Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

July 2, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby; Brigadier General (retired) Jim Schwenk; Lynn Rosenthal, Chair, 90-Day Independent Review Commission On Sexual Assault In The Military

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  I'm a little less late today.

OK, today I want to start the briefing by asking Ms. Lynn Rosenthal to come up and back-brief you. I think you all know that the work of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault has completed -- they have submitted that report, and the Secretary has made his recommendations to the President. I think you also saw the President's statement as well on these recommendations.

And we posted a report on our website, we posted the secretary's directive to the Department as well for all these, hopefully you've seen that by now. But I thought it was important for you to get a chance to talk to Ms. Rosenthal herself about their work, the scope of what they covered, and the recommendations that they made to the Department.

So I'm going to bring her up here for some time, she'll have -- I think some opening comments, then we'll go to questions. We've got about 30 minutes with Lynn, so we'll try to be mindful of that.

Since she doesn't know you as well as I do, when you ask a question please introduce yourself -- who you are, where you're from, and if you could please limit your follow-up so that we can get people through her -- as many questions through her as possible.

So, Lynn.

LYNN ROSENTHAL: Good afternoon. I'm joined by Brigadier General Retired Jim Schwenk who was one of our legal experts on the IRC and is here to help answer questions. As I stand here today I'm remembering when we announced this effort, and when the secretary stood up the IRC.

And I said on that day that in reading stories from victims of sexual assault, I noted that they often felt that the purpose of the sexual assault was to make them feel like they didn't belong in the military, that they were someone who shouldn't be there. And I said on that day that this IRC was about ensuring them that they do belong in this military.

I must say that that finding -- or my initial impressions held true throughout our process -- that the purpose of sexual assault and harassment is often to make someone feel like they don't belong. And you'll hear that as a recurring theme in our recommendations.

The IRC has completed our work and delivered our recommendations to Secretary Austin. I want to recognize the leadership of the Secretary and President Biden in their commitment to ending sexual assault in the military. And I also want to thank General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff for his engagement in this process.

And I want to acknowledge the support and cooperation of service leaders, we very much appreciated their willingness to come to the table and to have a dialogue, even when they didn't agree with some of our recommendations.

I want to give you a guide to the report, I'm sure you haven't had a chance to read it, it's 299 pages. So I want to tell you what you're looking at. There is a short overview that highlights our recommendations, there's a longer summary report that details our findings, and then there are four reports from each line of effort.

So there's a line of effort one on accountability, two on prevention, three on climate and culture, and four on victim care and support. So as much as I would love for you to read all 300 pages, you also could go directly to that report for that line of effort and you would find everything you need there. And in fact, with some of your questions I'll refer you directly to the report.

As a part of our process, we met with over 600 individuals including survivors, researchers, current and former service members, commanders, junior and senior enlisted members, and advocates working against sexual assault.

I want to begin by reminding all of us about the scope of the problem, 20,000 service members experience sexual assault every year. Less than 8,000 report those sexual assaults, less than 5,000 of those are unrestricted reports meaning that the victim has said that he or she wants a full investigation.

And only a tiny fraction of those end up with any kind of action at all in the military justice system, so that's the chasm that we're talking about. And in fact, that chasm about -- between the scope of the problem and the actions that are taken mirrors the chasm that we found between what senior leaders say about this problem, and what junior enlisted members experience at the unit level.

For decades service leaders have said that there is no tolerance for sexual assault, but in practice, all too often there is nothing put tolerance. As one senior enlisted officer told us in our listening sessions, zero tolerance actually means 100-percent tolerance. This has resulted in broken trust between junior enlisted members and their commanders.

We also found that the military justice system is not well equipped to handle sensitive crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence -- these crimes are interpersonal in nature and have the potential to be re-traumatizing for victims as their cases move forward. So they need specialized care and handling.

We note that there is a strong continuum between sexual harassment and sexual assault and that the connection between -- and that there is a strong connection between unchecked sexual harassment when commanders take no action to address it, and poor unit climates.

We also found that the cyber domain can be as strong an influence on unit climate as real-time interactions, and that leaders are poorly equipped to deal with this ever-changing situation. And in fact, 30-percent of service women who experienced sexual harassment in the 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations assessment survey indicated that it took place online.

We found -- and this is critical because it ties to many of our recommendations -- that there are critical deficiencies in the workforce, including lack of expertise, across the board. This is a system that has operated for decades with inexperienced lawyers and investigators, collateral-duty victim advocates, and a near total lack of prevention specialists.

As just one example, there are thousands of collateral-duty victim advocates. And what that means is that they have another job. They may be a mechanic or a logistics specialist or something. And then they are often "voluntold" to serve as their unit's victim advocate, but their job and what they're trained for is actually something quite different.

Now, I want to say that we met with many of these collateral-duty victim advocates, and their passion is there and their intent is there. But somebody who's doing this as a -- as a, sort of, part-time position without expertise and experience, although they receive training, is -- this is not an appropriate way to respond to something as complicated as sexual assault. It's not appropriate and we have recommendations to that effect.

When you ask senior leaders what we should do about sexual assault they almost uniformly say we have to get to the left of it, it's about prevention. But they don't really know what prevention is or how it's different from response.

So as one sexual assault response coordinator told us, giving someone a water bottle with a hotline number on it is too late. It's not prevention. We found that prevention and response are often conflated.

We also found that outdated social and gender norms contribute to a culture of hostility toward women in the services. And I would refer you to the LOE 3 report, which is quite detailed about this finding and it includes a stunning chart about what sometimes happens to women when they come into male dominated units. It is time for this to end.

And I should also say that we found in our meetings on installations, and with survivors, and with junior enlisted members that this hostility extends to anyone who is seen as the other, as I talked about before -- who doesn't belong. And for example, new RAND data tells us that gay men in the services experience sexual assault at nine times the rate of other men, nine times.

We found that victims carry a heavy burden when they experience sexual assault. And I should say that this finding was a bit of a surprise to me. I've worked on this issue for years and there's been a lot of focus on trying to care for victims. But what we found are great deficiencies in that care.

Many cases are handled poorly with a near constantly shuffling of personnel -- so that's what I talked about before. For example, one survivor that we met with told us, over the course of her case she had two different prosecution teams, four different special victims counsel, and her victim advocate deployed right before the trial.

So this kind of workforce where there are constant changes of stations and constant moves -- which is appropriate for the way that the military needs to operate in most cases -- is not appropriate for addressing a complex problem like sexual assault.

Victims pay a high price for coming forward to report their assault. And again, this was a shocking and heartbreaking finding. Every survivor that we talked to had made -- who had made an unrestricted report, which means it would be fully investigated, told us they regretted it, every one. Most told us that they had contemplated or attempted suicide.

And you know, it's true for sexual assault victims, wherever we find sexual assault, that there is a high correlation with suicidal ideation. But what's different in the military is that 24-hour nature of life.

If you're sexually harassed or sexually assaulted, you can't just leave. You can get -- try to get your commander to follow protocol to have you transferred or to have the alleged offender transferred, but if that process isn't working well, you can't just leave because -- in fact, it's a crime for you to leave.

So what -- we know it's different. And we often hear from military leaders that sexual assault is a problem in the -- in civilian problem society, and indeed it is, but it's different here. And I say that as someone who's worked with sexual assault victims on the civilian side.

It is different when you're in a small unit. Where you live, eat, sleep, and play with the same people and then there's an event and somebody's assaulted. And people take sides.

And generally, because of rape myths and bias against victims, the side -- their side is not the one that's taken. And then they're bullied, ostracized. And that's when they start to feel suicidal, because they feel trapped and they have no way out.

I do want to say, we believe that we can change this. We -- this is not a hopeless situation. To address these deficiencies, we've made 28 recommendations and 54 sub-recommendations. So I just want to give you a few of the highlights.

We've recommended shifting prosecution decisions to special victim prosecutors outside the chain of command. And we've, I think, talked about that before. There a detailed explanation of how we envision this could work in the LOE 1 report. And Jim Schwenk is also here to help answer questions.

When it comes to preventions, leaders are the linchpins of success but they have not been equipped to lead with key competencies rooted in primary science. So when they say prevention is the solution, we would say, yes, it's the solution and there's a science behind prevention. And leaders need to be equipped with that science.

You can learn all about that in the LOE 2 report, which in fact is a blueprint on exactly how the department and the services could implement a prevention workforce. This is an investment but we think it's an investment work -- worth making.

We've made a series of recommendations to improve unit climate, including better methods to select, develop, and evaluate leaders; enhance to the climate survey process, which I think we talked about here before; and greater transparency about disciplinary actions. The LOE 3 report will tell you much more about those.

We've made a series of recommendations addressing the handling of sexual assault and those cross over lines of effort. And we've made a series of recommendations to improve victim care and support, those dynamics I talked about earlier.

Those recommendations include shifting sexual assault coordinators and victim advocated out of the command structure, largely eliminating collateral-duty victim advocates -- although you might need them in isolated deployed environments or on ships.

This kind of independent advocacy, where someone is 100-percent focused on the victim and reporting outside of the command structure, is a best practice. It's what victims need, somebody 100-percent on their side.

At the same time, those sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates should continue to serve as key advisors to commanders. So the command responsibility remains -- taking care of their people, ensuring that victims are treated fairly, interrupting this pattern of bullying and ostracizing that victims often experience.

They'll have on their team a victim advocate who's independent of command but is still their key advisor. We believe this is critical and it mirrors the Fort Hood Report. When survivors are believed and cared for by commanders, it is lifesaving. We witnessed this and heard about it in our survivor interviews. It's not even so much the actual outcome of the case but how the survivor was treated as the case moved forward.

Many survivors dream their whole life of serving in the military, and even after their sexual assault, most wanted to stay and do their jobs, but they need care, understanding and flexibility to do so, and they need to know that their commander has their back, and the recommendations in LOE 4 describe that in great detail.

Lastly, I wanted to just mention the need to highlight the response to domestic violence. Domestic violence and sexual assault are integrally tied together. 30-percent of -- of active duty women have experienced violence from an intimate partner. That often includes sexual violence. And when sexual violence occurs in a domestic violence relationship, it is an indicator of increased lethality. So we need to be -- take -- paying attention to these two problems together.

I would just end by saying that commanders are essential to implementing all of these recommendations. Most importantly, commanders are the key to improving unit climates, changing the culture, protecting victims from negative consequences of reporting sexual assault.

And I want to say this clearly -- the IRC rejects the notion that shifting legal decisions about charging someone with a crime or sending that case to trial diminishes the role of commanders. Instead, it enhances their role and places them in the lead of taking care of their people, which is their number one job, and creating climates of real no tolerance. That is their job.

And so I'm happy to end there and take questions and -- and Jim will join me in those questions.

MR. KIRBY: Lynn, I don't know about you, but I think this thing is too high.

(Laughter.)

MS. ROSENTHAL: Oh, I'm so used to that. You know, sometimes they bring me a little stool.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

(Laughter.)

(UNKNOWN): (Inaudible).

(Laughter.)

(UNKNOWN): It looks like it's on the ...

MS. ROSENTHAL: Oh, OK. Oh well. Is that what you were thinking -- Kirby, is that what you were thinking about the whole time?

MR. KIRBY: It was -- it was on my mind.

(Laughter.)

(Inaudible), it was too high when I came up.

(CROSSTALK)

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: Is that -- is that better?

MS. ROSENTHAL: Sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: I would've done it during your opening statement but that -- I didn't want to break the (inaudible).

MS. ROSENTHAL: Oh, that's OK, no problem.

MR. KIRBY: Bob, we'll start with you.

Q: Hi, I'm Bob Burns from Associated Press.

MS. ROSENTHAL: Yes, sir?

Q: At the outset, you mentioned that military leaders do tolerate sexual assault, despite what they say in public. I'm wondering what you -- what are your recommendations and in what way will they change that?

MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, first, I should say we visited six installations and talked to a number more virtually, and in every single meeting with junior enlisted members, this emerged, the conversation was the same with every group we talked to across the services. So that's how we know that that's true.

And our focus in LOE 3 on really equipping and training leaders will make a difference. So selecting the right leaders, using qualitative and narrative feedback to select the right leaders, develop them on this particular issue, with key competencies, and then evaluating them on how well they're doing. We also recommend a series of adjustments to the climate survey process.

So I really want to commend the Department and the work they're doing on climate surveys. There's a -- a complex tool that measures climate across several different issues and we would supplement that by a -- a pulse survey, our quick check of the unit to see what the climate is around sexual assault and sexual harassment specifically, and then we can -- when we can measure it, we can get commanders assistance in addressing it.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Nick?

Q: Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour. Hey, Lynn. So, you know, (inaudible) this question and then I have one that's beyond the scope of -- of the report. Off of Bob's question, to use the word "tolerance" is -- is different, right? You talked about conflating prevention response, you talked about outdated gender norms, you talked about the structure being insufficient, but the word "tolerate" is an active verb. What do you account for commanders, in your word, "tolerating" sexual harassment and assault?

MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, I think there's two issues -- and I -- I want to say that we didn't -- we heard about toxic leaders, we didn't meet them. Many commanders that we talked to just didn't know what to do. They recognize that the problem is beyond their scope. So I -- I want to say that from the onset.

And I -- I think there are two things that are happening. One is that sexual assault and harassment is not really tracked as a part of a readiness metric. So it's tracked in a lot of ways, within DOD and the services, but not within the main effort. So that's what's key, is integrating in the -- the former commanders who served on our task force said, that we have to integrate this into the main effort and track it as a part of readiness.

You have to pay as much attention to this as you do to your broken down vehicles, right? That's what this is about -- do you have your workforce in -- in order? Have you done your climate surveys? Have you addressed deficiencies? Do you have people in your unit that are awaiting some sort of judiciary proceeding related to sexual harassment or sexual assault?

So I think integrating it -- and there's much more detail about that in LOE 3 -- gets to that -- that piece. And the other is I think they just don't know what to do. You know, much of -- said -- this is why you have to have an experienced workforce to advise commanders, because much of it is not intuitive or it's hard to understand sometimes why victims do certain things that they do, and they do those things as a way to protect themselves, but it's hard to recognize that.

They also are not trained in trauma. They don't understand the effects of trauma on the brain and the -- and how that makes people behave. So I think it's all about equipping them with those key competencies. So when -- when I -- when you say "tolerance is active," I don't necessarily believe, in many cases, that's hostile. I think it's all that sort of toxic stew of not having the skills, not understanding it, not being properly trained, and I think they want to get better at it.

The other piece I noted with these very well-intentioned commanders is that they -- when they step in, they -- then, they want to take charge and then they start telling the victim everything that he or she should be doing, and that's not the right approach either.

So that's why I -- the reason we're hopeful is because those things can be addressed, right? Well-intended commanders who need more information, need stronger competencies, but also the integration into the main effort. If we can integrate this and think of it as part of the main effort, that will go a long way to addressing that tolerance.

Q: And then beyond the scope of this report is of course the question of -- of other felonies, right? As you know, Senator Gillibrand's legislation calls for not just sexual assault and -- and harassment but other felonies, other crimes to be taken out of the chain of command. The Chairman, the service secretaries have resisted that. Do you believe that in order to fix this problem, you actually need to go beyond just sexual assault and harassment felonies, that all felonies need to be taken out of ...

MS. ROSENTHAL: I just have to say that we didn't address that problem. That was beyond our scope. We were charged with addressing sexual assault and harassment. And where we've broadened it to include domestic violence, it was -- because that's where our data led us. So we didn't assess the larger picture, and I don't know, Jim, if you want to add to that.

BRIGADIER GENERAL (RETIRED) JIM SCHWENK: I'd -- I'd just say from the LOE 1 perspective, when we wrote the report -- our report, and the other members, we briefed them on it and they voted on it -- our perspective was that -- you want me over here? I'm getting stage directions from back. Our perspective was that the problem -- the sexual harassment, sexual assault problem could be handled by the recommendations in this report.

If those recommendations are implemented fully, they're integrated -- because you can't just do prevention and not do climate -- you know, you can't do climate and prevention and not do accountability. And you've got to back up what you say with what you do on how you take care of victims -- so victim care and support.

If you can do all that, we think that will -- I mean, you're never going to have zero, but it will greatly reduce and make a significant positive effect on the lives of the junior enlisted men and women in the military. We believe it, and that's why we wrote it the way we wrote it.

Q: Ms. Rosenthal, when you were talking about the report you said that the attacks -- the assaults and the harassment were often done to make the victim feel like they did not belong in the military. In your work did you also find that the response and the investigation by commanders and by units also left those victims feeling like they didn't belong?

MS. ROSENTHAL: Sometimes. When commanders -- what we often heard about was the commander was ignoring what was happening in the unit which is that everybody was picking sides -- and often not the victim's side. And so the victim felt very isolated and alone, and that's when we identified that suicidal ideation as a part of that whole picture.

Q: And then secondly, by taking the investigation and prosecution out of the chain of command, how do you envision like a permanent staff where they're not PCSing out and how do you see that maybe -- costs being funded?

MS. ROSENTHAL: I'm going to turn to Jim again.

GEN. SCHWENK: OK. So that's the specialization within the military justice system and the military criminal investigative organizations. Right now they have a mass of requirements -- military justice being part of it. And except for the Navy on the military justice, the lawyer side, they do not have specialists in military justice in criminal law.

So you get a bunch of young people that come in, well-intentioned, smart, aggressive, dynamic, no experience. We had several judges retired -- we didn't talk to any active duty judges, but retired judges. Military judges who said that the Achilles' heel of military justice is experience/inexperience.

And so the whole specialization effort which we wrote about in recommendation 1.4 is repeat the people in the military justice village. If they have the ability -- so it's not everybody that wants, gets. If they have the ability and they have the interest they apply, a board looks at it, they get selected -- and then you have billets set aside where these people can repeat back and forth in military justice so you develop that expertise.

It's not going to be that many more billets because we already have a case load, and the prosecutor's defense council, et cetera to handle that case load. If the case load for some reason went up significantly then obviously you'd have to change it, but we don't anticipate it would. So it's not more billets, it's better use of those billets and keeping people, as you said, in the billets so they can gain that experience.

I was fortunate to be on an LOE with two people, one of whom 15 years in the Dallas prosecution office -- 15 years doing these kinds of cases. And you put that up against when I did ‘em, two years. It's not fair, and so that's our recommendation. (Inaudible).

MS. ROSENTHAL: I mean, the complexity of this problem requires a specialized response. And I think that's where we've kind of gone wrong on this that we try to shoehorn it into existing structures, and it just requires more than that. And that means that resources will be required. These are investments in prevention and in victim care as well.

Q: You mentioned the commanders being frustrated about not having the tools, or you know, the experience to set their own programs. What specifically were their frustrations? Was it finding good training, or (inaudible) of the program? And what was their feedback about the idea that some of these things would no longer become their responsibility?

MS. ROSENTHAL: So I'll turn to Jim on the last one. To take the first part of your question, I think that they have very basic questions sometimes, like why do victims -- why do the victims stay in contact with someone who may have assaulted them? Why would that happen? That's all about the sort of affects of trauma on the brain. Why did a victim not want to be transferred? Why did she want to stay where maybe she felt she had some support -- they didn't understand that.

So they wanted to immediately activate an expedited transfer, and the victim's saying I need more time. And then there's this thing that's happened, I can't tell you how many times we heard check to the block about everything in this system. There are a lot of policies, and there are a lot of structures -- but what's happened in operations is that it's become just check, check, check have I done it? So we noted that because there's this anxiety about compliance, which there should be.

But when someone sits down with a victim, the commander or a collateral duty victim advocate or whoever it may be -- immediately they jump to here are your reporting options do you want (inaudible). When really what they need to do is -- somebody's in crisis what they actually need to do is say, how are you doing? What do you need? How can I help you? And that would be the role of the professionalized victim advocate.

GEN. SCHWENK: On the issue of the commanders and their reaction, we didn't run into a single commander that said, oh yes, please take these arrows out of my quiver and give them to some lawyer down the street. Instead they said that in their view they're responsible for everything their command does and does not do, and they therefore need every arrow they can get in the quiver to be able to handle problems as they arise.

So we asked them the question from don't ask, don't tell days if Congress legislated and did away with your -- two of your quivers -- or two of your arrows in your quiver, could you manage it? And every one of them said yes.

So there might be an adverse effect within a unit here or there, but commanders told us they can manage it. We also noted that the Department -- Congress and the Department have a long history of withholding arrows out of quivers in the Department of Defense.

I mean, currently, if you're a lieutenant colonel and you think you're pretty cool and you're a battalion commander and you have a sexual assault problem you are not taking -- when you reach for that arrow of I'm going to take this to a court marshal, there's no arrow there. There's a little note that says go to your 06 special court marshal convening authority and recommend that that person he or she send it to a court marshal.

And you know, I'm sure from your experience you know there are lots of other withholdings within the Department -- DUIs, officer cases, and that's just the way it is. Congress set up the whole system where the lieutenants, we were told over and over where is this going to be won or lost, if you want to use that terminology.

And it's at the deck plate level, it's at that small unit level. And so what -- and so who's key? The NCOs, the small enlisted leaders. What kind of disciplinary authority has Congress given them? Zero. OK, what kind of disciplinary authority has given platoon commanders? Zero. And yet they are they key to solving this problem.

So yes, they're -- the commanders did think that there could be an adverse affect on good order and discipline. Yes, they thought it was manageable. And we considered that carefully along with the history of removing arrows out of the quivers.

Q: Beyond the legal part, what I really mean is the idea that you would have a prevention specialist in your unit who would put together your (inaudible) program for you, bring it to the commander and say sir, ma'am, I think these would be the best practices for us, did they shudder at the idea that they wouldn't be the ones designing the training and doing all of that?

MS. ROSENTHAL: No. I don't think so at all. I think they would be welcomed to have this expertise so they could make this sort of stated commitment to prevention real. I mean, they worry about their people and their time commitments and being prepared for deployments. I mean, they worry about how all of that could work, but those are implementation issues, but the idea and concept that they would have more tools at their disposal I believe they would welcome.

MR. KIRBY: We've got time for two more, so we'll go to the ones on (inaudible). Dan, PBS?

Q: Thanks. I've got two questions. Victim advocates have told us that oftentimes sexual assaults will be reported to commanders, then commanders will say, oh, that was consensual sex and they don't report, or people will get assaulted and they report it to their NCO and they don't report it up. Did you encounter -- did you talk to a lot of people who said they had that experience, and what is your recommendations for that?

And then also your report recommend that highly-qualified experts be retained to see implementation through? Are you staying on in the Biden administration to oversee the implementation of your recommendations?

MS. ROSENTHAL: I'm not staying on. I didn't know that we stated that in our report, but we may have, but us, we hope that several of our HQEs who are real experts in this area will be staying on.

I actually work at a Center for Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Columbus, Ohio, and I'm due back there next week, but I certainly want to be available to the department for whatever they need. So all of us are very committed to following this through, and we hope that we will have HQEs that will remain or that the department will employ other HQEs.

I mean, we don't -- we're not naive that this is a serious implementation effort. I think the department will move swiftly. We also urge them to move carefully, and they're going to need help to do that. So thank you for that question.

About discouraging people from coming forward, you know, we didn't hear about circumstances quite that overt when a report was made to the commander, but certainly there's a lot of ways to discourage somebody from moving forward like those kind of comments that you described.

I mean, a commander who did that would be out of compliance with policy if said let's just not take this forward. They have to refer it to an investigator. They have to follow the process. But certainly there's a lot of conversation, and this is where they repeat some of those rape myths and biases that they may not even be aware of like were you drinking, were you flirting, why did you stay out so late, all that kind of stuff. Those rape myths are what permeate people's views about how to address these problems. Those generally can be corrected with information.

MR. KIRBY: And the last question today goes to Stephen from military.com.

Q: Hi. Thank you very much. The commission's report discussed the need for prevention specialists and the lack of people focused on prevention with the right kind of specialized skills. Can you talk a little bit more about precisely what sort of specializing the Pentagon is going to or the military as a whole is going to need to bring in to try to get at this issue?

MS. ROSENTHAL: That's terrific. They need public health, social science, behavioral health experts, or some combination of that. So James Johnson, retired Major General Johnson had laid out an LOE 2, a very careful plan that involves DOD creating a model workforce. What would that look like? I don't know. How many of them do we need? What sort of master's level public health experts do we need versus other kinds of researchers or specialists or evaluators, but they need some combination of those people. And then they need people to carry out the programming.

And so, we -- DOD will develop if this recommendation is adopted by the Secretary, they'll develop this prevention workforce model, and then we're asking the services to do manpower studies on how to implement that.

We do believe in service flexibility and that each environment is different and each service is different, but they all need public health experts. This is a science. It's not impossible. I think that's what we're excited about in LOE 2's report. It's not impossible to move the needle if we employ evidence-informed practices and public health science.

There's a model called the socio-ecological model where you work on the individual level, the relationship level, the community level, and the societal level. That's a standard public health model for creating change. We believe that's relevant here, and LOE 2 has a version of that model specific for the military.

MR. KIRBY: Lynn, thank you so much.

MS. ROSENTHAL: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: (inaudible) do you have any closing thoughts?

MS. ROSENTHAL: Well I would just say in closing, again, to repeat our appreciation to Secretary Austin for his faith in the IRC and for his leadership on this issue, and I would say that I think our courage, and I mean all of us, the Ddepartment, Congress, the services, our courage has to match in addressing this issue the courage and tenacity that survivors show every day when they work to rebuild their lives. That's what this is all about. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: OK. Some things to get through at the top here, and I want to start by reiterating the Secretary's gratitude for the professionalism and the hard work of every member of the Independent Review Commission, certainly Ms. Rosenthal's leadership and expertise proved critical here to producing this comprehensive report that we're going to be working through in the weeks and months ahead in terms of implementation and review and assessment of those recommendations.

And the Secretary, again, is very, very grateful for all the efforts that they put into it. And he maintains and stands by his goal to not be afraid to think creatively and to lead some change here. He has talked about this being a leadership issue, and he has made that clear throughout. And I think you could expect to see his personal involvement in leading this change going forward. So again, we offer our sincere gratitude to everybody on the IRC for everything that they did.

Shifting gears, let me just give you an update on Afghanistan. Our mission in Afghanistan continues. We continue to execute a safe, orderly draw down in accordance with the President's guidance for U.S. forces to be out of Afghanistan by the end of August.

The safe, orderly draw down enables us to maintain an ongoing diplomatic presence, support the Afghan people and the government, and prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorism that threatens our homeland.

As part of our ongoing draw down process, the Secretary approved a plan today to transfer command authority over our mission in Afghanistan from General Scott Miller to General Frank McKenzie. We expect that transfer to be effective later this month.

General Miller will remain in theater in coming weeks to prepare for and to complete the turnover of these duties and responsibilities to General McKenzie. Importantly, General McKenzie will retain all existing authorities as Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. He will continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating out of Afghanistan.

And he will lead U.S. efforts to develop options for the logistical, financial and technical support to Afghan forces once our drawdown is complete. Now as part of this new arrangement, the Secretary also approved the establishment of U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward, to be led by Navy Rear Admiral, Peter Vasely. Rear Admiral Vasely's command will be based in Kabul and will supported by Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard, who will lead the Defense Security Management Office Afghanistan.

That office will be based in Qatar, and will administer funding support for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to include over the horizon aircraft maintenance support. This change in leadership structure and the turnover today of Bagram airbase to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are key milestones in our draw down process, reflecting a smaller U.S. force presence in Afghanistan.

That presence will remain focused on four things over the course of the coming period. One, protecting our diplomatic presence in the country. Two, supporting security requirements at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Three, continued advice and assistance to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as appropriate. And four, supporting our counterterrorism efforts.

Now, again on schedule now, a different topic. Earlier today, Secretary Austin met with his excellency, Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, to reaffirm our security -- strategic security partnership and to discuss the evolving security situation in the Central Asia region.

Both leaders expressed their shared desire to continue close collaboration on issues such as counterterrorism, border security and defense institution capacity building, and they reiterated their commitment to further promote the goal of a durable political setting in Afghanistan. Moving to the European theater, Exercise Sea Breeze continues as scheduled in the Black Sea and is proving to be one of those successful iterations in terms of scope, building capability among NATO allies and partners, and demonstrating our collective commitment to security in this region.

This week our ships began the at sea phase of the exercise, rehearsing coordinated air, maritime, and land operations to build combined capability. The ships and aircraft are working together in international waters and airspace to refine multi-domain operations. Together with our partners and our allies we continue to be transparent and truthful about these operations, building trust and stability across Europe.

I'd also like to highlight the Women, Peace and Security Congressional report signed by President Biden on Tuesday, the report summarizes U.S. government progress in implementing the U.S. Women, Peace Security strategy. The report captures the important role of the Department of Defense in advancing gender equity and equality at home and abroad. As one of the world's largest employers, the Department continues to make a concerted effort each year to model Women, Peace and Security by creating an enabling environment for women and gender minorities, both civilians and in uniform.

As the U.S. officially commits to participating in the Generation Equality Forum, DoD will build on our Women, Peace and Security initiatives to strengthen the linkages between gender equality and national security. And finally I am delighted to be able to announce that Secretary Austin will speak during Global Emergency Emergent -- Emerging Technology Summit on July 13th. The summit hosted by the National Security Commission on artificial intelligence will also host Robert Work, former Deputy Secretary of Defense as a moderator.

And that's a lot of opening comments so with that we'll go to questions.

Q: Thanks a lot, John. Yes. There was a lot going on in Afghanistan, you -- I believe I heard you say that the goal now is to be out, if you used that word out, by the end of August. I don't believe I've heard that official timeline before. Is that a new goal? I mean, I thought it was September, I though it was maybe this month. Why the end of August? And also, could you -- I didn't quite catch what you said about General Miller. Did you say he’s staying for another week or something like that?

MR. KIRBY: So, yes, both questions, the President made it clear that he wanted the drawdown complete by early September. We believe we're going to be able to complete this process by the end of August. And that's what I was trying to state.

Q: That process meaning the retrograde?

MR. KIRBY: Meaning the -- meaning the -- the -- the completion of our drawdown by the end of August and -- and -- and then that will be that would be – then we would transition to this new bilateral relationship with the security forces of Afghanistan. So the goal was early September, we believe will be able to make it by the end of August.

Q:  So troops will remain there until then?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific numbers but I mean, we'll -- we -- we -- we believe we'll be able to get this wrapped up by the end of August. And--

Q: General Miller?

MR. KIRBY: And, oh yes, I'm sorry, General Miller. So as I said, the general be remaining in the theater for a number of weeks. I -- I'd rather not get too specific about his specific travel plans, but he'll -- he'll stay out there for another couple of weeks or so to help affect this transition of command authority from himself to General McKenzie.

So there's -- I mean, he's -- he's probably going to be -- I would expect he'll be traveling around as he gets ready to turn over these responsibilities, he'll be probably traveling in the theater and even perhaps outside Afghanistan as he does this, but the idea is to have him remain there to have effect -- to affect all this turnover of responsibilities and make --- and make preparations for General McKenzie to assume those responsibilities.

Q: So General Miller will remain commander for at least a couple more weeks?

MR. KIRBY: Correct.

Q: He will be in and out of Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY: I -- yes.

Q: He’s there right now?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into his daily travel, I'd rather not do that, I think you can understand why, but I would expect that over the next couple weeks he will be traveling about, probably about Afghanistan, and perhaps about the theater as he begins to prepare the turnover of his responsibilities to General McKenzie. But yes, he is still in command.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I tried to make clear in my opening that Secretary approved today this plan to transfer authority, that -- that the authority has not transferred today, it's going to take a couple weeks or so.

Q: OK. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Go ahead.

Q: I'm sorry, just a clarification sir, will you be setting up the U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward? Or will that be something that General McKenzie would do?

MR. KIRBY: Well, the Secretary approved the establishment of U.S. Afghanistan -- U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward, which will be led by Rear Admiral Vasely. So that -- that he -- he approved the establishment of that new command and now they're in the process of getting it stood up.

Tara.

Q: –Thanks John, can you kind of take a step back and talk about the significance of the closure of Bagram, the last operating U.S. base in Afghanistan, and is this the end of a chapter?

MR. KIRBY: It's a -- I -- I wouldn't describe it as the end of a chapter, Tara. I mean, obviously it's a -- it's a big airbase that we've been using for 20 years, but it was a -- it was important because of the effort that we were expending in Afghanistan, the size of the force that we once had in Afghanistan. I mean, Bagram was a key hub for air support for everything that we were doing over there for the last 20 years, and not just us but our NATO partners as well.

And we're beginning -- you know, the mission continues, but it is going to transition eventually to a completely different kind of bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. And we as part of the draw down process, eventually we knew that that was one of the bases that would have to be turned over to the Afghans.

I don't think it should come as any surprise to you that it was -- that it was one of the last to be done. We still have facilities in Kabul because it's so close to Kabul and because it had this robust air capability, but we don't need that kind of capability right now, so it made sense for it to be the one to be turned over at this point in the process.

Q: But it was the last U.S. operating base besides the presence I guess that has now shifted to Kabul.

MR. KIRBY: Right, I mean, but that, again, it was necessary for the kinds of capabilities we had in country and in the scope of the missions that we were performing that those missions will change now. As we work our way through the summer they'll continue to change. And as I said in the opening statement, I mean, this arrangement including the leadership arrangement I talked about including the closure of Bagram is in keeping with having a smaller force in Afghanistan.

Q: And for the aircraft that departed Bagram, are they now out of the country, or do -- or do we still have air assets in Kabul to support the remaining footprint?

MR. KIRBY: I think without getting into too much specificity, I think, you know, there is -- there are some aviation elements that we retain at the airport, but in terms of the kinds of strike capabilities that you're -- I think you're talking about, those are no longer in Afghanistan. And I won't detail where every aircraft has gone, but I would remind as we said this before, we have a robust footprint in the region even outside Afghanistan, and we still have the capability to conduct over the horizon missions as necessary for counterterrorism.

Q: I think just one last for now. Once the -- once we hit the end of August and troops have completely -- have completed the departure, will there be any sort of enduring over-the-horizon support for Afghan forces? Will that -- will we still have the -- will there still be an authority for U.S. forces to conduct air support for Afghan forces if they are, come in contact with the Taliban?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get that far ahead of our process. What I can tell you now is that those authorities still exist and General Miller still has those authorities. And as I said in my comments when he transfers command authority to General McKenzie, General McKenzie will retain those same authorities.

OK, let me go to somebody on the phone there. There's quite a few. Carla?

Q: Hey, John,thanks for doing this. Just some housekeeping first on let's talk about Syria real quick for my Persian service. Can you give us any more details, are you any closer to confirming that KH or some other Iranian-backed -- specific Iranian-backed militia was responsible for those rocket attacks in Syria? And then I have a follow on Afghanistan.

MR. KIRBY: I mean, without getting into specific attribution, I think as we said at the time that we were confident that those structures, those faculties were being used by Iran-backed militias to attack our people, our facilities, and our Iraqi partners, and we're confident in that. I'm not going to get into specific attributions beyond that right now.

Q: OK. And then on Afghanistan, Jen Psaki, the White House Spokeswoman, she said that Austin was going to be making his statement later today. Is Secretary Austin going to be doing that in front of the camera? Is that just going to be a written statement you guys push out to us?

And for -- for us reporters, what's left now? Because Bagram was such a huge piece of the puzzle of the U.S. troop withdrawal, so what exactly is left to do in these next few weeks?

MR. KIRBY: The -- the statement that Ms. Psaki's referring to is the one that I read at the -- at the top of this briefing. And without -- I -- you know, I -- we want to be very careful here. We still -- we're -- we're still conducting this  safe, orderly and deliberate drawdown. So as for what's where and who's where, I'm going to be very careful.

But -- but clearly, with the closure of Bagram, the -- the locus of our efforts are in and around Kabul at this point, but I -- I won't go into any more detail beyond that. Nick?

Q: A couple of (inaudible) and then this very brief follow up again. Maybe you won't want to confirm this but just can you confirm there are no U.S. troops in Afghanistan outside of Kabul?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into their specific location Nick.

Q: So a couple of things on the maintenance that we've been talking about and the airport. Is there an agreement to maintain Afghan helicopters outside of Afghanistan, whether that's partially in the Gulf or perhaps north of Afghanistan, and how to have the personnel who can do that?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I think General Buzzard's going to be working on this, as -- in -- in -- in concert with General McKenzie, on the kind of technical, financial and maintenance support that we're going to be able to provide the Afghans. We are committed to doing that. It will obviously be in an over-the-horizon capacity and the details are still being worked out.

Q: Airport -- are the details still being worked out with Turkey, exactly what they need from the U.S., or in fact maybe nothing from the U.S., and how that transition will take place?

MR. KIRBY: We're still in talks with Turkey about what the security footprint's going to end up looking like at -- at the airport. I will only say, as I said before, we all recognize that security there is going to be critical to being able to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

Q: Regardless of who has the authority, whether it's Vasely whether it's Miller, whether it's McKenzie - Has there been a decision made on what is -- what would require an airstrike from over-the-horizon -- of -- you know, of somebody about to attack the embassy, somebody about to attack the airport, somebody about to attack the palace in Kabul? Has that decision been made?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into rules of engagement Nick, and you know we don't do that, but we will retain over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities, as I said at the outset. Certainly any threats emanating from Afghanistan to our -- our homeland, we're -- we're going to be able to retain the ability to -- to counter those threats.

And as I said to Tara, the -- all of the other authorities that General Miller has right now -- for instance, in helping defend Afghan National Security Forces, still exists, and those authorities will transfer to General McKenzie in the coming weeks and he'll have those.

And I won't really get beyond that. I don't think it's helpful to speculate A - for how long, and B - exactly how they're going to be executed.

Q: And -- and -- and just to ask the question kind of that Afghan government officials are asking -- how is it possible at this point, when -- when we are essentially only in Kabul, have closed Bagram, we are so close to kind of an announcement, if you will, about the end of -- of the U.S. mission, that some of these other details haven't been worked out already?

MR. KIRBY: They are actively being worked right now, Nick. There's -- the -- this is complicated stuff and it's -- and -- and it's more important for us to do this right and to make sure that the solutions are sustainable over time than it is to just slap a solution on it.

And we're confident that in working in concert with our colleagues at the State Department -- we're -- we're confident that we're going to get there. I -- again, I want to remind -- be -- because sometimes I -- I think it's too easy for us to forget, we already possess capabilities -- over-the-horizon capabilities, particularly when it comes to -- to counterterrorism -- you've heard the Secretary said there's not a scrap of earth that we can't hit if we really want to. I mean, you saw it play out over last weekend, didn't you, with -- with the manned aircraft strikes in -- in Iraq and -- and in Syria. We have a capability and so we're going to pursue that.

We also want to pursue options. One of the -- one of the things we're always after, Nick, is more options. And so clearly, we're going to be discussing this, again, with our State Department colleagues, with countries in the region to see what the possibilities for additional options are.

Let me go to Idrees from Reuters.

Q: Hey, John, thanks for doing this. There are obviously still a lot of things that require agreements or decisions -- you know, that -- from the basing in -- in nearby countries to where the SIVs go, how many specific troops will stay in Afghanistan. You know, a -- a -- a bunch of things.

And -- and -- and I'm just wondering, is the Secretary confident that all those things can be agreed and decided upon before the withdrawal is complete, or does he believe many of those things are or some of those things will need to be decided or -- or agreed upon post-September?

MR. KIRBY: Obviously, we'd like to get decisions on many of these initiatives as soon as possible, and you're seeing a lot of concerted effort by the administration and certainly by the Secretary to that end. He's in constant touch with General McKenzie, of course the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley, about these -- the over-the-horizon support for -- for the Afghan National Security Forces, he's in constant touch with the State Department and Secretary Blinken about what we're doing on the -- on -- on the Special Immigrant Visa program, as well as on working with other nations about options there, as well, for over-the-horizon support.

So we're working this very, very hard and it -- what he wants to do, as I said to Nick, he wants to make sure that we get this right and get it done in a sustainable way rather than try to rush to a solution that won't be sustainable over -- over the long term.

So there's a sense of urgency here, but just as importantly, in fact, maybe even more importantly, there's a sense of propriety and that's -- and that's how the Secretary's approaching this.

Q: Can I ask a quick follow up?

MR. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: I just really want to confirm what you were telling (inaudible) -- so the U.S. military still has the authority to -- to protect Afghan forces until the drawdown is complete? After that, it's -- it's unclear. Is that correct?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get to the last -- the prepositional phrase you ended at the last of your question, in terms of timing. What I will tell you is that those authorities still exist, General Miller has them still, and when he transfers authority over U.S. forces in Afghanistan to General McKenzie, General McKenzie will retain those authorities.

Stephen, military.com?

Q: Hi, thank you. Earlier this week, the news broke about the South Dakota National Guard (inaudible) Mexican border being funded by $1 million donation by a private citizen. Does the DOD have any thoughts about the appropriateness of funding this mission with a private donation? Do you have any concerns that this might suggest the National Guard is effectively for hire?

MR. KIRBY: We actually have no additional information or comment to make on Governor Noem's decision. As I understand it, the South Dakota National Guard is not working with the Texas National Guard to coordinate missions, specifics and dates, and I would leave it to the -- the Governor of South Dakota -- this -- to speak more to this decision of hers.

(inaudible)

Q: Thank you, John. On the reduction of the U.S. -- excuse me -- on the reduction of the U.S. forces in Korea -- South Korea, the U.S. Congress proposed legislation to restrict on the reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea. It will be reduced from 28,500 to 22,000. What is the DOD's position on this proposal that the USFK cannot be reduced below 22,000?

MR. KIRBY: We're not going to comment on -- on proposed legislation. That's the -- that's the general rule of thumb. So I won't comment specifically on that.

The only thing I would say is -- well, two things -- one, if -- if there's a law passed that makes -- sets a restriction, we're going to obey the law. Number two, we remain fully committed to our alliance with South Korea. And part of that commitment means having appropriate readiness on the peninsula.

As we say, ready to fight tonight. And that means having appropriate force levels. And what the secretary's focused on is making sure that we are ready in all respects -- all respects to meet our security requirements to the people of South Korea.

As you know, there's a global force posture review ongoing. We expect that work to continue through the summer. And I -- I have no doubt that one of the things they'll be looking at, as they look at the Indo-Pacific region, is our presence on the peninsula and whether we think that that's appropriate -- appropriately resourced to our strategy and to the -- and to the threats and challenges that are there.

Q: Why -- why the defense budget cannot use this for -- I mean, defense budget for -- returning (inaudible) ...

MR. KIRBY: Why can't the defense budget use what?

Q: The reduction for the South Korean -- usually the Congress -- they (inaudible) the defense cannot use for the reduction of U.S. -- (inaudible) ...

MR. KIRBY: Look, I'm not parliamentary expert here. So I don't -- I think, if I understand your question, you're asking why -- why can't they use the NDAA ...

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: ... to put this -- this idea in it? I -- if that's your question, I don't know the answer to that. It's probably better left to somebody who's more educated on this process than me. But again, we -- we obey the law and we're not going to comment on proposed legislation. When proposed legislation becomes law, we obey that law. Separate and distinct from that, our focus is on making sure we can meet our security requirements and commitments on the peninsula. And that's where the secretary is headed.

And again, our global force posture review will be a chance for us to take a look at resourcing on the peninsula and whether we have that right, given this -- given the threats, given the challenges, and given the strategy that we want to pursue in the Indo-Pacific region.

Q: Does this number include the regular (inaudible) of troops, or?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to talk about the proposed legislation, the details. We have -- what, I think 28,000 -- 28,500 right now, right.

Q: 22,000, so there will be 6,500 in ...

MR. KIRBY: You're asking if it gets reduced, what -- what that would look like? Again, that's very speculative right now. We're not in a position to talk about that with any great detail.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome.

Dan?

Q: Yes, is General Miller going to Tajikistan?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to ...

(Laughter.)

... Dan, I'm not going to talk about General Miller's travel over the next couple of weeks. I think you can all understand why we wouldn't do that. As I said, he remains in command. He will remain in command as he begins to prepare the turnover responsibilities to General McKenzie. Some of that turnover process will likely include some travel on his behalf. But we're not going to -- we're not going to get ahead of that travel or speak to the -- the details of it.

Yes, Lucas?

Q: John, the New York Post is reporting that the Defense Department gave about $42 million to the EcoHealth Alliance, the non-profit that funneled money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, for coronavirus research and that included on countering biological weapons? Can you confirm that?

MR. KIRBY: Just saw the story. I'll take the question. I'll take the question.

Q: One more, just a follow-up. Do you know where former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will be buried?

MR. KIRBY: I will leave that discussion to the -- to the family. It's really -- that's -- that's for the family to speak to. And again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the -- former Secretary Rumsfeld's family, loved ones and friends. And we will respect their privacy and their ability to speak to -- to how they want to handle that.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you. Two questions, both on Turkey. One, Turkey rejects and regrets that U.S. (inaudible) Ankara in the list of countries using child soldiers in armed conflicts. And very briefly on the statement, "Striking example of hypocrisy and double standards as the U.S. openly aids, provides weapons to PKK/YPG that forcibly recruits children," says Turkey. And what is your response? And then I'll go ahead and ask another thing -- follow up on this.

MR. KIRBY: Well, I can -- I can make this one easy. That's really a question better put to my State Department colleagues, not for the Defense Department. What's your second question?

Q: Thank you so much. Tomorrow, Turkish President Erdogan will be launching construction of a controversial canal, a man-made artificial canal which is called Canal Istanbul. Will there be an impact on the access of warships? There were discussions over this? And how does Pentagon view it?

MR. KIRBY: I have no idea. But I'll tell you what, I'll take the question. I am not aware of this canal or where it is or what kind of impact it might have. So let me ask my guys.

Q: (inaudible) for Turkey for sure but there are (inaudible), as I said …

MR. KIRBY: I really don't know, ma'am. I'll take the question and we'll see if we can get you a better answer. Sorry about that.

Yes?

Q: I have two questions and one is on -- a basic question on Afghanistan. So when did this withdrawal start, was it on May 1st or is it a couple days earlier in the -- in April? OK? What specific official date of the start of this withdrawal?

MR. KIRBY: Look, I couldn't point to a date on a calendar. The President announced his decision in mid-April. And I think you heard me say even before May 1st that we had begun the drawdown process and that some equipment had already moved before May 1st. The President's direction was to begin it by May 1st. And we were able to begin it before May 1st, but I can't point to a specific day on a calendar. I know that it began before May 1st.

Q: And the second question is there -- has there been a report that the United States' military and the Japanese Self-Defense Force have been conducting a joint exercise on the Taiwan crisis. And can you confirm this report?

MR. KIRBY: We -- we -- I -- we are, yes, conducting a bilateral exercise with Japan. I'm not going to talk about the specific exercise scenarios. We constantly look for opportunities to prepare and to train and to improve our interoperability and test our -- our combined capabilities. But I won't speak to specific exercise scenarios.

Q: Following up on my original question about August, you say that the plan is to be out by the end of August. Is that the same as saying that the plan is keep forces there until the end of August?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to parse the words too much. We -- as I said at the outset, the president's direction was to be out by early September. We believe that we'll be able to complete the draw down process by the end of August, and that's our best estimate right now, and that's what we're driving towards is to be -- to complete the draw down process by the end of August.

There's a lot that goes into the draw down process. I won't speak to specific numbers of troops at any one particular time, but what we want to get to by the end of August is that level of force presence that's required to protect our diplomatic presence there, and that's going to be the focus of that presence when we get to that point.

Q: Set a moving target, by definition you said it was going to be September, now it's August -- could it be the end of July?

MR. KIRBY: I would not want to speculate, but right now we believe that we can complete this process by the end of August.

Q: Following (Inaudible) question, has the Pentagon been ordered to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY: There's been no orders to speed up.

Q: It was September, now it's August. How should we infer that then?

MR. KIRBY: If it's that big of a difference -- early September to the end of August is not a dramatic difference, Lucas. And as I said, we believe we can be done by then.

Q: Some people are uncomfortable with the 9/11 date, is that why the date has changed?

MR. KIRBY: There's no change to date, we have to be out by early September. The President said by early September.

Q: (Inaudible) change of date -- we're going from September to the end of August, that sounds like a change.

MR. KIRBY: It's a change of month, I mean, it's not a change of date. And it's based on our assessment of progress to date. And we're trying to be as transparent about it as we can be. I can't give you a date certain in August, but we believe we'll be able to complete the process by the end of August.

Q: Withdraw is not being sped up?

MR. KIRBY: Withdraw is not being sped up, yes.

Q: As a follow-up on that, I mean, fundamentally are we talking about the airport then? Like, if we're -- you know, if you say by the end of August the focus is on diplomats. Right now we just closed Bagram, what is left between Bagram and the embassy? It seems like we're talking about the airport, right?

MR. KIRBY: I think there's a -- security at the airport is still a concern, let me just put it that way. And of course we are still obviously going to be concerned with what the right presence is to protect our diplomatic presence there. And there's still some analytical work being done to this, and again, I won't get into more detail than that.

Q: A follow-up on basing. This week the Secretaries met with the foreign ministers of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, are those the two primary candidates for maybe a nearby base for operating and continue that over the horizon in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY: I think it's safe to assume that we in concert with our State Department colleagues are talking to neighboring nations, and trying to explore over the horizon opportunities that might exist there. I won't -- I'll let those two nations speak for themselves, but I think it's safe to assume we are talking to a range of neighboring nations about the possibilities.

Q: And specific to Uzbekistan, it's also almost 20 years to the day that U.S. forces first arrived at K2 in response to the September 11 attacks, and many of them consequently become very sick or died because of the toxic exposure there. Has that been brought up in discussions if U.S. forces are sent back to Uzbekistan, would K2 be a location? Or would there need to be some cleanup there for that to ever be a candidate base?

MR. KIRBY: Let's not get ahead of process here. No decisions have been made. I don't think that's helpful to speculate. We are mindful, the secretary is mindful of the toxic exposure caused by K2. And he has talked about this on more than one occasion with Secretary McDonough at the VA.

We know -- all of us know that this has to be taken seriously, and that we have responsibilities to the service members who were thus affected, that's never far from our mind. But I won't get into specifics about what facilities might be used in what countries, we're just not at that point right now, (Inaudible).

I've still got some on the phone here.

Tony? Nope. Maybe (inaudible) not there.

Q: John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: I thought I could get away with it.

Q: OK.

MR. KIRBY: I've got you.

Q: OK, two quick ones. At what point will the Pentagon be able to outline in some broad scale what this over the horizon capability is going to consist of? So that it's not just seen as some mythical capability that you're laying (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: Nothing mythical about it, (inaudible). It exists, it's tangible. All of you have seen it. We have those capabilities. We want to have more options for those capabilities, clearly, and that's why we're having discussions with neighboring nations, as possibilities there. There's nothing mythical about that, it's hard (inaudible) work to make sure that we have as many options and capabilities available to us as possible. As for the when, as I said earlier we're working on this very hard.

The secretary certainly understands the importance of continuing the efforts on this -- getting it right and getting it done in a sustainable way, and that's what he's focused on. What I can assure you without pointing to a date on the calendar is that when we're able to speak to the options that are available to us, we'll be able to do that.

But obviously if we're talking about doing this in a foreign nation that foreign nation also has equities, also has to have decision space -- and also should be allowed to speak for those equities and for those responsibilities. And so we're going to respect that process as well.

Q: OK, I have a quick one on -- yesterday the Air Force was allowed to award a $2 billion contract to Raytheon for a new nuclear cruise missile. My question is this, why award a contract when you're just starting this nuclear posture review?

MR. KIRBY: The LRSO system that you're talking about adds a key component of the modernized air leg of the triad, and you've heard the Secretary talk about his belief that the nuclear triad does remain a bedrock of our national defense.

The Air Force contract action that you're talking about continues the engineering and the development activities for the LRSO program. The budget, the '22 budget request supports our efforts to modernize the nuclear triad. It funds all critical nuclear modernization efforts and helps ensure that modern replacements will be available before aging systems reach the end of their extended service lives.

So we're going to continue to look at these issues in the context of both the nuclear posture review, and the budget process as we continue with nuclear modernization we're going to continually review ongoing programs to assess their performance, schedule risks, and projected costs so you can define the right balance of maintaining the necessary nuclear capabilities with cost effective solutions.

Q: Another one. Last...

MR. KIRBY: I think Tony might have had one objection. Go ahead, Tony?

Q: I -- no, I just (inaudible) you get a review just starting and you're obligation $2 billion. What if the review comes out and says, hey, we don't need this missile? Then you're on the hook to cancel the contract.

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of the review process, Tony, but as I said we're going top be informed by both the nuclear posture review and the budget process. The budget process also has to be respected, and I think we want to -- we want to make sure that as we move forward it's moving forward in both lanes.

And again, I don't know that it would be helpful to speculate about the outcome there, but it's being reviewed and looked at in the context of both of those processes in parallel.

Q: OK, thank you.

Q: Thank you, John. Do you have any information about the North Korean leader Kim John-un lose weight?

MR. KIRBY: No. I do not, ma'am.

Q: Thank you. Apologies if you've already covered this, but as the concerns about the Delta variant rise in the general population, has there been any additional concerns about that spreading within the military?

MR. KIRBY: I mean, we're watching the science very closely. I don't have an update for you. We had a briefing here with COVID experts just the other day on Wednesday. I couldn't add to their expertise clearly, but we're watching the science on this very, very closely. Our information tells us that the vaccines that we're administering are safe and effective, and again, we continue to encourage everybody inside DOD to get vaccinated.

All right. Thank you, guys. Thank you.