Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Oct. 12, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Afternoon everybody.  OK.  Just a couple of things to start with.  First, on behalf of the secretary and the Department, we wish to, again, extend our condolences to the family and friends of General Ray Odierno after the news of his passing of the weekend. 

This Department owes him a debt of gratitude for his years of faithful service in peace and in war and we won't soon forget his tremendous contributions to our nation's security and to the generations of leaders he had mentored and shaped that are still on -- on service today.

On a scheduling note, the secretary joined by Chairman Milley will be heading to U.S. transportation command on Friday to preside over the change of command ceremony where Army General Steve Lyons will relinquish command to Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost. 

She will become the first female TRANSCOM Commander directing the global mobility operations of its various components.  General Lyons will be retiring.  The Secretary will preside over that retirement of course we thank him for his decades of long and faithful service to the country and we wish him the very best in the future.

Also, the Secretary and his team will be preparing for a trip to Europe next week.  Stops will include Georgia, Ukraine and Romania and it will conclude this important visit with allies and partners in Brussels for the NATO defense ministerial.  I think we'll probably have a more formal announcement here in the next couple of days.

And then starting today; rural Australian, Indian, Japan maritime self defense force and U.S Navies are conducting multilateral training as part of Exercise Malabar 2021 with a focus on naval cooperation and interoperability.

The Department of defense continually seeks opportunities to integrate with our allies and partners to improve our effectiveness and create an information sharing environment.  And we look forward to further strengthening the bonds between these nations and with that we'll take questions.  Bob.

QUESITON:  Thanks, John.  On Afghanistan, is there been a decision yet on providing financial compensation of families of those civilians killed in the August 29th strike?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update for you on that today, Bob.

Q:  Also, is the secretary owe Congress an update on over the horizon planning for Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  I think what the secretary made clear in -- in -- in his sessions a week or so ago was that we would be -- we would certainly communicate with Congress to the degree that they -- that they need more information.  And I think as you heard them say in the open session that some of that would have to be done in closed sessions because of the classification.

But I -- so I -- what -- what he promised them is that, you know, keep them informed as they -- as they need more information.

Q:  Is there a briefing this week or a hearing?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of a specific briefing or hearing this week, no.  Yes, Tara.  

Q:  Hi, John.  On Taiwan have there been continued incursions into Taiwan's (inaudible) and it seems like tensions seem to continually be escalating between Taiwan and China and potentially U.S. and China.  How concerning is this and is the secretary planning to do any sort of outreach to his Chinese counter parts to may try and deescalate the situation?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, you're right, the PRC has stepped up efforts to intimidate and pressure Taiwan and other allies and partners; including increasing their military activities, conducted in the vicinity of Taiwan, the East China Sea and the South China Sea; which we believe are destabilizing and only increase the risk of miscalculation.

Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the people's Republic of China and we urge Beijing to honor its commitment to the peaceful resolution across straight differences as delineated in the three communiques.

As for communication, I -- I have nothing on the secretary's schedule to announce or speak to today with respect to direct communication with -- with the Chinese.  Although you know a week or so ago there was a -- there was a meeting here in the Pentagon at the deputy assistant secretary defense level.

And of course we have other ways of -- of communicating military to military but I have nothing from the secretary's schedule to -- to read out.

Q:  And just a quick follow-up on that.  Is the Department looking at whether or not if any actions were taken to defend Taiwan it would require congressional approval?  Would it require Congress providing authorization?  Would this be considered a war powers act authorization need to act in defense of Taiwan?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I wouldn't get into hypotheticals here.  I mean we -- we act in accordance with the One China policy and we've long abided by that policy, you know, and it's distinct from Beijing's one China principle under which the Chinese communist party asserts sovereignty over Taiwan.

We take no position over the sovereignty of Taiwan -- on sovereignty over Taiwan.  We -- but we will continue to support a peaceful resolution across straight issues consistent with the wishes and best interest of the people of Taiwan and our commitment to Taiwan is rock solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the straight and within the region.

Again, in keeping with that One Chine policy.

Jen ?

Q:  John, I'd like to get your reaction to the ex Pentagon software chief saying that the U.S. has already lost the A.I. fight to China.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I mean what I would tell you is that, and you heard the secretary talk about this not long ago in his remarks on A.I. at the Global Emerging Technology Summit back in July.  And he was very clear about our concerns about China's desires to advance in this field and he's focused and we still remain focused on advancing A.I. capabilities in a responsible way, in close partnership with industry and academia and building a digitally talented and capable workforce here for the Department.

So those comments not withstanding and certainly he's entitled to his views of course.  This is something that the secretary has spoken to that -- that -- that the entire leadership here at the Department has focused on.  We know there's a lot of work to do but we're committed to doing that work.

Q:  This was the Pentagon's first software officer and he writes we have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years.  Right now it's already a done deal.  Is he wrong?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to qualify or characterize his views.  I think he can speak to his views.  What I can tell you is that we recognize the importance of A.I. as -- as a technology and as a capability and the secretary has spoken about this and we have -- we have invested quite a bit of effort and -- and energy into making sure that we can advance A.I. technology in a responsible way.

And some of that includes not only an ethical underpinning, but it includes getting a -- a -- a capable workforce set up here at the Pentagon. So what -- I -- what I can, again, reassert is -- is our absolute focus on this.

Yeah, Abraham?

Q:  Yeah, thanks, John. Real quick question, and then a follow-up on Taiwan. Is there an update on force posture review when that might be released?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a specific calendar date to speak to today.

Q:  And specific to Taiwan, that was a major show of airpower from China and encouraging them to Taiwan's air -- air zone. Is there specific assistance to Taiwan that you'd like to comment on in terms of its air defenses?

MR. KIRBY:  No. I don't think you can understand. I wouldn't get into specifics about air defense capabilities. But we do remain concerned by the PRC's provocative military activity near Taiwan, as -- which, as I said to Tara is we find destabilizing and increasing the risks of miscalculation. So we're urging Beijing to cease this military diplomatic and economic pressure and the coercion against the Taiwan. We have an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and that's why we're going to continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.

Q:  Anything changing because of that in terms of...

MR. KIRBY:  I wouldn't speak to that here from the podium one way or the other. As I said, we remain committed to helping Taiwan with their self-defense capability in keeping with -- in keeping with the law.

Sylvie?

Q:  Thank you. I have two questions. First, do you have any news about the incident with USS Connecticut? Do you know what caused the collision? What -- what the submarine collided with? And second, do you have any detail on the incident this morning outside of the Pentagon? There was a suspected package. So we understand it was neutralized. Was it really something dangerous that was neutralized or was just planted?

MR. KIRBY:  On the USS Connecticut, I don't have any additional detail. I'd refer you to the Navy for -- for that incident. I -- I -- I -- it was obviously the ship hit something underwater. An object submerged. But I don't know what it -- I don't know what it was. And as for the extent of the damage and that kind of thing, again, I'd point you to Navy.

On the issue this morning, it was a suspicious object observed by Pentagon Force Protection Agency police. The area was immediately cordoned off, and all vehicle and pedestrian traffic were -- were blocked from -- from the area. The Hazardous Device Unit responded, and the object was rendered safe at about 06:50, 10 minutes to 7:00 this morning. The all-clear was given around 7:35. And, of course, traffic is -- is open. So nobody was hurt. All I can tell you is that the incident is under further investigation. I don't have more detail than that.

Q:  Yeah, but I mean, I understand it's neutralized; but you don't know what it was?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't. I don't. Let me go to the phones here.

Travis?

Q:  Hi, John, thanks. I wanted to ask you about a report that direct relatives of U.S. service members are still trying to escape Afghanistan. Does the secretary have any thoughts about the situation? And I'm wondering if the Pentagon is doing anything to try to aid these relatives. And lastly, I was wondering if you could confirm at all the number who may still be stuck in Afghanistan. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Travis, I haven't seen those specific reports. I can assure you that the secretary, as you've heard him say himself, remains committed to making sure that we continue to do everything we can to get our Afghan allies who want to leave Afghanistan to help get them out. There is, as we've said before, not a U.S. military component or element to that effort. This is an effort being led by the State Department. They're still working very hard. And of course, there is coordination between the interagency and some private groups that are also working to continue to get people out. That -- that -- the military component of our presence in Afghanistan, that's over, but the mission itself to try to get people out is not over. And so the secretary is very much focused on -- on making sure that we continue to meet that obligation.

And I'm sorry, your second question was?

Q:  I was just asking if you had an estimate on the number of those direct relatives who may still be stuck in Afghanistan.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't. I'd -- I'd point you to the State Department for that.

Yeah, Kasim?

Q:  John, Turkey was removed from the F-35 program, but they have paid $1.4 billion into the program. Is there a plan to repay the Turks for the...

MR. KIRBY:  I'd point you to my state department colleagues for that. That's a foreign military sales issue; that's not something that DOD would be responsible for.

Q:  And then the other question, a follow-up to Sylvie. Chinese foreign ministry affairs spokesman said that the U.S. is actually covering up this incident with the Connecticut submarine and that it -- it raises suspicions about the U.S. intentions. Do you have any reaction to the Chinese?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I'd say it's an odd way -- it's a -- it's an odd way of covering something up when you put a press release out about it, so.

In the back.

Q:  Thanks, John, and good afternoon. Two questions, one on AUKUS. Do you remember with the briefing at the state department a few weeks ago, Minister Dutton from Australia said it would be about 15 months before the U.S. could figure out a way to get the nuclear technology to Australia for the subs. Is that the same timeframe, that 15 months or so, for the U.S. to begin to increase its military presence in Australia, as outlined by Minister Dutton?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know that I -- that I -- that we have a specific timeline here on this. The -- and the -- remember, the AUKUS arrangement is really designed; right now, the initial initiative is to help them acquire nuclear submarine -- nuclear-propelled submarine capability. But what the Secretary Minister Dutton talked about, in a bilateral fashion, was also working to increase U.S. access to training ranges and -- and to other -- and to other capabilities inside and around Australia. And so we're going to continue to work with Australia on that. What -- what that looks like over time, and whether you can match that right up to the -- to the submarine project, I don't think, you know, it's not. If that happens, it would be coincidental; we wouldn't be deliberate. Those -- those are two different and parallel efforts, but all designed to the same end, which is to improve our alliance capabilities and to improve our ability to fashion integrated deterrence in the Indo Pacific.

Q:  OK. And my second question, sorry, was a follow-up to terrorists regarding the communication -- the communications generally between Secretary Austin and his Chinese counterparts. And you had said, and I'm paraphrasing you very loosely, which I apologize, you said there are different ways of doing that. Could you be a little more specific because there's not a hotline, is there?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I think...

Q:  It's not a third party, is it? It's direct?

MR. KIRBY:  There's -- there's direct military to military communication. And even down at the tactical level when there needs to be, obviously. So that's what I was referring to.

Q:  OK. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yep.

Jared?

Q:  Hi, Mr. Kirby. Just a quick question. An Israeli official, last week, told my colleague that there's, quote, "No joint operational contingency plan against Iran, should efforts return to the nuclear agreement." Excuse me, "should efforts to return to the nuclear agreement fail." Obviously, diplomacy is going to be the first line of effort here, going forward from the administration. But I was just wondering if you could respond to that statement, whether you consider that accurate, you know, should -- should there be more serious issues in the region involving Iran and our allies and partners?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I haven't seen that comment. So I would just say a couple of things, Jared. One, obviously the secretary fully supports the diplomatic effort to -- to return to a nuclear deal with Iran, that -- that can reduce the threat posed by the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran in the region, as he has said himself, no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear-armed Iran. So he fully supports Secretary Blinken's efforts to get movement at the negotiating table.

Secondly, with respect to allies and partners in the region, obviously, we were just in the region not long ago. We're -- we're -- we're putting a lot of effort and investment in these alliances and partnerships in the Middle East, and we're going to continue to do that because while negotiations go on or don't go on, while diplomacy continues to be pursued, we also have to make sure that militarily that we're able to meet our security commitments to our interests, and to those of our allies and partners. And so we're constantly reviewing our capabilities in the region to make sure that we are appropriately poised and that we -- that we continue to have the kinds of relationships we need to have to allow for us to continue to defend the nation there.

Yeah?

Q:  John, I want to ask a question about Iraq in light of the initial results of -- of the elections? And this is not a, you know, political question. It's related to the security of Iraq and the security of U.S. forces. So the so-called Iraqi Resistance Coordination Committee, basically groups that -- some of the groups that were targeting the U.S. forces in Iraq, are claiming that the elections have been manipulated...

MR. KIRBY:  That had been?

Q:  Manipulated.

MR. KIRBY:  OK.

Q:  And that the elimination of the BMF will "only serve," quote-unquote, the American occupation.

MR. KIRBY:  Thelevation?

Q:  The elimination of the BMF.

MR. KIRBY:  Elimination.

Q:  Based on -- on this statement, and the -- and the initial result -- results, are you concerned that this could usher a new wave of -- of targeting U.S. forces in Iraq?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I mean -- so a couple of thoughts. First, we congratulate the Iraqi government on having fulfilled its promise to hold early elections. And we're pleased to see that the election days were largely conducted peacefully. We've seen preliminary results announced by the Iraqi government. I'm sorry, the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission, and we're waiting for the final certified results. Once those results are certified, it's our hope that the new Council of Representatives will form a government that reflects the will of the Iraqi people and will work to address Iraqi's governance, human rights, security, and economic challenges. We, from a security perspective, we are still partnering with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces in an effort to continue to put pressure on ISIS. That's the focus. That's what we're there for. And we are still in technical talks with Iraq about what that looks like going forward.

As a part of our presence there, yesterday, as today, we still maintain the right of self-defense. And so we obviously don't want to see, as a result of these elections or any other event, we don't want to see violence increase. We certainly don't want to see attacks or threats on our troops. But our commanders have the right of self-defense; they have the capabilities to defend themselves if they need it. Again, they're there predominantly to -- to help the Iraqi security forces improve their capabilities against ISIS. That's the mission.

Q:  (OFF-MIKE) and since you talk policy and politics...

MR. KIRBY:  I did not. I was just congratulating the...

Q:  No, no, you said more than that. I love it to ask this question. Clearly, the -- some of the militias and -- and political groups were associated with -- with Iran or supported by Iran. And some of these groups were targeting the U.S. forces. They didn't do well in -- in the elections based on that preliminary results. Is that -- is that a message from the Iraqi people to the -- to Iran and the militias that -- that resulting to violence is not the answer inside Iraq...

MR. KIRBY:  Well, it should never -- it should never be the -- the answer. Violence should never be the answer. But again, as for the exact results and what they mean, we're not going to prejudge those results because they're -- they're still -- the preliminary results -- all we've seen, they have not been certified. OK?

Tony?

Q:  (OFF-MIC) couple of personnel questions?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I know. It depends on whether you're asking me a question that's on that iPad. Go ahead.

Q:  Cheat sheet.

MR. KIRBY:  It's not a cheat sheet, Tony. It's just notes.

Q:  Cheat pad. You're 10 months into the administration, and you still don't have a chief weapons buyer and a new secretary for Acquisition & Sustainment? Why -- why -- why is that? Have you been pressing the White House to nominate someone for that key position?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the secretary's very focused on making sure we continue to round out the talent here at -- at the department, and he's in regular communication with -- with the White House about -- about how to do that and what's the best way to do that. It's more important for him to have the right people in the right places in -- in these critical national security jobs than it is to -- to rush. And so we are -- we continue to flesh out the -- the roster here at the Pentagon, and he'll stay focused on that.

Q:  I -- second question. Katie Arrington, the Chief Information Security Officer for the A&S division, was put on administrative leave in May for allegations she (inaudible) undisclosed -- unauthorized disclosure of information. Her lawyer says five months later, she still hasn't got any sense of the charges against her, and she's sitting basically and getting paid to on leave. But what's the status of that review, and should five months go by before someone's given the -- the charges, the allegations that led to their suspension?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a status of the review. And I can't speak with any specificity on specific personnel matters and issues. So I don't really have anything for you on that today.

Q:  Could you check and maybe do something written on it? I mean, she's hanging out there for five months; it's not fair, it seems.

MR. KIRBY:  I will see if there's any additional context I can provide, but I don't think there will be, Tony. I'm just -- I'm not able to -- to speak to -- to this issue very specifically. Yeah.

Yeah, Rio?

Q:  Thank you. I want to follow up on Taiwan. The Wall Street Journal reported last week the U.S. forces had been deployed to Taiwan. That this full year to train Taiwan forces. Is the U.S. presence in Taiwan consistent with (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything to say publicly about those reports.  All I can say is what I mentioned earlier, that -- that our policy with respect to Taiwan is in keeping with our one -- the One China Policy, that we remain committed to helping Taiwan with its self-defense capability in keeping with the law and we're going to continue to do that.  I don't have anything specific more to add than that. 

Yes. 

Q:  So yesterday leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, blamed the United States for regional instability.  Do you have any comments on the leader's previous comments? 

MR. KIRBY:  All we would say is that we continue to support the Biden administration's approach to a measured diplomatic effort to try to reduce tensions on the peninsula and to ensure the denuclearization of North Korea.  We think that's in the best interest not only of the entire peninsula, but of the region.  And we're going to continue to support those diplomatic efforts.  At the same time, we're going to continue to make sure that our alliance with the Republic of Korea remains as ironclad and as strong as it is and that -- that our South Korean allies likewise have the capabilities they need to defend themselves if -- if needed. 

Our presence on the peninsula, our presence in the region is about maintaining a sense of stability and security.  And -- and that has always been the focus, nothing more than that. 

Jen ? 

Q:  John, can we get your reaction to the nuclear engineer who worked for naval reactors who has been charged with espionage and for trying to sell the secrets of the submarine propulsion -- the nuclear propulsion systems?  Why is it that the Pentagon security and Navy security didn't catch him? 

MR. KIRBY:  Jen, I really can't speak to this case.  I'm going to have to refer you to the Department of Justice.  I think you can understand why it's -- because it's an active ongoing case, it would be inappropriate and completely unhelpful for us to talk about it here at the podium. 

Q:  Is it accurate to say as part of this AUKUS agreement with Australia that the U.S. is selling the same technology, the nuclear propulsion technology, to Australia as part of that deal or is that a mischaracterization...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  The AUKUS deal...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Sorry, excuse me, the submarine deal with Australia. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, so it's about helping Australia acquire an nuclear-propelled submarine capability.  The eches of that, the details of what that's going to look like and how long it's going to take, to Tom's question, I mean, I think we're still working our way through that.  The Navy will be the lead actor in this.  Obviously the Navy will -- naval nuclear reactors will clearly be front and center in this.  But I don't believe that we have worked out all the details of what that is going to look like exactly.  But it is about helping them acquire, you know, to procure a nuclear capability in submarines. 

Q:  Can I follow up on that real quick? 

MR. KIRBY:  Sure. 

Q:  The first part of Jen's question regarding the spy.  Remember about a week or so ago we had a briefing in here about the new vetting system that was under way.  Would this be something that would have been or could have been better caught in this new system once it gets under way? 

MR. KIRBY:  You know, I don't know, Tom, because I don't have the specifics of this particular case.  And I -- and I don't want to speak for the Department of Justice.  So it would be difficult for me to link the two.  What I can tell you is in terms of what we're trying to do with continuous vetting and an improved vetting is to make sure that -- that we're not only able to prevent and get ahead of insider threats, but also to make sure that criminal activity, activity that would harm our national security interests can be prevented well in advance. 

But whether that would have or could have had an effect on this I -- I just -- I wouldn't be able to say. 

Q:  OK, thanks. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  OK, why don't we get in the back -- in the back there. 

Q:  Thanks, John.  According to the latest Air Force data, 4 percent of active-duty airmen are not vaccinated, fully or partially; with only three weeks left before the deadline it would now be impossible for any of them to get a two-dose vaccine.  Do you know if the Air Force is now pushing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and what's going to happen with those now still about 10,000 airmen who are not vaccinated in any capacity? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well I would point you to the Air Force specifically for what their plans are.  I mean, I can tell you that active duty personnel with at least one dose now stands at 96.7 percent, and active duty personnel that are fully vaccinated stands today at 83.7 percent. 

So we continue to make progress on this.  And the total force, at least one dose, 80 percent, and fully vaccinated, again, across the total force is about 65 percent.  And in the Air Force 84,850 that are partially vaccinated and fully vaccinated they've got 385,500. 

So they're making progress.  Now how they'll -- how they'll try to make up the Delta here before the end of the deadline, I really think is a Department of the Air Force policy that you'd have to talk to them about. 

And then on your second question about disciplinary action, or what the effect would be, again, I want to go back to what we said before, at least, but the secretary's expectation is that commanders will try to get these troops to make the right decision based on information and education, and for somebody that refuses, they'll be given a chance to get more context from medical service providers as well as their chain of command. 

It's a lawful order, so obviously if after all that effort the lawful order is disobeyed, there could be disciplinary action, but the secretary believes that there's lots of tools available to leaders, short of using the uniform code of military justice, to get these troops to do the right thing for themselves and for their units. 

Q:  Just a quick follow-up, does that plan change after the deadline?  Do you short of -- does a -- is there a differentiation with those -- in those conversations once the deadline is passed?

MR. KIRBY:  I think that's better -- a better question for Air Force leaders.  They're the ones that set that deadline, and I wouldn't want to speak to whatever policy adjudication they might do after their deadline is passed and what they're -- what they're trying to do to make goal. 

OK, but without -- so without -- but I don't want to just leave it that the secretary isn't mindful here of the need to get the force vaccinated.  He wants to see everybody that can get the vaccine so that they can be safe for themselves and safe for their families, safe for their units. 

So while certainly we're going to defer you to the Air Force for specific policy implementation, that doesn't -- that doesn't at all dilute the secretary's keen interest in making sure that this mandatory vaccine is administered appropriately across the force. 

OK, yes ma'am? 

Q:  Thank you.  So the Secretary has spoken to his counterpart in China has talked about the nuclear deterrent... 

MR. KIRBY:  He has not spoke to his counterpart in China. 

Q:  When those conversations have happened, some of the readouts have been about -- or some of the information that has come out has been about the -- the nuclear situation in the DPRK has been one of the issues that has been discussed. 

So my question is whether there has been any effort to have a conversation, because that's an interest that we have together with China, as a -- as the pressure ratchets up over Taiwan...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  ... if there might be, you know, an opening there for us to try to talk to them about this other issue that is -- that we have in common.

MR. KIRBY:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (In ?) North Korea.

MR. KIRBY:  A denuclearized North Korea is in everybody's interests in the region and across the world.  So you're right.  It's a shared interest.  But -- and -- and China has -- certainly has a role to play.  They have an influence in Pyongyang that they don't always use. 

But there's no conversation that the -- that the secretary's had to speak to today.  And that doesn't mean that we aren't -- as I said earlier, that we aren't communicating with the PRC.  We are, at different levels.

Yeah, Owen?

Q:  Just a follow-up on the vaccine question, what are the options or tools to, sort of, compel or convince the civilian workforce to get vaccinated if they are skeptical?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, obviously, the UCMJ doesn't apply to our civilian employees.  But -- but there are a range of administrative tools that leaders here at the department will have to make sure that our civilian workers are likewise getting the vaccine.  I don't have the laundry list of -- of what the repercussions would be.  We're still working through implementation guidelines on that right now.

But again, on -- we don't see that this is going to be a huge issue that, our civilian workers here, they take their jobs very seriously.  They take their obligations to their families and to their coworkers very seriously and -- and I think we have every expectation that they too will continue to seek and pursue getting vaccinated.

Guys, a couple more and then I got to go.  In the back, yes.

Q:  John, can I follow-up on Bob's question about the ...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Is that you, Nancy?

Q:  That's me.

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, it's very dark back there.  Sorry.

Q:  That way you'll take my -- it's more likely you'd take my questions if you can't see me.

(LAUGHTER)

MR. KIRBY:  I would have called on you anyway.

Q:  I want to follow up on Bob's question about the August 29th strike in Kabul and the issue -- (if ?) the known stance (is ?) for helping families relocate outside of Afghanistan, can you let us know if the U.S. military or anyone in the department has made contact with any -- any of those 10 family members?

MR. KIRBY:  Let me take the question, Nancy.  I don't have an answer for that.  You're talking about the -- the family members that were the victim of the 29 August?  Let me take the question.  I just don't know the answer to that.

Did you have one?

Q:  I just had a COVID follow up question.  You know, there are a lot of DOD contractors based in Texas that provide things that are critical to the department, including F-35s.  I'm just wondering what sort of guidance the department is putting out.  Because the governor of Texas has now signed an executive order saying that no firms can coerce their employees to get the vaccine.  But that is at direct odds at making sure the supply lines stay...

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  ... moving.  I'm just wondering, are you reaching out to those contractors?  Have you encouraged defense cons that you're -- major defense contractors to get their workforce vaccinated?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, we do want our defense contractors to be vaccinated.  But let me take your question and see if there's something more specific that we've communicated and how that's been communicated rather than just guess.  OK.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.

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