Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby and Major General Hank Taylor, Deputy Director of the Joint Staff For Regional Operations Press Briefing

Aug. 25, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby; Major General Hank Taylor, Deputy Director of the Joint Staff For Regional Operations, J-35

MAJOR GENERAL HANK TAYLOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here this morning. Like yesterday, I'll provide an update on the Afghan operations, and then follow with a short operational update on our operations in -- in Haiti.

U.S. and coalition troops maintain security at the Kabul airport, and this security continues to allow for the evacuation operations in allowing to us to remain to process people in to become ready to fly. Our focus is continuing to get as many people out as efficiently and safely as possible. 

In the past 24 hours, we exceeded the previous 24-hour flight departures and evacuated a number of passengers nearing the previous day's record. Yesterday, 42 U.S. military aircraft, of which were 37 C-17s and five C-130s, departed with approximately 11,200 personnel. Combined with our 48 coalition and allied partners with those departures, an additional 7,800 personnel left Kabul. That is 90 flights total yesterday that left the Kabul airport. That is -- accounted for 19,000 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan within a 24-hour period.

Since the U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation to date, approximately 88,000 have safely departed from Afghanistan. Every 39 minutes yesterday, a plane departed Kabul airport. These numbers are a testament to the hard-working and brave servicemembers carrying out this mission. 

In cooperation with the State Department, I can also tell you that there are more than 10,000 people currently at this time at the airport awaiting departure. This is a snapshot in time, and as we said yesterday, will continue to change as more people are able to come onto the airfield and as flights depart. As I said yesterday, in order for this throughput to remain steady, we depend on capacity and efficiency of our intermediate staging bases and safe havens. 

We are appreciative of the support and rely on our allies and partners in this global endeavor. In the EUCOM AOR (U.S. European Command area of responsibility), six flights will transport about 1,800 vulnerable Afghans from Germany to the United States today. In addiction -- in addition, approximately 2,000 more will arrive. In this case, Ramstein Air Base, Germany is scheduled to receive approximately 13 flights. Since August 20th, EUCOM has assisted approximately 10,000 vulnerable Afghans and evacuees for transit to onward locations. You will likely hear more details today at the planned press schedule with Mr. Kirby, and plan for General Wolters later today. 

Several thousand evacuees have arrived in the United States so far, and will continue to do so. In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,200 passengers. As part of this process, these individuals completed biometric vetting and screening in accordance with the FBI, NCTC (National Counterterrorism Center) and Customs and Border Control standards, all directed by the Department of Homeland Security. We are working around the clock to provide safe, sanitary and appropriate receptions at processing at all of our locations throughout the world. 

We know you have questions about our current timeline and intent for departure. Our mission remains unchanged. For each day of this operation, we have carried out the direction of the president and the secretary of defense. Until that mission changes, we will continue to put forth our maximum effort to safely evacuate as many people as possible, and we will keep you updated. 

Lastly, I want to give you a -- a short update on -- on Haiti. The Department of Defense and U.S. Southern Command are -- continue to be in full support of USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) as the lead federal agency. The USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance team has been on the ground since the beginning, and we've been supporting them since then, as have a lot of our allies and partners, working with international community to identify points of need. This lifesaving aid and assistance mission is where DOD's unique capabilities, specifically in airlift and logistics, are engaged each day to get that lifesaving aid where it needs to be rapidly.

As of late last evening, JTF (Joint Task Force) Haiti has conducted over 364 full-spectrum missions, both with the DOD assets and the United States Coast Guard, which have assisted or saved over 436 lives and delivered over 163 [163,000] pounds of vital aid as of late yesterday. Thank you.

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, good morning, everybody. Just one more note, and then we'll -- we'll get to questions.

I think you may have seen now, we have released the secretary's memo with respect to mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19. He has determined, after careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and of course, with the support of the president, that mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is necessary to protect the safety of our servicemembers and our force. 

Mandatory vaccination will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration, in accordance with FDA-approved labeling and guidance. Mandatory vaccination requirements will be implemented consistent with DOD Immunization Program Instruction 65 -- sorry, 6205.02, in other words, the existing structure and regulations to -- that -- that govern policies and procedures for managing mandatory vaccination across the force. This is consistent with the department's efforts to ensure the safety of our servicemembers, and again, to maintain the readiness of the force.

With that, we'll take questions. Bob?

Q: John, thank you. With regard to Afghanistan, I wonder if you could give us a sense of what the evacuation endgame is likely to look like, or expected to look like in terms of the sequence of events over the last, say, three or four or five days. Will the U.S. need to have sort of exclusive use of the fields and the -- the apparatus to execute the final fights?

MR. KIRBY: I'll ask the general to probably be more specific than me, Bob, but what we anticipate happening in -- in the last couple of days, we will -- so first of all, we will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end if -- if -- if we have to and we need to -- if you're an evacuee that we can get out, we're going to continue to get -- get you out.

Q: On the 31st?

MR. KIRBY: Right up until the end. But in those last couple of days, we're going to try to preserve as much capability as we can on -- on the -- on the -- at the airport, as you might imagine. So in those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to -- to move out. 

That doesn't mean that -- that if -- if -- if you're -- you're an evacuee and -- and -- and you need to get out that we're just -- that we're not going to try to get you out, but that we will have to reserve some capacity in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving, because we want to be able to keep it there as long as possible to do the job that it's intended to do.

Q: So -- so the charter flights, for example, would be finished earlier? And when you refer to military resources, you're talking about American only?

MR. KIRBY: I'm talking about primarily U.S. military troops and equipment. We are now and have been working with our allies and partners to help them withdraw their people and we'll help them withdraw their forces as well.

Q: Right to the very end or you have to do that earlier?

MR. KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, obviously we want to preserve as much capability as possible. Now, some of that capability's not ours, some of it is our allies and partners. So there'll be a balance there and it'll be up to Admiral Vasely to determine how he strikes that balance in -- in terms of making sure he has the maximum capability at -- for -- for as long as possible.

So there will be a -- there will be a transition more towards getting military assets out as we get closer to the end, but again, we're going to continue to work the evacuation mission right up until the last day.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So just -- I -- I think what I would add for the great answer Mr. Kirby gave there is as you've seen in the last three days, the complexity and the amount of aircraft moving in and out. So the capability to continue to sequence and -- and plan for the actual requirements that leave on a daily basis is going to be made, you know, on the ground.

But you -- as you've seen, we have that capability to manage quite a lot of throughput and be able to put the right, you know, things on those aircraft as they come in and as they leave.

MR. KIRBY: Jen?

Q: John, who is guarding the U.S. embassy right now? Who will guard after the U.S. military pulls out? Are there any contingencies? Do you have an agreement with the Taliban? And in terms of the airport, do you have an agreement with any NATO allies to keep -- like the Turks to keep the airport open after the U.S. military pulls out?

MR. KIRBY: So as I understand it, I -- I know there's no military assets guarding the embassy compound. The U.S. embassy is operating out of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

As for the Turks, they are still on -- on the ground at the airport, assisting in this security mission that we have there. I won't speak for their intentions one way or another going forward but there's not going to be a -- a -- when -- when the mission is over and when we are leaving the airport, the airport will not -- not -- not be the United States -- our responsibility anymore. 

So how it gets managed going forward will be something that -- that -- you know, that -- that the Taliban, who are now in Kabul, will -- will have to manage them on -- on their own with a -- and -- and I -- I assume with -- you know, with the international community, but that won't be an American responsibility.

Q: And just one more -- how many individuals on terror watch lists have been screened or found at any of the screening points either in Qatar, Ramstein or in the U.S.?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know. We'll have to take that question and -- and get back to you.

Nazira?

Q: Thank you, John. Thank you, General. Behalf of Afghan people, thank you very much for your hard job and good job literally.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you.

Q: Afghan people, they are happy but some of them -- that they are not eligible for SIV visas (Special Immigrant Visas), P1, P2, but -- so they have a serious problem. And they are not in the Kabul, they are hiding, they move from one place to the other place. And they contact with me -- like, more than 100 people contacted with me at the -- that -- "what can we do?" And I tell them I’m nobody to do something.

Do you have any plan from the State Department or from the Pentagon? Because they are -- and they're target of the Taliban, but that’s Taliban yesterday -- spokesperson Mujahid said that "why United States make a problem for us? We are not allow the people to leave Afghanistan." Now, they are in -- like, in jail.

On the other hand, Taliban is not one group, they are different groups, like five groups and more -- and a lot of people there, and a problem but they are not eligible for those, either. Do you have some possibility, any -- any other option for them to be safe?

MR. KIRBY: (Nazira, I can't speak for each and every Afghan who wants to leave and -- and is dealing with a -- their own individual circumstances to get out. I -- we know there are a lot of desperate people who want to leave, and that's why we are working as fast as we can, and you saw the numbers that we continue to be able to get out. We're working as fast as we can to get out American citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans, and we continue to work at this.

I can't -- I can't begin to try to give you specific advice on what these individuals ought to do. I certainly would encourage them to reach out to the State Department. But from the Pentagon's perspective, you know, we --we're doing the best we can, as fast as we can to move as many people as we can out on every -- any given day and -- but I'm not able to -- and I'm -- I know my answer's unsatisfying, and I apologize for that, but I'm not able to speak to our ability to reach out and touch every single Afghan that wants to get out. We were -- we're -- believe me, we're very mindful of the plight here and we're trying the best we can to -- to alleviate that.

Carla?

Q: Thank you. I just want to follow up to what Jen was asking about -- you said that there won't be a military presence guarding an embassy. So post-August 31st ... 

MR. KIRBY: At the embassy compound -- she specifically asked about the -- the embassy compound, which we are not operating out of right now.

Q: ... post August-31st, after that date, are -- are you -- can you just explicitly say there will be no diplomatic presence -- U.S. diplomatic presence post-August 31st ... 

MR. KIRBY: I can't speak for that, that's a State Department issue.

Q: And then to follow up, there's -- there's been reports that an ISIS -- that somebody who was affiliated with ISIS got on one of the flights. What's going on with that individual?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I -- I mean, I've seen -- I've seen similar press reporting on this. I just don't have anything to update you on that. I don't have any information. And what I should've said to Jen was it's really a better question for -- for the Department of Homeland Security. But we'll see if we can track down something for you. I'm not trying to evade it, I just don't know. 

We're doing the best we can to manifest people on these flights and get them out as fast as possible. There is screening being done not by DOD but by DHS. Immigration, intelligence officials are doing the -- the screening for people as they -- as they go on for onward -- onward flights. We're really focused on trying to get as many of these individuals out.

Q: And then one last one, just the same question I had yesterday. Have there been any air extractions in Kabul? Any additional ones, the two that you guys have told us about? And have there been any efforts outside of Kabul to extract Americans and average Afghans?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes. So last night during the period of darkness there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into Kabul. They were at HKAI and they're safely there preparing to be evacuated.

Q: So when you said -- was it -- was it in Kabul and then they brought them into the airport or was it at...

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: It was outside of the airfield -- outside of the airfield in a way that and we were able to bring them back to Kabul safely, and they are preparing for evacuation.

MR. KIRBY: Back to the airport.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Airport -- to the airport.

MR. KIRBY: It was inside Kabul. David.

Q: Americans? 

Q: Was that a -- was that a helicopter operation?

MR. KIRBY: It was.

Q: Can you tell us how many?

MR. KIRBY: We're not going to provide specific details. Less than 20.

Q: Less than 20.

Q: Americans?

MR. KIRBY: Less than 20. I'm not going to provide additional details.

Q: So can I ask -- that wasn't the question.

MR. KIRBY: OK.

Q: Yesterday it was reported that the withdrawal had already begun and several hundred troops had already come out. And you pushed back on that same piece for people whose functions were no longer needed? But, you know, all withdrawals sort of begin with pulling out non-essential personnel first. Why shouldn't we view that as clearing the decks for the hardcore withdrawal that is going to come here?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. It's a great question, and I wasn't pushing back on headlines that said withdrawal. I was simply trying to describe what happened without hyperbole. So what I -- what -- let me just back up. What happened was the commander on the ground, Admiral Vasely, in trying to manage time and space at the airport, determined that it was the prudent thing to do to let several hundred troops leave the airport. 

Some of these troops did come in with the troops that were added for the noncombatant evacuation, the 5,800. Some of them were troops that were already there at Hamid Karzai International Airport before any additional troops flowed in for the noncombatant evacuation.

And as you know, David, we were still in the process before there was a need to go in and do a noncombatant evacuation we were still in the process of a drawdown at the airport of the previous plan by the end of the month. And so, some of the troops that flew home yesterday were in that tranche. 

And so, they were very much a part of the original drawdown plan, and Admiral Vasely saw fit that there were some others that he believed that he didn't need there at the airport anymore even though they had flown in with the -- with the plus up for the neo (Noncombatant Evacuation Operations).

And these are headquarter staff personnel, some maintainers, and some other enabling forces who either had completed their mission and were already scheduled to go, as I said even before there was a noncombatant evacuation, and others who Admiral Vasely determined that their mission was complete, he didn't need them anymore. And again, time and space are a premium at the airport. He has the authority to make that decision.

So I wasn't pushing back on the fact that the -- the withdrawal has been going on since April 14 when the president announced it. I wasn't pushing back. I just wanted to make it clear that we hadn't pushed some button and said go retrograde now. 

We still have on the ground about 5,400 of the 5,800 that we reached at the maximum, and Admiral Vasely has the authorities to manage in a prudent way his force management on the ground. 

I haven't gone to the phones, and I want to make sure I don't forget that. Jeff Shogul.

Q: Thank you very much. From talking to military groups it is evident that the Taliban are still blocking Afghans from being entranced to Hamid Karzai International Airport, and even when Afghans make it onto the airport there have been instances when they have been escorted off due to paperwork issues. So I'd like to know what steps is the U.S. government taking to make sure that Afghans do have safe passage to the airport and under what circumstances are Afghans with valid visas who are admitted to the airport ultimately escorted off of the airport grounds?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, it's difficult for us to answer that here at the Pentagon when we're not at the gates and on the ground at the airport. What I would tell you is a couple of things, and I -- and I recognize that, you know, no process is perfect and that there are -- I'm not disputing at all the accounts that you're -- that you're relaying here today that there may be hiccups and problems. We certainly recognize that.

But let me just take a couple of steps back and tell you how this is working, and we've talked about this before. We have consular officers. Now there's more than 30 at the airport stationed at the gates with American troops who are helping them do their job of processing individuals as they come in, checking credentials, making sure that they are who they say they are, and that they are in a valid group that we're trying to move onto the airport grounds.

Outside of that the Taliban have set up checkpoints. We've talked about this before, and we are in daily communication with Taliban commanders about who we want to see get in and what the credentials are, what they look like, what's valid. And that communication happens literally every day. We have been nothing but open with the Taliban about who we expect them to let in.

Again, fully recognize that it's -- that not every step of this process is in our firm control and that there are going to be incidences where it doesn't work as advertised. But I can tell you that there isn't a single day that goes by where Admiral Vasely and General Donahue aren't working this in a very personal way with Taliban authorities outside the airport.

Q: And can I follow up?

MR. KIRBY: Let me go to another one on the phone. Tara ?

Q: Thank you for doing this, John. Yesterday the president mention also that he was calling upon the department to create contingency plans in case the number of Americans and Afghans that still need to get out have not gotten out by the 31st. Can you just explain kind of what the department is thinking about what its options might be to continue to get Americans out after the 31st if they haven't made it to the airport by then?

And then just to follow on Jeff's question with Afghans that aren't getting through, for those -- have discussions gone on with the Taliban to maybe find some negotiation space for they've said no more Afghans can leave but clearly, you know, there's 10,000 at the airport? So something is happening behind the scenes that's helping some people get through. Can you talk about that to some extent?

MR. KIRBY: I'll turn it over to the general.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, so I'll start with that last question first. It kind of comes off of some things that Mr. Kirby just said with that constant communication. You know, I know the most senior commanders on the ground are out and discussing with the Taliban leaders that are manning these checkpoints exactly what the documentation needs to look like, you know, times in coordination, I mean details of that.

As we know though there are reports that some that aren't able to get through there. And I can tell you that the Department of State, the Consular Affairs officers that are there are working with our commanders there to ensure that documentation, names and those things as often as required are being communicated to the Taliban that are out at those checkpoints to allow transition in there to get into the gates.

MR. KIRBY: And then, Tara on contingency plans, obviously I'm not going to get ahead of the planning process. We are a planning organization. Our -- one of our main jobs is to make sure that the president has options. 

And as he made clear yesterday he wants to see this mission complete by the end of the month. We are still working towards that goal. 

But we will be drafting up potential, what we call in the military branches and sequels, if in fact we believe a conversation needs to be had later on in the month that the timeline might need to be extended. For what purpose? To -- for what number? For how long? All of that is baked into the planning process and I'm just not going to get ahead of what the planners are doing.

Courtney? 

Q: Two for you John. So I'm still unclear about at the very end of this on the 30th, 31st, who's going to be doing the security at the airport as those last U.S. troops are leaving? Is there an agreement or is it -- John, is it you were saying that the Taliban will be responsible for security as the last Americans are leaving?

MR. KIRBY: No, I said the Taliban would be responsible for running an airport that's in a city that they are now the titular heads of government there. 

Q: (Inaudible) part on security right?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- what I -- Courtney they're -- when we are gone the airport will no longer be secured by American forces. How -- what that security looks like after we're gone I can't speak to that.

Q: before the U.S. leaves though.

MR. KIRBY: We will --

Q: And who will be doing it as the U.S. -- let's say those last couple of aircraft leave with Americans, who's running security, keeping those aircraft and the runways safe?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yes, so you're asking a very good tactical question, right. So, in a security which we would call, you know, a commander's inherent responsibility throughout every phase of the operation, we are continuing to secure ourselves to the very last requirements of that. 

So when you say who's securing the, you know, the last flight and all those things and we will have that ability to secure ourselves through, you know, multiple means to ensure flights are able to take off.

Q: And then while I you up there I just want clear one thing that you just said. You said that the most senior commanders on the ground our out and discussing things with the Taliban. Do you mean that Admiral Vasely and General Donahue are actually to the checkpoints and --

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: I don't want to give, you know, names and things that are going -- I would just say that commanders that have authority and echelon to be able to communicate, because as we said the most important thing is to be able to coordinate with the Taliban to get the right people through.

We've seen that there's been, you know, reports of not the right folks being able to get through. So every day we are ensuring that we can get as many people in as possible so that we can fly them to safety.

Q: And then if I could just ask you one more John. The -- on the equipment that you were talking about earlier, so when you talk about transitioning towards getting military assets out, so obviously getting them -- the people out, American military out. 

But will there be a point where you will have a decision or General, whoever it is, McKenzie, Admiral Vasely, will have a decision about putting people on these aircrafts or putting some of the equipment, artillery, C-RAMs, (counter rocket, artillery, and mortar) all the equipment that's still at the airport there? And has there been a decision made to prioritize lives over military equipment?

MR. KIRBY: Lives are always going to be the priority, Court, period. But as we get closer to the end there will be some equipment and systems that we will probably take with us as we leave. And the disposition of what we aren't taking with us, that will be up to Admiral Vasely to determine how that stuff is handled. But lives will always be the chief priority throughout this entire process.

Q: All nationality lives?

MR. KIRBY: Lives will always be the priority throughout this process.

Let me go over here, Idrees?

Q: Two quick questions. I think yesterday you did say something about 4,000 Americans have been evacuated.

MR. KIRBY: That's correct.

Q: Is there an updated number? And do you have the sort of base number of how many has to be evacuated now?

MR. KIRBY: It's right now, today, north of 4,400 and I don't -- I don't -- I don't have a specific number of total Americans that are still in need of leaving. I don't have that.

Q: And just a quick follow-up, the secretary and I guess the department at large find it helpful for lawmakers to come to Kabul unannounced or were you guys aware of it? And do you find it very helpful for them to be there?

MR. KIRBY: We were not aware of this visit. And we are, obviously, not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation at that airport and inside the Kabul generally. And the secretary I think would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place.

Q: Just (inaudible) having them there?

MR. KIRBY: It -- they -- they got a chance to -- to talk to commanders, as I understand. They got a chance to talk to troops. But to say that there wasn't a need to flex and to alter the day -- the day's flow including the need to have protection for these members of Congress, that would -- you know, that wouldn't be -- that wouldn't be a genuine thing for me to assert. I mean there was -- there was certainly -- there was certainly a pull-off of the kinds of missions we were trying to do to be able to accommodate that visit. 

Q: And just to be clear, Congressman Moulton and Congressman Meijer, they took seats that would have been for refugees leaving and they took time away from the mission?

MR. KIRBY: They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day. And I don't know on the aircraft they did fly out on a military aircraft. I honestly don't know what the seat capacity was on that aircraft. But they are -- but they are out of the country now. 

Barb?

Q: Just one more question on withdrawal in the coming days. Since the president has said setting contingency planning aside that everyone will be out by August 31st. My question is, do you have in hand all the authorities, approvals, signed orders -- whatever is necessary to just move ahead and carry that out, or does the president, the secretary, General McKenzie -- does somebody -- General Milley -- does somebody still have to sign an order to have that formal withdrawal begin?

MR. KIRBY: Barb, without making it sound like I'm trying to gloss over your question, obviously, we are tracking the end of the mission at the end of the month. And so of course, General McKenzie has retrograde plans in, you know, in -- in -- on the shelf and ready to go. But I can assure you that -- that before that effort is undertaken in earnest, there will be a conversation with the secretary of defense, and Secretary Austin will have a chance to provide his guidance and direction with respect to retrograde, and I think I'll leave it at that.

Q: So I'm sorry. I guess I don't understand, because the president made the decision to stick to the deadline of August 31st, for all intents and purposes.

MR. KIRBY: That's right.

Q: ... and you have that from the commander-in-chief. So what is it that's -- I just don't get it. What -- what is it that still has to happen to have the formal official withdrawal begin?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. And the -- the president also said that -- that he wanted the Pentagon to come up with contingency plans, should there be a need to have a conversation about altering the timeline. So we are tracking towards the 31st. There are retrograde plans that have been drafted up, and the secretary has seen them and is aware of them. But I think you would expect that in these final days, the secretary will want to have the opportunity to issue specific direction to General McKenzie about going forward with those retrograde plans.

We're going to try, as I said, we -- we are focused on that date, but we're also focused keenly on making sure we get as many people out as fast as we can for as long as we can, and if there has to be alterations to that, then obviously, Secretary Austin's going to want to be a part of that conversation and to be able to issue his guidance and direction to the commanders on the ground. 

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Christina?

Q: Thank you. Can you confirm that no Americans have been killed since August 14th? And if there is any American killed through August 31st, how would that be announced?

MR. KIRBY: Are you talking about American soldiers, troops?

Q: Any -- any American.

MR. KIRBY: No, there have been no U.S. troops killed since the 14th, and we only know of one minor injury. I know of no American citizens who have been killed on this, so I -- I -- I don't know of any. Now, we don't have perfect visibility into everything going on in Kabul, but we know of no American casualties.

Q: And then just one more question. When exactly does the August 31st deadline take effect? Is that August 31st midnight, or is that September 1st midnight?

MR. KIRBY: August 31st. 

Nancy?

Q: Just wondering if you could clarify a couple points that you made earlier for me. You mentioned that at some point, the -- the U.S. will prioritize getting military personnel out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, and I'm curious. Given that, is there a point where Afghan nationals and U.S. citizens will not be allowed to get into the airport compound, the supposition being that you would have to have some sort of cutoff before we could then fly everyone, the final set of troops out? And if so, when is that?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So I -- I just want to go back to something I had said earlier about air flow, right? And as you've seen, the -- the capability over the last three days, you know, over 90 aircraft total yesterday, so -- and -- and a lot focused on evacuation. So the way to answer that question is, is the commanders who will go forward with their -- the plan of retro -- will have options, you know, to make decisions on a daily, sometimes hourly basis of what loads are ready, what aircraft are ready. Can I put something else on that bird? I mean, that -- that's how fluid and quite honestly, we are able to do that level planning. And -- and it goes back to the overall, you know, mission here is -- is continue to be able to get as many out as possible.

Q: So I appreciate that. I think one reason I'm a little confused is it seems part of this is contingent on the Taliban and how they secure the area around the airport.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yeah.

Q: Do they let in -- when they let them in. So I think one thing that would help me understand it better is, who makes the final determination of security outside the airport? You mentioned that there are communications happening. But for example, if the U.S. wanted some kind of national in and -- and the Taliban did not want to let them in, who makes that determination? How is it sorted out?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Right now, the airfield is secure to allow full operations, and do not assess that in the -- that that is going to change right now. So that is our concurrent -- can -- our current planning, and we'll continue to go forward with that.

MR. KIRBY: And Nancy, I think, to sort of revisit what I said before, I mean, we are -- we've been very clear with Taliban leaders about what credentials we want them to accept. Remember, it's American citizens, it's SIV applicants and it's vulnerable Afghans, and we have shared what the proper credentials are. And by and large -- I'm not saying it's been perfect, but by and large the people that we have made clear to the Taliban that we want to have access through the checkpoints have been able to get through, by and large, again, with caveats. 

So it hasn't been a -- a -- a big problem to date, and as the general said earlier, I mean, we also have other means to go out and -- and -- and get people in if we need to. We've now done three rotary-wing lifts that -- so we have that option available to us, as well. Did that answer your question?

Q: Yeah, I -- I -- I don't -- I don't mean to be thick about this. I'm just trying to understand how that communication happens. Let's say they are not letting in a certain credential that you believe should be let in.

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: How is that resolved?

MR. KIRBY: The -- the -- good question, and what would happen is the commanders on the ground would, if -- if they were -- if -- if -- if that was brought to their attention -- and -- and this has actually happened. I'm not – this isn't notional. When we have reports that somebody who is properly-credentialed is not being let in, or maybe their family members, but they have proper credentials, we are making that clear to the Taliban leaders that, no, they are appropriate. You do need to let them in. And again, there's been a little give-and-take, and it's -- I think it was Nazira who mentioned this earlier. 

I mean, not every checkpoint is -- is manned in the same way and by the same individuals as every other one, and so there's variances at some of these checkpoints in terms of how the word has gotten down and how much the Taliban manning the checkpoint are -- are following the dictates of their commanders. 

So that's why it's a constant communication on the ground with them to keep that flow going as much as possible. But yes, there are stops and starts. There are hurdles that have to be overcome almost on any -- any given day. But really, it's a credit to the commanders on the ground there that they are -- they are continuing to have these conversations. Now, did that get at it better?

Q: Yeah, yeah.

MR. KIRBY: OK.

Q: Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: All right. Janne?

Q: Thank you, John. Thank you very much. The South, The South Korean government is operating on military aircraft since their operation to receive the Afghanistan refugees in South Korea. They will arrive tomorrow. OK. 

As you know -- that North Korea spoke to -- to Taliban and we know that in the past, the North Korean Taliban, they conducted special training together. And what kind of United States monitoring about the North Korea, which is -- you know, is -- poses a security threat?

MR. KIRBY: Do you want to take it?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: First of all, as we talk about the Republic of Korea's support to -- to airlift, obviously we -- as I said earlier, extremely grateful for their contribution to increase our outflow. You know, throughout the -- the world, as you know, we talk about North Korea and all that, you know, all of our combatant commands -- you know, specifically PACOM (U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) -- are always diligent in, you know, watching in their mission of ensuring, you know, keeping awareness of any type of thing North Korea is doing.

So once again, we're very grateful and thankful for the Republic of Korea's support in helping us.

Q: Do you have any contingency plan for anything happening in the Korean Peninsula during this, you know ... 

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: INDOPACOM's mission remains unchanged and -- and steadfast.

Q: Thank you.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yeah.

MR. KIRBY: I need to go to the phones again some more. Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hey, John -- John, two quick questions. Jen Psaki yesterday said that this evacuation is on track to be the largest in U.S. history, this -- largest air -- airlift in U.S. history. The numbers you supplied so far, it's like 88,000, I think you've said, have been evacuated.

So are you pretty confident that you will be able to best the Operation Frequent Wind 1975 Saigon evacuation, where 131,000 people were evacuated by air and sea?

MR. KIRBY: We're not competing with history, Tony, we're trying to get as many people out as we can, as fast as we can, and -- and when it's all said and done, we'll -- we'll -- we'll take a look at what we were able to accomplish. But this isn't about trying to beat some sort of historical record.

I will only add that, you know, it -- 88,000 in -- in the course of, you know, just a -- a -- a week -- week and a half is no small feat. And you've seen us, over the last three days alone, exceed what we thought was going to be a maximum capacity, and we certainly would like to keep that going for as long as possible.

Let me go back to the phones and then Sylvie, I'll get to you, I promise. Stephen Losey?

Q: Yes, thank you. Can you tell me if all SIV holders who have made it onto the airport grounds with valid papers are going to be able to make it onto flights? I -- I ask because a interpreter with an SIV I've been in contact with just made it onto the grounds, was almost put out of the gate. That appears to have been now corrected. But will the -- will -- will this interpreter and other SIV holders who are on the grounds be able to fly out before the deadline is gone -- is over?

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Sylvie?

Q: Thank you. I have two small questions. First, about the numbers, you said that 88,000 departed since the 14th of August. Is it only U.S. flights? So if it's not on a U.S. flight, how many were evacuated by U.S. flights? That's the first one.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Total number?

Q: Yes.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yeah, right at around 58,000 to 60,000.

Q: Thank you. And the second question was about the -- the President mentioned ISIS-K threats and I wanted to know if you received new threats, if there -- if you -- if there was a -- if there was immediate danger at the gates or if it's a -- a -- a threat in general that you have known for a long time?

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Yeah, so as we talk about, we won't go into specific intelligence, you know, collection (inaudible), but there -- we know, as previously reported, there is a threat. This has been a -- a dangerous place that has had threats by ISIS and we continue to ensure that we collect and keep the force protection to the highest levels possible to ensure that we're able to continue evacuation operations.

Q: So you won't confirm new threats?

MR. KIRBY: We're not going to talk about the intelligence (inaudible), Sylvie, you know that. It -- it -- it -- these are -- as the General said, these are credible threats and we're -- we're mindful of that but we're not going to talk about it in great detail.

Meghann?

Q: I just want to clarify your remarks about the vaccine memo. Is this to say that the Secretary's not going to request a waiver from the President and DOD will just give vaccines on a mandatory basis as they become ... 

MR. KIRBY: No, that's not at all -- I mean, we'll have to see where the other vaccines end up. That's not -- that's not at all what I meant to say. It -- it's just that the only ones that will be made mandatory right now are the -- are ones that are licensed by the FDA.

Q: So by mid-September, if I may ask ... 

MR. KIRBY: I -- I won't rule anything in or out but we're -- but as you -- but as the memo says, we're only going to make mandatory those that have FDA licensure. And -- and -- and -- but press reporting alone would indicate that -- you know, that the other vaccines are getting close, so.

(CROSSTALK)

Yeah, sure.

Q: How is the relationship between U.S. and Taliban? Do you think that Pakistan should play a role to make a better relationship? Because as long as I heard from Taliban spokesperson you guys have no good relationship, right, because they've prevented civilians to leave Afghanistan. Do you think that's still Pakistan's role? Which role will play Pakistan?

MR. KIRBY: All Afghan -- all -- all of Afghanistan's neighbors can play a role here and we hope that they do, a constructive role in Afghanistan's future, and Pakistan certainly, I would think, would figure largely into that calculus.

As we talked about, there's safe havens across the -- along that border remain a problem. We've been very honest and candid with Pakistani leaders about the importance of -- of not allowing that. And you would want to believe that they also share that sense of urgency because they too are the victims of terrorist attacks that emanate from there. 

So they -- they -- they should, and I suspect that they will want, to play a significant role going forward. And we would just ask for them and for any country -- any neighboring country to make that as constructive as possible.

In the back there?

Q: Thank you.

Q: What percent of the forces aren't vaccinated yet? And when will they have to be vaccinated by?

MR. KIRBY: So on the active duty force, 68 percent is fully vaccinated, and we estimate that just over 76 percent have at least one dose. I can break this down by the services -- this would include Guard and Reserves in these figures.

For the Army, 40 percent's fully vaccinated, with 57 percent with one dose. For the Marine Corps, 53 percent fully vaccinated, 60 percent with one dose. For the Navy, 73 percent fully vaccinated, 79 percent with at least one dose. And for the Air Force, which includes Space Force, that's 57 percent fully vaccinated, 64 percent with one dose. The Secretary has made clear his expectation to the military departments that he wants them to move with some alacrity here and get the force fully vaccinated as fast as possible. If you look in his memo you also see that he tasked them to regularly update the Deputy Secretary on a very frequent basis on how they're moving out to achieve those goals.

Right now this mandatory vaccine will just be Pfizer and then we'll see where it goes with the other licensers.

Q: John, would it be mandating vaccines for any of the Afghan refugees who come into the United States and are brought here by the U.S. military?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to leave that question to -- for the State Department. But there is -- there's COVID screening being done at each stop along way. And, again, I think that's a better question for the State Department.

Q: You just said that any SIV holders that come to the gate would be let onto a flight. But we're just getting real-time reports from Abbey Gate that Marines are turning away SIV holders and turning them away. Can you clarify, are Marines supposed to be turning away those with SIV papers or with authorization to come onto the airport? Have they closed down Abbey Gate?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to let the General take that question. The question that was posed to me by, I think it was Stephen, was if you're -- if you have SIV credentials and you're at the field, if you're on the airport will you be able to get off? And the answer is, yes. But I'll let the General take it.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: So obviously I can't speak to that -- the absolute real-time to the second report. The guidance still remains is those that have the proper paperwork and are safely at the gate is to bring them in and to process them. So I can't speak to that specific report there. But what I do know is that whether it's our Marines or soldiers that are at those gates working with the consular officers that are there, is as people are there and present the proper SIV paperwork, we are to get them as quickly as possible in, process them for evacuation plays.

Q: Can you make sure that that message gets down to the Marines at Abbey Gate? Because this is a legitimate report that just came out.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: And I think -- we appreciate those reports, right. And I just know as I have talked to the commanders, they are using a lot of time and it's good and we'll report to ensure they get this information and put it out throughout the entire force.

MR. KIRBY: The other thing, Jen, I mean again without speaking to this case. Sometimes gates -- traffic is halted at the gates to manage flow on the airport. It is a -- it's a -- it's a physics issue. But, again, I appreciate that and if you share with us after the briefing the details of this, we will certainly pass it on.

MAJ. GEN. TAYLOR: Absolutely.

Q: Can I ask on more vaccine question?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

Q: Is what -- now that there's been several weeks since the decision to make this mandatory, what is the Secretary's policy or decision on any troops who refuse to get the vaccine?

MR. KIRBY: Great question. What the Secretary has communicated to the military departments is to execute this mandatory vaccination program with obviously skill and professionalism, which we also do, but also with a measure of compassion. And so for a member who still objects, no obviously there is -- you can -- you can ask for an exemption on religious grounds and you certainly could be exempted if you have a pre-existing condition that your doctor advises you not to get it, obviously.

But if it's an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they're taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine. They will also be offered a chance to sit down with their chain of command and their leadership to talk about the risks that they're objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates. 

And the point is, Court, that the commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their units. And we expect and the Secretary expects that the commanders will use those tools short of having to use the UCMJ.

Q: But if the service member goes to the counseling, does not have a religious objection and still objects and refuses to get the vaccine, the individual will be -- start to being processed in UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice)?

MR. KIRBY: The commanders have a wide range of tools available to them short of using the UCMJ. And I -- and I think we're going to trust the commanders are going -- are going to make the right decision going forward.

Q: So they'll get like a NJP (nonjudicial punishment), basically?

MR. KIRBY: Court, I can't -- I can't give you an exact answer to every hypothetical situation. There are -- it is a - once you manditate -- once you mandate it, as we've done, it's a lawful order. It's a lawful order. And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. And when you raise your right hand and you take that oath that's what you agree to do. And it hasn't been a problem in the past with other vaccines. 

Now I recognize COVID has a different history to it and a different cultural ascription to it. But it's a lawful order. And it's our expectation that troops will obey lawful orders. And we also expect that commanders will have plenty of other tools available to them to get their vaccination rates up and to get these individuals to make the right decision short of having to use disciplinary action. 

OK, I think that's almost a full hour. So we're going to call it for right now. As the General mentioned in his opening statement, we will shoot for an afternoon briefing. This one will be with General Walters from EUCOM (U.S. European Command) specifically to address issues of the evacuation and what EUCOM is doing to help us move these people on to their -- to their new lives. And so we'll see you at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Thank you.

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