REAR ADMIRAL. JOHN KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Just a couple of comments to open up.
I want to start with a quick preview of Secretary Hagel's schedule next week. On Wednesday, September 3rd, the secretary will embark on his 16th international trip, a six-day, three-country trip centered around the NATO summit in Wales. On his way to the summit, the secretary will first stop in Newport, Rhode Island, to deliver a keynote speech at the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance's Defense Innovation Days Conference.
In keeping with the conference's focus, I expect the secretary to addressing the challenges facing our military's technological edge and how the Defense Department must meet them. He touched on these issues before in his budget testimony and in his speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs this spring, but this will be an opportunity to talk in greater detail about the need for innovation and how we develop and procure new capabilities. While in Newport, the secretary will also visit the Naval War College.
In Wales, the secretary will join President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and their counterparts from NATO and its partner nations for this very important summit. As you know, the focus of the summit will be Afghanistan, the crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, and how to strengthen the alliance for the future. The secretary has participated in some four NATO defense ministerials leading up to the summit and views it as an important opportunity to address the ongoing crises in the world, but also set the direction for NATO in the coming years.
An important part of that strategy will be NATO's partnerships, and from Wales, the secretary will next travel to Georgia, one of the United States' and NATO's most important and capable partners. This will be his first visit to Georgia as secretary, but he's met with his Georgian counterpart before and also met with the Georgian prime minister earlier this year while in Munich.
The Georgian military has been a valued partner of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the secretary looks forward to thanking the Georgian people for their contributions and sacrifices over the last decade. Obviously, Georgia shares our concerns about Russia's actions in Ukraine, and that will, of course, be at the top of his agenda during that visit.
From Georgia, Secretary Hagel will next travel to Turkey for his first visit there as secretary of defense. Turkey is a key NATO ally, and given its border with Syria and Iraq, they share our deep concerns with the threat posed -- the regional threat posed by ISIL. Secretary Hagel has longstanding relationships with Turkey's leaders, including the newly inaugurated President Erdogan, and he views this visit as an important opportunity to advance our critical relationship.
With that, I'll take questions. Bob?
Q: Admiral, on Ukraine, could you sort of sketch out the picture on the ground there as best you could, in terms of what the latest movements of Russian forces, tanks and other forces, into Ukraine, what numbers, and the degree to which that represents an escalation of their involvement, and whether you consider this an invasion?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, well, there's an awful lot there, Bob. I'm not going to try to detail in great specificity what the Russian armed forces are doing. I mean, that's really for their defense ministry to speak to. I mean, it's their military, and we don't have a perfect view of everything they're doing.
That said, as I have said many times, we have continued to see them build up their capabilities along that border. We have continued to see them advance weapons systems, some very sophisticated, into eastern Ukraine, in support of the separatists. And as I've said just -- just earlier this week, that we have long believed that Russian forces, military forces have been a part of that movement, obviously, facilitating the movement and then helping the separatists use, if not using it themselves in support of separatists.
So we've seen this continue to build and build and build, and now you've seen NATO come out with some imagery recently that has shown -- not only laid bare those facts for everybody, but talked about how in the last couple of weeks that effort has intensified. As the Ukrainian armed forces have gotten more capable and been able to retake territory in eastern Ukraine -- and that is, that we believe that that has helped foster Moscow's intention to intensify these efforts.
So it's a continuation of what we've seen all along. Whatever verb you want to put on it, whatever you want to call it, it's just, again, intensification of the same behavior that we've been seeing Russia do now for several months. So our position hasn't changed. We continue to look for ways to support the Ukrainian armed forces and the border guards. We continue to look for ways to reassure our NATO allies and partners, and we continue to call for Russia to pull its forces back and to stop escalating the tension there.
Q: On that point about looking for ways to support Ukrainian forces, do you -- are you preparing any new initiatives? Are you considering training inside Ukraine with U.S. forces or anything of that nature?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of anything that's specifically inside Ukraine, Bob, but we have had a 20-year-plus relationship with the military of Ukraine, and that will continue, and we believe that it is in some measure helped with their own professionalism and organization and command and control capabilities, simply the association with us and the training opportunities that we've had. I don't have anything specific to announce today in terms of a new exercise, but we are continuing -- and I think there were press reports about yet another exercise that we're doing, I think, in Poland coming up here.
So we're -- when we talked about the fact that we were going to look for ways to make the training regime more aggressive and more -- more comprehensive in Europe, we meant what we said and we continue to do that, but, no, I don't have anything in particular to announce today.
Q: Two questions. Do you have a cost of the Iraq operation so far that you could share with us? And, secondly, regarding the options that President Obama said yesterday he had asked Secretary Hagel to develop, can you just clarify for us how those options are different than the options that were under development or were developed before following the arrival of the advisers or the assessors in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, let me get the cost one, and then I'll do the best I can with the second one. But if I don't get the nuance right, just stop me. What I can tell about the cost of ongoing activities in Iraq is that it has varied since the beginning in mid-June. But on average, it's costing about $7.5 million per day. And that's based on a snapshot of the operations that have occurred as of the 26th of this month.
So, as you might imagine, I mean, it has -- it didn't start out at $7.5 million per day. It's been -- as our OPTEMPO and as our activities have intensified, so, too, has -- so, too, has the cost. But roughly right now, it's about $7.5 million per day. That's being funded out of the overseas contingency operations fund for 2014. We're well within our limits in that regard.
And as the secretary said to you last week, we think we've got it covered in terms of '14 funding. On your other --
Q: (off-mic) -- since mid-June?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right, since -- since the operations began. Or since our activities in Iraq have begun in mid-June, that was the first War Powers Resolution finding when we put in some security assistance personnel, so since the beginning. Now, again, it didn't -- you know, when we first added some security personnel in and around Baghdad, that wasn't costing us $7.5 million. But this is the average since the very beginning. I don't have a daily figure for you, like, every day. And it changes every day.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We can add it up for you. But I mean, you know, since June 16th, been roughly $7.5 million per day. And I didn't bring my calculator up here with you, but we can figure that out for you.
Q: (off-mic) -- accurate way of -- (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know that it -- I mean, if you're looking for a total, that's probably a good way to thumbnail it, from about June 16th to today, roughly $7.5 million per day. But, again, Julian, it's not like it's been $7.5 million every single day. You know, I mean, it didn't start out that much. It's on average that's about the cost. So you've got to be careful here with the -- you know, with how you characterize the total dollar figure.
And, again, it's being supported through our overseas contingency funding. We're well within the limits that we need for 2014.
Now, you had a second question on options. I mean, you guys know this, that this is a planning organization, and the discussion of plans is an iterative process. It's not something that -- that we haven't been thinking about for quite some time.
And I would also tell you that and to remind you that the situation on the ground there continues to change. And as -- it's very fluid. And as it continues to change, so, too, do the kinds of plans that -- that Central Command planners are working on. There have been and will continue to be discussions, both here in the Pentagon, in the interagency, and across the river with the State Department and the White House, about -- about what options look like, what they could look like, but it's iterative. And when -- when we get to a point where, you know, we're ready to have a more fulsome discussion about that, the Pentagon will be ready to have that discussion.
Q: But just to clarify, so the options that he's been asked to develop are trying to combat ISIL in Iraq and Syria? Is that right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The president yesterday was speaking specifically about options for potential military action in Syria. That's what the president was referring to yesterday, and that's -- those are the plans and the options that -- that he's looking for from us and that we're working on, specifically with respect to Syria.
And it's important to remember, Missy, I mean, we've been -- we've been operating inside Iraq from a humanitarian perspective and obviously from a perspective of conducting air strikes. Nothing's changed about those missions. We continue to conduct them. CENTCOM continues to send press releases every day. We're up almost to 110 air strikes total since they -- since they began. So the discussion of operations in Iraq continues because the operations in Iraq continue.
Q: (off-mic) -- sorry, just to clarify, so -- so you guys say you always have options on the table. This was a new request from the president for something.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What the president was referring to yesterday was planning options inside Syria. Now, I'd be less than truthful if I said to you that we -- that we hadn't been thinking about that before yesterday. Of course we have been. And we've talked about that.
But two points. One, we're not at the point, you know, where we're prepared to have a more fulsome discussion about what those options are with the commander-in-chief. That's number one. And number two -- and this is not a small point -- that the commander-in-chief, Secretary Hagel, Chairman Dempsey have all said that whatever the options are for Syria, it's not just going to be military. It can't just be military. There's
not going to be a military solution here to the threat that ISIL poses. It's just not going to happen.
It's got to be a more comprehensive and regional -- and it's got to factor in other elements of national power than just military. And so while we certainly, for our part, have to work on what those options could look like, there are other parts of our government that are working, as well, on options that they might need to pursue in the future going forward.
Q: (off-mic) -- how contingent are your options on overflights of Syria, for gathering intelligence -- ISR?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Any military operation requires knowledge of the situation on the ground as the best you can get it. I mean, we always want to have as much information and as accurate information as you can possibly have. And so I think you can expect, Tony, without getting into talking about specific hypothetical or future operations, that whatever options we prepare and what -- and are prepared to conduct will be reliant upon getting and obtaining and analyzing the best information as you can on the ground.
Q: Just a point here. Back in June, when the Congress and a lot of the public was asking what the United States can do to blunt the momentum of ISIL in Iraq, Chairman Dempsey was pretty clear at the time saying we don't have a complete air picture yet, this is going to take a while. Is it fair to say your gathering of a complete air picture, a ground picture of ISIL in Syria may take several weeks before you're comfortable enough to having this fulsome discussion that you talked about?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think that I'd be prepared to put a specific timeline on it, Tony, in terms of weeks or days. I just don't think I'd be prepared to do that. And it wouldn't be prudent for me to do it.
As I said, any time you're going to conceive of or prepare for military options, anywhere in the world for any number of missions, you're going to want to get as much information as you can. And you can expect -- in fact, the taxpayers I think would expect us to want to do this thing with -- if we get asked to do anything in Syria, to do with it as much information as possible. But, again, I won't -- I wouldn't speculate about how or
when or how long.
Q: A lot of the public's going to be worried about U.S. flyers going over there and possibly getting shot down. Can this a lot of this be done from the Iraq border or the southern Turkish border, kind of peering into Syria and standoff capabilities?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, without talking about potential future operations or speculating, so what I'm about to say is not validating the premise of the question, which is that we definitely will conduct strikes inside Syria or that we are -- are or will conduct surveillance one way or the other, there are many ways in which we gain situational awareness. And some of that requires the use of air assets, and some of it doesn't. And I think I'll leave it at that.
Q: (off-mic) -- just to follow up on having accurate an information about ISIS capabilities, could you confirm if ISIS militants have now drone capabilities? We are seeing reports mentioning this issue this morning.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: If ISIL has drones of their own?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I've seen a press report here, a spurious report, but I have nothing to -- that would back that up at all.
Q: Just quick follow-up. Yesterday, President Obama said that some states in the region are ambivalent about dealing with ISIL. Some of them are financing ISIL. Could you elaborate on that? Do you have more information? Can we say now some gulf states are from one hand -- in one hand facing ISIL and the other hand are financing them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I'm not going to elaborate on that, not at all.
Q: The president said yesterday there's no strategy yet for ISIL. Talk about, going ahead, the Pentagon's role here in developing that strategy. Presumably, the secretary's going to talk about this in Turkey and NATO with the partners. So get into -- talk a little bit about the way ahead. What are the plans you're looking at? What do you hope to achieve? Talk about, you know, training moderate rebels. There's talk about having the Pentagon have a greater role in that effort. And train and assist mission in Iraq eventually presumably would be part of that kind of a strategy.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: If I tried to answer that question in every aspect that you asked it, I'd be basically -- you know, you've asked me to kind of lay it all out right here in a press conference. And I'm -- and I'm sure you guys would greatly appreciate that and would make your jobs a lot easier and mine pretty much nonexistent. (Laughter.)
I'm -- I think the way I would think about this, Tom, is that -- and the president said this pretty well yesterday, that this is really about degrading ISIL's capability to operate and to continue to conduct the sort of brutal violence that they have been doing inside Iraq and the threat that they pose to the region. So if you take it from that perspective, that that's kind of where you're going, there are many ways to do that. Not all of them are military. I can't speak for those, so let's just talk about the military ways you can do that.
Some of the military ways you can do that is the way we're doing it inside Iraq right now, which is through the use of air strikes. You can certainly hit them, and we have been. And I would, you know, at -- I would tell you we're hitting what we're aiming at inside Iraq. And we know that inside Iraq, on a tactical level, we're having an effect on their ability to operate. We're being disruptive to their own operations, to their command and control, to their ability to move around.
So you can have an effect in that way. In the Pentagon, it's called -- you know, we call it kinetics, which I know is a fancy word, but it basically means that you're having a very targeted, precise effect. And we can do that.
There are also other ways that you can -- that you can, from a military perspective, try to disrupt and degrade their ability to operate through humanitarian assistance, through advice and assist. And one of the things -- and you mentioned it -- and the secretary's committed to this is a -- is trying to move forward on a train and equip program for a moderate Syrian opposition. We've asked for $500 million in Congress. We hope to get that authorized and appropriated for fiscal year '15, which is coming up here pretty soon, so that we can move out on this.
There's a lot of hurdles that remain to be leaped, in terms of getting us there. You've got to have a moderate opposition that you can rely on. There's got to be a vetting process. You got to have at least one willing partner in the region to help sponsor some of the, you know, sites for training. I mean, there's a lot of work that we've got to do, and we're working our way through that.
But there are -- inside the military component element of national, there's lots of things we can do that don't all include air strikes. And if we've learned nothing -- and you guys have been covering this longer than I've been here in the Pentagon, 13 years of war -- if we've learned nothing over 13 years of war is you can't completely eliminate extremism anywhere through simply kinetics, through air strikes alone. And so while we must be ready for that option, and we will be, and we'll be prepared at the appropriate time to discuss those kinds of options with the commander-in-chief, that alone is not going to be the answer.
Q: (off-mic) -- train and assist mission, if there is to be one in Iraq, you've been assessing them for quite some time now. You know, most people have --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: One of the options --
Q: -- have a good sense of how degraded the Iraqi army is, so --
Q: -- some sort of a train and assist down the road? Or is that uncertain yet?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's entirely possible that the assessment teams could move to more of an advisory mission. That hasn't happened yet. But that's certainly a possibility going forward. We just haven't, you know, reached that level yet. And that decision hasn't been made yet. But that's certainly an option.
I would also tell you that, you know, we still have those two joint operation centers, one in Baghdad, one in Erbil, and they continue to support, advise and assist. So there is some advising going on through the joint operations centers. We just haven't placed teams out with units at a brigade level or higher, which was the thought. That's still very much under active consideration.
And you're right. I mean, that could be part of a stitched-together, more regional approach here. If you're doing that -- potentially doing that in Iraq, and we want to build a moderate opposition, which would require sort of a train and equip, advise and assist sort of thing to a moderate opposition, all those things are certainly military options available, and all those things are certainly being considered. But, again, I wouldn't get ahead of what actually where it's going to get necked down to.
Q: You mentioned disrupt and degrade ISIL, but not destroy? Is that the plan, is disrupt and degrade?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Those were my words. I wouldn't -- I'm not -- I don't make policy here. The president said yesterday that -- he used the word degrade ISIL's capabilities. And I think that's where I'll leave it. I'm not going to -- I'm not going to elaborate on the president's comments.
Q: You said a minute ago that the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs not ready to go back to the president with options yet, still working on them. And he said yesterday he hadn't heard back and he was waiting.
But just last week, Secretary Hagel, right there, said ISIS was a threat like nothing we've ever seen, we have to be ready for it. This building has talked about it being imminent. So clear up the confusion for the American people: Is this urgent or isn't it? And fundamentally, what is taking the Pentagon so long? Because you're always ready. If you had to strike today, would you be ready? What is taking so long?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The question presupposes that we're not doing anything as it is, Barb, and -
Q: I'm asking why -- well, why are you not ready to go to the president? Why is he saying that he is still waiting for you?
ADM. KIRBY: Well, let me try to answer that. Again, the question presumes that we're not doing anything, that there's no sense of urgency in the Pentagon. And you and I both know that's not true. We have upped our military presence in the Persian Gulf. We've intensified surveillance flights over Iraq. We have conducted nearly 110 and -- and maybe 110, but by the time I'm talking to you -- air strikes inside Iraq.
So, believe me, this building and the United States military shares the same sense of urgency over the situation in Iraq and the threat that ISIL poses. There's no -- there's no doubt or debate about that. And when the secretary talked about them being like nothing we've ever seen, some people have taken that to mean in terms of size and scale of a homeland attack. What he was referring to is that this is a group that doesn't behave like any other terrorist group we've had to deal with before.
They're not -- they're not simply killing, murdering and maiming. They're grabbing ground and infrastructure and trying to develop streams of revenue.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Now, wait, I'm getting there. I've just got to get warmed up here. The -- (Laughter.)
But -- but we all share the same sense of urgency. When the president spoke about exploring further planning options, he was referring to the potential for military options inside Syria, which we haven't done, and we are working on those kinds of options for him. We have -- we have been. So that's a --
Q: (off-mic) -- my specific question, right there, why are you not yet ready with military options for Syria? Why is the president still waiting? Why are you not ready, given everything that Secretary Hagel --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Planning is an iterative process, Barb. It's not like -- you know, the question is -- assumes this is some sort of binary thing, where, you know, we get ordered to do it and here's the binder and, boom, there you go, and it's on your -- you know, we got it turned into you on your due date.
It's an iterative process, because the situation on the ground constantly changes. It's very fluid. And we're -- you know, you do military planning in real time, especially in a situation like what's going on in Iraq and in that region, because ISIL changes over time. The threat changes other time. It's not -- it's not like we haven't worked on this. We have worked on this. We continue to work on it.
And planners down in Tampa and planners here in the Pentagon continually refine and change and update planning options for potential military activity. It is an ongoing effort. And when we are -- when we as a government -- wait -- when we as a government are ready to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion.
Q: Why should ISIS think anything other than you're just not ready? Why should ISIS take any message away from everything that's been said in Washington for the last two days from the White House to here?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Why don't you ask some of the ones that are getting hit from the sky --
Q: In Syria --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: -- about how seriously we're taking the threat?
Q: (off-mic) -- in Syria, why should ISIS think you're anything but not ready to deal with them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think that anybody who has had any knowledge of the United States military knows that we're ready, we're ready all the time. That doesn't necessarily mean that the planning process is complete or that decisions to do anything have been made, but that -- that we are ready shouldn't be in doubt by nobody, nobody, our friends, our enemies, our potential adversaries.
Q: (off-mic) -- follow -- (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Is the Pentagon on the same page as the White House in terms of the threat posed by ISIS?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. Next question?
Q: (off-mic) -- this one a little bit more. You -- so if the Pentagon has been constantly planning for this, then presumably if the president or the White House or national security staff said that they wanted plans presented today or last night at the meeting yesterday afternoon, the Pentagon would have had something ready to go. And then you said that once you're ready for this meeting or ready for this long discussion, once, you know, the administration is ready for the discussion, I mean, is there someone in the administration who's not quite ready for this discussion to happen yet about the potential plans? Who is that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This has got to be an interagency discussion, Court. It's not -- you know, you're asking me an impossible question to answer. We continue to plan and prepare. And I would tell you that the Syria component here is a relatively new one. I mean, this -- this -- the thought process of potentially going into -- you know, doing military air strikes into Syria is a relatively new one. So it's not like we've been doing that for months.
We've been watching ISIL for months. We certainly have done a bit of planning and execution inside Iraq, but the Syria component is relatively new. We continue to refine and work on options. That's our job. But that doesn't mean that, you know, that while you have planners doing it at a low level, that you're ready at a high level to sit down and examine them in great detail. And we just aren't there yet as an interagency team.
I wouldn't -- you know, I wouldn't begin to, you know, try to peg it down to an individual here. The way it works is, the commander-in-chief gets to make the decisions. He's the one who sets the policy. He's the one who determines how and when, you know, a military option is going to be pursued. Our job is to be ready to provide him options. That's what we do. We give him options and choices, because those are his decisions to make and they can be very, very difficult. We have to think it through, make sure that the pros and the cons are all there for him to make a decision, and so that when a decision is made, we're ready to execute.
Q: Can I ask about another iterative process that we haven't asked about today?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely.
Q: The assessment. Would -- did the assessments ever make it to the White House about Iraq? I think Secretary Hagel got them on July 15th, if I'm not mistaken.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, they did.
Q: When was that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd have to go back and -- I mean, I don't know if I have a date certain there, Court. But, I mean, yes, there was -- they were certainly shared with White House officials, absolutely.
Q: So what's been the outcome of that? Is that why we started to see air strikes in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Without getting into too much detail about the assessments -- they remain classified -- I can tell you they certainly have helped inform the activities that we've been conducting inside Iraq. There's no question about that. They've helped inform and helped us make better decisions about the kinds of things that we're doing in Iraq, yes.
ADM. KIRBY: Julian?
Q: Could you tell us what the current situation of the humanitarian situation in Amerli is with the Turkmen? And in a related way, have we seen an uptick in operations in Iraq over the last 24 or 48 hours, in terms of the pace of bombs? Or is it steady...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: An uptick in our operations?
Q: Yeah, your operations.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, on -- and I think this is how you pronounce it, "Amerli" -- I'm not an expert -- but we continue to monitor the situation there, as we do throughout Iraq. I mean, one of -- as you know, one of the missions we've been assigned inside Iraq from a military perspective is to contribute to humanitarian support as needed and at the request of the Iraqi government. We continue to monitor the whole country in that regard. And this township of Amerli, I don't have anything to announce today, in terms of any decisions made about that. Whatever we do from a humanitarian perspective in Iraq will be done in partnership with Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces as necessary.
So I have no updates there. I'm not quite certain I have anything for you on the intensification. There's been a consistent level of military activity inside Iraq, not just from us, but from our Iraqi partners. As I said, I think we're up to nearly, if not at 110 air strikes total since they started. And I don't know that -- I mean, I haven't watched the pace of those, but I haven't seen anything that would indicate that it's, you know, seriously upticked in recent days.
And most of the strikes -- by the way, I mean, if you just do the math -- and, actually, I think I have it here. You know, of the nearly 110, the majority of them have been done in and around the Mosul dam facility, because, again, back to my point about these guys, they want infrastructure. They want streams of revenue. They want ground, and they still are going after that Mosul dam facility, so we still have to keep -- we still have to keep the pressure on them.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Hang on just a second. Jon?
Q: Admiral Kirby, is this -- was this request for Syria options from the White House something that was given to you just in the past couple days? Is it something that is just newly being considered? And also...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. Not at all, Jon. No. I mean, this is -- the exploration of options inside Syria is -- as I told Courtney -- is a relatively new facet of this. But the discussion is not just in the last 24 hours or couple of days, no.
Q: And can you elaborate a little bit on the advise and assist activities that the guys in the JOCs are doing? Are they developing operational plans for the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga to take on ISIL on the ground?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't believe they're writing operational plans for the Iraqi military, John, but your question is better posed to Central Command. They have a much more -- higher degree of fidelity about what these guys are actually doing. I do know that in the joint operations centers, there is an advise and assist capacity to that. There's a component to that. But they are providing some advice and assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces through their presence in the joint operations center.
Q: Major General Dana Pittard was appointed more than two months ago to head this Iraq effort. We haven't heard from him. Any chance that he can brief us on how things look in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You're not satisfied with my briefing style?
Q: You're doing a great job, but...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, nice try.
Q: Since he is the point man on Iraq, any chance we can hear from him or get briefed by him?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll have to take that. I don't know, Tom.
Q: He's not kept under wraps, is he?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't want to share the podium with anybody. It's all about me. (Laughter.)
I mean, I'm trying to preserve my own job here, so -- no, I -- I'll take it. I'll take it, Tom. I don't know. Yeah. Yes, sir?
Q: Admiral Kirby, on the Mosul dam, just to go back to that, why are there so many strikes still there after we were told that the dam was retaken by Kurdish forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because ISIL keeps wanting to take it back. They keep threatening the dam and the facility. And as long as they pose a threat to that facility, we are going to continue to help Iraqi security forces preserve their ownership of it.
Q: But are Kurdish forces or Iraqi forces struggling to keep hold of it, to maintain control of it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They're still under attack almost every day there at the facility. There's a reason that -- and that's reason enough. I think that shows you just how important it was for us to help them get it back, that ISIL continues to pose a threat around that facility.
And you guys know this. It's -- you know, we talk about the Mosul dam, everybody thinks about the dam itself. It's a huge facility covering a wide, wide area, because it's not just about the river itself and the actual dam. And so they're -- they continue to threaten it. As long as they continue to threaten it, we're going to continue to hit them.
Q: Has there been a request from Baghdad on the Amerli situation for a humanitarian mission or U.S. action?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of a specific request from the Iraqi government for that particular mission. That said, you know, we're watching it constantly. And nobody's taken our eye off of that -- off of that township and the struggles in that township, and, you know, if we get to that point, we'll certainly share as much with you as we can on it.
Q: My name is -- (inaudible) -- I'm with -- (inaudible) -- Kurdistan 24-hour news channel. Thank you. It's my first time here.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Welcome.
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Picked a great time to come.
Q: Thank you very much. I have a few questions -- a couple questions about Kurdish people in Iraq and in Syria, as well, as you're considering to expanding your attacks to Syria. First of all, about the weapons that you and at least seven of your allies have provided to the Peshmerga forces, are they military aid or you sell them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The military aid and assistance going to Kurdish forces?
Q: Do they buy it from you? Or are they just free military aid?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we're -- right now, the assistance -- the direct military assistance that's going to Kurdish forces is coming from the Iraqi government.
Q: But you -- (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are helping the Iraqi government transport it, but it's not coming directly from the United States. It's coming from the Iraqi government. And as I said earlier this week, there are other nations, some seven now, that have signed up to provide materiel assistance to the Kurdish forces. And I'll let those countries speak for how they're doing it and under what rubric.
Right now, for the United States, our role is principally in helping transport, logistically get the stuff to the Kurdish forces. There's been no decision to directly arm the Kurds from American stockpiles.
Q: On Syrian Kurds, we know there's a group there, the most powerful militant group called PYD, and it's widely regarded as an offshoot of the PKK, which you designate as a terrorist group. Does that inhibit you from cooperating with the PYD, as the strongest -- single most strongest force in northern Syria to fight ISIS? Because they are really determined and they're willing to fight.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't honestly have anything for you on that. I really -- I don't have...
Q: (off-mic) -- Peshmerga yesterday. ISIS has held 15 Peshmergas, and they showed a video, just like James Foley's video. They said that there was a message to the Kurdish government to end its alliance with the United States. Do you see that as a warning to America, as well, to end its air strikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think ISIL poses a threat to -- as we said, to not just the people of Iraq, but to the region. And we all take -- we're all taking that threat very seriously. But if they think that by further violence they're going to somehow weaken our resolve or the resolve of our Iraqi and Kurdish partners, I think they're sadly mistaken. And you can see that every day, every single day.
Q: Admiral -- (off-mic) -- ISIS is a threat to the region. You don't think ISIS is a threat to the United States?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've long talked about the threat that they pose to the region and the potential threat -- the very real potential threat that they could pose to Western governments and to the homeland. Right now, they've got global aspirations, and they certainly have aspirations to strike Western targets. And I've said this before, and say again today. We don't believe they have the capacity right now, the capability to conduct a major attack on the homeland.
But one of the things -- and when we talk about the immediacy of the threat, one of the things that we're talking about is this threat of foreign fighters, this idea that people will go over there from -- you pick the country, they'll get radicalized, they'll get trained, and there's a potential for them to come right on back home and conduct terrorist attacks, maybe small-scale, on the homeland.
So that threat's very real. And we take that very seriously. And I think you're seeing that from other governments, as well.
Q: And just to clear up, have you given the White House an initial strategy on dealing with the threat of ISIS in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, this gets to the whole conversation that we've had. I mean, the -- we continue to plan and prepare for the potential of military action inside Syria. A more fulsome discussion of those plans has not occurred.
Q: Okay. And one final one. You said that you're looking at a comprehensive approach, strategy to deal with ISIS in Syria. How many nations have pledged support to help the United States conduct air strikes against ISIS in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're the only nation, in addition to the Iraqis, you know, that are working on -- from an air strike perspective inside Iraq that are conducting air strikes. I won't talk about deliberations or diplomatic discussions with other countries. The other thing that we've said, in terms of air strikes, the other thing that -- and I've talked about this -- is that many nations have come forward to offer to assist and have assisted with humanitarian missions, like the Brits.
Q: And what about Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're not having discussions with the Assad regime about our operations in Iraq.
Q: And have other nations pledged their help and support with -- to the United States to conduct air strikes inside Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any such pledge. And I would remind you that we haven't made a decision to conduct air strikes inside Syria.
Q: (off-mic) Any pledges to get a coalition together?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We haven’t -- we haven’t made pledges. What we've said is, as a government -- and certainly the Pentagon supports this effort -- that we -- that we want a coalition of the willing, we want -- we want to seek partners in this effort. We have partners in this effort. And when you work on a coalition of the willing like that, everybody is encouraged to bring what they can and what they're willing to.
They all have domestic -- you know, domestic legislative issues they have to deal with. They all -- every country has to decide for themselves in accordance with the wishes of their people what they're willing to do. But it's not about us mandating it or pledging it. It's about us pledging to continue that effort of building a coalition.
Q: Can you name some of those countries that have pledged their support?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think you're getting -- I think you're getting stifled. Gordon.
Q: Just -- (off-mic) -- stuff, can you kind of square the task force the secretary kind of loosely assembled and what they're doing, what maybe timeframe they have, what the hurdles may be to providing assistance directly to the Kurdish forces, and how all this is tied to the strategy question, the broader strategy question? Does -- are those two separate things? Or does that assistance issue generally...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, no, it's tied in. I mean, the -- one of the things that we've said we're trying to do inside Iraq is to assists the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government, and the Kurdish forces in combating this threat inside their country, because -- and I've said it time and again -- this is ultimately a fight they have to -- they have to win.
And we're willing to help them. That's all part of the mission set inside Iraq. So as part of that, as they expend arms and ammunition and they expend their military capacity, you want to help boost that.
What we've done so far as a country, as a military, is to help the Iraqi government support and supply the Kurds. There are other nations that have come on -- and Secretary Hagel did stand up a task force, a U.S.-led effort, to try to encourage and solicit support from other nations to do the same, to supply -- help resupply Kurdish forces in particular, because that's where the bulk of the fighting is right now. Most of the active expenditure of rounds is happening in the north.
And we have had now seven nations that have signed up. I read this out last week, the seven nations that have signed up to do this, the most recent being Albania. And some of that's even more effective anyway, because some of those countries actually possess the kinds of arms and ammunition and materiel that the Kurds need, which we don't necessarily have in American stockpiles. So it's mutually beneficial.
Q: Will there be more -- I mean, could we anticipate that, you know, the U.S. would begin to provide much more visibly -- because we don't see it necessarily a lot of what exactly is being provided -- once this strategy is decided upon, in other words -- or do you really have to wait for the strategy question to be answered before the -- (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The strategy question you're talking about is regarding the potential for military action inside Syria. That is a separate question from what I think you're getting at, which is helping Kurdish forces with the very real, daily threat that they face, and that effort's ongoing now, and we continue to look for willing partners to do that. I don't know if that got you or not.
Q: I almost called you general. Admiral, okay...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Really, you guys are trying to run me out on a rail here.
Q: Sorry about that. So you mentioned just like a couple of minutes ago that it was going to be about $7.5 million per day for the Iraqi operation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was the average since the beginning is roughly $7.5 million per day.
Q: That's the average. This morning, general, General Jean Paul Paloméros, he said that he expected the Baltic policing exercises to continue at the tempo that they're continuing in because of some of the threat that Russia poses. Now, some of the military aircraft, U.S. military aircraft are using these exercises. I'm wondering what the budget concern is for the Pentagon, given that you've got a pricey Iraq operation, a continuing exercising operation in Eastern Europe, and last year, it was at the point where you guys were canceling training exercises and putting folks on furlough. So what's the -- what's the concern and what's the plan?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we're always concerned about having, you know, enough funds and resources to accomplish the mission around the world. As I said, we're able to fund and resource the operations in Iraq out of existing overseas contingency operations funds. We're well within our limit there, and we're not concerned about it for '14. As the secretary said himself, once you get into '15, if we're still involved at this level or a higher level, then we've got to have another discussion about what the funding levels might be.
Your question seems to make it sound like, you know, we were worried before and we're not worried now. We're still worried. I mean, sequestration remains the law of the land. We've got a funding request up on the Hill that meets the BBA, the Budget Control Act, limits, but -- and, you know, we've got sort of a stay of execution for '14 and '15. But beyond that, sequestration come '16 will revert and, you know, become again the law of the land, and that's a very real concern going forward. But right now, in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, we've got resources sufficient to the military tasks that we're accomplishing.
I've got time for just one more. I've been up here a while. Yes, sir?
Q: Regarding the operations in Iraq, do you have a breakdown of the cost of between air strikes, ISR, and humanitarian aid?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nope. Phil?
Q: Admiral, you said in answer to Tom's question earlier that you're hitting what you're aiming at in Iraq. You're having an effect on ISIL there and hitting headquarters and other targets that appear to be beyond what you said before. When you characterized this as kind of a defensive mission to protect Americans, protect the dam, protect the Kurds, has the mission in Iraq changed to one of more of an offensive nature, where you're actively going after ISIL support structures, commanders? Or does that depend on the new strategy the president's...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I don't -- I don't see any change in the types of targets we're hitting. There's been no -- there's been -- and there certainly has been no change in the mission. It remains exactly the same.
Q: So today, it's still the limited mission that you talked about before?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely it is. And the targets that we're hitting are all in keeping with the authorizations that we have to use force inside Iraq. There's been no change at all.
Q: Congress, the president yesterday seemed to be saying that -- to assuaging fears of the members of Congress that something was going to move ahead without them when they were in recess. Can you characterize (off-mic) specific, what kind of -- or what level of concern that the secretary has heard from members of Congress? And has he been engaged with them (off-mic) does he feel...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We continue to have -- we've continued to have consultations with members of Congress throughout this. Just because they're out doesn't mean we're not talking to them and trying to keep them informed. We're doing that, and that will continue. And I think the president was very clear yesterday about the -- the need to engage the Congress in any major future decisions, as well, by default, of the American people, and that will continue.
There's -- and the secretary has personally -- you know, and I won't detail every phone call and meeting he's had, but he certainly has -- has personally taken on that job of keeping members of Congress as informed as he possibly can. And as a former senator, he well understands their oversight responsibilities and their role in that regard, and he fully respects it.
Q: (off-mic) those fears or is there -- you know, is the real concern, like we heard earlier in the week?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The fears of members of Congress...
Q: (off-mic) change, is it okay, you know (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would -- I'm not going to...
Q: (off-mic) battle with the Hill (off-mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can't speak for Congress or their concerns. It often depends on each member sometimes. What I can tell you is, the secretary remains committed to keeping them informed. He has kept them informed. He'll continue to do that. He certainly understands the need to make sure that the Congress is fully engaged, and he takes those responsibilities very seriously.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great Labor Day.
Q: You, too.