Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Nov. 15, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody. Just a couple of scheduling notes.  The Secretary is scheduled to host a couple of his counterparts this week.  Tomorrow, he'll meet with Norwegian Minister of Defense Odd Roger Enoksen to reaffirm the United States as a committed ally partner and friend to Norway, and to congratulate him on his recent appointment as Minister of Defense.

We'll be discussing ways in which we can deepen our long-standing defense cooperation with Norway and of course, to discuss shared security challenges.  Thursday, the Secretary will welcome the new Minister of Defense for Ukraine Alexei R├ęznikov to the Pentagon again to congratulate him on his recent appointment as minister.  And to continue the close cooperation between our two countries on defense and security issues.

And with that, we'll take questions I think we have Bob on the phone.

Q:  Yes, thank you, John.  A couple of quick questions.  The State Department has confirmed this Russian satellite test.  I'm wondering if you can speak from the Pentagon's point of view, what are the ramifications of this capability and this test?  And secondly, if you could comment regarding the New York Times story that -- over the weekend about the March 2019 airstrikes in Syria.  Is Secretary Austin, going to order some sort of fresh or broader review of the incident or of CENTCOMs handling of it.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  On the first one.  Obviously, we share the concern that our State Department colleagues stressed earlier today about this test.  The most immediate concern is the debris itself, which is now floating out there and could become a hazard including to the International Space Station.  So, there's concerns about the debris itself.  And obviously, you know writ large, we watch closely.

The kinds of capabilities that Russia has -- seems to want to develop, which could pose a threat not just to our national security interests, but the security interests of other spacefaring nations.  And again, we've been very clear we would like to see norms for space so that it can be used responsibly by all spacefaring nations.  On your second question.

I'm not -- the Secretary hasn't ordered anything specific with respect to the New York Times reporting, Bob.  He certainly has seen that reporting.  He has asked General McKenzie to brief him more specifically on that particular airstrike, the one from March 2019.  I don't have anything on the schedule to announce today.  But he has asked General McKenzie to give him a briefing on that strike.

I would like to add just a couple of other points, though, that -- number one, no military in the world, works as hard as we do to avoid civilian casualties.  Does mean that we don't always get it, right?  We don't.  But we work hard to avoid civilian harm.  We're also willing to take a look at ourselves, and so we've got two studies that the department commissioned a while ago, to look at civilian harm that are coming to conclusion, even as we speak.

One of them is done and going through security review.  The other one is very close to wrapping up.  That one was required by law, the National Defense Authorization Act, to look at civilian harm that we contracted that out.  That report is nearing completion.  And again, the other one was actually asked for in the last administration, out of the ASD Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Directorate to look at civilian casualties in Syria, specifically.

So, it is something we're -- we have remained mindful of and will remain mindful of going forward.  And obviously, if and when we get to a point where we can talk about those two reports, we certainly will.  But we are looking at ourselves with respect to civilian harm.  We're willing to keep looking at ourselves with respect to civilian harm, and to do everything we can to try to mitigate that in the conduct of our operations.  Yes, Jen.

Q:  So, if you are emphasizing that you have been looking internally at civilian casualties, why haven't you paid out money to the family in Afghanistan who was struck by the drone?  And why have those people not been evacuated from the country yet?

MR. KIRBY:  So, a couple of points one, not looking internally, we actually looked outside.  We had -- we hired an outside contractor to look -- to do these two reviews on civilian harm.  And they've been long standing.  They've been in the works for many, many months.  Number two, we are still working out the details of the ex-gratia payments with respect to Mr. Ahmadi's family members.

We are working closely with his former employer, NEI to try to affect that in the most responsible, safest way.  And we are also in frequent contact as a matter of fact, as recently as last week, in written contact with NEI to try to get more information so that we can affect the relocation of those family members.  But it has Undersecretary Kahl's personal attention, he's working this himself.  And we're going to continue to get at.  The Secretary was very clear that he wants to support their relocation.  Yes, Court.

Q:  Just to be clear on those two reviews or reports that you mentioned.  Would either of them have specifically looked back at that strike in Syria, and there would have been any potential to realize that potentially, dozens of women and kids were killed in that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't...

Q:  And look at specific strikes like that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know if it the either one of them look specifically at that one, Courtney.  They were commissioned some time ago.  One is just a broad look at civilian harm, writ large across the whole department.  And what we do, right, what we don't do, right, and what recommendations might come with that.  That's writ large.  I don't believe that one looks at the March 29 strike specifically.

Q:  Looking back at any strike?  I'm not -- like it's not -- because it just brings up the question, if there's these two reviews that are looking at drone strikes and the potential for killing civilians.  But it's not looking at specific ones, but the New York Times, once again, like in Kabul strike.  If the New York Times hadn't done this extensive research and work on this, we would probably never have even known about the potential for potentially dozens of people to have been killed in Syria in March of 2019, right?

Because neither of these strike -- neither of these reviews that you're mentioning, are looking at that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know, the content of these reviews.  They are -- again, one's complete and going through security review.  The other one is pretty close to wrapping up.  So, I don't know what's in them specifically, Courtney.  But one of them is aligned on Syria.  It's about civilian harm and civilian casualties inside Syria.  So, I can't rule out that it wouldn't consider this one I just don't know.

So, let's not jump to conclusions here until they're done, and we can talk about them.  And on your other point.  While we certainly note and we did at the time, the reporting of the New York Times, on the 29th of August airstrike.  General McKenzie made it clear that that wasn't the precipitating factor for them to do their own investigation on civilian casualties.

They had indications of their own and they conducted a Civilian Casualty Review Report, which led to a 15-6.

Q:  And I want to ask about the Oklahoma National Guard.  So, what -- can you update us on what's going on with this -- the Adjutant General's announcement that he's not going to hold National Guardsmen and women responsible...

MR. KIRBY:  What do you mean what's going on with it?

Q:  Well, I guess where's -- what's the Pentagon's -- what's the latest on that?  Is the Pentagon going to force the National Guard in Oklahoma to get their COVID still?  What -- like what where are the authorities like can -- cause it seems as if the federal government's authority and this is funding right?

So, if in fact, anyone under the National Guard Oklahoma decide not to get vaccinated because their -- the Adjutant General's telling them they don't have to.  What will the Pentagon do about it?  Will you withhold their funding?  Will they -- there'll be repercussions.  What can the federal government do?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I don't want to hypothesize about potential outcomes here.  Let me just go back to your question about authorities.  The Secretary of Defense, as well as the service secretaries have the authorities to establish readiness requirements for all members of the Department of Defense and that includes the National Guard in a Title 32 status.  So, that the Secretary has the authorities he needs to require this vaccine across the force, including the National Guard.

Q:  Even when they're not on federal -- when they're in Title 32, the Secretary still has that authority?

MR. KIRBY:  He still has that authority, even when they're in a Title 32 status.

Q:  So, the Adjutant General's memo is meaningless essentially?

MR. KIRBY:  I'll let the Adjutant General speak for his memo.  The Secretary of Defense has the authority to require these vaccines for all members of the force, including the National Guard, and as I said, even in a Title 32 status.  Because when they're called up for their monthly training, they're still federally funded.  So, he has those authorities.  And he believes and this is a larger point that a vaccinated force is a more ready force.

And just take a look at what the National Guard has done in just the last year alone, from disaster relief, wildfires, hurricane relief to assisting literally in putting shots in the arms of their fellow Americans.  They have been very, very busy.  And they do meet key national security needs.  So, it's important for them to get these vaccines.

Q:  The only real reach the Secretary has though is funding though, right?  I mean, he doesn't, because it -- because actually getting rid of the -- terminating them from their contracts is the state's role, right?  That's what I'm trying to figure out is like, what actually -- what can the Pentagon or the Secretary of Defense, what can the federal government actually do to enforce this?  To force the Oklahoma National Guard to enforcement the mandate.

MR. KIRBY:  It is a lawful order for National Guardsmen to receive the COVID vaccine.  It's a lawful order and refusing to do that, absent of an improved exemption puts them in the same potential as active-duty members who refuse the vaccine.  It's a lawful order, and they and they are subject to that order.

Q:  John just a follow up.  The Adjutant General, does the Defense Secretary still have confidence in his abilities?

MR. KIRBY:  That is a question for the Governor, not for the Secretary.

Q:  Has the Secretary been in contact with the Governor?  You said on Friday that he was going to...

MR. KIRBY:  He will respond appropriately.  That's still my answer today.

Q:  So, he hasn't been in contact...

MR. KIRBY:  No.

Q:  ...with the Governor?  And so, to Courtney's question, not getting vaccinated is violating a lawful order.  Of course, it doesn't matter if the chain of command doesn't deal with it.  But not enforcing a vaccine mandate, is that also violating a lawful order?  And can the chain of command above the Adjutant General do anything about that from here?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I'm not going to, I’m not a legal expert on that, Megan.  So, I'm going to refer you to the National Guard Bureau for those kinds of questions.  It, we have the authorities that we need to enforce this vaccine mandate, and more critically, it's important that they get the vaccine so that they can be a more ready force.

I mean, that's what I think is missing in this legal argument today is that it's really for their benefit, and for the benefit of the communities that they live in and support.  And not to mention their families and their and their colleagues in the units, that they get vaccinated so that they can be more ready because we do rely on the National Guard so much.

Q:  I think that's well understood that everybody is looking to this building and your boss for what he's going to do about it.  And so far, that appears to be nothing.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think that's a fair way of putting it, Meghan, I don't have a decision to announce here today.  He only just got this letter from the Governor of Oklahoma last week.  We will respond appropriately to the Governor.  I'm not going to speculate today about what actions we might or might not take.  Hopefully it won't come to that, right.

We don't want it to have to come to that.  That's not the point right now.  The point is to make the case that A these vaccines are safe and effective.  And National Guardsmen B are required to take them under the authority that the Secretary has, including when they're in Title 32 status.  That's the point today, Travis.

Q:  So, Governor Stitt, has sent that letter to the Secretary.  Have any other states reached out to him with similar concerns that they may be doing something...

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any other state or other governors who have done the same thing?  Yes, Tom.

Q:  I talked to some Guard officials.  And it's a concern that this could quickly snowball.  That other governors and other TAGs will basically say, OK, Oklahoma, did it, we don't want the vaccine either.  So, does Secretary Austin plan on reaching out to why their governors with the TAGs, to kind of get in front of this issue?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think the Secretary has plans to reach out to other governors and other TAGs at this point.  But if there's a snowball effect, we haven't seen it yet, Tom.  I mean, if he feels like that, that's a necessary thing to do, he certainly would.  But it's not something that he's planning on doing right now.

Q:  Do you think back to the strike in Baghouz.  Apparently, the special forces had access to some very grainy drone footage that didn't show civilians.  So, there was confusion, I guess, and they called in the strikes.  There were other drones that provided high resolution footage that they did not have access to.

And then I think one official told The Washington Post in the future airstrikes, that special forces or wherever calls, an airstrike will have access to that high resolution footage.  Can you explain how it was that the Green Berets did not have access to the best drone footage?  I'm told it was the CIA's drone that provided the high-resolution footage.

MR. KIRBY:  No Tom, I simply can't.  And I'm not going to re litigate a strike that happened back in March of 2019.  Hear from the podium, I refer you to CENTCOM for the specifics.  I think they put out a pretty lengthy, detailed statement on their own.  And I'd point to that, what I can tell you is the Secretary takes this issue very seriously.  And moving forward, he wants to make sure that we're doing everything we can to prevent civilian harm in the conduct of our operations.  That's where his focus is going to be.

Q:  Back to the ASAT test.  Did Russia give the Department of Defense advance notice of this anti-satellite launch?

MR. KIRBY:  No.

Q:  All right.  And secondly, in December 2020, when there was a similar ASAT test Space Command said this was an example of Russia's weaponizing space.  Does the Pentagon believe that Russia is weaponizing space?  And what sort of -- what reaction does this building have to Russia, making it more dangerous for the astronauts that...

MR. KIRBY:  I kind of addressed that at the top of the briefing.  Obviously, we're concerned about any nation that would weaponize space or make space less conducive to peaceful commercial enterprises and exploration.  We want to see space, the space domain subject to international norms and rules so that it can be explored by all spacefaring nations in a responsible way.  And this was an irresponsible act.

Q:  But does the Pentagon's believe that Russia is weaponizing space?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I've already stated what our concerns are, Tara about this test.  As we've done in the past.  Fadi?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I have one question on Afghanistan and one on Iran.  On Afghanistan do you have any update on the -- memo about immediate family members of U.S.  service members?

MR. KIRBY:  I think what I can tell you is since that memo, about 60 service members have come forward and expressed concerns about family members in Afghanistan.

Q:  And did you -- were you able to verify that the numbers or evacuate any immediate family numbers?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not. Thus far of the ones that have been studied and review, they are not eligible for parole status.

Q:  OK.  Then on Iran we saw on Saturday, the video of the Iranian military helicopter, basically flying in close proximity to the USS Essex.  Reported in the news, this happened on Thursday.  And from the footage you can see the crew of the helicopter, but more importantly, you can see the deck of the USS Essex with all the equipment assets on top of it.  Would you care to comment about this?  What happened and whether that created any risks for the USS Essex?  And what did the crew of the (inaudible) do in that situation?

MR. KIRBY:  So yes, we can confirm that an Iranian helicopter approach the USS Essex in the Gulf of Oman, it operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner.  Flying proximately 25 yards off the port side of the Essex.  At one point as low as about 10 feet off the surface of the ocean, circled the ship three times.  Without getting into specifics, the crew of the Essex took the appropriate force protection measures that they felt they needed to, and they acted, of course, in accordance with international law.

There was no impact ultimately to the Essex transit or their operations.  But that doesn't mean that this wasn't an unsafe and unprofessional act.  Again, I'll say it again, we're going to act in accordance with international law, we're going to fly, sail, and operate where international law permits.  And we're going to continue to look after our national security interests in the region.

Q:  Is it -- I'm not an expert on this.  But what is the -- what are the rules or the protocol that U.S.  Navy has in place when unfriendly nation or not an ally or partner of U.S. fly a helicopter or other assets this close?  I mean, I don't recall like something like this happening.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, it's dangerous.  It's dangerous, because it could lead to miscalculation.  There are rules of engagement that I'm not going to speak to from the podium that our commanders have at their disposal to deal with potential threats.  And when you have another armed force, in this case, the Iranian Navy that flies like this, you definitely run the risk of some sort of escalation and a miscalculation, or on either side here, and that's not helpful.

This one ended peacefully, but it doesn't mean it was safe and professional.  It absolutely wasn't.  And, again, our commanders have the right of self-defense, they have to make those calls in the moment.  There are rules of engagement that help guide them.  And, you know, we're going to continue to stay vigilant.  OK.  Yes, Rio?

Q:  I have two questions.  First the President will meet President Xi later today.  Do you expect this partial meeting will facilitate Secretary Austin's future engagement with his Chinese counterpart?

MR. KIRBY:  Rio, I don't anticipate -- again, I won't speak for the White House.  But we're there's no expectation on our part that this summit tonight is going to lead to some specific engagement by the Secretary.  You've heard me talk about this before.  We obviously want to make sure that there's communications between the Defense Department and senior leaders of the PRC.  And we just haven't worked that out yet, the modalities of that.

Q:  Follow up on Taiwan, the Australian Defense Minister said last week to local media that it is inconceivable for Australia, not to join the United States.  Should the United States take actions to defend Taiwan?  Have you began discussing the concrete timing or concrete steps to defend Taiwan with Australia?  If in case of the conflict over Taiwan.

MR. KIRBY:  No, and there's no change to our One China Policy, Rio.  And as you heard the Secretary say, a few weeks ago, nobody wants to see cross strait tensions come to blows.  And there's no reason that it should -- there's no reason that it should.  OK, let me go to the phones here a little bit.  Mike Kaplan CBS?  Are we -- we're connected, aren't we?  I'll try one more.  And then we'll come back here to the room while we just figured this out, Paul Hanley.

Q:  Hi, John, can you hear me?  Hey, John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY:  I got you, Paul.

Q:  Yes.  Hey, after the warnings that the U.S. has delivered, and (inaudible) should deliver to Russia, about the troop buildup around Ukraine.  Have you seen any movement?  Do they continue to increase presence?  Decrease?  And what's your reaction to President Putin's comments said they are reacting to U.S. stepped up exercises in the Black Sea?

MR. KIRBY:  We do continue to see unusual military activity and concentration of forces in Russia, but near Ukrainian borders.  And that remains concerning to us.  I have not seen President Putin's comments.  So, without speaking specifically to that, in whatever justification he might have said it's a -- if you look at our exercise regimen, our exercises are defensive in nature.

And they are in keeping with our alliances and partner commitments in the region.  And here's the other thing, Paul, we put press releases out about them.  We show photos and video of them.  I talked about them every day here from the podium.  I even will tell you what units are involved, what exercises are going to be doing, and what capabilities they are going to be testing.

There's been no transparency from the Russian side about this concentration of forces in the western part of their country.  And we continue to urge them to be so transparent.

Q:  Just to be clear, have you seen any motion one way or the other in terms of increasing or decreasing presence?

MR. KIRBY:  We’re not going to get into intelligence assessments here, Paul. We continue to see this unusual military activity in this concentration of force, and I'll leave it at that.  Janne.

Q:  Thank you, John.  On the issue of deployment of THAAD in South Korea.  The deployment of THAAD in South Korea is necessarily in national security.  But  China is opposed to this THAAD deployment in South Korea, as you know that.  Are there any plans to deploy additional THAAD in South Korea?

MR. KIRBY:  I have no such plans to speak to you today.

Q:  Also, will Secretary Austin be discussing this issue at the SCM next month?  In Seoul.

MR. KIRBY:  We expected as discuss a full range of issues with our South Korean allies and I don't have any specific agenda items to speak to today here to three weeks out. Abraham.

Q:  Thanks, John.  Two quick questions, as you know, the Veterans Affairs released press release on Thursday, creating a model for those who are exposed to burn pits and those with K2.  I was wondering how the DOD is helping to advance that and get assistance to lower the burden of proof for service members exposed.  And then I have another question for you.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any specifics for you today, Abraham. This is an issue that the Secretary takes very seriously and has had multiple discussions with Secretary McDonough about this.  And fully supports the VA Secretary's desire to make care for these maladies more available and to reduce the burden on our veterans of proof.  So, we're in full support.

But I don't have any specific to talk about today on that.  If -- but I'll tell you what I'll do.  I'll take the question just to see if our health affairs folks have worked on anything specific that we can pass on to you.  I just don't I don't have it handy today.

Q:  Great and then just you -- I'm sure you're also aware that there was an arrangement with some of the Central Asian countries.  Where Afghan pilots had fled to, to safely escort them out of the country.  Can you talk to -- was DOD involved in that at all, coming to United States?  Are there talks about the remaining assets that are there, the aircraft?

MR. KIRBY:  It was a State Department led effort to get those pilots out of Tajikistan.  So, I'll refer you to my State Department colleagues to speak about how they did that.  The DOD was not involved in the physical movement of those pilots out of Tajikistan.  There have been no policy decisions with respect to the aircraft themselves.  There're multiple options being explored.  But no final decision about what's going to happen to them going forward.  Yes.

Q:  Two things.  First on India.  India has received the first S-400s, To what extent are you concerned about?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we've been very clear with our Indian partners about our concern over this system.  I don't have any updates to say.  I mean, you -- when the Secretary visited the New Delhi again, we talked about this then.  I mean, these -- we certainly have concerns over that system, but I don't have any updates for you.

Q:  On the New York Times story.  Also, the part of the story talks about YPG providing certain intelligence to the U.S. military.  To what extent does the U.S. military relies on intelligence provided by the YPG in conducting airstrikes in Syria?

MR. KIRBY:  We work with our SDF partners on the ground to go after ISIS.  And they are strong fighters in that regard.  And they certainly because they know the terrain and they know the ground.  They know the area.  They certainly do support the counter ISIS effort from an intelligence perspective.

Q:  It's obvious that YPG taxed to its link to PKK at a certain level.  Has certain ideological goals in that area, several international organizations have a revealed that the group mistreated local people, particularly the Arabs in that area.  Did this department ever had a concern that this group might have exploited the U.S. military power and caused some violations reaching up to massacres as it's revealed in The New York Times story?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, we -- are always mindful of our obligations when we're dealing with partner forces, about the rule of law and about responsible use of military power and going after a common threat like ISIS.  And that's an ongoing concern.  It's an iterative process.  It's something that we stress to partners throughout the conduct of any military operation.

We're obligated by law, but more importantly, we're obligated to the high standards that we hold.  And I don't have anything specific to speak to with respect to that New York Times report on this.

Q:  Just one follow up on Iran.  You said that this helicopter come closer to 10 feet to the Essex?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I said it, but at one point was flying about 10 feet off the surface of the ocean.  25 yards approximately as close to the port side of the Essex.

Q:  That is extremely close, why wouldn't the U.S. ship launch?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I'm you're asking me to talk about rules of engagement and decisions that commanders are making in the moment.  I'm not going to do that.  They have the necessary means at their disposal to protect themselves, protect their ships.  And we're confident that they understand those responsibilities and those authorities.

What -- you know, what needs to be pressed is, Tehran needs to be pressed, on why they felt like this was a prudent use of their pilots in their aircraft to fly so dangerously close to a U.S.  warship and behave in that way.

Q:  They're openly saying they want to, you know, bother the United States.  They want to cause the United States get out of the entire area.  But...

MR. KIRBY:  How is that working for them?

Q:  Yes, but at the end of the day, they come closer to the U.S. ship to 25 yards.  Is it allowed actually, to -- that's very close range, really, for a helicopter flying?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, it's close.

Q:  And then the U.S. ship didn't do anything to harm that stalemate, like they come that much closer.

MR. KIRBY:  And not going to talk about rules of engagement.  I'm not going to go into any more detail about what force protection measures the commanding officer of the USS Essex used.  But he did what he believed was in the best interest of his ship and his crew.  And the questions really should be asked of Tehran, and the Iranian navy.  As to why they felt this was a prudent use of their pilots in their aircraft.  Yes, Court.

Q:  So, if Tehran needs to be pressed.  Do you think that this is something that was sanctioned and or directed by Tehran then?  Do you think that this is not just some rogue IRGCN?

MR. KIRBY:  No, it wasn't an IRGCN helicopter.  Courtney, it was an Iranian state Navy helicopter.

Q:  Do you believe it was actually directed by...

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know who ordered it, Courtney.  I have no idea.  But it was the Iranian Navy, it wasn't the IRGC.

Q:  And I want to one other follow up.  You said that there were 60 service members to come forward with family members.  But just to be clear, you said none of them -- none of those family members are eligible for parole status?

MR. KIRBY:  That's correct.

Q:  That means that they're all not immediate family members, or why is that?

MR. KIRBY:  Their -- I refer you to State for the details.  What I can tell you is they were all evaluated and thus far in the evaluation, none have been determined to be eligible for parole status.  I'd refer you to my State Department colleagues.

Q:  Do you know how many?  60 service members, how many family members?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know how many family members.  Yes, David.

Q:  Those two civilian casualty reports that you mentioned by the outside contractor.  You said one of them is completed and going through security review?

MR. KIRBY:  Correct.

Q:  Is it going to be publicly released?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know.  I have not seen it, David.  So, I don't know what level of classification it's at.  I don't know what the security view is going to say.  But I can promise you that to the degree we can be forthcoming about the results.  We'll do that.

Q:  And which of the two studies is that.  You say one is specific to Syria?

MR. KIRBY:  One was ordered by ASD SO/LIC specifically to look at Syria.  And that's the one that's undergoing a security review right now.  The other one was required of us by the law by the NDAA.  I think, don't quote me on this, but I think it was the NDAA from 18 -- from fiscal year 18.  But I'd have to check on that.  So, in any event is required of us by law.  That one too is wrapping up?

Q:  So, the outside contractor is going directly through SO/LIC?  This is not going through the IG.

MR. KIRBY:  Now these were these were contracted studies.  They're studies they're not investigations.  They're studies, and it's not uncommon for us to reach out to contracted groups who are experts in conducting analysis and studies to do these.  These are studies and not investigations.  There'd be no need for the IG to be involved at that level.  That's not the intent of these of these two studies.  Yes.

Q:  Follow up on Afghan family members.  You said there were 60 service members, is that the total universe of service members and family members from the Pentagon perspective?

MR. KIRBY:  No that's not.  We got -- we had -- we were able to get some family members out of service members during the evacuation.  And since the evacuation, some have gotten out.  The question put to me was since the memo was put out how many?  60 have come forward since the memo.

Q:  Do we have any of those numbers that have -- we have been able to get out numbers?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  Just for comparison?

MR. KIRBY:  I've got on here.  Let me find them here.  Here we go.  So, during the evacuation 62 service members sought assistance to evacuate family members.  50 family members of six DOD, civilians and service members were evacuated on U.S.  government flights.  More were probably gotten out on privately funded NGO flights.

But I don't have the numbers for that.  They weren't U.S. government flights.  After the retrograde was complete since the 31st of August, we have helped facilitate the impending relocation of about 10 other family members.  And then I gave you the numbers after the memo.  Yes.

Q:  On Afghanistan John, what's the department's reaction to the videos of the military parade that the Taliban conducted using U.S. weapons and equipment?

MR. KIRBY:  We were nothing but clear from the very beginning that we fully expected that property and equipment that we had turned over to the Afghans.  It was Afghan national security force equipment, and vehicles.  Their equipment and vehicles.  We were completely transparent about the idea that some of those would probably find their way into Taliban hands, and they have.

And they are largely low tech, vehicular kinds of equipment.  And that aren't going to pose a threat to U.S. national security interest, but we've been nothing but clear and transparent about the fact that that was going to happen, and it did.

Q:  So, the equipment used yesterday where apart or seized from the Afghan forces not left behind, by U.S. after the retrograde?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't say for sure that none of it was left behind by the Afghans.  When we retrograded and completed, and we talked about this in great detail at the time.  The only thing that we left on the 31st of August for the Taliban to use was some airport vehicles like a fire truck.  I think a forklift, one of those stair trucks and some firefighting equipment.

That's all we left everything else that was left there, I'm sorry, the only thing that we left operable.  Everything else that was left was rendered inoperable by them.  OK.  Take one more here.  Caitlin from Stars and Stripes.

Q:  Hey, John.  Yes, we've got a week until the civilian deadline for the vaccine.  Has the Pentagon given any guidance on how to out process employees who are not fully vaccinated by that date?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know of any specific guidance on out processing.  Do you mean like ending their employment?

Q:  Yes.  Ending their employment, yes, that's what I mean?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I'll take the question.  I'm not sure that we've issued that kind of specific guidance about the employment termination.  But I'll take the question.

Q:  I'd like to come back to the Oklahoma issue.  Doesn't this show the difficulty of operating a military force under the sometimes-conflicting Title 10 -- Title 32 measures?  Secretary is a secretary, but until they're mobilized, the Governor is the commander in chief of these troops and can theoretically, I guess, counteract or countermand what the Secretary says.  Does it show like difficulty of...

MR. KIRBY:  No, I don't think so.

Q:  Kennedy had to mobilize the Alabama National Guard to integrate the University of Alabama.  I mean, does the Secretary have to ask the President to mobilize the Oklahoma Guard so they can get their COVID shots?

MR. KIRBY:  As I said to in at the beginning, Mike.  He has the authority to order the vaccine, for guardsmen in a Title 32 status, he has the authorities.  There's no -- no, there's no conflict to answer your question quickly.  No, there's no conflict.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  I'm wondering about the -- how the progress is going to relocate, Afghans who have arrived in the United States from (inner-housed, temporarily housed on U.S. bases.  Do you have an update on how that's going?  Are they moving into communities?

MR. KIRBY:  So, I can give you an update of where we are in numbers, but I think it's just to level set.  Our responsibility and operationalize welcome is to provide them a safe and secure environment for them to complete the processing that they need to move on.  The process of moving on, that's being handled by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State with respect to their immigration status.

And they are working in lockstep with non-governmental organizations around the country to help these people relocate.  The DOD is not involved in the act of relocation of them to a certain community or a certain state or -- that's beyond our mandate.  But I can give you some updated numbers here.  We have at the eight sites that we still have operating there are about 46,000 Afghans.  25,000 have been relocated to new communities.  So that's where we are.

Q:  You have time for one more? Thank you. On China.  China has demanded that South Korea to give up its missile defense systems with the U.S.  and South Korea.  China seems to want South Korea to end its alliance with the United States and to get closer to China.  What is your comments?

MR. KIRBY:  Our alliance with the Republic of Korea remains strong and vibrant.  It's the linchpin of security in the Indo-Pacific and we don't see anything changing about that going forward.  OK, thanks everybody.  Appreciate it.