:10]

Speaker 3 (29:09):

Thank you. That summer before the withdrawal, there was a dissent, the channel cable that was written by a 23 State Department officials there at the Kabul embassy warning that the administration, in their view, was not prepared at that moment for the withdrawal. I’m curious, did this review take that dissent cable into account?

Admiral John Kirby (29:30):

You’ll have to talk to the State Department. The State Department conducted an after action review, and so does DOD, and that’s a question better put to them.

Speaker 3 (29:40):

Then one specifically then for the President and this administration, I’m curious if there was a moment during the Afghanistan withdrawal that the President lost confidence in the assessments that were given to him by the intelligence community and lost confidence in the intelligence community itself, given that they failed to foresee how quickly the Taliban would advance and Kabul would fall?

Admiral John Kirby (30:02):

The President knows how hard people work across the administration to try to give him the best information that they can, but it didn’t stop him from asking. Throughout the entire withdrawal he was constantly pulsing the national security team about this or that assessment and constantly challenging the thinking, constantly looking for ways to better understand what was going on the ground. Some of the assessments that was produced, as I put in my opening statement, proved out to be not correct. Again, this was an honest effort by everybody to try to get at the right outcome.

Speaker 3 (30:41):

No one doubts that they weren’t working hard, but their assessment was flawed and they failed in that assessment. Has anyone held accountable for giving the President a wrong view of how things are turning out on the ground?

Admiral John Kirby (30:52):

I don’t know how much intelligence you read or you get to look at every day, but let me tell you something, it’s a mosaic. It’s really hard. And I’ve yet to see an intelligence assessment that ever was 110% certain about something. They get paid to do the best they can, weaving in multiple sources of information, sometimes in real time, without even a lot of time to process and do. And they do the best they can do. They always get it right, they’ll be the first ones if they were up here to tell you they don’t always get it right. And clearly we didn’t get things right here with Afghanistan. How fast the Taliban were moving across the country, I don’t think we fully anticipated the degree to which they were constructing these deals in the hinterlands that kind of fell like dominoes. We didn’t anticipate how fast the Afghan national security forces were going to fold, were not going to fight for their country particularly after we had, as I said, dedicated 20 years trained and equipped them. I don’t think we fully appreciated the degree of corruption that was in the officer ranks in the military. I could go on and on and on, but it doesn’t mean that people weren’t trying and doing their best effort to understand that. But intelligence, getting it right every single time, man, that’s a tough hill to climb, doesn’t mean that they don’t try.

Kristen (32:10):

Karine, thank you. And John, thank you for being here. It seems like page after page, this places the blame on the previous administration starting with page one. President Biden’s choices for how to execute and withdraw from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor. Let me just follow up with you on something that Ed was asking, which is does the President take responsibility for the withdraw and everything that happened thereafter?

Admiral John Kirby (32:37):

He’s the commander in chief, and he absolutely has responsibility for the operations that our men and women conduct and the orders that he gives and he continues to believe that the order to withdraw from Afghanistan was the right one. And if you just look, Kristen, at what’s happened since we pulled out of Afghanistan and see what the United States military has been better able to do on behalf of the American people, I think there’s only one conclusion you can come to and that it was the right decision.

Kristen (33:07):

And as you list the things that-

Admiral John Kirby (33:09):

But, wait before I answer. You need to remember and I get the question about the previous administration. You got to look at when he came into office what he was walking into. He didn’t negotiate with the Taliban, he didn’t invite the Taliban to Camp David, he didn’t release 5,000 prisoners, he didn’t reduce force levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 and he didn’t have an arrangement with the Taliban that they weren’t attack our troops. He came in with a set of circumstances he had no ability to change, he had to deal with it based on what he inherited.

Kristen (33:39):

And then he had eight months to plan. Did he not?

Admiral John Kirby (33:42):

He had to take eight months to plan because whatever plans there might have been done by the previous administration we didn’t see and it was not apparent that there was a lot of planning done. So yes, he took some time to work through that. I don’t think he could be blamed for that. In fact, he enabled and was able to secure from the Taliban extra time on the clock because by May 1st you might remember they were going to come in guns of blazing… Hang on a second, I’ll get to you. They were going to come in guns of blazing on May 1st. He got us till the end of August so that we could do that, I mentioned that in my opening statement, proper planning. Proper planning that accounted for high risk scenarios and probabilities that we hadn’t thought of before so that he could get military forces pre-positioned in the region so that if we had to go in and conduct an evacuation, they could do that. And you know how fast they got there, 48 hours when we ordered a NEO, a non-combatant evacuation, because he put them there and he had to have time to do that.

Kristen (34:45):

What mistakes does the President know he made?

Admiral John Kirby (34:47):

I’m not going to speak for the President on that score. What I can tell you is that, again, we’ve done a good faith effort here to work through the lessons learned of this withdrawal and we’ve already started to apply those lessons. The President ran a very inclusive, very rigorous, very flexible process that was responsive, as I said, to the views of operational commanders on the ground. He repeatedly asked for and received assessments almost every day about what was going on and acted in accordance with the best judgment of his advisors, particularly military advisors, as things were unfolding.

Kristen (35:33):

John, just finally, given the enormity of this report, given the American lives that were lost, why are we not hearing directly from the President?

Admiral John Kirby (35:41):

We are putting this forth for you and for Congress today, and I think you’ve heard from the President, he has talked many times-

Kristen (35:48):

But not of this report-

Admiral John Kirby (35:49):

He has talked many times about his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, his belief that it was the right decision. He has talked publicly about the withdrawal before and about the courage and sacrifice and the professionalism. He and the First Lady have been very open and honest and transparent about the sorrow that they feel for those that lost their lives.

Karine (36:12):

Peter and then [inaudible 00:36:14] in the back.

Peter (36:13):

Thanks. John, who’s going to get fired over this?

Admiral John Kirby (36:20):

Peter, the purpose of the document that we’re putting out today is to sort of collate the chief reviews and findings of a agencies that did after action reviews. The purpose of it is not accountability. The purpose of it is to study lessons learned-

Peter (36:45):

Military leaders were giving advice, doesn’t sound like it was good. You admit that the intel was bad? So how can President Biden ever trust when they come into the Oval Office with the PDB that anything in there is legit?

Admiral John Kirby (36:54):

What I said was-

Peter (36:55):

That intelligence is a mosaic. What if the mosaic, all the pieces are incorrect?

Admiral John Kirby (36:59):

What I said was intelligence is hard business and they get it right a lot too. There were some pieces here that weren’t accurate and we’re being nothing but honest with you and the American people about what those inaccuracies were and how they shaped some of the decision making that was laid before the President and the questions that he asked. This document and this effort isn’t about accountability today, it’s about understanding. And I would also add that the, as I said to Ed, the review process and over, this is the next muscle movement in what will be a long process to better understand and comprehend and adjust to what we learned and what we did in Afghanistan.

Peter (37:38):

But, it doesn’t seem like after the country has had a couple months to review this and as the government has, people don’t have an issue with the decision to order troops out of Afghanistan, it is with the way that this President ordered it done. If there were children being killed, there were people hanging off of Air Force jets that were leaving. And you’re saying that you guys are proud of the way that this mission was conducted, proud of that?

Admiral John Kirby (38:06):

Proud of the fact that we got more than 124,000 people safely out of Afghanistan? You bet. Proud of the fact that American troops were able to seize control of a defunct airport and get it operational in 48 hours? You bet. Proud of the fact that we now have about 100,000 Afghans, our former allies and partners living in this country and working towards citizenship? You bet. Does that mean that everything went perfect in that evacuation? Of course not. I’ve talked about it from a different podium. The after action reviews are now being reviewed by members of Congress, which will lay out things that could have gone better. Nobody’s saying that everything was perfect. But there was a lot that went right and a lot of Afghans are now living better lives in this country and other countries around the world because of the sacrifices in the work of so many American government officials. So yeah, there’s a lot to be proud of, Peter.

Karine (38:59):

Betsy.

Betsy (39:00):

Thank you Karine. Thanks John. Just to follow up on my colleagues questioning about the blame assigned to the previous administration. Specifically, how is the Trump administration responsible for the disorganized and chaotic process of evacuation and determining who gets to board these evacuation flights? I mean, you mentioned that there’s a review in terms of the lessons learned. Can you share some of those lessons learned just specifically in terms of who gets to board evacuation flights?

Admiral John Kirby (39:32):

I’m not going to go beyond the document that you have today or my comments today, but I’m actually glad for the question because I remember going through all that and those first few days were very, very tough. They were very hectic. Because we didn’t have a forced presence at Karzai International Airport and we were still in the process of taking those pre-positioned forces and getting them onto the field. And we got them there within 48 hours. And about 72 hours after that, that airport was basically, for all intents and purposes, American property surrounded by the Taliban and ISIS-K. So they not only had to run an airport, get the radars up and going, do air traffic control, get planes coming in and getting them loaded, have medical screening, have security vetting, have diplomatic presence on the ground to make sure that we’re putting the right people on planes, but also defend that airport from external threats. That’s pretty remarkable.

(40:33)
And so for all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it, not from my perch. At one point during the evacuation there was an aircraft taking off full of people, Americans and Afghan alike every 48 minutes and not one single mission was missed. So, I’m sorry, I just won’t buy the whole argument of chaos. It was tough in the first few hours, you would expect it to be. There was nobody at the airport and certainly no Americans. It took time to get in there.

Betsy (40:57):

Correct. Is there anything in the review that addresses the problem of who was in charge at that time? I think there was a lot of analysis that questions whether it should have been the military who’s in charge of the evacuation versus the State Department. And that is partly the problem of the confusion. And I understand your point about planes leaving full of people but there are also planes who left empty and people falling off planes-

Admiral John Kirby (41:21):

I actually don’t accept the premise of your question that there was some sort of confusion over who runs. It was a non-combatant evacuation operation once it was called and the military leads those. It’s pretty clear. Now, we needed the support of the State Department because you had to have diplomatic officers, consular officers, people trained in the vetting of individuals coming in, we needed that help for sure. There was a lot of inter-agency coordination and some of it had to be developed in the moment because we’d never done something like this before. But it was very clearly what we call a NEO, a non-combatant evacuation operation, which was led by the military.

(41:56)
Let me tell you something else. Non-combatant evacuation operations are probably some of the most difficult… Not probably. They are, some of the most difficult operations for any military to conduct.

Betsy (42:07):

Can I just follow up on the women’s rights issue, John, since you’re here. Since the withdrawal Afghan women have suffered massively under the Taliban and they have recently banned Afghan women from working as UN staff. Some believe that this is a pressure tactic by the Taliban to secure a seat at the UN, Afghanistan’s seat at the UN. Do you believe that this is a tactic that will work? Under what circumstances would the US even consider allowing the Taliban have the Afghanistan seat at the UN?

Admiral John Kirby (42:36):

Again, I think we’ve talked about this. I mean, we certainly condemn this approach by the Taliban and we’re certainly not going to be compliant with it. If the Taliban wants international legitimacy in whatever form, then they should answer up to the commitments they made in the Doha Agreement and in other agreements and in this case to be respectful of the rights of women and girls, and they haven’t. And so until they do, they’re going to be continuing to struggle to gain some sort of sense of legitimacy or assistance from the rest of the world.

Karine (43:15):

[inaudible 00:43:17]

Speaker 4 (43:17):

Karine, thank you very much. Admiral, thank you. I have two questions about this report. First question is about the intelligence angle. I think we can safely agree that any time the assets of the intelligence community are harnessed to an assessment of a life and death matter and the community gets that wrong and death ensues, that qualifies as an intelligence failure.

(43:40)
First question here is whether since you have acknowledged essentially, without calling it as such an intelligence failure in this case, do we know why the intelligence communities got it wrong? What was it cultural? Was it specific? Was it analytical? What was the problem with the intelligence community here?

Admiral John Kirby (43:59):

The intelligence community also conducted after action reviews, and I’d let them speak to that. I’m not going to do that from here.

Speaker 4 (44:06):

Second question, we in this room hear you saying, and the American people hear you saying, that President Biden inherited bad policies from President Trump.

Admiral John Kirby (44:18):

No. Bad outcomes, bad conditions on the ground, that’s what I said.

Speaker 4 (44:23):

Well you said he reduced the force to 2,500, you’re characterizing that as a bad policy. Yes?

Admiral John Kirby (44:27):

I’m characterizing that as a fact.

Speaker 4 (44:30):

Okay. What we hear you saying, let me finish my question please, and what the American people hear you saying, is President Biden inherited flawed policies from his predecessor. President Biden was deprived of the requisite transition papers he should have received from his predecessor. And President Biden was deprived of accurate information from President Ghani about his intentions. And President Biden was deprived of accurate assessments from the intelligence community. The depiction of the Commander in Chief that you present, or this Commander in Chief is of a figure almost helpless and shaped and buffeted by individuals and forces and entities that are beyond his control when he had every option to increase the troop size there during his eight months in office, he had every option to intensify attacks on the 5,000 Taliban fighters and so on. I just don’t understand why you’re willing to depict your boss, the Commander in Chief, is so helpless in this instance.

Admiral John Kirby (45:26):

The President was anything but helpless. He drove a very, as I said, deliberate and inclusive decision making process. He was able to secure some extra time for us to be able to conduct a withdrawal and do so effectively. He repeatedly, as I said in my opening statement throughout the entire withdrawal post, his national security team and senior military leaders about the conditions on the ground, asking tough questions and getting answers and getting responses.

Admiral John Kirby (46:00):

… and he acted on the best military judgment and the best assessments from the intelligence community as he could as he made these decisions going forward. And some of those assessments turned out to be wrong, but it wasn’t for a lack of alacrity and energy and interest by the president in pulsing and questioning and analyzing all the way through.

(46:24)
And this was difficult. As I said at the very end of my opening statement, ending a war, any war, is not an easy endeavor, certainly not after 20 years. And the president said himself, there was no way in that process that it was going to be low grade, low cost, low risk.

(46:42)
There was going to be risks. There were going to be costs. He knew that, the team knew that. And everybody tried the best they could to develop the best answers, the best responses, the best assessments that they could. The president relied on that judgment, but he kept challenging it all the way through. He kept challenging it. He kept asking questions.

James (47:00):

Given the conditions, your position is everything went about as well as it possibly could have.

Admiral John Kirby (47:06):

It’s not my position, James. I would encourage you to take some time and look through the document and you’ll see that some of the key lessons learned that we took away are that you’ve got to really work hard at planning. You got to really work hard at interagency coordination. You got to be willing to revisit the idea of communications, crisis communications with respect to evacuations, and maybe be willing to move sooner than what some of your instincts might be. There’s a lot in there. So I encourage you to take a look at that.

Karine Jean-Pierre (47:39):

Go ahead, Seung Min.

Seung Min (47:42):

Question: Why did the administration choose not to make this an independent review?

Admiral John Kirby (47:45):

These were independent reviews. The after-action-

Seung Min (47:47):

[inaudible 00:47:49].

Admiral John Kirby (47:48):

No, no, no. The after-action reviews that were done by the Defense Department and at the State Department, they’re the two prime ones that we’re talking about here, they were done completely independently. You’ll see that.

Seung Min (48:01):

Well, they’re still fundamentally his cabinet agency, his cabinet leaders conducting the agency – or conducting the reviews of his actions. Why not an outside commission, outside independent person to review what the administration did?

Admiral John Kirby (48:14):

Each of these agencies voluntarily conducted these reviews. The president didn’t dictate to them how they were going to conduct those reviews. They each did it independently in a different way, but both state and state, State and DOD, sorry, did their reviews using independent entities.

(48:35)
And then that was pushed up to back inside the lifelines at the State Department and the Defense Department. Both Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin had a chance to digest it, look at them, review them, analyze those reviews. And then of course, once we did that, those reviews entered an interagency process where they were looked at in conjunction here at the National Security Council and across the interagency, by multiple agencies, to take a look at the work that the State Department and the Defense Department did and fashion together some even broader lessons learned, some of which we shared in that document that we gave you.

Seung Min (49:13):

And I know you were asked earlier about releasing more beyond the 12-page report, and you talked about information just being very highly classified, but the president can obviously declassify anything that he wants. So would he do so in the interest of transparency, in the interest of the public, knowing more about what happened with the withdrawal beyond the 12-page perspective of the NSC?

Admiral John Kirby (49:33):

So, again, a couple of things to remember that this is an on ongoing process here. We also look forward to cooperating with the Afghan War Commission, which will take a look at the 20 years of war. These documents are sensitive and classified.

(49:47)
We are taking an extraordinary step here to share them with members of Congress, the relevant committees and leaders. Usually with after-actions, there’s no requirement to do that. You don’t have to do that. But the president has taken that extraordinary step to share these classified AARs, these after-action reviews with members of Congress. And we believe that the real value in them lies in the fact that we can be sensitive to the information in them. And so that’s why that’s doing it this way.

Karine Jean-Pierre (50:18):

Go ahead, Katie.

Katie (50:19):

Thanks. You had said earlier this was about understanding and not accountability. I just don’t – how is this process and document not about accountability? You assigned so much accountability to the Trump administration and very little comparatively to your own.

Admiral John Kirby (50:33):

After-action reviews are done, it’s a very common practice. They are not investigations. They’re not criminal proceedings. They are-

Katie (50:45):

No one is saying they’re criminal proceedings, but-

Admiral John Kirby (50:47):

They studying the conduct and the execution of operations or policy. And in this case, both State and DOD have now conducted these in a classified way. The idea is to learn from them, to apply those lessons learned as needed. And as I’ve said, we didn’t wait for these reviews to be complete before we started using some of the lessons in Ethiopia, in Ukraine. That’s the purpose here.

(51:13)
The work is about understanding what happened, what went well, what could have gone better, and then learning from that so that we don’t make some of those same mistakes in the future. That’s what it is. It’s not hunting for heads.

Katie (51:29):

Well, just a second one, if I could. You said the president – earlier, somebody asked that the president takes responsibility for this withdrawal and what happened after. You answered and said he has responsibility. Does he take responsibility and have you heard him say that?

Admiral John Kirby (51:46):

The president is the commander-in-chief and just by dint being the commander-in-chief, he assumes responsibility for the orders. He gives the men and women who execute those operations, and in this case it’s not just the military and he stands by that.

Karine Jean-Pierre (52:03):

Way in the back.

Betsy (52:05):

Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. Since the withdrawal, China has increased its economic ties with Taliban – first, signing oil deal in January and now eyeing mineral contracts. Is the White House concerned about these growing economic ties between China and Taliban? And can you share some comments about our economic [inaudible 00:52:26]?

Admiral John Kirby (52:27):

Look, our view, every country’s got to take their own view here of how they’re going to relate to the Taliban. We don’t recognize them as an official government in Afghanistan. And as I’ve said before, if they want to be so recognized – at least by the United States – if they want to be seen as legitimate, then they need to own up to the promises they made about how they were going to govern that country and how they were going to treat their own people, including women and girls.

Karine Jean-Pierre (52:58):

Go ahead, Steven.

Speaker 5 (52:58):

Follow?

Karine Jean-Pierre (53:04):

Go ahead, Steven.

Steven (53:04):

Yeah, thanks, John. Just sort of distilling some of the questions you’ve been asked about accountability. I appreciate the fact that lessons have been learned and I assume that the president still has full confidence in his national security team that gave him the advice, which is pointed out in the summary. Why should the American people have confidence in all of those national security advisors, given what this report lays out?

Admiral John Kirby (53:21):

The president does have trust and confidence in his national security team, and he did ask a lot of questions. And there was some assessments passed to him that proved faulty, that proved to be wrong, that proved to not shake out the way he had been given to understand that they would.

(53:43)
But in the aggregate, as he looks across all the work that the National Security team continues to do – before and since the withdrawal from Afghanistan – he continues to conclude that this is an extraordinarily talented group of leaders. And, as I said in my opening statement, as painful at times as the withdrawal was, it wasn’t without its moments of courage and poise and it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth doing, ending that war in Afghanistan.

(54:23)
Because if you just take a look at what we’ve been able to do for Ukraine and how we’ve been able to really step up in the competition against China and deal with some of the tensions in the Indo-Pacific, it’s difficult to say that we would’ve been able to do all that we did over the last year or so if we were still dragged down on the ground in Afghanistan. In fact, Putin and Xi probably would like nothing better than for us to still be bogged down in a ground war in Afghanistan.

Steven (54:54):

Can I just –

Karine Jean-Pierre (54:55):

Go ahead, Andrew.

Steven (54:55):

Sorry, if I could just follow up. Kristen asked a question earlier. This report, this summary of your perspectives came out as the president was on his way to the Camp David retreat for the Easter weekend. When should we anticipate an opportunity for the president to stand for our questions about the findings in this document?

Admiral John Kirby (55:12):

I don’t have anything on his schedule to speak to.

Karine Jean-Pierre (55:13):

Go ahead, Andrew.

Andrew (55:13):

Thank you, John. I have two questions. One will be on a different topic. I’ll start with that one. The president’s leaving for Northern Ireland fairly soon. Are there any plans for him to meet with representatives of Sinn Fein and the DUP to try and resolve the impasse that’s kept a functioning devolved government from being in place?

Admiral John Kirby (55:37):

Yeah, I tell you, we’re going to have, as Karine said at the top, we’ll have more to talk about in terms of the specific agenda items on Monday before we leave.

Andrew (55:46):

Okay. And on Afghanistan, this document says there was no such plans for withdrawal in place when President Biden came into office. No plans were shared during the transition. Were there any attempts to speak with former Trump officials about whether there were plans?

(56:04)
And does the lack of plans in place indicate that they deliberately sabotaged the incoming administration by not continuing to plan, dropping plans that were in place or they might have been working on? Or is there a possibility that they didn’t intend on following through with the agreement that the former president made to be out by May?

Admiral John Kirby (56:29):

I can’t speak for leaders in the previous administration and I certainly can’t speak for whatever plans they did or did not draw up. I can tell you with confidence that the transition team of the incoming administration asked repeatedly to see plans for withdrawal – for retrograde, as we say it in the military – for the special immigrant visa program, for the turnover of equipment and bases to the Afghan National Security Defense Forces. And as I said in my opening statement, none were forthcoming. It wasn’t for lack of trying, they weren’t sharing.

(57:08)
And so one of the reasons why, to Kristen’s earlier question about the length of time that it took to conduct a review was because we were almost starting from scratch. There was no visibility into what they had done. In fact, we spent quite a bit of time after coming into office, and I remember this quite clearly, trying to get our hands around the Doha Agreement and really understanding all its articles and what it meant and how it was being interpreted by the Taliban. There just wasn’t any of that fingertip feel or or granular awareness that we had.

Andrew (57:37):

Can the administration –

Karine Jean-Pierre (57:37):

Go ahead –

Andrew (57:38):

… the sitting administration can access documents from the prior administration. Was there any attempt to find out if they even started to plan? Was there ever a plan?

Admiral John Kirby (57:50):

There were multiple attempts to try to gain insight into what the previous – bless you – what the previous team had been doing. And as I said earlier, and as is indicated in that document, none of those plans were forthcoming.

Karine Jean-Pierre (58:05):

All right. It’s been about an hour, guys. We’re going to try to take a couple more. Go ahead, Janne.

Janne (58:09):

Thank you. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. I have a two questions on South Korea and China. At the summit meeting between President Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol this month, what agenda are you going to be discuss this meeting?

Admiral John Kirby (58:30):

You’re way ahead of me today, Janne. I don’t have any agenda items to talk about today, but certainly, in due course, we will.

Karine Jean-Pierre (58:39):

Go ahead.

Janne (58:39):

I have a follow-up. The China – please. The US integrated country’s strategy includes a new policy towards China. What tools can the United States use for China to have deterrent North Korea’s missile and nuclear provocation?

Admiral John Kirby (59:02):

We know that China has influence in Pyongyang and we have long urged them to use that influence to get Mr. Kim to do the right thing and to be willing to sit down with us, as we have said we are, without pre-conditions, to diplomatically try to deal with a de-nuclearization of the peninsula.

Karine Jean-Pierre (59:22):

Go ahead.

Speaker 6 (59:22):

Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John for spending a lot of time answering our questions. I have a question. What message do you have for the people around the world who don’t look which administration made mistakes or failed, but lost some confidence in the United States ability to deal with such difficult situations as in Afghanistan?

Admiral John Kirby (59:49):

I would encourage them to look at what we have been able to achieve in the two plus years of this administration across the board. And as I said, even in Afghanistan. Because ending that war was the right thing to do for this country and our national security interests.

(01:00:05)
We are on a stronger strategic footing. We are better able to deal with the most pressing challenges of the day, which are not quite, by the way, emanating out of Afghanistan – certainly not anymore – because we are no longer in Afghanistan.

(01:00:19)
And take a look at the incredible leadership of the United States in support for Ukraine. Take a look at the NATO alliance, which now just got a new member. Take a look at the strengthening of alliances and partnerships in the Indo- Pacific, the new AUKUS deal with Australia and the UK, and the ability for Australians now to get a nuclear power submarine.

(01:00:36)
I could go on and on and on. The president has prioritized alliances and partnerships, many of whom were left in the wake of the previous administration and denigrated. We’re revitalizing them, we’re bringing them back, we’re reinforcing them. And America’s footing on the global stage is a lot stronger now.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:00:55):

Ed and then S.V.

Ed (01:00:56):

Thank you. Thank you, Karine. Thank you, John. So, one on this and one on China, if I could. In looking through this, it doesn’t seem to address the $7 billion in military hardware and technology that was left in Afghanistan for the Taliban. The president took office in January, the withdrawal happened in August. Does the president take responsibility for leaving all or some of that?

Admiral John Kirby (01:01:16):

You know who was responsible for that equipment? The Afghans. Because you know why? It was their equipment. First of all, I don’t believe the number’s accurate, but let’s put the number aside, the 7 million or $7 billion.

(01:01:29)
There was very little, and I mean very little, US owned equipment or US operated equipment that we left when we left Afghanistan. I’m talking like some forklifts at the airport and some ladder vehicles, some firetruck that we were using at the airport. And the helicopters that we left there, all disabled so the Taliban couldn’t get them flying again. Whatever ground vehicles, like MRAPS or Humvees, they were all disabled at the airport.

(01:01:59)
Everything else outside of that airport – the stuff that’s at Bagram or you pick the base in Afghanistan – was all turned over in according with a very elaborate, deliberate, retrograde plan that the US military put in place to turn over all that stuff to the Afghan military. And the Afghan military, as I said in my opening statement, decided they weren’t going to fight for their country, that they were just going to leave it behind.

(01:02:25)
So it is the Afghans who were responsible for the turnover of all that equipment.

Ed (01:02:30):

And on China quickly. So you can run down the list of how China’s helping Russia. Russia became China’s largest importer of oil at the beginning of this year. China’s moved its credit card in to help Russia transactions. China’s made a deal now with Saudi Arabia for oil transactions. They’re making a deal, they’re working with Brazil to move off the US dollar. At what point does the president stand up and more loudly tell China to A, cut it out or B, counter some of China’s anti-US actions?

Admiral John Kirby (01:03:00):

We know we’re in a strategic competition with China. And we have made it clear to Chinese officials that we don’t think this is a time for anybody to be supporting, in one of the cases you had, Mr. Putin’s ability to profit off of oil on the market so that he can continue to kill more Ukrainians.

(01:03:16)
One of the reasons why the president sat down with President Xi in Bali was to deliver some of those messages. We believe it is a competition. And we believe the United States is well poised to win that competition. We don’t seek conflict with China, but we are not at all unabashed – or we are unabashed and unafraid – to make it clear to the Chinese that we’re going to do what we have to do to protect our national security interests. And again, this is no time to be in partnership with Vladimir Putin.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:03:41):

Go ahead, S.V.

S.V. (01:03:42):

Yeah, thanks. And just wanted to clarify what Andrew was asking about. After January 20th, 2021, there was no ability to find plans for withdrawal, an orderly withdrawal, is that what I’m inferring what you said about the previous administration’s plans?

Admiral John Kirby (01:03:59):

Once you come in, you do the best you can because now you own things, you can look and see what was done and you can study it.

S.V. (01:04:07):

Was there anything done after, not talking about the transition, but after you came into office?

Admiral John Kirby (01:04:14):

Well, look, one example I can give you for sure is that one of the early trips of 2021 that Secretary Austin made was to Kabul. And he sat down there with the ISAF Commander, General Miller. And General Miller walked him through some of the retrograde plans that he had already formed up. And that acted as a basis for what we eventually executed on. But it doesn’t mean that we didn’t order or look for amendments and changes and that kind of thing. That’s one example. I can’t speak about every agency and what plans they may or may not have fallen in on.

(01:04:51)
The problem is there was no visibility on that in the transition. You have a very brief period of time between election night and inauguration, and Afghanistan was one of the chief foreign policy concerns the president had coming in. And the team desperately wanted to understand the Doha Agreement, wanted to talk to experts, wanted to talk to planners, wanted to see what had been done because the president had already made a commitment that he wanted to end that war, but he wanted to do it responsibly.

(01:05:19)
We couldn’t find out exactly what the previous administration had done on paper. And that’s difficult. So you say, “Okay, well January 20th it’s all available to you.” But he shouldn’t have had to wait until January 20th to get access to that. It would’ve been better, wouldn’t it, I think for everybody, if we could come in with deck running there right on the 20th.

S.V. (01:05:38):

On the former president is now then saying several times that number one, China is actually running background now and it was 85 billion in brand new equipment, equipment better than we actually have. Can you address that please?

Admiral John Kirby (01:05:53):

I don’t get the last claim. What?

S.V. (01:05:55):

I don’t get it either. I’m just asking you-

Admiral John Kirby (01:05:58):

I can’t address… I don’t understand it. I want to go back to the answer before. It’s important because this is getting well misunderstood out there. There was a retrograde plan working towards withdrawal where bases that we were operating out of and equipment that we had that we believe the Afghans could and should keep were turned over to them in a very thoughtful, orderly way – all the way from spring well into summer.

(01:06:27)
Once you turn it over, it’s just like what we’re doing in Ukraine. We give Ukraine artillery ammunitions, Stinger anti-air missiles, Javelin anti-tank, it’s their stuff at that point, not the Americans. It’s their stuff. That stuff belonged to the Afghans.

(01:06:43)
And so this idea, this argument is just ludicrous that we left millions of dollars of stuff in Afghanistan. We didn’t. We turned it over, as the previous administration would’ve done too, because part of their thinking was they were going to have to turn this material over. It was turned over appropriately and carefully and deliberately with the Afghan National Security Defense Forces.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:07:03):

Go ahead, Sabrina.

Sabrina (01:07:04):

Thank you. Just a couple quick questions on The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich. Do you have any insight to why the Russians are refusing to consular access, and do you have any updates on efforts by the administration-

Admiral John Kirby (01:07:14):

I wish we did. I wish we did, Sabrina. We still haven’t been able to get consular access and that’s an issue that we continually bring up through our embassy in Moscow with the Russians. I wish I had a good answer for that because it’s inexcusable. We need to get consular access to Evan.

Sabrina (01:07:30):

At what point would the administration explore a potential prisoner swap with Russia?

Admiral John Kirby (01:07:34):

I won’t get ahead of where we are. And I think you can understand why we would certainly want to talk about potential negotiations here from the podium. We’re at a very early stage here. Main goal is to get consular access to them so we can have that contact and that connectivity and doing what we can to keep his employer and the family informed. Our focus is squarely on that right now.

Speaker 7 (01:07:53):

I have two, really quickly, on Afghanistan and then Israel. When did President Biden get the after- action report? And has he read through it in its entirety?

Admiral John Kirby (01:08:02):

The president has been fully briefed on both after-action reports and he certainly has been briefed and had input on the document that you see before you today. And then on the when, I would tell you that – to Ed’s question – this is a process and he has stayed in touch with the State Department and the Defense Department as they have worked through their after- action reviews.

Speaker 7 (01:08:31):

And then are there plans to release each of the department’s reports to their respective workforces? There’s people who worked on this withdrawal who want to learn the findings.

Admiral John Kirby (01:08:39):

These are classified reports. I do not anticipate any release of them publicly or no more broad fashion. But that’s a better question put to the agencies.

Speaker 7 (01:08:49):

And then on the situation in Israel, how concerned is the White House that this could escalate into a greater situation and conflict?

Admiral John Kirby (01:08:55):

Yeah, we’re very concerned about the violence there. We see now it increased. More attacks in the last 24

Admiral John Kirby (01:09:00):

… 24 hour. We’re deeply concerned about that. We call on all sides to deescalate, reduce the violence.

Speaker 8 (01:09:06):

Thanks. In February of 2022, about the Pentagon Abbey Gate bombing gave a very detailed minute by minute account, very graphic nature of what happened. Why not do something more like that about this that was very public? Why not give more details about what had happened leading up to Afghanistan, as well as the withdrawal, as well as all the chaos that happened?

Admiral John Kirby (01:09:35):

You’re talking about an event on a single day that the military investigated and reviewed the investigation of. And yes, they made public not everything about that investigation, but as much as they possibly could. That’s different than taking a look at a withdrawal that took place over two weeks and involved multiple agencies. And, again, I remind you that these agencies voluntarily decided on their own to do these after action reviews with the president’s, of course, full support because he wanted to know as well. And the result coming back are sensitive classified documents and there’s no obligation to even share those with members of Congress, but we’re doing that.

Speaker 8 (01:10:22):

So, I mean, Jake Sullivan promised a “Hot wash,” I think is the word he used to describe what would come out of that. That certainly sounded like a very detailed accounting. And you say this is not about accountability, but how does the American people trust that the United States has learned from the mistakes that were made if they do not see those mistakes and see the administration acknowledging them, being public with them, and how they’re going to address them?

Admiral John Kirby (01:10:53):

I think that’s what I’m doing today and I think that’s the document you got in front of you. I think it’s also… Hang on a second. It’s also the fact that those after action reviews are on Capitol Hill voluntarily so that relevant committees and relevant senior members of Congress can look at them. They are sensitive and they are classified, and we also have a responsibility to the American people to protect some information so that it doesn’t get out there, so that we can continue to apply some of those lessons in future operations.

(01:11:17)
The last thing I’ll say is your question is there’s an Afghan War Commission that’s been legislated. The President signed that legislation. It will look at the whole war and that will have a very public dimension to it and this administration and every agency in it will actively and with appropriate energy participate in that.

Josh (01:11:37):

Okay. I know you said you will have more on the trip, but I had a quick question. We have to start out today that the UK is seeking to restart trade talks with the US and the Prime Minister Sunak. Does the US have any interest in restarting trade talks with the UK and will President Biden meet with the Prime Minister when he’s in Northern Ireland?

Admiral John Kirby (01:11:56):

I haven’t seen that report so I’d rather not comment on that right now. And as for the agenda, I think you just got to give us till Monday. We’ll have much more detail on the agenda, who he’s meeting with and under what context on Monday.

Josh (01:12:15):

The free trade question has been hanging in the air for quite some time-

Admiral John Kirby (01:12:15):

I understand.

Josh (01:12:15):

… with the previous premier. Has the administration’s position changed? You all seem pretty cool to the idea?

Admiral John Kirby (01:12:19):

I understand. I have nothing for you on that.

Josh (01:12:20):

Thank you.

Speaker 9 (01:12:20):

All right. Just a couple more.

Speaker 10 (01:12:23):

Two questions on Ukraine. Thank you, John. According to the Financial Times, the high ranking advisor of President Zelenskyy signaled that it might not be longer a precondition to get premier back to start negotiations. Is that a development the White House could applaud?

Admiral John Kirby (01:12:40):

First of all, I don’t know that the Zelenskyy administration has spoken to that and we certainly wouldn’t get ahead of them. What I would tell you is, and we’ve said this from the very beginning, that only President Zelenskyy can determine if and when he’s ready to negotiate and in what context and over what. We believe that nothing should be negotiated about Ukraine without Ukraine. Nothing should be done or said or moved on without President Zelenskyy’s full approval. That’s where we are.

Speaker 10 (01:13:09):

Thank you so much. One on China where tensions are showing up again, especially Taiwan with warships being destroyed, et cetera. Can you update us of what channels of communication are currently open between the administration and China? Is there a functional military channel in case of tensions arising? What’s the state of communication between China?

Admiral John Kirby (01:13:32):

Lines of communication with China remain open. We have communicated to China privately, we’ve certainly done it publicly here with y’all, that there’s no reason for them to overreact to this transit. It’s not uncommon for these transits to happen. They’re private, they’re unofficial. We would urge China not to overreact.

Speaker 9 (01:13:51):

Okay. Just two more, please.

Speaker 14 (01:13:54):

I’m sorry. Biden ended the humanitarian parole for Afghans starting in after October 1st and benefits end later this summer. What’s going to happen to them?

Admiral John Kirby (01:14:05):

I think I’d have to… Let me take that question, but I’ll also, while I do that, I’m going to refer you to the State Department. They’ll have more details on that.

Speaker 14 (01:14:12):

And then a second question. There was reporting about secret annexes to the peace agreement that contributed to the Afghan offenses in 2021. Did the Biden administration review those annexes? What did they contain?

Admiral John Kirby (01:14:32):

I’m not going to talk about what they contain, but-

Speaker 14 (01:14:34):

Will the administration release them?

Admiral John Kirby (01:14:36):

I’m not going to talk about things that are classified, but we had an opportunity after coming into office to review in more detail the Doha agreement and all the associated articles and pieces of it. And I would just go back to what I said before that I think it would be difficult to overstate the impact of that Doha agreement on the Afghan’s willingness to trust us, on their willingness to stay and fight for their country, and on the general morale of the Afghan people once the deal became publicly known. It was a clear sign that America was heading for the exits and doing so in a hurry and it had a dramatic effect on the Afghan national security forces.

Speaker 11 (01:15:29):

Okay. Thanks. Thank you. You said that this was just on the withdrawal you said that this was just one step, this report, in a better understanding, better comprehending the withdrawal and the adjustments made accordingly afterwards. Are there any additional steps that you guys are taking or is this the absolute final report?

Admiral John Kirby (01:15:48):

No, there’s an Afghan War Commission.

Speaker 11 (01:15:51):

Any additional final report aside from this that we can expect to see?

Admiral John Kirby (01:15:56):

These are the after action reports of the agencies that were most heavily involved in the withdrawal. I know of no additional after action reviews that are being done or planned to being done. Again, they were fed into a larger administration process that the National Security Council worked to sort of coalesce these lessons learned. And the result of that extra work by the inter-agency is what you see before you today.

Speaker 11 (01:16:23):

And if I could ask just one more on a separate matter. State Department Secretary Blinken said that he had no doubt that Evan Gershkovich was wrongfully detained. Related to that, Marc Fogel’s sister told NewsHour last night that her family is angered by what they consider “Favoritism by the administration.” Fogel’s sister told us that the family has not heard from President Biden or Secretary Blinken. So when will Fogel be designated as wrongfully detained and are there any ongoing conversations with that?

Admiral John Kirby (01:16:52):

I can’t speak to that from here. The State Department would have to deal with that. They’re the ones that make determinations about wrongful detention. I would remind that each determination is done on an individual case by case basis.

Speaker 9 (01:17:04):

Right. We’ve got to wrap this up with you and then you have the last question.

Speaker 12 (01:17:08):

Thank you. About the document, just to clarify. It says, and I quote, “National Security leaders met on August 9 and concluded conditions on the ground did not support triggering the evacuation operation.” Then it says that, “On August 14th, President Biden formally initiated this operation.” Can you explain to us what happened between those two dates and between those two assessments?

Admiral John Kirby (01:17:34):

Many things happened in that five days. I don’t have all my notes in front of me from then, but we continued to see, particularly over that week, the Taliban achieving more and more success in the hinterland, particularly out west and to the north, taking over district by district, province by province. And so there was this sort of rolling momentum that they had and the danger to Kabul got more acute over the course of that four or five days.

(01:18:08)
And again, as I said earlier, first of all, non-combatant evacuations are some of the most difficult operations and choosing when you’re going to go there and a state department gets to call that, but the military executes and leads it. And finding that exact moment to do it, it can be difficult, particularly when you’re dealing with a government who obviously we wanted to see succeed, wanted to see stay in power. And so you’ve got to be careful about when you go ahead and call for a [inaudible 01:18:41] so that you’re not undermining the very outcome you’re trying to keep in persistence.

Speaker 12 (01:18:46):

About China, if I may. Recently, in a congressional hearing in the House, in the First Committee, a congresswoman from Florida said that, “Countries in Latin America, such as Venezuela and Bolivia are allowing China to gain a foothold in the region.” So how would you characterize this Chinese presence in Latin America and how big is it security challenge for the United States?

Admiral John Kirby (01:19:08):

Just in general, we see the Chinese continue to try to gain influence in Latin America, but also in Africa and they do this in a pretty ham-fisted way with high interest loans that some countries then end up not being able to pay back and then suffer the consequences to their own economic growth and development for that. We are not asking countries to choose between the United States and China or the West and China, but we do think it’s important for them to understand that in accepting Chinese help that they are potentially putting their own economic livelihoods at greater risk.

Speaker 9 (01:19:43):

Last question.

Speaker 13 (01:19:43):

Yeah. John, the attack on the [inaudible 01:19:47] and this is a holy time for all Abrahamic faiths right now. You say you’re concerned. Is that it? I mean, some of these people were worshiping and some of them were even sleeping when they were attacked. Isn’t this time to condemn?

Admiral John Kirby (01:20:04):

We have-

Seung Min (01:20:05):

What are your concerns just now?

Admiral John Kirby (01:20:06):

Well, yes. I said we’re concerned, but we have in the previous few days, condemned, use that verb. We have condemned that violence. Of course, we have. And you’re right, people should be able to worship freely and safely and we still stand by the status quo on the Temple Mountain. That has not changed. Our policies have not changed. We urgently urge all sides to reduce this violence.

Seung Min (01:20:33):

This isn’t all sides situation. I mean, right now this was Israeli forces attacking Muslim worshipers during Ramadan.

Admiral John Kirby (01:20:40):

We urge all sides to deescalate and to reduce the violence.

Seung Min (01:20:43):

But does that mean then that this is the White House taking sides, the fact that you’re not willing to single out the Israeli forces [inaudible 01:20:51] to Muslim-

Admiral John Kirby (01:20:51):

The side we’re taking on is safety and security. The side we’re taking on is the status quo. The side that we’re taking is one of peaceful worship. That’s the side we’re taking.

(01:21:03)
Thanks everybody.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:21:06):

Thank you. All right. Thank you so much, Admiral. Over an hour. Okay. I guess if you guys still want to stick around, I’ll take a couple more questions. Or if not, we can wrap this up right here and I’ll see you guys on Monday.

Speaker 9 (01:21:21):

Okay. We can take a couple more questions.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:21:24):

All right. Okay. Fine then. Just kick us off.

Seung Min (01:21:26):

Yes, I just have one. There was a report-

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:21:29):

[inaudible 01:21:29] like “Yes, I have a question.” So we can take a couple of questions.

Seung Min (01:21:32):

Well, there’s a report in ProPublica this morning that talked about Justice Clarence Thomas taking all of these luxury trips from a Republican mega donor, appearing not to disclose those gifts as required by law. So does the White House believe that this is a violation of ethical standards that a Justice should be held to? And does the President want a more rigorous code of conduct for Supreme Court Justices?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:21:53):

I’m not going to comment from here. There are other bodies of government that should be dealing with this. I’m just not going to comment from here. All right. Go ahead, Peter.

Peter (01:22:03):

You got this Ireland trip next week.

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:22:05):

Oh, boy.

Peter (01:22:05):

So how-

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:22:07):

Dramatics.

Peter (01:22:10):

… does the Biden trip to Ireland help counter China or end the war in Ukraine?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:22:16):

So let me just say a couple of things. The President is certainly looking forward to taking this trip to Northern Ireland and also the UK. He’ll be heading out on Tuesday. We certainly will have more to share on this trip in the upcoming days, as my colleague just said, on Monday. But I also want to lay out here the important history between US and Ireland, right? When you think about the waves of Irish immigrants who help shape America’s spirit of freedom, that’s incredibly important, as well. And I think telling that story, the president going there and being able to touch on his own family story and the stories of many Americans here, Irish Americans here as you think about how this country was created and built and put together by immigrants, I think that’s important. I think that’s something that’s important to highlight. And of course, the president’s looking forward to that.

(01:23:12)
Kristen.

Kristen (01:23:12):

Karine, any update on the debt limit talks? Are there any plans underway? And I know we asked you this, for President Biden to meet with or speak with Speaker McCarthy?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:23:25):

Honestly, when it comes to asking me about what are the plans, I would ask the Republicans in the House. It is their constitutional duty. As we have said over and over again in the last three times in the last administration, Democrats met with and joined Republicans to get this done, to get something that is so critical to the American people, to taxpayers, to veterans, to seniors. And so that’s actually a question for House Republicans to answer.

Kristen (01:23:52):

Given that it’s so critical for you, why are you letting the clock tick down and inch closer to the [inaudible 01:23:58]?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:23:58):

I want to be very clear. I definitely disagree with the question, Kristen, here, because it is not us. It is them. The onus is on Congress to get this done. This is their responsibility, their constitutional responsibility to get this done. Republicans in the House cannot and should not be holding our nation’s debt hostage. They should not be doing that. We’ve been very, very clear. They did it three times, three times in the last administration.

Kristen (01:24:28):

Do you guarantee that the US won’t default?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:24:32):

That is for House Republicans to answer. That truly is for them to deal with this situation, that we have said, again, it is their responsibility, their constitutional responsibility. I can’t say that enough. This should be done without negotiations. This should be done without conditions. And it has been done many times before and they should just take this seriously.

(01:24:52)
[inaudible 01:24:55].

Steven (01:24:54):

I know we all have to write stories, but I just want ask you because so many people in the country have been talking about it. And this came up in yesterday’s briefing. LSU says that “The team certainly will come,” but wanted to give you an opportunity to address some of the emotions that have been aired by some of the players, in particular Angel Reese, and what she said this week is that, “If the shoe were on the other foot, if Iowa had won, the First Lady wouldn’t have said, ‘LSU come.'” Can you respond to that?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:25:17):

Look, first of all, as you know, the president put out a statement days ago saying how he and the First Lady are welcome and looking forward to celebrating LSU Tigers and the University of Connecticut, clearly, the men’s team, the Huskies. And that is something that is tradition here, continuing that tradition from here and celebrating the champions. And that is something that both of them are looking forward to.

(01:25:42)
Look, the First Lady was honored to attend the championship game. As we know, it was a historic game. 9.9 million people watched that game. It was the LSU Tigers, that win was historic. It set a record and we could not be more proud of them. Again, a great game and a wonderful moment for a women’s sports in history, something both the First Lady and, as you know, the President have talked about. They feel very passionate about that. And it was truly a remarkable and important moment. And, again, the First Lady was honored to be part of that.

(01:26:17)
And so I will say, as I’ve said yesterday, and I’ll say again, she and the president are truly looking forward to welcoming the LSU Tigers here, to celebrate them as champions, to celebrate their history, victory. And we are looking forward to welcoming them. And so I’ll just leave it there.

(01:26:38)
Go ahead, Josh.

Josh (01:26:39):

Just on the debt ceiling issue, this is a plan reportedly coming together with the Problem Solvers Caucus on some sort of strategy to raise the debt ceiling. Is the president involved in those talks at all and are you open to those sorts of plans or do you need a budget from McCarthy’s Republicans?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:26:56):

So I’ll touch on both. Look, we haven’t spoken to the Problem Solvers about that. We’ve made our position very clear. You heard me go back and forth with Kristen here. The debt ceiling and our economy should not be held hostage. We’ve been very clear about that. Republican threats of chaos and catastrophic potential outcome, that’s not going to work. That is not what they should be doing as their constitutional duty. So we’ve been very clear on that.

(01:27:21)
As far as the budget, the president put out his budget on March 9th. We have been very clear about that. If he didn’t want to have a conversation about the budget, if they want to show the American people what they value, what they think their fiscal responsibility is, we’re happy to have that conversation. We’re happy to sit down. The president would love to sit down and negotiate and talk through that. But they haven’t been able to do that. All they do is present excuses. That’s what we’ve been seeing. So the budget, we will have a negotiation on that. If they present something, they haven’t done that yet. The debt ceiling, it should be done without negotiation. It should be done without conditions.

Josh (01:27:58):

And very quickly on our favorite topic, the Fed vice chair, very interested-

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:28:00):

Bloomberg caring about the Fed and the vice chair, just surprising to me.

Josh (01:28:07):

Today is six weeks since you said it would be announcing the near future. What changed or what’s the status of it?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:28:14):

It is definitely a priority for the president. We understand how important this is clearly. And so once we have a decision that is made by the president, certainly we will be sharing that. I just don’t have anything to share at this time.

Josh (01:28:27):

Do you have any message to Senator Menendez who’s called for a Latino candidate to-

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:28:32):

I don’t have a message. We are going to follow the process that we always do when we nominate critical candidates, important candidates. We do this in a way that clearly looking at qualified, diverse candidates. But I’m just not going to get into specifics on his particular question or ask, I should say. All right, Manita.

Manita (01:28:53):

Thanks. I know you don’t want to comment on the Clarence Thomas report specifically, but broadly, do you think the Supreme Court means to impose ethics rules that no federal courts are subjected to?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:29:08):

That’s something for the Supreme Court to speak to. I’m just not going to comment on this at this time.

Manita (01:29:13):

Would you think Congress needs to act?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:29:15):

That is something for Congress to discuss. I’m just not going to comment on this at this time. All right. I’ll take one more. [inaudible 01:29:25].

Janne (01:29:25):

Hi, thank you so much. So we’ve just seen the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. We’re three months away from the NATO Leader Summit in July. President Zelenskyy and some Eastern member states would like to see Ukraine presented with a path to citizenship to NATO membership. Is the US, is President Biden opposed to that idea? And what causes the administration’s hesitation? Is it if that exists, is it a fear of provoking Russia or is it apprehension that US troops would have to deploy if Ukraine joins NATO before Russia leaves?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:30:04):

So we’ve spoken to this a couple of times. Our position is pretty clear when it comes to a NATO session. And for decades, we support an open door policy for NATO. Any decision on membership is between NATO allies and countries aspiring to join NATO. And right now we’re focused on supporting Ukraine’s efforts and we’re focusing on making sure that the Ukrainian people have what they need to fight for their freedom. And so you’ve seen us do that. You’ve seen us announce security assistance for Ukraine this past year. We have been leading in that effort. We have been also really holding NATO together, holding the west, making sure that they are aligned. And you’ve seen that throughout this year. And so we’re going to continue to make sure that they have the economic and security assistance needed to continue to fight bravely this aggression from Russia that we have seen for over a year now. But again, this is something for between NATO allies and NATO countries to decide.

Janne (01:31:07):

The US is a NATO ally and has been the leader in those efforts for Ukraine and uniting the world. They have a lot of say over whether Ukraine will be presented with this path to possible membership. What is the US’ position on that?

Karine Jean-Pierre (01:31:21):

Again, been very clear for decades. For decades, we have been pretty consistent on this. We support an open door policy for NATO and I’m just going to leave it there. It’s been like this for decades now. All right. Yeah. Okay. I’m getting the pull here. All right. I’ll see you guys on Monday. Have a great weekend and happy Easter.

Everyone (01:31:42):

Thank you, Karine.

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