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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  A couple of things at the top.  Think you know Secretary Austin met earlier today with Sheikh Al Thani the Amir of Qatar.  To affirm the strength of the U.S.-Qatar Defense Partnership which serves as a cornerstone of the U.S. Strategic Bilateral Relationship. 

The Secretary reiterated his heartfelt gratitude to the Amir's indispensable, and – and, quite frankly, ongoing support to our efforts to continue to get Americans and our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.  The leaders discussed shared regional security interests, de-escalating tensions in the region, countering terrorism, and of course the full scope of threats represented by Iran. 

Secretary Austin shared his vision for integrated deterrence, emphasizing the importance of multilateral efforts and integrated operations with partners like Qatar, to address threats confronting the region.  I think, speaking of threats in the region, earlier this morning U.S.  military personnel responded to an inbound missile threat on the UAE. 

This involved the activation of Patriot Missile Batteries, coincident with the efforts by the armed forces of the UAE.  The combined effort successfully engaged the threat and there were no injuries or casualties.  We commend the professionalism of the UAE armed forces in confronting these threats and defending their territory. 

We of course stand with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners in defending against threats to their peoples and their territories.  And with that, we'll take questions I think, Bob, you're on the line. Yes?  Bob, you there?  OK, nothing heard, we’ll go in the room.  Fahdi.

Q:  Yes, John, I want to just follow up on the meeting today between the Secretary and Amir of Qatar.  The president just said, welcoming the Amir of Qatar, that he will notify the Congress about his intent to designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally.  Can you explain the significance of this designation?  And how would it help further the defense relationship between Qatar and the U.S?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, it opens up a whole new range of opportunities of defense relationships.  I mean, not just with the United States bilaterally, but with other allies.  And certainly, I'd let other nations speak for themselves and their own bilateral defense relationships with Qatar. 

But it does open up a full new range of opportunities, exercises, operations, and, you know, perhaps the application of acquisition of capabilities as well.  So, it's, I mean, the Secretary was honored and pleased to be able to make that pledge.  And obviously, we'll see where it goes.

Q:  And then, on the attack today, yesterday on the Emirates.  The president just said he directed Secretary Austin to offer American support to allies, specifically Saudi Arabia, and UAE.  And he said, I'm quoting him, "America will have the backs of our friends in the region." Are there any specific new support that you guys is planning on providing to these two nations?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything specific, Fahdi, to announce today.  But – and the attack was actually today. 

Q:  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything specific to announce with respect to additional capabilities.  But I would tell you that we are constantly looking.  Even before this spate of recent attacks, but certainly in the wake of them, for additional capabilities that might prove useful to our Gulf partners in this case, particularly the Emiratis.

 So again, nothing to announce today in terms of something moving, but very much committed to having a very discreet and specific conversation with the Emiratis about what they might need and what we might be able to provide. 

Q:  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes. 

MR. KIRBY:  Bob, I'll come back to you again.  Did you -- did you get there?

Q:  Yes.  Apologies for that, I had muted myself.  Sorry.  Question about the stateside units that are on prepared to deploy orders for Europe.  President Biden said on Friday that he said – well, what he said exactly was, ‘I'll be moving troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries in the near term.’ 

So, it seemed from that, that the decision to do this has already been made.  It was only a question of when.  And so, can you say, what would trigger that deployment to Europe from the U.S., aside from the activation of the NATO response force?  Thanks. 

MR. KIRBY:  Well, the NATO Response Force and what I -- and what the President was referring to, aren't necessarily the same thing.  NATO has to vote on activation of the response force.  I mean, that's something that would have to come from the Alliance itself, and that hasn't occurred.

We have shortened the alert status for more than 8,000 U.S.  troops, but -- and they're making the preparations that they need now to be able to meet that shorter tether.  But there's been no decision to activate it.  As for the addition of forces or capabilities into the Eastern Flank of NATO, you heard the President make very clear what his intentions are. 

I don't have any announcements to make today.  I don't have any units to talk about.  But as I've said, and frankly, I've said it now for a couple of weeks, we're going through the rigorous work of providing options for the Commander in Chief should he decide to do that, where and when he decides to do that.  Obviously, in close consultation with the actual allies themselves, I mean, you can't just unilaterally decide to throw extra U.S.  forces at a country. 

You want to make sure that they're on board with it, and that you've had the appropriate conversations.  And what I would tell you is that those sorts of conversations are ongoing.  And, you know, I'll leave it at there.  I leave it at that. I don't, again, have a timeline to give you, I certainly don't have any specifics with respect to a redeployment inside Europe, to talk to in any great detail. 

But it is very much an active discussion here at the Pentagon.  It certainly is an active discussion that we're having with our national security council counterparts, as well as, and this is really important to remind, with our allies themselves.  Court.

Q:  I – I’m unclear on two things.  So what President Biden was talking then is a unilateral deployment to NATO ally countries around Ukraine?  Right, that's what you're saying? 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  OK.  Why -- what's I know, we've heard about, you know, bolstering NATO defense, partner defenses and Article Five commitment.  But the one thing I'm still unclear on is, like, is there any indication that Russia is threatening or has any plans at all to invade any of the NATO allies around Ukraine? 

Because it seems like everything we're hearing is that the threat is to Ukraine.  So, what's the Article Five commitment that the U.S. has to allies around there?  Or is it really just about showing, like a demonstration of force? 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, no, it's a fair question.  I think, and you can see it in, in press reporting out of Europe, that the Russian build up around Ukraine, and in Belarus is definitely got many of our NATO allies concerned.  Particularly those allies that border or very close to bordering Russia.  And what we want to make sure is -- we know that -- I mean, Putin has said himself, how concerned he is about NATO.  And this false belief that it's somehow an offensive Alliance, aimed to contain Russia or to threaten Russia.  Again, false, but this is the narrative he's putting out there. 

And so, we want to make sure that our NATO allies understand we take seriously our commitments to them.  And so, if they desire, if they want, additional capabilities, particularly in those Eastern Flank countries, to bolster their own self-defense, then we want to have that conversation with them, and we want to be willing to provide that for them.  That's the unilateral movements and it is really is designed to ensure NATO solidarity, and quite frankly, to help bolster the capabilities of our allies. 

Second and distinct from that, of course, is the NATO Response Force.  And this is a 40,000 troops strong response force that only NATO the alliance can activate.  We have obligations inside that just like other countries inside the Alliance.  We signed up for a certain amount of contribution to that.  It is not something that is just off the shelf, and you just go grab it. 

So, you want to make it as short a tether as possible.  And that's why we've alerted those extra 8,500 troops here in the States.  They have not been given deployment orders.  They've just been told to be ready on a shorter period of time, in case the Alliance activates that.  And as for Ukraine, you're right.  The principal threat right now, at least from a military perspective, is from Russia on Ukraine, and to Ukrainian soil. 

Which is why we continue to provide security assistance material to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.  Another shipment just arrived on Friday, there'll be more coming in coming days, and why we still have trainers on the ground.  Not just us, the Brits do, the Canadians do, trainers on the ground to help improve the competence and the confidence of Ukrainian Armed Forces.  So, it's really a multi-tiered approach here. 

But the President has been very clear, we're not going to see American troops on the ground in combat with the Russians in Ukraine.  He has made clear that that's not on the table.  So, what we're focused on is the very real security commitments that we have, you mentioned under Article Five, specifically to our NATO allies. 

Should Mr.  Putin decide to make or to exhibit threats against the Alliance, we want to make sure that he understands unequivocally that that's not going to be acceptable, and the United States will fight to defend our NATO allies and our commitments to our allies on the continent.  But look, again, and pardon me for going on.  But it was a very good question.  We don't think it has to come to conflict. 

There still -- we still believe there's time and space for diplomacy, you actually heard a little bit about it from the Russians themselves, that they're still willing to talk.  So, we believe that, in that time and space, we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to be ready, just in case there was a need by our NATO allies.  But also, to allow for that time and space for diplomacy to occur.  Did that answer?

Tom.

Q:  Can you talk a little bit about Russia, and are you still seeing Russia move in troops and materials...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  ...there?  And can you get specific on what you're seeing?  And also, as far as possible naval movements in the Mediterranean, heading perhaps toward the Bosphorus?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, so I'm going to continue to be circumspect about intelligence assessments and what we're seeing Tom.  But, broadly speaking, we continue to see even over the course of the weekend, additional U.S., I'm sorry, additional Russian ground forces move in, again, in Belarus and around the border with Ukraine. 

As you heard, Gen. Milley say on Friday, these are combined arms capable forces.  So, it's not just infantry, for instance, artillery, it's air defense.  He's got a full range of military capabilities available to him, which only continue to increase the number of options available to him whether -- if he decides to move militarily. 

We have seen increasing naval activity in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, by Russian fleet vessels.  And we're watching that pretty closely.  Nothing hostile necessarily to report to or to speak to, but they have put to sea more ships.  They are exercising at sea.  They are clearly increasing the capabilities they have at sea should they need it. 

So again, all this goes, you know, all this goes to options available to Mr.  Putin.  And he continues to create more options for himself from a military perspective.  Again, we want him to see him -- we want to see him exercise a diplomatic option, which, oh by the way, is also still open to him.

Q:  Do you get any indication those ships are heading toward the Bosphorus though? 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I'm going to...

Q:  …there’s some terrain that kicks in, that they have to give, you know...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  ...notice that they're going to head -- transit to Bosphorus?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I'm going to refrain from speaking about specific movements of their naval vessels.  I think that's a great question for the Russian Navy, and they should have to speak for what they're doing and where they're going, the way the way that we do.  But what I would just say is, I'll leave it at increased naval activity, which is concerning. 

Oren.

Q:  Two questions, one of which is a follow up to Courtney.  Have NATO allies requested unilateral deployment of U.S.  troops to their countries?

MR. KIRBY:  We are in active discussions with a number of allies about U.S.  capabilities that they might desire and might ask for.  But again, I don't have any final decisions to speak to today.

Q:  And the second question on North Korea, they fired an intermediate range ballistic missile.  Are you considering or prepared for the possibility that they fire an intercontinental ballistic missile?  And does it affect U.S. force posture exercises, anything of that extent, should they choose to go that route?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I don't want to hypothesize about future launches.  We're obviously always looking at our force presence, our force posture, our force protection there on the peninsula and in the region.  And also, constantly looking at our own readiness from a training event perspective. 

And all that is factored in what we see coming out of Pyongyang, all that factors into our decision making.  I would tell you that we obviously take our force protection very, very seriously, but also the need to be ready.  And so, nothing's changed about our desire to work closely with our South Korean allies on force readiness there on the Peninsula. 

As for what he may do next, only Kim Jong-un knows the answer to that.  What we hope he does next is stop these lunches, stop these provocations, abide by the UN Security Council resolutions and quit threatening his neighbors in the region.  We have made it very clear as an administration that we're willing to sit down and have dialogue with the North Koreans without preconditions. 

That offer still stands, but in the meantime, here at the Department of Defense, we're going to do what we have to do to be ready on the Peninsula. 

Janne. 

Q:  Yes.  What I have noted...

MR. KIRBY:  I'm surprised that you're going to follow up on that one.

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  Thank you.  North Korea warns that this missile could hit the U.S. mainland directly.  What is the Secretary Austin's reaction to the North Korea's threats to the U.S. mainland? 

MR. KIRBY:  I pretty much just gave that answer.  Look, we're -- I'm not going to speak about intelligence assessments of each and every launch.  We understand he's conducting these launches.  It's hard to, you know, it's hard to get inside his mind as to exactly what he's doing and why.  I mean, some of it could be messaged signaling. 

But you know what, we also have to assume that it's that it's learning, that it's improving, that no matter how well or how poorly these launches go, he learns from them.  And he's able to, you know, continue to advance his program.  And so, to your point, yes, the Secretary is very concerned about their advancing ballistic missile program.   

And that is why again, we're focused on making sure that we have the right capabilities available to us and to our allies in the region.

Q:  Follow up on Pyongyang.  Does U.S. want diplomacy and dialogue with North Korea without the precondition, you say that many times...

MR. KIRBY:  I have said that, yes.

Q:  Yes.  OK.  But if North Korea Kim Jung-un -- if wants a different path.  Is the U.S. ready to go the other way?

MR. KIRBY:  What other way? 

Q:  Different way to go, because if...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, I don't know what other ways he might be considering.  All I can tell you is we still believe that diplomacy is the right way.  And we have made it very clear repeatedly that we're willing to sit down and have those discussions.  And that's what we'd like to see occur.  So, I don't know that it would be very valuable to speculate one way or the other about other courses of action here.  Clearly, nobody wants to see this come to open conflict. 

That would be devastating for everybody on the Peninsula and certainly elsewhere in the region.  And there's no reason that it has to come that way.  But in the meantime, while our diplomats are hard at work, trying to advance some sort of dialogue, we here in the Department of Defense have got to make sure we're constantly advancing the capabilities of the Alliance.  And that's what we're focused on.

Q:  Did you interview with the Fox News?

MR. KIRBY:  I did, yes. 

Q:  Yes.  You have -- maybe you have some options to add weight, I mean military options or something?

MR. KIRBY:  How's my interview with Fox News mean that I have additional military options to speak to?

Q:  Yes, and you didn't say exactly what the military options saying.  But you can, you have it the other way, as means you got many options, (inaudible) can you talk about more options.

MR. KIRBY:  We continue to explore and improve military capabilities on the Peninsula in concert with our South Korean allies.  Some of them are very easy to see and to demonstrate.  And, we talk about them, and some of them, we don't.  But until there is a peaceful denuclearization of the Peninsula, we have an obligation to be ready.  And that's what we're focused on right now. 

Gordon.

Q:  Can we go back to Fahdi's question, Qatar.  And you may not know this, but does designating Qatar as a non-NATO ally, is that a requirement to do some of the things you mentioned, like the exercises and the acquisitions, and stuff like that, or is it just kind of like...

MR. KIRBY:  It would be a requirement inside the alliance.  And again, it's not our decision to make.  It's simply that, you know, we support that process.  But it would be a decision for the Alliance to make, and what comes out of that.  And, again, I encourage you to speak to our NATO colleagues in more detail about this, but it does open up opportunities of cooperation with the Alliance and inside the Alliance regimen.

Q:  To obviously include U.S.  So, potentially more arms sale?  More...

MR. KIRBY:  Those are bilateral decisions made by sovereign states.

Q:  So, they don't necessarily have to do with this designation?

MR. KIRBY:  I wouldn't think so.  Let me go back to the phones.  Phil, Reuters.

Q:  Hey, there.  Just following up on the on the Houthi missile attack on UAE.  Can you -- you said that the U.S. forces fired Patriots.  Do the Patriots intercept the incoming missile, and or was it some other capability that did that? 

And then also, you know, what do you think is the threat, as these are repeated attacks on U.S. forces, what is the threat?  And do you believe that U.S. is positioned to deal with a threat that, is, you know, these are weekly attacks now?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I think just you never want to take anything for granted.  Phil, but clearly, these attacks have not been 100% successful.  We continue to, as I said to Fahdi, explore opportunities to improve our defenses and the defenses of our Emirati partners as well.  So, I don't have an announcement to make in terms of what we're going to do differently. 

We're constantly trying to make sure that we're more ready.  My understanding with respect to this particular attack is that the inbound missile was engaged by Emirati surface to air missiles.  They are the ones that actually engaged this missile.  The U.S.  patriots were fired, but it was the Emirati surface to air missiles that actually engaged the targets.

Q:  John, I know I asked two questions, but may I clarify something with you on this. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  In the first, in the first instance, when the U.S. used the Patriot, I think that was last Monday, the inbound missiles were targeting Al Dhafra airbase.  Did the U.S.  forces activate the Patriot this time as well, because Al Dhafra was the target?

MR. KIRBY:  What I can tell you is that the Patriots were engaged.  I don't have anything more detailed to speak to in terms of actual target.  But the Patriots were -- our Patriots were engaged.

Q:  So is it the policy now that -- I'm trying to understand something.  Are U.S.  forces engaging these attacks when they are targeting Al Dhafra airbase where the U.S.  forces are stationed, or to defend the UAE in general against attacks?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, every attack is different, Fahdi, so, I don't want to put some blanket policy on it.  But obviously, we're going to help come to the defense of our Emirati partners.

Q:  Regardless of the target?

MR. KIRBY:  If we can help defend our Emirati partners, we're going to do that.  Yes.  Nobody else here.  Let me go back. Jeff Shogol.

Q:  Thank you.  I just wanted to clarify the unilateral NATO deployment, that President Biden mentioned on Friday.  Is that in addition to the 8,500 U.S. troops that have been put on prepared to deploy orders as part of the NATO Response Force?  If so, how many more troops are we talking about?

MR. KIRBY:  Jeff, essentially, the answer to your question is yes.  The 8,500 troops that we talked about last week, are part of our contribution to the NRF.  The NRF has not been activated.  What the President was talking about was the potential for additional U.S. troops to bolster the capabilities of some of our Eastern Flank NATO allies. 

I don't have a specific announcement to make with respect to that in terms of how many, where they would come from, or what country they might, or countries they might go to.  When we have something to speak to like that we’ll obviously talk to you about it.  But as I said at the outset, we're in active consultation with allies about the needs. 

So right now, we just don't have something specific to speak to.  But that's what the President was referring to.  The other thing I might just remind, and again, this is nothing new, I've said this before, is that an option available to us is to use U.S. forces that are already in the European Theater.  You don't necessarily have to flow in forces from the States or from even other theaters.

We have tens of thousands of U.S. troops on European soils, both in a permanently based environment, as well as on rotational orders.  And so, we're taking a look at the whole menu of opportunities available here and units available, and then, you know, we'll work that out individually, with each NATO ally as appropriate. 

Q:  Well, thanks.  I know you don't have an exact number.  Can you ballpark it?  Could you say hundreds, thousands?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, Jeff, I'm just not going to be able to do that right now.  I mean, I certainly understand the interest in that.  What I would tell you is that as we have an arrangement to speak to, we'll speak to it. 

And I – we’ll try to be as completely forthcoming as we can be on the details of it, just like we were last week on the on the prepare to deploy contingent.  But I don't have a -- it would be inappropriate for me, since we're in active discussions with allies, for me to ballpark it right now.  Court.

Q:  I thought that there was a small contingent, like a fraction of the 8,500, that would be part of the unilateral and that.  But now it's -- so now it's all 8,500 would be potentially...

MR. KIRBY:   I mean, as I said, back then the vast majority of that 8,500 were for the NATO Response Force.

Q:  But then there's some in addition to that now, according -- per what...

MR. KIRBY:  There are some forces that are being put on heightened alert here in the United States, that could be used in a more unilateral way, or bilateral way is really the best way to put that.  But again, I just don't have anything specific to speak to.  The vast, vast majority of the ones we've already talked to are about -- are designed for the NATO Response Force.

Q:  So I'm just trying to understand if we're talking about now more than 8,500 that are on prepared to deploy?  For -- for when you consider both the NATO and the unilateral.  Am I misunderstanding it?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know, I mean, I think I'm misunderstanding it. 

Q:  There's 8,500.  The vast majority would go to the NATO Response Force if it's activated.  There's a fraction of those -- some portion of those that would potentially be used unilaterally. 

MR. KIRBY:  Potentially, yes.

Q:  But then now there's now there's an even additional, and it's beyond that, who might be used unilaterally?  Is that what we're...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, but what I'm talking about, in answer to Jeff's question, is they could come from inside the European continent as it is. 

Q:  I got you.

MR. KIRBY:  And Gen. Wolters can make decisions about whether to, you know, put them on a heightened alert or not.  And obviously, he's working his way through those kinds of decisions right now.  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that when it comes to bilateral agreements, or arrangements with NATO allies, if they need additional capabilities, if they would want that, then we would work it out individually with each nation to make sure that we're meeting the need is as best they desire and can accommodate. 

And some of those needs, and again, I've said this before, will likely come from actually on the continent.  You -- you don't have to necessarily deploy from the States.  But we want to keep as many options available to us as possible.   

And a lot of that, Court, will be, quite frankly, the decision about who goes and how many, and where from, will actually come from these discussions with the allies themselves.  What do you need?  What do you think, you know, what would be most helpful for you? 

And how fast you need it?  And how long do you want it?  And all those kinds of things will be settled on an individual basis with each of these countries. 

Let's see, Tony Capaccio.

Q:  John, I just -- hey, John, I just unmuted myself sorry.  Question, does the Secretary or other defense officials have any concerns that Russia may actually move tactical nuclear missile units as a diplomatic messaging -- for diplomatic messaging purposes?  You know, look, tactical nuclear weapons near the Ukraine, or European allies, has that come up at all?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't heard discussions of that, Tony.  But we watch closely, as closely as we can, all the moves that Mr. Putin is making militarily.

Q:  Can you say with some confidence that you've got -- the U.S. has got a handle on tactical nuclear weapons units that the Russians may or may not move?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to talk about intelligence issues, Tony.  I think you can understand that wouldn't be wise for me to do from the podium.  I can just tell you that we're watching this very, very closely, monitoring it as best we can. 

And, doing the best we can to make sure that what context we do have, that we're sharing it with our allies, and our Ukrainian partners as well. 

MR. KIRBY:  Sylvie.

Q:  Hello.  Hello, John, can you tell us how many U.S. troops are stationed today in Poland?  And how many in Lithuania? 

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have that figure here.  So, I'm not going to guess. I'll take that question and we'll get back. 

Q:  Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  (inaudible) …send it to everybody?

 A: Of course, it's a taken question.  So as always, and that should be a very simple quick one to get for you, we'll shoot that around everybody.  Tara Copp.

Q:  Hi, John, thanks for doing this.  So, I have three questions.  One, just a quick follow up to Courtney and Jeff's question.  These forces would be in addition to the 8,500.  So potentially more than 8,500 U.S.  troops would be dedicated to this? 

Second, can you give us a sense of if the 8,500 or some, what do we be doing?  We understand that they come from logistics and aviation and medical support.  But if the NATO Response Force is not going into Ukraine, what would the 8,500 be doing to support the NATO Response Force? 

And then last question, Syria.  Can you give us an update on the prison outbreak and any sort of DOD estimates on how many ISIS fighters escaped?  And would that necessitate potentially more U.S. troops to go in to round those ISIS fighters up?  Thanks.  I know, that's a lot.

MR. KIRBY:  OK, there's a lot there.  I don't have an update for you on how many prisoners escaped versus how many were recaptured by the SDF.  I mean, I think I'd point you to Inherent Resolve for more details about that operation.  Again, our support was fairly limited.  So, I just don't have that kind of level of detail. 

On the 8,500, I think, again, all we've done here with the 8,500, is put them on prepare to deploy.  And in some cases, shorten their tether from like 10 days to five days.  They haven't been given deployment orders.  They are our -- they represent a significant chunk of our contribution to the NATO Response Force. 

We are keeping all options open to provide the President decision space.  And so, if you're asking me, could the number of forces put on PTDO or advanced PTDO increase, the answer to that is yes, it could happen.  And when and how we're able to speak to that, we will.  There could also be, as I mentioned earlier, the movement of U.S.  forces that are already in Europe, to eastern flank allies, at their request, and at their invitation. 

That would not require the Secretary to necessarily put them on a shorter alertness posture, maybe depending on who they are and where they're coming from, but not necessarily.  So, if the question is, could it go -- could troops be put on a shorter tether go upwards of 8,500?  The answer's yes. 

But I don't have anything specific to speak to about that today.  What we want to do is make sure that we are providing options to the President and to our allies, in case those options are needed to reinforce our commitment to the alliance.  And then you asked me what will they be doing if the NRF is activated?  I think it was the question.

And as I said when we announced them, there's a range of capabilities that they represent aviation, medical, logistics, certainly combat ground forces are included in that list.  And I -- we didn't go into every little detail of every little unit, but we did identify the major units that we're talking about and where they'd be coming from. 

They provide a whole host of military capabilities to the NRF.  But that's their focus is the NRF.  And I won't speculate about, you know, if the NRF gets activated, or if it doesn't.  That's up to NATO to decide. 

And if it doesn't get activated, could some of these troops be used to -- in a bilateral way to bolster allies?  Again, all those are interesting academic exercises, but we're just not at that stage right now in order to be able to engage in. 

Paul Shinkman. 

Q:  My question was already asked.  Thanks, John. 

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, Paul.  Jared, from Al-Monitor.

Q:  Hi, Mr. Kirby.  Thank you.  Just wondering if you'd give us a little more background on bringing Qatar into -- potentially bringing Qatar in as a major non-NATO ally.  How long have these discussions been going on?  And just, yes, wondering some context on that.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  I'd point you to the Alliance on that.  That's not again, that's not a U.S. call to make.  That's really a better question put to the Alliance.  Again, all the Secretary was indicating was that you know that we support that process moving forward.

Jason Bellini, Newsy.  OK, nothing heard.  Paul McLeary.

Q:  Hi, John.  Afghanistan is still a non-NATO -- a major non-NATO ally.  Is DOD -- are you working with the Alliance to rescind that designation?

MR. KIRBY:  I have not heard any discussions to that effect.  I'll take the question, though.  I mean, I think it's a fair question.  We ought to look at, but I'm not aware of any such discussions. 

Q:  OK, thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  OK, let's see.  Heather from USNI.

Q:  Thank you so much.  In terms of the carrier strike group, that's under NATO command right now.  Since it's the first time since the Cold War, and given that the Pentagon didn't take the steps when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, or during the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, what signal is the Pentagon hoping to spend by putting the strike group under NATO?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I think it sends a very strong signal about our commitment to the Alliance.  And this is a -- it is very rare for a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to be put under NATO command and control.  We think it's noteworthy, certainly even without the exigent circumstances with respect to Ukraine. 

I mean, it's a strong demonstration of how committed the United States is to the alliance.  Certainly, when put in the context of what's going on, I think it again reinforces what I said earlier about how seriously we take our Article Five commitments and our commitments to -- and security commitments inside the Alliance. 

So, I would think, I would hope, that the message to be taken away from this is that NATO is a strong alliance, it is unified.  And the American commitment to the NATO alliance is ironclad. 

Christina Anderson.

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  Poland has made some statements recently just worrying about the deployment of troops by Russia closer to their borders on the Belarus side.  Has there been any specific request on their part for additional assistance, pending additional assistance, anything like that, that you've received there?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm going to not talk with great specificity as to the discussions we've been having with individual allies.  I think you know that the Secretary spoke to his Polish counterpart last week.  We're in constant and active discussions with Poland about their concerns – what they're seeing, their perspectives, as well as what capabilities they might require to help boost their own defensive capabilities.  Again, I don't have anything specific to read out with respect to any one country today.  Ryo.

Q:  Thank you, John.  Quick follow up about North Korea.  Do you feel an urgency to increase military pressure on North Korea to deter future missile launches?  Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY:  I think everybody shares a sense of concern over the North Korean missile program and their nuclear ambitions.  And we are in active discussions with allies and partners in the region, as well as UN member states, about the best way to continue to respond to these provocations. 

It would be enormously helpful if every nation that signed up to sanctions, for instance, actually implemented them and complied with them.  So, there's -- there's still a lot of international work that needs to be done.  And again, without speaking to each specific launch, or what we may know about each one, I would tell you, we're watching this very, very closely.  And we're going to continue here at the Pentagon to make sure that militarily, we're ready to meet our security commitments inside the alliance with ROC. 

Yes. 

Q:  Yes, John, as a matter of command and control (inaudible), I understand that the 8,500 troops that will go as part of the response force will fall under NATO.  The other troops that are being considered unilaterally, do they -- will they fall under European Command?  Is it just as a matter of...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, most likely if it's a bilateral arrangement that we have with a country and we send U.S. troops to that country to bolster their self-defense, they would fall under Gen. Wolters in his European Command commander hat.

Q:  As opposed to Gen. Wolters in his NATO Supreme Allied Commander hat?

MR. KIRBY:  Correct.  That would be -- most likely that would be the arrangement, yes.  OK, everybody.  Thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

Q:  Thank you.