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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Just a couple of things here at the top. I think you saw yesterday. The Army released a Climate Strategy to counter the existential threat that climate change poses. To the service's ability to respond to national security challenges and threats. The strategy is nested within the department's Climate Adaptation Plan and interim national security strategic guidance. 

The Army is focusing its climate preparedness and resilience approach on three lines of effort installations, acquisitions in logistics, and training. Among the objectives that are outlined in the strategy our goal to achieve a 50 percent reduction in Army net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. 

To attain Net Zero Army greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to proactively consider the security implications of climate change in strategy, planning, acquisition supply chain, and programming documents and processes. Alright, we're having problems here. Can I have the spare?

Q: I'm sure there's more after that. 

MR. KIRBY: The strategy is available on army.mil. And the Army will be talking about more about it in the coming days. And clear the Secretary appreciates the work that the Army's doing on these important climate change priorities. In Africa, the annual training exercise Cutlass Express 2022 is underway after an opening ceremony in Djibouti on the sixth of February. 

Now in its 20th iteration, Cutlass Express is sponsored by U.S. AFRICOM and led by U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, Africa and U.S. 6th fleet. The exercise is being conducted in the vicinity of Bahrain, Djibouti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles until February 17. 14 nations are participating and will conduct several maritime security exchanges to include vessel queries, and ship boardings, airborne maritime patrol operations, and search and rescue drills. 

The exercise promotes national and regional security in East Africa and increases interoperability between the U.S., African nations and international partners. Finally, I'd like to announce that the Secretary has approved the next round of DOD advisory boards and committees for resumption of operations. 

These are going to be listed in a press release that will be going up on defense.gov here very, very shortly. So, you don't have to write all these down, but I will list them for the record. These boards include the Defense Innovation Board, the National Security Education Board, the National Security Agency Emerging Technologies Panel, the Advisory Board for the National Reconnaissance Office, the Army Education Advisory Committee, the Education for Sea Power Advisory Board, the Board of Visitors for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Scientific Advisory Board, and the Board of Regents Uniformed Services, University of the Health Sciences. 

Positions for these boards will be filled in coming weeks, clearly keep you up to date on that. The department's boards and committees have been and will continue to be a valuable resource as we defend the nation take care of our people and succeed through teamwork. And I know that the Secretary and all our department leadership look forward to working with these advisory boards going forward. 

Finally, in light of all that, I'd like to announce that the Secretary has nominated Mr. Michael Bloomberg to serve as the Chair of the Defense Innovation Board. To leverage his experience and strategic insights on innovation, business and public service. Mr. Bloomberg, as you all know, an entrepreneur and a leader who served three terms, as the mayor of New York City will bring a wealth of experience in technology, innovation, business and government to the Defense Innovation Board. 

His leadership will be critical to ensuring the department has access to the best and brightest minds in science technology and innovation. Through the team of diverse experts that he will lead as Chair of that board. And obviously, the Secretary is very grateful that Mr. Bloomberg was willing to take this additional responsibility on. 

And very grateful that he's willing to serve in that capacity. And with that, we'll start taking questions. Bob over to you.

Q: Thank you, John. Two questions related to Ukraine situation. 

MR. KIRBY: Sure. 

Q: First, do you -- have there been any additional shifting in movement of U.S. troops within Europe units to Eastern Europe? Beyond what you've already described, I think last week.

MR. KIRBY: No, sir.

Q: Second question is regarding the lack of media access to the troops who are on the ground there or who are deploying there. Can you just take -- explain what the rationale is for that position of not providing full access?

MR. KIRBY: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you for the question. And we obviously have received the letter from the Pentagon Press Association Leadership regarding their concerns over this. And we certainly appreciate you sharing those concerns. And we obviously respect those concerns very much. 

Look, any decision to provide media access to our troops, whether it's in an operational environment or training environment, is a decision that we take seriously. We don't make decisions to grant access or not to grant access lightly. And there's lots of factors that go into that. Sometimes it has to do with operational security, sometimes it has to do with how that kind of access nests into the larger strategy that we're pursuing. 

So, what I would tell you Bob is again, absolutely respect the desire to do it. I hope you know how much I respect that too. We're just not at a point now where we are able to provide that kind of access. And if that changes, believe me, I'll be the first one to let you know that. But we're still working our way through what sort of coverage is best suited for this particular mission. 

And I say the following not as an excuse or anything like that, but, you know, to remind this is a very small number of troops that are quote unquote, "deploying". And quite a few of them are actually just redeploying inside Europe and that we have 80,000 other troops in Europe. So, the additions that we're making, while the Secretary deems them necessary to reassure our -- the Eastern Flank of NATO. 

They are but a small fraction of the total number of troops that we have in Europe and have been there again, as part of our NATO commitments for a long time.

Q: John.

MR. KIRBY: Jen.

Q: Is it a host country issue or is it a strategic messaging issue? Are you worried that Putin could use the images of U.S. troops arriving in Poland and elsewhere and view it as offensive? I mean, what is the thinking here?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I mean, there's again, there's a lot that goes into a decision like this, Jen. And some of it is, what is the larger goal here on the geopolitical stage? And what we been saying, I think, pretty consistently, is that we believe there's still time and space for diplomacy. 

We still believe that there's headspace, with Mr. Putin that can be operated inside of. We still believe that he hasn't made a final decision. And so, a lot of what we're doing, not just what we're doing, but how we're talking about what we're doing Is designed to make it very clear where the United States national security interests are and what we're trying to achieve here. 

In a nutshell, what we're trying to achieve here is a de-escalation of the tensions, and a diplomatic path forward. And virtually everything that we've done, everything I've said up here, and quite frankly, everything I'm not said up here, is designed to help us get to a better outcome. A peaceful outcome, a diplomatic outcome. 

Nobody wants to see, except with the exception of possibly, Mr. Putin, any military conflict breaking out in Europe. So, we're being very careful. We're trying to be very deliberate. And, again, I would just beg your understanding of that. 

Q: Just to follow up. The 82nd airborne that's arriving in Poland, there's the Wall Street Journal report this morning that they are going to be setting up tents, checkpoints in the event that Americans have to be -- to flee Ukraine. Frankly, if Russia invades.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: Is that their mission? Can you explain what their mission is? Will they be setting up evacuation points? Are you ruling out sending the U.S. military into Ukraine to help evacuate Americans?

MR. KIRBY: There's a lot there. I think you've heard us say consistently, that there are no active efforts in play to militarily evacuate American citizens from Ukraine. The State Department has been exceedingly consistent and clear about warning Americans from -- away from traveling to Ukraine. And the President himself just the other day, advised Americans to leave Ukraine, given the current tensions. 

So, there's been plenty of time and opportunity, and it's not a war zone. I mean, there's plenty of physical opportunities to remove yourself from Ukraine. Including commercial air, railroads, good highways, there's lots of ways to leave. And all that is still at play right now. And again, we've said from the very get go, there's no effort right now ongoing, nothing that we're expecting to use military assets to move Americans out of Ukraine, that's the same today. 

Now, wait, I'm almost there. There was a lot of questions and I'm just -- I'm going to work my way through this. When the Secretary decided to send leading elements of the 82nd Airborne which we talked about very publicly. We said from the very get go, that one of the reasons why we chose that unit is their multi mission, and they're on a high alert readiness posture as it is. 

That's their job, that's what they do. And they do a lot of things really, really well. And they can do those things quickly. And we said and Secretary said, and matter of fact, when he was up at this very podium. That they are multi mission capable, and they're going to be ready to do a number of contingencies. Including, and he was asked, you know, would that include evacuation? 

And he said, if that's what we're called to do, we're capable to do that. So, I can't rule out the fact that these soldiers could be used with some -- into some degree with evacuation assistance on the other side of that border. And certainly, they're going to be prepared to do that. In fact, I've said that myself publicly. But the ability to contribute to any assistance that might be required. 

The 82nd would be prepared to do that. Now as for what exactly there, you know, how they're going to prepare for that mission physically and tangibly. You know, I don't have anything to speak to with great detail today. But that is clearly going to be -- is one of the missions that they're capable of doing, trained to do, and will be ready to do if needed. 

But Jen, the other thing that I'd like to just put stop, and it kind of goes back to what I said at the risk of sounding redundant. If Americans that are in Ukraine, heed the warnings that they have gotten from the State Department and from the President himself. 

There should be no need for the 82nd Airborne to have to assist with evacuation -- and assist in evacuation missions. If Americans that are in Ukraine are paying close attention to the warnings and the advisories that they've gotten and do the right thing, while there's time to do it. Does that answer your question? 

Q: Yes, thank you.

MR. KIRBY: It was long one and I appreciate your patience. Meghann.

Q: Can we get an update on the groups of troops who are newly arrived or newly moved around in Europe? How many has made it to Romania? How many have made it to Germany? How many made it to Poland? And also, Jen asked about the Wall Street Journal and the Poland situation. 

In Romania, what are they going to be doing? In Germany at the command headquarters, what are they going -- what are their days going to look like once they're all settled in?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, the Stryker Squadron, I think they're leaving Germany today. It's going to take them some days to get to Romania. I think there's some very small leading elements as you might expect. When the Army moves, they always move some leading elements. So, there's a there's some small elements already in Romania preparing for the rest to come. 

They'll be operating with our Romanian counterparts. I don't have anything more detailed than that. I'd point you to EUCOM to really speak to that. But they're remember they're really going to reassure and to be able to provide additional capability in Romania, I would also remind Meghann, there's already 900. 

So, this thousand almost doubles what we already had in Romania. Nothing really significant changes in terms of the 82nd Airborne, they continue to flow in, in tranches. So, of the 1,700, that we said we're going, less than half are already there, and the rest will flow in over the next few days. 

And again, they will be establishing themselves as I answered to Jen, to be able to respond to multiple contingencies and to conduct whatever missions are called on to do. One of them could very well be preparing for some sort of evacuation assistance on the Polish side of that border.

Q: So, follow-up. The Army’s Fifth Corps has a headquarters in Poland that they stood up recently, offensively for this sort of mission. Are they being involved at all in any of this? Or, you know, were they considered to be involved in any of these deployments?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I mean, I think they're absolutely involved. And I think the Stryker Squadron sort of reports up through that chain of command as well. I'd point you to EUCOM to speak with more specificity about how their different headquarters are going to be broken down. 

Yes, Janne?

Q: Thank you, John. I have a question on Korea, China and North Korea. And the first question is the three party, U.S. and South Korea, Japan’s Defense Ministers meeting would be held soon. Is that date set yet? 

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry. Is that what?

Q: Defense ministers three-party talks. South Korea, U.S., Japan’s Defense Ministers meeting. Will be held soon? 

MR. KIRBY: OK. 

Q: Announced yesterday?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. 

Q: Is the date set? 

MR. KIRBY: Is it...

Q: I mean date. When will be the date? 

MR. KIRBY: Date?

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: I think we'll have very -- we'll have more to talk about that pretty soon. I think I'll just...

Q: What is pretty soon?

MR. KIRBY: Means very soon.

Q: Pretty soon is how soon? 

MR. KIRBY: It's very soon. 

Q: Why are we -- you didn't mention the date?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I know I didn't mention the date.

Q: OK. Skip that anyway. 

MR. KIRBY: Skip that anyway?

Q: Yes. I’ll find out very soon. North Korea's ICBM Missile Operating Base, which is located just 15 miles from the Chinese borders. Aren’t you worried about this? What is the DODs opinion on this?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry, can you repeat the question?

Q: Pay attention please. North Korea...

MR. KIRBY: I get that a lot. I just was looking to see if I had more on your first question. Yes, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Q: OK. On the North Koreans ICBM Missile Operating Base, which is located just 15 miles from the Chinese border. Aren’t you worried about this? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any information on that, Janne. 

Q: Why not?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any information on the installation status in North Korea.

Q: Skip, another one. China has praised the troops support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And also, North Korea said that it supports Russia through face to face meeting with the Russian Putin military. So what is the United States strategy toward China and North Korea? Do you have any new strategy?

MR. KIRBY: I don't. I mean, are you referring to the readout of the conversation between Xi and Putin?

Q: Yes, because China has praised, you know, they involve the Russian crisis. They strongly promised with Putin and also North Korean Kim Jung-un face to face meeting with Russian authority. He also supports Russia to involve Ukraine crisis. 

So, if both China and North Korea involved Ukraine crisis, do you have any new strategies? I mean does DOD have any strategies. 

MR. KIRBY: A strategy? 

Q: Yes, towards China and North Korea?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know of any new strategy with respect to China and North Korea and whatever statements they might have made in support of what Mr. Putin is doing. We're focused on, again, trying to find a diplomatic path forward here. So that doesn't evolve into conflict over Ukraine. And to make sure that we're shoring up our contributions to the NATO Alliance, which we take very seriously. 

I'll always say what I've said before, I mean, these two countries, Russia and China are not countries with a whole lot of friends. And aren't part of broader Alliance systems that they can rely on. And every indication that we've seen as this -- in recent days here, this is more of a partnership of convenience of anything else between Xi and Putin. 

And these are not two countries that are uniformly aligned on every issue. So, they can speak for themselves and what they put out in their little communique. That's fine, we're focused on making sure that we are committed to the NATO alliance, that's obvious. And to try to find a diplomatic path forward here. Oren?

Q: (inaudible) Walsh, is reporting based on troops of Afghanistan and medical records, as well as interviews with doctors, victims and witnesses. None of whom were interviewed by U.S. military investigators, that there are further questions about the role of gunfire may have played in the immediate aftermath of the suicide bombing at Abbey Gate. 

Should the Pentagon further investigate this matter, or Pentagon leadership feel that the matter has been satisfactorily investigated to this point?

MR. KIRBY: The investigation we believe was comprehensive, it was credible, and it was quite definitive. And, Oren, I think you were here in the room when the investigating team came up here and laid it out for you over the course of an hour or more. Pretty detailed work. And as they said, and I'm quite, frankly, quoting from their work. 

The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire, either U.S. or Afghan. And I think I'd leave it at that. Let me go to the phones here. Carla, I promise I won't forget you. But I haven't done anybody here. Travis Tritten from Military.com.

Q: Hey, John, thanks. Most of my questions were asked, but I did want to ask -- it looks like there may be an agreement on the Hill on Annual Defense Funding. And I know there was a lot of dire talk from the military branches about the effects of a CR. And I was wondering if you could just talk about the current situation in DOD and how you're faring on a stopgap budget measure? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: It's not for us to speak to a stopgap spending measure. It's really for Congress to speak to that, and we certainly hope that we can get full funding for the year. And not obviously another CR that takes us yet another month or two. What the Secretary has been very clear about is the importance of full-year funding. 

And what that does for us. I mean, with a CR, as you know, Travis, we can't start new programs, you can't build new ships. You -- we're going to have to delay perhaps as much as 100 military construction projects. And when you do that, it's not just the military installations that are affected. It's the local communities and local businesses around those installations that will suffer. 

In order to pay for the 2.7 percent, pay increase that we want to give our troops, much deserved by the way. That money is going to have to come from other accounts, and that could eat into operational readiness as well. It could affect health care funding for military families. So, all of these things are at stake. 

The ability to conduct new research and development in new important technologies like microelectronics, like artificial intelligence, like hypersonic. All of that would have to be slowed down if we don't get full-year funding. So, we've been nothing but clear the Service Chiefs were up on the Hill a week or so ago. 

I think they laid it out in very specific terms with what living under a continuing resolution means. You described it as dire talk, and frankly, I think we would agree with that. That there are -- there could be dire consequences if we can't get full-year funding for this year. 

And I look the Congress has never failed to appropriate force in the past and the Secretary's obviously interested in making sure we get that full-year funding. We certainly call on the Congress to do what they've always done, and that is to support the department with funding for a full year, as was authorized. Kasim from Anadolu.

Q: Yes, John, thank you very much. The Washington Post had acquired actually in an Army investigation on withdrawal from Afghanistan. And in that report, Brigadier General Sullivan told investigators that he wanted to stage supplies to host 5,000 evacuees at Kabul airport. 

But his efforts was complicated because he was not permitted to discuss the possibility of a full scale evacuation with anyone other than British officials. Well, my question is, why would the U.S. prefer not to be transparent to the partners who without hesitation took arms to support the U.S.after 9/11?

MR. KIRBY: So first of all, what the Washington Post is reporting on are the raw materials that went into the Abbey Gate investigation, which you all were briefed on Friday. So, these documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act are really the raw material that went into that investigation about Abbey Gate. 

And in the course of that investigation, clearly, lots of lots of questions were asked and answered. I would refer you to the documents, I'm not going to be in a position where I'm re-litigating every single statement made across the course of what is about 2,000 pages. What I would tell you is this. This was a tough mission over the course of 17 days. And what those documents reveal, if you look at any of them, is a lot of good people. 

And I'm not just talking about in the military, I'm talking about with our State Department colleagues, and to your point, our coalition partners and allies. A lot of good people making a lot of tough decisions in unrelenting circumstances, very difficult circumstances. With as -- an increasingly desperate crowd of Afghans who were trying to leave the country. 

And we've been nothing but honest and open about the fact that it wasn't perfect in every regard. We've got an after-action review going on right now. We're going to learn from the mistakes were made. But we're also very proud of the fact that together with our interagency colleagues at the State Department, brave diplomats who are on those gates with our Marines, with our coalition, and allied partners. 

That 124,000 people were safely evacuated from Afghanistan. That's no mean feat. You know, one of the things we don't talk about today is the fact that we've got just over 6,000 now, Afghans that are on two military bases here at home. I mean, tens of thousands of Afghans are now starting new lives in this country, because of the work that the interagency did, not just the military. 

We housed them provided a safe and secure environment. But HHS was involved, and DHS was involved. And the State Department was involved. There was a lot of good work that was done here. I'm not going to relitigate every single document in that trove there that's on the FOIA website. 

You can read it for yourself, but I would beset you as you do that, to just not forget the larger perspective here what we were able to get done. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.

Q: Hi Mr. Kirby, thanks for taking my question. Back in December, you said that there were active discussions going on about mandating the Coronavirus booster vaccine. Where does that stand right now? 

MR. KIRBY: I have no decisions to speak to Mike. With respect any decisions on making the booster mandatory. I think we're still examining that. Joe Gould. Defense News.

Q: Hi, John, thanks for taking my call. The American Federation of Government Employees, it's America's largest federal employee union. Wrote a letter urging lawmakers to repeal a series of caps on civilian workers at Pentagon headquarters functions. 

And their argument is that those roles are being filled by an inflated contractor workforce. Would the Pentagon welcome that move by lawmakers if they decide to follow the recommendation of the Union?

MR. KIRBY: Joe, I'm going to have to take your question their partner. I am not aware of that letter or that issue. And I don't think it'd be good for me to speculate on that. So let me take that question. We'll get back to you, Carla.

Q: Thank you. 

Q: So, going back really quickly to Jen and to Bob's question. So, can you confirm the details that troops that are currently in Poland are setting up tents, checkpoints, and other things to prepare for an evacuation currently?

MR. KIRBY: I know of no tents that are being set up right now, Carla. Again, there's only sort of less than half of the leading elements that are there. The 1,700s that we talked about, that's not the whole the 82nd Airborne 1,700. So, it's not even the whole unit itself. And that's 1,700, about less than half of them are on the ground right now. 

I can't speak to specifically whether tents are being set up. Again, they would be prepared to do that kind of thing. And I certainly am not going to rule out that in coming days or weeks, that they might be setting up some temporary facilities just in case there's a need to. In case there are Americans who are coming across that border and need help. 

They're trained to do that. They're trained to do a lot of things. That's one thing they're trained to do. But this isn't -- and we've been very clear, we're not talking about a classic noncombatant evacuation operation where you're sending in grey-tails and flying people out. That's not what's envisioned here. 

And frankly, again, I hate to be redundant, but I'm going to be. It doesn't need to come to that. I mean if things work out the way they should, there'll be no reason for them to handle any evacuees. Because there won't have been an invasion -- another invasion by Mr. Putin and Russian military forces. And even if that is the course that happens, another invasion. 

If Americans are listening carefully and following the guidance by the State Department and by the President of the United States, they should be leaving now. They should have been leaving before now. And there's plenty of ways to do that, just by going into Kiev jumping on an airplane and leaving. 

Or getting in a car and driving across the country. I mean, it's -- you know, there's it's not a military conflict zone right now. And there's no reason why it should.

Q: Has Poland have been designated as the evacuation point should it come to that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think that there's a designated specific evacuation point in this. This will be something that the 82nd and General Wolters as a European Commander would be thinking about. I don't know if he's made final decisions on that right now. 

Again, we want to be ready for everything. We would ask that Americans in Ukraine also make themselves ready and do the right thing for themselves and for their families and not travel to Ukraine. And if they're in Ukraine, to leave Ukraine, while there's time and certainly every capacity and capability to do so safely and efficiently, through normal commercial transportation.

Q: And then lastly, you said that no additional troops have gone to Europe, but have any additional troops in the United States been placed on high alert since you last updated? 

MR. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of. No. 

Q: Thank you, John. So first, I have a question on your Ukraine. So you're asking thousands of American families upend their lives in Ukraine and leave. Which is not an easy decision to make, as you know. Why should they do that? 

Based on what you say, we don't know -- we don't think Putin has made a decision. We don't have that intelligence to say whether this is going to happen or not. So, you're asking them to make such a crucial decision that will have major implications on their lives--without giving them any real information, that there's an imminent threat. 

That's what I'm getting at.

MR. KIRBY: No, Fadi. I think I'm going to take issue with the question there. First of all, we're advising them to do this. And the State Department, as I don't want to speak for my State Department colleagues. But they've been very clear about that guidance. And that advice, obviously, we can't make them do it. They have to make those decisions for themselves. 

And I think Fadi, you've been sitting on these briefings, as well as anybody else. We've been nothing but clear about the continued military buildup along that border with Ukraine and Belarus. And the continued military options that Mr. Putin has available to him. We have been, I think, extraordinarily transparent about the possibilities of military conflict inside Ukraine. 

And so, we made no bones about that. And in our best judgment, as a government, our advice is that this is not the time to be going to Ukraine. It's not the time to be staying in Ukraine. Each of these families, you're right. We're not saying they're easy decisions, we understand that. And they're going to have to make these decisions for themselves, and as appropriate. 

All we can do -- all we must do as a government is give them the best advice and guidance, we can based on the information that we're seeing. And what we know to be the case on the ground, so that's what we're doing.

Q: Hey, can I ask another question please? 

MR. KIRBY: Sure. 

Q: So, do you -- I asked a couple days ago, again about the operation against ISIS leader Qurashi, North East in Syria. Do you have any updates on whether you revise the number of civilian casualties during that operation? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't. Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.

Q: Hey, John, sorry, I accidentally muted myself. I have a budget question. FY 23 budget question, yesterday, Secretary Wormuth was concerned that the DOD has not yet received a top line guidance from OMB. Which isn't surprising since DOD sent over its desired number in mid-January. 

But here's my question. What is the current DOD inflation estimate for FY 23? It was 2.2percent for '22. There's a lot of interest in this subject, and I know DOD has an inflation estimate for '23. What is it?

MR. KIRBY: Tony, I'll put -- I will take your question.

Q: OK. Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Sylvie.

Q: If you could provide a written question, that'd be good -- written answer.

Q: Hello. Hello, John. Thank you. I have actually three questions. First, I want to know if you have any indication about more Russian troops arrivals at the border with Ukraine? I want to know if you have any details on the arrival of Russian bombers, in Kaliningrad? 

And also, the Russian Chief of Defense General Gerasimov has as arrived in Belarus today, as the exercise -- military exercise is going to start. I wanted to know if for you it's something usual, or if you find that he's a presence on the ground, concerning?

MR. KIRBY: Concerned by his presence on the ground. He's the Chief of Defense for his military, it's not uncommon for Chiefs of Defense to observe exercises. I think you have to look at it in the context of what's going on. Obviously, we're not looking at this exercise in a vacuum. And we understand that Senior Military Leaders are very much involved in facilitating this build up. 

A build up, which we believe is destabilizing and unnecessary. Has nothing to do and since NATO is not a threat to Russian sovereignty, since Ukraine is not a threat to Russian sovereignty, there should be no reason for this build up. So, we obviously are viewing this certainly in light of what's going on. 

But his presence alone at this exercise is not setting off alarm bells here at the Pentagon. I'm not going to talk about the Russian bomber deployments. I think I've made it very clear, and I'll continue to do so that I am not going to put the United States Department of Defense in the position of speaking to Russian military movements with great specificity. 

That -- we can speak for our own, but I'm not going to detail on a day-to-day basis every movement of every unit inside the Russian Armed Forces. And as for troop numbers build up your first question. We have continued to see even over the last 24 hours additional capabilities flow from elsewhere in Russia to that border with Ukraine and in Belarus. 

As before, we're not going to get into providing specific numbers, but that -- the numbers continue to grow. We maintain that he's north of 100,000, for sure, and he continues to add to that capability. We also see indications that additional battalion tactical groups are on their way. 

And so, every day he adds to his options. Every day he adds to his capabilities. Every day he continues to destabilize what is already a very tense situation. And he could easily destabilize by moving these forces back home, and by committing to a diplomatic path forward. Caitlin Doornbos from Stars and Stripes.

Q: Hey, John, I'm following up on some previous questions. I know you've got no ongoing plans for evacuation. But I just want to see if you can confirm that the Pentagon has received approval from the White House to evacuate civilians from Ukraine should Russia invade? 

And then also, I know you've been pretty tight lipped on north of 100,000. But I think we've been at north of 100,000 for about six weeks now. Is there anything more you can give us as far as -- and I've seen reporting all the way up to 140,000 or 170,000? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Today nope. Caitlin. I'm just going to stick in north of 100,000. But he does continue to add to his capabilities. And look in terms of the approval process. I mean, you guys have been covering this place long enough, you know, and the Secretary's at the top of the chain of command here in the military at the department anyway. 

The Commander in Chief, the President is at the top of the chain of command in terms of the use of the United States military. So, the Secretary issues, the orders, but on an issue of this importance from a geopolitical perspective. Of course, there's going to be interagency discussion. And of course, there's going to be the involvement of what -- by the President and decisions of this nature. Nancy Youssef.

Q: Thank you. I'd like to go back to your answers about embedding and why journalists can't do. So, you said that among the reasons was that embedding was that you would consider the national security interest. And that the U.S. wanted diplomacy to play out. 

But journalists were embedded in the run up to the 2003 invasion when the U.S. also was hoping diplomacy would prevail. And I'm having a hard time understanding how less transparency reflects the national security interests of a nation that promotes freedom of press worldwide. 

So, I was hoping you could give us more -- a more specific answer on why journalists can’t embed with deployed troops. And what the process will be going forward in light of the PPA letter? Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Nancy. I do think, again, I stand by what I said to Bob. We obviously respect the job that you do and appreciate it. And we try to provide as much transparency and access as we can, it oftentimes is not as much as you want. And I get there's an actual tension there. 

There are a lot of factors that go into making decisions about access to you. I mean, even just to how many briefings we're going to do every week is not something we do accidentally. We make these decisions very deliberately. And they are nested inside larger national security goals and national security efforts. 

And I fully appreciate that not all of our decisions are going to be popular. And I do think comparing this to 2003 in Iraq is not a fair comparison. This is a modest number of forces that are redeploying or I'm sorry, relocating to provide reassurance to allies. And in as measured against a percentage of 80 some odd thousand troops that are already in Europe, it's a pretty small addition. 

And it's really done about -- on reassurance. So, if there's a change in the approach that we're going to take care of the department, I will absolutely let you know. I do appreciate the concerns that have been very clearly communicated. And again, we respect those concerns. And we have obviously duly passed those concerns on up the Chain of Command. Pierre?

Q: John?

MR. KIRBY: I'm here shipmate, you there?

Q: Yes, I have a question. Iran today announced that they have a new Ballistic Missile. Do you have any early assessment of this missile, if it is also dangerous to U.S. Soldiers and to allies in the area?

MR. KIRBY: I have not seen the announcement by Iran that they have a new Ballistic Missile Program. So, I don't have anything specific to say that. That said, we have continually watched as Iran has improved their ballistic missile program. And we are keenly aware of the regional threats that ballistic missile program poses. 

Which is why we're working so hard with allies and partners in the region to be able to counter those kinds of threats, and to make sure that we are contributing to their self-defense needs as well. OK, I've got time for one more and I'd like to go to Anna Maria from Romania TV? Are you there? OK, looks like Anna Maria was not there. Does anybody else have one more? 

Q: I’d like to follow-up on Pierre’s question.

MR. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: He was referring today, the Iran review of the new missile, it's the Kheibarshekan, it's 900 miles, and it runs on solid fuel. So, it puts U.S. bases and Israel within range. And then it's been announced today at the heels of the new round of negotiations in Vienna concerning the Iran nuclear problem. So how do you think Iran is messaging something to the U.S. and Israel? And...

MR. KIRBY: Again, I can't speak to this announcement, Fadi. I haven't seen it. So, I'd rather reserve comment on a missile they claim they have. I just don't have anything specific on that. You guys are, as always, a little bit ahead of me in terms of what's out there in the news space. 

But as to your question, are they messaging? Frankly, we see their malign activities as much more than messaging. I mean, they are malign activities on their own. They are destabilizing in the region. They're supporting terrorist groups across the region. They are harassing maritime shipping. 

They are advancing a Ballistic Missile Program that is designed for offensive purposes to inflict harm and damage potentially lethal so on other states, other peoples, and our allies and partners. We don't look at this as a messaging issue. We look at it as a legitimate national security threat issue in the region to our people, to our facilities, and to those of our allies and partners. 

Alright, thanks everybody. 

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