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Pentagon Press Secretary Updates Reporters on DOD Operations

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  OK, a couple of things here to kick off and then we'll get right at your questions. Let me start by highlighting two phone calls Secretary Austin had with his counterparts in Iraq, following the rocket attacks in Irbil over the weekend. I think you've seen our readouts from these calls, but I would like to reiterate them.

Yesterday morning he spoke with the Iraqi Minister of Defense, Juma Saadoun. In the afternoon, he spoke with the Iraqi Minister of Interior Othman al-Ghanmi. During the calls they all condemned the attacked against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and they expressed condolences for the individual killed, for those wounded, the Iraqi people, and of course, all the families that are involved here.

They discussed the importance of a robust and expeditious investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable for the attack. The leaders also reaffirmed our joint commitment to the strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq.

Today as you know was Day One of the NATO Defense Ministerial. Secretary Austin and the other NATO ministers participated in what they call "interventions", two interventions, two events.

The first intervention discussed deterrents and defense, burden-sharing and Secretary General Stoltenberg's NATO 2030 Initiative. The second session discussed Transatlanticism, NATO/E.U. relations, the resilience of the alliance and emerging and disruptive technologies. The secretary reaffirmed the president's message that the United States intends to revitalize our relationship with the alliance and that our commitment to Article 5 remains ironclad.

Secretary Austin emphasized that NATO's most important task is protecting our populations and territories by presenting credible deterrents and a strong military. He also thanked allies for the seventh consecutive year of growth and defense spending and noted the importance of continuing to build on this progress, to achieve the defense investment pledge that all allies made at the 2014 Wales Summit. The Secretary expressed support for the overarching goals of the NATO 2030 Initiative, which are to ensure the alliance remains strong militarily, becomes stronger politically, and takes a more global approach.

Secretary Austin closed his remarks in the second session by discussing the importance of working across the Alliance to improve earlier adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies, as well as the need to protect our supply chains, infrastructure, and technologies for strategic competitors. He also emphasized the department's commitment to working with NATO to ensure democratic nations remain global hubs for innovation. Finally, he thanked our allies for the opportunity to discuss these important issues and he looks forward to tomorrow's session as well, where the allies will be discussing the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the personnel front – we’ve onboarded now 13 new employees yesterday, bringing our total to 71. Among those joining the team, I think you've seen reports about this, are Bishop Garrison, the Senior Advisor for Human Capital and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Joseph Bryan, Special Assistant to the Secretary as the Senior Advisor on Climate; Jesse Salazar, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy and Rebecca Zimmerman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.

Finally, I am pleased to let you know that Secretary Austin will be right up here with you tomorrow following his second and final day of the NATO Defense Ministerial. He'll be up here to give you a readout of that and to take your questions. And with that, I'll take your questions.

Let's go to Lita on the phone.

Q: Hi, thanks, John. Today is a hearing on a couple of the generals, Generals Friedrichs and Taliaferro, both talked a little bit about data the Pentagon apparently has regarding the decision by service members to take or not take the vaccines. The Pentagon has repeatedly said that there is no data but today General Friedrichs said not only is there data, but that they also have it by gender, race, and other categories.

I'm wondering if you are able to get us or provide any details on any of that? They talked about the general rate is about two-thirds acceptance but they didn't provide any details on what that involved, what that includes or the timeline. Can you give us any further clarity on those numbers?

MR. KIRBY: My understanding, Lita, is that they were speaking to the same general data set that they have spoken to you before; General Friedrichs has been at this podium himself talking about this, that we in the military basically mirror the acceptance rates of the American society and that's why I think they put it at a broad percentage of about 33 percent, which is again, consistent with what we said before, that we're basically seeing a mirroring of American society.  But that it is not, and I believe they went on to say, it is not data that we are specifically tracking right now and as I've said before, what we are doing is keeping track of acceptance rates, those who are agreeing to take the vaccines, but we don't have a system in place across each of the services to specifically track data with respect to those individuals who for whatever reason are declining or deferring the vaccine.

Q: Well just a follow-up. I think I mean acceptance rates, declining rates, whichever one you have is fine, but they did say that they were tracking the rates by race and gender. Do you know what period of time they were talking about in terms of these acceptance rates? Were these recent? Were these you know a few weeks old? Do you have any sense of that?

MR. KIRBY: No I don't and that, as I said, my understanding was that they were again reiterating what they said before, which was that we're mirroring American society. So I don't have that, Lita. I'm happy to pulse the joint staff and see if there's more clarity on that.

But as for acceptance, we've administered 88.2 percent of vaccines on hand as of today. So we've had more than a million doses delivered to the Defense Department, 1,039,665, to be exact, and we've administered 916,575, and we expect by Friday, by the end of the week, to be over the one-million mark. So it's not, I hear the argument that you don't get all the data that you think we should have or want, but this is data that we have put out before, doses delivered and doses administered and of those I can update you, if you want. The initial dose is 644,762; that's the number of people that have had one, and 271,813 individuals in the department have received their second dose.

OK, Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you very much. With all due respect, what you just said is extremely hard to believe. They gave, they said they have data. They said they had it by gender. The mirroring society was on claims that older people are more likely to get the vaccine than younger ones. So I ask again, why is the Pentagon hiding the data?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, nobody's hiding data. I appreciate your frustration. I hear it every time that you ask the question. And I respect it. Nobody's hiding data. There would be no reason for us to hide data when we can certainly tell you exactly how many people are getting the vaccines. If there's something more to what my understanding is of what was testified today, I promise you I will get it to you.

But nobody's trying to hide anything here. It's in our interest to be as open and as transparent as we can and we're trying to do that. People, it's a voluntary vaccine, people decide for themselves if they want it or not and we have to respect that decision-making process, and while I understand that there's for data, I hope you'll understand that our obligation's to make it available to as many members of the military and their families as we can, as possible, we're going through a very phased approach to do that, and we're up here almost every day talking to you about how many people are getting it. 

So I'm afraid I take a little issue, Jeff, with your implication that we are somehow trying to obfuscate or to be less than transparent with you.  We're doing the best we can with the data that we have and that we know we collect.  Tom? 

Q:  John, to Afghanistan, do we expect the secretary to put a statement out tomorrow on Afghanistan if he talks with the ministers?  Secretary Stoltenberg has basically said the Taliban haven't made -- met their commitments so far, they have to do a lot more. 

And on Iraq, you say there's going to be an investigation, but do you -- do you believe it's Iranian-backed militia that shot the rockets off, are you just trying to determine which one?  Just walk us through that if you could. 

MR. KIRBY:  So I won't get ahead of the secretary.  He's going to come here tomorrow and talk to you about the -- about his discussions with the NATO ministers.  Tomorrow's -- tomorrow morning's discussion will include current operations, Afghanistan and Iraq, and I suspect he'll be able to in his own way characterize that conversation, so I won't get ahead of that. 

On Iraq as the investigation is just starting and both Iraqi Ministers that the secretary spoke to yesterday said they want to take this seriously, urgently, but seriously, and they put together an inspection regime that is akin to what you would consider an interagency effort, and the secretary pledged our support to that effort in whatever degree they might want. 

So I think it's important that we let that investigation go through before we -- before any follow-on decisions are made, and I won't speak to preliminary intelligence estimates here about who might be responsible for this.  You can rest assured that we and our Iraqi partners are taking a look at this very, very closely, and clearly we want to have a better understanding of exactly who was responsible. 

Q:  But the previous attacks, haven't they all been done by Iranian-backed militias? 

MR. KIRBY:  I can't account for every single one over the last couple of years, but you're right generally speaking, most of the attacks on coalition and U.S. facilities in Iraq have come from these Shia-backed militias, yes. 

(UNKNOWN):  (inaudible) 


Q:  Thank you.  Taliban leader -- one of the Taliban leader Mullah (inaudible) send  a letter to the United States on expect from the U.S. regular (inaudible) authority to withdraw their soldiers in Afghanistan soon as possible.  Do you think that -- what would be U.S. Pentagon reaction to the Taliban request, and also tomorrow’s NATO conference, do you think that NATO make decisions to pulling out their soldiers in Afghanistan? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well we certainly -- we certainly approve of freedom of speech.  I'm not going to prejudge or get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet with respect to force posture in Afghanistan.  I'll say what we've said all along, that we want to see a responsible and sustainable end to this war, that that has to come through political settlement.  There's a process to try to achieve that.  We are also going through a review of our own of that process of the agreement and associated compliance issues, and when there's more detail to read out to you about that process, we certainly will. 

But we are committed to a political settlement, and certainly committed to the original goal for why military operations began in Afghanistan to begin with, which was to make sure that that country can never serve as a launching pad for terrorist attacks again in the future. 

Let me go back to the phones here.  Sam Legron? 

Q:  Hi, the carrier presence in the Middle East has been pretty constant but then it's kind of dropped off; now that the Nimitz left, nobody's in the neighborhood.  Are you all seeing any connections with dialed back naval presence and then the attack in Irbil, or just general Iran activity in the region?  Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY:  Well again, without prejudging the work that's being done to investigate this attack, I've seen nothing that indicates that the current lack of an aircraft carrier strike group was in any way responsible or led to the rocket attack in Irbil. 

But again, there's an investigation going on and we want to support that process.  Let's see, I have glasses, I should just use them.  Phil Stewart from Reuters? 

Q:  Thanks.  Secretary Austin in his readout of the call with the Interior Minister said he was offering support to the investigation by the Iraqis into the rocket attack.  Secretary Blinken said as much as well. 

Have the Iraqis taken up the U.S. on that offer, or are they still kind of weighing whether or not they want the U.S. involved in this investigation? 

MR. KIRBY:  Phil, I'm not aware of any specific requests for support.  The offer was made in good faith, and certainly the secretary meant every word of it, but I'm aware at this time here one day later that there's been a specific ask for support with the investigation.  Jenny? 

Q:  Thank you very much, John, this time I will not give you a hard time.  Yes. 


MR. KIRBY:  It's all right, I look forward to it every time, how's the tie, it was alright today? 

Q:  Yes, it’s nice.

MR. KIRBY:  All right, good. 

Q:  It was (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY:  I'll make sure I'm in good shape. 

Q:  (inaudible) 


Q:  On the North Korean issues, OK, on the North Korea, the cyber hacking crime, the South Korean National Intelligence Office reported that the North Korean cyber hacking attacked the U.S. Pfizer vaccine laboratories.  Do you have any information on this? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well you know, Jenny, that I am loathe to talk about intelligence matters here from the podium, and I am certainly not going to break that rule today.  The only thing I would say -- so I can't confirm these reports, but we're living through a once in a generation global pandemic, and there's no country that's unaffected by it, and what we would like to see is as has been the case almost everywhere around the world, countries are cooperating and being collaborative and sharing information to improve the health -- the public health of their populations, and I think that's -- that kind of cooperation and that kind of openness is what -- is what we would like to see from everybody.  

Q:  But if that happened that is very serious, then it -- for the United States but anything attacked by DOD's Cyber Command, so what does DOD's Cyber department doing?  So why South Korean reporting but you guys aren’t reporting it? 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I appreciate the go-around at it, again, but I'm simply not going to get into intelligence issues and I'm -- and I'm not going to comment on our activities in cyberspace. 

Again, I think we want everybody to turn their shoulders to the work of defeating this pandemic around the world. 

Yes, Lucas? 

Q:  Thank you, John.  Anne Neuberger said at the White House that the SolarWinds attack was launched from the United States.  Is that why it wasn't detected for so long?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen that report, Lucas.  I couldn't give you an accurate answer on that.

Q:  Could you update us on the investigation?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't -- I don't have an update on the investigation either.  I'm sorry.  Yes.

Q:  Yes.  John, as you know Turkey's currently trying to conduct operations in mountainous areas in North Iraq, and SDF had issued several statements against Turkey's operations on the PKK controlled mountains.  And of course extract comparatively with them.  Isn't there at least some kind of concern within the department that a group who get U.S. taxpayers' money he has sometimes links and expressed solidarity with a designated terrorist organization?

MR. KIRBY:  I think you know that our operations in Iraq and Syria are solely focused on countering the still-lingering threat that ISIS poses to the Iraqi people and the Syrian people, and that as we have long said, one of the best ways to ensure a sustainable defeat of ISIS is to do so through local indigenous forces.

And we are working in Syria with the SDF, and we have -- and we're working with Iraqis in Iraq.  And the goal is as it has been to go after ISIS.  That's the focus.

Q:  But is it justified?  Does it justify them to express their solidarity with a terrorist group?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I'm not going to get into individual groups here.  We're working with local Syrian democratic forces in Syria to go after ISIS, and that hasn't changed.  And if you're asking me if I think the taxpayer's well-served by the coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, I would -- I would say absolutely they are.  This is a group that is greatly diminished from what it was the last time I was standing up here at this podium in 2014 and 2015.  And while they are still a threat, they are a shadow of what they once were.

And you know why?  Because it's been an international coalition with local partners on the ground that have proven capable and competent in going after them.  So if you're -- again, if you're asking me if the money and the resources have been well-spent, and the cost in blood as well, which is certainly a high cost as well, you know, when you look at what ISIS has become today, it's hard to make the case that this wasn't worth the effort. 


Q:  Thank you.  I would like to get your reaction about what happened yesterday over Saudi Arabia.  As you may know, the Houthis as are escalating their attacks against Saudi Arabia.  Yesterday Riyadh intercepted and destroyed the northern drone with explosives.  I was wondering what are the Pentagon's efforts here given your commitments with Riyadh?  What are the Pentagon's efforts to counter the distress coming from the Houthis?

MR. KIRBY:  Well we've long said that we condemn attacks against Saudi Arabia, and as the president himself has made clear we remain committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend itself.  These kinds of attacks violate international law and the undermine efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, and as I've said before we're going to continue to work together and to look for better ways to defend the kingdom from these external threats while revitalizing diplomacy to try to end the Yemen conflict. 

Let me get to somebody here.  I'm going to use my glasses this time.  It's easier even though they've written in really big text. 

Tony from Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi there, John.  Maybe it's time to get cataract surgery, huh?  I have a question on the budget and I have a question on...

MR. KIRBY:  Getting all kinds of useful advice.


Q:  On the budget, what's your latest guesstimate for when the skinny budget will be out, and will it be solely the '22 budget or a five-year plan?  And then I had a follow up on the JEDI cloud project.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  So, Tony, we're working with OMB right now, but I don't have anything to share specifically with respect to timing until the budget's going to be delivered to Congress, and what was your second question?

Q:  OK.  The second question is on the JEDI cloud, the very contentious JEDI cloud project.  Is DOD considering canceling the JEDI cloud project if the judge presiding over the U.S. Court of Appeals -- federal claims case as soon as this week allows Amazon's latest conflict of interest allegations to stand and proceed to a deposition phase?  Would DOD -- is DOD considering just canceling the contract and starting from scratch?

MR. KIRBY:  What the department has consistently stated in all our court filings and public communications as well is that the allegation of improper influence is not supported.  As we stated before, if the court denies the government's motion we will most likely be facing an even longer litigation process, and the DOD Chief Information Officer will reassess the strategy going forward.

There is no predetermined outcome right now, Tony, on where the department may land if that reassessment becomes necessary.

Q:  Can you give me a sense of like how many options are being mulled?  I mean, is it three or four or just a couple right now?

MR. KIRBY:  Well look, in addition to the JEDI cloud effort, there are 13 significant cloud acquisition efforts that are underway right now to address our department's current cloud requirements.  Technology will continue to develop, and we're learning lessons every day from all these initiatives, but right now there's 13 other ongoing initiatives.

Q:  OK, fair enough.  Thank you, John.

MR. KIRBY:  You bet.  Nancy Youssef?

Q:  Thank you.  I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I just want to come back to the COVID vaccination numbers.  You mentioned that there isn't tracking of those who've declined, but in the USNI story on Friday, the admiral in charge of personnel not only said that they were tracking but that they were using those and surveying people who declined to figure out why they wouldn't get more people to take the vaccine.

And so, I just wanted to ask if there was a way for us to get a number -- the numbers of those who've declined by services?  It appears that they're keeping them.  And just a request of any information put out that vaccines that statistic go to their entire press corps.  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  On your second point, Nancy, and I'm up here every day giving you the number of doses delivered and administered.  If -- and certainly that's knowable information, and if it's something that we need to push to you every day we can do that.  That's not -- that's not difficult.  That is knowable.

Back on the -- on the numbers of those who decide not to get it, as I said it's possible that some commands and maybe even some services have a better sense, but at the Department of Defense, at the OSD level, and the level that we're operating here, we don't have a central tracking data mechanism to do that.

So we can certainly refer you to the individual services to speak to this, but it's not something, as I've said before, that we -- that we have some sort of central tracking mechanism for. 

Yes, sir?

Q:  So on the -- just on the... 


MR. KIRBY:  (inaudible) Wait, hang on.  Sorry, go ahead? 

Q:  I was just going to say when -- on the stats, the reason I'm asking is sometimes when questions are taken it only goes to the reporter, and so on that specific one I'd just like any clarity if possible provided to all of us as well? 

MR. KIRBY:  OK, noted, thank you. 

Q:  (OFF MIKE)  I understand that the U.S. and Iraqis I guess also are saying that people who are responsible for the attack on Irbil will be held accountable?  Is it different than the previous equation that whoever is going to attack us we are going to retaliate?  Is retaliation off the table? 

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I -- there's an investigation going on, I'm not going to get ahead of that and the results of that.  As we've said before, our forces and our commanders always have the right of self defense.  I'm not going to prejudge specific results or outcomes as a result of what we learn from this investigation.  I just won't do that. 


Q:  Thanks, John.  So I just wanted to follow up on Iraq.  I -- in the previous -- the previous times that this kind of thing has happened, CENTCOM has attributed the attacks to specific groups and linked them to Iran very quickly.  So I'm just wondering what's making the difference this time?  Is just the evidence just not there yet, and -- or is there some kind of policy change that they need more evidence to attribute that -- an attack so specifically? 

MR. KIRBY:  Each case is different.  I can't speak for the speed with which previous rocket attacks were attributable.  I can only speak to the one we're talking about this weekend, and I think there's a process ongoing to try to get better information about who is accountable for this. 

There is, as I said, an investigation going on that we've pledged support to if they -- if they would want that support, and then as my colleague at the State Department said yesterday, if and when there's a response it'll be at a time and place of our choosing in cooperation and consultation with our Iraqi partners. 

But I can't speak to speed.  Obviously -- and I think I mentioned this at the top, that I think everybody is angered by this, everybody feels a sense of urgency about it, you know, an individual was killed and there's a grieving family right now and there are other families worried about their loved ones who were hurt.  Sadly this isn't the first time that we've seen this.  And so we -- while we certainly -- there is a sense of urgency, there's also a real strong interest in being sure that we're deliberative in the process here, and the decision-making process, and that we are in lockstep with our Iraqi partners as we work through that process. 

Q:  Is that a change from previously?  Because CENTCOM meet with -- immediately would post photos of evidence that they found and my understanding is that the investigators have already found the launching trucks.  So I'm wondering why that isn't out there in the public sphere yet and if that's a change in policy? 

MR. KIRBY:  I can't speak to -- again, previous policy, so you're asking if it's a change; I can only speak to how we're treating this particular attack.  I would not read into the manner in which that we're going about this as some sort of policy derivative.  It is -- it is -- it just happened over the weekend, we've reached out both at the State Department and at the Defense Department to our Iraqi counterparts, and they're working their way through this. 

And they've made it very clear to Secretary Austin that they're taking this investigation seriously, that they didn't -- they didn't waste any time getting after it.  And we want to give them - them the time and space that they need to investigate it, OK? 

MR. KIRBY:  Let me go back on the phones here.  Jeff Seldin from VOA? 

Q:  Thank you very much for doing this.  A two-part Afghanistan question.  First part, in the new -- since the Department of Inspector General report on Afghanistan that was out today, it cites DIA intelligence as saying that members of Al-Qaeda have been integrated into the Taliban's command and control structure in Afghanistan.  So is that compatible with the terms of the U.S. deal with the Taliban? 

And part two, just the other week, CENTCOM Commander General McKenzie was saying that ISIS in Afghanistan, ISIS Khorasan, has been able to stabilize; wondering is that stabilization an indication that the Taliban had kind of eased up on the pressure they had been applying on ISIS, something that CENTCOM had said they had been doing effectively about a little over a year ago when they were losing ground in Afghanistan? 

MR. KIRBY:  So both those questions really get to the issue of compliance with the deal, because as you know, in the deal that the Taliban committed to renouncing ties to Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, and I'm just not going to, today, get into an assessment of compliance with the deal. 

As I said, that agreement is under review by this administration.  We want to do that again in a deliberative fashion, and I'm simply not going to prejudge whatever outcomes we -- whatever findings we come to as we work through that review. 

Yes, Meghann? 

Q:  Are there any numbers available on the number of vaccine doses that have been distributed down range and are deployed troops part of the same prioritization scheme as they would be if they were back home in terms of essential personnel, critical national security capabilities, that sort of thing? 

MR. KIRBY:  They are factored into the schema, I don't have that -- I don't think I have that in front of me, let me just check to make sure if I do.  I thought I did.  I don't have the schema, but they are -- I mean, deploying and deployed personnel are prioritized.  I can -- I need to get you a better, more specific answer, I just don't have it in front of me in terms of where they are in that scheme. 

But obviously from the very beginning I mean we knew that troops that we're getting ready to deploy were going to have to be prioritized.  And now that more vaccines have become available, there has been additional capacity to provide them to troops that are downrange as it -- as it is, but let me get back to you on where they actually are in the -- in the tiers and whether we can nail down by a combatant commander.  I don't have that data with me right now. 

Q:  And if there's anything about how many -- roughly how many have gone out to the people who are deployed? 

MR. KIRBY:  To deployed personnel? 

Q:  Yes. 

MR. KIRBY:  OK, I'll see if we -- I'll see if we have that, Meghann.  I don't -- I don't know if I've got that here and I don't want to take up more time. 

Yes, sir? 

Q:  Thank you.  Yesterday there was a video posted on Twitter about Indian and American soldiers dancing on the Hindu festival, Basant Panchami, that's a Hindu goddess of learning (inaudible).  Did that backdrop -- I would like to ask you about the India-U.S. defense relationship in the next four years.  Has the secretary -- do you know how this defense relationship is and how does he want to take it forward?

MR. KIRBY: It's a very important bilateral relationship that we have and particularly military-to-military relations. India is a critical partner, especially when you consider all of the challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and what I can tell you plainly is that the Secretary is prioritizing this relationship, wants to see it continue to grow and develop and to get stronger and he's very much looking forward to working on initiatives to do just that.

Q: I have a follow-up on what you mentioned on Indo-Pacific. There's a report in the Japanese press about a Quad leadership summit in the works. Does the Secretary support the leadership summit from the Quad countries?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen the press report so I can't speak to this specific report but if you're asking if we would be supportive of gatherings of as you call it "the Quad countries" absolutely he would, sure.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you. I have two questions. First, since the Japanese government announced yesterday that Japan and the United States agreed to keep Japan's cost of stationing of U.S. forces in the country at around the current rate until 2021. Do you have any comments on the cost sharing agreement? And secondly, do you think Japan should pay more for things the U.S. forces after 2022?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into hypothetical future issues in that regard.  Japan, our alliance with Japan has really never been more resolute or essential in the region and the secretary believes that firmly and deepening that defense relationship is a top priority for both nations. We continue to train and exercise together to improve our interoperability and strengthen our capabilities.

As to the details of this agreement, I would refer you to my colleagues at the State Department. But obviously separate from that, we're very grateful for the support that we get from the Japanese government and again, very much look forward to deepening and strengthening that bilateral relationship and our security commitments underneath the alliance.

I have time for just a couple more. Back there.

Q: Hey John. Nick Schiffrin from PBS News Hour. One on Afghanistan about conditions. I know you don't want to prejudge but there's a difference between the public and private aspects of the February 29th deal and as you know the February 29th deal does talk about Al Qaeda, talks about negotiations with the Afghan government, but it doesn't use the word "violent", it doesn't use the word "attacking the city". So what are these conditions that you're going to be basing whether the Taliban are adhering to, and if I could just quickly ask about that sexual assault; Senator Gillibrand, Representative Spier sent a letter asking for the Sexual Assault Commission to be outside DOD. Candidate Biden said that he wanted outside experts. Are either of those options being considered? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: On your first question, I think that's what we're hoping the Center Agency Review will help drive us to is first of all we want to assess the agreement itself. We weren't in the seat when that agreement was signed. We want to take a look at the compliance mechanisms of it, so again, I'm not going to get into an assessment of that right now. And I think all of that will help inform to your point what the conditions ought to be; when we say where any withdrawal will be conditions-based, we're still doing the homework on that.

And then on your other question, the secretary did receive initial reports from the services as he asked for by the 5th of February. He's working himself through those reports and I suspect you'll hear something more from us soon about the makeup of the commission and how it will be actualized and implemented going forward. I just don't have anything to announce today.

Q: But you're saying there's no decision made on whether there could be outside experts or where it will live exactly?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything to announce today in terms of the makeup of the commission and how it's going to perform its necessary functions. So rather than get ahead of decisions that the secretary hasn't put his pen to yet, I think I'm just going to defer for now. But I will tell you that again he was informed by the work he asked the Services to do and I do think you'll hear from us relatively soon on sort of what that's going to look like and how it's going to take shape. Okay? Lucas?

Q:  On the coronavirus vaccine, when are you going to make it mandatory?

MR. KIRBY: Well, we've talked about this, Lucas. I mean it's not – it's under emergency use authorization right now. It doesn't – achieved final FDA approval and so there's a real limit legally that we have to make it mandatory for our troops and their families; that's why it's a voluntary basis right now. I don't have a timeline on that.

Q: And are you disappointed that more service members aren't rolling up their sleeves?

MR. KIRBY: We want to – obviously the secretary's concern is primarily for the health and safety of the force and he's taken the vaccine and he did that after talking to his doctor and determining that it was the right choice for him, both for his own personal health and the health of his family as well as what he believed was to improve his ability to do the job, to make him a ready round, if you will.

But he recognizes that these are individual decisions and that individuals need to have these conversations with their doctors to determine if it's the right thing for them. He would encourage and he has encouraged the men and women of the department to get on the CDC website, read the studies about these vaccines, look at the safety monitoring that they've gone through and again, to talk to their person physicians. Everybody is different and we want, what the secretary wants is for the men and women of the department to make the best and most informed decision for them and for their health and the health of their families.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you.

Q: Have you been vaccinated yet?

MR. KIRBY: Have I?

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: I have received one dose.

Q: Oh.

MR. KIRBY: I’m supposed to receive my second one soon.

Q: Great. When did the secretary receive the vaccine?

MR. KIRBY: He received his first one, I don't know the exact date but it was before he took office and his second one shortly after becoming secretary; I think it was in the first week or so of his tenure.

Q: Will it be offered to the press corps as well?


MR. KIRBY: (inaudible) -- for you on that right now.