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Pentagon Press Secretary Holds a Press Briefing

PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, a couple things at the top here. At the request of the Indonesian Government, we are sending airborne assets to include a Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to assist in the search of their missing submarine.

Secretary Austin spoke to the Minister of Defense of Indonesia today to make sure he knew that this aircraft was coming and also to make an offer for any other additional support or assistance that the Indonesian Government might have. Indonesia is a good friend and strategic partner, we were all deeply saddened to see the reports about their submarine, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Indonesian sailors, the Indonesian Navy, and of course all their families.

And also today, I think you saw we let you all know that Secretary Austin is hosting all the military leaders for the Senior Leadership Conference. We do this every six months or so, this is his first one as Secretary of Defense. The Chairman is obviously hosting right along with him.

All of the Military Service Chiefs and Secretaries and Combatant Commanders are participating. The President was due to speak to them, I believe that is happening right now. That was the schedule, I'll let the White House speak to that. And Secretary of State Blinken will also be joining for one of the last sessions of the afternoon.

MR. KIRBY: They've had a robust set of discussions, everything from an update on the China Task Force, the National Defense Strategy crafting process and how that's going, the retrograde in Afghanistan, they got an update from General McKenzie about that, certainly our efforts to combat COVID-19, both inside the force and to support the American people, sexual harassment and extremism, and -- and a -- a session this afternoon is going to be devoted to revitalizing alliances and partnerships, and Secretary Blinken will be assisting in that discussion, as well.

A couple of personnel announcements. We're pleased that Mr. Jaime Pinkham has been appointed to the position of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works -- that was -- happened on the 19th of this month -- and he's also serving as the acting Assistant Secretary of the Army -- sorry, he's -- he's also serving as acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. That's a tongue twister. He will be establishing policy direction and providing supervision of the Department of the Army functions relating to all aspects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program.

I think you know he's a citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe and spent much of his career in the Pacific Northwest, advocating for tribal sovereignty, self-determination and treaty rights. We're delighted to have him onboard. In fact, we onboarded 102 non-career officials and political appointees thus far, two, of course, presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed -- that's the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary -- for a total of 104 individuals so far. So we're -- we're still working at this.

Finally, the Secretary has designated Air Force Major General Sherrie L. McCandless as the interim commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, a position that she will fill until President Biden appoints a successor.

She will replace Army Major General William Walker, who is expected to depart the position tomorrow to become the Sergeant of Arms -- Sergeant at Arms for that U.S. House of Representatives. Major General McCandless currently serves as the Director of the National Guard Bureau's Office of Legislative Liaison. And again, we appreciate her willingness to take on this duty in an interim capacity and for her willingness to continue to serve the country. So we're grateful for that.

With that, I'll take questions. Lita?

Q: John, can you give us some sense of the additional forces falling into Afghanistan at this point, what you expect, and whether this -- the addition of -- of bombers and -- and some additional troops, is this a first tranche, is -- do you expect more? And then any sense that you have right now about -- any expectation or any sense that the Taliban is, indeed, making preparations for any attacks or anything like that? Anything you'll say on the record?

MR. KIRBY: Well, we -- look, the Secretary's been clear, we have to assume -- and it would be foolhardy and imprudent not to assume that there could be resistance and opposition to the drawdown by the Taliban, given their -- their staunch rhetoric.

So in light of that, and because, as you heard the Secretary say, we're -- we're going to make this a safe, orderly and deliberate, responsible withdrawal, and where -- where force protection is at a premium, he has approved some additional measures today. He has approved the extension of the USS Eisenhower to remain in the Central Command area of responsibility for a period of time and he has approved the addition of some -- some long range bombers to be deployed to the region. Two of those B-52s have arrived in the region.

I'm not going to get ahead of future possible deployments but I think it's reasonable to assume, as I've said before, that there could be temporary, additional force protection measures and enablers that we would require to make sure, again, that this drawdown goes smoothly and safely for our men and women.

I'm not going to speculate about future timelines or future assets. When we have things that we can speak to, we will. And again, I think you can understand operational security reasons we don't want to get ahead of that.

Q: And can you just give -- give us even a little update on removal of equipment and other assets -- assets from Afghanistan? Will the Pentagon be able to -- to give us any sense of what's being turned over to the Afghans versus what's already showing up at bazaars, frankly?

MR. KIRBY: So the -- General Miller and General McKenzie, they already had a -- a retrograde plan in place cause under the previous administration, they had -- they -- there had been an agreement to be out by May 1st. They're revising those plans now and expect to fully present all of that to the Secretary in coming days. So I'm not going to get ahead of that.

But I think you can understand that as part of that plan, clearly, there is going to be measures that have to be taken (inaudible) for the retrograde of equipment and systems. And so -- rolling stock, as we call it. Some of that will be brought back -- shipped, cleaned, inspected and brought back to the United States. Some of it will be inspected, cleaned and deployed elsewhere in the region. Some of it will be provided to our Afghan partners, if it makes sense, and some of it will be destroyed.

I -- I know they're working through the eaches of that right now, about exactly what, as we call it, rolling stock is going to be metered out in -- in -- along those four lines, I just don't have that with me today and I wouldn't be able to provide it, anyway, again, cause as I said, General McKenzie and General Miller are refining their, adjusting their plan now, based on President Biden's new direction, and then they'll submit that to the Secretary for his approval later on.

Yeah, Abraham?

Q: Thank you, John. Could you give us any kind of update about the -- Russia's announcement that it's going to pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border, but the fact that some of those are going to stay along the border, that there's some units deployed in Crimea? What kind of statement could DOD provide about all of those actions, if they're happening, if they're not? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Well, I try to make it a point, Abraham, not to speak for other militaries. So some of your questions are far better put to Moscow than they are to Washington, D.C., to the Pentagon. We've seen the Russian comments about how they're ending the exercises and they're going to redeploy. It's too soon to tell, with any specificity right now, Friday afternoon, how -- how much we can take that at face value.

So what I would tell you is we're watching this very, very closely and again, continue to call on -- on Russia to cease their provocations, to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and to not contribute to activities that only make the stability along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea less stable than it already is.

But again, the -- those are great questions for my counterpart in the Russian military and I think that individual was -- is in a far better position to answer the -- those questions with better specificity than ...

Q: A quick follow up to that, if I may, John? Are there any continued talks between the Secretary or DOD and is -- their counterparts in Ukraine about providing any additional assistance?

MR. KIRBY: I'm -- I'm sorry, are there more talks between?

Q: Between DOD and the Ukrainian military?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any other conversations to read out, at least not from the Secretary's level, with respect to Ukraine. The -- I know of no additional conversations that have happened with respect to the Russian presence there.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. Let me go back to the phone. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. What evidence does the Pentagon have that -- that U.S. troops have been targeted with direct-energy weapons?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, what -- what I would say is nothing's more important to us than the health and wellbeing of our -- of our men and women. The secretary has made that clear. And I'm not prepared to speak to this issue from the podium today. Meghann?

Q: I just want to confirm that the secretary is giving the services until the end May to get back to him on the Independent Review Commission's findings. Is that correct?

MR. KIRBY: That is correct.

Q: And is there anyone else in OSD or in the services other than the chiefs and the secretaries' feedback he's going to solicit on this?

MR. KIRBY: I have no doubt that he will be soliciting the feedback of his -- of his policy experts, particularly in the Office of Personnel and Readiness. But again, he's -- he has -- he has received some -- some initial recommendations from the Independent Review Commission, and he has asked the services to take a look at them and give him their honest, candid feedback about it.

Q: And what is the next step for the Review Commission, what’s their next project, or is this it? 

KIRBY: I can't speak with specificity. It's an independent review commission. I don't speak for them, and I don't want to get into the habit of doing that. I think when you -- when we saw Lynn Rosenthal up here earlier, she talked about the different lines of effort. There are four of them, and they're on a 90-day timeline.

So these lines of efforts -- or lines of effort are happening sort of at the same time, but on different tracks. And again, that's all I know other than -- I know she's committed and the team is committed to wrapping up their work within that 90 days. But I just -- yes, I'd have to point you to her for more specificity about that.

Q: Can I ask a follow-up to that?

MR. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: Thanks. So when the secretary received the recommendations, can you give us a sense of what he thought about separating the review -- the judiciary punishment process away from the chain of command?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specifics about what the recommendations were. I've seen press reporting, and I'm not going to get into the specifics. These are initial recommendations, and the secretary was grateful for the work that the IRC has already done. He was grateful for the time that they took to sit down with him and walk him through these initial recommendations.

And I want to stress again, these are initial recommendations. There may be others in that line of effort -- the accountability line of effort. But I won't characterize the conversation beyond that. I think by dint of the fact that he has asked the secretaries of the services and the chiefs and the chairman, and he'll ask his policy experts to take some time to go look at these recommendations and give him feedback, that you can assume that -- that one outcome of the meeting was that he wants to keep an open mind about (these?).

Q: Can you give us a sense if the secretary has come back and said we don't -- we want to keep this in the chain of command at – has Secretary Austin kind of already thought about whether he thinks this should remain in the chain of command or not?

MR. KIRBY: The secretary is grateful for the recommendations. He wants them to -- he wants the services to have a chance to look at them and give him his feedback. He obviously will be taking all those inputs seriously as he weighs next steps. But I'm simply not going to get ahead of decisions he hasn't made, recommendations he hasn't received or what the next step's going to be.

I think we all need to remember that this is a 90-day process. We're only 30 days into it. They've only made some initial recommendations. And we've got a long way to go between now and when they complete their work, and there's an awful lot of issues. I know everybody's focused on this one. There's a lot of -there's three other lines of effort that they are working on.

So there's a lot of other issues to try to tackle this problem. The last thing I'd say on this is just that -- again without getting into any detail but hopefully this conveys to you how seriously the Secretary is taking this particular issue.

It was an issue that was discussed today during the senior leaders conference with the chiefs and the combatant commanders, the issue of sexual assault and harassment, not these recommendations specifically.

But it's an indication, I think, of how important this is to him, trying that to get at solutions that can work and he wants to, as Ms. Rosenthal said and as I've said, he wants to keep an open mind about the possibilities of actually trying to make a difference.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Just two question, first one's a follow-up on Afghanistan. Can you just talk a little more about why, specifically, the bombers were sent? Is that deterrence? Is it to attack the Taliban? What was -- what is the purpose of that?

MR. KIRBY: I think I answered that question when I answered Lita’s. I mean, we want to make this a safe, orderly, and deliberate drawdown. We've made it clear that force protection is going to be a priority as we begin to move all our military personnel out of Afghanistan.

And that means giving the commander on the ground, General Miller, options, options to make sure that our forces and our troops, and those of our allies, are protected as they move out of the country.

And things like bombers provide you options, things like strike aircraft off an aircraft carrier provide you options. Options are important in a mission like this.

Q: And what about special forces troops for security protection? Will there be additional troops going in?

MR. KIRBY: I -- as I said earlier, it is entirely possible that there will be a temporary increase of some ground forces and enablers, not just for force protection but also for logistical and engineering support that will have to go into Afghanistan to help us make sure this drawdown gets done on the timeline and in a safe, orderly way.

I am not going to speak to any greater specificity on other potential enabling functions then that but it is certainly possible that more will go.

Q: On a different subject, on the directed energy attack, can you say -- are you concerned by the possibility of these kind of directed energy attacks on troops in the field?

MR. KIRBY: We're -- look, we're always concerned about the health and safety of our men and women, wherever they are and whatever mission they are doing. And as I've said before, the Secretary takes that very seriously.

I am not -- simply not going to speak to this particular issue. I have seen it in the press; I'm just not going to be able to speak to it today, except to make it clear that we take the health and safety of our people very, very seriously.

And we want to know -- if and when that health and safety is put at risk, we want to make sure we better understand why that's so and how that came to be.

OK. Dan Sagalyn? 

Q: Hi, yes, so during the campaign Joe Biden promised that he wanted all felony crimes committed within DOD to be handled by an independent legal corps, not just sexual assault, but crimes like child abuse and murder.

If Lynn Rosenthal's charter and her recommendation is only that sexual assault be handled by an independent chain, what about the other crimes? Is that something that Secretary Austin is also considering moving from the chain of command?

MR. KIRBY: The Independent Review Commission is designed to make recommendations about sexual assault, sexual harassment, and I am not going to speak for them and for their specific initial recommendations. The Secretary wants to make sure that we look at this thoughtfully and carefully, but urgently. That's why we're -- we have a 90 day limit on this commission. It was a 90 day limit that was established by then candidate Biden, and now our Commander in Chief and we're taking that seriously. So again, I don't want to get ahead of the process here. He wants to make sure that we keep an open mind, that we find creative solutions that will work, and that's what he's asked the IRC to do. And that's -- and they're hard at work on that. So ...

Q: Right. But they're -- but if their charter is just sexual assault, yet advocates who want reform in this area also want all felony crimes to be considered by independent legal authorities, is that being considered anywhere within DoD?

MR. KIRBY: Dan, I don't have -- I'm not aware of another effort to look at that, and the IRC is focused on sexual assault, sexual harassment. They have views regarding other types of crimes, I'm sure the secretary would welcome their views, but their work is primarily devoted to sexual assault, sexual harassment. Sylvie?

Q: Thank you. The -- I would like to go back to Afghanistan. I understand that all of the U.S. contractors are going to come back, but are you considering leaving some foreign contractors that – would be – from other nationalities and let them stay with U.S. funding?

MR. KIRBY: Right now the plan is to remove all U.S. contractors from Afghanistan. But as I have said, we understand that for things like aircraft maintenance, the Afghan air force, the Afghan government relies on a lot of contract support. And as we've also said we're going to be looking at the ways we can continue financial support for the Afghan national defense and security forces.

So we're still working our way through this, what the contractual relationships might look like. And of course it's not just up to us, it's not even just up to the Afghan government, it's up to these companies who -- for whom these contractors work. You know, they have an equity in this.

So I can't give you a specific answer today, Sylvie, that lays this out for you, except that the plan in terms of draw down, the plan does include U.S. contractors. What future contractual relationships will look like going forward in Afghanistan is still being discussed and decided, and I just don't have a final outcome for you on that.

Ellie, looks like CBS?

Q: Hi. Thank you. With the sexual assault commission, at the end of it, would any recommendations that Secretary Austin decides to take action on, would they need Congressional approval?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again -- not -- there's a lot of recommendations he hasn't received yet. We only have a small number of initial ones, so I can't -- I don't know how to answer that question because we don't know what the whole universe of recommendations are going to be, what they're going to look like.

I can see a possibility where some recommendations would need legislative support, sure. And maybe there's others that won't, that will be within his authority to make the change. But again, that's a very speculative question given that we don't have but a small number of only initial recommendations from the IRC at this point.

Here in the room, Janne?

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: I'll come back to you.

Q: Yes, I'd like to ask you something different on the vaccine issues. We are now at war with coronavirus outbreaking from China. So is the United States managing the vaccine -- the COVID vaccine as a war material?

MR. KIRBY: Are we -- just trying to understand, you say we're at war with the vaccine?

Q: COVID-19 vaccine using -- U.S. are using for this for -- as a war material.

MR. KIRBY: Are we considering the vaccine a war material?

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I mean, I'm not a lawyer, Janne, I don't think that we're considering it as a piece of war material. It's obviously a precious commodity.

Q: It's war, you know...

MR. KIRBY: It's a precious commodity and the -- the entire government is working hard to produce these to -- to get them into the arms of as many Americans as possible, including our personnel overseas. But I'm -- I'm not aware that it's met some sort of technical definition for a war material.

Q: With our alliance is currently struggling with the vaccine shortage, you know, is the United States willing to support vaccine to South Korea?

MR. KIRBY: That's a question really for our colleagues at the White House to answer, not -- not for the Pentagon...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: ... I -- I appreciate how you're coming at me on this one...

Q: (OFF-MIKE) What are your views?

MR. KIRBY: ... But our -- look, our focus here at the -- I -- all I can speak for is the Defense Department.

Q: Because they are alliance -- because it -- to...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I -- no, I'm...

Q: ... continue 8,500 American...

MR. KIRBY: ... I'm aware.

Q: ... soldiers who are living -- stay in the South Korea...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I'm aware of that.

Q: ... on (that?)...

MR. KIRBY: No, I'm aware that South Korea's an ally.

Our focus is on really two things. One is supporting efforts by FEMA and the states to support their efforts to help vaccinate Americans. We're doing that -- you know, there's I think more than 30 teams now supporting FEMA vaccination sites across the country. And of course, we've got I think -- I think it's 30,000 or so National Guardsmen and women who have been out there already supporting state efforts. So we're helping to get shots in the arms of Americans.

We're also working hard to get shots in the arms of our troops. We had a briefing here just a couple of days ago about that. We've got a lot more work to do and that's where our focus is right now. Decisions...

Q: But...

MR. KIRBY: ... Look, wait, I know you aren't going to like this answer but it's the truth -- decisions about other populations getting these vaccines is not for the Pentagon to -- it's not for us to make.

Q: President Biden mentioned yesterday -- he said that if leftover vaccines -- you know, they're going to -- the priority to the Quad members first. So South Korea is not a member of Quad. So what about the -- you know, are you considering about... 
(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I think you're...

Q: ... South Korea?

MR. KIRBY: ... I think you're beating up on the wrong spokesperson. No, this is -- this really a question better placed to my colleague at the White House than to here.

I mean, we're very mindful of our -- our security commitments and our -- and the -- and the treaties that we observe, five of our seven alliances and treaties are -- treaty alliances are in that part of the world. The secretary visited Seoul on his very first trip overseas.

I mean, we take very seriously our -- our commitments to -- to South Korea and to our -- and to our allies and partners there. But as for this particular issue, that is not a -- a question that the -- the Pentagon can answer. OK?

Q: Thank you. I asked your views but, you know, it is...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I'm not allowed to have views.

Q: It's all right. That's OK...

MR. KIRBY: Not me.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Not me.

Lee Hudson, Aviation Week?

Q: Thanks, you already answered my question.

MR. KIRBY: OK. Good, one less to worry about then.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. Yesterday, the Japanese Self-Defense Force announced Japan, and the United States, and France will hold the -- the first trilateral military exercise in Japan next month. Just how significant is it for European countries to get more involved in military exercises in the -- the Pacific region as the United States is competing against China? Do you think the European participation would make the U.S. deterrence more robust? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any specific details, I think, on -- on that particular exercise. Let me just check to make sure. Yes, I don't have -- I don't have a detail on -- on -- on what it -- what the exercise is you're talking about.

So just let me -- just broadly speaking, we welcome the participation of our European partners in multilateral exercises in that part of the world and we think that's important. And as the secretary has said many times, we have to revitalize our alliances and partnerships. Not everybody is a treaty ally, but we have lots partners and friends around the world.

This is a great advantage for the United States that nations like Russia and China don't have, partners and friends that are willing to improve our interoperability to increase our capability to sharpen our skills in the air, on the ground, and -- and at sea. So without speaking to this exercise in particular, again I would say we -- we welcome the participation of our -- our -- all our allies and partners in multilateral efforts to improve our military readiness.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, Mosheh?

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. If the CDC gives approval for J&J to be reused again, will the Pentagon follow suit or will -- will the DOD continue with the Moderna roll out on -- in bases overseas?

MR. KIRBY: I would suspect that it -- once the Johnson vaccine is approved again for use, you would see it back into the mix. But we're obviously not going to move faster than the CDC or the FDA.

Yes, Oren?

Q: Back on Indonesia for a second, the -- the role of the assets heading over there right now, the P-8 and -- and -- and the other potential assets, is that search and recovery or is that -- or search and rescue or is that becoming more of a recovery effort just because of the timeline here since the sub went missing?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to characterize the -- the -- the mission itself. That's really for the Indonesian government to speak to.

The -- the -- a P-8 is a maritime patrol aircraft which is designed to -- to look for things, right, particularly submarines. So I mean, it's -- it's a sophisticated platform that -- that could be helpful in leading the Indonesian government to a better idea of the location.

And as for other assets, again, the secretary offered additional help. I know of no other requests right now by the Indonesian government for other help that could exist either on the surface or subsurface. Certainly, we have lots of capability.

But I won't characterize what kind of mission this is. We're just leaning in. We just want them to know that -- that -- that our thoughts and prayers are with them and the families that are affected, and that -- if we can help at all in locating the submarine that that's -- that's our focus right now.

Gordon, Wall Street Journal?

Q: No, the answers to the questions have been so effective as thus far, I yield back my time. I pass on my questions.

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: That's a first...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: I know...

MR. KIRBY: Alex with Vox?

Q: Hi, John, happy Friday. We've been -- I just wanted know, we know that the U.S. support in Saudi Arabia is defensive in the war in Yemen, but we still have no direct answer as to whether or not the U.S. is providing maintenance, or refueling, or logics support to the Saudi Royal Air Force. Can you confirm that for us? Can you let us know if that is indeed happening right now?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to have to take that question, Alex. I don't have that level of detail. So I'm going to have to get back to you on that.

Q: OK. The only reason to know is Special Envoy Tim Lenderking said he was out of the loop from the Pentagon as to whether or not that was happening. And so we we're hoping to inform him as well as us on that.

MR. KIRBY: I'm sure it was really more to inform you than him but I take the point. I'll take the question and I don't know how much detail we're going to be able to provide. We'll see what we can do to help you.

Tara?

Q: I have a couple of follow-ups. On the missing submarine, could you walk us through what type of support the U.S. can provide if the submarine is located to help bring it to the surface if does need help surfacing? What our ships are capable of or how we could help in that manner?

MR. KIRBY: That -- I mean again I don't want to get ahead here on the operation. It's right now to help the Indonesians find where it is. That's where we are right now. So I really would be reticent to speculate about what might happen in the future. But just broadly speaking the -- so much depends on if you're going after an object underwater, whatever it is, the condition it's in and how deep it is and also what the -- what the bottom is like, what the currents are like. I mean there's a lot to take in and raising something from the bottom of the sea is dangerous, pain staking work.

We have some capabilities to assist in that but again a lot of it depends on so many factors that it just wouldn't be prudent for me to try to get too far ahead of the process here. Right now we want to help them find this submarine and we want to do whatever we can -- whatever they need us to do or would like us to do to help them find it.

Q: OK. And second on the retrograde, when -- mine rollers and MRAPs were first brought into Afghanistan because they were considered sensitive equipment, a lot of it was sent along specific routes that were guarded or they were flown in. What sort of estimates are being made for -- are all of like the MRAPs and those types of vehicles going to have to be flown out or are they going to go over the land? And any sort of cost estimate you guys are generating?

MR. KIRBY: The rolling stock, I just -- I like that phrase so I'm just going to keep using it, that we would be removing from Afghanistan would largely be done by aircraft -- by cargo aircraft, U.S. Air Force assets. That's my understanding as it stands right now. And again some of it will stay, some of it will be destroyed. But the vehicles and the equipment that is going to be taken out will be taken out by air.

Q: And as you know that's the most expensive way to transport any military equipment. Is the Pentagon doing cost estimates for how much it will cost to get everything out by the deadline?

MR. KIRBY: Certainly, I mean there's no question that we're going to be taking a look at what this is going to cost. That's always a factor whenever you conduct an operational mission, there's a financial cost to that. I don't have that figure for you right now. Again, General McKenzie and General Miller are refining their plans and they'll present all that to the Secretary in due course. I don't think it will take very long for them to that because they had already been doing planning -- preliminary planning for this.

But so, yes, there will be a financial cost to it. I don't know what that will be. I want to stress again that this is about a safe, orderly and deliberate drawdown. And given the unique nature of Afghanistan on the planet, the geography, airlift is the most effective way to remove the personnel and to remove the physical assets, the equipment that we have there that we do intend to leave with.

Jared, Al Monitor?

Q: Hi, John. I just wanted to follow-up on Alex's questions about U.S. support for Saudi coalition. I had asked this to General McKenzie, I just wanted to reiterate the importance of this question. I know Special Envoy Lenderking and Alex are not the only people wondering about this. But if we can get details on whether or not there is logistical and maintenance support for the Royal Saudi Air Force that would be really great. Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, as I said we'll take the question. OK. Jen? Is that you?

Q: Yes, it's me.

MR. KIRBY: I can’t see way back there.

Q: Sorry about that. John, do you have any updated stats on the number of COVID vaccine shots that have gone into military arms? And how many are left? And any stats on vaccine hesitancy in the military or amongst military families?

MR. KIRBY: So, we have all those numbers online now. But as of today, 85 percent of the vaccines received by DOD have been administered. Total doses delivered inside the Defense Department is 3,365,100. Total doses administered 2,668, -- dang it -- 2,668,618. Of those, Jen, initial dose for people that are taking either Pfizer or Moderna, 1,647,030 are initial doses. Second doses totaled 958,027. For those getting the Johnson vaccine or who have gotten it thus far it's 63,561. And I can get all these numbers for you if you want them.

But as I -- as we rolled out on Wednesday we are now by -- even by services we're able to give you a running tally that we're going to be updating three days a week online. And that's based on an automated system. One of you asked well why couldn't we break it down by Reserves and Guard. The reason why is because this is an automated system now that we're -- that we've got online and going.

It doesn't mean that you can't break it down by Reserve and Guard but you'd have to go to the services for that. What we're trying to do at the DOD level is an automated updating three days a week and it's using the Advona System, electronic health system.

Q: And in general would you say what percentage of the force has been vaccinated?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have that on-hand. I'd have to -- I'd have to go look at -- I mean we have to go look at it. But remember also, Jen, that it's the percent -- you have to -- not every -- now everybody's eligible, right, as of the 19th everybody's eligible but not everybody has quote/unquote "been offered it". In other words not everybody has scheduled their chance to come in.

So we just work through -- basically through Tier 1-A and Tier 1-B in the force, most of the force is now in Tier 1-C or Tier Two which is now everybody. But that just started coming the 19th. The denominator is bigger obviously than the numerator right as we work our way through. So when you say what percentage of the force we can try to do that math but you need caveat it by understanding that it's only -- it's only a subset of the whole force that had even been offered the chance to have it right now.

Q: Of those who have been offered do you have any statistics on the vaccine hesitancy?

MR. KIRBY: I don't. As I said we've said this before. We're not tracking as you call it vaccine hesitancy at the OSD level. That's the services might be able to give you a better sense of what they're seeing at their levels or down in local levels, and that's OK if they want to speak to that, but we're not tracking that. What we're -- what we're trying to do is give you the whole numbers of how many people are getting it, and again who's getting the first, who's getting the second as we continue to move through the tiers.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Yes, ma'am?

Q: There's an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer being commissioned tomorrow in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Does it have a crew? What -- can you talk a little bit about what the next steps are? Does it go on a shakedown voyage? What happens after commissioning in (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY: Well look, I -- yes, I -- so I'd refer you to the Navy on the specifics. I'm not -- I'm not disputing if there's a commissioning -- did you say a commissioning or a christening?

Q: Christening, sorry.

MR. KIRBY: A christening. I'd point you to the Navy for more detail about what vessel's being christened. I don't have that in this big, huge book today, but I can tell you that just because I have a little bit of experience with the Navy that when a ship is christened it does have a crew. It has a pre-commissioning crew already assigned to it, including a commanding officer, and executive officer, a leadership team that work right alongside the shipyard workers to get that ship ready for her eventual commissioning and use in the fleet.

Now at the christening level you may not have all the crew assigned that you'll eventually have, but certainly by the time this ship is commissioned she'll have a full up ready crew. The crew now only is helping the ship get ready. They're helping themselves get ready, building out the structures, the organization, making sure that they're all trained for the jobs that they have to do to put that ship to sea and to fight her, but I'm afraid I don't have much more detail on that particular christening. The Navy would be I'm sure delighted to brag about their newest destroyer for you.

OK. We'll get one more. (Inaudible)

Q: Thank you. Yesterday General McKenzie was talking about diplomats layout and trying to figure out what the heart of the possible is in terms of basing agreements for the counterterrorism mission without U.S. troops being in Afghanistan. The State Department earlier said it was -- it had a virtual conference with several key, central Asian nations. Did they discover what might be possible and did they pave the way for future or set up any future discussion between Defense Department and those countries' militaries about facing (inaudible) any progress?

MR. KIRBY: I'd have to point you to the State Department for details about those kinds of discussions. I can't go any further really than General McKenzie did. Certainly we would support diplomatic efforts to explore those kinds of opportunities for the kinds of counterterrorism capabilities that we'd like to have in the region, but as you've also heard Secretary Austin say, he said it in Brussels we have already robust, over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities at our disposal, and you know, we intend to do whatever we need to do to make sure that a terrorist attack on our homeland can't emanate again from Afghanistan.

OK. Jeff?

Q: Can you say anything about the F-35 program? Is -- have you notified Turkey about their removal from the program?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have an update for you on that today. We'll get -- I'll take that question. All right. Thank you.