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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Okay.  Just a couple of things to start off with here.

I think as you saw yesterday, we announced that the Pentagon reservation will now to go to force health protection level Alpha tomorrow morning.  This change is not a return to pre-COVID-19 normal, and we're going to continue to -- to -- we're going to continue force health protection measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our workforce.

And one change is that the occupancy goal will be to no more than 90 percent of personnel in workspaces.  However, this is a maximum goal and not a target to achieve immediately.

HPCON Alpha is not re-entry or a return to the Pentagon workplace.  It provides the department more flexibility to meet our national security mission while allowing more occupants to be in the workspace to support classified missions.

The department will continue to work with the Office of Management and Budget and the White House Safe Federal Workplace Task Force to finalize the department's re-entry plan.  We will continue to use maximum telework opportunities and flexible scheduling, and we're only going to bring in employees as needed to support their mission and to implement the secretary's priorities while keep our focus, of course, on defeating COVID.

Other changes under HPCON Alpha are outlined in the director administration and management memo, which is available on if you haven't seen it.

Lastly, Secretary Austin's looking forward to welcoming the French minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, to the Pentagon tomorrow.  Of course, we'll post a -- a readout following that meeting.

And with that, we'll go to some questions.  We'll start with Lita.

Q:  Thanks, John.

A couple things on the president speech on Afghanistan.  Can you say what, if any, progress the Defense Department is making on the -- I'm sorry, on the over-the-horizon negotiations?

And can you talk a little bit about the Taliban and what progress they've made on district takeovers?  How far do you think they've gotten?  I've heard over a hundred.  At this point can you talk a little bit about what the situation is on the ground with the Taliban?

Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  So, on over-the-horizon capabilities, we continue to explore additional over-the-horizon capabilities with neighboring nations.  I don't have any agreements that are inked to read out to you today.

But General McKenzie, our State Department colleagues, and, of course, the secretary himself is exploring this daily.  We're still working -- working through this.

I would hasten to add, as you've heard me do in the past, that we already have over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities at our disposal.  And it's fairly robust, even.  I mean, we've got a sizable footprint in the Middle East and facilities ashore that we can utilize with fixed-wing air -- air assets, both manned and unmanned, in the region.  As well as a carrier strike group in -- in waters not far from Afghanistan that -- that continues to provide additional capabilities.

So we -- we are making progress, we are working this very, very hard, and as we get solutions that we can talk to we certainly will do that.

But I do want to make sure it's very clear to the American people that we already have in place robust, capable over-the-horizon capability to -- to continue to get at the terrorist threats that are affecting the homeland.

I would also add -- and we've talked about this before -- but the -- the terrorist threat -- certainly the more significant terrorist threats to our interest and the interest of our friends and partners has metastasized outside Afghanistan.  We aren't seeing the same level of -- of terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan that we once did.

And that's a big reason why, in fact, the president ordered the drawdown.  I mean, we had accomplished the mission of -- of not getting attacked from Afghanistan here on the homeland over the last 20 years.

Doesn't mean we're taking an eye off the ball, doesn't mean we're not going to try to maintain a focus on this or continue to have the -- the authorities and the capabilities to go after terrorists that -- that threaten the homeland from Afghanistan.  But there are other places that that threat has metastasized to:  Africa, other places in the Middle East that -- that were also -- that we need to be focused on too.

Your second question on the Taliban, I don't have an up-to-date operational assessment of Taliban advances.  As you know, we don't talk about intelligence assessments and I don't want to get into the habit of reading out, you know, the Taliban's military strategy.

They have taken dozens of -- of district centers, that is -- that is true.  And we believe that they mean to threaten provincial centers as well.  But I don't want to -- I just don't think it'll be useful for me to get into a tick-tock of -- of everything they've been doing on the ground.

We are mindful of the security situation.  We are mindful of the Taliban's advances.  And -- and that's why it is so important for us to continue to press for a negotiated political settlement to this war.  That's why it is so important, as you heard the president just say, for the Afghan government and the Afghan military to use the capacity and the capability that they have, and that we have helped me them engender over the last 20 years, to defend themselves, their -- their -- their government, and their territory, and their people.


Q:  Thanks, John.

The president said that the interpreters might be moved to facilities outside the continental United States.  That is fairly limiting in the number of OCONUS facilities:  potentially bases at Guam or -- could you talk a little bit about what these potential facilities could be that the interpreters could be sent to?

MR. KIRBY:  So a couple of thoughts there.

You heard the president say that U.S. installations overseas as well as third countries, and we are looking at a range of options in that regard.

You said it was limiting; I think I would challenge that presumption.  You also heard the president say that of the 2,500 or so that have worked their way through the SIV process to that point, that less than half of them have indicated a willingness to move at this point.

So the numbers wouldn't necessarily connote to a level that was so high that we couldn't manage it with either a range -- well, with a range of U.S. installations overseas, U.S. military installations, or third countries.

Again, we're still working at this very hard with -- with countries in and out of the region.  And, as I said before, the department is looking very hard at installations, overseas installations that we possess, or that we're, you know, using that might -- that might prove valuable.

Q:  Two follow-ups to that.  Has DOD been requested by State to look at specific installations to potentially house the interpreters?

MR. KIRBY:  It's less about State asking us to look at specific installations, Tara, as it is about our task in this inter-agency process is to look at our installations overseas and to recommend to State and to DHS what installations we think might fill the need.  And I think, again, depending on the numbers here, we don't have a perfect sense of what the demand signal is going to be.

But I -- what we're assuming is that we've got to have some flexible options here, that it's not just going to be one and done, like, you know, one installation and that's it and they all have to go there.  We want to preserve some flexibility in the process to -- again, to be able to absorb numbers as they flex up or down.  So I would anticipate that -- that we would -- we would want to be ready as a government for a range of different places that they -- that they can go to as they continue to process their way through the system.

Q:  Okay.  Last one.  Just a follow-up to Lita's question on the over-the-horizon.  When we've asked this in the past, you've often said, you know, we do already have a robust over-the-horizon response and ability.  So I guess my question is, why then would you need to negotiate additional -- why is there a need for additional sites?

MR. KIRBY:  Same reason I just gave you with SIVs, flexibility, options.  One of the things that we prize highly here at the Pentagon is options, and being agile and being nimble in case you need to do something differently.  Plus, look, geography is geography, Tara, and so the options that we have available to us, though they are robust and though -- and we are using them, there is a geography component here.  I mean, there is great distances to cover.  So obviously we would also like to pursue the possibility of capabilities that are closer to Afghanistan.  And that's really what -- that's where the headspace is right now.


Q:  One follow-up on the ISR theme.  And I had a broader question.  The president said we were -- our eyes will be firmly fixed on Afghanistan.  That applies in the military technical world, possibly persistent intelligent surveillance, reconnaissance drones, Rivet Joints, all your electronic combat planes and drones.  Is that what he's referring to, that a persistent air presence outside looking in to Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  Without getting into too much specifics on intel assets and resources, Tony, I think you can expect that we plan to use a range of ISR capabilities at our disposal.  And we also intend to leverage the strong relationship we have with the Afghan forces, who will still be on the ground and who will still have information in context that they can now provide us.  I mean, we're not walking away from that relationship.  We're certainly not going to walk away from the knowledge, the context, the cultural understanding that our Afghan partners will be able to provide as well.

Q:  I need to ask you a broad question.  Pulling together some of this, the threads that came out of the White House, the press conference today, the president disclosed there is about 75,000 Taliban, that's a new figure, arrayed against about 3 -- over 300,000 Afghan security forces --

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, sure.

Q:  -- well-equipped, we've spent like $74 billion on them over the last 20 years, according to SIGAR.  The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army.  Afghans are well-equipped.  But as we leave, the Taliban controls more territory now than they did in 2001.  From a non -- from a broad military perspective, can you tell us why the Taliban has been so resilient given the forces arrayed against them and the dollars we've spent over there?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't want to be in a position where I'm defending the -- tactics and the strategy of the Taliban.  They have never not wanted to have governance capability in Afghanistan.

I mean, this has been a persistent goal of theirs.  And -- and they are able to operate inside the population, you know, in ways that official uniformed personnel are not able to do necessarily as easily or as adeptly.  And they also -- unlike the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, I mean -- they use intimidation and torture and cruel methods to achieve their ends through fear and -- and intimidation.

And I can't speak for why they -- you know, I can't speak for why that's necessarily more effective than -- than other strategies in Afghanistan.

But I -- I think, don't -- don't miss the larger point here that I think the president was trying to make.  That -- that over the last 20 years, whether you are one who is in favor of -- of the mission or not, over the last 20 years through great blood and treasure, we and our allies -- and it hasn't just been the United States -- have helped build a capacity inside the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, which is impressive.

They have an air force -- a competent air force -- the Taliban has none.  They do have more forces in the field than what we estimate the Taliban to have.  And they have modern weaponry and they have had the training to use that weaponry.

The -- the question -- and this is what the president was getting at -- was, you know, are they going to use that capacity.  Do they have that will to use that capacity?  We know they're fighters and they have been in the fight.  They have taken a lot of casualties over the last year alone.  You guys have all covered that.

There's not an issue about bravery or courage here.  So the question is now, for them, are they going to -- are they -- are they willing and able to come together as a government and use that capacity that -- that they have.  And they will do it -- again as the president said just a little bit ago, they'll do it with our help.

It's not like, you know, we're clapping hands and walking away.  They're still going to get financial support.  The president just pledged, I think, another $300 million.  We're -- we're going to continue to work on improving their air force and their air force capabilities.

The secretary just recently in -- agreed to -- to help them -- to deliver another two this month -- deliver two refurbished UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with another 35 to come.  We're going to help manage an overhaul process for some of their Mi-17 helicopters.  And we're going to purchase another three Super Tucano AH-29 aircraft for them --

Q:  A-29 --

MR. KIRBY:  -- A-29, sorry -- A-29 aircraft.

So I mean, we're committed in very tangible ways to improving their air force capabilities.  And we're also going to be working to provide logistical or maintenance support for -- for their forces going forward.

Q:  All right, thanks.  And one -- you were a spokesman for General Allen there in Afghanistan --

MR. KIRBY:  I was.

Q:  -- like, nine years ago or so.  So to what extent is the Taliban's resilience a product of the fact that Pakistan has allowed the Haqqani Network, and other organizations of the Taliban, to use their safe haven -- use their territory to refurbish and go back into Afghanistan?  Is that one of the historic reasons for their resilience?

MR. KIRBY:  The -- the safe havens along that border have historically been a problem, there's no question about that.  And -- and we know that the Taliban has used -- have been able to use safe havens along that -- that spine to refurbish, to retrain, to replenish themselves, to plan.  And that's something that we are in constant communication with -- with Pakistan about.

I would also remind, and I think it's too easy to forget, that Pakistan itself has -- had become victim to terrorist networks operating out of that same -- those same -- some of those same safe havens.  So it's a problem that they share too.  And we're going to continue to -- to work with them about how to better close out those -- close down those safe havens.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  Let me -- let me go to the phone.  If I don't then I get in trouble.  So we'll just -- we'll keep -- we'll keep moving around.  Here it is here, I'm sorry.  Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times.

Q:  Hi.  Thanks.

If I could switch to COVID for a second, I wondered if you had anything more to update us on the status of possible mandated vaccines?

And also, do you have any visibility into why there are such pretty broad, notable differences in vaccine acceptance rates between the service branches?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't answer the second question for you, Jennifer.  I think that's really a question better -- better asked of the services themselves.

I would say, and -- and you hear us talk about this a few days ago, I mean we're at almost 70 percent of DOD personnel with one dose.  So I think we're glad to see that.  We obviously want to see that number keep going up.

But as for the differences between the services, I don't have an analysis here for you and I'd refer you to the services.

On the -- the mandatory versus voluntary, again, it is -- the vaccines are under emergency use authorization right now and so they are voluntary.  And with the acceptance rates across the force that we're seeing, we're glad to see that with a voluntary vaccine we're doing that well.

If these vaccines are approved by the FDA, then the secretary will certainly talk to the services and health care professionals here at the department to determine what the best options are going forward, which could include making them mandatory.

But I don't want to get ahead of that process.  You know we're going to wait and see what the FDA does and what they decide and then we'll move forward.

It is not uncommon, in fact, it is quite common, that FDA-approved vaccines are mandatory in the service.  Having been in the Navy myself for nearly 30 years, I can tell you I've be stuck quite a bit and it wasn't like I was asking for every one of those.  It is -- it's common here.

But I don't want to get ahead of the process.  And we're going to do this the right way and we're going to do it in concert with service leadership and healthcare professionals.


Q:  How concerned are you about the attacks of the last few days on U.S. soldiers and facilities in Iraq and Syria?

MR. KIRBY:  Obviously deeply concerned.  We take the security and safety of our people overseas extremely seriously.  And you've seen us retaliate appropriately when that safety and security has been threatened.

So we're obviously watching this with -- with great concern.  As you saw just a couple of days ago we had a couple of minor injuries.  So it's not something that we're ever -- that we ever lose sight of.

If you're -- well, you didn't ask..  


Q:  I wanted to know -- no, no, since -- since you're giving me a chance --

MR. KIRBY:  All right, go ahead.  I did.  I walked into it.

Q:  -- is it -- is it -- is it -- I understand but -- what you said obviously, but I want to ask more about how threatening, how dangerous, what's happening.  Or is it just a low level -- what's happening in there?

MR. KIRBY:  These -- these attacks are -- they're using lethal weapons.  I don't know how you can say anything other than it's a serious threat.

We were -- we were lucky the other day.  Two people had minor injuries.  Who knows how else that could have turned out?  We take each one of these deadly serious.

Q:  I've got a question for Afghanistan.  First on Pakistan.  What kind of commitment and assurance have you received from Pakistan that they will not let territories to be used as a safe haven for terrorists?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I won't talk for the Pakistani government.  I'm certainly not going to divulge conversations that we're having with Pakistani leaders.

I think my answer to -- to Tony was appropriate.  This is something that we are -- that we routinely talk to Pakistan about.  It is a concern that Pakistanis share.  And they too have suffered at the hands of these groups operating out of those safe havens.

It's a difficult problem to solve.  We know there's more work that needs to be done.  And we're -- we're going to continue to have those conversations with our Pakistani counterparts.

Q:  And one of the stated goals of the Obama-Biden administration for being in Afghanistan was to destroy, dismantle and defeat the terrorist (inaudible) and Taliban in particular.  And now since they are gaining so much ground in Afghanistan, do you think that goal has been achieved there?

MR. KIRBY:  I think you're understanding the goal incorrectly.  The goal was deter, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaida and that -- and that has been accomplished.

Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't still Al-Qaida operatives or cells in Afghanistan.  I'm not saying that they aren't.  But they are nothing like the organization they were on 9/11 20 years ago.

And that's a real testament to the hard work that our men and women in uniform accomplished, our Afghan partners accomplished, and our NATO and coalition allies accomplished in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.  They are a greatly reduced threat.  They're still there, but they're a greatly reduced threat.

Q:  And one final question on, as you withdraw from Afghanistan, what is the message that you want to send to two countries in the region, Iran and India?

MR. KIRBY:  As we withdraw out of Afghanistan?  If you're asking what message that we have to send to them that has to do with Afghanistan, I think the president -- I think the president covered this quite well today when he was taking questions:  that -- that we want all countries in the region to want the same thing that we want for the Afghans, which is peace and security and stability and an Afghan-led negotiated process that leads to a political settlement that is -- that is up to the Afghans, and for their future to be determined by them.

So our hope is that other nations in the region, whatever they do, whatever their bilateral relations are with Afghanistan, it is to support that end, a negotiated peaceful solution, so that it doesn't render into civil war, and that there's an Afghanistan that is peaceful, prosperous and secure going forward that the Afghan people own that -- that it's -- that -- that they decide; a future that they decide.

And that's what we want all of the countries to take to heart too.

Q:  Thank you.  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  Let's see, Carla Babb.

Q:  Hey, John.

I wanted to talk about what you had mentioned about the terror groups metastasizing in Africa.  And then I have a quick follow on that related as well.  So please guys in the back room don't cut my mic.

I -- on Africa, POTUS has also said what you have said today and said that the U.S. was repositioning its resources to -- to tackle these threats.  So, you know, is the U.S. sending troops back to Somalia?  Are you putting more forces in the Sahel?  How precisely is the U.S. going to be changing its security posture on the continent?

MR. KIRBY:  Carla, I think you can understand why we wouldn't necessarily detail troop movements or force presence in advance, particularly when we're talking about a counterterrorism threat.

I would just say a couple of things.  We -- one, we are doing the global posture review that should end -- that should be wrapped up here towards the end of the summer.  That will greatly inform the secretary with respect to resources around the world to include counter-terror resources in places like the Sahel or the Horn of Africa, places where -- Yemen, all around the world where we see the counterterrorist -- counterterrorism threat metastasizing.

And I don't want to get ahead of that review.  But short of that review, the secretary is in constant touch with his combatant commanders about the threats and challenges as they see them.  And we're constantly making operational decisions about force posture in relation to that.

I simply am just not going to be, at the podium, able to telegraph some of these in advance.  When and if we can talk about these kinds of operations, we certainly will.  There's going to be times when we're simply not going to be able to do that.

The last thing I'll say to answer your question is we are absolutely laser-focused on the metastasization of this particular threat and the migration of it outside of Afghanistan, and where it's going and what they're trying to do.  I mean, it's something that we're -- that we're literally looking at every single day.  And we want to be as nimble and as flexible as we can.

Part of being a -- you know, part of drawing down from Afghanistan is being able then to refocus our efforts in this regard.  It is also giving us an opportunity to refocus our departmental efforts against other nation-state and in some cases -- you know, like climate change -- literally existential threats and challenges that the department is also facing.

So it does help us free up resources in both dollars and in people to focus on these other threats around the world.

Q:  And then -- so when experts have referred to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, to follow on this, they've called it terrorism central.  There's still 20 or so terrorism groups there.

So when you said that the terror threat has metastasized, does that mean specifically -- help me understand that a little better.  Are they strong now elsewhere than they are in this Afghanistan-Pakistan region?  Larger numbers, greater capabilities to attack the homeland, what exactly are you talking about?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  What I'm talking about, Carla, is that we're -- what -- we're not seeing the -- the sorts of threats to the homeland emanating from Afghanistan the way they did in 2001 or even in years subsequent to 2001.  We're simply not seeing that.

And we don't want to see it return, which is why the president talked today about being so focused on making sure that we're able to watch what's going on in Afghanistan from a persistent perspective and to be able to act on that -- that knowledge as quickly as possible so that it can't -- that that threat can't rise to the level that it was in 2001 from Afghanistan.  So we're just not seeing the same level of terrorist threat out of Afghanistan at that level.

There are other places where the threat of terrorism is growing.  Now, is it growing to the level that, you know, I can stand here and predict that -- an immediate attack on the homeland?  No.  But we are seeing the terrorism threat migrate to other places around the world, particularly in -- in Africa, and that's something we need to be focused on.

Yes, Oren?

Q:  John, I was just wondering if you could provide more information on which specific U.S. facilities have been identified as part of the SIV applicant process to hold them as, their visas or -- or what region at least?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to be able to detail specific installations.  We're just not at that point right now to be able to -- to list them.  There are several U.S. military installations overseas that are being considered.

And regionally I -- you know, I'd say almost -- almost globally in terms of where they're -- where we're looking at.  There's not -- like, one part of the world, you know, that we're -- that we're solely focused on in terms of where we could -- where we could house some of these individuals.  It's -- it's -- it's truly, sort of, a global look.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Lucas?

Q:  John, if the Taliban have taken over dozen of district centers in Afghanistan why aren't you launching air strikes to support the Afghan government?

MR. KIRBY:  I would tell you that, again, we still have the authorities to -- to support Afghan National Security Forces in the field.  Those decisions are and will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis, Lucas.

I'm not prepared to go through the rules of engagement here with you in this forum.  But it is obviously -- as the drawdown continues, some of the -- some of the -- some of those capabilities will change over time.

But it's also really important that -- that the Afghans stand up to this threat.  And -- and it -- and it's not like they aren't, everywhere, Lucas.  It -- it's -- the narrative that -- that they aren't pushing back, that they aren't fighting, that they're not capable -- that's not what we're seeing.

So it's -- it's import that -- that they continue to use the capacity that they have, including their own air force which does have strike capabilities -- competent strike capabilities.

Q:  But if you have all the authorities you need, you have an aircraft carrier sitting in the Arabian Sea, you have 44 Super Hornets, why aren't you unleashing those jets on the Taliban to help your Afghan partners?

MR. KIRBY:  We are helping our Afghan partners, Lucas.

And the focus -- the -- the focus right now militarily is to get -- to get the drawdown complete, to do that in a safe way, to transition to a new relationship with our Afghan partners, and to help reinforce for the Afghan government and the Afghan forces the capacities that they have -- that they -- that they already have intrinsic to them.

I won't get into a case-by-case -- this is in, this is out -- discussion here from the podium.  I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that.

But they already have a lot of capability at their disposal to assist themselves in these efforts.  And I would remind you that in the year or so before the president announced the drawdown Afghans were in the lead of the great majority of operations inside their country -- in the lead for almost every perspective.

Q:  No one believes that...

MR. KIRBY:  Do -- no one believes that, Lucas, or you don't believe that?

Q:  Yes, I think a lot of us do not believe that the Afghans are in the lead for all these operations you're talking about.

MR. KIRBY:  They were in the lead for the vast majority of the operations in their country over the last year.  And maybe you don't believe that.  That's fine.

Q:  A separate -- on a separate topic, you mentioned China earlier on climate change.  Does the Pentagon believe that China is a trusted agent when it comes to dealing with climate change?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we have concerns about -- about some of China's policies with respect to environmental protection.  There's no question about that.

But we also believe and -- that -- that in the area of climate change that is something that could be an area for better cooperation with China.  There's no reason why it shouldn't be, since it affects everybody in the world.  China is a great producer of carbon emissions.  They have responsibilities on the international stage with respect to climate change and we want to see them meet those responsibilities.

Q:  Are you concerned that the growing need for solar panels from this administration -- they come from China, there's some slave labor that goes into them.  And there are concerns that Chinese solar panels are -- do you have any concerns about them, just solar panels that China makes?

MR. KIRBY:  That's not a question, I think, for the Defense Department.  Appreciate that, but I would -- I'd refer you, I think, to the EPA on something like that.  That's not really a question I'm qualified to answer, Lucas.

Yes, Luis?

Q:  Just following up on Oren and Tara's questions about the U.S. facilities overseas.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  If they're in third countries --

MR. KIRBY:  Potentially.

Q:  -- potentially if they are, does that mean that these U.S. facilities need the permission of the host country for this --

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  -- to happen?  And since the president did say, you know, starting this month --

MR. KIRBY:  Right.

Q:  -- does that mean that you are on the verge of getting approval from, potentially, some of these countries?

MR. KIRBY:  The short answer to your first question is yes.  Now, some U.S. installations that we're looking at are ours, on U.S. territory, right.  Some would be installations that don't belong to us, that are in host nations, but that we have access to and that we're using.  And yes, absolutely you would have to talk to the host nation about that and make sure that you have their permission and approval.

And then there are some possibilities and options in third nations or other nations, at locations that have nothing to do with U.S. military that -- you know, we're not -- we're not in and we don't use.  But just other nations that might be willing to take some of these people in temporarily.

So again to Tara's question, there's a range of options that we're looking at.  I'm not going to get ahead of the decision-making process.  You heard the president say that we're going to start moving them out very, very soon and -- over the course of the next couple -- two, three weeks.

And we all -- we're all mindful of that timeline and that -- and that goal.  But as to exactly where the first group are going to go, I just -- I'm not prepared to speak with that level of specificity right now.

Q:  And aside from these U.S. facilities, which we can assume are U.S. military for the most part, would there be any role in -- for the U.S. military to evacuate some of these personnel?  Or is this possibly just, again, whole-of-government chartered aircraft (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  I think some of this remains to be seen.  As I said the other day, the State Department is in the lead and the State Department knows how to do this.  This is not their first turn at this, especially with the Special Immigrant Visa Program.  And they typically use chartered aircraft, commercial aircraft that's chartered by the government to -- to -- to fly -- to fly people out.

I think that's probably the -- going to be the preferred option here going forward, Luis.  Obviously we have transportation capabilities that, if needed, we would be able to lend to the effort.  I'm not seeing that right now in terms of a huge demand signal for it.

The other thing -- and again, the president alluded to this -- is -- is how many takers are you going to have, because that could also drive capacity.  So again, I think there's -- there's a lot of questions we still have to answer.

Right now, our focus in this interagency process is on identifying installations -- military installations that could be of use for this temporary housing.  And -- and we obviously will be prepared if we're asked to -- if we're needed to expand those requirements beyond just installation and identification.  But that's where we are right now.

Stephen Losey,

Q:  Thank you.

Continuing on that subject, can -- can you talk to me -- talk to us a little bit about what the -- what Afghans are supposed to be doing to prepare for the process of this potential evacuation?  There are people who still haven't heard anything about what might be coming or what they're supposed to do.

Is the -- is the State Department or the DOD going to reach out to these people and say, "You need to come to X airport at this time to go here"?

I mean, this seems like a very elaborate process that is -- that needs to happen in the next, you know, month or two, and there's still -- nobody's been told what they're supposed to do.

MR. KIRBY:  I can't speak for my colleagues at the State Department and the -- and the specific notifications and communications that they're having with individuals.  That's really a question for -- for my colleagues over there, because it is under the Special Immigrant Visa Program and that is run by the State Department.

But I do know from prior experience at the State Department that there is a process for doing that; for -- for communicating with individuals who have qualified.  And as the president said, that the -- that the first group we're talking about are groups -- are individuals who have gone through almost all the approval process.

So certainly, our State Department colleagues know who they are.  And they'll -- and they do have procedures and protocols in place to communicate with them.

I just can't speak to each individual case, Stephen, to tell you who -- who's -- who's getting a call and -- and who isn't.  That's really a -- a question better put for my colleagues at the State Department.

I'm afraid I have time just for just one more and then I'm going to have to get going.  Yes.

Q:  Hi, John.

There was an unconfirmed report this week that Turkey may be looking to deploy Syrian mercenaries to Afghanistan in support of a potential Kabul Airport mission.

It's an unconfirmed report, but given that Turkey has deployed Syrian mercenaries to other conflicts (inaudible), you know, in North Africa and the region, in the Caucus, can you say unequivocally that this would not be acceptable to the United States if there's going to be cooperation with Turkey on Kabul Airport?

MR. KIRBY:  I have not seen that -- that press reporting.  I'm certainly not in a position to confirm the -- that report.

I think broadly speaking, without getting into that specific press report, we believe that security at the airport is absolutely critical for being able to have a diplomatic presence.  And not just our diplomatic presence, but the diplomatic presence of other nations who want to stay in -- in Kabul and Afghanistan.  Point one.

Point two, because it's so critical, we would want -- we would -- it would be -- it would be extraordinarily important to us that that security presence be competent and capable and subject to international -- international rule of law, and the -- the proper -- proper conduct and behavior for international security forces; that they would be responsible to those protocols and accountable to those kinds of protocols.  I think that's about as far as I'll go.

Okay, guys, thank you very much.