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Pentagon Press Secretary Updates Reporters on DOD Operations

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Sorry for being a couple minutes late here.

Okay, just a couple of things at the top, if you don't mind.  Right now as we speak, the secretary is upstairs to -- for the very first meeting of the Defense Department China Task Force.  He's providing some initial guidance to an outstanding team of 20 civilian and military experts from across the department, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, each of the Armed Services, combatant commands, and intelligence community.

Today's meeting is intended to formalize the mission, timing, and outputs of the task force as they work towards a baseline assessment of department's policies, programs, and processes on China-related matters.  That assessment will then inform the core objective of the task force, which is to identify a discrete set of top priorities and provide the secretary with specific and actionable recommendations and milestones to meet the China challenge.

As a reminder, this is what we're calling a sprint effort that will conclude in less than four months.  The task force will be working with our interagency partners and consulting with Congress on a bipartisan basis throughout the process.  Much of their findings will be classified -- I think we've talked about that before -- but we'll provide you updates as we can.

On Ukraine, today, the department is announcing a new $125-million package for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which includes training, equipment, and advisory efforts to help Ukraine's forces preserve the country's territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO.  This action reaffirms the U.S. commitment to providing defensive lethal weapons to enable Ukraine to more effectively defend itself against Russian aggression.  We'll be releasing more details later today about this, so stay tuned for that.

On the personnel front, we on-boarded another four employees here this morning, bringing our total to 82.  Among these joining the team is Lindsey Ford, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia.

And, all right -- take some questions.  I think Bob, you're on the phone.

Q:  Thank you.  John, do you have any updated damage assessment from the air strike last week in Syria, including civilian casualties that you -- you referenced?  And also, a related question about the subsequent event in the Gulf of Oman, where Israel -- Israel is now saying that Iran was responsible for that explosion aboard the ship, and I'm wondering whether the U.S. has any evidence to support the claim that Iran was responsible.

MR. KIRBY:  On the second question, Bob, I would point you to Israeli authorities to speak to that, since this -- the -- the ship belonged to them.  They've -- I know they've already been out there on that.  I -- I don't have any intelligence assessments on that to speak to at the podium today.

On the -- on the battle damage assessment, we've obviously seen a lot of reporting out there on numbers of casualties from Thursday's strike.  What I can tell you is that we believe right now there was likely one militia member -- member killed and two militia members wounded.  And we'll continue to assess, as you know we do, and if that changes, we'll certainly let you know.  But as of today, we assess one killed and two militia members wounded.

Okay, go ahead in the room.  Tom?

Q:  I wanted to ask a little bit more about the stand-down.  In the documents the Pentagon put out, it says service members must reject active participation in extremist organizations.  But still, mere membership is allowed?  And will you look into that, and maybe banning mere membership?  And is that something you can do, or is that something Congress will have to weigh in on?

MR. KIRBY:  No, that's certainly within the secretary's authority to make that call, if -- if he wants to.  But you're right, and we've talked about this before.  Membership alone is not prohibited right now, but it is something -- and I think the secretary has spoken to this -- that he is certainly willing to look at and -- and to ask the question of the services as -- as we move forward on this, about whether or not membership alone would also be prohibited.  It -- it isn't right now.

What we continue to say is that activity, based on this -- this kind of extreme ideology that is prejudicial to good order and discipline and/or harms fellow teammates obviously can be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that's still the case.

Q:  Is he going to wait 'til after the stand-down to gather information and make a decision on that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't want to get ahead of the secretary's timing on this.  Certainly, as we've said, one of the reasons he wanted to do the stand-down was to solicit feedback from -- from the -- the troops and -- and so he -- he certainly wants to get that over the next month or so, but I wouldn't get ahead of timing on decisions he may or may not make.

Let's see, Phil Stewart, Reuters?

Q:  Hey, John.  Real quick, the Saudis are saying that there is a new exercise that's been started with the Air Force Dragon -- the exercise name is "Dragon," they're saying -- was this -- just wondering whether this was pre-planned, do you have any information about it, whether or not this was in any way meant to show support for the Saudi military after the events last week and the release of the Khashoggi report?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any details on that particular exercise, Phil.  But just broadly speaking -- I'm just looking to see that I don't have anything specific on that exercise before I say that.

So let me take your question, and see if we have anything about it that we can speak to.  I have not seen anything on it.

But just broadly speaking, as we said before, we recognize that Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner in the region that we have obligations and commitments to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against attacks, which continue to happen from across that southern border with Yemen, and we take those responsibilities seriously.

We do have a strong military-to-military relationship with Saudi Arabia, and I would expect you to see that that relationship continues for all the right reasons.

But as for that specific exercise, Phil, I'm going to have to get back to you.


Q:  I want to follow up on that.  Now that the report has been made public to the world, saying that Mohammed bin Salman is -- was behind the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, what is -- what impact will there be, if any, on the U.S.-Saudi military relationship?  Will there be any impact?

And if not, then what leverage does the U.S. military have to, other -- given his position in the country over their military, what leverage do you have then with other militaries around the world, that your relationship with them depends on their human rights records and not committing, you know, murders?  What leverage do you have or will your relationship be impacted?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I won't get ahead of decisions that have or haven't been made inside the military-to-military relationship that we have in Saudi Arabia.  It remains robust, as it should remain robust.

But -- and the -- the issues over sanctions and -- and repercussions in -- in light of Jamal's murder certainly remain an issue more for the White House and the State Department to speak to.

Except to say that we do -- when we have military relationships around the world, we certainly do make sure that they comport with the law -- because there are legal restrictions about some military support when it comes to rule of law and extrajudicial activity.  We make sure that those relationships comport with the law and with our own values and standards.

But I won't get ahead of decisions yet that haven't been made.

Q:  Well, then let me follow up.  Are you saying there are decisions on the table that simply they're -- on the table, where final decisions have not been made?  Are any of these matters even on the table?  And -- for the Pentagon.

And still find myself confused.  If the U.S. military does not engage in relationships with countries that engage in extrajudicial killing and violation of human rights --


MR. KIRBY:  -- say that, Barb, that we don't -- I mean, that -- but there are certain legal limits to the kinds of support we can give to other militaries under the law, the Leahy law.  I'm not foreshadowing anything in this case, and don't read into my answer that -- that I'm sort of signaling to you that there are some decisions about to be made, that's not what I meant at all.

Just that right now, I know of no changes to the military-to-military relationship.  Broadly speaking -- and my White House colleague spoke to this last week -- certainly the relationship from a bilateral perspective with Saudi Arabia is going to be different under this administration than it was under the last, and certainly that difference is going to be informed by what we now know the intelligence report says.

Militarily speaking, we have obligations there, in Saudi Arabia, and we're going to continue to meet those.  I don't have anything specific, and I'm not signaling that there's going to be.

Does that answer your question?  Okay.

Let's see, Luis Martinez?

Q:  Hey, John.  You referred to the China effort -- China task force as a sprint effort.  The Global Posture Review is still going on.  How would you characterize that, as a super-sprint?  And when can we expect analysis of that with regards to Afghanistan, please, thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  The -- I don't know that I would call it a super-sprint.  The Global Posture Review, we do expect to be completed by mid-year, so in the summer timeframe.  Everybody's working hard on that, I'm not -- won't get ahead of that.

The China task force is really about policies, programs, and procedures with respect to how the department treats the China challenge.  And it is nested in, and will be helping form, the larger whole-of-government approach to China.

And clearly, it's going to be looking at China from our unique perspective at the Defense Department.  There are other agencies across the government that also have bilateral issues, whether it's trade, intellectual property, economic, certainly diplomatic.  They'll be looking at that relationship from their own perspective.

What the secretary wants Mr. Ratner to do is to look at the pacing challenge that China poses to the department from our perspective, and what do we need to do to make sure we're ready to meet that challenge.  So it's not part of the Global Posture Review.  Could something that they come up with help inform that review?  That's certainly possible, I won't get ahead of that.  But it is a separate and distinct process.

And I think you asked about Afghanistan, I don't have any updates on that at all.  There is an interagency review going on right now, as we've talked about, to look at the Doha agreement, to look at the compliance with that agreement, to consider what -- what decisions we need to make, what’s in the best national security interests of the United States and the American people with respect to Afghanistan, and we're just not there yet.


Q:  Thanks.

Back to extremism, as part of the stand-down, the Navy is requiring all its sailors to retake the oath of enlistment, and I was wondering if the secretary has recommended to the other services that they also have their members retake their oath.

And then I have a follow-up.

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no direction that he's given to the other services to do that, but he's supportive of the Navy's direction in that regard.  And if you looked at the video, he specifically asked service members -- the whole workforce -- to think about their oath as they think about this stand-down.  But I know of no such direction to the other services to do that.

Q:  Okay.  And then secondly, as you know, the recruiting commands play an important role in this too.  Is the secretary going to reach out separately to them?  I was looking in the guidance.  And while there's general guidance, overall, there's not specific for recruiters or for recruiting commands on how to actually weed out potentially extremists before they ever join.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't -- I don't -- I know of no plans for him to reach out specifically point-to-point for -- at his level to each recruiting command, but he has talked to the chiefs and the acting service secretaries about -- in fact, they brought it up.  There have been mutual concerns on -- on both sides about the recruiting process and asking ourselves if we've got this right.  Are we doing enough of the right kind of vetting for potential recruits before they come in?  And -- and are we able to catch that kind of activity, to include looking at social media profiles?

There's a limit to what you can do legally, because before they sign the dotted line and raise their hand and give that oath, they're private citizens, so there's some limits there.  But I -- they've all -- all of them, including the secretary, have asked themselves, you know, "What more could we be doing to try to be able to catch some of this behavior before they -- they come in?"

And again, there's -- we have -- we have to assume that some people are becoming radicalized after they get in, and so that's a whole other, you know, set of issues that have to be dealt with.  But I don't know that he's -- but I know he hasn't specifically reached out to each recruiting command of each of the services, but he has had that conversation with the service secretaries and the service chiefs.

Q:  Do you think it's part of the back-and-forth on what more can we do in this initial screening?  Will that be captured in any way?  Are the services going to come up with recommendations for their own recruiting commands?

MR. KIRBY:  I would let the services speak for themselves on that.  I mean, I -- I -- they -- it would be inappropriate for me to -- to -- to speak for them here.  Certainly, the secretary's interested in what they learned and -- and he -- and he agrees with them that this is something we should be looking at, is the -- the process of recruiting.  But -- but whether -- you know, what direction -- he hasn't given them direction to come back to him on a specific point, except to say that it is -- it's definitely a -- a -- an issue of concern, and I, again, I would let them speak for each of them on how -- how they want to approach the problem.

As you know, while each service has Title X responsibilities for recruiting, they all do it a little differently, particularly now in a COVID environment.  Much -- a lot recruiting is done virtually for the safety of potential recruits and our recruiters.  Each service does that differently, too.  So again, the secretary doesn't want to be too proscriptive in terms of how they handle the onboarding of new personnel, except to say that he agrees with the -- the -- with the chiefs and the secretaries that this is something that needs to be focused on, yeah?

Okay, Caitlyn?

Q:  Hello.  My question is, last week, several senators asked for installation-level vaccination rates to be publicly released, and Mr. Salesses -- I hope I pronounced his name correctly -- said that the request was reasonable and he would look into -- and look into it.  Can you provide any update on when this information will be publicized?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Great question, Caitlyn.  I don't have an update for you, but -- but I -- I have spoken to Mr. Salesses, and he -- we are working on -- on trying to get that information publicly releasable, and I -- I suspect we'll be able to relatively soon.  It's just we've got to -- we've got to work through the details of that.

Here in the room.  Jen?

Q:  John, back to the air strike in Eastern Syria.  The militia member who was killed, was he Iranian, or do you know the nationality?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't.

Q:  And the -- there's a report that the Iranians have revealed a new drone that looks very similar to an American Predator.  Do you have any reaction to that?  Is it stolen plans?  Is that why it looks so similar to an American Predator?

MR. KIRBY:  Jen, I haven't seen the footage of that, or even heard a report of that, so let me get back to you on that.  I don't -- I don't have a good answer for you today.

Yeah, Abraham?

Q:  Yeah, on the damage assessment from that strike, you mentioned casualty, but was there any assessment as to sort of, were weapons part of that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any more detail than what I've given you, which is the -- nine -- nine buildings destroyed, and then I've given you the -- what -- what we know today to be personnel casualties:  one killed, two wounded.

Q:  Could you respond to what some of the militant groups are saying -- that this is just a pinprick?  It has, really, no operational effect on them.

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen those comments.  I would go back to what I said last week, that this was really designed to do two things:  to remove that compound from their utilization of it as an entry control point from Syria into Iraq; and two, to very -- send a very strong signal that we're not going to tolerate attacks on our people and our Iraqi partners.

Let me go down here to the phones.  Sangmin?

Q:  Thank you for giving me the chance to ask a question.  I have a question about the U.S. forces in Korea.  So what is your position regarding the restarting the large-scale of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercise?  And related to that, how is preparation going on, the coming -- the spring exercise into March?

MR. KIRBY:  I didn't get your last question.  But before I ask you to repeat it, let me answer your first one.

As you know, we don't talk about the specifics of training events there on the peninsula, except to say broadly, as we've said many times, the training and readiness there is of utmost importance to the -- to the secretary, to the entire military and to our alliance, which is, as we said, linchpin in the region.  And -- and the training events that we are and will conduct are going to be in keeping with making sure we maintain a high level of readiness.

Your second question?

Q:  How is it going on, the spring military exercise practice between U.S. and South Korea?

MR. KIRBY:  How is it going on?

Q:  Yeah, and how -- how is preparation going on?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, again, I won't speak to the details of -- of -- of training there on the peninsula.  Again, I would add, we have a very close relationship, a serious alliance, security alliance with the Republic of Korea.  We take those obligations and responsibilities seriously, and all the exercises and training events that we conduct on the peninsula are done in lockstep with our Korean colleagues and -- and allies.

Okay, here in the room.  Yeah?

Q:  John, about the Syria strike, so last week you said nine buildings were destroyed, two buildings were partially destroyed, and out of them, just two militias were killed, or one militias were killed and two militias were wounded.  Do you think that at some point the strike was telegraphed to the group?  Because such a large compound was destroyed, and just two people were wounded and one was killed.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'm not -- are you asking me if -- if you --

Q:  Believe that somebody might have telegraphed the strike, the U.S. strike to --

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.  I -- we have no indication that that -- that that occurred.  Okay?


Q:  Yes, I have a two-part question on vaccinations.  The first part is, there's been numbers coming out that a third of service members are refusing to get the vaccination.  What is Secretary Austin doing to motivate black service members or minority service members to want to do it?  Because a lot of the concerns are testing different vaccines on black communities and the impact it's had.  I know he mentioned speaking with healthcare officials, but honestly as, you know, as an African-American myself, you know, it's still in the back of our minds, like, you know, kind of hesitant to do it.  So that's the first question.

And then secondly, do you feel it's going to impact the force if you don't have service members getting the vaccination?  How is that going to impact them being able to deploy at a moment's notice if you have those who are refusing to get it?

MR. KIRBY:  So the secretary talked about this last week when we were out in Los Angeles, and he was asked a question very similar to the one that you just asked.  And he's mindful that there are cultural and community concerns in many -- with many people of color about the vaccine.  Some of it's based on -- on some painful history, and he -- and he mentioned that as well.  That's one of the reasons he wanted to go see that site, and to talk to people that were there.

As he said last week -- and I think you saw him say in his video -- he received the vaccine himself, and he felt it was important to let people know that he looked into it, he talked to his doctor, he talked to his family, and decided it was the right thing to do for him.

And what he believes -- and he said this also, very, I think, plainly, was that he believes we in the department need to do a better job providing the right kind of information and context, or at least getting people pointed to the right context and information about the vaccine, so that they can make similar decisions for themselves, talk to their doctors, ask about their own health conditions, which may or may not play into whether they could get the vaccine.

And to try to make the best decisions that they can, not just for themselves but for their families and frankly for the team.  And this gets to your second question.  I mean, it is a team here, and the secretary, again, wants the information to get out as much as possible so that people can realize that yes, it's a personal decision to get it or not to get it -- in many cases; some people aren't allowed to get it because their doctors won't let them or you know, pre-existing conditions, that kind of thing.

But in many cases, it's a personal decision, but it's also a decision -- and this is what he wants service members to remember -- that it's a decision you're making also for your teammates, and for your unit readiness.  So that's very much on his mind.

We -- you know, we've administered now 1,144,697 doses out of 1,275,925 doses that delivered.  So they're not staying on the shelf very long.  We get them, and we put them into arms.  And you know, 735,000 of those are initial doses, 409,000 are second doses.

So we're going to continue to make these available in the proper schema to those that most need it, including troops that are getting ready to deploy.  That's very much on his mind, is if you're going to deploy, we want to make sure you have access to it before you go so that -- you know, so that you can -- so that you can properly protect your teammates and protect the country.

With the Johnson & Johnson one that just got approved for Emergency Use Authorization, that gives us a little bit more flexibility.  We expect to start getting those doses delivered to us in the next week or so.  And because it doesn't have the same refrigeration requirements and because it's a single-dose vaccine with equal effectiveness, it will give us additional flexibility to take care of or to provide it to deploying and deployed troops.

Q:  With that being said though, for those who you say they need to get the vaccine before they deploy, if they say, "I don't want to get it."  Are -- will they be -- will there be repercussions or will the military at some point say, "Okay, look, we have to require these folks to get vaccinations because if they don't, you're going to" -- if you run into that rut of someone saying, "Well, you know what, I'm not going to take the vaccination but I'll still deploy."

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.  Well, we don't tell them, "You have to get it before you deploy."  But for deploying units, we make it available to them because it is still voluntary.  And again, part of our obligation here-- and the secretary spoke to this -- is to provide enough information so they can make the most informed decision.

We're not at a mandatory place right now.  The secretary, you know, understands that.  And because it's -- because it's voluntary, we want to make sure, again, that people have the right context.


Q:  -- follow up on that?  You talked about unit readiness.  Now, let's say you're a member of a ready brigade of the 82nd who has to deploy very quickly, and let's say there's a cluster of soldiers in that unit that doesn't want to take the vaccine.  Do you leave those folks behind and deploy?  What's the -- what's the way ahead on something like that?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I wouldn't -- you know, those kinds of decisions would be made by unit commanders, not by the Pentagon.  I mean, so I wouldn't -- you know, I couldn't speculate on that kind of hypothetical.

It's important to remember that in addition to making the vaccine available, our commanders are also complying with CDC guidelines about social distancing and the use of masks and that kind of thing.

I mean, the Nimitz just came home after 11 months, and I think they had a total of one COVID case that they dealt with on an entire deployment.*  And they -- you know, it was not -- there weren't -- vaccines weren't part of that calculus for them.

So there are things that commanders can do to minimize the risk, but it's left to the unit commander to -- to work their way through that.

Let me go to the phones here.

Q:  I'm sorry, could I just build on that just a little bit?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  I've noticed a difference since you have 700 -- or 409,000 of the second shots.  Have you noticed a drop in the number of COVID cases within DOD since the vaccination effort started, or is --

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't know, I'll have to pull the data, Jim, I'm not sure if we've seen a decrease in cases as a result of all these being administered.

Q:  Because that might be a selling point for these people who don't want to take it also.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, we certainly hope so, that people will, again, see that these are safe and effective and the side effects are minimal, and that their colleagues and teammates are vaccinating themselves.  Total cumulative cases in the department are 250,597.  I don't have it broken down by month, but -- and I don't have that specific piece of data.

Lara Seligman?

Q:  Hi John, thanks for doing this.  I just wanted to follow up on the piece about Ukraine.  I'm just wondering if you can give us a little bit more information about what additional kinds of weapons and support they're providing.  I believe you're already -- will it be anti-ship missiles and patrol boats?  Will there be additional Javelins that are given?

And then what other efforts might be undertaken to ensure that the Ukrainian government is -- is going after corruption?

MR. KIRBY:  Right, so good question.  The package announced today will include two Mark IV** armed patrol boats that'll help Ukraine defend its territorial waters.  That will include some training, equipment, and advisory efforts from us.  This would now make our commitment a total of eight patrol boats, two in F.Y. '21 and F.Y. '20 and then four through military financing with State.

There are no Javelin missiles included in this package.  As I said, these -- that it was largely these patrol boats.

And then to your other point, Lara, we obviously continue to encourage Ukraine to continue to enact reforms, to modernize the defense sector in line with NATO principles and standards, and we obviously stand committed to helping assist Ukraine in implementing these reforms on civil-military control and leadership and proper -- proper management of the -- their -- their defense.

Q:  And if I could just follow up?  Are -- is Ukraine paying us for the patrol boats or are we doing them all through foreign military aid?

MR. KIRBY:  This is -- this is through foreign military financing with the State Department.*


Q:  You said vaccines are not mandatory yet.  Has the department made a decision about whether they will become mandatory when -- when they get full FDA approval?

MR. KIRBY:  No, no, we haven't.  It's still -- these are still under emergency authorization, and so right now they are -- they're still voluntary.

Q:  You must have thought it through.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to say -- obviously we're thinking about what happens when they become FDA-approved, that certainly would made a decision -- it would change the character of the decision-making process about whether they could be mandatory or voluntary, but I don't want to get ahead of that process right now.

In the back, Pierre?

Q:  Going back -- thank you.  Going back to the Saudi issue, is it time to reconsider the measures that are taken to deny the Houthis from receiving more arms from Iran?  And do you believe also that Saudi have enough to protect themselves and to also protect their citizens and the U.S. people who are living within their country?  Two sides of this, one is the fact Houthis are receiving arms, and the Saudis under attack.

MR. KIRBY:  We know that the Houthis are -- continue to receive support from Iran.  And we're working with the international community to try to find a political end to this conflict, and to -- and to try to limit that support that they get.

As for Saudi Arabia, again, I'd go back to what we said before.  I mean, we have security commitments there to help them defend their territory, and it is still under attack, as we've seen in just -- just recent days.  And so we take that responsibility seriously.

Okay, let me go back to the phones.  Dan Sagalyn, PBS?

Q:  Hi, John, thanks.  So I noticed that the charter or the memo that was released on Friday evening, for the Commission on Sexual Assault, says a high-risk installations report and its findings will be submitted.  Can you tell us what its definition of installations that are high-risk, is there a precise definition?  How is that determined?  And will DOD hold people accountable for these facilities being high-risk?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't believe there's a specific definition for what is high-risk at this point.  That's -- I mean, we're working with each of the services to look at themselves as to what installations they believe have or need to improve -- have climate issues or need to improve climate issues.   I don't know that there's a specific definition for -- for what is or what isn't.

And -- and your second question?

Q:  Accountability.  So if they find installations that are high-risk, are they going to -- you know, is anyone going to be held accountable for these installations being high-risk?

MR. KIRBY:  I think it's going to depend on what we find at some of these installations, Dan.  I mean, some -- some of the issues that might make an installation high-risk can be solved by better programs, better policies.  And you know, there may be other situations, you know, where leadership accountability has to be factored in, but I wouldn't get ahead of those decisions right now.

In the back?

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  The previous administration expressed strong interest in deploying land-based intermediate-range missiles to the Indo-Pacific region after the INF Treaty was terminated.  What is the Biden administration's position on this region?  Do you continue to consider deploying that capability to the Indo-Pacific region?

MR. KIRBY:  I think that'll -- that's the kind of thing that we'll -- we'll be looking at in our global posture review.  And I think that all factors into what resources you're applying against what strategy in what part of the world.  And I don't have anything to announce today with respect to that, but clearly our defensive posture, which includes not just people, but resources and systems, will all be part of this global posture review.

Okay, yes, Tara?

Q:  I wanted to follow on Tom's question.  When you're looking at small teams and some of the Special Forces units that are sent, what do you do for that unit's safety if, say, half the team doesn't want to get a vaccine?  Does this whole team still deploy?  And are you really impacting readiness at that point?

MR. KIRBY:  I won't get into a hypothetical, Tara.  We haven't faced that issue yet.  We can't make these members take the vaccine, but we can employ, and do employ CDC guidelines to try to keep units safe.  It just hasn't been, that I'm aware of, we haven't had an issue specifically with a deploying unit in that -- in that regard.  But again, I -- I wouldn't get ahead of decisions that unit commanders might make, you know, going -- going forward.  It just hasn't been, at -- at -- at this point, it -- it hasn't had a specific impact that I'm aware of.

Let me go back to the phones.  Paul Shinkman?

Q:  Yeah, hi, John.  A follow-up to the question about Israel, and then I've got a separate question about Nigeria.  So there have been some reports that Israel conducted strikes in Syria against pro-Iranian forces, I think that was last night.  Did Israel coordinate those with the U.S.?  And should we see those as any sort of connection to the response of the U.S. response we saw last week against Abu Kamal?

MR. KIRBY:  I'd have to point you to the IDF to speak to their military operations, Paul.  I'm -- I'm -- I'm not capable of doing that.

Q:  Okay.  And then on Nigeria, we -- we saw what some are describing as the largest-ever kidnapping of schoolgirls a few days ago.  The U.S. military, in 2014, helped lead a pretty massive mobilization of resources to try to find a separate set of kidnapped girls.  I believe that was during your -- your prior tenure as -- as spokesman. I wonder, is there any U.S. involvement or plans for a potential U.S. involvement in this latest case?  And if not, why not?

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no operations right now with respect to that, Paul, and as you know, we're careful about hypothesizing on -- on future operations.  I don't -- I -- I don't have anything to announce on -- today on that.

Yes?  Again?

Q:  Yes.  I'd like to know about the FEMA response.  So there were an initial 1,000 troops that -- that went out to help those sites in California.  Are there any other plans yet for roll-out sites and more troop levels?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, so I've got -- if I can just find it in here.  Yeah, here we go.  So I think you know, obviously, we've got the -- the site in California, 222 people sourced from the Army.  We have the 25 -- small team of 25 in New Jersey, and two 25 personnel teams as well in Trenton, Viland, Elizabeth and Camden.  Those are sourced from the Army and the Navy.  There are two small teams that are en route to Queens and to Brooklyn.  That's sourced from the Navy and the Air Force.  In Texas -- and I can get all this for you.  The -- there's a -- there's type I team and two type II teams.  Those are sourced from the Air Force, Army and the Marine Corps.  We also have a small team of 25 sourced by the Army and the Navy in the Virgin Islands.  We have four type II teams.  This is 139 personnel that -- that have been assigned but not sourced in Florida, in sites in Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville; one type I team -- this is the big team of 222 -- assigned, but not sourced yet for Pennsylvania, and another small team going to New Jersey somewhere around the middle of -- of March.  Same is true for North Carolina, one type II team to go to Greensboro -- not sourced yet, so I don't have -- I don't have a source here on that, and a -- and a -- likewise in Illinois, another type I team heading to Chicago.  But again, we don't have that sourced and we don't have a -- a -- a time -- a time on it.


Q:  Of the -- for any of those, any total numbers of troops?

MR. KIRBY:  As I said, I mean, those -- on the North Carolina and Illinois, I don't have timeframes.  For Florida, we are hoping to get them on the ground by the third, so that's the day after tomorrow.  Same with the -- the team in Pennsylvania.  The small -- small additional team in New Jersey, we hope to have by the middle of March.  Okay?

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yup.

Joe ?  Yeah, last -- last question to you, Joe.

Q:  Thank you, John.  Following the strike in Syria last week, could you confirm if additional security measures have been taken to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad?

MR. KIRBY:  Our commanders and our ambassadors always have the right of self-defense, and you know, Joe, that we don't talk about additional force protection measures that we put in place.  But I think you can assume that our commanders and our -- and -- and our lead diplomats anywhere in the world, but particularly in that part of the world will take all the actions that they need to do to protect our people and our infrastructure.

Okay?  Thank you.

Editors Notes:

*  The USS Nimitz had zero COVID-19 cases during its most recent deployment.

**  The class of armed patrol boats being provided to Ukraine is “Mark VI”.  The Mark VI patrol boats announced today are committed to Ukraine through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), authorized by the FY21 NDAA.  The Defense Department committed two Mark VI patrol boats last year under the FY20 NDAA.  The State Department has previously announced four additional Mark VI patrol boats under Foreign Military Financing, separate from USAI.