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Department of Defense Press Briefing With Rear Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
February 14, 2014
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Sorry I'm a little bit late.  Let me start with a couple of quick updates.  
 
First, Secretary Hagel signed directive memos for both the internal and independent nuclear enterprise reviews this week, copies of which we're making available to you and to the public this afternoon.  There's been no change to the tasking.  Secretary Hagel wants the internal review, which is already underway, to examine the nuclear mission in both the Departments of the Navy and the Air Force regarding personnel, training, testing, command oversight, mission performance, and investments, and to provide both near- and long-term recommendations for addressing any identified deficiencies.  Their report will be submitted no later than the 30th of April.
 
The internal review will be co-chaired by the assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs, Ms. Madelyn Creedon, and Rear Admiral Pete Fanta from the Joint Staff.  The independent review, to be led by retired General Larry Welch and retired Admiral John Harvey, will begin work on March 3rd, and they'll be complete with that work in 90 days after that. 
 
This review, as we said before, will accomplish two things.  First, it's going to provide an assessment of the action plan and our recommendations on the internal review.  And, second, it will offer -- they will offer their own views of what, if any, changes need to be made in nuclear force personnel policies, training, testing, oversight, and management principles.  
 
Again, the secretary greatly appreciates the willingness of General Welch and Admiral Harvey to participate in this.  He knows that they will have the full support of this department as they settle in to do their work, and he has made it clear that, throughout that work, they will have direct access to him when they need it.
 
As you know, the secretary also announced last week that he would soon be naming a senior officer to his staff to advise and assist him with respect to issues regarding the leadership, conduct and professionalism of the force.  He now has before him several nominations for officers to consider.  He is reviewing those packages, as well as other potential options.  And, of course, he is consulting with Chairman Dempsey, as well.
 
He expects to be able to announce this selection in the very near future.  Obviously, this is a key post, the first of its kind here in the building, so he wants to make sure he does this right.  This senior adviser for military professionalism will report directly to Secretary Hagel and will integrate and help coordinate the actions of the Joint Staff, the services, and the combatant commands, all of whom he knows are invested in this and equally as committed as he is to helping ensure that as a department, we better understand the scope of the problem before us and, to the degree we have systemic issues, that we solve them.
 
Finally, I'd like to take just a minute to recognize the extraordinary work of the National Guard, as they continue to support numerous state and local first responders in the wake of this week's winter storms.  Right now, more than 2,800 Army and Air Guardsmen from nine states and the District of Columbia are on state active-duty doing everything from helping stranded motorists to clearing paths for ambulances and fire trucks and to operating emergency shelters.  The secretary is proud of the work they are doing, and he wishes all those affected by these storms the very best as they continue to recover.
 
Finally, happy Valentine's Day.  And given that I haven't bought my wife candy or flowers, I'm happy to keep this as short as possible.
 
Bob? 
 
Q:  John, on that first topic about the nuclear reviews, I was a little unclear on whether something was new today.  Did the secretary assign something?  Or are you just...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, that's -- no.  There's nothing new.  As I said at the outset, nothing new to the tasking.  But he's codified the tasking in some directive memos that got signed this week, so that's sort of the -- there's a new development.  It's that we've codified this now in tasking memos, one to the internal review and another to General Welch and Admiral Harvey, and we're going to make those documents public for you, so you can see what the reference terms are.
 
Q:  In a related question, do you have any updates on any -- either of the investigations underway, the cheating or the drugs?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't, no.  And those are obviously, as you know, internal investigations, so the Navy and the Air Force, and I certainly wouldn't get ahead of that.  But as I understand it, those investigations are still ongoing.  
 
Yep, Dan?
 
Q:  On the  adviser being appointed, isn't that a role that would be played by the chairman?  Wouldn't that be something for the chairman to focus on and discuss with the secretary of defense?  Why does that need to be a separate adviser appointed to do that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, first of all, the secretary greatly appreciates the leadership that Chairman Dempsey has shown on this.  And the chairman, as you know, speaks often about the profession of arms and the things that we need to constantly focus on.  And the chairman will be -- as he has been -- intimately involved in whatever changes or things we learn going forward or any decisions that the secretary might make on behalf of the department, but the secretary believes that it's important -- it's important for him to have somebody on his personal staff to help integrate and synergize -- that's a great Pentagon verb - synergize, help coordinate the efforts across the department to include the combatant commands, not just the services.
 
So -- and the secretary, again, really thinks that this is -- it's an important enough issue for him that he wants somebody who's reporting directly to him to help this coordinating function.  But clearly, the chairman will be an integral part of whatever we do moving forward, and his advice and counsel as always -- is greatly appreciated and esteemed by the secretary.
 
Barb?
 
Q:  Although it's a tough subject -- sensitive subject to talk about, I do want to ask you about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, whether you're -- a couple of questions.  Is there any reason to be more optimistic today than you might have been in the past?  I'm sure you've seen the stories.  Is there any indication the U.S. solicited or NATO solicited the most recent video that he was seen in?  And, third, do you have any information about a meeting between the department, general counsel, and the Qatari attorney general about the Qataris' linkups with the Taliban and whether this issue has been raised in that recent forum with the Taliban?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay, let me see if I can get all three of them.  On the meeting, it is true that Mr. Preston, our general counsel, did meet with his counterpart in Doha earlier this year.  It was a meeting to discuss the bilateral military relationship and not at all tied to issues of reconciliation.
 
On reconciliation, we continue to support Afghan-led reconciliation as the process forward.  On Bowe Bergdahl, as I've said before, he's been gone too long.  He's not just a member of the Bergdahl family; he's a member of our family, as well.  We want him back.  We've never stopped trying to bring that about.  
 
I'm not, as you can imagine, I'm not from the podium going to talk about the details of how we're trying to do that, but he's never far from anybody's mind here, and we're working very hard to see if we can't get him returned.
 
Q:  On the Afghan prisoner release, two questions.  How many of those individuals that were released are directly linked to the deaths of American servicemembers or American citizens, for that matter?  And do you know whether the secretary has personally dealt with anyone on this issue?  Was he getting updated yesterday by officials?  Does he have any personal beliefs about whether the United States should go after those individuals who have been released, who have American blood on their hands?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Thanks for the question, Phil.  I'd refer you to ISAF on the details of each individual.  I think they have made public the sort of dossiers on each of them.  I've not read all of them.  So I can't give you an exact number of how many are directly tied to the deaths of Americans.
 
I'm also not sure that that's the only metric that matters here.  I mean, all of these individuals are people who should not be walking the streets.  And we had strong evidence on all of them, evidence that has been ignored.  And that's unsatisfactory to us.
 
So it's not just ISAF.  It's not just United States forces in Afghanistan who are now victims of this, but so are the Afghan people, because many of these individuals killed innocent Afghans, as well.  They're criminals, terrorists.  They need to be detained, and they're not now, and obviously that's a decision that the Afghan government made.
 
But Secretary Hagel fully supports the concerns expressed by General Dunford yesterday about the release of these individuals, that not only is it unhelpful to the relationship that we want to have with Afghanistan.  It's dangerous to the mission itself in Afghanistan, the military mission itself in Afghanistan.  
 
Does that answer your question?
 
Q:  Well, yes.  I mean, you know, as far as going after these guys...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Oh, I'm sorry.  That's right.  You did ask that part.  Look, without getting into hypotheticals, every day we continue to go after those enemies in Afghanistan that are targeting our forces, the forces of our allies and the Afghan people, and nothing's going to change about that.  And should one of these detainees rejoin the fight, they need to know that they do it at their own peril. 
 
Yeah, Bill?
 
Q:  Admiral, to what degree is Secretary Hagel and the leadership of this building concerned about this Afghan problem being a political problem in Washington, for members of Congress and others, who have to continue to support Afghanistan and the ANSF over the long term, but how are they going to be able to do that when incidents like this take place and make it very difficult for them to go out and support the long-term relationship of, you know, payments to the government there?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think Secretary Hagel completely understands that recent decisions made in Kabul by the Karzai administration make it that much harder for many of those on the Hill in Congress to further support the Afghan missions.  He understands that very much.
 
He is just as frustrated, as many of -- as many of them are.  But, again, this is -- this is a relationship that matters and a country that matters.  And as frustrating as it can be at times, he also believes we need to keep working at this.
 
Q:  Did Karzai consult privately with the Pentagon explaining his motivations at all for the release of these prisoners?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I know that -- when you say the Pentagon, I mean, leaders here, not that I'm aware of, but -- look, I mean, we have an ambassador in Kabul.  And, of course, General Dunford is there, and they routinely meet with President Karzai and members of his administration.  And I know they had discussions about this.  I know that they expressed our deep concerns about the potential release of these individuals.  Again, President Karzai is the leader of a sovereign nation, and he made this decision.
 
Was there a lot of consultation here in the Pentagon?  Not that I'm aware of.
 
Q:  Because there's a lot of talk about prisoner swaps.  And, obviously, there's negotiations going on...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  This wasn't a prisoner swap.  This was a release.
 
Q:  Well, negotiations, at least, yeah.  But...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  This wasn't a negotiated decision.  This was a unilateral decision by President Karzai to release these individuals, individuals we had evidence and presented evidence that they were dangerous and shouldn't be released, and he made the decision to do it anyway.
 
Q:  Can I ask you about a Kuwaiti detainee at Gitmo who has a new federal lawsuit here in D.C. arguing that when hostilities end in Afghanistan, presumably at the end of 2014, he should be let go in accordance with international law and how it applies to POWs?  So he's...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, typical policy, we don't discuss the cases of individual detainees.  We certainly don't do that when they are being litigated, as this one is.  What I can tell you is that the of war detention, which has been practices throughout history, by armies all over the world, is a practice that we continue to pursue.  But I'm not going to get into specifics about this one case.
 
Q:  That doesn't mean that anybody who -- any Taliban and Gitmo get released at the end of the war, though, does it?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm just going to leave it where I said it, Justin.  I'm not going to -- I'm certainly not going to talk about this individual detainee.
 
Q:  Back on Afghanistan, you said that, if these people who were released return to the battlefield or -- and keep -- killing field, or whatever you call it, if they return that then they will...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  They do it at their own peril.  I mean, if they return to the fight, nothing's going to change about the way we and our Afghan partners are going after our enemies there in Afghanistan, enemies of the Afghan people, by the way, and if they return to the fight, they do it at their own peril.  It wasn't an idle threat.  I wasn't trying to say we're going to take them out.  It's -- they return at their own peril.
 
Q:  I guess what I'm just trying to establish is whether -- now that they've been released, are they considered enemies still, since they've been released by the Afghan government, that -- are they considered targets right now?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  They are not considered targets right now, no.  If  they return to the fight...
 
Q:  Then they're no longer enemies.  They're no longer...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  They're still very dangerous individuals who should remain -- who should have remained locked up.  Now they're not.  There's not going to be an active targeting campaign, if that's what you're asking for, to go after them.  That said, if they choose to return to the fight, they become legitimate enemies and legitimate targets.
 
Q:  Well, why the distinction?  I mean, why is that their previous, you know, killings or other crimes are being, you know, not -- not judged upon by the U.S. military?  Why is the U.S. military just saying, you know, they've been -- are they -- is he viewing it as a pardon?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, no.  Come on.  We're not calling this a pardon at all.  We weren't behind this release.  We didn't support this release.  But it happened.  And if they return to the fight, they do so at their own peril.
 
Q:  Is there any indication that Afghanistan intends to release the rest of the 88 detainees or more than that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'd refer you to President Karzai on that.  Again, we've made it very clear how we feel about these detainees and how strongly we believe they need to remain locked up and -- but I'd refer you to the Karzai administration.
 
Q:  Is that a concern, that they may continue releasing more of these detainees?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  We are still concerned about potential release of other detainees, yes?
 
Q:  Admiral Kirby, there was another green-on-blue attack a couple days ago in Afghanistan.  Are any new force protection measures be putting in place?  And is the Pentagon concerned that this could set off a new pattern of insider attacks, like happened a year or two ago?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any new force protection measures that have been put in place.  And even if there were, you know, we wouldn't be talking about that publicly, but I'm not aware of any.  We're still investigating all the circumstances surrounding that.
 
And to your second question, I think I would just say, you know, we're always concerned about this insider threat and how to mitigate it, and it's just as dangerous as it ever was, although there -- you know, there hasn't been this string of insider attacks recently as we've seen in the past, but it's something we're always concerned about.
 
Q:  Can I follow that up?
 
Q:  Yeah.
 
Q:  Could you describe what it is you do know about the circumstances in that particular event on Wednesday?  What -- the two -- the two soldiers, special forces soldiers who were killed that were identified today by the Pentagon, as members of the special -- third special forces group, were they training?  Were they advising?  Were they on patrol?  What were they doing?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I can give you a little bit here, Bob.  A small number of ISAF advisers were at the Tagab district center -- Tagab district center -- with their Afghan counterparts, when they received enemy fire.  Shortly thereafter, two individuals dressed in Afghan national army uniforms opened fire on the ISAF personnel with a machine gun.  That machine gun fire resulted in the death of two U.S. servicemembers.  Coalition advisers then engaged the attackers, killing them both.
 
Within the hour, Taliban insurgents attacked the district center with small-arms machine gun fire and RPGs.  They also continued to fire mortar rounds into the district center, damaging several buildings.
 
Q:  Taliban, you say?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Taliban insurgents, yeah.  ISAF personnel were not aware of any civilian casualties at that time, nor were there any reports of civilian casualties, as the fighting in the district center concluded.  And the only thing I'd add is ISAF has initiated a joint investigation into the incident with the ANSF.  This is not uncommon for us to do joint investigations on situations like this where we're partnered operations. 
 
Q:  Is it an open question to whether the two with the machine guns had -- were members of the ANSF?  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yes.  I mean, I think that's what we're hoping the investigation determines exactly the -- you know, that they were -- that they were dressed in ANA uniforms.  As you know, that doesn't always mean that they were bona fide ANA soldiers.  So we're going to look at that.
 
Q:  Does it seem to be connected to the follow-on attack, then, or...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't want to speculate.  I mean, we need to let the investigators do their job.  I really don't want to speculate on that.
 
Ma'am?
 
Q:  Syria?  Secretary Kerry said today -- I think he's in Beijing -- that the president has asked for some more options on Syria, because they're not happy with the humanitarian crisis that continues to grow.  Secretary Kerry specifically said he's asked us, as if it was like the larger national security staff of the administration.  Do you know what the Pentagon, Secretary Hagel has been asked to do?  Are you providing additional options, taskings, anything?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not getting ahead of Secretary Kerry, yes.   I think there is interesting in exploring other options through an interagency process here.  And I wouldn't want to get ahead of what those options might be in terms of coming here from the building, but I think, in general, there's an interest in coming up with other options moving forward in Syria, again, from an interagency perspective.  And I wouldn't speculate right now about any specific options that might be coming from the Pentagon or from the military.
 
Q:  But the military options in general are being considered?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think what the interest is, it's simply interagency options here.  And, you know, broad brush, -- not any from just a specific agency.  And I'd remind you that, in terms of military options to the president, they remain available.  I mean, we -- we continue to have a naval and air presence in the Mediterranean, and those options remain available to the president.
 
I'm not speculating on this.  I'm not trying to signal that -- you know, that there's some sort of imminence here, but those options have remained available to the president, should he need them.
 
Q:  But the options you're discussing now are primarily humanitarian options or would include...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think -- again, I don't want to get ahead of an interagency discussion that hasn't even started yet.  I think the interest is in sort of a broad range of options, and I would expect that those options would be across the spectrum of national power, not simply military.  And, again, military options remain available to the president, should he need them.  
 
Kristina?
 
Q:  Did Secretary Hagel discuss training Iraqi troops in Jordan the other day when he met with the king of Jordan?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't want to get into specifics of discussions that he had with a head of state.  As I said in the readout that I put out yesterday, they discussed lots of issues, to include what's going on in Syria.  But, again -- and we've talked about this training thing before -- this is really a discussion for the leaders of Iraq and Jordan to have.  And there's no plans right now for U.S. involvement in that kind of training.
 
Okay.  Oh, John?  Sure.
 
Q:  One more?  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, I can still get to the florist in time, I think.
 
Q:  The Cape Ray arrived in Rota yesterday, I believe.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  She did, yes.
 
Q:  But the Syrian government isn't really close to holding -- excuse me, to transferring all of its chemical weapons, so the Cape Ray is just sort of sitting in Rota waiting for that to happen.  But it seemed pretty clear a couple weeks ago that that would be the case, so why did the ship go ahead and deploy?  Does that cost U.S. taxpayers extra money to have it being stationed in Rota versus Portsmouth?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, look, I mean, we got her ready and deployed her based on the milestones that had been set and agreed to by the international community and Syria, in terms of the removal of the materials.  It would have been irresponsible for us to not move with a certain sense of alacrity in that regard, and so we did.
 
And you're right.  The ship now has just arrived in Rota, Spain, where she'll remain until we know that enough material has been moved for her to go get it and to start destruction.
 
I can't give you a cost right now in terms -- because I don't know how much longer we're going to have to wait for Syria to meet its obligations.  Secretary Hagel was very clear, and the U.S. government writ large has been very clear, that it's time for Syria to meet their obligations, obligations that they agreed to and that they are not meeting right now.
 
And it's not just the United States and the Cape Ray that are waiting.  It's our international partners, too.  And we're grateful for the help we're getting from Norway and from the Danes and also from Italy.  There are a lot of people waiting on Syria to do the right thing here, to meet their obligations.  But, again, I couldn't give you a specific cost.  It's really going to have to depend on how long this goes.
 
We do think that once the destruction mission can start, it's about a 45 to 90-day process after that, once we get to the point where we got the materials onboard and we can start the destruction.  Thanks.
 
Louie?
 
Q:  Earlier in the week, there were reports about the administration talking about targeting an American member of Al Qaida in an undetermined country.  And part of those -- well, most of the stories talked about how part of the debate is about how the U.S. military has been tasked with going after such American targets.  Why is that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Part of the debate was how the American military has been tasked with going after Americans?
 
Q:  They talked about the internal debate about whether -- to be able to target this individual or not, that brought up the fact...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, I mean, without -- I'm not going to get into -- I mean, without getting into specifics here, what I can tell you is that the U.S. military has never -- we never let our foot off the gas here when it comes to going after Al Qaida or Al Qaida associates and that when drones are used to do that, it's a very comprehensive, thoughtful, measured process by which the intelligence is analyzed and the decisions are made.  But, again, I'm just not going to get up here and talk about, you know, specific examples or specific cases. 
 
Q:  That includes going after American members of Al Qaida?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  There is a very robust discussion about targeting and who is a legitimate target and who is not.  
 
Okay, happy Valentine's Day again, everybody.
 
Q:  Thank you.
 
The internal review mentioned in this press briefing can be viewed here.
 
The independent nuclear enterprise review mentioned in this press briefing can be viewed here.

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