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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Feb. 3, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. So just a couple things at the top here.

As you no doubt heard, last night U.S. Special Operations Forces, under the control of U.S. Central Command, conducted a counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah. Hajji Abdullah was a very hands-on leader, and involved in many day-to-day operations of ISIS, and certainly keenly interested in restoring the -- the lethality and the higher OPTEMPO that ISIS had once to -- enjoyed. So his death, we believe, dealt a significant blow to ISIS.

And you've already heard from the president this morning, and I think you've probably seen a statement that Secretary Austin put out, joining the President in commending the professionalism and the skill, the readiness exhibited by our forces in this operation, particularly with the extensive regard towards safeguarding innocent life that we knew was located there at the target's location.

And while the cowardly actions of Hajji Abdullah and the small number of his followers resulted in the death, the tragic death of at least three innocent civilians, the calculated efforts of our forces succeeded in protecting more than 10 women, children and babies. These efforts included a deliberate decision by the president to execute a raid on a location, as opposed to an airstrike, despite the additional risks that that decision put on our forces.

And as I think you've probably seen, in -- in addition to all that, as they got to the site, the -- they called out to everyone in the -- in -- in the building, giving them an -- an opportunity to leave peacefully, quietly, and for Abdullah to surrender himself. Of course, he chose a different route.

While there were no U.S. casualties, one of our helicopters did suffer a mechanical failure early on in the infiltration phase of the operation. The helicopter was able to depart the target location and land at another location further away off-site. But ultimately, it was determined that further use of the helicopter was not practical, and in fact, could be dangerous. And so General McKenzie made the decision that the helicopter should be abandoned and -- and detonated so it could be destroyed in place.

So moving forward, I'm sure you've got lots of questions. I'll do the best I can to answer them. I want to remind that this is an operation that is not yet 24 hours old, so while we will provide as much context as we can to you, I suspect, as you all have covered these kinds of things before, that we will continue to learn more information as time goes on. We are still reviewing the results of this operation. We are still going through the -- the after-action process that we always do, and we'll do the best we can to -- to provide you as much context -- context.

I also would add -- and I'm saying this as a bit of a disclaimer here before we begin taking questions -- that there are still operational security matters that we're just not going to be able to speak to. We obviously take these kinds of missions very seriously. We obviously want to be able to continue to conduct these kinds of operations because ISIS remains a threat. So there's going to be some information that you will want to know that we are simply not going to be able to provide so that we can preserve our flexibility to conduct these sorts of operations going forward.

With that, Bob?

Q: Hi, John, thank you. A couple questions on the civilians. If I heard you -- did you -- I hear you correctly that you said you verified three civilians were killed? And also, could you elaborate on, perhaps explain a little further what Secretary Austin meant in his written statement about looking into the possibility that U.S. actions may have resulted in harm to civilians? What exactly is he referring to?

MR. KIRBY: So we know that -- that when Abdullah detonated an explosive device, which obviously killed him, we know that there were three people on that third floor with him that were also killed, his wife and two children, and -- so that's what I'm talking about when I talk about the -- the -- the three.

We also know, as I said, that we were able to safely evacuate 10 individuals, six from the first floor -- an adult male, an adult female and -- and four children, and then four children from the second floor, which our forces were able to safely get -- to get out of the building. On that second floor, where one of Abdullah's lieutenants engaged our forces -- actually, one of his lieutenants and the lieutenant's wife firing back at our forces. They were killed, and -- and it -- it appears as if a -- a child was also killed on that second floor.

And as for your second question, I mean, we're -- we're -- we're always mindful of the potential for civilian harm, a harm to -- to innocent life. And while the strong indications are here is that -- that the -- that the life -- that the lives taken in this operation, the lives of innocents taken in this operation were caused by Abdullah and his decision of blowing himself up and everybody else with him on that third floor, as well as the resistance of his lieutenant on the second floor, we're willing to take a look to just examine and make sure that there wasn't any action that we might have taken that -- that -- that could have also caused harm to -- to innocents.

Q: You mean indirectly, or do you mean directly?

MR. KIRBY: In any way. I think we're just going to take a look and see. But -- but right now, the strong, strong indications are that to the degree there's a loss of innocent life, it's -- it's a loss caused by Mr. Abdullah and his lieutenant.

Q: You're quite confident on the three? That it's only three people on the floor...

MR. KIRBY: That is the -- that's what we have right now, Bob. I'm -- I'm -- I'm going to give you what I can right now, and I think you know that information can change over time. That's what we have right now.

Yeah, (Pierre ?)?

Q: Just another (information ?) on the team that executed the operation?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry?

Q: Any additional information about the team that executed the operation?

MR. KIRBY: No, I don't have any more information about the team that executed the operation.

Q: Any more details about what kind of support or cooperation that the SDF provided to the operation?

MR. KIRBY: The SDF were helpful in -- in -- in enabling our ability to conduct this operation but I'm not going to go into more detail about the -- or what that assistance looked like. I will remind,(Pierre , that this was a U.S. operation conducted by U.S. forces only.

(Jen ?)?

Q: John, will anyone get a reward for -- justice reward for this tip? And how long have you had this intelligence? Also, you referred to the three innocent civilians but would the wife of Hajji Abdullah be considered an innocent civilian?

MR. KIRBY: I -- you know, I -- I -- I think I'm just going to leave it the way I characterized it, (Jen). And again, we're going to continue to review and look at this. I -- I think -- I think I'm just going to leave it the way I described it.

And as for the reward, I don't have any updates on that, yet -- yet there was a $10 million reward on -- on his head. But I don't have any updates on whether that award can or -- or -- or will be claimed.

And then on the intelligence, I would just tell you that this operation was literally months in the planning. And of course, a -- a -- a strong basis for being able to conduct an operation like this is valuable intelligence, intelligence that comes from multiple streams.

And again, without getting into more detail than that, the -- there was as -- obviously, because of -- of the success of the operation, I mean, the -- the intelligence was a -- a -- a mosaic that allowed us the -- the level of -- of awareness and fidelity of information to be able to conduct this in the way we did.

Q: Was he responsible for the Abbey Gate bombing?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't have a direct connection to speak to in -- in -- in terms of that. However, he's the -- he was the leader of ISIS and it was an ISIS-K attack. But what we do know is he was a hands-on kind of leader. The -- we know that -- that he certainly had knowledge of and was a -- at -- at least maintaining a level of situational awareness during the Hasaka prison break last -- last week. We know that he was directly involved in the massacre and the -- and the rape of innocent Yazidis back in 2014.

This is a -- this was a man that we should all be happy is no longer walking on the face of the Earth.

Courtney?

Q: I've got a bunch. Did you get DNA of him and have positive DNA? Is that how you were able to identify? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MR. KIRBY: Can you -- oh, if you've got a bunch, let's take one at a time.

Q: Great.

MR. KIRBY: All right. We were able to identify his body through fingerprints and DNA analysis.

Q: On site?

MR. KIRBY: On site.

Q: Thanks. Can you...

MR. KIRBY: Well, the fingerprint -- I -- the fingerprints were on site. It took a little bit longer to get the -- the DNA analysis, so it was a combination.

Q: Can you give us a little more detail about this firefight that occurred sort of towards the end of this -- the two hour timeframe that they were on the ground, some locals or something? What was that? And (inaudible) were killed?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, towards -- towards the end of the operation, there were -- there were -- as I -- a small group of individuals approaching the compound. They -- they -- it -- they were appropriately deemed as hostile and they were engaged -- they -- they were engaged.

And we know that it -- in that engagement, two of them were killed, and that resulted in the end of that hostile activity, the remaining -- of -- individuals left the site.

Q: Did they engage on the ground or via air -- by the air?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't know exactly. I -- I know that at -- at least some engagement came from the air but I can't be sure that there wasn't some engagement from the ground.

Q: Can you say -- do you know who the lieutenant was? He mentioned he and his wife were -- were killed. I mean, was this someone relatively senior?

MR. KIRBY: It -- it was a -- it was a -- a senior lieutenant of Abdullah. I don't have the -- the name -- you can say it -- you can say it was a -- a deputy.

Q: And then can you -- was this mission a -- a kill or capture mission? Was there ever an effort to try to take him alive?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I won't -- you know, without getting into the specifics of -- of the orders, this -- it was a raid against Abdullah, and again, he decided to kill himself and others before coming into direct contact with the -- the assault force. The -- he did not fight back.

The -- the -- I -- the -- the -- the objective was to finish his leadership of ISIS, and that was achieved.

Q: And then finally, the question I'm sure all of us are wondering -- was there a dog involved? What was its name? And do you have a photo?

MR. KIRBY: I do not know -- I do not know and I do not know.

Q: Will you take that question?

MR. KIRBY: I'll take all three.

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome. (Luis ?)?

Q: Hi, John. Why did the mission take two hours for -- what -- what was the process? I mean, was there a calculated process to get civilians out of this building? Was that a part of the delay? Because it sounds like two hours on the ground is quite a long time for the -- one of these kind of missions.

MR. KIRBY: So it's a great question, (Luis ?). First of all, the plan was to have them there for two hours. From the get go, the -- the plan was for a -- a -- two hours on site. And it speaks to the level of care that U.S. Special Operations Forces used in this mission, which was designed to preserve innocent life.

I mean, to -- to go to the site, as they did -- first of all, it was securing and isolating the site, then it was to get innocents and, quite frankly, to encourage Mr. Abdullah to leave this site, and that's why they used a bullhorn and -- and made several callouts, beseeching everybody in that building to leave. That takes some time too. You want to make sure you make a good faith effort to do that, and we did.

They were engaged at -- there was a -- a -- an explosion on the third floor and engagement, gunfire from the -- from the building, and then they -- they had -- they -- they went in. And obviously, you want to process the site as best you can, get as much information as you can, and of course, in this -- in this regard, because he chose to end his life the way he did, to be able to identify and then safely leave -- leave the site.

So honestly, from -- from soup to nuts, the original plan was to have them there for two hours and they were there for just about exactly two hours.

Q: (inaudible) I think the characterization has been, by other officials, that -- that he detonated this explosive very early on, after the arrival of the troops. I mean, do you have a -- a notion of how quickly he did that or was this a long, drawn-out process?

MR. KIRBY: That -- I don't have the exact minute by minute tick-tock, but that characterization, as I understand it, is -- is accurate -- it wasn't long after they isolated and secured this site and began the callouts that there was a large explosion on the third floor, which turned out to, of -- of course, been Abdullah killing himself and -- and the family members that were with him on the third floor, and -- and -- and putting at significant risk everybody else in that building.

Q: And then one more please -- the -- the Kabul air drone strike and the repercussions that have happened. Since then, we saw the Secretary issue his guidance recently. Did that factor in at all into the notion of that "we're going to go in with ground troops in an air -- a raid, as opposed to a drone strike"?

MR. KIRBY: What -- what -- what factored into that decision, (Luis), was our longstanding practice of trying to minimize civilian harm, not what happened on the 29th of August or on any other day, but -- but a longstanding desire to minimize civilian harm. 

And the President made that decision and it was a significant decision because it involved putting our troops at much greater risk in order to do it this way. But that's in keeping with a -- a longstanding desire by us to -- to try to minimize civilian harm as much as possible.

Oren?

Q: Just a follow up question to civilian casualties -- you said there were three on the third floor, the wife and two kids, but you also said it appears as if a child was also killed on the second floor.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: Was that before...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: ... when I said -- when I was referring to the three, I was -- I was talking about the context of him killing himself.

Q: And then who -- who killed the child on the second floor?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to get into a -- a blow-by-blow on every single event here. We are still processing this, Oren. It's not even 24 hours old. We're giving you as much information as we can right now. Information will continue to flow in, and as we can share it with you, we will.

Q: And one follow up on -- on a different...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: ... let it -- let it not be forgotten, though, that we also, you know, saved -- helped save 10 lives, including four kids on that second floor. So 10 -- 10 people, mostly children, we were able to get out of that building safely because of the care that was put into that mission.

Q: One follow up question -- did any of those who took part in the planning for either the Bin Laden raid or the -- or the Baghdadi raid take part in the operation or execution of this raid, as well?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know.

Yeah?

Q: Sir, about the children, those who were killed or those who are saved, who are they, do you think, right? Who -- who are the civilians in the -- who were the civilians in the building?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I -- I want to be careful here, as I don't -- we -- we don't have perfect knowledge of -- of every single individual that was killed in this -- in -- in this raid. We know Hajji Abdullah was killed, we know his lieutenant that was on the second floor was killed, we know that, when he blew himself up on the third floor, three others went with him. And we know of at least one child that was killed on the second floor.

But I -- you know, I -- I don't -- I don't have much more information to give you than that.

Q: (inaudible) are there any civilians under U.S. custody right now? Where -- where did the -- the -- the -- when the -- saved ones go after the operation?

MR. KIRBY: There is no -- there are -- there's -- there's nobody in U.S. custody as a result of this raid.

Q: Just to follow up on the helicopter -- what was the mechanical issue with the helicopter...

MR. KIRBY: I would describe the mechanical issue as a drivetrain issue that rendered it not usable for future flight in the operation.

Q: What did -- (inaudible) fire or somehow -- some...

MR. KIRBY: It -- it -- it didn't catch fire; it was a drivetrain issue. It didn't crash. It -- it landed safely at an alternative location. They looked at it to determine whether it could be fixed and -- and -- and continue to be used in -- in the operation and it was determined that -- that that was not possible. So General McKenzie ordered that it be detonated and destroyed on site.

All right, I haven't gotten any...

Q: (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

Q: Thank you. In addition to the people involved, was there other material, like digital media, that were recovered that could be useful for...

MR. KIRBY: Without getting into details, Bob, I think you -- you -- you know that it's common practice when we conduct raids of this kind to try to -- to -- to collect in -- information and -- and material that -- that might help us in -- in the continued prosecution of these kinds of operations and operations against ISIS, and I think that's as far as I'll go.

Q: (Inaudible) say yes or no?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- I will just tell you it's common practice for us to -- to try to -- to examine whether there is usable material that -- that can help us in future operations, and I think I'll leave it at that.

Carla Babb?

Q: Thank you.

Q: Hey, thanks, John, for doing this. I have three questions, just to clear up some things.

If those who were saved are not in U.S. custody, where are they? Are they in SDF custody? Were they left at the scene? Can you clarify that?

Clarification number two please -- when you said that the hostiles that were coming at the end -- does that -- is it safe to assume that these hostile actors had weapons and they were engaged -- as you were kind of referring to with Courtney, they were engaged with an airstrike?

And then number three, VOA's spoken to the SDF and they said that the -- the SDF says that U.S. launched the operation from SDF territory. Can you confirm that? And can you confirm that they were helping with the intelligence and the tracking of the ISIS leader? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: There is nobody in custody, Carla, so there's -- there's nobody that -- there's nobody to tell you that they're in custody, that -- and -- and certainly no U.S. -- there -- there's nobody in U.S. custody for sure.

On the -- on -- on the -- the engagement at the -- towards the end of the operation, of the -- the other two that I talked about, there were clear indications that -- that there was hostile intent. I'm not going to get into more detail than that. Clear indications that there was hostile intent and they were engaged and their compadres left after that engagement.

And then...

Q: Engaged with an airstrike?

MR. KIRBY: ... SDF, we appreciate the support that we got from the SDF. I'm -- I'll leave it to the SDF to describe it in ways that -- that they deem fit. I am not going to -- to talk about it in any more detail than that.

OK, Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. Can you say what type of Special Operations Forces were involved in the raid, such as SEALs, Delta or Rangers?

MR. KIRBY: ... going to describe them in any greater specificity than I have -- U.S. Special Operations Forces, under the control of U.S. Central Command.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hi, John. Two -- two quick questions. What happened to his body? Was it carried away like what the U.S. did with Bin Laden's body or was it too badly damaged to do anything with?

And two, an administration official told reporters today that this had been planned for a long, long time, the President had been presented in December with a tabletop model of the compound or the building. Why was the raid now versus maybe two or three weeks ago or even a month ago? Can you give any light on -- shed any light on that?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, his body was left at the site. As for the timing, you -- it is correct, this was a -- a mission long planned, months in planning, as I mentioned to (Jen ), but look, you -- you have to build enough context around the individuals' pattern of life and you have to factor in external factors that -- that you don't get to control, like the weather.

So lots of things go into making a decision about when you -- when you execute a raid of this complexity and this danger, and there were a lot of factors that had to line up to be just right. You have to, you know, make sure that your intelligence is solid and that the -- that -- that the individual that you're going after is, in fact, at the location you believe him to be, and that all the external factors -- the -- not just the weather, but the ability to -- to operate at that particular time of day, and to be able to have enough visibility -- all those things factor in. So it was a -- multiple factors. It all came together such that this was the best window to execute this mission.

And I would remind you that it's not like we were just sitting on our hands for those months. I mean, these -- as you probably saw in the secretary's statement, I mean, these Special Operations Forces conducted dozens of rehearsals to make sure that they could get this exactly right. OK?

Q: OK, thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Mike Brest?

Q: Hi, Mr. Kirby. Thanks for taking my question. I'm hoping you could provide a little insight into where ISIS stands right now, the threat they pose between the raid at the prison two weeks ago and Abdullah's assassination. Where do things stand both in Syria, as well as global?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'll tell you what -- they're -- they're leaderless today, and that's a significant blow. This is not something that we believe ISIS is going to be able to just get over real quickly and real easily.

That said, they -- they are not the force that they were in 2014, as we all remember that their growth and rapid acceleration across Iraq and -- and Syria. This -- this is a -- ISIS is not the -- the significant -- the -- the -- the threat of the same significant nature that they were back then, but they still remain a viable threat, and we've talked about that many times, that this is a group that wants to reconstitute its strength, wants to continue to attack and kill and maim and terrorize. And -- and Hajji Abdullah was -- was very much involved in trying to resuscitate the group and to grow their capabilities. And they remain -- as we've said many times, they remain dangerous. They remain a -- a threat to our national security, to the lives of other innocents, and we're going to, as the secretary said in his statement today, we're going to stay at it.

Travis Tritten?

Q: Hey, John, thanks. A couple quick questions, first on the efforts to get civilians out of the building. You said that they had called out to them with a bullhorn. Can you say specifically how long they gave civilians to leave the building? And secondly, when we look at photos of the compound and we see the damage to the building, was that primarily from the suicide bomb, or were U.S. munitions used on that building? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: The damage you see in the picture with the -- the -- the third four -- floor collapsed onto the second, and even -- even more than that, and that was caused by Abdullah igniting an explosive device which, as I said, killed himself and his family.

And as for time, look, I -- Travis, I don't have a minute-by-minute. There were numerous calls made to encourage everyone in the building to leave. Numerous calls were made, and at some point not too far into the operation, Abdullah exploded this device, and that precipitated more activity by at least one shooter from the building that led to U.S. forces going in. And to your point about, you know, how much time did we give people to -- I would remind that -- that -- that U.S. forces actually extricated four children from the second floor after they went into the building.

So the efforts to save the lives of -- of -- of innocents wasn't just in the opening gambit here with the bullhorn. I mean, it was -- it -- it was well into the operation. It was something that was -- was ever-present on their minds.

Mike Glenn?

Q: Yeah, John, thanks. Tony asked one of my questions, but do you know (inaudible) -- do you believe that this raid might have prevented any future specific terrorist mission that they were going to carry out?

MR. KIRBY: You were kind of breaking up, Mike. I think what -- your question was, do we have information that -- that his death has disrupted a specific attack? Is that what you asked?

Q: Yes, that's it. Yes, that's it.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have information that suggests that, Mike, but I would remind that -- that this -- this was the leader of ISIS, and -- and he was very hands-on leader. He was involved in helping direct a -- a lot of operations. So we have no doubt that -- that his death will have a -- a blow on ISIS and -- and their potential to conduct future operations.

I do want to remind that they -- they -- they are still a threat, and we're -- and we're not -- nobody's taking, you know, a victory lap here. We're -- we're going to stay at this. They still remain a threat. They still espouse this extreme ideology and this intent to kill, to maim, to terrorize, and so we're going to stay focused on it.

Dan Lamothe?

Q: Thanks for your time. Hoping maybe we can draw you out and flesh out some details on some of these tabletop exercises. It sounds like they went back at least as far as December, involving, you know, senior commanders and that sort of thing. Can you lay out a bit of what this looked like in terms of how far back it goes, who it involved, that kind of thing? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, Dan, I'm -- I'm not going to be able to go into more detail than I already have. Again, this was months in the planning, several months in the planning, and it included actual physical rehearsals, as I said, dozens by the Special Operations Forces, as well as you can imagine some tabletop planning, as well. But I don't have a tick-tock of exactly how all that process worked out. It was extensively planned, extensively resourced, and quite frankly, extensively informed over the course of several months.

Jen?


Q: (inaudible) you to Russia-Ukraine. There's a report that the U.S. has evidence that Russia has developed a plan approved at the highest levels in Moscow to create a pretext for invading Ukraine by falsely pinning the attack on Ukrainian forces that could involve alleged casualties in eastern Ukraine, but also inside Russia. It's being reported by the Washington Post. Is that report accurate? Is -- has that intelligence been declassified? What can you tell us?

MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you is it -- first of all, you know, we've discussed this idea of false flags by the Russians before. We've made no secret of that, and we do have information that it is -- that -- that -- that the Russians are likely to want to fabricate a pretext for an invasion, which again, is right out of their playbook.

One option is the Russian government; we -- we think is planning to stage a fake attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory or against Russian-speaking people the -- to therefore justify their action.

As part of this fake attack, we believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include corpses and actors that would be depicting mourners and images of destroyed locations, as -- as well as military equipment, at the hands of Ukraine or the West, even to the point where some -- some of this equipment would be -- to make -- made to look like it was Western-supplied, Ukrainian -- you know, to Ukraine equipment.

So this is just -- and this is just one example that we can talk about today. We're -- we're watching this across the board. We've -- we've seen these kinds of activities by the Russians in the past and we believe it's important, when we see it like this and -- and we can, to call it out.

Q: Is this being briefed on the Hill right now?

MR. KIRBY: I'm...

Q: ... part of the depo -- Austin and Milley are on the Hill. Is -- is...

MR. KIRBY: They're on the Hill in a classified briefing to talk about the whole spate of things we're concerned about with respect to Russia and Ukraine. I won't -- it's a classified briefing so I'm obviously not going to get into an agenda item with you here, in terms of everything they're talking about, but they -- they're both up on the Hill communicating with members of Congress what we're seeing writ large and what we're doing about it to help our NATO allies.

Q: How do you know that it has been approved at the highest level of the Kremlin, this particular case?

MR. KIRBY: I would just say that the -- our experience is that very little of this nature is -- is not approved at -- at the highest levels of the Russian government.

Q: And by that, you mean Putin?

MR. KIRBY: The highest levels of the Russian government.

Kellie Meyer?

Q: Hi, John, thanks for taking my question. I have two, if I can.

You mentioned the mechanical issue on the helicopter. Are those involved OK? And any other issues we aren't aware of or did anything run like clock -- clockwork?

And the second, on the U.S. Army dismissing unvaccinated soldiers, are any of them the ones deploying or on high alert to deploy to Eastern European allies around Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Army in terms of -- of -- of who they're discharging with respect to the vaccine mandate, but I suspect that there's privacy concerns there, Kellie. So I -- I -- I don't want to speak for the Army but I -- I don't know that they're going to be able to give you that level of specificity. It remains a lawful order, it remains a readiness issue. The vaccines work and we -- we want everybody to -- to -- to take them and to keep safe, to keep their units safe.

As for the helicopter crew, my understanding is that the -- they're all fine. As I -- as I -- as we said at the top, there were no U.S. casualties, and that would include the helicopter crew. And it -- it wasn't a crash landing. They -- they landed safely. Again, it was a drivetrain issue that rendered that helicopter unusable for the rest of the operation. So obviously it was destroyed but the -- the crew are -- are safe and sound.

Sylvie from AFP?

Q: Hello. Sorry -- sorry. Can you tell us how many helicopters and how many U.S. troops were involved?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, Sylvie, I'm not going to answer that question actually. Back when -- when I was -- opened up the press conference, I told you there's going to be some detail we're not going to be able to provide because we want to preserve our ability to continue to conduct these sorts of operations.

So what I would tell you is that we had exactly the force levels and exactly the resources we needed to conduct this operation, and I'll leave it at that.

Tara Copp?

Q: Thanks, John. Following up on Bob's question, can you confirm whether any sort of intelligence was taken from the compound, any computer drives or cell phones?

And then secondly, to follow up on (Luis's) question, the decisions that were made in this raid, did they incorporate any lessons learned from the civilian casualty report done after the August 29th strike? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I -- I've kind of addressed that second question before, as I -- as -- as -- when -- when Luis asked it. I mean, we always try to avoid civilian harm. This operation was of a completely different character than the airstrike that happened on the 29th of -- of August but we -- but in general, we always try to learn from -- from previous missions, from previous operations. These are two completely different operations.

And the desire to avoid civilian harm was baked in months ago into this particular plan. In fact, the decision itself to conduct a raid using Special Operations Forces speaks volumes of the degree to which the President was -- was trying to avoid civilian harm and, quite frankly, putting our forces at greater risk because of the -- because of the decision to make a -- a raid like this.

And I'm sorry but I should have written your other question down and I didn't do it.

Q: Oh, about the -- can you confirm whether any sort of computer drives or cameras or anything else were taken from the compound that could provide actionable intelligence moving forward?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look -- and as I told Bob, I'm not going to get into talking about intelligence matters one way or the other. It -- it is common practice when we conduct raids like this that we try to collect material that can help us and inform us in terms of our ability to -- to disrupt future attacks and to conduct future operations, and I think I'm just going to leave it at that.

Nancy Youssef?

Q: Thank you. I wonder if you could clarify a couple points. On the explosion that happened on the third floor, does the U.S. believe that the ISIS leader was wearing a suicide vest or that it was an explosive separate of that? And was it one explosive?

Can you tell us if there was any de-confliction that happened with any other nation? And can you tell us who will lead the review of any possible civilian casualties by the U.S.? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: There's been no decision to do a review or investigation right now, Nancy. This -- again, this operation is not even 24 hours old. As the Secretary said, we're -- we certainly are -- are willing to take a look to see if there's any possibility that anything that we did might have caused harm to innocent life. But I have no investigation or review to speak to today.

As for the explosion, all I can tell you is what we've already said -- there was a large explosion early on in the operation on the third floor, which killed Hajji Abdullah and his family. We believe he detonated that explosion. We cannot say at this time exactly what this device was. So I -- I'd leave it at that.

And then you had a -- your first question...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: ... I've got to write these down. What was your first question?

Q: Just to be clear, I was just asking -- when you say that -- that review, though, that -- that -- that you said the Secretary would be doing, I'm just trying to understand who would do that. And then the question was there any de-confliction with any other nations in -- in the run-up to this?

MR. KIRBY: So look, we're not calling -- we're not calling for a review right now, Nancy. Again, this operation literally just happened last night. What the Secretary said in his statement was -- was we -- we're going to take a look and see if there's any possibility that any action that we conducted might -- might have led to the loss of innocent life, and if there is, then we'll make decisions follow-on that, but I don't want to leave you with the impression that there's an investigation in the offing here. That's not where we are at this point.

As for de-confliction, I -- I would tell you that appropriate de-confliction at the appropriate time was -- was conducted in order to make sure that this operation could proceed safely. And I think I'll leave that there.

Q: (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: Appropriate de-confliction as -- as happens in that part of Syria was conducted in this case.

Let's see -- Helene Cooper?

Q: Hi. Thanks, John. Does this commando raid in Syria send a message of any kind to Vladimir Putin?

MR. KIRBY: This raid was not meant to send -- send a -- a -- a message to any other nation. It was meant to remove Hajji Abdullah from his leadership of ISIS, and to that degree, it was successful. And we are immensely proud of the forces that conducted this and planned it, resourced it, executed, rehearsed for it. It -- it says a lot about our capability in counterterrorism, our focus, our continued focus on the ISIS threat and our ability to -- to plan and conduct an execution of this magnitude and with this complexity with -- with the -- with the utmost of professionalism and skill, and quite frankly, secrecy.

I'll take a couple more. Yeah?

Q: Did U.S. forces collect any information or documents -- whatever -- materials from the building? (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY: I've -- I've already -- I've dealt with this question before to -- a couple of times. It is routine that we try to collect useful material when raids of this kind are conducted. I'm not going to speak with any specificity about this one.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: OK, thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.

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