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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

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Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
Dec. 2, 2014
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REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: We all settled down now? Ready? All right.


Just a small announcement here and we'll get started.


I just want to let you know that this morning -- this morning, the deputy secretary, Bob Work, held a conference call with seven governors from the Council of Governors, and we also had about 10 or so representatives from the Department of Defense, as well, as a party to the call to discuss the fiscal year '16 budget preparations and the Army Aviation Restructuring Initiative.


Secretary Hagel did stop by for a little while to join in the conversation and to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the Defense Department and the Governors’ Council. Both parties -- that's the Department of Defense and the Council of Governors -- agreed about the negative impact that the return of sequestration would have on this department and, quite frankly, on some of the states, and including, of course, the possibility of further reductions in our force structure.


On the Army Aviation Restructuring Initiative, both sides also agreed that the process by which the Defense Department took this on was objective and transparent and did look comprehensively at the cost that involved and utilizing both active-duty and reserve component AH-64 Apache helicopters, and both sides, again, agreed to keep the dialogue going. This is an important relationship that Secretary Hagel has worked hard at and will continue to work hard at with the Council of Governors.


The last thing I want to say, before we get to questions, is -- I mean, I'm obviously mindful of the swirl out there in the media environment today about the potential nominee for next secretary of defense. So let me just say right at the outset that -- that this is a decision that only the president can make and only the president can announce. And it's up to the president and the White House to determine the timing of any such announcement.


I have no information to share with you today about who the nominee might be or when the nominee might be announced. For our part here in the Pentagon, Secretary Hagel is focused on doing his job as secretary of defense, making sure that our men and women have all the support and resources they need to conduct the missions that they've been told to conduct around the world, to include many of them in harm's way. And I think that's important to remember as we start to head in towards the holiday season.


So with that, I'll open it up.


Tony?


Q: Right off the bat, the budget you talked about. What message did Work convey to the governors? Was it that sequestration is likely to kick in at 2016, may kick in, or we're still waiting to see?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think he talked to them broadly about the preparations that we're making, and I won't get into much detail on that right now, Tony, but as we've talked about, we are -- we're planning -- we have to plan for the fact that -- and he made this clear -- that sequestration remains the law of the land in '16, unless Congress acts to repeal it or forestall it in some way, and that none of that action has happened yet.


So I think he made clear to the governors that in our preparations and the work that's being done right now to prepare the FY [fiscal year] '16 budget, we have to factor in the reality of the sequestration and then the readiness impact that that has on us going forward.


Q: Did Mr. Work convey that the Pentagon's plan would be to submit a budget that was over the sequestration caps as it did for the 2015 budget plan?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: He didn't go into a great level of detail that I'm aware of, Tony, with respect to top-line figures. But, again, he made it clear, as I've made clear to you, that we have to -- we have to plan for a number of outcomes here. That's what makes -- and that's, quite frankly, what makes the planning process so much more difficult, because we're not sure -- there's a lot of uncertainty about what we're going to actually end up with here.


Q: Can I shift gears to one other -- a totally different part of the world, Ukraine? Arming the Ukrainians with lethal aid, it came up in the Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing for Elissa Slotkin today. She somewhat confounded members ranging from Angus Smith to John McCain with her answer that they're still under discussion whether to give lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. A lot of members were confounded by that. Why are you still discussing it? Can you give some context here? Where are the discussions? And why hasn't a decision been made sooner to -- on whether to provide some form of lethal assistance?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's an ongoing process of reviewing Ukrainian requests for military assistance. I didn't hear what she said, but the way you've characterized it is accurate. It is something that we continue to consider in the interagency, not just here at the Defense Department.


There's an ongoing interagency review process of Ukrainian requests for military assistance. Right now, the focus of that remains on the non-lethal side, so all the decisions that we're making about providing military assistance remains in the non-lethal realm. That doesn't mean that we aren't fairly considering requests for lethal assistance. It's just that right now the focus is on meeting those requests for non-lethal items, and that's where we are.


Yeah, Mik?


Q: Is -- is there concern that, by providing lethal aid to the Ukrainians, the U.S. could get involved in a proxy war with the Russians?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think -- and we've talked about this before, Mik -- I think, again, we're fairly considering all the requests. We have to be mindful that in meeting requests that we don't do anything that makes the situation worse or more tense or escalates the tensions already in the region. And I think that's really where the focus is with respect to considering that request for stuff.


Dion?


Q: Without discussing who the next secretary might be, can you talk about how Ash Carter would address the administration's need for fresh ideas, since he's a man who's steeped in budget and procurement, and not so much military ideas?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. No.


Q: He doesn't -- he doesn't --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I can't discuss that. I'm not -- I'm not going to get into a parlor game of speculating about who the nominee might be or what that nominee might do. Secretary Hagel is the secretary of defense. His focus is on making sure that we're meeting the needs of the nation and that we're properly defending our interests around the world. That's what we're focused on right now.


And I don't think it serve anybody's interests to begin speculating or guessing about who the nominee might be and what that person, you know, might make his or her priorities.


Q: All right. Then since you kicked that one away, can I ask you a little bit about the --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can kick them all away, if you want.


Q: I'd prefer you not. On the buffer zone, I'm wondering if the Pentagon is any more open to this more limited idea that's being discussed with Turkey than the broader ideas that -- that the Pentagon's kicked away before?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We know that this is an interest of high concern for the Turkish government, and it's something that they have revisited with us from time to time. So we know this is an issue they're interested in, and we continue to talk to them about it, as we continue to talk to other nations about their concerns, as well, with respect to what's going on in Syria and with ISIL. There's no question about that.


So discussions continue with the Turks about this and other items and other ways that they might be able to contribute to the coalition. But at this time, we don't believe that -- that that -- that that is a -- that that's going to be a useful solution to the situation inside Syria.


I want to stress, again, that we are grateful for the contributions that Turkey is making. We continue to talk to them about additional ones. And we continue to discuss this very topic with them. But, again, right now, we don't think it's the most appropriate solution to pursue.


Q: Follow-up on that. You made it pretty clear that at this point the U.S. doesn't believe that's the best way to go. Help us understand why, because, you know, on paper, just superficially, it seems like not a terrible idea. Why is it that you believe it's not the best solution?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it would be imprudent for me to litigate through the media some of the internal deliberations that we're having with the Turkish government with respect to that. Again, we continue to talk to them about it. There are -- but just broadly, Jamie, without getting into detail, I mean, when you -- when you take a mission like that on, you've got to factor in the resourcing. You have to factor in the time. You have to factor in additional operational risk. And you have to weigh that against the overall benefits of doing it.


And all those things are still being discussed. So, again, I'd be reticent to get into a whole lot more detail than that, but in any -- in any new mission that you take on, you've got to consider all those factors, and that's what we're doing.


Q: Well, the U.S. has done no-fly zones before effectively. Why is this one so much more complicated or --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think -- I think it's a reflection of the complicated nature of the conflict inside Syria writ large, I think. And, you know, you say, well, we've done no-fly zones before. That's true. But that doesn't mean that it's been easy before or that it's ever easy. These are complicated missions that require a lot of time, effort, resources, and you have to incur certain risk, and you've got to fully understand what those risks are before you -- you know, you launch off on something like that.


Again, I don't want to litigate this through the media. We know this is an issue that they're concerned about. We know this is something they want to pursue. We continue to talk to them about it.


Q: Can I follow up on that, please?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.


Q: You said earlier that, at this time, that we don't think it would be a useful solution and at the same time that the discussions were going on, presumably the resource costs that you talked about earlier would still be there. So why keep discussing something that you've determined at this time would not be useful? What would change it? Would it be that ISIS was, for example, using airstrikes? Would that be a circumstance in which you would change your feeling on it, your position?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's a pretty dynamic environment there in Syria. Constantly changing. Again, we value the Turks' contributions to the effort. We want to continue to look for ways that they can contribute further. This is an idea which, again, we know they're interested in and we're willing to keep discussing with them, but at this time, we just don't believe that it's the appropriate solution to some of the challenges there in Syria.


And, again, we just -- you know, we're going to continue to talk to them about it. I couldn't -- I can't possibly lay out for you a laundry list of hypothetical reasons that would change that. It's something we're constantly in discussions with them about.


Q: But can you give us any sense of some of the factors that would lead you to change your position, given that you're saying that it wouldn't be useful? I'm just having a hard time understanding why you're continuing to discuss something that you've already deemed un-useful?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it'd like to kind of pivot back to my answer to Jamie. I mean, you've got to consider all the factors that would be at play, to include the risks that you would incur, the resources you would have to devote to that, the -- and you have to also consider the consequences that you may not have intended to have occurred. And, again, it's hard for me to -- you know, speculate about what they'll all look like, but all those things have to be considered in a very dynamic, fluid environment.


Syria -- you know, for -- our military mission inside Syria is anti-ISIL. That's the -- that's the starting point for all the decisions that we are making for military operations in and over Syria. It's about going after ISIL, their ability to find sanctuaries, safe haven, their ability to sustain themselves, their ability to train, equip, resource themselves. That's what we're focused on.


And so everything that we decide to do or don't do has to kind of come back to that mission. That's what we do. It's the mission we've been assigned. That's the mission that we're set out to accomplish. And so if you're going to add additional tasks to that, you have to measure it in the frame of that mission.


And, again, right now, given where we are in this campaign, in this struggle, we don't believe that that's an appropriate course of action. But certainly the discussions remain open. We continue to talk to the Turks about this, and we will. And, you know, if there's any changes to that, obviously, we'll get up and articulate what those changes are and why we made them.


Q: Quick question -- (inaudible)


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead.


Q: Just a point of clarification. When you say you have to consider the risks, are you -- are you referring there to the air defenses of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Certainly that's one of the risks that you have to factor in, absolutely. Barb?


Q: Can I ask you a couple additional ISIS questions? On Syria train and equip of rebel fighters, can you bring us up to date on where you are on that, how -- how soon it might start, and that you have established, I guess, some standards for evaluating these potential training candidates, psychological standards, stress standards?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's been some movement in terms of crafting criteria for vetting. And CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] obviously has the lead on this. There's been -- so without getting into too much detail, we are working through the process by which we would not just initially vet recruits, but continuously vet them as they work their way through the curriculum, and it would be a building block training curriculum.


In other words, not unlike the way we train U.S. military personnel, you start with basic training and then you go to more advanced and then even more advanced, and so the way we're going to build this curriculum would be in that building block kind of style. And throughout the process of advancing along that path, these trainees would be continuously vetted as they move from one block to the next. So we are putting that in place.


Site surveys continue. As you know, we've got, you know, the three countries who have said that they would support training on-site, and we're working with them and their governments to continue -- to finish the surveys of some of the sites. Some of them are more ready to accept trainees than others, but -- so that process -- getting infrastructure in place continues.


Now, but to your larger question, we have not begun an active recruiting and vetting program. As we are developing the criteria, the guidelines, and as we are -- and as we are finalizing the infrastructure requirements, we also do need to get the funding that goes with the authorization, you know, to actually execute the vetting process. We need that authorization and a funding from Congress, and that hasn't happened yet.


Q: Can I follow up on Mosul? How ready are U.S. and coalition aircraft to support the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga forces if they do go ahead with their plan to start moving towards Mosul in the coming weeks? We've seen a number of increased airstrikes around Mosul. Are you sort of, you know, trying to push ISIS further back from the city so these other forces can move in?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Without speaking to specific operational intent, yes, you have seen some strikes in and around Mosul, but that's not altogether new, Barb. I mean, we have been -- we have been flying some strikes there in recent weeks. We all know when we said that, you know, Mosul will be and must be by design a decisive campaign objective. We know that the Iraqi security forces, working in concert with Kurdish forces, are planning toward that end at some point in the future. I wouldn't get ahead of that planning process. We certainly wouldn't want to do that.


But to your original question, how ready would we -- would we be to support them when they are ready? And I'll tell you that I can assure you we will be completely ready to support them from the air when it comes to that. We're just not at that stage right now.


David?


Q: For the record, would you say the three countries which have agreed to host sites for training? And are they the only three? Or are there others not willing to be named?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The three have already -- they have identified themselves as willing to support. That's Turkey, as you know, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. And whether there's other nations in the region that we'll -- we're in discussions with other nations, but I'm not at liberty right now to identify who they are, how far along those discussions are.


Q: You don't have commitments from anybody but those three?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would just say we're in discussions with other countries about potential commitments that they might be able to make with respect to training sites.


Q: And are those commitments on the same level as the one we know about in Saudi Arabia, which could be able to train 5,000 a year?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I mean, it's not uniformly the -- the -- no, because not all the sites are -- have the same capacity and throughput. It would be -- I think it would vary depending on the site, depending on the country. So I don't think each one necessarily is going to be set for 5,000.


Q: It would be lesser numbers in the other countries?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Some would be lesser.


Q: Well, two countries, would both of them be --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, each -- now, there's -- I don't want to get too far ahead of the process here, but it's potential that there's more than one site in more than one country. So, again, we're working our way through the site surveys right now and trying to help develop the infrastructure. So it's too soon for me to be able to say that, you know, X number of sites in X number of places are going to be able to handle X number of recruits. We're just not there yet.


But there are multiple sites that we're looking at in at least three countries, and we're in discussions with other partners in the region about contributions they might be able to make of a similar fashion.


Q: Let me try it just a slightly different way. General Dempsey has said that the 5,000 a year that could be trained in Saudi Arabia is not sufficient. So do you -- is there a number associated with what three countries could produce in the way of trained fighters in the first year?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not have a firm number. It could potentially be more than the 5,000. But, again, we have to work through a lot of detail to get to a firm number. What General Dempsey has also said is that, in general, it's the military's assessment that between 12,000 and 15,000 moderate opposition members is what we would require to begin to have a real impact on the ground in Syria against ISIL.


If we're limited to 5,500 or so per year, it's going to take you three years to get there, which is why working with other countries and having other training sites could help us accelerate that.


Yeah?


Q: Baghdadi wife and kid were captured by the Lebanese. The Lebanese people are saying that foreign forces were involved in the capture. Did the Pentagon help the Lebanese in any way?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have no information with -- specifically on that. That was a Lebanese military operation. And you should -- you should ask the Lebanese government about it.


Q: Well, we asked them. They're saying that foreign people were involved.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, well, again, I'm not going to characterize it any more than the Lebanese have.


(CROSSTALK)


Q: Is there a special unit inside the Pentagon which is working on Baghdadi?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Is there a special unit in the Pentagon working on --


Q: Dedicated to capturing --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, I don't think there's -- no, not that I'm aware of, a special unit devoted just to al-Baghdadi. But, look, he's the recognized leader of ISIL. And we've long said that leadership of the organization represents command-and-control of the organization, and certainly those are legitimate targets.


Q: What's the view of the Pentagon on Baghdadi?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I just said it. I mean, he's the recognized leader of ISIL. And you mean what do we think his status is? We still think that he is in control of ISIL. Where he is, what his physical condition is, I don't have any information on that.


Q: Reports from the region say specifically that the U.S. was involved with the Lebanese somehow. What was that involvement? Was it simply sharing intel? Was it --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: This was a Lebanese operation, Mik. I don't have any more detail than that.


(CROSSTALK)


Q: -- involved. They're saying to the Lebanese press at this moment that American forces were involved and helped them.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen their statements. What you said was they said foreign forces were involved, not American forces.


Q: (off mic) a lot of foreign forces --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, let's not -- I don't want to get into their implications while we're up here. I haven't -- I don't have any more information on this. You really should talk to the Lebanese government about it. It was a Lebanese military operation.


Q: So does the U.S. consider that there's any value in grabbing Baghdadi's ex-wife? I mean, would the U.S. want to question Baghdadi's ex-wife?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to speak about a Lebanese military operation. We've long said that he's the recognized leader of ISIL and that command-and-control of the organization, which stems from leadership, makes him valid in our -- in our -- in our minds from a targeting perspective. And I just won't go beyond that.


(CROSSTALK)


Q: That sounds like a yes.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about a Lebanese military operation.


Q: Let me follow up on something earlier. Is there a timetable for when the active recruiting and vetting will occur of the forces that are going to be trained in Saudi, Turkey and Qatar?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We would like to start it as soon as possible. It is limited by the fact that we do not have the funding to begin that particular process. And it's not like we aren't paying attention to it, and we have been working with these other countries to work on sites and get those sites prepared. And we have been developing a curriculum, as I mentioned earlier, and we have been developing some vetting criteria.


So there is -- there is good work being done, but there's a limit to what you can do without the authorization and the funding that goes with it.


Q: Who specifically would be doing this recruiting and vetting? Those nations that will be involved in the training?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: This would fall to the -- this would -- the recruiting and vetting process would be led by the Department of Defense. This is something we know how to do and we're good at it. But we would do it in concert with our interagency partners, as well as international partners in the region -- people that know the terrain, know the culture, know these groups.


Q: And then so -- but how could you do that without having people on the ground in Syria to do that? Given the fact that there's so much infiltration into all these groups and cross-infiltration among ISIS.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We would work with -- we would work with partners in the region to help us do this. There's -- I think, just to put a stick in it, there's no plans to put U.S. servicemen and -women on the ground in Syria to support this effort.


Q: Admiral, just one more clarification on this. What funding authorization are you waiting for? Didn't Congress already authorize $500 million to begin this process?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. No. And there's some -- there's a reprogramming request on the Hill that we're waiting for permission to --


Q: So the cost estimate is still $500 million. You're just waiting for action from Congress to actually --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're waiting for the reprogramming request to be approved. Yes?


Q: Also on ISIS, are the Iranians striking ISIS targets inside Iraq, to your knowledge?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I've seen the reports. We have no indication that the reports are not true, that Iranian aircraft have conducted airstrikes in the last several days against ISIL targets in eastern Iraq.


Q: So you're saying they are true. You would know -- the military presumably would know if those reports were --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have no indication that they're not true. I have no reason to believe that they're not true, those reports that Iranian aircraft struck targets against ISIL in eastern Iraq. Again, you should consult the Iranian government to speak to the activities of their military.


Q: Thanks for that. That's helpful. (Laughter.)


Q: How do you deconflict that air space?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's the Iraqi air space and Iraqi’s to deconflict. We are not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian military.


Q: Iraq has that kind of air control that they can deconflict air space between U.S. and -- and Iranian aircraft?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. Yes. It's a sovereign nation.


Q: That doesn't mean they're competent.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: They're competent enough to deconflict their air space.


Yes?


Q: (off mic) number one, is it -- is the Iraqi government taking the lead for the air traffic deconfliction and control? Or is it -- or are Americans involved there?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's Iraqi -- it is sovereign Iraqi air space. It's a sovereign country. They deconflict the air space requirements over their country. We are flying missions over Iraq. We coordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those. It's up to the Iraqi government to deconflict that air space. We are -- nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians.


Q: And the second part of that question was, what is the Pentagon perspective on the fact of Iranian airstrikes within Iraq at this moment, if they are occurring? Is there -- you know, does that -- is that helpful? Or is that problematic?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our message to Iran is the same today as it was when it started. And as it is to any neighbor in the region that is involved in the anti-ISIL activities, and that's that we want nothing to be done that further inflames sectarian tensions in the country.


Q: (off mic) inflame sectarian tensions?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our position hasn't changed. We don't want anything to be done that's going to further inflame sectarian tensions. We don't -- we're not taking a position on this particular report of these particular strikes.


(CROSSTALK)


Q: I just want to clarify, because your earlier statement was a double negative, actually, so not -- kind of confusing to us here in the audience what you're actually saying. When you're saying that you don't have information to dispute this, are you acknowledging that there are in fact from this building that there have been Iranian airstrikes inside Iraq?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll try it again. I'm not in a position -- I speak for the U.S. military, the Department of Defense. I don't speak for the Iranian military. So I'm not going to confirm operations they did or did not conduct. You should talk to the folks in Tehran about that.


What I'm saying is -- hang on a second -- what I'm saying is everything I've seen -- actually nothing that would dispute the reports that they flew airstrikes over eastern Iraq. I've seen nothing that contradicts that. So I can't say it didn't happen. But I'm not in the business of confirming the operations of foreign militaries. They need to do that.


Does that help? Does that clear it up?


Q: I want to go back on one thing. Back to Baghdadi. You said because he's a leader of ISIS, it, quote, "makes him valid from a targeting standpoint."


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.


Q: So, you are now targeting Baghdadi by name?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've been talking about this for a while, Barb, that the leaders of ISIL to the degree they command and control their forces, remain a valid target. We've said this before. I'm not going to speak about specific targeting initiatives or plans thereto, but if you're the leader of a terrorist organization -- and this doesn't just apply to ISIL. You pick the terrorist network. If you're a leader of the terrorist network and that network threatens Western interests and American interests in particular, you remain valid.


Yeah?


Q: Question on Afghanistan. After 13 years of war, is the Taliban defeated or not? Now that we're -- the U.S. is leaving and ending its combat mission at the end of this month.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, let's talk about what the goals here in Afghanistan were, Justin, to -- to help Afghanistan secure its own people, its own borders, its own interests. And to get the Afghan national security forces to a point where they can effect that mission. And that combat mission comes to an end this month.


We believe that the Afghan national security forces have been advanced to a point where they are very competent and capable in the field. There are still some enabling capabilities that they may need going forward and we're talking about that. That's part of the Resolute Support NATO mission going forward.


And there's still some counterterrorism work that needs to be done. But we believe that we have achieved the mission of getting Afghan national security forces to that level. And they are in the lead right now. And by the end of this month will have full responsibility.


Q: Is the Taliban resurging right now?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think what we're seeing in Afghanistan in the last week or so was to be expected. I would not count -- I would not -- we would not consider what they're doing a resurgence. It's not -- it's not atypical for them around periods of transition in Afghanistan, whether it's an election or now coming up in December, the end of the combat mission, for them to -- to try to scare the local populace and terrorize people with -- with sporadic attacks.


But those attacks have had no strategic effect. And I might add that the Afghan national security forces and police reacted bravely and quickly to each one of those attacks. They have not had a strategic impact on the transition that's going on.


Q: Will the 9,800 remaining troops have a combat role or not?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The 9,800 American troops that will be contributing to the missions going forward in Afghanistan will be dedicated to -- to two things and not of equal number. But one is to contribute to Resolute Support, which is a train, advise and assist mission inside Afghanistan. And two, to assist with some counterterrorism work that still needs to be done in concert with Afghan forces.


But the combat mission ends. The ISAF mission ends at the end of the month. And we will transition to a mission of advise and assist the Afghan national security forces.


I've got time for one more.


(CROSSTALK)


Q: (off mic) question. Are there U.S. military trainers or advisers, or any U.S. military embedded with Iraqi military air controllers?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.


Q: I just want to go back to the F-16 mishap earlier this week, if there's any more additional information that could be shared about the nature of the problem the pilot faced or if he was in a multi-ship formation? And will the answer stay that it was an undisclosed country? Or as this investigation comes forward, will there be more information coming out about where it occurred?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't actually have more information. The accident is under investigation, as you know, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further about the details of it until that investigation is complete. Sadly, we lost a pilot. I think it's important for people to remember that. And there's a family grieving right now -- going to have a tough holiday season.


But on the specific details, again, I just don't think it would be appropriate for me to go into it right now. And I -- and I don't see any change to the language that we'll use in describing the location.


Q: Can you go back to Afghanistan a second? There's been a narrative -- a lot of media in the last week-and-a-half that the president secretly or quietly or whatever you want to put it, expanded the mission to allow U.S. troops to attack Taliban. I think that's what Justin was getting at.


The New York Times had it and others, you know, unsourced.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's been no expansion of CT [counterterrorism] authorities inside Afghanistan going into 2015. There just hasn't been. So, I mean, I get the narrative, but that doesn't mean it's true. We will --


(CROSSTALK)


REAR ADM. KIRBY: -- we will continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in concert with Afghan national security forces going into 2015. But the -- but that is directed as -- you know, this gets to the questions about al-Baghdadi. It's about protecting this country and our citizens from terrorist networks, wherever they are. That's what this is. That is different and completely different than the combat mission that we have been conducting for 13 years inside Afghanistan.


And as I said last week, just being a member of the Taliban doesn't necessarily -- going in 2015 -- make one a target of counterterrorism activities, unless you are conducting terrorist activities or are a direct threat to our forces or to our Afghan partners.


Q: But the regular troops, the CT you know are conducted by Special Operations Forces. I'm talking about the regular GIs who are going to be there, the great bulk of the 9,800. They're not going to be going after Taliban targets and in an offensive role?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not going after Taliban targets, simply by virtue of somebody being a member of the Taliban.


Q: I just have a quick follow-up on Baghdadi. I'm working for French television. This is a quite important story for us. And you are saying that he remains a valid target.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.


Q: Will you want to capture him alive and what do you mean by that? What does this mean for you -- he remains a valid target?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because he is in command and control of ISIL and we are working with our Iraqi partners and Kurdish forces to degrade and destroy ISIL's capabilities to continue to wage war on the Iraqi people. And so, when you're in command and control and you're in leadership of an organization like that, you can expect that we're going to do what we need to do to eradicate the threat that you pose. That's what I mean. And I wouldn't get into hypotheticals about capturing or killing or anything.


This is really about -- we get fixated on the individual and I don't think that's a wise thing to do. It's about the organization and what they represent and the brutality that they are demonstrating every day in Iraq and in Syria.


Thanks, everybody.