Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Dec. 13, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon.  Just a couple of things at the top.

I think you -- you probably all have heard today's the 385 -- 385th birthday of the U.S. National Guard, and I think there's just no more visible, tangible way to acknowledge the contributions that the Guard has made to our national security and our national defense as what you see them doing right now in response to the devastating tornados in the Ohio River Valley this weekend.

So far, the Kentucky National Guard has called more than 300 personnel to duty, including 81 in law enforcement, 80 in recovery support, and 44 in debris clearance.  Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responding to two FEMA mission assignments.  One is for regional activation and temporary emergency power.

Under the regional activation mission assignment, they are deploying in support of debris removal, supporting critical public facilities, infrastructure assessment and engineering and public works.  Under the temporary power mission assignment, they are mobilizing a temporary power planning and response team, the 249th Engineering Battalion, and additional subject matter experts to assist with generator staging assessments and installation.

We do not anticipate activations from other states, with respect to this particular national disaster, and of course the department -- I think you've seen -- we are making available Fort Campbell, Kentucky as an incident support base.

Again, our thoughts and prayers, deepest condolences go to all those who have -- were affected by those devastating tornados and -- and who will have to deal with rebuilding.  And clearly, the department stands behind the interagency effort to do whatever we can do to -- to support them.

And as has been typical, I think, no matter throughout the whole year, wherever you look, there is the National Guard, whether it's helping vaccinate Americans, dealing with cleanup after natural disaster, to helping out our Customs and Border officials down at the southwest border.  They have -- and wildfires -- they -- they have been literally woven into the fabric of this entire year, in terms of response and assistance to their fellow citizens.

So as they celebrate their birthday today -- and I know, for the Guardsmen in Kentucky, there's little to celebrate, I understand that -- but as they mark their anniversary, I think they can do so with terrific pride.

A scheduling note -- Secretary Austin spoke this morning with his Indian counterpart, Minister of Defense Singh.  He spoke to him earlier this morning -- about 7:30 this morning.  The Secretary offered his deepest condolences for the loss of General Rawat, India's Chief of Defense Staff, Mrs. Rawat, his -- his spouse, and all the other Indian service members who were involved and killed in that helicopter accident on the 8th of December.  He also, of course, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to strengthening U.S.-India ties and to deepening our defense partnership.

Additionally, today -- I think you all know -- he met with his counterpart, Lithuanian Minister of Defense Dr. AnuĊĦauskas, at the Pentagon today to reaffirm the strong bilateral relationship between our countries.  A full readout of that will be posted on defense.gov later today.

And with that, we'll take questions.  I think, Lita, you're -- you're up first.

Q:  Hey, John, thanks.  A couple things.  One, you said no other additional states for the National Guard will be responding.  Do you see any need for any other active duty response for the tornados, including any rescue efforts or anything like that, in -- in order to help the Guard?

And then I have -- I have a second question.

MR. KIRBY:  We are not aware of any request for assistance, additional active duty, other than the Army Corps of Engineers I talked about, but as I said at the outset, we stand by to support the -- the good people of Kentucky in any way that we can and in any way that they deem necessary.  So we'll certainly be standing by, should there be additional requests for additional capabilities that they would require of the active duty force.  But -- but right now, that's -- what I just briefed is what -- is what we know they have asked for and what we're providing.

Q:  And then secondarily, do you know if there's still yet any progress on getting reparations and/or an exit out of Afghanistan for the family members of those killed in the August strike?

MR. KIRBY:  You know, we talked about this a little bit last week, Lita.  I don't have any updates to give you today.  We continue to work closely with NEI, Mr. Ahmadi's former employer, Dr. Kwon, who is the CEO of NEI.  We're working directly with him.  By -- Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl has actually been taking point on this, to try to get the information that we need -- the identifying information that we need to help move family members out of Afghanistan as expeditiously -- expeditiously as we can, and of course to better and safely affect the -- the ex gratia payments.

So I don't have any updates today but I can assure you that we continue to stay in close touch with Dr. Kwon and his team, and as the Secretary made clear, we want to affect this as soon as possible.

Jen, did you have a question?

Q:  Yes, just a follow up.  Can you -- do you have any announcements in terms of any punishments -- judicial punishments for those who were responsible for the drone strike to begin with?  And secondly, what is the status or what is the department planning to do, again, to help with the Hawaii residents who are suffering from lack of water and in terms of cleaning it up?  It's not just about -- I mean, this doesn't seem like it'll be a quick process.  How are you going to protect those people?

MR. KIRBY:  On your first question, which I'm presuming is emanating out of some press reporting just recently, the -- there are -- I do have no announcements or decisions to make with respect to accountability.  But let me -- but let me -- but let me -- let me level set -- oh, I know -- I know -- let me -- let me level set -- you remember when General Said came and briefed you on his findings.  He found nobody was criminally negligent or -- or that he found would rise to the level of accountability at that level.  And he said to you that -- that should there be any additional lower level accountability, it would be up to the commanders.

You know that the Secretary asked General McKenzie and General Clarke to come back to him within about a week's time of that -- that review – three-star review being done and let him know what their recommendations were.  They did that and they did it on time and none of their recommendations dealt specifically with issues of accountability.  The Secretary reviewed their recommendations.  I won't get into all of them -- some of them are understandably classified -- but he approved their recommendations.  So I do not anticipate there being issues of personal accountability to be had with respect to the August 29th airstrike.

Now, your second question was on the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility out -- out in Hawaii.  The Secretary remains in close touch with Navy leaders.  In fact, he got an update again this morning from -- from the Secretary of the Navy and from the Chief of Naval Operations.  He is receiving daily updates from the Navy department about their efforts.  And their efforts are really along three lines right now, Jen.  One is obviously taking care of the families.  Several thousand have been relocated out of their homes, their base housing, and they're in temporary lodging, mostly hotels.  And the Navy is looking after them, making sure that they have -- that they're -- obviously they're not paying for that lodging and that they're getting food and fresh water and substance.  Also looking after their medical care.  As I understand it, several thousand have been evaluated for health care and they will continue to be evaluated for whatever health needs they have.  So the Navy's first concern is the families and the affected individuals.  And -- and they're working on it very hard.

Secondly, it's going to be restoring the freshwater to housing and to the base facilities that have been, that have been affected.  And they're working closely with the Hawaii state officials, the -- the department of public health out there and water safety to do this in a collaborative, cooperative way to get freshwater back in place and to again make these homes safe to go back to, as well as affected -- affected facilities on-base.  So they're very focused on trying to get that water system clean and safe for use.  They are flowing in additional filtration equipment.  And they're, again, working closely with state authorities on how to best do that.

And then thirdly it's -- it's cleanup.  It's making sure that -- to your question, that we know the extent of where the -- where the leak came from or leaks came from, as it may be, and then how to clean that up.  And I don't have an update for you on that.  The investigation is still ongoing that the Navy is running.  And they're still working their way through exactly what happened.  And that will help guide them as to what the cleanup ought to look like.  But they are very focused on that.  And, again, we'll be working in lockstep with state and local authorities about how that -- how that cleanup is -- is best done.  As I said, the secretary is monitoring this personally and very closely.  And -- and he might have additional things that we might be putting out this afternoon.

Courtney?

Q:  I just want to understand one thing.  You just said that none of the recommendations from McKenzie and Clark dealt with accountability.  Do you mean -- none of -- they didn't recommend -- you don't mean that -- can you explain what that means?

MR. KIRBY:  I can, I can.  And maybe I didn't put it as well as I should have.  When they listed their recommendations, there was no recommendation by either of them about accountability.  So there was not an overt line in there that said, we don't recommend accountability.  There certainly was no line in there that we recommend accountability.  The recommendations were more about procedure and process.  And the secretary will review them, has accepted them, and, again, most of them are of a classified nature so we won't be talking about the specifics.  But there was no overt recommendation made by either specific to accountability.

Q:  So they didn't recommend any punishment for anyone?

MR. KIRBY: That is correct.

Q:  ... with the recommendation...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Correct.

Q:  OK, great.  And then the second thing I wanted to ask you about, is -- there has been some reporting that out of South Korea that there has been some sort of agreement in principle for an end of the war declaration.  I am wondering what the -- what your -- what you know about that, is it -- is there actually some sort of an agreement and can you tell us any details?

MR. KIRBY:  I would refer you to the -- our State Department colleagues about those kinds of discussions, Court.  But I would just go back to what we've said in -- in the past here.  We, at the department, continue to support diplomatic measures and efforts to denuclearize North Korea.  We still believe that's the right course.  And for our part we're going to continue to make sure that we -- that we maintain a proper level of military readiness.  But the issue of that -- and I saw the press reporting you're talking to, that really is better put to the State Department.

Yes, Travis?

Q:  Thanks, John.  The House January 6th Committee has obtained emails that apparently show that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had said ahead of January 6th that National Guard would be there to protect Trump supporters.  Does the Pentagon have any idea what Mr. Meadows might have been talking about?

MR. KIRBY:  I've seen the press reporting, Travis, and I don't have anything specific to add to that beyond saying that, and I think you always know this, the D.C. National Guard did activate roughly 300 personnel on the 5th of January to provide traffic control and crowd management during expected demonstrations.  That was the task that they were assigned.  But beyond that I'm -- I'm not going to speculate or speak to the work of the committee.

Q:  If I can just follow up.  The -- is there any concern in the Pentagon that things like this risks politicizing the Guard?  There's going to be perception that somehow the Guard was a political actor in the January 6th events?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I think, you know, this goes back to what we were talking about a week or so ago, you know, with the recent the polls and surveys that talk about trust and confidence by the American people in the military.  We're obviously concerned about that.  And -- and we're not immune to what's going on, as I said last week, in American society.  And we certainly are concerned about external comments, external initiatives, external proclamations that make it seem like the U.S. military is somehow a political organization.  It is not.  We pride ourselves on the being apolitical.  We serve to defend the entire American population, regardless of who they are or who they decide to vote for or if they decide to vote.

So when there is comments like that made, it certainly does very little to help reinforce for the American people how seriously we take our obligations and the oath that we take to support and defend the Constitution, and the -- the non-spoken commitment that anybody who has served in uniform shares, which is to stay -- as an institution to stay apolitical.

Janne?

Q:  Yes, thank you, John.  The South Korean Ministry of Defense announced last weekend that Defense Secretary Austin had ordered a review of a second staff evaluation of the OPCON transition in the spring next year.  Is it for the transition of OPCON and only the transition of OPCON?

MR. KIRBY:  No, Janne, we've talked about this.  The -- and the secretary talked about this when we were in South Korea, that both sides agreed to assess the FOC, the Full Operational Capability some time in the summer and then -- and to keep on-track with -- with the progress towards OPCON and to reassess that in the fall.

MR. KIRBY:  So I don't have anything new or additional to speak to.  We've already talked about this and he talked about this at quite some length when we were in Seoul.

Q:  Second question you have seen this report to recently that North Korea criticized the new strategic plan recently agreed upon by United States and South Korea, calling it a aggression plan.  How do you respond to this?

MR. KIRBY:  Our -- and I mean we've said this numerous times.  We have no hostile intent toward the DPRK and we're obviously prepared to meet without preconditions.  And we continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively to that outreach, the administration's outreach.  Our presence on the peninsula is robust, but it is of a defense nature in keeping with our alliance commitments to South Korea.

Janne:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  You're welcome.

Q:  Hi John.  Sorry about last week when I couldn't get online, Paul from AFP.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  No, I know who you are.  And I was wondering what you were apologizing for.

Q:  Well anyway, it gave everyone a laugh I guess.  Look, why is it that the U.S. can't sell or won't sell anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Why is it that we can't sell or won't sell?

Q:  They're asking for them.  They keeping talking about them.  They keep asking and the U.S. is not doing it.

MR. KIRBY:  Look, I think I would point to -- I mean, just recently completed a $60 million security assistance package, we provided more than $450 million on top of the $2.5 billion that's been provided to them since 2014.

The United States is committed and this is across the administrations committed to assisting Ukraine with their self-defense needs.  This is also the subject of constant dialogue with our Ukrainian counterparts about what they need and about what we can provide to help them with that.

I'm not going to get into specific articles.  We just completed a $60 million package that end -- that was I think we completed the last delivery I think it was last week of some small arms and ammunition but they were patrol class -- I'm sorry -- small patrol boats as part of that.

There was Javelin missiles were a part of that.  So we are willing to consider a state of capabilities to help them defend themselves.  But again, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet.  And I'm certainly not going to get into an individual articulation of all -- of all the points.

Q:  Do they need those kinds of articles that I mentioned?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, this is a discussion that we are constantly having with Ukraine about how best to meet their self-defense needs.

Q:  One follow-up.  The report that Iran is preparing a missile launch of some type, does the Pentagon have anything on that?  Whether that could be an ICBM or it's just a satellite launch missile?

MR. KIRBY:  Seen reports on this.  Not going to talk about intelligence assessments.  I would just say that we were mindful that Iran's ballistic missile program has improved over recent years.

There's no question about that.  And it remains -- that capability remains a threat to our interests and the interests -- the security interests of our partners in the region and we're going to watch this closely.

And, Paul, more critically we're going to make sure, just when the Secretary was out there not long ago we're going to make sure that we have the capabilities that we need to defend our interests in the region and to assist our allies and partners doing the same.

Tom.

Q:  Thanks John.  Good afternoon.  Over the weekend one of our Kremlin counterparts, Dmitry Peskov, said they were quote, "very serious conceptual differences," conceptual differences, John, "between Russia and the United States regarding Moscow's redlines and NATO's redlines in the Ukraine."

Now I'm not asking you to get in the head of Mr. Peskov.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.

Q:  But I'm asking you, do you think the United States and the Pentagon and our allies have been clear to Russia as to regard of redlines or where they should not be going in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Couple of thoughts there, Tom.  First of all, I wouldn't speak for our allies, they can speak for themselves and whatever messages they've delivered to Mr. Putin.

I would point you back to President Biden's conversation last week and the read-out of that by my colleagues at the White House in which it was made clear, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said this, that the president was very direct and very candid about our concerns about what we're seeing there.

And -- and -- and the lack of clarity by Russia on -- in terms of what they're -- what they're intending to do and the kind of consequences that would come as a result of any -- another incursion by Mr. Putin.

Q:  But you’re also saying there's a lack of clarity by Moscow on this, you said that several times.  Would that perhaps be the source of these conceptual differences?

MR. KIRBY:  You'd have to ask Mr. Peskov that.  I think the president was very, very clear with Mr. Putin about what our concerns were and about the kinds of consequences that would result from another incursion.

Carla.

Q:  Well just real quick clarification on Afghanistan.  So -- following these questions.  Did the Secretary, well did General McKenzie did not recommend punishment after the airstrike and Secretary Austin has concurred with that.  So it would be accurate for us to go and report now that Secretary Austin is not going to issue any punishment for military service members involved in --

MR. KIRBY:  It would be accurate for your to report that the secretary approved the recommendations made by both General Clarke and General McKenzie as to how they were going to implement procedural changes, the kinds of changes that were recommended by General Said in the recommendations proffered by General McKenzie and General Clarke to the secretary, there were none with accountability.

The secretary accepted the recommendations that they did make.  So you'd be OK to report that the secretaries not approving or calling for additional accountability measures.

Does that -- does that help?

Q:  (Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  OK.

Q:  And then lastly, just really quickly on this cyber concern that came out with a FISA issued over the weekend, what's DOD trying to do to counter this concern with software usage that can be used to get into computers?  Has DOD already started working on this in coordination with FISA?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything specific on that.  Obviously we are always mindful of the cyber threat and our networks are constantly assaulted by any means of cyber actors out there.  So we work very, very hard at our own resilience and making sure that we have the capabilities that we need to defend ourselves in the cyber realm, but I won't speak to specifics.

Oren?

Q:  On Afghanistan, it was about a month ago that Austin has said leaders in this department should be held to account for high standards of conduct and leadership and that he has every intent to uphold that standard.  Why not then push harder for some measure of accountability here and what message does it send to the family of those killed in the strike?

MR. KIRBY:  Oren, if the secretary believed that in the case of the 29 August airstrike that accountability was warranted and needed he would certainly support those kinds of efforts.

As General Said briefed you and as we discovered when, again, the two combatant commanders took a look at General Said report, what we saw here was a breakdown in process and execution in procedural events, not -- not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of -- of -- of poor leadership.  So, I mean, I -- I understand and -- and I believe Dr. Kwon has been quoted about the -- this outcome in -- in at least one press report.  And, you know, we certainly understand the concerns that he expressed.

And -- and -- and we know that -- that there will be some who -- who -- who don't like this particular decision but the -- it wasn't an outcome that we came to without careful thought and consideration.  That's why the Secretary wanted an independent review of the airstrike in the first place and Secretary Kendall tasked it to his Inspector General, because -- specifically because the Air Force Inspector General has such independence.

And you heard General Said -- if -- if at any time, in -- in his review and investigation, he would've found that there was deliberate poor leadership, that there was negligence, that there was criminal conduct, he would've started yet another investigation.  I mean, that was one of the advantages of having the Air Force IG look at this.

And then, when the Secretary transmitted that investigation to the two four stars relevant here, General Clarke and -- and General McKenzie, they, too, looked at the full spate of General Said's work and -- and the Secretary invited them to -- to look at it in -- in the broadest sense that they could, to include if -- if they believe there were issues of accountability that needed to be -- needed to be had, and both of them came back without any such recommendations.

So it's -- it's not that this wasn't -- that the issue of accountability was -- was not looked at seriously and considered seriously.  It absolutely was.  But in this case and in the context of this particular strike, just a few days after we lost 13 service members at Abbey Gate and just a few days before we were going to complete our -- our -- our withdrawal from Afghanistan, the context of the very real threats that we faced -- in fact, quite tangible threats by ISIS in -- in Afghanistan -- all of that factored into to -- to the decision that -- that yes, there were procedural changes that need to occur and will occur, process improvements absolutely will occur, but in this particular case, there -- there was not a strong enough case to be made for personal accountability.

But that doesn't mean that, you know -- and -- and -- that -- that the department is turning a -- a -- a blind eye to a high standard of conduct and leadership.  The Secretary was earnest when he said that.  And it -- it's just that you have to look at it in time and space and you have to look at this particular strike and not draw broader, wider conclusions about accountability and high standards of conduct based on this one outcome.  It was thought through very, very carefully.

Nazira?

Q:  Thank you, John.  Could you please give us some update about Afghan refugees?  How many of them are still in the military camps at the United States and how many of them have been resettled?  Yeah.

MR. KIRBY:  Let's see.  So we're currently hosting nearly 31,000 individuals at our seven domestic U.S. bases, more than 30 -- let me get my glasses here.  The font's not big enough, guys -- more than 38,000 Afghans, American citizens and lawful permanent residents have been relocated from these military bases to new communities across the country.

So more have been relocated than we now have at -- at our seven bases.  And we continue to work with -- with non-profits and aid organizations, as well as the State Department and DHS to continue the relocation of the remaining Afghans, you're welcome.  Let me --

Q:  How many domestic places?

MR. KIRBY:  Seven safe haven locations here in the United States.

Q:  There's not -- I'm sure you know this but there's none overseas anymore?

MR. KIRBY:  Not anymore.

Q:  John, may I quickly follow-up on the drone strike.

MR. KIRBY:  OK.

Q:  Thank you.  Pardon my interruption.  And this is not on the strike specifically but you said in response there was a -- I'm paraphrasing you slightly, I apologize for that, that there was an imminent threat and it was part of the reason why the drone strike was launched.  We've heard that many times.

Since the drone strike took out the wrong individuals, that threat should have still been existing.  Did that threat ever materialize and if so was it thwarted?  I realize you can't talk about intelligence.  Or was did that threat never then materialize?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a question that you ought to ask General McKenzie.  And -- and I -- and I -- I'd have to go back and look at the transcripts.  So -- but my understanding was he told you there's no way they would know.  There's no way to know the answer to that question.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  Because there was -- now that -- later that night or the day after there were rocket attacks on the -- on the airfield but they weren't the -- that wasn't the same kind of threat that we were dealing with on the 29th.  And I -- you know I -- you can't disprove a negative here.  So I just don't know the answer to your question.

Q:  All right.  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  Hey, John.  Thanks.  You talked about regarding the drone strike how we have to look at this one specific drone strike.  But earlier this month there was a strike in Syria where CENTCOM reported there were possible civilian casualties.

Secretary Austin agreed to an investigation into the March 2019 strike in Syria.  Can you speak a little bit about sort of these ongoing occurrences of investigations into strike mishaps and talk about the broader conceptions.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, and I'll try.  If I don't get it to -- you -- you let me know.  I won't speak to what he's already ordered in terms of reviews and investigations of March 29th -- 19, that's ongoing.  So I can't -- I can't speak to that.

There -- there was a potential for the one that was just occurred I think December 3rd and CENTCOM is still reviewing that.  So I won't get ahead of that.  But broadly speaking, and you heard the secretary when he was up here talking about this not long ago, we take issues of civilian harm very seriously.

And as the Secretary said himself, we're not going to be above or afraid to make changes to the way we analyze information and intelligence, act on that intelligence, target and actually the actual execution procedures of a strike, we're not going to be afraid to make changes.

Now I don't have any changes to speak to today but I can assure you that the secretary is taking this very seriously.  And he will be informed.  Whatever -- whatever outcomes come of this, whether he makes changes or not or what improvements might be made, he will be informed by what happened on the 29th.

He will be informed by whatever CENTCOM finds as a result of the strike that just occurred and certainly informed by the -- the review that he's asked for into the March 2019.  I think he will also be informed by the work that RAND did on behalf of the Department as a result of National Defense legislation that required a study and an assessment.

The Department's efforts to avoid civilian harm.  He's working his way through that right now.  I think that will also inform a lot.  So I think you'll continue to hear from the secretary on this issue.  Again, I don't have any specifics to say today but this is something he's very mindful of.

We -- we know we have to -- as he said himself, you know we -- we work very hard to avoid civilian harm.  Obviously there's going to be ways we have to work harder and he's willing to admit that and as we can talk about those things and not everything will we be able to speak to, we -- we certainly will be as transparent about it as we can.

Q:  John, the head of NEI, the Nutrition and Educational International, Dr. Steven Kwon, is quoted as saying that the U.S. Military is not fulfilling its promise with regards to ex gratia payment and removing his family.

He says quote, I've been beseeching the U.S. government to evacuate directly impacted family members and NEI employees for months because their security situation is so dire.  Why are those family members, members of NEI, why have they not been evacuated and why have the payments not been made?

MR. KIRBY:  We are working very hard with him and his organization to affect the relocation of the family members.  And I think as you can understand that with respect to an ex gratia payment, which we are absolutely willing to make, we want to make sure that we do it in the most safe and responsible way so what we know it's getting to the right people and only to the right people.

So as I said at the outset, Dr. Kahl, the under secretary defense for policy is personally working this with Dr. Kwon and his team and he continues to stay at it very diligently.  Believe me, we -- we share the concern very much that -- that these family members can leave Afghanistan as quickly possible but we also want to make sure it's as safe as possible.

Paul, I already got you.  I haven't gotten hardly anybody on the phone.  So let me just take a few on the phone here.  Joe Tabet, Sky News.

Q:  Yes.  Hi, John.  Thanks for taking my question.  So I would like to get an update from you about AP story that thousands of (inaudible) explosives from the (inaudible) they have been stolen over the last 10 years.  I don't know if you have an update on that.

MR. KIRBY:  We commented for that story, Joe.  Obviously we don't want to see any stolen explosives end up outside of our control.  We're not disputing that -- that there have been loses of that kind.  They are very, very small in number.  That doesn't mean that we're minimizing it.  Don't -- I don't want anybody taking anything away from that but they're small in number and -- and again, we recognize that -- that -- that any -- any loss is an issue and -- and we take it seriously.

And we are constantly reviewing and continue to do so -- constantly reviewing our procedures and our protocols to make sure that we can minimize those loses as much as possible.  Karoun Demirijian, Washington Post.

Q:  Hi, John.  So could you go into any more detail about what the recommendations from McKenzie and have they-- actually were.  I mean if there's no recommendation it was silent on accountability, what did McKenzie and Clark actually say that they did recommend either in lieu of that or instead of that?

MR. KIRBY:  Their recommendations were largely along improving processes that get to the analysis of intelligence that goes into conducting these kinds of strikes.  And again, this wasn't a -- what we call a classic over the horizon strike on the 29th of August where you have time to soak a target with intelligence and time to determine pattern of life with an individual or individuals and threats.

This was a dynamic situation in which we were -- we believed we were dealing with a very active, tangible threat on that day to our people and to Afghans at the airport.

So they recommended procedural changes for how the intelligence is gathered, analyzed, shared, assessed and developed into targeting solutions and how the process of communication between all the nodes is done.

I really can't go into more detail than that, Karoun, because as I mentioned earlier their recommendations were of a classified nature as you -- as you can imagine.  We don't exactly want to be telegraphing all the changes that we're going to try to put in place here to avoid civilian harm in the future.

Jennifer Steinhauer?  Going once?  OK.  We'll move on.  Jennifer, if we get you back jump on in.  Katelyn from Stars and Stripes.

Q:  Hey, John.  The -- on back to the Afghanistan thing, it said that commanders would be the ones to decide whether or not people will be held accountable.  Now that McKenzie and Clark has -- have essentially not said anything whether or not people can be held accountable, can commanders lower than them hold troops accountable in that strike?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a question that you probably should put to General McKenzie and General Clark, Katelyn.  It was -- it was up to them to make recommendations based on General Said's investigation, and they did that.  They did not make recommendations with respect to accountability, and as I said, the secretary accepted the recommendations that they did make.  Whether or not there could be anything additional below General McKenzie or General Clark is really a question for General McKenzie and General Clark to speak to.

Yes, Paul.

Q:  Hi.  You said the Pentagon takes civilian casualty risks seriously.  The New York Times has depicted a secret unit launching drone strikes in Syria that was absolutely callous toward civilian casualties.  And those things don't seem to jive.  And then when you have these multiple cases of where civilians have been killed where there were questions, I -- what do you say to The New York Times report that the Pentagon actually had a unit that didn't really care about civilian casualties in Syria?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to speak to that specific report, Paul.

Q:  Was there such a -- was there such a unit?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to speak to that specific report, but I will tell you that when we say we take it seriously we mean it.  It doesn't mean we're perfect because we may not always get it right.  And when we don't get it right, we want those mistakes investigated.  We want to learn more about how it happened and how we can prevent it from happening in the future.

We try very hard to avoid civilian harm, but clearly, and the secretary said this himself, we have to do a better job.  We understand that, which is why he's going to be informed by the investigations that have been conducted, the ones that he has asked to be conducted and about this RAND study coming out.  So we're going to keep at this to try to do the best we can to avoid civilian harm.

I mean, nobody wants to see that happen.  Nobody wants to be responsible for taking innocent lives.  And to the degree we can do better we will try to do better, but I'm not going to speak to that specific report.

OK, thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.

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