DOD News Briefing with Capt. Kirby from the Pentagon
CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
First, as you -- just a couple of thoughts here. First, as you know, Secretary Panetta continues his trip to the Asia-Pacific region this week. Today he arrived in New Delhi, and he paid calls on both Prime Minister Singh and National Security Advisor Menon. We provided you all a readout of those meetings, both of which the secretary appreciated. And he continues to believe these meetings are valuable to helping us continue to improve the military relationship that we enjoy with India.
You may also have seen that we reached agreement today with India to resume activities related to the recovery of remains of U.S. airmen lost in World War II. We believe there's about 400 unaccounted-for service members from some 90 wartime crashes in northeastern India, and we have information on about 16 of known crash sites and continue to develop information about others. As the secretary noted, the return of our fallen heroes remains a top priority for the department. This agreement reached with India today is a critical first step to providing some comfort to the families of those American airmen, and we are grateful for the government -- to the government of India for their cooperation and understanding.
With that, Bob.
Q: John, what can you say about the U.S. government's degree of confidence in having killed al-Libi in the airstrike yesterday?
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah, as you know, Bob, we don't talk about the specific of the counterterrorism operations, so I'm not going to be able to confirm those press reports. But this is a very dangerous individual, and for him to no longer be walking the earth would be a good thing for everybody. I think the leadership development program of al-Qaida is -- has some health risks and hazards that we think are good.
Q: (Off mic) -- drone attacks took place?
CAPT. KIRBY: No, as I said, we don't discuss the specifics of counterterrorism operations. So I'm not going -- I'm not going to speak to specifics of operations.
Q: But can -- could you say if al-Libi, the al-Qaida number two in Pakistan, is one of the United States' targets?
CAPT. KIRBY: Senior leaders of al-Qaida period, no matter where they are, by virtue of what they choose to do for a living, are threats to our security, the security of the American people, and the security of our friends and allies around the world. They remain threats, and the president, the secretary of defense have made it very clear that we're going to deal with those threats wherever they are.
Q: So not responding specifically to this operation yesterday or anything that happened in the incidents yesterday, do you have any indication Abu Yahya al-Libi (ph) is less alive today than he was -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. KIRBY: I have nothing for you on that today.
Q: On India, the secretary asked the Indians to step up their involvement in Afghanistan. How is that not potentially provocative to the Pakistanis at a time when the department is trying to get greater Pakistani cooperation on a range of Afghanistan-related issues? And to what degree do the benefits of that deeper Indian cooperation outweigh those potential costs?
CAPT. KIRBY: I think the reports have been slightly exaggerated; I don't believe the secretary asked them to impress them to do more rather than expressed how much he appreciated the work they were doing to help provide support in Afghanistan and some of the things that they were -- that they have expressed interest in continuing to do in Afghanistan, but also in the region. And so I think it was really more a statement of appreciation for everything they've done and the hope that they'll continue to stay involved as a leader in the region.
And they're -- you know, this is a -- it's a vital part of the world, and our engagement in the region is not about bilateral relations only with any one particular country. We've long said that security in Afghanistan is a -- is tied very closely to our relationship with Pakistan, as it is also with our relationship with other countries in the region, including India. India is a global power, and they are meeting their responsibilities and we welcome that.
Q: So to clarify, did the secretary or did the secretary not ask the Indians for a deeper involvement in training the Afghan army and police?
CAPT. KIRBY: I think he expressed gratitude for what they have done and -- that his fervent hope that they'll continue to stay engaged in the region and in particular in helping Afghanistan as it moves forward.
Q: I'm going to shift gears to the F-22. On May 15th, you and George Little came up here and announced the flight limitation. Fast-forward three and half weeks later, where does that -- is there any new information you can impart about how close the Air Force is to divining a cause for the oxygen issue?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I know that -- I don't have anything new to announce today, but I do know that their work continues. They're working on this very, very hard. We expect that they will be briefing the secretary, giving him an update, in the very near future. But I wouldn't want to get ahead of that. And I certainly would refer you to Air Force on any specifics. Right now I don't have anything new to announce but -- other than to tell you that we do know that there has been a lot of work in the intervening weeks. And again, they're preparing to update the secretary soon.
Q: What's the -- what's OSD's position on grounding the fleet if at some point a cause is not determined and it's still hanging out there -- as in an engineering problem that needs to be solved, using your words?
CAPT. KIRBY: Right. And I think the secretary -- the secretary takes this issue very, very seriously. It's a safety-of-flight issue. He understands that. And he's not taking any options off the table with respect to the future of the aircraft.
Right now he doesn't believe that grounding the fleet is the prudent course. And he endorsed the way forward that the Air Force is pursuing, and also, as we announced, imposed some flight restrictions. I think he wants to see how that's going and he wants to get updated from Air Force leadership, find out what they've learned before we take any more decisions moving forward.
But no options with respect to this program are off the table right now. Again, it's a safety-of-flight issue that he takes very, very seriously.
Q: (Inaudible) -- national weapons program in case -- if it is forced into combat would these limitations -- not cripple, but curtail its combat effectiveness?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, it's on an operational deployment, as you know, in the Middle East region right now, and we haven't discerned any operational impact as a result of the flight limitations that have been placed on it. So right now the aircraft is performing very well in an operational setting, and again, we're just going to continue to watch this as we move forward.
Q: Japan has a new defense minister. Has the secretary spoken to him on the phone?
CAPT. KIRBY: Not to my knowledge, they have not communicated, no.
Q: Captain, may I ask you something on Mexico? Recently -- well, as you know, in the current situation the most reliable institution and the most respected institution in Mexico is the army, the Mexican army. They are struggling against the drug cartels. Mexico and U.S. have been working closer in this relationship between militaries. But however, now there are allegations of corruption against four high-rank generals of the army.
Do you have any concern about these allegations? Do you think some -- how can harm the current relationship and the work of the -- of the -- of both countries against the organized crime?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't have anything -- I've not heard anything about these allegations. So this is the first I'm hearing that there are allegations against senior officers in the Mexican army. So I wouldn't be able to comment on that specifically, except to say that we do value our relationship with the Mexican armed forces and we take very seriously our commitment across the interagency in the United States, not just in the Defense Department, to try to help stem the issue of narcotics flow and narco-violence and terrorism that has occurred inside Mexico -- again, to the degree the Mexicans want support. I mean, we're not -- we're not doing anything without, of course, their invitation and their request and with their approval. But it's -- but it's a serious issue we share across that border and that we both are taking very, very seriously.
And without respect to these allegations that -- again, that I don't know anything about -- I would tell you that I don't see anything changing our commitment to continue to assist the Mexican armed forces to the degree that we can.
Q: Do you think there is something that must -- can be done, not only in Mexico but in some other countries to avoid the corruption of the military by these cartels?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, again, your question would imply that there is rampant corruption inside the Mexican military, and I certainly wouldn't make that change here today. Again, it's a very important relationship that we take very seriously, on a very serious topic and issue, a security issue, for both our nations. And we want to just continue to look for ways to get that cooperation even better, even closer, to continue to address this problem.
Q: NATO's announcement yesterday that they have an agreement with -- I think with Uzbekistan and other countries to the north of Afghanistan to -- for the removal of materiel out of -- out of Afghanistan --
CAPT. KIRBY: Right.
Q: Should this be seen as an indication that the U.S. has essentially given up persuading the Pakistanis to reopening the supply -- overland supply routes?
CAPT. KIRBY: No, I wouldn't take it that way at all. This is an agreement that -- and I would let the alliance speak to it -- that the alliance made with these three nations. As you know, we have bilateral agreements with them as well, through the Northern Distribution Network, to move goods in and out of Afghanistan. We are very appreciative for those arrangements and continue to use them.
We've also long said that we do believe having the ground gates open at Chaman and the Torkham gates open for the flow of coalition traffic in and out of Afghanistan is -- remains valuable. And we continue to be in discussions with our Pakistani counterparts about the -- about trying to get those gates open and, in general, trying to improve the relationship with Pakistan writ large.
But no, I would not take the pursuit of this deal and this agreement as any kind of repudiation of the importance of those gates or the larger relationship with Pakistan.
Q: The discussions with the Pakistanis about the two gates -- is it -- has it boiled down to a negotiation over money, or are there other issues?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I wouldn't get into the details here from -- I don't want to be negotiating this in public. But I mean, it -- certainly the gates are a topic of discussion here in these discussions. There's no question about that. But it is really, writ large, about trying to get the relationship, at a strategic level, on a better and more firm footing than it has been since the November 26th incident.
Q: I'm just curious -- after 2014, will the Air Force have a role in supplying the Afghan army and police?
CAPT. KIRBY: The post-2014 U.S. presence and mission has yet to be determined. We have long said and continue to believe that they'll be some U.S. presence in Afghanistan and a -- and a U.S. military mission of some kind after the ISAF mission ends at the end of 2014. But the details of that are -- we aren't even at the point where, you know, we're starting to lay all that out. It will most likely be in some sort of training, advising and assisting capacity that could involve Air Force personnel and Air Force capabilities. But we just aren't there yet, Jeff; we just haven't gotten to that point.
Q: Now that NATO's moving so much stuff out of Afghanistan, are there any plans to activate the CRAF?
CAPT. KIRBY: The CRAF?
Q: Civil Relief Air Fleet.
CAPT. KIRBY: None that I'm aware of, but I learned a new acronym today. (Laughter.) I appreciate that.
Q: Captain Kirby, a Chinese official recently described what the secretary announced about the U.S. Naval pivot to Asia as untimely. What is DOD's reaction to that? Are you concerned that this announcement could create more tensions with China?
CAPT. KIRBY: The secretary has made it clear on his trip that the defense strategy, which includes a rebalancing and more focus on the Asia-Pacific region, is not targeted at any one country in that region but rather the region as a whole -- and our firm belief that we have significant security interests in the Asia-Pacific, significant security commitments to allies and partners in the region.
It's not aimed at rebuffing or trying to limit the growth and development of any one country. In fact, he's also made it clear that the peaceful, prosperous rise of China is a good thing, not just for that region, but for the world.
And as for the timeliness, I think we would all agree that the -- that the defense strategy as written and as endorsed by not only this department, but by the president, is absolutely timely. This is the right time to be looking at the Asia-Pacific region for -- to renew our commitments there and to rebalance our resources and our attention there.
Q: Could I just ask for -- on Syria, has there been any contact between the U.S. military and anyone involved with the Syrian Free Army?
CAPT. KIRBY: No. No. We work -- as I said last week, remain -- we still remain deeply concerned by the violence and by what the Assad regime continues to do to its own people. They still have an opportunity here to do the right thing, step down, stop killing their own people. We certainly -- that's the expectation.
Q: There are some reports in regards with the exercises of some military troops that are part of NATO before they go to Afghanistan near the border of Mexico. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
CAPT. KIRBY: No, I'm afraid not. I don't have anything for you on that today.
Q: Has there been any agreement with Canada, maybe, to provide some sort of terrain similar to Afghanistan for the training of their troops?
CAPT. KIRBY: Is there an agreement with Canada about sending troops to Afghanistan?
Q: (Off mic) -- no, no, no, providing some training -- a place to train with similar conditions to Afghanistan, for example? (Off mic) -- Arizona perhaps?
CAPT. KIRBY: Oh, I'm not aware of anything like that. I'm happy to take the question and look at that; but I have never -- I have not heard anything about that at all.
Q: (Off mic)?
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Can you comment at all about the CBS report that suggests that unmanned drones are collecting information on Americans that could be shared with law enforcement?
CAPT. KIRBY: Not heard that; have seen that report. I mean --
Q: Well, it's the Defense Department -- (inaudible) --
CAPT. KIRBY: -- the Defense Department does not spy on the American people. But I've not seen that report.
Q: So it's not allowed to do this?
CAPT. KIRBY: That's right. Yeah, the Defense Department does not spy on the American people here at home, and I mean, I just -- I've not seen the report, but I certainly wouldn't comment beyond that.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Thank you.
CAPT. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
Q: (Off mic) --
CAPT. KIRBY: Yep -- sorry, we had one more?
Q: I'll just take another bite at this apple. (Laughter.) Does the department wish to see India deepen its involvement in the Afghanistan war or maintain what its involvement already is?
CAPT. KIRBY: We have been -- we encourage all countries in the region -- and I think it came out of the Chicago summit -- encouraged countries around the world to continue to do more to invest in Afghanistan's future, and there was broad consensus at the Chicago summit by every nation attending to do just that. But to characterize this -- the secretary's visit to India as some sort of poke in the chest to get them to do more would be -- would be to do his visit a disservice. That's not why he's in India. He's in India to thank them for their efforts at regional leadership and to look for ways to deepen our defense cooperation with India and our relationship with India. That is something he would like to do more of.
But we're very appreciative of India's efforts in the region and in Afghanistan in particular. Did that help?
Q: Thank you. Thank you.
CAPT. KIRBY: You're welcome.