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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Feb. 2, 2022

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Good morning, everybody. Just some things at the top.

I think as you heard Secretary Austin address just last Friday with the chairman here in the Briefing Room, we remain focused on the evolving situation in Europe, and Russia's actions on the Ukrainian border and in Belarus.

As the secretary said, the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies. The current situation demands that we reinforce the deterrent and defensive posture on NATO's eastern flank.

President Biden has been clear that the United States will respond to the growing threat to Europe's security and stability. Our commitment to NATO Article 5 and collective defense remains ironclad.

As part of this commitment and to be prepared for a range of contingencies, the United States will soon move additional forces to Romania, Poland and Germany.

I want to be very clear about something, these are not permanent moves. They are moves designed to respond to the current security environment. Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine, they are going to ensure the robust defense of our NATO allies.

Now, let me lay this out for you in a series of three steps. First, 1,000 soldiers that are currently based in Germany will reposition to Romania in the coming days. Now, this is a Stryker squadron, a mounted cavalry unit that's designed to deploy in short order and to move quickly once in place. They will augment the some 900 U.S. forces that are currently in Romania.

Now, this force is designed to deter aggression and enhance our defensive capabilities in front-line allied states. And we expect them, as I said, to move in coming days.

Secretary Austin discussed this repositioning to Romania just last week in his conversation with the Romanian minister of defense. And again, I want to stress that this move is coming at the express invitation of the Romanian government.

Additionally, we welcome French President Macron's announcement that France intends to deploy forces to Romania under NATO command, which Secretary Austin discussed with the French defense minister, Florence Parly, just last week.

The United States will continue to consult and coordinate with France and all our allies to ensure that we complement each other in our respective deployments. And of course, we're going to continue to work through NATO to make appropriate defensive and non-escalatory force posture alignments.

Second, we are moving an additional force of about approximately 2,000 troops from the United States to Europe in the next few days. The 82nd Airborne Division is deploying components of an infantry brigade combat team and key enablers to Poland, and the 18th Airborne Corps is moving a joint task force-capable headquarters to Germany. Now, both of them, as you know, are based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Collectively, this force is trained and equipped for a variety of missions to deter aggression and to reassure and to defend our allies. Not surprisingly, we work very closely with our Polish and German allies to set the stage for these movements, and we absolutely appreciate their support. Again, these are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions. We will adjust our posture as those conditions evolve.

Third, and finally, all of these forces are separate and in addition to the 8,500 personnel in the United States on heightened alert posture that I announced last week. Those 8,500 are not currently being deployed, but remain ready to move if called for the NATO response force or as needed for other contingencies as directed by the secretary or by President Biden. We continue to review our force posture and the situation in Europe, and we will make adjustments as the situation warrants.

I also want to take this opportunity to correct some misconceptions around last week's announcement. NATO as an organization does not have veto power over U.S. troop deployments, and media reports to the contrary represent a mischaracterization of that. Nothing precludes the United States from making its own decisions on force -- force movements, including those forces that are being placed on heightened readiness.

That said, any movement of U.S. forces involves consultation with the host nation, as we have done with Romania and Poland and Germany prior to today's announcements, and we're mindful of the competing needs of operational security and our obligation to be transparent, and we'll provide you additional information on these and other movements as available and as appropriate. As we have long said, we are continuously reviewing our posture, so there may soon be additional posture decisions to announce, including movements that are part of ongoing military exercises. This is not the sum total of the deterrence actions we will take or those to reassure our allies. I think it won't surprise you that we take a theater-wide approach to deterrence and defense, and we welcome the additional announcements by Spain, Denmark, the U.K. and the Netherlands of their consideration to deploy additional forces to reinforce NATO's eastern flank. The United States has robust capabilities distributed across Europe, including in the Baltic region, and we will continue to assess needs in that area in cooperation with the relevant allies and, of course, the full NATO alliance. We stand united. We have said that repeatedly. We say it again today. These movements are unmistakable signals to the world that we stand ready to reassure our NATO allies and deter and -- and -- and defend against any aggression.

Now, as the secretary said Friday, we do not know if Russia has made a final decision to further invade Ukraine, but it clearly has that capability. The Department of Defense will continue to support diplomatic efforts led by the White House and the State Department to press for resolution. We do not believe conflict is inevitable. The United States, in lockstep with our allies and partners, has offered Russia a path to de-escalate, but we will take all prudent measures to assure our own security and that of our allies.

Now finally, just one note: I -- I -- I note that in the -- the past few hours, a proposal made by the United States leaked to a European news outlet. We did not make this document public, but now that it is, it confirms to the entire world what we have always been saying: There is no daylight between our public statements and our private discussions. NATO and its partners are unified in their resolve and open to constructive and serious diplomacy. The United States has gone the extra mile to find a diplomatic solution, and if Russia actually wants to negotiate a solution, as it claims it does, this document certainly makes clear that there is a path forward to do so.

And with that, we'll take questions, starting with you, Lita.

Q: Hi, John. Thanks. Just a couple of details on some of this. Is it still 8,500 total that are on prepare-to-deploy orders, or are there additional ones? And there's a brigade at Fort Carson that is all -- that already is scheduled to rotate into Europe. Are you including them? There's been some confusion. Are you including that Carson brigade in the prepare-to-deploy orders, or the -- is -- are they completely separate because they're an already-scheduled deployment? And then one other. Are -- are there more -- are these troops that are going, are they under NATO, or are these all unilateral U.S. moves? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Well, let me see if I can remember all those. The troops that I'm talking about today will be going under U.S. command, but as I said in the case of Romania, we know the French are -- are going to be preparing to deploy troops there. We will find ways to complement that force presence, again, in full consultation with Romania. So I wouldn't describe these as unilateral moves. I mean, there -- this is a bilateral arrangement between the United States and Romania. But to your question, they will be going under U.S. command.

The 8,500, they still remain on prepare-to-deploy orders, as I said when I talked about it last Monday. The vast majority of them are designed for the NATO response force. As I said in my opening statement, that -- that force has not been activated, so they aren't going anywhere. The -- the secretary has, as -- as you might imagine, as we have worked towards these troop movements there have been additional forces put on the prepare-to-deploy orders, or shorten tethers. I'm not prepared to go into great detail today about that, but yes, there have been additional ones. And as I said in my opening statement, you can expect that -- that that -- that could continue to happen going forward. We're going to constantly look at the conditions in the region and consult with allies and partners, and if we feel we need to make additional forces more ready, we'll do that. If we feel that we need to send more forces to certain Eastern flank countries we'll do that too, in full consultation with NATO and in full consultation with the specific allies and -- and -- and partners.

And I think I missed one of your questions, Lita.

Q: Well, I just want to clarify (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to have to -- yeah -- I'm going to have to take that one, Lita, because I -- I don't have the -- the -- the breakdown of -- of -- of every single unit in that -- in that original 8,500 in front of me, so let me just take that, rather than speculate and guess.

Jen?

Q: John, do you have any evidence that Putin plans to move beyond Ukraine's borders? Why are you bolstering these eastern flank allies if you do not have evidence of that?

MR. KIRBY: Because it's important that we send a strong signal to Mr. Putin, and frankly, to the world that NATO matters to the United States. It -- NATO -- it matters to our allies, and we have ironclad Article 5 commitments. A -- an attack on one is an attack on -- on all. And so we know that -- that -- that he also bristles at NATO, about NATO, and he has made the -- no secret of that.

We are making it clear that we're going to be prepared to defend our NATO allies if it comes to that. Hopefully, it won't come to that. Nobody wants to see -- as I said, conflict's not inevitable. There's no reason for there -- for there to be armed conflict in Ukraine or anywhere else on the European continent and Mr. Putin can go a long way to -- to serving that end by taking seriously the proposals that we have put forward diplomatically and by deescalating through moving some of those troops anyway.

Q: But is there any evidence that he plans to -- that anything you're seeing that suggests those troops that are outside Ukraine might carry on to Poland, Romania?

MR. KIRBY: What -- what we -- what we see, Jen, is clear evidence every day that he continues to destabilize the environment by adding more forces into the western part of his country and along Belarus, in addition to additional naval activity in the Mediterranean, in the North Atlantic.

So he clearly is providing himself many options, lots more capabilities. For exactly what purpose? We don't know right now. And because we don't know exactly what his purpose is, we want to make sure we're ready on the NATO front to defend our allies.

Barbara?

Q: I want to follow up on -- on Jen -- Jen's question. You said at the beginning "the current situation demands we reinforce." So what specifically demands the reinforcement that you are laying out today? And the reason I ask this -- this is bilateral, as you said. Originally, you spoke at length several days ago about the NATO Response Force. They have not activated that. You are moving ahead bilaterally, not under a NATO umbrella anyhow. So what signal does that send, that you're not waiting for a NATO vote? And what is the current situation that demands this reinforcement outside of Russia, outside of Ukraine? I don't think I heard a specific answer.

MR. KIRBY: I think the signal that sends, that we're -- that we're moving additional U.S. forces into allied territory, at the request and with the invitation of those countries, the -- is that we take our NATO commitments very, very seriously. And I put that right in the opening statement.

And as for -- I think your question is so -- why now?

Q: Why are you doing -- I don't hear -- I don't understand -- I don't -- I -- I'd like an explanation why you're doing this now without the vote at NATO, which does not appear readily apparent, for them to activate their response force? What has led you to say "Okay, the United States will act on a bilateral basis," you have the invitations, you could have waited for a NATO vote, you decided not to? So what is --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: -- it -- it's not just us, Barb. Other nations -- and I mentioned Denmark, the UK, France. I mean, other nations -- other NATO nations are likewise discussing in bilateral ways with eastern flank nations the addition of forces and capabilities to those nations. So it's not just the United States, it -- it's other NATO allies that are doing this.

And you -- you talk about this vote thing. Let's be clear -- what -- what I think you're getting at is the NATO Response Force -- that's a 40,000 person-strong force that is designed for high readiness, and that is a decision that the alliance and only the alliance can make.

We have a contribution to that. We have gotten those forces alerted, to be ready to go if needed, and they still will be. We also can, if the President decides as Commander in Chief to take some of those alerted forces and move them in a bilateral arrangement, as well, he -- he can do that. As I said at the top, it's not like the alliance has a veto authority on any of those troops that were put on prepared to deploy.

But as -- in terms of why now, here's just a couple of factors. He -- Mr. Putin continues to add forces, combined arms, offensive capabilities -- even over just the last 24 hours, he continues to add in western Russia and in Belarus, and again, as I said, in the Mediterranean and -- and the North Atlantic. He has shown no signs of being interested or willing to deescalate the tensions.

And it's not just the United States that's noticed this, our NATO allies have noticed this, and we have been in constant communication and consultation with them and they have expressed their concerns. We have shared our perspectives on what we're seeing with them, they have shared their perspectives on what they're seeing with us, and as a result of these bilateral discussions, we are now prepared to make these moves.

I say again two things -- these are temporary moves, not permanent deployments, not, you know, permanent basing, and two, we're not ruling out the possibility that there will be more coming up in future days and weeks.

Q: So my last question -- the bottom line here is you cannot -- the United States, the Pentagon, the White House, you right now could not rule out a possibility that Putin could make a move outside of Ukraine into an East European country that's friendly with NATO, friendly with the U.S. and ally? You can't rule out that he's going to make an additional move beyond Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: We're not ruling anything in or out with this announcement, Barb. This isn't about making -- this -- I don't -- this isn't about an intel assessment about what Mr. Putin will or won't do. As I said again in my opening statement, we still don't believe he's made a decision to further invade Ukraine. And if he does further invade Ukraine, obviously there's going to be consequences for that, but he has many options and capabilities available to him as to how he might do that. And we simply don't know.

We want to make sure that he knows any move on NATO is going -- is going to be resisted and it's going to be -- it's going to trigger Article 5 and we are going to be committed to the defense of our allies, and that's what this is all about.

Yeah, David?

Q: When President Biden previewed this last week, he said he'd be sending forces in the near term. He also said not a lot. Is -- do you consider 3,000 not a lot? How does 1,000 -- how do 1,000 troops -- infantry troops stop the kind of force that you've been describing that Russia has been amassing in western Russia and Belarus?

MR. KIRBY: We think that these orders that the Secretary's giving today are very much in keeping with the President's comments.

And to your other question, I -- I -- I remind again that we hold the option open of additional force movements if that's desired and needed. So the steps I'm talking about today could very well be preliminary steps to future ones that we might take.

And to your other question about, you know, is that enough -- again, I think it's worth reminding that Romania, as a sovereign state, has their own military and a very capable one, at that. And it's not just the United States sending a Stryker squadron. As I mentioned earlier, the -- the French are -- are going to be sending additional troops. I'll let them speak to what they're going to do and on what timeline and -- and -- and how much.

And as I also said in my opening statement, other countries are likewise moving forward to provide bolstering capabilities to NATO allies on the eastern flank.

Q: How long will it take these troops to get in position? And do you expect the infantry combat team from Fort Bragg to jump in?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the -- the -- the specifics of their movement, but as I said in my opening statement, we expect them to start moving in coming days. I don't have a more specific timeline for you in -- in terms of exact departure date and exact arrival. Obviously, it'll be -- it'll be obvious when they get there. And certainly, we'll try to keep you informed all the way.

Court?

Q: (I just wanted ?) -- you've -- you've made it clear several times that these trips won't be brought into Ukraine and that it won't be in combat.

But can you rule out that any of these troops, specifically some from the 82nd Airborne, might be brought into Ukraine in the coming days to help with the non-combatant evacuation? Is that possible that they could be used for that?

MR. KIRBY: As I think you heard the secretary say on Friday, our troops are multi-mission capable, and they will be prepared for a range of contingencies. And I won't go any further than that.

Q: Is that one reason, though, that the 82nd specifically was identified as one of the units to go forward early? Is that because of that -- that capability because they have the --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: They are, as you know, already a ready force. They are already at a heightened state of alert. That's the -- the raison d'etre for that -- for that -- for that force.

And they are multi-mission capable. They can do a lot of things. It's a very versatile force. And I think their versatility, their ability to -- to move quickly and to conduct a range of missions across a range of contingencies, which is well proven, that's the reason why the secretary has ordered them to go. Okay?

Let me get -- I promise I'll get to everybody. But I haven't done -- other than Lita, I haven't done anybody on the phone. And I need to do that.

Sylvie?

Q: Hello, thank you. I would like to know how many soldiers you're going to send to Poland, because you said 2,000 from U.S. to Germany and Poland. So how many -- how many soldiers will -- will you have in Poland all in all?

MR. KIRBY: The majority of the 2,000 that'll be moving from Fort Bragg will be going to Poland.

The -- the 18th Airborne Corps, as I said in my opening statement, that's going to Germany, that -- they are going to form a joint task force headquarters. And that's usually, depending on the -- the need and the task at hand, several hundred people.

So the majority of the 2,000 that I mentioned that comprise the 82nd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, they -- that -- that leading element, they'll be -- they'll be going to Poland.

Kelli from NewsNation.

Q: Hi, John. Thanks for taking my question. I know you said we will adjust this posture as conditions evolve. I was curious because we're seeing, you know, ordinary Ukrainians -- teachers, moms, dads, dentists -- learning to use guns to defend themselves.

There are calls in Washington for the Pentagon to support them. Are any of these troops going to help them? And how will the president's order change the mission of the Florida National Guard troops currently in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: As I said at the -- at the top, Kelli, the -- the president's been clear and I think we made it eminently clear in my opening statement, these troops will not be going to Ukraine to participate in the -- in the -- in the defense of Ukraine. The president has been very clear about that.

These forces are going to -- to reassure and to bolster capabilities inside NATO's eastern flank.

And as for the Florida National Guard trainers, they are still in Ukraine. There's been no decision to -- to change their status. They are still there providing advice and assist to Ukrainian armed forces.

And if and when there's a need to make a different decision about their presence there, the secretary will absolutely do that in consultation with the European Command Commander General Wolters. But no decision has been made yet.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hey, John. When you said it will -- it'll be obvious that the 82nd Airborne arrives -- I want to piggyback on David Martin's question, is it likely that they're going to parachute in as a symbolic drop to send a message to Putin?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I -- again, I -- I -- I don't -- I'm not going to talk about the -- the -- their -- their travel there and -- and how they're going to arrive. I -- I don't anticipate it will be a -- a -- a tactical operation in that regard, though, Tony.

Q: Did you just rule it out?

MR. KIRBY: David, I said I don't expect it's going to be some sort of tactical operation, but I don't have additional information today about that.

And -- and -- and -- wait. Quite frankly, I -- I'm not sure that that's all that relevant.

Q: Why?

MR. KIRBY: They're going, and they're going to bolster our capabilities in NATO, and that's the most important part here.

Q: Relevant or not, you just seemed to say no. Did you say no?

MR. KIRBY: David, I didn't say no; I said I don't expect that there'll -- there'll be some sort of tactical operation here.

Q: So who will command these troops? Is it General Wolters? And is it -- is that splitting his role for -- as --

MR. KIRBY: Well, he already has a split role as a -- as supreme allied commander in Europe. Ultimately, he will be the top of the chain of command for them while they're in Europe. I don't have -- you know, I don't have more additional information about the -- the C2 arrangement right now, but we can get that.

Let me go back to the phones here. Tara Copp? Nothing heard.

Carla Babb?

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this.

Q: Sorry, John. I'm on. I didn't mute myself -- unmute myself. Can you talk about what a -- whatever additional airlift capacity might be needed to shift these troops, and what role Air Mobility Command would play in this?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't have specifics on the airlift here, Tara. Obviously, this -- this is a reasonable amount of -- of forces that -- that will -- that Air Mobility Command will be able to -- to transport. I -- I don't -- I don't foresee there -- a -- a need for some sort of surge of airlift activity to get -- to get these folks over there.

Go ahead, Carla.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this, John. Most of my questions were answered, so I -- I just need a couple of clarifications. The 8,500 forces that now remain on heightened readiness, that means that 2,000 additional troops were put on readiness. Where are those people located? And then my second follow-up is concerning the -- the National Guard forces that are still in Ukraine. Does that mean that since you're not sending any more to help with their security and they're not pulling out, that DOD at this point does not feel that their safety is threatened? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: On the -- on -- on the numbers, I -- I think I'm just going to leave it the -- the way I couched it in my opening statement because it -- you know, I -- I -- I don't -- there -- there's really no changes here. As I said, the 8,500 are still on prepare-to-deploy orders. They have not been activated. We have, as you clearly know now, activated others to move them as a U.S. decision. So I -- and I -- and as I said, I think, earlier to, I think, Sylvie's question, there are additional, in -- in addition to the 8,500, yes, the secretary has put on prepare-to-deploy additional U.S. forces. I'm not prepared to go into detail about that today.

When and if we are able to speak to future movements, we will speak to future movements. We will be as transparent with you as we possibly can, but we're also going to need to be, as you might understand, a little careful with the amount of detail that we put out there ahead of time. So we'll do the best we can to be transparent with you.

On the National Guard, again, no change to their -- to their presence or posture in -- in Ukraine. As I've said many times, the secretary takes their safety and their security to be of paramount concern. We are in constant communication with European Command about their presence, what they're doing, and if and when the secretary believes that it is the appropriate time for them to leave, if it's sooner than their deployment is up, then -- then he'll make that decision, and again, we'll let you know. But right now they're still there, still providing training, advice and assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Helene Cooper?

Q: Hey, Kirby, thanks for -- for doing this. I'm still -- I'm still trying to figure out the -- I'm still a little bit stuck on the numbers. You said that you're not ruling out possible additional troops to be deployed to Europe. Are you saying that would be in addition to the 8,500 who were on higher alert?

MR. KIRBY: Exactly what I'm saying. The vast majority of the 8,500 are -- are designed for the NATO response force. That response force has not been activated, as I mentioned in the opening, but we are not ruling out the possibility that there will be other U.S. moves inside Europe. In other words, just like we're moving the Stryker squadron from -- from Germany to Romania, there could be other movements inside Europe, intra-theater moves that we would speak to. We're not ruling that out.

We're also not ruling out the possibility that additional forces from the United States could deploy to Europe. All we can speak to today are the troops that -- that we've announced, and as decisions get made if there's a need, as I said in my opening, can -- we're -- we're constantly looking at the conditions there. If we believe the conditions warrant, if we believe consultations with the allies also would -- would demand additional U.S. force capability, we'll -- we'll entertain those discussions and we'll make those decisions, and we'll announce them. 

Luis Martinez?

Q: So there are additional American troops who are on higher alert right now?

MR. KIRBY: Sorry, Helene. You -- you -- I cut you off, I think.

Q: Are there additional troops in the U.S. who are on higher alert right now, outside of the 8,500?

MR. KIRBY: Paul McLeary? I'm sorry, Luis Martinez?

Q: Hey, John. Question is about your comments earlier saying that NATO matters. You're saying that these troops are going under unilateral U.S. control, that this is a U.S. mission. Are you inferring that these troops would immediately transition to NATO control, should NATO decide to activate the NATO response force? And another question as well about the -- there's a deployment ongoing right now in Estonia of some F-15s. Have they been extended beyond the current end date of this week? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything on the F-15s, Luis. I -- I can ask about that, but I -- my -- my hunch is that, no, that there's -- there's no plans to extend them, but let me just check on that.

And then to your other question, these forces are going under bilateral arrangements between the United States and the -- and the -- and the country -- and -- and -- and the countries in -- in question, in this case, Poland, Germany and Romania, and they will remain under U.S. chain of command. That is a separate and distinct mission than the NATO response force, which we've talked about our contribution to that being the -- the bulk of that 8,500 that we talked about last week. That would be under, you know, NATO command-and-control structure. I'm not going to hypothesize or speculate about the future for these U.S. units and -- and -- and what it's going to look like going forward. There's no expectation at this time that they would necessarily have to fall under some sort of NATO command-and-control. They are going as a -- as a -- a U.S. contribution in consultation with the allies in question to help bolster their defenses and to prove and to show and to demonstrate our commitment to the defense of our -- our NATO allies. And again, I don't foresee any command-and-control changes for them going forward.

Paul McLeary?

Q: Hi, John. Is the United States prepared to negotiate with the Russians over the Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and Romania or allow -- possibly allow for Russian inspections of those sites?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- look, I'm -- I'm not going to speak to the negotiate -- I'm not going to -- certainly not going to negotiate here in -- in public. We have laid out a -- a -- a very serious set of proposals diplomatically to Russia.

As I said at the outset, a European news outlet decided to publish that proposal. You can go look for it yourself but it -- it -- it demonstrates what we've said publicly, is the same as what we've been saying privately to the Russians, that we are willing, with an eye towards reciprocity, to consider addressing mutual security concerns on the European continent. And I'm -- I'd leave it at that and refer you to my State Department colleagues. Again, I'm not -- I'm not going to negotiate here in public.

Let me go back into the room. Janne?

Q: Thank you, John. On Korea issues -- it was reported that United States and South Korea are coordinating the postponement of joint exercises. And you know that North Korea continues to conduct winter military exercises. Why U.S. and South Korea exercises is always postponed or canceled? Can you confirm that?

MR. KIRBY: Janne, I mean, as I've said many times, we -- we take our readiness on the peninsula very, very seriously. Decisions about how we preserve that readiness and maintain it are decisions we make in lockstep with our South Korean allies, and that includes training events.

You -- you talk about it as if we've -- we've not done any or we're not doing any or that -- or that -- you know, that -- that we're not taking training seriously. That is not the case. But as we do anywhere in the world, we do the same in Korea, we constantly evaluate and review our training exercises, our -- our training events, training and education, and adapt it as conditions warrant. And -- and that's no different than -- than what -- what you're seeing on the Korean Peninsula.

Pierre?

Q: One more question please?

MR. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: And South Koreans want additional forward missile deployment to -- in to Korea to defend against the North Koreans' missile threat. Of course, China is – didn’t want these. Are you considering this?

MR. KIRBY: We are constantly consulting with our South Korean allies about readiness and capabilities. I have no announcements on -- on missile defense systems to make today.

Pierre?

Q: Thank you. If I may take you back to the readout of the call of Secretary Austin with the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q: The recent announcement, in fact, in the readout that a U.S.S. Cole will be deployed and also fifth generation fighter aircraft sent -- sent to the United Arab Emirates. Can you talk a little bit with some details about what is the mission, what are we trying to achieve, what is the -- also some details about what they will be doing?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- Pierre, I think it's very much in keeping with what we've said just in the last few days, as we've seen attacks on Al-Dhafra -- we take our -- our defense relationship very seriously with the Emiratis, we recognize the threats that they are very -- that they are under in a very real way.

And some of the things that the secretary discussed yesterday and you saw in our readout with his counterpart is that, you know, we want to -- we want to add to their -- to their ability to -- to help defend themselves and to -- and to demonstrate clearly and tangibly our commitment to this -- to this important partnership.

And so these are two tangible ways in which we -- we believe we can help -- help -- help the Emiratis deal with these very serious threats. And -- again, we're not going to rule out additional steps. As I said yesterday, we're constantly looking at this to make sure that we're -- we're best postured to -- to help defend our interests and the interests of our partners. And the Emiratis are a terrific, strong partner in the region.

Jen?

Q: John, (inaudible) Secretary Austin and General Milley are on the Hill today for closed door meetings about the Afghan withdrawal --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- and there are notes that came out from an NSC meeting that suggested that on August 14th, their preparations had not been made for where to evacuate both Americans and Afghan civilians who had applied for SIV status. In those late hours, those decisions were still being made as -- as the Taliban were moving into Kabul.

Is that accurate? And is that true that it -- at that late stage, preparations had not been made as to where -- where to evacuate Americans and others?

MR. KIRBY: No, I'm not going to speak to leaked documents. What I can tell you is that -- that we were all working as an interagency very, very hard, throughout the summer but certainly in -- in August, to make sure we were best postured to conduct an evacuation if one was needed, and clearly one was needed.

And I would point you to, you know, as -- as early as in the spring, the Defense Department was already trying to -- you know, gaming out what a non-combatant evacuation would look like. And the Secretary pre-positioned forces well before August -- pre-positioned forces -- in the region so that if they were needed to respond quickly, they could, and in fact, they did. Within 48 hours, we were able to get some 3,000 troops on the ground at the Kabul Airport because we had been pre-positioned and prepared for those kinds of contingencies.

But again, I'm not going to talk about the details and -- and leaked documents. We conducted two press briefings a day for those 17 days here at the Pentagon and were nothing but transparent about the steps we were taking, literally in real time, about what we were doing to try to -- to get as many people out and as safely as possible.

Barb?

Q: Can I follow up? A couple on -- on Russia and Ukraine. A couple of times here this morning, you have said -- and the Secretary, I believe, also said -- that "this is a temporary deployment." So if you can say that it's temporary, I want to try this question again -- what is the exit strategy? How will you know when you're successful and a temporary deployment can end? What's the measure of success?

MR. KIRBY: The measure of success, as I've said before, Barb, is -- is that -- that NATO's eastern flank is appropriately postured and prepared to defend itself and that we are part of that defense. That's the measure of success here, and to make it very clear, secondarily, not only to our allies but to Mr. Putin that we take our NATO commitments seriously.

As for a specific timeline, I'm not prepared to give you that right now. As I said in my opening statement, these are temporary moves, we will constantly evaluate the conditions there on the continent to determine how long they need to be, but they are not meant to be permanent.

And as we are able to redeploy -- in other words, to remove those troops or to send them to different places, perhaps back to their home stations -- we'll obviously let you guys know.

Let's see. I've got a few more. Phil Stewart?

Q: Thanks.

Real quick, you -- you -- you mentioned that you hope the situation in Europe doesn't get to the point where you -- you need to use these forces but I'd like you to talk a little bit about your concerns about spillover.

You know, is there a risk with this conflict or any conflict between Russia and Ukraine could have spillover in -- in countries that are under the NATO umbrella? And if not -- if you're not prepared to say that, then what -- what do these deployments amount to? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Phil, I -- I -- at the risk of -- of sounding repetitive here, I mean, we've kind of been talking about this.

We -- we don't exactly know what Mr. Putin has in mind. We don't exactly know what he's going to do. And if it is another invasion and it does end up in armed conflict, the one thing that we've learned specifically over the last 20 years is armed conflict is difficult to predict with any great specificity.

What we want to make sure is that there's a clear signal that we're not going to tolerate aggression against our NATO allies. And that's what we're -- that's what we're -- that's what we're doing here. I can't be perfectly predictive about how this is going to go. And it's precisely because we can't be perfectly predictive that we want to be prepared and -- and we want to be ready.

Courtney?

Q: I have one more on Afghanistan. The Afghans' report seems to indicate that on August 14th there still wasn't a plan for where to send civilians -- Afghan civilians during this non-combatant evacuation. But U.S. troops were told the first -- were told to deploy two days earlier.

So I guess the question is, when the U.S. troops were given their orders to deploy to Afghanistan for the non-combatant evacuation, did they know where they would be taking civilians yet?

MR. KIRBY: We were still working very hard. We had -- we had some temporary safe havens that -- that -- that we -- that we knew we could use. But we also knew that we might need more, and so there were constant discussions about -- about doing that.

And then, as you saw, we ended up with several -- half a dozen or so, not just -- not just in the region but elsewhere. So there were very active discussions about that, yes.

Sangmin from RFA?

Q: Yes, I have a question about North Korea. Ever since North Korea launched their multiple missile launch, U.S. has been saying they're looking for the additional measure to hold DPRK accountable for their missile launch. So can you tell me about additional measure U.S. looking for? So -- so is a regional mission of a large scale U.S.-ROK joint military exercise can be another option as an additional measure to North Korea?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I'm -- I -- I don't know if I got everything there in the question. But again, we condemn these launches. We're monitoring them as closely as we can. We certainly call on the north -- North Korea to meet their obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and stop these provocations.

In the meantime here at the Department of Defense, we're going to do what we have to do to make sure our ROK-U.S. Alliance is as strong, as flexible and as capable as possible. And that's what our focus is on here.

Heather?

Q: Thank you so much. Can you talk a little bit more about the -- the Cole being sent to UAE to help with patrols and how that will affect the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group that's under NATO command right now?

MR. KIRBY: The USS Cole will be making a port visit in the UAE. And then my understanding is that she will have opportunities to do some joint training with -- with the Emirati navy. That is not unusual. We do that almost every day in the Gulf region. And we're glad to be able to -- to send her to that mission.

It's -- it -- it won't have any practical or tangible effect on what the USS Harry S. Truman and -- and the rest of the Strike Group is doing right now in the Mediterranean.

J.J. Green?

Okay, J.J., I'm not getting you. Dan Lamothe?

Q: Hey, good morning, thanks for your time. I wanted to see if I could draw you out a bit on the Strykers. Is that something specifically Romania asked for? And then -- and then -- and I guess what is the messaging value of -- of having these Strykers there?

And then a follow up question -- V Corps -- the Army's V Corps was activated a year and a half ago or so with sort of the idea that they could potentially be a headquarters for this kind of thing. Are they involved? And do we expect General Donahue, General Kurilla, anyone like that to be going forward? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: On the Strykers, I mean, the -- this was the result of a -- of a discussion that the Secretary had with the Romanian Minister of Defense and there was a good exchange back and forth about what sort of capabilities the -- they might need and might desire and sort of how we could best fill that.

And in the -- in the context of that mutual dialogue, we decided that the -- these 1,000 troops from the strike -- Stryker Squadron in Germany fit the bill quite nicely. And again, we're going to keep talking to Romania going forward and -- and -- and we'll see -- we'll see what -- what the future holds there in -- in terms of any potential additional capabilities.

On the V Corps, Dan, I -- I don't have anything specifically on that for you, other than to say, as I said in my opener, that what we're -- we're doing right now is sending a headquarters element from the 18th Airborne Corps to go to -- to Germany, again, as a headquarters element, so it's several hundred folks. I don't have any other headquarters or -- or staff elements to speak to, but again, if -- if that changes, we certainly will be transparent about it.

As for what -- you know, who's going in -- in -- you know, by name, I'm -- again, I'd -- I'd -- I'd refer you to the 18th Airborne Corps for that.

Let's see. Nancy?

Q: Thanks. In light of these bilateral decisions you described across the alliance with the U.S., France and others, could you help me understand at what point you would use the NATO Response Force? Isn't what you're describing a series of de facto NATO response forces? I -- I'm trying to understand under what conditions you -- the alliance would need a NATO Response Force, given that there are all of these agreements being made across the alliance.

MR. KIRBY: So it's a NATO decision to activate the response force and to employ it. It is a -- as I -- as I briefed back last week, it -- it's a 40,000 person-strong force, it does -- half of that, 20,000, is a -- a -- a -- what they call a ready -- a very ready joint task force capability across a combined arms sets of -- of -- of military capabilities. And so the decision to activate it and to deploy it would be a NATO decision. So we obviously respect that process.

In the meantime, we're having discussions with allies and partners about -- about their own capabilities there, particularly on the Eastern Flank, and as we've said all along, if we feel like we can contribute to some of their capabilities and -- and to help with -- help with their defense, we're serious about doing that.

And so I -- I wouldn't -- I -- I wouldn't get too wrapped up in comparing this versus that. We're -- we're sending forces and units that we have worked out in a bilateral way with these countries to -- to meet their needs and -- and to demonstrate our resolve to the defense of -- of NATO's Eastern Flank.

The -- the readiness -- the -- the NRF, the NATO Readiness Force, I mean, that's -- that also is multi-mission, multi-capable and very flexible, but again, the decision to employ that would really be one for the -- for the alliance to make.

And as I said earlier, it's not like NATO has, you know, veto power over our ability to unilaterally send troops in -- in a bilateral arrangement with -- with allies. And so some of the forces that are designated for the response force, they have not been activated, but -- but if there comes a time where we might want to employ some of them, as well, in a more bilateral relationship, we're certainly not going to close that option off to the Secretary or to the President.

Jared Szuba?

Q: Hi, Mr. Kirby. If I could bring it back to the announcement yesterday about the deployment of the United Arab Emirates? The statement said that fifth -- U.S. fifth generation aircraft would be deployed, quote, "to assist the UAE against the current threat," end quote.

Do you happen to know what Air Force units will deploy? And will U.S. pilots be engaged in targeting Houthi projectiles or potentially launch sites inside Yemen? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have the specific unit right now. I think, you know, like -- like all things, we have to -- we -- we -- when we get a request like this and when we work it out, we source it, just like we've been talking about with this -- with these Europe moves. There was a discussion with Romania about what their capabilities were and we sourced it with these -- this Stryker Squadron from -- from Germany.

So I don't have specifics on units today and I'm certainly not going to get into specific ROE or -- or operations. They're -- they're going to -- to demonstrate to -- first of all, demonstrate our commitment to our Emirati partners but also to be prepared to deal with very real threats that -- that the Emiratis are under. And quite frankly, it's not just the Emiratis, it's our people there at Al-Dahfra too.

So we're going to do what we need to do to protect our -- our troops and our -- and our partners. And you can -- I -- I -- well, I think I'll just leave it at that, rather than get into hypotheticals about what they'll be doing.

Okay, thanks very much, everybody.

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