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Pentagon Press Secretary Provides an Off-Camera Press Briefing

MR. KIRBY: All right. OK, I don't have -- wow, that's a weird echo, isn't it? I don't have any opening statement today so we'll just go right to it. Bob?

Q: Good morning, John. I have a question for you on the attack last week in Syria. In the absence of any new information, are you are willing to or able to offer on battle damage assessment, can you say whether the attack has had any early effect on the militias in terms of their mobility or their ability -- the -- whether it's lessened the threat from them? Have they responded in some way and has Iran reacted in any way in terms of their support inside Iraq?

MR. KIRBY: We haven't seen any demonstrable -- demonstrable -- yeah, I think that's right, I think that's the right way -- demonstrable? Yeah -- yeah, it's -- it didn't sound right when I said it. I don't think we've seen any demonstrable effect yet, Bob, and I certainly wouldn't talk about intelligence issues.

The last thing I would add is just that as I said last week, a -- one of the -- one of the things we were certainly hoping to achieve as a result of that strike was to deter future attacks by militia groups on our people, our facilities and our Iraqi partners, and we certainly hope that it has that effect.

There hasn't been -- since the -- the strike last week, there hasn't been any attacks by militia groups on our people and we -- we hope that that remains the case. OK, in the room, yeah?

Q: (Inaudible) on this. So when you said one fighter was killed and two were injured, is this the final count or are you still working on that assessment?

MR. KIRBY: That is a -- that is a -- the assessment right now. I think it's fair to say that we'll continue to look at -- at the situation there over coming days but I -- I -- it hasn't changed and I have no expectations that there'll be specific changes going forward but we're going to keep looking at this, OK?


Q: Hello. My question is just kind of an update on the National Guard members in the Capitol. Can you say how many remain in DC and has there been any request to extend -- to extend them past mid-March? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: So right now, Caitlyn, there's a little bit more than 5,200 -- and we can get you the exact number if you need that -- but it's a little bit more than 5,200 in the Capitol region right now and we are not in receipt of -- of a request or a requirement to extend them beyond the 12th of March. So currently, that is still the plan. Barb?

Q: A couple of things. First, can I ask you again on domestic terrorism, the hearing tomorrow with -- with Mr. Salesses -- and apologies if I'm mispronouncing ... 

MR. KIRBY: Salesses.

Q: Salesses, his name. What is the message that -- he will be testifying on behalf of the department. What is the message the department has for Capitol Hill right now, for Congress tomorrow, that he would be delivering on how you dealt with January 6th and the improvements you might want to see, both how -- how -- what will he essentially be telling Congress?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get -- telegraph or get ahead of -- of congressional testimony, Barb. That's just usually not a good habit for us to get into and I certainly don't want to speak for Mr. Salesses, who is preparing his -- for his testimony today. So I think I'm just going to let it -- we'll let the testimony happen.

As you know, it's -- it's under investigation, the events that day, and we also don't want to prejudice that work that's going on to investigate it.

Q: So if you are still having the National Guard there until mid-March, what is the reason that DOD has been -- and the Department of the Army, obviously, has been given for the need to keep the Guard there? Why are you still there?

MR. KIRBY: We are still there because we're at the -- it's at the -- we're at the -- let me start over again. Our National Guard troops are on Capitol Hill at the request of city authorities, as well as federal and local law enforcement requests to supplement security on Capitol Hill. And you know, that request had originally been assessed to be a requirement up until the middle of this month. And again, that's the operating understanding that we're still going on.

We are in constant communication with the local law enforcement, Secret Service, Capitol Police, as well as city officials about the presence on -- on Capitol Hill. Again, I don't have any additional requests or requirements to -- to talk to today, but as the Secretary has said, he wouldn't want them there one day longer than is needed, and it's the -- without getting into specific threats and intelligence, the -- the belief of the department is that this is still a valid mission for these troops to be doing right now.

Q: To make sure I'm understanding you, even if you can't be specific, you are saying in the view of the Defense Department and the Secretary, there is still threat-based intelligence that requires your presence?

MR. KIRBY: In the view of the Secretary of Defense, it is still a valid requirement to have National Guardsmen in the number that we have today on Capitol Hill.

Q: All right.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. 


Q: Hey. Good to see you again.

MR. KIRBY: You, too.

Q: There's a report coming out of a local station in Michigan saying that the Michigan National Guard troops in D.C. are being fed undercooked food with metal shavings. I don't know if you've gotten to see that yet. Has the -- it looks like no. So there's a report going around about -- about this.

MR. KIRBY: Well, get it -- get it to me and my folks, and we'll take a look at that. I -- I -- that's the first I heard of it. Obviously, we want to make sure that all our service men and women, and certainly, these National Guardsmen that are standing out there in the cold guarding the Capitol, that they -- that they get all the support and quality-of-life support and care that they deserve. So that's the first I've heard it. I'm -- I'm happy to -- to take that back and -- and we'll -- we'll take a look at it.

Q: And then secondly, if I could take a stab at this, looking at the training materials that were put out on extremism by the Sec Def last week, the four examples have to do with white supremacy, which is kind of a no-brainer that it's absolutely not -- not OK. So what is sort of new about this sort of extremism push? You know, what is -- what's new about -- I mean, there's already policies and -- and UCMJ provisions on, you know, white supremacists not being OK in the military. So what -- what exactly is new about -- about this?

MR. KIRBY: Well, and we've talked about this a lot, Kristina, in the last few weeks, so I mean, I -- I would first point you back to previous statements that the Secretary has made himself, as well as I have from the podium. So I -- I don't want to belabor it too much, since we've gone through it before. But clearly, the events of January 6th and the -- the presence of some veterans in that crowd has -- has certainly got everybody's attention here. 

But even before that, in the previous administration, there were valid concerns about extremism in the military to the degree that the previous acting Secretary of Defense asked the personnel and readiness people to do a report on -- on extremism, and -- and they did that in the fall. And that report, again, four or five months ago, validated that extremism is a growing concern inside the ranks.

Now, how big is it? We don't know. As the Secretary said, the numbers are probably larger than we would like. Well, certainly, they're going to be larger than we like, but larger than we probably expect them to be, and perhaps less than the headlines might suggest, but we just don't know. And given the events of January 6th, the Secretary wants to continue to put a focus on this. And so that's -- that's what's -- it's not that it's not a -- it -- it's not that it isn't a new concern. I mean, he -- he cites and often talks about an event back in Fort Bragg in the mid-1990s when he was a -- a commander there with white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the ranks -- skinheads, to be specific, who committed violent acts out in town. It's not like we haven't been aware that this is an issue, but I think there's renewed concerns giving -- given what has happened in the last few months, that -- that it's a problem we still don't have a firm grip on and firm handle on, and he wants to -- and he wants to do that. OK?

So -- and I think, you know, many of you have asked. That -- that report has -- that -- that the report that was ordered by the previous administration in the fall, it has found its way into the public domain and I -- and so I -- we're -- we expect to be able to make that report available to all of you, hopefully as early as today, but we're -- we're working through the machinations of doing that.

Q: I guess I'm just trying to tease out the difference between these white supremacist groups versus these anti-government violent extremists, and how much of the focus is on, you know, which -- which group. And if there's more information...

MR. KIRBY: We haven't -- we haven't parsed it out like that, Kristina. I mean, if you looked at the things that the Secretary said, it's about an extremist ideology, and that can take many forms. So it's not just about white supremacy, but about extremist ideologies, including of a criminal nature, you know, gangs and that kind of thing. So we're not -- we're not trying to be too proscriptive in what we're -- in what we're defining here. But -- but identifying it is -- is a challenge, and -- and we're trying to get our arms around that.


Q: Hey, John. If I could just go back to the Capitol and the National Guard. Yesterday, a -- a bit of the barbed wire surrounding the Capitol was removed. We're getting some people saw it as a sign that the threat was reduced. Is there any planning at DOD for the troops to -- to leave the Capitol, given that there are only, I think, what, 10 days left. So I -- is there any planning, or is there just no planning right now, and we're going to wait until the 12th to find out?

MR. KIRBY: Idrees, I mean, like I said, we're roughly 5,200 today, and I mean, so you -- we've seen a continual, gradual but continual decrease in the numbers. As I said, right now, the -- the mission is funded and -- and slated to -- to end on 12th of March. We're in constant communication with, again, Capitol Police, Secret Service, and local law enforcement, as well as city officials about the requirement. And you know, it -- I don't want to get ahead of -- of any of that. We're still planning on the mission continuing until the 12th of March. That is not an insurmountable number of -- of men and women in -- in terms of departure. It -- you know, it -- it's -- it's not like you have to -- it's not -- it's not such a big number that -- that they couldn't all leave en masse or in -- in large groups, you know, on the -- on the 12th.

So I don't -- again, I don't -- it -- I don't want to get ahead of -- of -- and I certainly wouldn't speak for the National Guard but I don't want to get ahead of -- of specific planning but -- but we're comfortable that we have the number that we need on Capitol Hill right now, we're comfortable in the conversations we're having with local law enforcement and city officials, as well as Capitol Police, and, you know, if and when the situation changes, we'll -- we'll certainly keep you apprised. Yeah, Meghann?

Q: Has the Secretary put out any more guidance or had any more meetings about the deliverables that he wants to see from the extremism stand down?

MR. KIRBY: No, not that I'm aware of. No additional guidance, no. Yeah, Abraham?

Q: Thank you. Again, back to National Guard. Is March 4th a problem for you guys? Is that something you've been -- the Guard is preparing for, the -- the March 4th QAnon conspiracy date? And are there preparations, are there troop movements? I've noticed sort of some gathering of more Guard members closer together on ... 

MR. KIRBY: I won't speak to specific threats. I haven't done that yet and I'm not going to start today and obviously the -- these Guardsmen are well trained, well equipped and the -- their -- their commanders will, as you might expect, take all of the precautions they need to make sure that these Guardsmen can do the job that they've been assigned to do. I'll leave it at that. Jim?

Q: Yeah, just a -- I -- just change the subject a little bit. Colin Kahl is getting his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Do you have an idea when the nominees for the other sort of jobs will -- will be announced? You know, I'm talking about the undersecretaries, Secretary of the Army, Navy, Air Force.

MR. KIRBY: No, I -- I don't have any personnel announcements and of course, as you know, Jim, those sorts of announcements come from the White House and I wouldn't -- I wouldn't get ahead of White House decision making.

Q: Well I tried.

MR. KIRBY: Yep, it's a fair question.


OK, one more? Two more.

Q: On Afghanistan, Ambassador Khalilzad is -- in Afghanistan (inaudible). Does he carry any, like, decision about the troop level in Afghanistan, also maybe decision about the strategy -- the review -- strategy review?


MR. KIRBY: I certainly won't speak -- I certainly won't speak for Ambassador Khalilzad and -- and …

Q: How about troop levels, do you have any ... 

MR. KIRBY: Nothing's changed from our perspective, there's still an interagency review going on to -- to look at the Doha agreement, to look at compliance with it and no decisions have been made about troop force posture in Afghanistan. Barb?

Q: Can you just go back over what you were saying -- any more detail on what it is you were talking about that you hoped to make available as soon as today?

MR. KIRBY: This is the extremism report, many of you have asked for this. This is a report that was done by the previous administration …

Q: (Inaudible) Miller …

MR. KIRBY: Correct -- correct and we're working through the machinations of trying to make that public for you, to make it available for you.

Q: When you release this report, will it be -- I don't know how to ask what I want to ask. Will it be, you know -- will this administration have edited anything out of it or put anything additional into it or will it be as the Miller team concluded it, finished it?


MR. KIRBY: ... we will not edit, we will not censor. I mean, the idea is to put it up so you can see it. There's some -- there's just some things we need to do on a staffing perspective to make sure that -- that -- that people are aware that it's going up but ... 

Q: ... (Inaudible) because this is one of the few reports that bridges both administrations.

MR. KIRBY: Right, right.

Q: So it wasn't really finished or was it? I don't know the answer.

MR. KIRBY: It was complete.

Q: Before Miller left?
STAFF: This wasn't Miller's report, this was – 

Q: It was a March due-out report. 

STAFF: This is the one that was in October, so under Secretary Esper, was sent by P&R to the -- to Congress.


MR. KIRBY: ... one from the fall. I'm sorry if I confused that, I didn't mean to. It's the one from the fall but I -- regardless of who signed it or didn't, I think the -- the point you're asking is, you know, will we -- will we -- we edit it in any way before we make it public, and the answer is no, we won't.

Q: I was asking about a different one then.

MR. KIRBY: OK, well you -- OK, then I was confused cause I thought you were asking about the one Chris was talking about.


This is the one -- OK, well now you got me, Barb. This is the one from the fall.

Q: Got it, no worries.

MR. KIRBY: OK, and it will go up in its entirety but I think you'll see that it validates the concerns that Secretary Austin has expressed about extremism in the ranks. It -- it very much supports our view that -- that this is a real problem, and the scope of it is not fully known but -- but that doesn't -- that doesn't mean it's an insignificant issue.

OK, thanks, everybody.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you.