REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
Just a couple of comments here at the top, and then we'll get to your questions.
First on Sergeant Bergdahl. He continues to recover and work through the reintegration process at our hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. We're told that his health continues to improve and that he is engaging with hospital staff more and more each day. All that is promising, and the secretary is certainly relieved to hear it.
But this is going to be a long process, and nobody is going to push it any further or any faster than Sergeant Bergdahl and his caregivers are willing to take it. This soldier was held captive for nearly five years in what we must assume were harsh conditions. He's going to need –he’s going to need time to reassimilate, time to heal mentally and physically.
The secretary has made it clear that our first priority is giving him and his family that critical time and space.
Separate and distinct from that, the secretary understands there are questions about the process through which we recovered Sergeant Bergdahl, questions from the public, questions from members of Congress. As you know, the Pentagon has participated in closed-door briefings to members of Congress over the last few days, including one last night and another one this morning. The secretary himself will testify before the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning. He looks forward to it.
He looks forward to explaining why the president's decision to secure the release of Sergeant Bergdahl was the right one, and why the process we undertook in doing so was in keeping with our national interests.
Another issue he believes is in keeping with our national interests is the health and well being of all our men and women. And that's why late last month, he ordered a comprehensive review of our military health system -- a review that began at the end of last month. He has this week signed off on the terms of reference for the review. And I want to take just a moment to outline them for you here.
The three goals of the 90-day review will be to assess access to health care, safety of health care and the quality of health care, both within -- I'm sorry -- within both our DoD-operated health care facilities, as well as the civilian health care facilities our beneficiaries utilize through TRICARE.
Specifically, the review will assess prior recommendations and findings from relevant internal and external reports. It will assess compliance with existing policies and national standards. It will review education and training of health care professionals and staff. It will compare the military health system performance to at least three civilian health care systems where standards are relevant and comparable. And we're going to hear first-hand from patients and beneficiaries about their experiences and perceptions regarding the access, quality and safety standards that we employ.
Final recommendations will be delivered to the secretary no later than August 29th of this year. The secretary believes nothing is more important than the health and well being of our people. He's been clear, [if] our standards are not being met we're going to do what's necessary to correct it. And where they are being met, he's committed to making sure that best practices are shared across the force. The goal here is constant improvement.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q: I want to task you a question about the incident in Afghanistan where five Americans were killed yesterday. Can you confirm that they were all special operations force members? And can you give any information about the circumstances such as reports that they had called in an airstrike that hit their position mistakenly?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Bob, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these fallen. I can confirm that five American troops were killed yesterday in an incident in southern Afghanistan. I'm not going to get into too much detail about qualifying who they were, the specifics of the mission. We do have reason to suspect that friendly fire was the cause, here. Specifically, friendly fire from the air. But the issue’s under investigation, and I really don't want to get too much more down in detail into that until they have a chance to...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I'm going to kind of leave it right there, Bob. We need to let investigators do their work. I mean, the tragic incident, all the way around. And again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.
Q: Wounded Americans?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have any reports of other wounded. There's -- there's some reporting out there that suggests perhaps an Afghan soldier was killed. I can't confirm that right now. But obviously, we're -- I can't -- but we're digging into all that right now.
Q: I would like to ask you about the situation in Iraq, mainly in Mosul. How the Pentagon is assessing the situation there. Is there any plan to expedite the U.S. military assistance to the Iraqi armed forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, let me -- let me do it this way. First of all, we're obviously monitoring the situation in Iraq as closely as we can, and we certainly condemn the violence and ISIL's action there in -- in Iraq. We -- as you know, we have a pretty robust in fact one of the most robust foreign military sales programs in the world, is with Iraq, to the tune of about $14 billion.
And we have been consistently working with Iraqi security forces in an advise/assist capacity and through the FMS program since our troops left Iraq to include Hellfire missiles, Apache helicopter sales moving forward, and I think later this fall, we're due to -- we're still on track for the delivery of two F-16s. So, there is a robust military to military relationship that we continue to pursue with the Iraqi security forces, and we are -- we're certainly in touch with Iraqi leadership as much as possible here.
This is -- but ultimately, this is -- this is for the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government to deal with. We're doing -- we're doing what we can through a more normalized military to military relationship. And we certainly have made it clear that we encourage Prime Minister Maliki to continue to work with tribal leadership in that -- in that area, that a -- a more holistic approach to dealing with the threat of extremism inside their country.
Q: Quick follow-up. Have you been able to confirm that the ISIS militant have captured U.S.-made vehicles, humvees, and trucks?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I can't confirm specifics of that. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of violence going on right now in Mosul. We're watching it as closely as we can. But I would be loathe here from Washington, D.C. to sort of read out specifics of -- of the operations of these extremists. We're watching it unfold real time as well as you are, and I just -- I can't confirm any more specific details than that.
Q: Admiral Kirby. Two questions on Bergdahl.
Number one, why did the secretary feel it was the right decision not to notify Congress ahead of time?
And my second question is, and this goes to him and General Dempsey, because they have publicly commented on this and made it more than just an Army story. Why is there no decision to give Sergeant Bergdahl his back pay? Why is he not being paid, if in fact he is innocent until proven guilty as they have said?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the second question, I mean, I'm going to refer you to the Army. I mean, this is an Army issue to -- to deal with. As I understand it, they are reviewing the circumstances surrounding his pay and benefits, and I would refer you to them for any particulars about it.
But to your larger point, and you're right, this young soldier is innocent until proven guilty. And he has not been charged with any crime. He has not been convicted with anything. And he wasn't declared a deserter by the Army. The Army is going to review the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and his captivity and we need to let that process move forward.
I'm not going to speak for the Army, though, when it comes to his pay.
Q: Well, I am going to press you, if I might, and also about why Secretary Hagel thought it was not correct to notify -- a good idea not to notify Congress, but on his pay, it is the secretary and the chairman who have publicly said "innocent until not proven -- innocent until proven guilty." You paid Nidal Hasan while he was charged until he was convicted, so I'm just not clear what the legal stand -- I'm just not clear what the legal standard is that the department stands on to not give him his back pay.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I think we need to be careful that we do draw too close a distinction between, you know, this concept of innocent until proven guilty and his pay. Again, I'm not an expert on this issue, and frankly, it would be inappropriate for -- for us here at the OSD level to speak to what is essentially an Army pay issue. And I think, again, I'd have to refer you to the Army.
On notification, look, I mean, again, the secretary understands that there are concerns by members of Congress about the process to include the notification process, and he's going to -- and he's going to address those concerns, I think forthrightly tomorrow.
What I'll -- what I will say though, and we said this at the time, is that this was -- that was a very small, fleeting window of opportunity in order to secure, safely secure Sergeant Bowe -- Bowe Bergdahl, and -- and it's safe to say that the entire inter-agency, the entire national security team, agreed that we needed to take advantage of this fleeting opportunity, and that operational security was -- was critical to securing it safely and efficiently, and that's -- that's where I'm going to leave it right now.
Q: (inaudible) leaks from Congress.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn’t-- I didn't say that, Barb. I said that there was a small, fleeting opportunity here to take advantage of a window that we knew was coming quick and would close quick, and we took advantage of that. And certainly, part and parcel of that fleeting opportunity was -- was maintaining operational security to the best that we could, and I'm just going to leave it at that.
Q: Was his health ever a consideration?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: His -- well certain -- the indications that we had that he was in deteriorating health was certainly a consideration, but I'd say it was a combination of factors, including what we believe to be deteriorating health.
Q: And what about -- was any money paid as part of this deal?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: Can you rule out that any money was given to the Haqqani group for Bergdahl's release?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No money was exchanged to secure Bergdahl's relief.
Q: Well, one member of Congress is asking if the Taliban in fact paid the Haqqani network, specifically $1 million for his release. Can you rule out that there wasn't at least some changing of money...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was no U.S. money paid to secure Sergeant Bergdahl's relief. You know, if you've got questions about the Taliban's bank accounts, I suggest you contact them.
Q: Fair enough.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Cami.
Q: One more on his health.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Of course.
Q: You said that his health is improving. Can you tell us in what way it's improving?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I actually -- I can't. And one thing I'm not going to do is inject myself or inject the Pentagon into his reintegration process. We are getting basic updates from the staff there, and they just indicate that his health is improving. But I wouldn't -- you know, he's got -- he has rights to privacy here. He's an active duty American soldier, and -- and his health and medical records are obviously protected in that regard, and I wouldn't go into any more detail than that. Tony.
Q: He looks forward -- he's testifying before the HASC tomorrow, and I want your sense of what more detail is he going to provide that hasn't been provided to date? Is he going to talk a little bit about the 15-6 report, for example? Or is it more fleshing out what's already been discussed?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well look I don’t ever-- it's never a wise thing for me to get ahead of testimony that hasn't happened yet. I'll just tell you that he, as I said in my opening statement, he understands there are questions about the process, here, through which we secured Sergeant Bergdahl, and he's fully prepared to address those questions and those concerns. I think you will find that he will be forthright and candid about -- about his participation in the decision making process, the determinations that he made with respect to the transfer of the five detainees, that it was in the national interest, but again, I don't want to go into -- into detail about it, you know, before he's actually had a chance to testify.
Q: Has he read the 15-6 report, the completed 2009 15-6 report? Did he read it before Bergdahl was released?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He has been briefed on the results of the 15-6 investigation. At the time, the one that was done at the time of Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance, the summer of 2009.
Q: Okay, this is before the release. Has he articulated to you his views of these -- the briefing he received? What this report talked about, in other words.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, look, I mean he was briefed on the -- on the contents of it. I think he was grateful to get the briefing and to better understand what the investigating officer found at the time, but I'm not going to characterize his personal feelings about it, you know, up here. He-- but he -- you know, I said he got a briefing on it. He -- he's familiar with the results and with the findings and recommendations.
Q: If pressed by members of Congress tomorrow, will he disclose some of those findings in the report?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, we -- we are already moving to make available on a -- it's a -- it's a classified report, but we -- we have already moved to make it available to those members of Congress that want to read it.
Q: Why is it classified? It's a five-year-old report about an individual. There's no operational security issues here.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's still a classified report.
Q: You guys say that about everything. (Laughter.)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, not quite -- not quite everything. But, look, it's still a classified report and it's being treated as such. And in that regard, it's being protected, but it is being shared with members of Congress that want to look at it.
Q: Are you reviewing it for declassification?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've made no decisions about declassifying it. Right now, it remains classified. Again, it's being made available to members of Congress so that they can familiarize themselves with it. And, you know, we'll see where it goes after that.
Q: When was it classified?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I understand it, it was classified, you know, upon crafting. I mean it was classified from the very get-go.
Q: The DNI has released thousands of pages after the Snowden revelations of ultra-classified material by executive fiat. I urge you to take a look at that as an institution to do the same with this -- at least parts of this report.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I pretty much gathered from your first two questions that you wanted us to declassify it. And look, I mean, right now it's classified. We're treating it as that. And no decisions have been about declassifying it. And we're just -- we're going to -- let's get through these hearings. Let's give the Army some time and space here to review the circumstances and then we'll take that issue up.
Q: Can you clarify what you meant by the "small fleeting window of opportunity"? Was that a U.S. assessment when it came to being able to carry out an operation? Because there have also been reports from diplomats that the Qataris had some -- had conveyed some concern, and specifically defense and diplomats -- diplomatic officials have said there were concerns that the political establishment within the Taliban perhaps didn't have command and control over the guys on the ground with Bergdahl himself.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, some of this gets into some sensitive deliberations and discussions that I'm just not going to get to -- I'm not going to talk about from here. But I can tell you that it was definitely our assessment. And we had good reason to believe, on the U.S. side, that there was a fleeting opportunity here to secure his release.
Chairman Dempsey said it quite well, that this was likely our last, best opportunity to get him back safely. And again, we took it.
Q: Another subject. First, if you've seen the reports from Pakistan -- the airport attacks -- and then last night again another attack. Are you concerned about the nuclear weapons in Pakistan and their safe -- about safeguards?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we certainly share Pakistan's concerns about the -- the attacks in Karachi. We decry that violence, of course. It's another stark reminder of the common threat that we share with Pakistan from extremism and terrorism. But there's -- we don't have concerns with the security of Pakistan's arsenal as a result of this.
Q: And one on India. The -- there's a new government with new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and who had been denied a U.S. visa for 10 years. So how -- how is with the Defense Department, the cooperation? Is there anything you (inaudible) are going -- what is the level of -- with the new government?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I don't -- as I've said before, I mean, India is an important nation in that region. It's a relationship we continue to want to improve and foster, and we look forward to working with the new government in that regard.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No chairs for you? No place to sit? (Inaudible) get up, give him a chair.
Q: I'm fine. I've been sitting in the White House anyway (inaudible) get here.
The question is...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm touched.
Q: Yes, sir. (Laughter.)
My question is that I understand president said that no soldier or no U.S. citizen will be left behind and we will bring each and everybody if they're held against their will. Then one thing also here that India is demanding number of terrorists sitting in Pakistan, including Ibrahim (inaudible).
And what does U.S. think -- do you think (inaudible) cooperate with India? And second, as far as this soldier is concerned, he was also held under by the Haqqani network and Taliban inside Pakistan, if Pakistan had ever informed you that he's there under their (inaudible) before they move him to Afghanistan and elsewhere?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the second one, I mean, yeah, we do have reason to believe that for much of his captivity, he was held in Pakistan. We also believe that he was moved around. And it's very likely that his captors changed hands over the course of those five years.
We never had a complete, perfect visibility into where he was at any given moment. And, obviously, we had a constant dialogue with -- with Pakistan over this, throughout the course of his five years.
I would say that -- and I've said it before here, but I think it bears repeating. We never lost sight of Sergeant Bergdahl's plight or -- and we never lost focus on the desire and the effort to try to get him back.
And there were -- there was a constant emphasis placed on this, to include regular and routine dialogue with the government of Pakistan and the military of Pakistan, as you would expect.
This was not something we ever -- we ever stopped thinking about or working toward.
On your other question, I simply don't. No, I don't have any -- I don't have any visibility on the -- on the -- you know, this -- this Indian citizen and that's -- and the circumstance there.
Q: Just quickly, since 9/11, since Osama bin Laden was held or he was in Pakistan and Pakistan kept denying for the last 10 years before that time that we don't have him, he's not there. But he was captured there, of course, by the president or his national security or intelligence.
My question is, has Pakistan ever learned any lesson now by denying Osama bin Laden's presence inside Pakistan, he was captured there, and now, whether Pakistan is cooperating with the U.S. fully as far as the terrorists or Talibans are inside Pakistan and they are waging war against the U.S. national security and (inaudible) against India and other allies of the U.S.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The threat of extremism in -- there, in Pakistan, it's part of a regional issue, and it's a -- and it's a -- it's a threat that we have continued to work with Pakistan on, since 9/11.
Q: General Dunford, he's nominated to be commandant, he's talking about a fleeting window of opportunity with the Senate's working schedule and being gone all of August. You know, what's the schedule on bringing the general home to prepare for his confirmation hearing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m-- I'm not qualified to speak for General Dunford, my-- but I can tell you that he's very much focused on his duties as the commander of ISAF in Afghanistan. And he looks forward to working with the Senate through the confirmation process.
Q: Was it Secretary Hagel's understanding that at the end of the war in Afghanistan, that the five Taliban leaders would have been slated for release anyhow? And had he seen any evidence, when he signed off on their release, that those five, referred to as the "Gitmo Five," posed any less threat in terms of -- because previous assessments had suggested that they did continue to pose a threat. Had something changed in the military's assessment of them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary's under no illusions about the fact that these five individuals are dangerous. And the secretary also knows and understands that with this arrangement, you cannot completely eliminate the risk of their recidivism.
On the same hand -- on the same token, he-- he believes that the risk has been substantially mitigated through the assurances that we received through the Emir of Qatar.
I would remind you that these are assurances that the emir personally gave to the president of the United States. I'm not gonna go into every detail on these assurances, but -- but the secretary is comfortable that the risk is mitigated through these assurances.
And, you know, on your other question, I mean, we continue to review detainee cases for transfer out of Guantanamo Bay. And there is a process; that process continues.
More than 600 detainees have been transferred out of Guantanamo Bay under both President Bush and President Obama. That process will continue.
The president's made it very clear what his intentions are with respect to Guantanamo Bay, and we follow orders. We're gonna follow those orders.
Q: But by -- by law, at the end of the Afghan war, would these five have been released?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I would just tell you is there's a process and we're -- and we're going to continue to follow that process.
Jen, and I think it's important to remember that -- that these five went through -- they went through a review process, in keeping with the same review process that we do for others before they're released.
Q: President Obama last week said he'd request $1 billion to increase U.S. military rotations through Europe. Can you break down for us how exactly that money would be spent? And the money's going to be part of the OCO request -- is there any timeline on when that will actually go to Congress?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't -- I'll have to get back to you on the second one, on the timeline. But you're right, the president did announce that $1 billion in European Reassurance Initiative, and the Defense Department is now working our way through exactly how that money is going to be allocated. There have been no final decisions on exactly how it's going to be broken down.
Yeah, Nancy. Good to see you.
Q: Good to see you.
Two questions. On Iraq, has the U.S. independently and with the help of the Iraqi government, trying to assess what U.S. equipment has been taken by ISIS or moved out of the outposts that they've taken control of? And my second question is: Has there been any outreach from the Iraqi government to the U.S. asking for additional support or an expedited shipment of the F-16s, Apaches or Hellfire?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any specific outreach as a result of today's events, on the military assistance that we're in the process of providing Iraq. And as I said, we're watching this situation as closely as possible, but I don't have and I don't believe we have granularity about the specifics of whatever equipment these ISIS militants have or don't have.
Q: I guess my question is there an effort to try to answer that question?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I think -- as I said at the outset, we're -- we're monitoring as closely as we can. I mean, this is -- we certainly condemn this violence. We're well aware of the threat that these extremists pose inside Iraq and the sustenance that they're getting from across the border in Syria.
But ultimately, and we've worked with the Iraqi government to bolster their counterterrorism efforts. We're going to continue to do that. We've encouraged Prime Minister Maliki to take a holistic approach. And I think, you know, but ultimately this is an issue for Iraqi security forces to handle.
Q: Admiral, back to yesterday's airstrike in Afghanistan. Close air support has been the subject of a lot of debate this year between leaders in this building and members of Congress over the Pentagon's request to retire the A-10 fleet. And I'm wondering if this incident should or will cause this department to change its support for retiring all the Air Force's A-10s.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's been no change in our position about the -- our request to the budget proposals to retire the A-10s. And I think, you know, this just happened. And we need to let the investigation proceed. But to try to draw the line between this incident and our desire to retire an aging platform I think is a bit of a leap right now.
Q: Can you confirm it wasn't an A-10 that did this today?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to confirm the specific aircraft involved.
Q: If it was the A-10, you should say that, if that was involved?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I'm not. As I answered Bob's question, we're going to let investigators do their job, Tony. I can tell you that certainly one of the things they're looking at is friendly fire from an aircraft. But I'm -- I'm simply not from the podium going to pre-judge an investigation that just got started. And we've got -- I mean, and pardon me for editorializing, but let's remember we've got five families that are having a pretty tough day today and I think we need to keep that in mind before we start second-guessing this and jumping ahead of things.
Q: If I can, on (inaudible) Bergdahl. You mentioned the constant dialogue during the five years of his imprisonment. During those five years, did Pakistan -- the Pakistani government, military, ISI, intelligence, deliver any specific help in the search for him? Any intelligence? Did they conduct a raid?
And on that, did the U.S. make specific requests for help to find him or locate him during those five years that Pakistan delivered on or did not deliver on?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think -- the way I leave this is that again, there was a constant dialogue in communication with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military about the search for Sergeant Bergdahl. And I -- I -- I mean, I can tell you, having been, you know, in the Pentagon for a long time that that's -- that this was something that we maintained a focus on with them.
There was -- the information about him was -- was not rock solid at any given time. I mean, it changed over time. And as I said, we believed he was moved around quite a bit. And we believe and certainly we're grateful for the -- the communication that we had with Pakistani authorities throughout this thing, but I -- I wouldn't go into any more detail than that.
Q: The (inaudible) of the ISI's close connections to the Haqqanis, it's more than dialogue that I imagine would've been requested and valued by the U.S. government in terms of seeking him out, right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can just -- I'm just going to tell you, we've never lost focus on this, and we never stopped trying to get him.
Q: Were you disappointed by what they delivered?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're -- right now, we're grateful we got him back.
Q: Just finally, if I can, on the violence that's taken place in Pakistan today. Someone asked about nukes. But a couple weeks ago, people were talking about the Pakistani Taliban's not demise, but decline in Pakistan's -- in the leadership, et cetera. Now you have two attacks in 48 hours. Are you confident in the Pakistani military's -- the security force's ability to respond to this and put this down and -- and just keep control?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nobody understands the threat of extremism better than Pakistan's own military. And I would -- you know, and it's important to remind people, they've taken a lot of casualties in the last five, six, seven years, fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and they continue to take casualties. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the -- those Pakistanis that were killed and wounded in the attack in -- in the attacks in Karachi. But I don't think anybody is second-guessing the Pakistani military and their ability on counter-terrorism. They -- this is -- this isn't just a theoretical exercise for them. I mean, there -- they're fighting that war inside their -- inside their border every single day and yet -- and these attacks in Karachi are a stark reminder of that.
Q: Going back to Iraq, in light of what's happening in Mosul and elsewhere, is any consideration being given to launching drone strikes against ISIL targets, and is any consideration being given to ramping up joint counter-terrorism training with the Iraqi security forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first one, there's no discussion along those lines in terms of armed drone strikes. This is -- again, I'll go back to my answer to Nancy, this is primarily an issue for the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government. We continue to support them with counter-terrorism efforts.
On your second question, there is a second installment of -- of training that actually was scheduled to begin today in Jordan between U.S. special operations forces and Iraqi security forces on counter-terrorism. So, again, all -- as I said before, I mean, when we continue to focus on helping them and advising them with respect to --to those capabilities.
Q: In terms of numbers, is there any consideration being given to ramping that effort up? Out of how many SOF guys are there now...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. You -- we talk about the attacks in Mosul as sort of this pivot point that must be addressed. It is important. We're watching it, and we certainly condemn the violence. But our efforts to help them with counter-terrorism is not something that we're -- that we turn off and on like a light switch. I mean, this is something we've been working with them since we left Iraq, and we'll continue to work with them on this. I mean, this is a -- this is a constant pressure point, it's a constant focus for us, and I don't think that -- that -- I mean, obviously this has got our attention in Mosul, but it doesn't change the calculus. It doesn't change the fact that we're going to maintain a focus on this -- on this threat.
Q: Two quick questions. One is a point of clarification on recidivism and returning to the battlefield. Does this building see returning to the battlefield as like a literal thing, in other words, are the assurances that the president got from the Qataris on -- you know, on these -- the Gitmo Five, if you will, does that preclude them from having an influence on the battlefield. Because, I think in some cases, these guys wouldn't actually go back to Afghanistan and start fighting.
So, I'm just kind of wondering if you can kind of speak to the assurances that you got that would preclude that.
Second thing, completely unrelated, is Mark Lippert will be leaving the front office. When will the secretary be choosing his next chief of staff?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Mr. Lippert continues to enjoy his duties as chief of staff, and I know of no -- I have no personnel announcements to make today.
On your second question, again, I'm not going to go into specifics about the assurances that we received. What I can tell you is that the entire national security team, to include Secretary Hagel, are comfortable that these assurances will -- will keep these five out of Taliban efforts.
And -- and they're robust enough, we believe, to do that. And I'm just -- I'm just not going to go into any more detail than that.
Q: Out Taliban efforts, not necessarily out of Afghan...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Out of—out of -- let me put it another way, out of rejoining the fight, and in every way that that would connote, but again, I'm not going to get into the details of it.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into the details, Court. I mean, it's -- we're comfortable that these assurances are in the national interest, and will keep these five out of the fight.
Q: But they expire after a year.
Q: But his point is that it's battlefield versus having any communication with Taliban at all while they're in Qatar. I don't know -- I mean, and I understand your point about not wanting to talk about these specific assurances, but you can see how in this day and age, how it seems nearly impossible to be able to cut off all communications between them and any of their former Taliban brothers?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're comfortable that the assurances are going to keep them out of the fight. And again, I just won't go into any more details than that.
Q: They expire after a year.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is a -- there is a year limit, yes. And -- and should after that year, they decide to rejoin, they do so at their own peril.
Q: Follow up. Are you fully satisfied with the cooperation provided by Pakistan on -- while you were searching for Sergeant Bergdahl?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm sorry, say it again.
Q: Are you fully satisfied with the cooperation form the Pakistani authority?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I think I addressed that question. I mean, I think I've dealt with that. We have -- we have a close relationship with Pakistan on counter-terrorism efforts. That continues.
Q: And on the Karachi strikes, has it any way affected your supply routes to Afghanistan?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's no effect that I'm aware of.
Q: I have one more. Over the weekend, there was a runoff elections in Afghanistan going on. In view of the attack on one of the (inaudible) candidate of (inaudible), is the U.S. forces providing any kind of a special security measures to the Afghan forces this time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We continue to work with Afghan national security forces with respect to counter-terrorism efforts inside of Afghanistan. And you know, I think it's -- this attack on Minister Abdullah notwithstanding, the first round of elections went off pretty smoothly, pretty safely. And that's really a tribute to how far the Afghan National Security Forces have come.
And we continue to work on this. This is not something -- again, it's not a light switch, right? Counter-terrorism is something you have to constantly apply pressure to, and we're doing that inside Afghanistan. And more importantly ANSF keeps getting better and better at it.
Q: One of the things that have angered lawmakers, that up to 80 people within the administration knew about the Bergdahl swap. Is that normal that that many people would know in an operation where so much secrecy was involved, and yet no members of Congress.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to corroborate the details of a closed-door briefing. I'm simply not -- just I'm not going to do that.
But as I said at the outset, this was a -- this was an opportunity that was fleeting and that -- and that we need to be mindful of the threat and the potential danger to -- to Sergeant Bergdahl's safety, and that, frankly, of the team that we're going to get them by having information out there widely beforehand.
Q: Is that about the number of people that would know about an operation, not -- not speaking specifically to this case?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On any given military operation on any given day, there is a varying number of people that may know, depending on the level of -- of secrecy and operational security that we have to maintain.
I mean -- I mean, you guys know this. Part of this building's job is to plan and to execute, and sometimes, we can't talk about either. I can take one more.
Q: Just to put in clarification to Tony's earlier questions. You said the secretary had read the 15-6. Did he read it before or after the Bergdahl release?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was he'd been briefed on it. He's been briefed on the results of the 15-6. It was around the time, but I couldn't give you a specific date.
Q: So, if it was before the swap, did he read it for counsel and towards his decision?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It-- the command investigation that the Army completed with respect to Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance in 2009 did not -- did not impact or effect or bare a hand in the decision to recover Sergeant Bergdahl. We don't leave soldiers behind on the battlefield, and when we can get them back, we get them back.
And I've said it before. It doesn't matter how one's service is characterized. If you fall into enemy hands, we're gonna do what we can to get you back. That's what we do. That's who we are as an institution.
So, yes, he's familiar with the investigation. It doesn't -- frankly, I don't find it relevant about when he got briefed or when he didn't get briefed on the investigation, because the investigation's findings, while maybe interesting to a preliminary assessment of how he came to be missing, doesn't change the fact that we had an obligation to secure his release and go get him.
Does that answer it?
Q: Unsourced characterizations of that report in the first four days of the release have shaped the public's view that the man was either a deserter, a nut case, or something less than honorable. That's why you need to release parts of it, I think, just to push back or flesh out what it actually said, so that -- you know, the record's more clear.
I mean, it shaped all our public perceptions.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's interesting that it could shape public perceptions when it's not even out there, Tony. And so...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I got that. But, again, let's review the facts. He's not been declared a deserter. The -- so that's one.
Two, the Army is going to do a comprehensive review of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and his captivity, and I fully suspect that the original command investigation will help inform those efforts. There would be no reason for it not to.
And I think we need to all be careful that we don't rush to judgment here about anything, and that we all give him the time and the space to work through reintegration.
Because there's really only one person who knows what happened that night and specifically what led to his disappearance, and that's Sergeant Bergdahl. And he's got his hands full right now. And I think we need to give him a little time and space to work through all that.
And then, you know what? We'll get to the facts and we'll get to the circumstances. And if there's something to be dealt with as a result of that, if there's some misconduct that needs to be addressed, then the Army will address that. The secretary is fully comfortable and confident that they'll do that.
But there's no point in rushing to judgment here.
And I'll go back to what I said before, it doesn't matter how one came to be missing or how one came to be captured. We have an obligation. We met that obligation.
Q: Has the investigation begun yet? Have they asked him why he willingly, willfully walked off his post? And can anything he says in the reintegration process be used as part of that investigation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The Army has said that they're going to review, as I said before. I would refer you to the Army about process and timelines and whether they've started or whether they haven't. That's one.
Two, he has -- as the normal process of reintegration, he has -- he has been engaging the staff and talking to them. And -- but it is -- but those discussions, and I'm not gonna detail them here. First, frankly, I don't know them all. It's -- and it wouldn't be, even if I did, it wouldn't be right to go through it.
But that is part of the normal process of reassimilation and reintegration and working through in his own mind what had to have been an incredibly brutal existence for five years.
And so, they're working through that right now. But it -- you know, is he being interrogated, with respect to potential misconduct, at this time, no.
Q: I didn't ask you if he was being interrogated. I was...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, but that was sort of the tone of the question.
Q: Right. But I'm asking you if what he says can be used against him.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right now, the focus is on his health and well-being. And not answering questions with respect to an investigation,
Q: Has he called his family yet?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not gonna -- you know, I just -- as I said at the outset, I'm -- I think it would not be helpful for me to insert myself into the reintegration process. And, you know, the degree to which he communicates I think that's -- that's up to him to speak to. And I'm just gonna leave it at that.
Q: On a previous day, another spokesman had said, yes and had said no.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I got that. I'm -- I'm up here today, and I'm telling you I'm not gonna insert myself into the process.
One more question.
Q: (inaudible) on the site of Afghanistan, have they all been recovered? It seemed unclear this morning.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The?
Q: The remains of the five in Afghanistan.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, I'm sorry, from the -- from the incident last night.
I don't know. You'd have to talk to ISAF about the specifics there. I don't know. I mean, obviously, the -- the sad business of informing families is ongoing right now.
Okay. Thanks, everybody.