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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Hi, everybody.  They tell me I only have about 25 minutes so we'll try to keep it short.  I don't have an opening statement so looks like -- Bob, you're on the line.

Q:  Yes, thanks, John.  I have a question for you about these reports of an Iranian ship catching fire and sinking in the Gulf of Oman.  Wondering if you have anything on that and also whether you have any observation about the significance of such a -- a loss to the Iranian Navy?

SEC. KIRBY:  I mean, I -- we -- have the same sort of public reports that you've -- you've got there, Bob, and I obviously -- this is -- it's really more of a matter for the Iranian Navy to -- to speak to.  We are aware of the loss of one of their ships by fire.  Our understanding is that this was a replenishment ship in the Iranian state Navy.

As for the impact on their fleet, again, I -- you know, that's -- we wouldn't be in a position to -- to be able to speak to that with any great specificity.  I think, you know, that's something more for the Iranians to speak to.

Q:  I -- thank you.


Q:  Two quick things.  First, Sudan has announced today that its government is going to -- establishing a Russian naval base (inaudible).  I was wondering if you could -- if you have anything to comment on that?

SEC. KIRBY:  I don't know -- I'll have to take the question.  I -- I don't have -- I don't have context on that right now so I'd have to -- I can't -- certainly can't confirm that report and wouldn't want to comment until we could.

So I'd certainly encourage you to reach out to the State Department.  They might have a -- a view on this.  I'm -- I -- but for here, at -- at DOD, I'm going to have to take the question and get back to you.

Q:  Quick thing, another -- in regards to Minister Gantz visit tomorrow to the Pentagon, do you have anything to share with us?  What are the topics that they are -- that both secretaries are going -- Minister Gantz and Secretary Austin are going to discuss?  Is the Iron Dome part of the discussions?

SEC. KIRBY:  Without getting ahead of the agenda, I mean, we'll -- we'll -- obviously, we'll -- you know, we'll be able to provide a readout of the meeting, of course, when it -- when it's over, and I don't want to get ahead of a conversation that hasn't happened yet. 

I would -- so -- a couple of big thoughts, though -- clearly, they will be talking about regional security issues, I have no doubt that they will discuss recent Israeli operations in Gaza, and I have no doubt that they will talk about Iran's continued activity in the region.  More specifically, I just -- I think -- let -- let's wait until the conversation happens to -- to get into more detail. 

The other thing I'd add is that, you know, this -- this is the continuation of a long series of discussions and conversations that the Secretary's had with Minister Gantz -- many over the phone, of course we met with him in person in Israel just a few weeks ago -- and he reciprocated the invitation to the Minister to come to the United States and -- and now he is.

And so it's an ongoing conversation between these two leaders, who know each other quite well, and there's a -- a whole range of things that -- that I -- I expect they will be talking about.

Q:  So -- so the visit was scheduled during the operation in Gaza?  That's around this timeframe.


Q:  ... before the operation started?

SEC. KIRBY:  An invitation to visit went way back to their first conversation after the Secretary took -- took office.  In fact, Minister Gantz extended an invitation, we accepted and went.  At the same time, Secretary offered an invitation and we're just now at the point where we can -- where we can do it.

As I said yesterday, the -- the -- the date was kind of finalized last week but the -- the -- but the idea of him visiting is something they've been discussing for months, literally since the Secretary first took office, and COVID just didn't permit it until recently.


Q:  Has the Secretary given himself a timeline or a deadline for making a decision about the sexual assault chain of command issue?  And is there anybody else that he wants to consult with before he makes that decision?

SEC. KIRBY:  The Secretary has not given himself a -- a hard and fast deadline.  He has the inputs now -- excuse me -- from the military departments and he had the opportunity yesterday to speak with them and -- and listen to their -- I mean, they -- they had already turned in their memos and then they had a discussion yesterday, so he had a chance to do that for about -- a little bit more than an hour, and he's now going to review it for himself.

And I can't rule out that he might want to have additional conversations outside or maybe even additional conversations with them as he comes to his own conclusions but -- but he -- it's now with him and -- and he's taking the time, I think, necessary to -- to make his own decisions and make his own recommendations to the President.

Yeah, let me go back to the phones.  Missy?

Q:  Hi, John.  Thanks.  I just wanted to follow up on a question that Jeff asked yesterday about Michael Flynn, and I think he asked about, you know, whether the department had any plans to recall and potentially prosecute him?  And -- and you said that there was no -- you were not aware of any effort or interest in doing so in that case.

I'm just wondering if you could say anything more about the -- the -- the reason behind that or just, you know, the -- is that because it's not a prosecutable set of comments that he made or is it because the department doesn't want to get involved in politics?  Is that -- anything you could provide about the thinking around that or their perspective on that would be helpful?  Thanks. 

SEC. KIRBY:  Yeah, Missy, I -- I tried to address this yesterday.  The -- the services have -- and normally, retain a normal range of options to investigate an -- an act with respect to retirees.  This is a service prerogative, and I just don't have anything beyond that to speak to today, you know, but I mean, not -- I'd certainly encourage you to reach out to the Army.  This -- you know, that kind of a -- those kinds of decisions are made by the services, not by OSD.  And again, I -- as I said yesterday, I'm -- I'm not aware of any effort to -- to move -- to move beyond where we are right now.  But again, you know, you -- you certainly should speak to the Army, as well.

Q:  OK, thanks.

SEC. KIRBY:  OK, yeah?

Q:  In -- in Manbij, there are -- they're having some protests against SDF, and during this protest, SDF opened fire on the civilians.  Some U.S. forces were reportedly also involved in this -- this trying to -- stopping the protests.  What is the Pentagon's take on this issue?

SEC. KIRBY:  I -- I don't have any -- I don't have anything on this reporting.  This is the first I've heard of it, so I'm happy to go back and look and -- and see.  I -- I can't -- but I can't confirm for you that these -- this happened or -- and/or that U.S. personnel were involved, but we'll -- we'll certainly pull the string on it, and if we can get you more context, we'll do that.

Q:  I appreciate it.  Thank you.

SEC. KIRBY:  Yeah.


Q:  Yeah Admiral, can you (inaudible) that the U.S. is committed to replenishing the Israel stocks?  They're looking for Iron Dome, I believe.  They also want to restock (inaudible).  And who's going to pay for that?

SEC. KIRBY:  Again, I won't get ahead of discussions between the secretary and Minister Gantz.  I'm certainly aware of press reporting out there about their desires for resupply.  The only thing I'd add is what we said many times, and that we take very seriously our commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge and our commitment to assisting the Israeli government in its self-defense of its citizens and its -- and its sovereign territory.

Q:  Another thing, Admiral, if I could ask -- what -- what's the status of the -- or is there an update on the status of the Naming Commission?  Any idea when they might come to...

SEC. KIRBY:  I'd say General Richard -- I mean, they -- I think you saw Admiral Howard led a media roundtable a week or so ago to kind of -- to sort of talk through their process.  This is a congressionally-mandated commission, so we can't speak for them, nor would I want to.  And we can put you in touch with the right people there.  Maybe they might have an update, but I don't -- I'm not aware of anything additional to -- to -- to speak in terms of context, what they're doing, what their schedule is.  That's really for them speak to.

Q:  But just your understanding -- it's pretty much open-ended right now?  They don't have any deadline or anything like that?

SEC. KIRBY:  I -- I don't know.  I -- I truly don't know what the parameters are for that, Richard.  OK.

Why were you laughing?


SEC. KIRBY:  You didn't like my answer.


SEC. KIRBY:  Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  An Air Force two-star general was sworn in to the Space Force with Imperial Storm Troopers at the ceremony.  Does the Defense Department endorse the values of the Intergalactic Empire?

Q:  I wish you asked this on camera, Jeff.  Come on!


SEC. KIRBY:  You -- you're killing me, Smalls. 

Q:  Well, I mean, does the Empire -- that -- with the right image, want to go with the Space Force?

SEC. KIRBY:  Jeff, we support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 


Q:  I'm sorry.  It took me awhile.  I'm still laughing.  OK, back to Afghanistan, please.  Can you give me the updates on the over-the-horizon C.T. capabilities?  Do we have any basing agreements to announce?  Are we getting closer, as Khalilzad has said?  And then do we have our plan yet on how we're going to continue to train our partners once we leave?

SEC. KIRBY:  Yeah, we're still working very hard at this, Carla.  I don't have any updates today or anything to announce.  Clearly, as we -- as we are able to announce developments, we certainly will. 

You're not going to have to be forced to ask us for that kind of content, but we just are still working our way through that right now, so I don't have any updates on the over-the-horizon capabilities, except to say, as I've said before -- and I -- and I know you guys know this -- but we already have at our disposal over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities to -- to support our desires that no additional threats to our homeland can emanate from Afghanistan. 

We already have capabilities in place.  You've heard the secretary talk about this.  There's not a -- a place on earth that we can't hit if -- if we need to.  That said, we understand -- we want to have additional capabilities, and -- and we're -- and we're working through that.

And then I'm sorry.  You had a -- another question.  I -- I think I forgot.

Q:  Yeah, so in addition to the -- the over-the-horizon capabilities with the basing, I mean, why -- what's our plan for training the Afghans?  And if we don't have the plan yet, why on earth don't we have the plan yet?  I mean, we've known about this withdrawal for a really long time, and we have the ability to train people in other countries other than the one that they're in.  So I just don't understand what's taking the Pentagon so long.

SEC. KIRBY:  We're -- we're -- we're working very hard at this, (Carla ?), and I want to stress that the -- that right now, the -- the focus of the -- of the post-withdraw support to the Afghan National Security --national defense and National Security Forces is going to be largely through a financial means, with some over-the-horizon logistical support, for example, aircraft maintenance.  That -- that's really where the focus of the efforts are.  We're also working through the ...


Q:  Wait.  So are we not going to be training them?

SEC. KIRBY:  General McKenzie and his team are -- are working hard on that, and we are working closely with the State Department as to diplomacy.  We begin to explore the possibility for over-the-horizing (sic) basing opportunities that are -- that are in the region.

Q:  OK, hold on one second.  Sorry about this, John, but if I heard you right, are -- we may not continue any training with the Afghans?  This may be kind of it, other than, you know, the maintenance and the C.T. help?

SEC. KIRBY:  All I was stressing is that the focus right now is on logistical support, mostly aircraft maintenance, and on financial support, and -- and beyond that, I don't have any policy decisions to speak to.

Q:  But we are continuing to work on a plan to train them, but we're not going to stop training them once we pull out, correct?

SEC. KIRBY:  There are additional policy discussions or decisions to speak to.  I -- I won't go further than the secretary has gone with you guys.


SEC. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  So when you say financial, can you just a little bit explain a little?  What do you mean by financial?  Like, procurement issues, or just ...


SEC. KIRBY:  Financial support, as they have been receiving financial support over much of the last 15 years.  It'll be -- it'll be financial support for them to be able to -- to resource themselves, to -- to help pay salaries for -- for soldiers and -- and policemen -- that kind of thing.


Q:  So a logistic question, actually, about Afghanistan.  Yesterday we spoke about the trust status and you said well, we are planning; we are trying to work on that.  But we didn't -- you still don't have the order from the president.  So how is it going to work how to happen?

The -- it's going to come officially from the White House or one day you're going to --

SEC. KIRBY:  Are you thinking about evacuations?  I don't want -- I don't want there to be a blurred understanding here.  The State Department owns the special immigrant visa program and they are working and are working with Congress because there will need to be congressional support to expand that program to allow for more Afghans to apply through it.

That is a State Department led process.  We are certainly, as part of the interagency, contributing to those discussions.  And the president has been clear.  We have a moral obligation to these people and he wants -- he wants to -- as the White House has said, he wants to take a fresh look at the SIV program to see how and to what degree it could be expanded and/or accelerated.  That's that.

When I think you said you haven't been given the order, I'm assuming you're talking about some sort of noncombatant evacuation process, right.  And I don't have anything additional to add today than what I've said before.  We are a planning organization.  We plan for all manner of contingencies.

Some of those contingencies are none combatant evacuations around the world.  That would include Afghanistan.  So we certainly have -- we have put some planning resources to this, no question.  But there has been no tasking to carry such an evacuation out on any scale right now.  And if that tasking comes, we will be ready to execute.

Q:  So where would it come from?

SEC. KIRBY:  That's -- that's -- you know that's a policy decision that would be made most likely by the commander and chief and advised, properly advised, by the interagency; secretary of State, secretary of Defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

I mean there would be a process, an interagency decision making process that -- that -- that would be applied before any such decision like that would be made.

Q:  And it would be announced by the White House?

SEC. KIRBY:  I -- I -- Sylvia, I don't know how.  You know you're getting well ahead of where we are in the process right now.  I don't want to speculate about specific announcements.  Barb.

Q:  Given all of that, can you talk a little bit why you think it's so important to keep Kabul Airport a military side of the airport open and secure and what the latest U.S. military understanding is of keeping the security force at the airport, which is, I believe currently the Turks.

Why -- why is it -- why do you guys feel it's important to keep the Kabul Airport secure, up and running?

SEC. KIRBY:  The airport would provide obviously aside from transportation support for people and for equipment but it would also provide a needed logistical hub not just for our embassy but for the embassies of other nation's that wanted to maintain diplomatic presence there in Afghanistan.

It makes that possible.  And -- and -- so that there's a way of providing resource support to those embassies.  Obviously in a country like Afghanistan, security of that logistical hub is important.  And you want to make sure that -- that it can -- that it can be properly -- that it can be properly insured and protected.

Q:  So are you sort of saying that if there isn't security at the airport the embassies can't really stay?

SEC. KIRBY:  I won't -- I won't make those determinations for sovereign nations.  They have to make those decisions.  I'm not going to get ahead of where we are (Barb).  We -- we recognize that the airport would provide a necessary logistical hub.  That hub would need to be secured.

That security is going to have to be provided by someone.  And I won't get ahead to where we are on process. 

Q:  Can you -- by the way, can you tell us anything about why the secretary and the chairman were at the White House this morning?

SEC. KIRBY:  They go every week, at least once a week but certainly on a weekly basis; the secretary and the chairman get a chance to meet with the president.  This was the normal weekly meeting.

Q:  Thank you. 

SEC. KIRBY:  Yes.  Let's see, Fadi?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I have a question about Mr. Netanyahu's, Israel prime minister statement yesterday that Israel will take any necessary action against any Iranian nuclear threats even if this risks friction with the U.S.

So Israel being your major ally in the Middle East, do you -- what do you think of or what do you make of that statement and will the secretary be trying to maybe giving some assurances to Minister Gantz during their discussions about Iranian threats?  Thank you.

SEC. KIRBY:  Very clear on numerous occasions with Minister Gantz that, again, the United States -- United States takes very seriously our security commitments to Israel, to preserving their qualitative military edge and to continuing our support for their ability to defend themselves and their people against very real threats that they face on a nearly daily basis. And I -- I suspect that that will be the same tone and tenor that the secretary will have tomorrow when they get a chance to meet.

And again, I'll let the two ministers speak for themselves after the meeting is over.  We'll provide an appropriate read-out of what they talked about. 

Q:  But what about the comments made by Mr. Netanyahu?

SEC. KIRBY:  I'll take one more.  Tony.

Q:  Hi, Tony Bertuca, InsideDefense.  There was a report yesterday in the Hill that said a Pentagon audit has cleared DJI drones, a Chinese owned company for use by the government.  These were drones that were banned by The Pentagon.  Can you comment on this?  Are these drones now clear for use and?

SEC. KIRBY:  Take that question, Tony. 

Q:  OK.

SEC. KIRBY:  I don't have a good answer for you right now.  Tara?.

Q:  Hi, John.  Thanks for doing this.  A couple of Afghanistan follow-ups.  First of all, if there is a tasking form the White House to conduct evacuations, does the Department of Defense have the airpower air lifts needed to actually execute that.  We saw earlier this year that some of the initial response to India's need for COVID vaccines has slowed simply because of the readiness of some of those air lift aircraft.

And then secondly, can you walk us through or take as a request to have someone from DNLA come brief us on the military decided what pieces of equipment would be returned to the U.S. and what would stay -- either be chopped up in Afghanistan or perhaps provided to the Afghans?  There's, you know, we've seen the statistics on how much has come out.

But we don't have any insight into what has come out or whether it's going to be kept within units or transferred to, you know, made part of the military police equipment program.  So, any insights you could give would be gratefully accepted.

SEC. KIRBY:  It's a fair question, let me see if we can --