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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing, March 14, 2022

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Afternoon everybody. Let me just get organized here for a second. OK. Just jump around a little bit here. But as I mentioned last week, Secretary will be leaving on travel tomorrow morning. First up is Brussels for the NATO Defense Ministerial. He looks forward to having another discussion to talk with our NATO allies about all the things we're doing as an alliance to bolster and support our deterrence capabilities on the eastern flank.

From there, he will go to Slovakia I think we already talked about that last week. And today the Secretary has added a third stop on -- in Bulgaria. So, he will extend the trip by a day, will have a chance to meet with senior civilian and military leaders in Bulgaria also a key stop in terms of the eastern flank of the Alliance.

He looks forward to that. We'll obviously have more detail as the trip progresses and certainly keep you informed. On an exercise note, Operation Noble Defender, now is a recurring NORAD air defense operation, takes place throughout the year. This winter's Noble Defender planned for March 16. Will occur during a series of Arctic activities that demonstrate allied collaboration to defend North America's northern approaches.

This iteration of Noble Defender will incorporate several assets from both Canada and the United States. With support from Denmark to allow our air defense operations, I'm sorry to allow air defense operations from full Greenland. During this exercise, NORAD fighters will conduct intercepts of U.S. Strategic Command bombers, representing threat platforms throughout the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland. And we'll keep you apprised as that exercise progresses.

And then just lastly, on behalf of everybody here at the department, we'd like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Brent Renaud, a freelance journalist who was tragically killed over the weekend covering Ukraine. We understand that he was working on a documentary about refugees. And clearly, this unprovoked war by Mr. Putin has created now more than two and a half million refugees.

So, we applaud the work that he was doing, the bravery with which he did it. And again, our deepest condolences and sympathies go out to his family. I would also like to take this opportunity to express our concerns over the what we are under -- what we understand now is that the injuries sustained by Mr. Benjamin Hall, a Fox news correspondent also covering the war in Ukraine.

We are given to understand that he's being treated right now in a hospital for his injuries. We certainly wish him all the best of speedy recovery and a safe return. Again, two examples of the dangers in covering war. This is a war that didn't need to be fought to be sure. But just as to be sure there are journalists from around the world on the ground trying to discover the truth.

And to show that truth and to tell these important stories. And again, we -- our best goes out to Mr. Hall and our certainly our deepest thoughts go to his family. As I'm sure they are worried about him and his wellbeing. But again, we're thinking about him. And with that, start taking questions. Let's see where's my AP guys. Lita.

Q: I'm on the phone. I'm here. Thanks, John. Can you talk a little bit about the strikes on Yavoriv the other day? Are those strikes making it any more difficult for the U.S. to give security assistance into the Ukrainians?

And does that raise concerns about the war moving closer to the Polish border? Are there any new efforts going on to either supplement troops or other systems, weapons etcetera to protect Poland? Near the Polish border at Yavoriv?

MR. KIRBY: So, again, without getting into too much tactical detail, Jen. It's a this was clearly a Russian airstrike. Our understanding is that these were cruise missiles fired from aircraft long range on the Yavoriv training facility there in western Ukraine.

I can assure you that there were no U.S. military personnel there at that training facility. That's where the Florida National Guard had been doing their training before they left a few weeks ago. No U.S. contractors there, no U.S. civilians, no government -- U.S. government personnel there at all. As for the damage done, we know that several structures were hit.

We don't have a perfect picture of what the damage was done or how much gear or equipment was hit and with what effect. But as we've said before, this is now the third significant strike in western Ukraine. It certainly appears as if the Russians are broadening their target set.

Q: And were NATO weapon shipments going through that location? Is that's why it became targeted?

MR. KIRBY: I can't speak for Russian targeting justification. That's really not always clear to us. But without -- we've been very careful about not wanting to talk about the routes through which security assistance is getting to Ukraine. And I don't want to start by doing that today. I would just tell you that we have multiple routes to get secured assistance into the hands of the Ukrainians.

This was not one of them.

Q: But these Russian planes were in Russian Airspace, they didn't cross into Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I'd rather not talk about specific air operations for the Russians. We know they were long range strikes, cruise missiles. But beyond that, I think I'd think I dimmer. Yes. Faudi.

Q: Thank you, John. Just follow-up. Is this airstrike on Yavoriv, and I think I believe there was another town that was targeted as well? Do you have now indications that the Russians, are -- there are any efforts by the Russians to interfere with security assistant supplies and routes into Ukraine? Is that a concern now, because so far senior officials have been telling us that there were no indications of such an effort. Is the strike on the weekend kind of...

MR. KIRBY: Again, we're not, we're not looking at this strike as an effort to go after the delivery of security assistance to Ukraine. I'm not going to talk about the -- all the modalities of how we're continuing to find ways to help Ukraine defend itself. I think you guys can understand that. And all I would tell you and answer to your question.

Your larger question is that we're going to continue to get as much security assistance to the Ukrainians as fast as we can, and in the most efficient, effective way. And there's lots of different ways that we're pursuing that. And I just don't think it's helpful, certainly not to Ukrainians, for us to be detailing that hear from the podium.

Q: On the efforts by the Russians too. Have you seen any indications that they're trying to interfere with these shipments?

MR. KIRBY: All I would tell you, is that we continue to have ways to get stuff into the hands of the Ukrainians. And again, I'm just going to leave it at that. I'm not going to talk about Russian targeting and Russian operations. Yes.

Q: Thank you. And to go back to these strike on the Yavoriv. Did you consider that as a turning point in the war? The fact that they start striking in the West. Or do you consider that as just a signal to the west that we can do that if we want?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think we would reduce something like this to calling it a signal. I mean he -- they use multiple cruise missiles here. Clearly, they had their reasons for targeting that training facility. And it is a Ukrainian military training facility. I'll let them speak to their targeting justifications. As for a turning point, no Sylvie.

I wouldn't think that we would consider this or the other strike in western Ukraine is some sort of turning point. The Russians clearly are expanding some of their target sets. That's obvious just from the fact that over the last couple of days, we've seen other targets hit in Ukraine. It doesn't change -- I think our general understanding that they continue to be frustrated by a very stiff Ukrainian resistance.

And they are not making the kind of progress on the ground that we believe they thought they'd be making by this point. Let me try Lita again. Since we didn't make that work. Lita are you there?

Q: Yes, I'm here. Sorry. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I got you.

Q: OK. I just want to expand a little bit on a couple of the questions. Is it getting difficult more broadly, to get security assistance into Ukraine at all? And secondly, as this strike hit Yavoriv, moved -- sort of got you -- got the fight closer to the Polish border.

Are you hearing anything from Poland about requests for potentially more security assistance to them? Or more troops? Do you see any more of that -- of any more troops etcetera, going into Europe, in the next week or so?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any additional troop movements to speak to Lita. As you all know, when we do have something like that to talk about, a muscle movement, we will do that. But I'm not -- I have no troop announcements to talk about today. We are in constant communication with our Ukrainian counterparts about the types of assistance that they need.

The defensive assistance that they need. This is an ongoing iterative conversation that we're having with them. So, I wouldn't go so far as to say that this particular set of strikes on that particular military facility has led to some renewed calls for additional or different assistance. This is a conversation that we continue to have with them.

You saw that the President approved another $200 million drawdown package over the course of the weekend. I can tell you that experts here at the Pentagon have pen and paper in hand, and they're working out how we would realize that drawdown as quickly as we can. And again, your question about is it more dangerous now? It -- we've never taken for granted any opportunity that we have to continue to assist the Ukrainians with their defense needs.

We're not taking anything for granted. And as I've said before, we're going to continue to provide as much as we can as fast as we can.

Q: Just a follow up? A quick...

MR. KIRBY: Yes, David.

Q: You just said the Russian continue to be frustrated not making any progress on ground.

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: You see that most days does that. Does that mean that Ukrainians are fighting the Russians to a standstill? Or are the Russians making progress in ways that aren't measured by advances in the frontline?

MR. KIRBY: I think we're going to be careful here at the Pentagon in terms of providing a qualitative report card assessment here and putting a name on it. Standstill or what have you. What I would tell you, David, is that the Ukrainians continue to fight back very bravely and skillfully. And you've heard me use the word creatively.

And I would say that that continues to be the case. They are making good use of their own knowledge, their own situational awareness, their skill sets. And certainly, they're making good use of the material that they are getting not just from the United States, but from many other nations as well. And they, if you just look at the map, and you just look at how little progress the Russians have been able to make in the two plus weeks now that they've been at this.

Yes, some of that is due to their own stumbles and missteps and logistical problems. But a lot of it -- a lot of it is due to the Ukrainian resistance and how adaptive they are proving to be on the field and frankly in the streets. Travis.

Q: Yes. In regard to these Russian strikes in western Ukraine and close to the Polish border. As we know, the Russians aren't always particularly precise with their strikes. And I'm just wondering if there has been any change in the status of U.S. forces deployed to the eastern flank?

Is there any heightened alerts for change of posture or any additional preparations that have been made since we've seen those strikes move farther west?

MR. KIRBY: Without getting into details about force posture. I could tell you that everybody that's serving and bolstering NATO's eastern flank is pretty alert, pretty vigilant, as you might expect. I know of no specific changes that have been made or are planning to be made in the coming days just based on the fact that this training facility in western Ukraine was hit. Yes, Abraham.

Q: Two questions. One, when U.S. publicly states what it will not do, like enforcing no fly zone, or the Polish MIG transfer. Does that not harm Ukraine, and give Putin carte blanche? And secondly, often you say that Russia does not have air superiority.

However, if Russia is flying 200 Sorties a day, and Ukraine's flying five to 10 and can't fly its combat aircraft, because Russia has complete SAM coverage. How is that not air Superiority for Russia?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going get into the data metrics here with you. We still assess that, that Russia does not have air superiority over Ukraine and that the Ukrainians are defending their space ably. That doesn't mean that it's not contested, Abraham. Of course, it is.

And you can see that for yourself in some of the video footage that gets put out there. But it's contested, because the Ukrainians are finding ways to continue to try to defend their airspace. And to preserve their own mobility and maneuver space. I'm sorry, you had -- was there another?

Q: Sir, the first question about that when DoD publicly states -- when the U.S. publicly stays where it's not going to do. Doesn't that harm Ukraine because it gives Putin a carte blanche?

MR. KIRBY: I think if you were to -- I can't speak for Mr. Putin. I doubt Putin would, after making as little progress, as he has made in this unprovoked war of his would be hard for us to say that somehow, he's being aided by statements that we are making about what we will, or we won't do. What I think is important, Abraham is not just talking about things that we don't believe would be helpful, because of the escalatory nature of it.

Such as a no-fly zone, but let's talk about what actually is happening. And I just talked a little bit about how hard the Ukrainians are fighting for their country. But we too, are providing them and continue to do it over the course of the weekend. And now there's a new draw down package. And we will continue to fill that out and send material to them in concert with their needs after talking to them about what those needs are.

As fast as we can, as effectively as we can. And it's not just the United States. 14 other nations are doing this bilaterally. Of course, we're helping coordinate some of that security assistance, but they're making good use of it. So, there's a lot being done. Yes. Yes, Caitlyn.

Q: I was going to ask just going back to the airstrike in the West. It's believed to be as close as Moscow, has come yet to the Polish border. So, what are you taking as that -- is this good in testing the West in any way? And how are we kind of showing our response?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I think we just need to be -- you know, first of all, I'm not -- I don't have granularity on the Russian targeting process. They hit a Ukrainian military training facility. They also hit some airfields in the previous few days in western Ukraine.

They are clearly expanding some of their target sets here. I can't get into their heads and to tell you exactly what was behind that target on that day, with that many cruise missiles. I don't want to just reduce this to some sort of signaling. If Mr. Putin was trying to signal his displeasure about a strong united NATO, with this war of his.

Then he's failed, because he's getting exactly what he says he doesn't want. A strong united NATO on his Western flank. Just over the last few days, we move some Patriot batteries from Germany to Poland. And we're going to continue to look at potential repositioning if we need to, to defend NATO's eastern flank.

So, I can't again, I can't speak for Mr. Putin and what messages he's trying to send. Sending it with cruise missiles on a training facility, again, I think that's being generous to him if that's in fact, all he did was try to signal. All he has done with that, and everything else he's doing in Ukraine, and please, let's not get focused only on a weekend strike on a training facility.

Look at the damage and the death he's causing in places like Kiev, and Kharkiv, and Mariupol. And, you know, people losing their lives and their homes. He clearly has more than a message in mind here. He clearly has the occupation of, of Ukraine in mind. And he also clearly has diplomatic options available to him that he is obviously not proving willing to take.

Now we have heard talks about -- of talks and we obviously would love to see them succeed clearly. But there hasn't been much progress in that in that regard. So, I want to be careful here that we're not reducing the kind of damage and death he's causing to some sort of message signaling. I think that's being way too generous to what the Kremlin is trying to do inside Ukraine. Carla Babb.

Q: Hey, John, thanks for doing this. Two quick questions. So, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister actually warned over the weekend that Moscow would start firing on weapons shipments. So, I was just -- to follow up on some of these questions.

Without getting into intelligence. Have you seen any indications that they are now trying -- that they've shifted and are all trying to target weapons shipments? That's question number one. And then number two on a different topic. Because there is an African CENTCOM hearing tomorrow. So, on Africa, General Stephen Townsend, the head of U.S. Africa Command has frequently said over two years now.

That they've been commuting to work, and he had told me a way that there were more effective and efficient ways in Somalia to carry out AFRICOMs mission. And that he had provided recommendations to the secretary. So, has Secretary Austin made a decision on U.S. troops in Somalia? And can you please tell us what the delay has been? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I have no decisions on Somalia force presences to talk to you about Carla. If and when we do have decisions, we'll talk about it. You've talked about a delay. I know of no delay. When we have something to speak to with force posture there or anywhere else and we can do it. We will.

Again, we're going to continue to flow security assistance to the Ukrainians as fast as we can and as nimbly as we can. They are -- all I can tell you is that as we stand here today, those shipments are getting into the hands of the Ukrainians. And we're going to keep looking for ways to make sure that that continues. Tony Capaccio.

You there Tony?

Q: Hey John. I didn't know you called me sorry. On the draw down packages and packages going forward of aid to Ukraine. Do those also include potential allied contribution that the Pentagon would reimburse?

MR. KIRBY: So, a couple of things there Tony. First of all, the aid that's going to Ukraine is not a NATO Alliance mission. These are sovereign decisions that individual nations are making about ways to assist Ukraine. It's not under the rubric of NATO.

And I think that's important. Number two, I know of no reimbursement plan for the kinds of security -- these are decisions that individual nations are making to provide security assistance to Ukraine. They need to speak to those in ways in which they're comfortable speaking to them. But it's not done under some reimbursement plan by the United States of America.

We're working very hard on our own delivery and shipments of security assistance. And as I said, now, we were nearly at the end of the $350 million package that the President signed over a week ago. We've got almost all of that into their hands. The remaining items should be arriving very, very soon. And then we are already at work, trying to figure out what the next drawdown package of $200 million is going to look like.

Q: What about the 3.5 billion...

MR. KIRBY: Phil Stewart.

Q: Hey, John. So, the U.S. has, or the Poland has Patriot air defenses that I'm assuming could have ranged Yavoriv because it's so close to the border. I'm just wondering is this now show that the U.S. line about not having troops fighting in Ukraine also extends to these air defenses that are on the NATO side.

The air defenses are really just going to kind of protect NATO airspace. I was wondering if you could, is that what the (inaudible) shows as well? That there's going to be even missiles, hitting missiles kind of thing.

MR. KIRBY: Patriot batteries that we moved into Poland and any other air defenses that we might be contributing to in Poland are purely defensive in nature. Defensive in nature over NATO airspace and NATO territory. I won't speak for Poland, and that government. But for our purposes, the military capabilities that we are adding to NATO's eastern flank are designed to protect and defend and deter against attacks on NATO territory that includes NATO airspace.

Q: And was there to use the...

MR. KIRBY: Jeff Schogol.

Q: Thank you. And I know you don't have perfect visibility of the situation in Ukraine. And you don't have visibility of what's going on in Vladimir Putin's head. But is the Defense Department seeing any indications that the Russians are intentionally targeting journalists in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, I don't have evidence of that specifically. I certainly can't -- in the case of these two individuals speak to the circumstances surrounding that. So, I can't -- I don't have any indications that he's deliberately targeting journalists. But again, I just again, our admiration for the work that so many journalists are doing there in Ukraine, it's important work.

And all of us stand to gain by the context, quite frankly, that these journalists are bringing to light. OK. Last question, I think. Yes, go ahead, (Kasir ?).

Q: On a separate topic on Iraq. You see that Erbil was under attack yesterday, and then U.S. statement will say that the U.S. was not the target. The (Pentagon ?) would suggest -- actually, you know, who was the target. Who was the target really?

MR. KIRBY: I would point you to what the IRGC said about who they were targeting. Yes.

Q: I have a follow up question on that. Obviously IRGC said they were targeting Israeli strategic sites. We know that the Iranian foreign minister now is going to Russia tomorrow. Also, reports just came out from an Iranian affiliated hacker -- Iranian state media actually saying that Iran hacked the Israeli government website.

IDF officials are at the Pentagon today. What did you discuss with them? Any concerns that they mentioned to you specifically?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a readout of any discussions that we would have with IDF. I'm not actually tracking meetings today with the IDF. So, we'll take the question. If there's something we get back down. I don't know what level this is. It certainly isn't at the Secretary's level.

So, you're going catch me a little bit unawares. So, we'll take the question, and we'll see if we can get back to you.

Q: Can I follow up?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Go ahead.

Q: The air defense systems in the airport, and they'll be able to detect the incoming rockets? And then second question. Jake Sullivan yesterday said that they're in consultation with the Iraqi and Kurdish government to provide them with some sort of defensive capacities. Is that something that -- a conversation that has reached the Pentagon?

MR. KIRBY: We're always in discussion with our partners in the region about defensive capabilities. I don't have anything new to update you on today. And I don't have any tactical information about detection of the threats of the missiles that were fired over the weekend. I just don't have that level of detail.

OK. Thanks, everybody. I appreciate it.

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