PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right, well, welcome to our first gaggle in a while and sorry I'm a little bit late. Just a couple of things at the top.
I think you know, this morning, we honored the life of Pentagon police officer Corporal George Gonzalez. Corporal Gonzalez was killed in the line of duty here at the Pentagon on the 3rd of August, during an attack at the Metro Platform. He was laid to rest on the 16th of August, in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York.
Corporal Gonzalez was an Army Reservist and lived his life in the service of our nation. His tragic death is a stark reminder of the dangers that our force protection personnel face and the sacrifices that they make to keep us safe.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Gonzalez family and we are grateful for their attendance at today's ceremony. As the Secretary said during that ceremony, I know that nothing we can say will properly assuage their deep grief but we hope that they know that we mourn with them.
So our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the Gonzalez family and to everybody in the Pentagon Force Protection Agency who work so hard every single day to keep us safe, and I know you feel the same way about -- about what they do for everybody that works here at the Pentagon.
Today, the department announced the strategic direction of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program, or CMMC, marking the completion of a program assessment led by senior leaders across the department. The department listened to concerns of our partners in the Defense Industrial Base and we believe that this way forward addresses those concerns, to include those of small businesses.
Enhancements will maintain the original goal of protecting sensitive information while also simplifying the program and providing additional clarity on cybersecurity requirements for our partners in the Defense Industrial Base.
I’d invite you to visit the updated CMMC website for more information. Anything you want there -- it's a good place to go. Also, Russ Goemaere in the Press Office is standing by, should you have any additional questions on that.
Okay, and with that, we'll start. AP doesn't have a question this morning, so does anybody here have one? Tom?
Q: John I have a couple of quick ones. When General Hyten retires and there's a nominee obviously to replace him, will he be the only uniform vacancy among the top positions? I'm thinking yeah, there's -- obviously, we have the Chief of Staff of the Army and Navy and Air Force are in place, military folks. We have a Joint Chief. Is there anybody else sort of in that level who's in uniform?
MR. KIRBY: I am not aware of -- when he retires, there will be a gap. I'm not aware that there will be any other gaps at the four-star level.
MR. KIRBY: I will double-check that because I don't want to be wrong, but I can't think of a four-star job that's gapped right now.
Q: That’s my thought as well but that's why I wanted to check.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we'll -- we'll triple-check it, but my sense is no, there won't be any other gaps.
Q: And my second question is I went back through some of the transcripts, just to check on the -- you know, the Global Force Posture Review, and in -- several times you indicated it would be completed by the end of summer or September, and I know a few weeks ago, Jim asked you about it, and you said it's still underway. And I'm wondering, do you believe it can be done by the end of the year?
MR. KIRBY: We do.
MR. KIRBY: We do.
Q: In the last few days, there was a lot of talk, statements about a military -- Turkish military operation in Syria. I know you can't speak on behalf of Turkey, but can you please tell us to what extent the U.S. is willing to defend its allies, especially SDF, I guess, any military operation?
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, we obviously want to keep our focus in Syria, and our -- and the focus of our SDF allies in Syria to the counter-ISIS fight, and that's what we're there for. It is the sole purpose that we are there for. I cannot and won't speculate about Turkish actions. That's really a question for Ankara to speak to. But we obviously don't want to see any actions by anyone that diverts our ability inside the Coalition -- and it is a Coalition -- to keep going after ISIS. And we all, all of us, including Turkey, have that -- a shared interest in not seeing ISIS grow or get more capable inside Syria.
Q: But are you going to assist them or give them sort of assistance in the case (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: Again, our focus -- I -- I'll just say it again this way: Our focus in Syria is counter-ISIS.
Q: And is it time yet to identify the group behind the Al Tanf attack?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have -- it's interesting, the way you phrased that question: "Isn't it time?" I do not have --
Q: (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, no, no. It's an interesting way to phrase the question. I don't have any attribution to speak to today, but I'd go back to what I said, as well as the national security advisor, you know, the -- that we -- we continue to see attacks by groups that are backed by Iran against our people and our facilities and our Iraqi partners.
Q: And last thing: Do you have anything on the Lebanese army chief who's visiting the Pentagon today and having meetings?
MR. KIRBY: I would point you to the Joint Staff. He's being hosted by the chairman, so obviously, we're --
Q: (inaudible) he's having meetings also with a senior official.
MR. KIRBY: He's -- he's having meetings here with senior officials. I think the Joint Staff Public Affairs Office will have a readout at the end of that. I don't want to get ahead of them, but we're delighted to have him here. There will be some OSD officials, policy officials meeting with him, as well. Again, we have shared interests with the Lebanese Armed Forces on -- on many levels, but I'd let the Joint Staff and Colonel Butler and his team -- they'll have a readout for you since it is a -- a meeting being hosted by the Chairman, who is his counterpart. I'd let them speak to that.
Q: (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: So they'll -- and I think they'll have something soon. I don't think it's going to take very long to -- to get some readout of it.
Q: I wanted to follow up on the briefing yesterday on the I.G. report on the drone strike. So it's my understanding that the Secretary has now endorsed the report, which, I'm wondering first, by definition, does that mean he's -- and a -- a couple of questions here. Does that mean Secretary Austin has also endorsed the finding of the report of no recommendation of accountability at this time?
MR. KIRBY: The Secretary has endorsed the findings and recommendations in General Said's review and investigation, and I mean, you're -- you're picking up on one aspect of it, but there were three big recommendations, and he absolutely supports those recommendations. He has asked General McKenzie and General Clark. He transmitted the investigation on -- to them on Monday and asked them to come back to him with how they're going to implement those recommendations, and he also invited them to address any additional measures that they think that they need to take -- that they believe they need to take to prevent a recurrence.
Q: But at the moment, he has endorsed -- is it correct that he has endorsed a portion of the report which makes no recommendation on accountability?
MR. KIRBY: The Secretary concurs with the findings of General Said when it comes to his findings and recommendations on that airstrike.
Q: So what --
MR. KIRBY: And that would include concurring with General Said's finding that there was no violation of the law of war, and that there was no criminal misconduct here.
Q: Well, here's what I don't understand. So over the years, it's just the case that military people have made genuine mistakes in the field; that it's not criminal conduct. They -- there are reasons for it, and many times, genuine mistakes have been made. I don't think anybody suggests this was anything other than a genuine mistake.
So going with that notion, because there's no suggestion that it was -- other than the -- a -- a mistake. We heard all of the reasons for it, but I still don't understand why that does not add up to taking a look at accountability.
MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to relitigate the investigation here with you today. General Said was here for an hour taking questions, and I think he did a very good job of laying out the conclusions that he made and how he got there. So I simply would refer you back to the transcript on -- to your question of, you don't understand how. It's in the transcript from yesterday.
Q: (inaudible) details to the point. It's --
MR. KIRBY: He was very clear about how he came to his conclusions, Barb.
Q: But the -- my last question on this point is, totally accept what it -- that genuinely, the personnel involved did not see children. And many people have asked, after so many years of airstrikes -- and we understand that this strike was very unique circumstances -- but after so many years of airstrikes and so much knowledge on the part of the U.S. military on how to conduct these operations, does this raise some red flags of concern to you beyond just procedural problems?
MR. KIRBY: Again, without speaking to the specifics on -- on this airstrike and this investigation, I -- let me just speak broadly, Barb. As a military that has been at war for two decades, it is true we don't get everything right all the time. But unlike a lot of other militaries around the world, we try to learn from mistakes. We try to learn from our experiences, and we're not bashful about applying lessons learned to try to improve.
And back to the Secretary's transmittal of the investigation to these two combatant commanders, he made it clear in that transmittal that he wants them to look at the recommendations that General Said arrived at, recommendations that he endorses, and learn from that and make whatever changes to their own processes and procedures so that a recurrence, such as what happened on the 29th, doesn't happen again.
And let me just take this opportunity to stress again on behalf of the Secretary how -- how deeply he feels about the lives that were taken in this airstrike and -- and our grief and sorrow at the pain we have caused this family. None of that's lost on us, and that's why he is taking the results of this investigation so seriously.
Q: I have two very different questions. First, the White House announced today that they are going to require federal workers to get vaccinated by January. Does it change anything for your – for the Pentagon?
MR. KIRBY: We're still -- I don't -- let me start by saying we still owe the civilian workforce some additional guidance and we expect to be able to provide some additional guidance to them. In terms of how we're going to handle the vaccine mandate for them and how -- and what policies are going to be in place for them should they also want to seek exemptions for that. So we still owe the civilian workforce that.
I'm not aware, Sylvie, and I will take this question, but I am not aware that what impact this new decision on deadline affects the deadline that we put in place, which was late -- for later this month. So I don't know that. Let me just double-check to see if that changes it. But we -- in the interim, I can tell you we know we owe the civilian workforce some additional guidance.
Q: Okay. And I would like to go back to the incident with the Iranian --
Q: Yes, the tanker. The specialized publication Lloyd’s List, which is very well informed, said -- is saying that this tanker, the Vietnamese tanker, has been involved with numerous times in trafficking with countries that are under sanctions, like Iran and Venezuela. So I was wondering were the U.S. Navy vessels in the vicinity of this tanker because of a possible violation of sanctions?
MR. KIRBY: Yes. I really can't go beyond what I've said yesterday, and I'm not going to speak anymore today than what I did yesterday in terms of the ownership of the vessel. What I can tell you confidently is that U.S. Navy vessels monitoring this situation were acting in accordance with international law, and we take that very seriously.
Obviously the Iranians do not. But I don't have any additional context with respect to that vessel and what that vessel was doing at that moment.
Q: You were questioned yesterday about the fact that you didn't intervene. So that could explain why you --
MR. KIRBY: I'm -- I understand the -- the context of the question. I'm just not able to go into additional detail. What I can tell you confidently is that we were acting in accordance with international law.
Q: Can I follow that up real fast please John?
MR. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Thanks. Excuse me.
Q: Go ahead.
Q: Yeah. Not referring to this specific incident, but in a -- speaking more broadly, does the U.S. Navy or the military have the capacity and I apologize in advance for this poor example, much like police officers do for when they get behind a car, they can call in the plate and ascertain if that's a vehicle that's been stolen or something like that. In other words, does the Navy have the capacity that if they spot a ship and they can see the markings on it, to call someplace and say, "Be more aware of this -- of this vessel"? Do you follow my question?
MR. KIRBY: I don't know if you're -- you mean authority --
Q: No, not --
MR. KIRBY: -- not so much capacity.
Q: In other words, a police officer can call in a -- a license plate and see if that car is hot or stolen. In other words, they have a central database --
MR. KIRBY: I mean, maritime interdiction operations is not something that's unusual to the U.S. Navy in those waters, or even in waters in our own hemisphere, and we do them routinely. We oftentimes do them in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard, sometimes with Coast Guard law enforcement detachments on board, because they do have -- they do have a mandate to assist in those kinds of operations that the United States Navy can't and won't. So without getting into specifics --
Q: (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: -- we do maritime interdiction operations all around the world. The difference is we do it in keeping with U.S. domestic law, as well as international law.
Q: I'm not questioning the ability or the right to do it. I'm wondering about the specific information, grasping ability of, say, a commander or -- you're -- you're a former admiral -- or the admiral on a ship who spots a ship that's suspicious, and he or she could then call someone or -- I say "call" figuratively -- alert somebody. "Hey, is this a suspicious ship? Should we have a special eye on it?"
MR. KIRBY: Again, without getting into --
Q: A specific (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: -- too much details, I mean, we -- we have certain -- we certainly have the ability to -- to monitor maritime traffic as appropriate, and that monitoring is informed by law enforcement information, as well as intelligence that's collected, and I think that's really as far as I can go on that.
Q: Okay, thanks.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Okay, a couple of questions. I'm still confused on the accountability aspect from yesterday's briefing on the drone strike. I understand no -- nothing unlawful and no criminal activity or -- or criminal -- I guess, any charges going forward. But I thought the door was left open for a -- a follow-on look to see if anyone in the decision chain has -- needs some sort of accountability action taken, or is that shut? This is done?
MR. KIRBY: No, it's not shut, I think I'd point you back to the transcript. General Said got this exact question, and he said while he did not find any criminal or negligent behavior that would warrant another investigation on an individual, that it was in -- that it was certainly in the purview of the two combatant commanders who are relevant here, Central Command and Southern Command, that as they look at the process execution and the investigation that General Said did found breakdowns in that execution, as they look at that, if they determine that at their level there needs to be some measure of accountability -- and he even listed some things that could be done. You can decertify somebody. You can remove them from the watch bill. You could -- I mean, there's -- there's lots of possibilities here, but that is for the commanders to determine, and that's only if they deem that appropriate.
So I think it would be wrong to conclude that doors are closed because now, the investigation has been transmitted to these two commanders and -- and they have the purview to look at this through their own lens and see if they feel like there's additional action that might need to be taken, but that would be up to them.
Q: So also, I'm -- is there any sort of timeline for that, or is this -- there'll -- will there be any sort of, I guess, (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: That would be up to -- you'd have to ask General Clark and General McKenzie about that.
Now, I will tell you that when the Secretary transmitted the investigation to them on Monday, he did ask them to come back to him in a matter of a couple of weeks with any recommendations that they have with respect to procedural improvements. But as for other things such as potential action, administrative actions they might want to take, that's really a question you'd have to pose to Central Command and Special Operations Command.
Q: Okay, thank you.
I had just two others, different topics. The first one, Ukraine -- Chairman Milley yesterday at Aspen said that the exercises that he's seen at the border of Russia didn't seem out of the ordinary right now. But wondering if there has been any concern in the building, or any communication between, you know, high-staff-level here and their counterparts in Russia, just to get a sense of what's going on.
MR. KIRBY: I know of no senior-level communications from the Pentagon. I'd refer you to State if -- if, in fact, they've, through our ambassador, if they've had discussions with their Russian colleagues. I think you -- yeah. So I leave -- I leave it at that, but I have no conversations from the Department of Defense to read out to you. But we are watching this and monitoring it closely. We -- as we've said before, we certainly would appreciate Russia being more clear about what their intentions are here. But I think the chairman summed it up very well yesterday in terms of what we're seeing right now.
Q: And then just last one -- sorry.
MR. KIRBY: It's okay.
Q: On the extremism review, are there any updates on when we can expect to find -- to get those findings? Do you think it will happen before the end of the year?
MR. KIRBY: I do think that we'll be able to have their -- the working group report out before the end of the year. And I want to just level-set, and -- because of the way you asked the question, and I'm not suggesting that you asked it incorrectly, but it gives me an opportunity to once again talk about what this is and what it isn't. It's the working group report out of how they think we should try to address issues of extremism in the force going forward, to include, you know, the vetting process of recruits, and training for transitioning service members that are heading out the door to become civilians, and of course, you know, a refinement of what we consider to be extremist activity. And as I said to Meghann lo these many times, we do think that the -- that -- that the list will be different, and that will be part of the -- of the working group's report.
But it's a report out from their activities, and sort of a look ahead of what their recommendations are going forward, and I do think we'll be able to speak about that work before the end of the year.
Pierre, you've been very patient.
Q: Thank you. Going back to the issue of the tanker and the IRGC small boats and the U.S. ships that were around.
MR. KIRBY: Right.
Q: Did the U.S. ships receive any call to help, any distress call? You called it technical (inaudible). Did they receive any call for help?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of that, but I'd refer you to Central Command and the Fifth Fleet specifically to talk about that. I'm not aware of any distress call.
Q: If there is one, I mean I know this --
MR. KIRBY: I'm not saying here wasn't one, Pierre, I just don't have the level of detail. So I'd refer you to the Navy or to Fifth Fleet on that.
Q: Back on the ship, John, normally the U.S. is always saying that they support the freedom of navigation, the freedom of flow of commerce --
MR. KIRBY: I said that yesterday.
Q: And at the same time you said, Iranians illegally take over that ship in international waters while the U.S. forces were monitoring. So isn't there a contradiction? Why isn't the U.S. military involved if it's illegal -- an illegal interdiction in international water?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I know you won't find this answer satisfying but I'll repeat it again. Our Navy vessels were acting in accordance with international law in their monitoring of this situation.
Q: Just to follow-up. So what can trigger the intervention of the U.S. (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals and speculate. Look guys I know where you want to go on this. I am not going to speculate about -- I'm just not going to go there. I'm not going to discuss hypotheticals.
Q: Has the Secretary had any concerns or had any conversations with the Army over the June 30th mandate for vaccination for the service and National Guardsmen given that stats are still pretty high, multiple a week in the services and most of the deaths have been among the Reservists and National Guardsmen. Does the Secretary have any concern that giving them six to eight extra months from the other services and their components might cause -- might lead to more deaths?
MR. KIRBY: The Secretary -- it’s fair to say the Secretary is concerned about the rate of infection that we continue to see. And quite frankly the deaths which are still occurring inside the active duty force as well as the Reserve and the Guard and in civilians. So he's very concerned about that. And he has talked to senior department leaders about their efforts to continue to get the force vaccinated as quickly as they believe they can.
So, and I mean even just yesterday was in a senior leader meeting here at the -- among the OSD senior leadership, not the military leadership, but asked questions about vaccination options for Reservists and for members of the Guard. Specifically what their options were outside the military health system.
So it's very much on his mind and he has had continuous communication with the leaders of the military departments about how they're doing and as I mentioned yesterday the Deputy receives routine reports about progress and we obviously we have been talking to you about that progress.
He's glad to see that the percentages are continuing to climb, of vaccination. But as I said yesterday, what he really wants to see is 100 percent.
Q: Mr. Kirby, if I could bring it back to Syria briefly because this is something obviously that's come up a couple times in the past few years. Obviously there are tensions about Turkey potentially launching another incursion in northern Syria. Has the department ruled out the potential use of force to prevent Turkey backed fighters from coming into the coalition's area of operations?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I would -- I'm not going to speculate one way or another here. What I need to -- I feel like I need to continue to stress is our mission in Syria is laser focused on the threat of ISIS and on making sure that we do everything we can to compete -- continue to disrupt and defeat their efforts inside Syria, and I'll leave it at that.
I haven't done anybody on the phone here. Alex, I think you had a question.
Q: Hey, John, yeah, thanks. Getting back to the drone strike briefing yesterday, we do know that there were kids who climbed into the car, you know, once it arrived. So do you know how many people had eyes on the feed once that happened in real time? And do you know if they simply did not see them, or if they saw a -- kids aged two, three, four, nine and 10 and mistook them for adults? And then I have a follow-up question about accountability.
MR. KIRBY: I don't have an answer to your question, Alex, and that would be -- you know, that would be purview to the investigation, and I can't speak to the specifics of General Said's investigation. A, it's his investigation done independently, and as he mentioned yesterday, there's a lot of it that is still in the classification -- is still in the classified mode, so I'm afraid I can't answer that question.
Q: So in that realm, are you guys going to release any imagery from it beyond what you've release, or a redacted version of the report?
MR. KIRBY: No, no, don't -- I know -- I know of no plans to release any additional imagery, and there's no plans to redact the report. What we endeavored to do yesterday was provide you an unclassified fact sheet about -- of the findings and recommendations, which we did, and we put the investigator up here for an hour yesterday to take questions. I know of no further actions that will be taken in terms of release of additional details from the report.
Q: Okay --
MR. KIRBY: Sam?
Q: Hey, I had a follow-up question.
MR. KIRBY: Okay, go ahead.
Q: So, you know, I'm glad you used the term "lesson learned" earlier today, and I hate to give you deja vu, but one of the -- the Kunduz lessons learned from the -- the hospital strike was that, you know, situational awareness and lack of it, and communication issues mixed with the challenging urban environment led to decisions that were, in the end, mistakes and -- and poorly made. It seems like that's what also shook out. So I mean, lessons learned are only as good as the organization willing to implement them. So when you talk about implementing lessons learned with this, I mean, what's your confidence level that they will have any results, if this one wasn't taken to heart? And doesn't all of this indicate that there might be a soup-to-nuts problem with how intelligence and assessments are made, analyzed and decided on, rather than just explaining away just a few simple surface-level decisions as heat of the moment? You know, what -- why is the -- why is the Secretary comfortable with just the surface-level fixes?
MR. KIRBY: I wouldn't say that the Secretary's comfortable with anything with respect to the future going forward. That's why he wants the two combatant commanders relevant to this investigation to come back to him in short order with how they're going to implement the recommendations that General Said made in his investigation, and any other additional actions that they believe that they need to take, and he was very clear in his direction that -- he's not resting on anything right now.
And what I -- you know, back to your question of confidence, what I can tell you is that -- that he's confident that we've got to continue to make sure we learn lessons from events like this so that they can't recur, and while he's the Secretary of Defense, he's going to stay focused on that.
Q: Yeah, I want to follow up with that. Doesn't this still raise -- I mean, (inaudible) questions? I know some people raised questions about -- about the efficacy of relying on this as these sort of over-the-horizon capability, no matter how robust, as the primary strategy in Afghanistan?
MR. KIRBY: I - I would go back to --
Q: And the fact that you don't have intelligence on the ground, you don't have troops on the ground, you're like, you know --
MR. KIRBY: I -- Mike, the only thing I would do is point you to what General Said said yesterday about the difference between this strike on the 29th and classic over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes, where you have more time to soak the area with intelligence capability, where you have time to develop pattern of life, where you have time -- the luxury of time to be able to strike in a way that you know with -- with great confidence that you're not going to hurt innocent people, and a self-defense strike, which was done on the 29th. And again, I can't say it better than the general, so I'd point you back to the transcript, of the speed with which they believed they needed to move against which -- a -- a threat which they believed to be imminent and in the context of the moment. Just a couple of days after losing 13 troops to a -- an ISIS attack at the Abbey Gate and a day or so out from knowing that they were going to be leaving the airport forever, and in the context of that rapidly-dwindling retrograde timeline, a commensurate dwindling capability, self-defense capability.
So very different things, as General Said said yesterday, apples to oranges. And what I can tell you is when it comes to the classic over-the-horizon kind of capabilities that we know we have, yes, the Secretary is more than comfortable that we will be able to continue to execute those missions as appropriate.
And as I've also said numerous times from the podium, we're going to continue to try to improve that classic over-the-horizon capability. That's why we're talking to, you know, partners in the region, and neighboring nations to -- to see how we can continue to make those capabilities more robust.
Q: There was no -- I mean, I know part of the idea of the -- of the drone strike was to prevent another attack. But there -- there never turned out to be one, right? There was no other attack?
MR. KIRBY: I beg to differ. I mean, there were rocket attacks. There were rocket attacks later that evening in the early morning hours of the 30th onto the airfield. So that -- the threat environment was very real.
I'll take one from Sam, and then I think we'll call it a day. Sam, are you there?
Q: Yeah, hey John. Just kind of following up from some comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry this week. They were complaining that they didn't get very much information about the Connecticut incident earlier in October, and I was wondering if the department has reached out to their counterparts in China and to, you know, provide them some reassuring information, or anything additional to what we already have seen out, perhaps.
MR. KIRBY: No, I know of no such communication efforts with the PRC with -- with respect to the USS Connecticut.
Q: I have a (inaudible).
MR. KIRBY: Of course you do.
Q: Of course I do, right.
Q: See, Meghann? A -- a seamount is not a movable object, correct? It's -- it's stationary. No, I ask this because --
MR. KIRBY: I understand.
Q: Yeah. So is that on the charts anywhere, or how does this happen. I'm referring to you as your days as an admiral.
MR. KIRBY: Hey. But I wasn't a submariner. I think, Tom, it's best for me to let the Navy speak to this.
MR. KIRBY: Because they've done an investigation on this, and I -- I am not that familiar with what exactly happened to the USS Connecticut. Yes, you're right, the seamount is a geographical feature underwater.
I'm not a cartographer, so I'm not an expert in terms of like how many are -- how many are on charts and how many are not. Or how -- how often the -- the bottom landscape changes. So, I'd let the Navy -- really should speak to that specifically. And I'm sure they can help you out with that a little bit more.
Okay, thanks, everybody. Sorry it was a little bit late.