REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Just a couple of brief comments to make before we get to your questions.
First, the draft assessments from our teams in Iraq reached the Pentagon yesterday. Secretary Hagel is now reviewing them. He intends to take the necessary time to work through the assessments carefully and thoroughly. This initial work from the assessment teams will also be studied and reviewed by senior leaders both here at the Pentagon and at Central Command. Meanwhile, additional assessment work continues with respect to the developing situation on the ground.
To be clear, there are no recommendations attached to the assessments. Rather, these assessments will help form the basis of any recommendations the secretary and Chairman Dempsey may ultimately make to the president and to the interagency about how best to move forward.
I won't get into any such -- I won't get into what any such recommendations might entail, as they have not yet been developed, but I expect they would, in addition to flowing out of the assessments, follow the intent the commander-in-chief has expressed from the beginning, which is to explore ways to help the Iraqi security forces confront the threat that exists within their own country from ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].
I'm also not going to get into any sort of timeline for this process. We're not going to go through this in a rush. We're going to be deliberate about it. We're going to be measured. We're going to keep an open mind. And as we said before, getting this done right is more important than getting it done quickly.
My second comment is about the F-35. As you know, yesterday, the airworthiness authorities for the U.S. Navy and Air Force approved the F-35 to return to flight. This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope, which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23rd engine mishap is identified and corrected.
That said, I can confirm that the Department of Defense in concert with our partners in the U.K. has decided not to send Marine Corps and U.K. F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough air show. This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to flight -- to limited flight.
When we -- when we operate aircraft, we look at many factors, to include operational risks, the weather, ground time, maintenance issues. All of these factors were weighed appropriately in making this difficult decision. And while we're disappointed that we're not going to be able to participate in the air show, we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.
As Secretary Hagel has made clear, safety as always remains our top priority. And we'll continue to provide you up-to-date information as we can and as it becomes available.
With that, I'll take your questions. Bob?
Q: Just -- based on what you just said about the F-35, it's not clear to me why you -- why you would be unable to send it to England if it's -- you're able to fly them again.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, I said there's a limited flight envelope here. So there's a couple of things. One is...
Q: What is that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, I can give you those parameters, but let me -- before I do that, let me get to the bigger question here. It is -- it's a restricted return to flight, so it's not completely unrestricted. And I'll give you the parameters in just a second.
Secondly, there's a timing issue here. The air show started already and just the physical act of getting there makes timing critical. And I think nobody in senior leadership wanted to rush to do this for the sake of the air show. Not that the air show's not important, not that we didn't want to go, but I think everybody believed given the parameters around the restrictions on the flight, the flight envelopes, and given the timing, that this was the most prudential and safe decision. And as I said before, Secretary Hagel has made it pretty clear that safety is going to be paramount here.
So on the -- on the flight envelope restrictions, right now, the aircraft are limited to a max speed of 0.9 Mach, 18 degrees of angle of attack. They can go from minus one to a positive three Gs and a half a stick deflection for rolls.
More critically, after three hours of flight time, each front fan section of the -- of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope. So after every three hours of flight time, you got to do a borescope inspection of the front fan section of the engine. That was a pretty significant limitation in terms of being able to fly them across the Atlantic.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, no, I mean, that's -- that's -- that -- of all those restrictions, that's probably the most important one when it came to making the decision about whether you're going to fly them across the Atlantic, because after three hours of flight, they have to be inspected. So I don't know. Did that -- did that get to your question?
Q: (OFF-MIC) more broadly a lot of critics are going to seize on this as a big defeat for the F-35.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Could you put in perspective -- it's going to an air show to entertain flight enthusiasts. Is this a -- what kind of a setback is this to the overall program's perception?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It -- first of all, we remain committed to the program. We're actually glad for the news today to be able to get the aircraft back in the air, even if it is limited. We fully expect to work our way through this problem and restore the full operational capability in the near future.
This by no means should signal any lack of commitment to the F-35 or to its future in the U.S. military or in those militaries of partner nations that want to -- that want to purchase it. It's the -- it's the next-generation fighter aircraft, and we remain committed to that.
Not the first aircraft to have problems like this. It's not going to be the last. New programs often go through these kinds of challenges. We're confident that we're going to get through this.
And I would also add that, you know, after all the inspections and the work -- now, I want to caveat this, because the investigation is not complete yet, but we haven't seen anything that points to a systemic issue across the fleet with respect to the engine. Again, that can change. I want to caveat that right off the bat, but the point is that -- that leadership feels increasingly comfortable and confident in working the aircraft back to flight.
Q: (OFF-MIC) did Secretary Hagel call his counterpart in the U.K. to let him know this is not coming over?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have -- we have -- I mean, as I said at the outset, the U.K. authorities were completely in consultation with this decision and helped make this decision. So we've been in constant touch and communication with them throughout this thing. Yeah.
Q: Admiral, can you explain or describe in any way the Iraq assessment that the Pentagon has received? Yesterday you talked a little bit about the insider threat and concerns about pairing U.S. forces with Iraqis. Was this part of the assessment? What can you tell us about the assessment?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The assessments are classified. I'm not going to get into the details of them. And I didn't detail anything yesterday in answer to a question about a New York Times story, which -- which -- you know, had a source in there, an anonymous source saying that the insider threat was a problem. I talked about the fact that we always have to consider the insider threat when we work with -- with partner nations in situations like Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be imprudent for us not to think that through and try to mitigate that risk, but I'm not going to get into detailing what is included in the assessments.
Again, I want to go back to what I said. They're still technically draft and not final, being reviewed right now by leadership, and we need to give leadership the opportunity to go through that, without having a public debate about it.
Q: Admiral, on the F-35 decision, can you please tell us when that was made, as quick -- you know, as much as you know, and who actually made it? Did Secretary Hagel decide this or somebody in the program office at a lower level?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The decision -- the first decision was this morning. I think you saw my announcement about the return -- the limited return to flight. That was made last evening. And then, you know, communicated to authorities there in the U.K. appropriately. So we were able to announce that this morning.
And then -- and then the decision not to go to Farnborough was actually made within the last couple of hours. And, I mean, ultimately that decision for the Marine Corps variant fell to the commandant of the Marine Corps. For the U.K., obviously, for their own -- and I don't know exactly who in the -- in the government at the U.K. made the decision for their -- for their Bs [F-35B] but for us, the commandant ultimately made that decision and the secretary fully supports it.
And I would also say, as I said at the outset, the airworthiness authorities for the Air Force and the Navy also had a role in shaping that decision.
Q: Did the secretary have a veto that he chose not to use or did the commandant have the ultimate authority here (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary made it very clear from the very beginning that -- that he was not going to push pressure on the airworthiness authorities or the services either way. His only -- his only guidance was safety will be paramount. I don't want safety to be -- to be impaired at all here.
So he was -- that was his only guidance. He trusts the service leadership and the airworthiness authorities to make the best decision, you know, based on what's good for the aircraft and, more importantly, what's good for the crew.
Q: Admiral Kirby, on Iraq, on the assessments report, I know that this report is classified, but are you going to share part of its content with -- or its findings with the Iraqi government, for example?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, so a couple of things. It's not a report, Joe. These are assessments that the six teams have been working the last couple of weeks to provide for us, assessments of three things, assessments of Iraqi security forces -- again, they were looking at, at the higher headquarters levels on the cohesiveness and the capabilities of the readiness of Iraqi security forces and what Iraqi security forces -- should we move to an advisory capacity, what would be the appropriate level to do that and with what units?
Number two, to give us a sense of what's going on, on the ground, particularly ISIL and their capabilities, and what -- and their intent. And then, number three -- and I kind of alluded to this -- was to give us a sense of what an advisory mission could or would look like, should we move to that.
I'm not going to get -- again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of that. It's -- it's a very comprehensive set of assessments, and it's going to take us a little bit of time to get -- to work our way through that.
Q: So this assessment is only -- is only for the U.S. government? You're not going to share any part of it with the Iraqi...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This -- these assessments were meant to inform U.S. leadership about those three things. And that's what they're going to do.
Q: Well, why do you have to make it classified? I mean, it's an assessment of the Iraqi security forces, the enemy within Iraq. Why is that something that needs to be hidden from the American public?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's not about hiding it from the American public, Justin. It's there's -- there's lots of -- there's lots of information that we analyze and assess here that are classified for good reason. And I think it -- I think it should be obvious that there are certain things that we probably gathered about the state of the situation on the ground in Iraq and the state of ISIL that we wouldn't want to telegraph to the ISIL themselves. And I think the American people would understand why we're being a little prudent with this information.
What's more important than what's in the assessments are going to be whatever recommendations flow from the assessments. And, again, those recommendations could lead to certain decisions. And certainly if there are decisions made about follow-on military assistance in Iraq, we're obviously going to communicate that to the American people appropriately.
Q: Last question on this. Could you carry out future operations with just the teams you have there now already?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Could we carry out future...
Q: Air strikes, any future operations in Iraq, without adding any additional forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's a hypothetical that I would -- it would be impossible for me to answer right now. First of all, no decision has been made about using airstrikes in Iraq. There's lots of ways -- should you go to airstrikes, there's lots of ways to do that, which requires different levels of logistical support and intelligence support. And, I mean, there's no way I could possibly answer that question right now.
Q: Admiral, you called this a draft assessment. What does that mean? And does this need to be finalized or altered in any way before recommendations are made off of this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's a -- it's a -- these are draft assessments. As I said yesterday, the assessment teams are still on the ground. They're still providing insights and observations. I don't expect the assessments to change radically, but Gen. Austin felt it was important, once he had them -- the initial work in, that he followed that up the chain of command. He did that. We got them yesterday. We're going through them.
Again, I don't expect major changes in them, but I think because it was -- it represented the initial body of work, there's always that possibility that some more refinements could -- could occur.
Q: Separate from the assessment, are there Iraqi units that are in a position to benefit from U.S. advising at this time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Separate from the assessments?
Q: Separate from classified assessment, from -- in your opinion, from what you know, are there Iraqi units that could benefit from a closer working relationship with American units?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The assessments were designed to help us answer that question, and that's what we're going through right now. So, again, I won't get ahead of a process that's just now beginning.
Court, did you have your hand up?
Q: I'm trying to figure out if Julian just asked my question, by the way.
Q: You should try again.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can come back to you. I can come back to you.
Q: No, I might try it again. So the information from the assessment, is any of that being used in an operational way right now in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't believe so.
Q: Okay. And then you said specifically that no recommendations were attached, but Generals Austin, Dempsey and the secretary will all make recommendations on them before it goes forward to the White House?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think that's absolutely yes.
Q: And there's absolutely no timeline? You're just going to let all the people who were -- the hundreds of people who were there in Iraq continuing to assess that as long as they have to?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said yesterday, we all share a sense of urgency here. I mean, we understand that the situation on the ground remains complex and fluid and dynamic. I think it's safe to say that -- that senior leaders here are reviewing these assessments with a sense of alacrity here. But it's more important to make sure that we get whatever recommendations are formed, get them right than to get them quickly and be wrong. And so, again, everybody's moving, I think, with an appropriate sense of urgency, but I'm not going to -- I can't and I wouldn't, you know, provide a date certain on when, you know, recommendations will be formed and then -- and then sent up.
Q: So just to clarify, so these assessors, as it were, what are they doing now? Are they...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They are -- they are still...
Q: ... advisory role (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have not -- we have not migrated to an advisory role yet. Again, this was -- the assessment phase is now complete. They are still on the ground. They are still providing insights and observations.
Back to Julian's question. That's one of the reasons why we refer to these as draft assessments. They're continuing to refine some of the things that they -- they have -- that they have uncovered, and we'll just -- we'll keep tapping into them.
The other thing that they're doing is they're helping man and resource these joint operation centers, one in Baghdad and the one up in Erbil.
Q: And do you think there's a time at which -- whenever the timeframe is -- you know, whenever you -- the Pentagon and the White House decide what the way forward is, that we will have better insight as to what these assessments say, apart from -- their classified nature, but, I mean, do you anticipate kind of rolling out a better understanding to the American public about what it is that's gone into whatever the decision you finally make is?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it's probably reasonable to expect that, should recommendations flow from these and then decisions, that in articulating the decisions that might get made, you know, that we would be able to provide and shed some light on what we learned through the assessment process. I think that's fair.
But there's no plans to make the assessments public or to just -- to lay them out right now in a public way, while they're still being used and they're still fodder for recommendations and perhaps follow-on decisions.
Q: Admiral Kirby, as you know, the president, the secretary and the chairman have all made clear that Iraq needs to have a government that would represent all factions, all groups, all sects, and not just some, like the Shia. To what degree will the recommendations that come from the Pentagon be shaped or influenced by the political situation in Iraq, as opposed to just purely military assessments?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, until they -- until we get through the assessments, it's difficult to answer that question. But you're right. Secretary Hagel has said it from the outset, that there's not going to be a purely military solution here, that in the end, what's best for Iraq's security is an inclusive political process that's multi-confessional and comprehensive for the entire Iraqi population.
I'd also say that one of the -- one of the reasons we think Iraqi security forces -- or at least some of them -- haven't -- you know, didn't perform as well as we had hoped they would and the outset was that they weren't properly administered over the last three years when we left Iraq, that their training, their resourcing, their equipping, the way they were organized and led wasn't done in that inclusive -- inclusive way with a solid political underpinning.
So nothing's changed about our desire to see ultimately -- the long-term solution for Iraq's security is a stable, inclusive political process. But it's difficult for me right now to -- to tell you exactly what recommendations -- what they're going to look like flowing out of the assessments until we've had a chance to go all the way through them.
Q: But will there be a separate political assessment, as it were? I mean, are -- it sounds like the way you describe them, these draft assessments were primarily military in nature.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They are primarily military in nature. I have personally not read each and every one of them, so I can't discount that they don't include some discussion of the political process. It's difficult, particularly in a country like Iraq, to separate -- when you're talking about Iraqi security forces to separate the political process from the military organization. That can be a difficult thing to do.
But as I said, the assessments were really designed to do those three things -- look at the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], look at ISIL, and then -- and then provide an assessment of what an advisory mission might look like. That's the focus of it.
Q: Sir, thank you. My question is, as far as the India-U.S. military-to-military relations (inaudible) are concerned, if there are any change? And also from the previous government, there were in pipeline billions of dollars (inaudible) released from India to buy different (inaudible) from the U.S. And now India (inaudible) new prime minister, new government, and they have just introduced a new budget. And in the budget, there is, of course, military equipment, also. So what is the picture of those already in the pipeline? And also, if secretary has spoken with his counterpart in India (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He's not spoken to his Indian counterpart. I don't have an update for you on -- on any foreign military sales with India. I'll just kind of leave it where I've left it with you before. We look forward to continuing to work on a strong bilateral relationship with -- with the Indian armed forces.
Q: ... real quick, does the timing of the recommendations have any explicit tie to progress on -- on the political front in Iraq? Do you want to, in other words, wait for there to be progress in forming a new government before the recommendations that flow out of the draft assessment?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think -- I don't think there's going to be a direct tie to political timing on the ground in Iraq. Everybody wants to see the political process in Iraq move forward, of course. But we've got the assessments now. We're taking a look at them. I suspect that recommendations will flow from them and we're all -- as I said to Courtney, we're working with this -- we're working on it as quickly as we can, but not so quickly that we form faulty recommendations.
But is it tied directly to the political process on then ground in Baghdad? No. It's tied at a strategic level, of course, because in my answer to Craig, as I said, we want -- we know -- we recognize that there's no purely military solution here.
Q: Admiral, one more follow-up on this. You said a second ago the failure of the Iraqi army last month showed that it had not been properly administered since the departure of the U.S. forces that have been helping train them. Will the secretary as part of this process make a recommendation to the president over the longer term, beyond just the present crisis, about whether the U.S. needs to step up its involvement, training and assisting the Iraqis once we get beyond this ISIL/ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] problem?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm sure you can understand why I wouldn't get ahead of recommendations that haven't been developed yet or proffered to the president and the interagency. We're going to -- we're going to do this methodically. We're going to do it with a sense of purpose. And when we have something to talk about with respect to a way forward, we'll do that.
Q: Wanted to follow up on the recommendations, and then I wanted to ask you something else. Is it absolutely definite that there will be recommendations? Is it even possible -- and I don't mean this hypothetically -- but is the door open to the notion that Hagel, Dempsey and Austin may say, "There's really nothing we can do"? Or is it definite that there will be recommendations?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, even -- even hypothetically, doing nothing is a decision. So I think -- I think it's safe to assume that flowing from the good work that was done over the last three weeks from these assessment teams that there will be recommendations. I don't know what they'll be. Again, I won't get ahead of that process. But I'm confident that as a result of all that work, there will be recommendations about a way forward or ways forward. Again, I just -- I wouldn't prejudge that right now.
Q: Okay. Can I just ask you something -- two other things really quick. Syria, growing concern -- everybody agrees about foreign fighters in Syria. And although it may not be directly a Defense Department issue, from the standpoint of national security, as you see the fighting go on there and ISIS gain strength there, what -- what are the concerns that you hear around from Secretary Hagel, from others about the concerns about Americans going to Syria, joining the fighting there, and the growing foreign fighter element in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: A couple of levels here. One, I mean, we continue to be concerned about ISIL, their activities inside Syria and inside Iraq, the free flow that they have across that border and the manner in which they can use that flow to sustain themselves. So that's a concern.
And, secondly -- and the secretary has made this clear -- I mean, we remain concerned about foreign fighters in general that are -- that are for various purposes -- ideological and otherwise -- joining in this effort with ISIL. And, yes, there are -- and we've talked about this -- legitimate concerns about Americans who decide that they -- that they want to -- that they want to participate in this.
I mean, it's a valid concern. We share it with the interagency, with law enforcement authorities. But it's bigger than just any one country. And we're not the only nation that harbors concerns about foreign fighters assisting this particular network.
Q: And on Libya, very quickly, as the situation there deteriorates, especially around the airport, with it being shelled and most of the aircraft at the airport now being destroyed, can the United States -- with the airport no longer functioning, closed because it's been shelled, can the United States military still evacuate Americans out of Libya safely, out of the embassy, if it comes to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No decision has been made to evacuate the embassy. That's a decision only the State Department can make. And as in Libya or anywhere else in the world, we remain postured and prepared to assist in those kinds of efforts, should they be required. But they're not right now, and there's been no request to do that.
I would also point, Barbara, to what we refer to here as the new normal in the wake of Benghazi. We learned here in DOD -- we learned certain lessons from Benghazi, and one of them was to make sure that because of the instability throughout that arc, all the way from the Levant to the Sahel, we need to be even more forward-leaning than perhaps we are in some other parts of the world.
And our AFRICOM [U.S. Africa Command] -- Africa Command commander and our European Command commander have the resources they need, they have -- they have plans prepared. They're postured to support those kinds of missions, should we be called upon to do them.
I already got you, Tony. Jim?
Q: Admiral, just -- is there any chance -- just back to the Iraq assessment -- any chance that additional advisers/assessors would flow in to Iraq before the recommendations are made? Or will they sort of be cut off until recommendations are made and then a decision will be made?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it's possible that there could be a flow of some additional personnel. Remember, part of the job is to help man these joint operations centers. And so that -- those -- the staffing there has increased somewhat, not much, but a little bit.
What I don't foresee happening is a transition to advisory teams and then full teams coming in to do advisory missions. I mean, that -- that muscle movement requires a set of decisions based on recommendations from these assessments. So I don't think that -- I wouldn't anticipate that happening. Does that answer your question? Okay.
Q: (OFF-MIC) weapons question. As you mull what to do here with the assessments, what's the flow of Hellfires and other lethal aid to the Iraqi government at this point?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's a process that continues. We provided since January more than 300. There's another 600 or so that are in the process of getting delivered. I don't have an exact update for you on where they are and when they're going to get there. But, I mean, we -- we have a very robust program with Iraq and the Iraqi security forces, and that continues.
Q: Can you at least give a step-back view of, what is the military situation in Iraq right now? A month ago, it was, is Baghdad burning? Now you're taking more measured deliberate steps to look at the assessments. It seems like there's been a pause or some kind of stalemate in play here that's allowing the Iraqi government and the U.S. to think about what comes next versus rushing in airstrikes and other aid. What is the situation? Are we in a stalemate, pause in fighting?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I think if you were an Iraqi right now, I don't think you would describe it as a pause in fighting or a stalemate. I mean, there are still some dangerous areas there in Iraq. And I describe it last week as a contested environment. It very much still is a contested environment. And there are still innocent Iraqis suffering as a result of ISIL and their activities inside Iraq, so nobody is taking it less than seriously, of course.
And the other thing I'd just -- if I could -- push back a little bit, we never said here that, you know, Baghdad was burning and -- and tried to, you know, artificially inflate what was going on there. It's bad enough as it is, that it didn’t need that.
But it's still contested. ISIL still continues to pose what we believe to be a legitimate threat to Baghdad and its environs. We see that -- we continue to see Iraqi security forces prepare themselves and stiffen themselves to defend the capital. We believe that they will fight to defend Baghdad. We also have seen Iraqi security forces go on the offensive in places like Tikrit, which they are still fighting for right now.
We also have seen them -- the ISF solidify some of their -- solidify some of their games, like -- gains, such as the oil refinery in Beiji, which we now believe is safely in Iraq security forces and their hands, as well as the Haditha Dam. But there are areas well north of the capital up in the north-central to northwest part of the country which fell quite quickly to ISIL, that are now contested, that ISF and even some Peshmerga forces are fighting back and retaking.
So very much a contested environment. And, again, I want to stress again that everybody -- everybody has the same sense of urgency here. And we -- nobody's sitting back, taking this in comfortable stride.
Q: (OFF-MIC) break the momentum of ISIS. And it seems -- three weeks, four weeks later, the momentum has somewhat been broken by the Iraqis themselves. I mean, is that an accurate perception?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: First of all, it wasn't my phrase. It was the president's. That was the -- that was the mission that he expressed, that he -- the goal that he wanted to achieve. And I don't know that I'm prepared here to qualify and say, you know, absolutely, the momentum's been broken, but certainly the Iraqis are fighting back.
And ultimately -- and we said this at the very outset -- this has got to be their fight. And as I said in my opening statement today, I mean, the assessments and the recommendations which will flow will all be done in a way that will -- or with an eye towards helping the ISF, Iraqi security forces, do exactly that, defend their own country, defend their own people, you know, protect their own borders from ISIL.
Q: Just back up on the assessment, is -- this building is full of people with extreme depth of knowledge about Iraq. Is there any kind of formal effort or will there be any formal effort to tap that expertise, you know, at some point? I assume the secretary will be talking with some of these chiefs and others, but, I mean, is -- do you foresee an effort to make sure these people are brought in...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Who are these people you're referring to?
Q: I mean chiefs and senior leaders and senior officers around the building...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: ... they -- they are -- they already are. I mean, Chairman Dempsey -- I don't think you're going to find a Joint Chiefs chairman with more experience in Iraq. And Gen. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, certainly his opinions have been sought and his opinions have been heard.
You have an Office of Security Cooperation that has maintained a presence in Iraq since 2011. That effort's headed by a three-star Army general, vast experience, and as well as everybody in there. And I would remind you, the assessment teams -- at least the first couple -- came from OSC-I [Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq] in Baghdad. They formed the core of the assessment teams. And many of the assessment team members have prior experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, I mean, I -- I think we already are. I mean, it would be impossible for us not to, just because of our vast, long experience over the last 12 or 13 years in both countries, for us not by design and by default to -- to be working with and working through and -- and getting -- and taking advantage of the expertise of people who have on-the-ground experience in Iraq.
Yeah, back there.
Q: Thank you. What role do the U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan is playing in auditing of ballots after that (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The -- the -- the audit of the 8 million votes is being led and coordinated by the U.N. mission there in Afghanistan. I won't speak for Gen. Dunford or ISAF [International Security Assistance Force]. That's not my place. But it's my understanding that ISAF's role would simply be in -- perhaps in helping to transport some of the ballots into Kabul.
But, again, I'd refer you to ISAF to speak to specifics on that. I'm not in a position to do that.
Q: And one more on ISIL. In the last few weeks, after it captured (inaudible) part of Iraq and Syria, what is the threat perception poses right now? And, secondly, do you have any information the composition of ISIL? They are composed of a lot of foreign fighters are part of ISIL.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I answered it to Barbara. I mean, we remain concerned about foreign fighters and support, as well as just Sunni extremists in general who are finding common cause with ISIL.
Although we have seen some -- you know, some divisiveness inside that network. I mean, we remain concerned about that. And I think Secretary Hagel was very clear last week when he talked about ISIL and the threat that they pose down there at Kings Bay and at Fort Rucker. I mean, they -- they're certainly a threat to the Iraqi people. We believe they are definitely a threat to the region, and I talked about that, the porous border with Syria. And we remain concerned that they have aspirations elsewhere towards Western targets, to include our own homeland. And I think these are legitimate concerns.
Q: I just want to clarify something that Craig had asked earlier. We understand that the assessments are not political, that they're military, but the recommendations made from them might have a political component. That's correct, right? That's what I understood.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's possible, Phil. But, again, I -- you know, we're just now getting through these. And so I just won't -- I just won't get ahead of what the assessments say or what recommendations may flow from them.
We have said from the outset that there's not going to be a purely military solution here, that there has to be long-term political progress in Iraq, inclusive political progress inside Iraq in order to make a difference long term. That's the best antidote to the security issues that ISIL poses inside Iraq.
Q: A question about the F-35s...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Who are you?
Q: Oh, my name's Alex. I'm with NHK.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay.
Q: So back to the F-35s, you had mentioned that the Pentagon is fully committed to the program and that partner militaries would still be able to purchase it if they would like to. Would you see this latest stream of issues affecting the timeline of the sale of that airplane?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I don't -- I don't think anybody in charge of the program foresees major program disruptions or sales as a result of this. This is not uncommon for new aircraft, new airframes, new capabilities, to have technological issues like this.
And, again, I think today's decision to return it to flight should be a welcome decision for anybody interested in the F-35. I mean, it shows that we're -- that we're working our way through this and the aircraft will again fly.
I got time for just one more. Jeff?
Q: What's the latest with the...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll take one from Courtney, too.
Q: ... the ISR over Iraq? You said that initially it was about 30 to 35 flights per day, then it was up to 50. How much ISR is being done? How much of a difference is that making? And to what extent do you think the involvement of Iran has either helped the situation in Iraq or made it more difficult in terms of coordinating with Iraqi forces, perhaps, you know, a future...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're not -- we're not in -- we're not in a mission of coordinating with Iraqi forces on the ground. The coordination that we are doing is confined to the joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil. They are fully operational. Again, we are -- as I said to Jim -- it's likely that we'll continue to flow some individuals into those centers, but that's -- that's working well so far.
I'm sorry. And the first part of your question was...
Q: With the ISR, how much of a difference does that...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, yeah. No, there's been no major change. I think the last time I was briefing you, I said we were up to around 50 flights a day. And as I understand it, that's still the number that we're working with today. It fluctuates from day-to-day, but that's about the average that we're -- that we're flying.
Q: Can I follow on that? How are you handling aircraft deconfliction? You have Iraqi aircraft. You have...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's -- it's Iraqi airspace to deconflict. There hasn't been an issue thus far.
Q: Two quick ones. On Boko Haram...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Are you asking one for Justin because I wouldn't point to him?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because one question's yours and one's his?
Q: Actually she is
Q: Yeah, full disclosure.
Q: But it was a good question (OFF-MIC) is there -- can you update us on the search for the missing girls in Nigeria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing -- nothing new on that.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) still flying surveillance missions?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, we are, manned and unmanned.
Q: And then on Sgt. Bergdahl, are you -- can you update us on the investigation? Has he been questioned yet by the investigators? And are you aware if he's hired any outside attorney?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I actually can't help you with the last one. I don't know. I would refer you to the Army on that. As you know, he did return to full duty this week. And I do know that the investigation into his departure will, you know -- will continue and that it will include an interview with him, but I don't know if that's occurred yet or -- and as for whether he's, you know, gotten representation, that's really a question for him to answer.
Q: Are there any restrictions on his movements, given the ongoing investigation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I mean, he's an active-duty Army soldier. And just like any active-duty Army soldier, he's free to leave base. He's -- I mean, he's not under any particular restrictions.
And I would remind you -- I mean, he's not been charged with anything. There is -- there's...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's allegations, but, I mean, just having allegations posed against you in the military doesn't restrict your freedom of movement or place you in any kind of restricted status just by the nature of somebody alleging wrongdoing. There will be a fair, complete, comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding his departure from that base, and then we'll move on from there.
Q: (OFF-MIC) could say he's a flight risk, given the status of the allegations...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He's under no restrictions. There's simply an ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding his departure.