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Pentagon Press Secretary Updates Reporters on DOD Operations

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Afternoon, everybody.  OK.  Just a couple of points right off the top, and I'm going to get right at it.

As you probably saw on Friday afternoon, Secretary Austin issued some guidance to the force about the directed stand-down that he ordered to address the issue of extremism in the ranks.  Specifically, he directed commanding officers -- specifically, he had directed commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day stand-down with their personnel.  He made it very clear that leaders have the discretion to tailor their discussions with their personnel as appropriate to their command, their location, to their operations, but that such discussions should include the importance of the oath of office that service members take, a description of impermissible behaviors and procedures for reporting suspected or actual extremist behaviors in accordance with the DOD instruction.

This is also, importantly, an opportunity for leadership to listen to the men and women they lead, and to their concerns, to their experiences, and maybe even to their possible solutions for how to tackle this problem. 

The last thing I'll say on this -- and the secretary did it himself, but it's an important point to reiterate -- is that this is just a step in what the secretary believes will be a very deliberate process to try to tackle this problem.  He understands that a one-day stand-down across the force isn't going to -- you know, isn't going to solve everything, but it might bring to light concerns and experiences that we're otherwise not aware, and he was informed by his own experience in the mid-90s about stuff that was going on in his command right underneath his nose that he didn't realize about.

So part of this, a real big part of this is, as we say in the Navy, getting down to the deck plates, and to trying to understand more how the problem what exists out there in the force and -- and -- and again, listening to our men and women as they share their own views and perspectives, which will no doubt, I think, inform whatever procedures, policies or actions that the secretary puts in place going forward.

On the personnel front, we continue to welcome new members across the Pentagon.  Today, we onboarded 11 new employees, and that brings our total to 56, 57 if you count the secretary, out of approximately, you know, 350 positions.  So we're chipping away at it, and we're getting more people on board and we're making this -- doing this in a very deliberate fashion, and we welcome them all, and we -- we're thankful for their willingness to serve the country.

Finally, we're going to have a busy week here in the building, and we look forward to a visit on Wednesday by President Biden, the commander-in-chief.

And with that, I will open it up to questions.  I think Bob, we've got you on the phone.  Is that right?

Q:  Yes, thanks, John.  I just wanted to ask you a couple of things -- a couple of other things that you announced last week, and whether you have any update on those things.  First is the -- whether you have any more DOD teams that are getting set up at FEMA sites for vaccination that puts us beyond what you announced last week.  And the second one is whether the service chiefs have provided to Secretary Austin the -- the information he asked them for about the sexual assault programs within -- I think he gave them two weeks.  Has that been provided yet?

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Bob.  I don't have an update for you on the request to support FEMA and state and local authorities.  We are still working with FEMA to determine what other sites they would like us to populate in this first tranche of 1,110 active-duty personnel, and we are still working through the sourcing solutions for the first team, and exactly, you know, where that's going to come from.  So I'm afraid I don't have any specific updates for you on that today.

As for your second question, the services did in fact submit their reports on time to the Personnel and Readiness director here at the department.  And we expect that the -- the secretary will receive a readout of those reports this week, probably mid-week, we're working on that with the schedule but they did submit, and he'll get a readout later this week and then as appropriate, we'll certainly keep you informed.

That answer your questions, Bob?


Q:  Yeah.  One quick follow-up, if you don't mind, on that second part.  What would be the next step after the secretary gives the readout on what the programs are?  What does he intend to do then?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, so a couple of things.  I mean, certainly this -- these reports from the services will help inform the secretary's establishment and conduct of the 90-day commission that President Biden ordered, which DOD will run.

Part and parcel of the tasker that he put on -- out on day two, if you might remember, was to task the services to identify senior leaders, both uniformed, civilian, and enlisted uniformed, to serve as members of this commission.  And that too, those names were submitted by the services, so he'll be using the reports and the readout he gets this week to help him actually populate and organize the work of the 90-day commission that the president ordered.

Did that answer your question, Bob?

Q:  Thank you.  Yes, thanks very much.


Go to Jennifer Sennheimer from -- I'm sorry, Steinhauer, New York Times.

Q:  Hi, I was just wondering if you have any more clarity on what the situation has been last week on COVID in the military, getting the vaccine?  I inferred from some things you said last week that there has been a significant refusal, but I know you didn't have specific numbers and I'm wondering if there's been advancement on that.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm afraid I don't have good data for you on that.  Let me take the question and see what we can do to -- the -- but I think it's important to remember that I don't think there's consistency in terms of how commands at the unit level, you know, how and whether and to what degree they actually keep track of refusals.  Certainly they keep track of vaccines on hand and vaccines distributed, but I don't know that there's a uniform reporting process for refusals. 

And, again, it is not a mandatory vaccine, and we have a duty to protect certainly the privacy as well as the private medical concerns of individuals who, for whatever reason, decline to take it.

I -- so I can't promise you specific data, Jennifer, but what I can promise you is we'll take a look and see if there's a better way to quantify this.


Q:  Hi, Jonathan.  Speaking of data, has the secretary received any more information from the services about the extent of extremism in the military?  I know the Marines put out some information, 16 Marines over the past three years who had substantiated information of domestic extremism, mostly social media posts.  Number one.

Number two, in his stand-down order, he talked about supervisors, commanders talking to the troops about proper behavior and so forth.  Listening to them and maybe coming up with possible solutions. 

I'm just wondering if the secretary or anyone in the building, do they have possible solutions?  And will the supervising commanders kind of just do their own thing or will they get guidance, readings, information from the Pentagon itself?

MR. KIRBY:  You saw on the directive that he sent out on Friday, he did point them to some resources online that we have, that we encourage them to look at. 

What he didn't want to do was be overly prescriptive on this because every command's different, every service is different.  And of course some commands are very much in harm's way right now, and you have to make sure that they can do this in a way that doesn't impede their ability to accomplish missions around the world.

And one of the reasons why he put that memo out on Friday was to sort of more closely bound it. In other words, you know, making sure that they try to do this in one day to the degree that they can, and he very clearly laid out that this is about the behaviors that this kind of ideology can incite, and can inspire.  A reminder about the oath.  I mean, that was very specifically in his memo, something he wants -- very specifically -- that he wants leaders throughout the force to spend some time on.  And how they do that, I mean, is up to them.  I mean, some commands might want to have their members actually recite the oath again, and take it again.  Or maybe just, you know, study it.

So again, he doesn't want to -- I mean, it's -- he did try to put, I think, reasonable expectations on the force, but he didn't want to be overly prescriptive to the degree that these stand-down opportunities lacked authenticity, lacked a genuine give-and-take and a conversation with -- with men and women in the force.  So I think -- I think that was -- that was his intent.

And as for your question on data, no, I don't.  And again, it's not the kind of thing that we're centrally tracking here, that OSD has a database that we can just go pull from.  That's not the case right now.

Now, should that be?  And -- should that be something that we take a harder look at, an accumulation of usable data?  I think it's a fair question, and I certainly would expect that the secretary and leaders here would be taking a look at the data pool and what exists.

But as you know, Tom -- because we've talked about this a lot -- some of that data doesn't clearly doesn't exist here because it's in law enforcement lanes, not military law enforcement, but civil law enforcement.  And there's a limit to what, you know, we're going to be able to obtain in that regard.

So I take the point, the data pool's important, that's something we're going to work through.

And then you had another question, which I thought was fair.  That's, you know, had there been ideas coming from inside the building.  And when he spoke to the chiefs the other day, many of them did have interesting ideas that I think the secretary believes is worth ironing out.

One of them is education.  You know, we certainly need to take a look at how we're educating potential recruits when they're still civilians and before they sign on the dotted line, clearly.  There's probably education that we need to do while people are in uniform and in the -- you know, in service about the pull of some of these extremist groups.

But -- but there was also a very healthy discussion about what do you do when people are mustering out?  And some of these groups are very organized, they very aggressively recruit soon-to-be veterans because they believe some -- you know, some of them believe that they espouse the same ideologies, but more critically, they value their leadership skills, their management capabilities, their -- in some cases, I think there's a belief that they -- because they know how to use weapons, right?  So there is an organized almost aggressive effort by some of these groups to pull veterans into their circle.  And so one of the discussions that they had was to what degree do we really need to take a look at how -- when we get ready to muster people out, what do we -- what are we helping them understand about what is waiting for them on the other side?  And who might be waiting for them on the other side? 

So I think, you know, there was a lot of good ideas shared.  And the secretary was encouraged by the seriousness with which the chiefs took it.  So, yes, there are some good ideas coming from inside the building too. 


Q:  John, one thing both this administration and the last agree on is that genocide occurred in Xinjiang province and is still occurring in China.  Does the Pentagon have evidence that genocide is occurring in China?  And if so, what does that require of you as a military? 

MR. KIRBY:  I certainly wouldn't speak to intelligence issues, Jen.  So I don't want to get into evidentiary disclosures here, except to say that the department supports the assessment made by the State Department in terms of what has happened to the Uighurs.  And we would refer you to the State Department for further comment on that. 

Q:  And just to follow up with a question troops around the world.  Does the Biden administration have its eye on certain areas where they would like to bring troops home?  And could you see a situation where President Biden sends more troops to Afghanistan since there was a swift drawdown at the end of the last administration?

MR. KIRBY:  I would not get ahead of the commander-in-chief in terms of force posture decisions.  This force posture review that he has tasked the secretary to conduct really is just now starting.  And as I said last week, we expect it to be complete by mid-summer-ish or so.  And I think that will greatly inform an inter-agency discussion and decision-making process about where we have troops, where we need more, where we need less.  And I would not want to get ahead of that decision-making process at all.  That just would not -- that would not be wise. 

MR. KIRBY:  Let me go back to the phone here.  I promise, I have to do two on each side and then we will keep coming back.  But I have been counseled about this so I need to make sure that I am doing it right. 

Idrees from Reuters? 

Q:  Thanks, John.  A quick question on the FEMA request for COVID assistance.  Is the expectation that that number of troops required is still going to go to about 10,000?  And if it is, is the secretary satisfied with sort of the pace at which the request is being sourced?  Obviously a thousand or so have already -- you know, are about to move out.  But is he satisfied that the department is filling that request quickly enough? 

MR. KIRBY:  The secretary is satisfied that the services have taken this request seriously.  And I think it's really important to understand that we have to work in lockstep with FEMA, state and local authorities here.  So, you know, you mentioned the 10,000 number.  I know that's a number that FEMA has acknowledged is in their request. 

I would tell you that what our focus is on is more towards capabilities and not so much numbers.  And so I don't know what -- when we're all -- when it's all said and done, I can't say with certainty what the final total number will be.  That's why we're doing this in tranches, working in lockstep with FEMA and, again, state and local authorities to make sure that we are providing them numbers that they can accommodate and can handle and can be -- and will be helpful and not overwhelm them, you know, with teams showing up before sites have been established and agreements have been worked out with state and local authorities to do this. 

So we want to do this at a very deliberate pace so that, you know, we're not overwhelming the system but we're also ready to go when FEMA and state and local authorities are ready to have us.  Did that answer your question? 

Q:  It does.  And just to follow -- a totally separate topic, President Biden said he is coming on Wednesday, is there anything in particular he will be announcing or is it more of a get -- not get-to-know-you, but introductory meeting at the Pentagon? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I certainly wouldn't speak for the president in terms of anything that he would have specifically to say.  What I would tell you is that what we're planning for is for him to get a chance to meet with senior leaders here at the Pentagon, senior civilian and uniformed leaders.  He will have time with them to talk about foreign and defense policy issues as appropriate.  I don't have a specific agenda of what the topics will be.  That would be something for the White House to speak to. 

And then he will have an opportunity to speak directly to the DoD workforce.  And, again, I would -- you know, I certainly wouldn't get ahead of the president about what specifically his messages will be.  We're glad to have him here.  We're looking forward to it.  But those are really the two aims, to get a chance to sit down and talk to senior leaders here and then also a chance to address the workforce. 

Go ahead. 

Q:  On the issue of the U.S. Space Forces -- the U.S. Space Forces have been deployed to South Korea, can you tell us what is their mission and sizes?

MR. KIRBY:  You're saying that they have been deployed to the Republic of Korea? 

Q:  Yes. 

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of that.  So I...


MR. KIRBY:  I trust you.  I'm not aware of that particular deployment.  I'd refer you to the Space Force to speak to their specific operations. 

Yes, back there. 

Q:  Thank you very much.  I want to follow up the global force posture review, I understand you can't get into the detail of it right now, but the Pentagon regards China as the biggest challenge.  So would the Pentagon consider the option of increasing the military presence in the Asia-Pacific region throughout this review? 

MR. KIRBY:  My answer would be the same.  I'm just not going to get ahead of decisions that the secretary hasn't made yet, and that the whole reason we're doing a posture review is to get a better sense of the lay-down around the world, match it to the strategy and the mission sets, and no decisions about -- no changes to force posture, you know, in the Asia-Pacific are in the offing today. 

We will continue to maintain our security commitments to our allies and partners there.  We will continue to maintain rotational force deployments in and out of the region, just like we talked about last week with aircraft carriers.  But as to specific force posture hypotheticals, I just don't think that would be wise to get into. 

Let me go to the phones again.  Dan Sagalyn, PBS? 

Q:  Thanks for taking my question.  Could you clarify who will be on the sexual assault commission?  Is it going to be just people who work at DoD?  Will there be outside experts?  Can you tell us what is their charter?  Are they going to take outside trips? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well, thanks, Dan.  So we know for -- we know at the very outset one of the things that the secretary tasked was for the services to come back with senior leaders, again, enlisted, officer, and senior SES civilian members to help form the core of this commission.  The -- it has not been completely fleshed out yet so I don't want to get ahead of that.  I'm not saying that all those numbers are the sum total; I'm sure the Secretary will want to take a look at that and appropriately resource the commission to make sure that they are actually able to come up with tangible, practical solutions to solving this scourge and as for whether they'll go outside, again I don't know but I would not be surprised if they, in the course of their work, are willing to reach out and consult experts outside the Department of Defense.


That makes eminent sense and I wouldn't be at all surprised if that happens.  As for travel, nobody's traveling much right now, Dan, so to the degree travel is absolutely necessary to conduct the commission's work, I suspect that we'll take a look at that and take that seriously but right now it's just I can't get ahead of that right now.

Q:  So at this point no decisions have been made if outside experts will be on it or not?

MR. KIRBY:  No decisions right now about whether outside experts will be on the commission.

Q: Okay. And my last follow-up questions; does the civilian leadership at the DOD think of command climate and the situation that was found at Fort Hood?  With respect to sexual assault, was that unique to Fort Hood?  Or does the civilian leadership think that the problem at Fort Hood or elsewhere, are at every other base?

MR. KIRBY: You're kind of breaking up there but I think the question was do we believe that command climate will have to be looked at as part of the commission's work based on what we saw at Fort Hood and I would point you back to what the Secretary has himself said in testimony, that command climate certainly, by looking at the Fort Hood reports, certainly command climate was a factor and he would want that looked at you know across the force.

Now to your question here, does he believe that it is an issue everywhere across the force; I don't know that he would go that far. But certainly you know he believes command climate and leadership and he's talked about sexual assault being a leadership issue, is certainly a key part of any command climate. So I would fully expect that the commission would consider that in their work going forward. 

J.J. Green?

Q:  Yeah, Admiral Kirby, it's good to see you back at the Pentagon and thank you for this opportunity for questions.  Two quick questions.  The tone of the relationship with U.S. allies, the president's been very clear about some of the U.S.'s, the posture – the U.S. posture towards some of the nation's adversaries, like Russia for example; but from a strategic point of view, how was the DOD under Secretary Austin positioning itself to engage with the U.S.'s allies in the immediate future?

The Germany troop withdrawal freeze sent a strong message, but I'm wondering what the overall strategy is and just quickly, how big a factor with the NATO mission factor into any strategy?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a great question, and very timely because as you probably know, the NATO Defense Ministerials is next week and the Secretary is hard at work preparing for that.  I think you saw in a statement that he issued after President Biden's speech at the State Department last week how seriously in that statement and how seriously he addressed the issue of alliances and partnerships and reinvigorating and revitalizing our commitment to alliances and partnerships.

It was no accident that his first call on the first day at the Pentagon was to the Native Secretary General.  He intends to put a lot of energy into revitalizing our commitments to alliances and partnerships and it obviously that goes beyond NATO, of course, but the NATO Defense Ministerial is coming up, give him a great opportunity to do just that.  Did that answer your question, J.J.?

Q:  Yes.  And I think, well, yeah that’s it, that's good, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  In the back there.

Q:  Today General McKenzie said that there is an increased competition from China and Russia and the Middle East against the United States which adds another layer of complication to the already instability in the region.  What is the Biden administration's military or defense strategy against China and Russia and the Middle East?

MR. KIRBY:  There's no question that Russia and China are involved in areas in the Middle East and I think you heard General McKenzie speak specifically to the degree to which that Russia has not been helpful in places like Syria.  You also heard the Secretary talk about the existing National Defense Strategy and his agreement that the central tenets of that defense strategy, that China does pose a pacing challenge to the U.S. globally, not just in the Middle East but globally and that Russia as they try to be resurgent, very often acts in ways that are inimical to not only our national interests but the national interests of countless others in the international community.

He will, as he goes through this global posture review, take a look at whether or not we are properly resourced and that we are executing the right missions, to make sure that we're protecting the United States and our national interests against those that would challenge that. So I don't want to get into specific Middle East strategy here, since we're just now starting this force posture review.

Q:  Just a follow-up.  And also right now Russia and Iran are fortifying Assad forces in Northeast Syria and the tension is mounting between Assad's regime and the SDF.  So is the United States prepared to take action if it escalates into a conflict, a combat between SDF and Russia and Iranian-backed militias?

MR. KIRBY:  I won't talk about operations, specific operational issues here at the podium and I'm certainly not going to get into hypothetical future operations that may or may not happen, but I think you did hear General McKenzie speak today, that we are in direct communication with the Russian military to facilitate air and ground deconfliction.  We continue to urge Russia and all of the parties to adhere to neutral deconfliction processes and to not take any provocative action in Syria.

Let me go to the phones.  Todd South?


Q:  No sir, no question, I was on mute.

MR. KIRBY:  There was a no next to your name and I missed it.  They tried to write it in bigger font, look at that, and I still missed it without my glasses.

Luis Martinez?

Q:  Hey John, thanks, all my questions have been answered, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  He did have a yes next to his name.  I'm taking credit for that though.


Q:  Thank you.  I would like to go back to the previous question about General McKenzie this morning.  He also said that he's very concerned about the fate of the foreign fighter for ISIS in Syria and I want to know what is the message the Biden administration wants to send to the Western countries who have citizens in these camps?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, there's a couple of top points there.  I mean, it's not a new worry that ISIS would want to take advantage of refugee camps for incitement and recruitment, and I think the general was reiterating that, the longstanding concern.

And I would also say that, you know, we work in tandem with local and coalition partners as well as the international community to try to find a multi-pronged approach to reduce the risks that are associated with ISIS fighters in these detention camps, and with radicalized individuals.

Humanitarian organizations administer the camps, we don't -- we're not in those camps.  But we have continued to send a message to the international community that we all must work together to try to find local solutions, to try to minimize that risk.

And as for, you know, specific U.S. policy with that -- with that camp in northeast Syria, we point you to the Department of State.

Q:  So you think the NATO allies do enough to take care of their citizens, then?

MR. KIRBY:  You've probably seen before, I mean, we obviously would support states that have foreign fighters to bring them home and to hold them accountable within their own criminal justice systems. 

This isn't -- it's not a specifically NATO problem.  I mean, many countries have had foreign fighters who have been inspired to join ISIS or to support ISIS, and so again, we call on the international community to kind of help us solve this problem collectively.


Q:  Thank you, John.  I would like to go back to Katherine's question in regards to the situation in northeast Syria.  Could you tell us or could you give us an update about the current status of the U.S. support to the SDF?

MR. KIRBY:  So yeah, hold on a second, Joe.  Just make sure I got it.

There is about 900 U.S. service members that are serving in Syria right now.  The numbers do fluctuate daily due to operational requirements.  I think it's important to remember that our mission there remains to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS. 

And U.S. service members that are there are supporting the defeat-ISIS mission in Syria, that's what they're there for.  And they're working in conjunction with local partner forces in the northeast part of that country.  That's been an -- that's been an enduring mission.

Q:  But do you have any idea if there are any -- if the United States is providing any military materials for the SDF or there are any military-to-military training to those -- to the elements of the SDF?

MR. KIRBY:  Part of the mission continues to be support to the SDF as they continue to fight ISIS in the region.  I'm not at liberty to quantify that or qualify that more deeply than that, but as General McKenzie talked about this morning, I mean, that -- that defeat-ISIS coalition, which does include members of the SDF, that work continues.  Even though ISIS is greatly diminished.  You know, there's -- that work is still important.


QUESTION : Can I do a quick follow-up on that?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q:  Are American troops still protecting those oil fields?  Is that part of the mission, or is that no longer part?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just -- in terms of the -- you're talking about the...

Q:  Oil fields in the northeast.

MR. KIRBY:  ... that company, Delta Crescent Energy, is that what you're talking about?

Q:  Well, there were a number of oil fields that the U.S. was -- U.S. forces were protecting up there, under the previous administration?  Is that just no longer part of the mission or is that -- does that continue?

MR. KIRBY:  I'd say -- well, except for where appropriate under certain existing authorizations to protect civilians, DOD personnel or contractors are not authorized to provide assistance to any other private company, including its employees or agents seeking to develop oil resources in northeastern Syria, I think I'd leave it at that.

Go ahead, you've been very patient.

Q:  Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Kirby, (inaudible) Afghan journalist.

MR. KIRBY:  I know.  You don't have to introduce yourself every time, I know.

Q:  Because of the mask.  OK.  Do you have any updates on also Taliban visiting different countries in the region?  Like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan?  And they already travel to Russia?  Taliban?  

MR. KIRBY:  Do I have any update on...

Q:  About the peace process in Afghanistan with the Taliban.

MR. KIRBY:  Nothing new to say, other than we continue to review the agreement, and -- and the degree to which compliance is being met.  And there's been no decisions on force posture in Afghanistan, going forward.

I think you know that the secretary talked to President Ghani just the other day, last week, good discussion there.  And you know, he continues to participate in interagency discussions about -- about our future in Afghanistan, but I don't have anything to announce today.

Q:  And do you know the reason why the Taliban did travel to Russia, Iran, and the regional countries like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan?  Maybe people say they get their support against the United States for peace process?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I'm afraid I can't speak for the Taliban.  I'm only barely able to speak for the Pentagon right now.


Q:  Thanks, John.  So just a quick clarification and then a follow-up.

Does the global posture review, I think you said is expected to be completed by mid-summer.  Does that include Afghanistan?  And if so, does that mean we won't go to zero by May, we'll still be talking about that...


MR. KIRBY:  We talked about this last week.  I don't want you to think that -- that a review on Afghanistan policy and the global posture review are some sort of separate or parallel tracks.  They each will inform the other, so it's not binary, OK?  And again, no decisions of course to speak to right now. 

I've got to go back to the phone.

Q:  Sorry, just -- just a different subject.  How have our Gulf partners reacted to the freeze on arms sales and ending intel-sharing that was announced last week, intel-sharing on offensive coalition operations in Yemen?  And how do you mitigate the concerns that this might send a negative signal?

MR. KIRBY:  Couple of things there.  First of all, I won't speak for other countries, they should speak for themselves.  But the president was very clear in his direction, in terms of what we were no longer going to do to support Saudi-led coalition offensive operations in Yemen.

It doesn't mean that the counter-ISIS fight in Yemen that we are participating in will not continue; it will.  It doesn't mean that we are not going to continue to support Saudi Arabia as they legitimately need to defend themselves and their people.  But again, I won't speak for -- I won't speak for other countries. 

The -- I think the message was -- was very clear, that the war in Yemen has become a uniquely horrific humanitarian disaster, and more needs to be done as a government to try to reduce the effects of that catastrophe and alleviate the human suffering in Yemen and it was a decision by this administration that a step in that process would be to curtail the support to the offensive operations in the country.


MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q: Yemen and one question on Iran.  But today is the ...

MR. KIRBY: You said you were following up on Yemen.

Q:  Yes.  Well, I might as well ask a second question.  Take my chances.

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q:  So today during his address to NEI, General McKenzie said, quote, unquote, "we will move out smartly to comply with the direction we were given," talking about the decision to refuse assistance to offensive operations to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  So has that type of assistance been terminated or not?  Is there a day for that because it seems based on his statement it's still ongoing?  That's the first one.

And the second one, today Russia announced joint maritime exercises in the northern Indian Ocean between Russian, Chinese, and Iranian Navies. How do you look at such activities?  Do you think they -- how do you think they impact regional security one way or the other?

MR. KIRBY:  On the exercises, I mean, navies exercise.  I did an awful lot of that myself.  That's what you do when you're at sea, sometimes you exercise.  And I don't think a particular exercise in itself that more needs to be read into it than not.

What we would say is that exercising naval capability is to be expected and I don't think we view exercises like this as contradictory to -- or as an impediment to our ability to defend freedom of the seas and to support our alliances and partnerships around the world.

I think you might be reading a little -- I mean, I don't want to speak for General McKenzie but I think you might be reading a little bit too much into this.  I mean, the president issued his order, General McKenzie said he's following the order, the kinds of support to the offensive operations are ended.  But I can't speak to every little specific process and I think that is probably what General McKenzie was referring to.

But I wouldn't -- I think you might be reading more into it then you need to.

Q:  Over?

MR. KIRBY:  The president and his commander in chief issued an order to end all support to offensive operations of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and General McKenzie is following that order.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  OK.  Take Hope Seck.  OK.  Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thanks for taking the question.  Last week I asked whether each service member has a foreign Defense Health Agency, Form 207, which indicates whether or not they received a COVID vaccine. I was just wondering if you had heard anything about this form that whether that might provide a uniform way of deciding whether troops have declined the vaccine?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, I don't have a good answer for you today. I -- as I understand it, that that -- I'm not -- I am not sure that form is uniform, no pun intended, but I tell you what, I'm going to take the question and since you asked about it last time we owe you a better answer for that.

Q:  Thank you.  And to what extent is the Defense Department helping to bring Austin Tice home?

MR. KIRBY:  We continue to want to see Austin come home.  Nothing has changed about our commitment to that, and I'm not at liberty to discuss anything more specific than that other than he's not been forgotten.  Neither has his family, and we continue to want to see him home, you know, and rejoin his family, but I just don't have any updates for you on that.  Back in the back?

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  Kristina Anderson, AWPS News.  Let's see, arctic strategy is relatively new, but it was formed at a time when multilateralism and emphasis was not so strong on partnership.  Is there any thought to now revisiting that in the near future with an eye on pre-standing partnership in the foreign origin...

MR. KIRBY:  I think part and parcel of the secretary's desire to restore, revitalize alliances and partnerships.  I think you'll see that manifested in places all over the world, and I would fully expect that whatever the approach to arctic strategy is going forward it will be a multilateral one.  It will be cooperative, and it'll be integrated not just internationally but inside the interagency. 

The secretary has made it very clear that he'd use climate change as a national security issues because it affects our operations.  It affects our facilities.  It certainly affects our security and stability around the world, for which and to which American men and women have to deploy.  So it's - and that - and obviously lots of change going on in the arctic. 

I think without getting ahead of decisions he hasn't made, I can assure you that he will be looking at arctic strategy in a collaborative, multilateral way.

Q:  Follow up?  Just talking about climate change and so forth, is there any look -- is there any chance of the effort to visit biodiversity as part of that overall picture of climate change because this is a big issue that's developing in Europe for instance, but the U.S. hasn't really -- that hasn't -- I haven't seen it reflected in U.S. policy yet.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a good answer for you other than to say that, you know, he's certainly going to be as part of the global posture review and just strategy reviews in general.  He'll be looking at the full panoply of challenges that the climate poses to national security.  I don't want to rule anything in and out of that specifically.  I don't have a good answer for you specifically on biodiversity, but it is on his mind and has been certainly even before he took that job, so more on that later.  Back here?

Q:  Will Secretary Austin brief some of the media with the president on Wednesday?  If not, when will he brief members of the media?  And following up on a question from last week, do you have costs yet on the National Guard presence in the Capitol?

MR. KIRBY:  So again, I characterize the president's visit, and I'll let the White House speak specifically beyond that.  The secretary will brief you.  He's made that commitment, and I think you can expect that soon. 

I actually do have an answer for you on that.  National Guard.  So the estimate through March 15 is that the total cost of National Guard support will come to $483 million.  $284 million of that is for personnel, and $199 million of that is for operations, and that gets us through March 15.

Q:  Do you have a further breakdown than that for what it will cost, where that money is spent?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I could break it down by Army and Air National Guard if you want that?  That's the best I got right there.  For the Army National Guard personnel comes to $256 million.  Operations at $165 million.  Air National Guard, $28 million for personnel, $34 million for operations.  And I'm told that it all adds up.  I didn't do the math myself, but I've been told that those numbers all add up.

Q:  OK.

Q:  What about hotels?

MR. KIRBY:  What was that?

Q:  What about hotels?

MR. KIRBY:  That -- I don't know -- I'll check, but I'm pretty sure that's factored into this -- into these costs.

Q:  Can I ask one more thing?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.  You get the last one today.

Q:  Yes.  Thank you very much.  On U.S. in Korea, South Korea joint military exercises on March next month, is there any changes coming, any scheduled changes?

MR. KIRBY:  I will refer you to the U.S. Forces Korea for their specific exercise regimen.  I don't have any updates on specifically the -- I'm sorry?

Q:  Why don't you find it out?  Maybe those pending (ph)...

MR. KIRBY:  I'll tell you what.  I'll take the question and we'll see if we can find out...

Q:  I was ask the South Korea, but that’s their job. Your job is right here. This for you.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.  Thank you.  I...

Q:  You have to ...


MR. KIRBY:  I will try to remember that.  Thank you.  I will try to remember my job.  Thank you.  All right.  See you guys.