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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing, March 22, 2022

March 22, 2022

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Hi everybody, just one thing at the top here.  Today, and if you haven't seen the memo, you will soon.  But as part of the Secretary's priority of taking care of our people, he has directed the Department to create a Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee.  This committee will conduct a comprehensive review of the department's efforts to prevent suicide. 

And as a result of that, we'll -- this review committee will visit multiple installations here at home and overseas, as well as conducting additional information gathering to strengthen our actions in this space.  It's imperative the Secretary believes that we continue to take care of all our teammates and reinforce that mental health and suicide prevention remain a key priority.  I think you've heard Secretary say many times mental health is health, period. 

Ultimately, that health is critical to our readiness.  Now one death by suicide is of course one to many.  And suicide rates among our service members are way too high still.  I mean, just in 2020 alone, we had a total of 580 service members die by suicide, that includes active, reserve, and National Guard.  So clearly, obviously, we have more work to do.  And it's the Secretary's intention that this independent review committee will help us wrap our arms around this. 

And really try to come up with some more innovative solutions for how to prevent suicide, and how to make sure that everybody's getting the mental health support that they need and deserve.  OK.  With that we'll take questions.  I think Bob, you're first and you're on the phone. 

Q:  Yes.  Thank you, John.  I have a question about Ukraine, but also on the suicide.  On your announcement about the suicide review committee, you cited a figure for the number of suicides in 2020.  Is Secretary Austin taking this action because there was a further increase last year?  Or is he seeing something that has triggered this decision to review what you've already been doing?  That's my first question. 

The question on Ukraine, if you don't mind, is the Ukrainian government said today that its forces have retaken the Kyiv suburb of Makariv.  I'm wondering if you agree with that assessment, and beyond that specific case, do you see anywhere else in the country where Ukrainian forces are regaining or retaking ground that they previously lost?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Bob.  On the suicide question, as you know, Bob, the calendar year 21 numbers are not in yet there's a bit of a lag.  In fact, the 20 numbers, really, we didn't get them tabulated until just last fall.  So, it's going to be a while before we've seen the 21 numbers.  But the Secretary is not interested in waiting for the 21 data.  He's seen enough based on the 20 data, and then the anecdotal reporting that's been coming in throughout the course of 21. 

He's seen enough to know that we've got to do something different.  That we've got to try to take additional and more creative action here.  One suicide, again, is one too many.  And, you know, he visited Alaska.  There'll be -- bases in Alaska will be part of the installations that will be visited by the Independent Review Committee.  And he spent a lot of time when he went out to Fairbanks talking with troops and commanders about the challenges there with respect to mental health and suicide. 

So, he's going to stay focused on this.  And it's not waiting for the 21 data to come in.  On your second question about the suburb of Kyiv, we're not in a position to confirm that, that suburb around Kyiv has been retaken by the Ukrainians.  What I would tell you is though that we have seen indications that the Ukrainians are going a bit more on the offense now. 

They have been defending very smartly, very nimbly, very creatively in places that they believe are the right places to defend.  And we have seen them now in places, particularly in the south, near Kherson.  They have tried to regain territory.  Again, we don't have great fidelity of tactical movements.  But we have seen them make these efforts.  And I would tell you Bob, I mean, it's not -- the Ukrainians themselves, several days ago said that they were planning on counter attacks. 

And so, I think we have seen indications that they are moving in that direction. 

OK.  Next question.  Travis.

Q:  Thanks.  I want to follow-up on the suicide issue.  Obviously, this has been a huge problem for years and years.  And there's been a lot of time that the Department and the military service branches have invested in trying to get at this issue.  Does the Secretary have any initial assessment of why he believes this is so difficult of a problem?  And what can be done that is different than what is done -- has been done in the past? 

And my second question is -- involves Ukraine.  You mentioned the Secretary is traveling to Poland again, and we have thousands of U.S. service members there -- the 82nd.  Can you give us some update on what they're doing there?  Whether they are involved in exercises with the Pols?  Whether they're hunkered down?  What is their status?  And what are they up to now?  And do you have an updated number -- the number of Americans that they've assisted, who have fled from Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  OK.  There's an awful lot there.  So let me try to tackle one at a time.  I think if the Secretary were here, he would tell you that if he knew how to prevent suicides, if it was that easy, then we would have solved it by now.  It's a very complex problem.  And each suicide is very individual.  There's no -- there's not going to be and there hasn't been a silver bullet.  And we're not looking for one Travis, to be honest with you.

One of the things well, several of the things you heard when we went out to Fairbanks.  He had a chance to spend time with some mental health experts, particularly from the university there, came in and spent time with him.  And they walked him through some of the complexities they've seen with respect to suicide and suicide prevention efforts.  Each one is an individual tragedy, and it's difficult to wrap your arms around what's causing it. 

I think, the Secretary believes that one problem that we have to get after is the stigma of seeking help for mental health problems.  Which is still a problem in the military.  There's still a feeling by too many service members, that if I'm having problems, dealing and coping, I can't seek help.  Because it'll be held against me on my next promotion board, or it may be held against me on my assignments, or maybe my commanding officer will think twice before giving me a new assignment inside the command. 

So, I think the Secretary firmly believes we've got to work harder to get at the stigma.  I think another thing and you've heard him talk about this is, you know, the majority of suicides -- I shouldn't say the majority.  There is a significant amount of suicides in the military, that are gunfire related, gunshot related, personal firearms. 

And one of the things that he wants to do is work with commanders on storage of the firearms in the home or on base and make sure we've got well in hand.  And then the other thing, Travis, and this is why I think you'll see in the memo that the Secretary is putting forward, a list of some initial installations that he wants visited by the Independent Review Commission is the geographic isolation in some of our assignments. 

And where some of our troops and families are working, as well as the resources at some of those installations with respect to mental health.  So, there's an awful lot, it's very complex, and I think we would be doing ourselves and our teammates a disservice, if we tried to simplify this, as you know, here's one thing or two things that can fix it.  There's -- it's very complicated, and it is so individualistic.  But I think we’ve got to start with understanding the mental health needs of our troops and their families, reducing the stigma, and making sure that if we're going to say, hey you're not going to -- it's not going to be held against you for seeking mental health counseling.  That we can actually get that counseling to you.  And it's available, so it's a resourcing issue as well. 

But look, we look forward to seeing what the Independent Review Committee comes back with.  The whole reason of standing this up is to try to help answer your question, and that's what the Secretary wants done.  And I just totally forgot your other questions. 

Q:  82nd in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, thank you.  Yes, they're still there.  As you know, Poland now hosts thousands of U.S. troops on rotational orders, of course.  The 82nd are there.  They are conducting training with our Polish allies, so they are doing training and exercises.  They were ready to assist with the evacuation of American citizens coming from Ukraine.  They had several facilitation areas where they could help with the folks that needed transportation assistance, some food, some water, some medical care, as they came across the border. 

There wasn't a large number, I can get you the exact number.  I don't have it with me.  But it was a handful, that ended up needing support from the 82nd Airborne.  And what they were trained to do -- ready to do was, again, food, water, internet access, helping them move on.  Most of the Americans, the vast majority, and I think it's been several thousand, I think, since the course of the invasion, that left Ukraine already had tickets in hand, places to go.

They were ready.  So, they didn't really need U.S.  military support, but we wanted to be there just in case.  And the other thing they're doing is contributing to the assurance and deterrence measures that all the forces that the Secretary ordered to the Eastern Flank have been doing.  To just -- to bolster the Eastern Flank of NATO to make sure that we're sending a strong signal not just to Mr.  Putin, but to our allies that Article Five is important to us.  It matters.  And we take that seriously.  That answer your question?

Q:  Yes.  Thank you.  When will the commission wrap up this work -- the Suicide Commission? 

MR. KIRBY:  When will it wrap up its work?

Q:  Yes, is there a deadline? 

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have that.  I don't have that for you.  Yes.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you.  There are two things.  One, the Kremlin spokesperson, Peskov, today said that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to employ nuclear arms.  If Russia feels threatened -- feel an existential threat.  Are you concerned with respect to that statement?  And have you seen any changes in Russian nuclear postures over the course of these weeks?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments.  I would just tell you that we monitor this as best we can every day.  And we haven't seen anything that would lead us to conclude that we need to change our strategic deterrent posture.  The Secretary is still comfortable and confident that our strategic deterrent posture is well configured to defend not only the homeland, but our allies and our partners. 

And as to your -- the first part of your question.  I mean, as you've heard, the Secretary say many times, it's the kind of rhetoric that's been out there on the use of -- potential use of nuclear weapons or changes in nuclear posture is dangerous.  And it's not the way a responsible nuclear power should act.  So we've been very clear about that.  Travis, I just looked at my notes.  Actually, I don't have an end date for you. 

But so, within 60 days from today, P&R, Personnel and Readiness, will issue a memo identifying the members of the Independent Review Commission, the timeline for the installation visits, and then a charter that will outline the approach to the collective efforts of the Independent Review Commission.  The Secretary is going to have them commenc their work no later than the 14th of May this year.  And they will begin installation visits no later than the first of August. 

So, I don't -- it's not a real answer to your question, but it is -- it does get at the timeline.  And I believe all that's laid out in the Secretary's memo.  So, I apologize.  I didn't have that before.  Yes.

Q:  I have another one. There's been also reports that some of the mines are drifted away from Odessa into the Black Sea.  Have you seen any indications of that, or are you going to help Romania, Turkey -- to deal with those mines in case of that?

MR. KIRBY:  We haven’t seen -- we can't -- I can't confirm reports of mines, and where they might be in the northern Black Sea.  No.  Yes, Tony.

Q:  Couple of questions.  I'll take them one at a time.  What's the status of the Pentagon's finding sources for the $800 million in lethal and non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military?

MR. KIRBY:  We’re still working that through, Tony.  The policy folks here at OSD, the Joint Staff, and various relevant combatant commanders are all working on the sourcing right now. 

Q:  Is it difficult – I mean –stingers, javelins, and these little drones?  And are they...

MR. KIRBY:  It's not that it's difficult.  I mean, it's a large package that the President signed out.  $800 million, you've seen the list.  And so, we want to properly source it.  Make sure that we get our hands on this.  And that, you know, it can be properly arranged for shipment into Ukraine as fast as possible.  But I don't have a timeline for you. 

Q:  I have a transparency question, totally different from Ukraine.  The Senate Armed Services Committee today held -- took up the nomination of William LaPlante to be the Pentagon's top weapons buyer.  In its questions in advance to him, it raised concerns about the potential overuse and abuse of this ubiquitous controlled unclassified information, CUI, label that's on everything but toilet paper. 

You are clear at the highest levels to see classified and CUI.  Need to ask you, is it your view that this label is being overused and abused and the Senate committee has a point?

MR. KIRBY:  What I would tell you, Tony, is CUI has a purpose.  And I don't think -- I don't see that purpose going away.  We have an obligation to protect information that could give our adversaries advantage.  Now look, and you and I've talked about this a lot. 

Q:  Right.

MR. KIRBY:  It is a balance.  And I'm not going to stand up here and proclaim that we get that balance right every time.  We don't.  But I can tell you that we try every day to get that balance, right between operational security and transparency.  And the guy that -- being the guy that stands up here almost every day, I can tell you even I don't always get it right. 

But we do try.  And the Secretary is mindful, again, that we have obligations to the American people and certainly to the oversight of Congress to be as open and transparent as we can.  But we also have an obligation to protect information that we don't want out in the public sphere.  So, I'm not going to make a definitive declaration here on CUI, except to say it does serve a purpose. 

And we have to be mindful every day, we have to look at how we're using not just that but other levels of classification to make sure we're treating it appropriately. 

Q:  Potentially, is it possible that the Secretary may launch a little -- a review or Mr.  LaPlante may launch a review just to see whether the services are being too protective? 

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no plans by the Secretary to launch a review of classification.  And I think Mr. LaPlante will tell you that he's not confirmed yet.  So, I don't know that he's got that kind of planning.  Yes, sir.  Meghann.

Q:  Two things on the Suicide Independent Review Commission.  How are the bases that are going to be visited chosen?  I think there's three in Alaska and the other ones are a little more spread out.  And who is the department looking to put on this commission from what backgrounds and experience are you looking for?

MR. KIRBY:  So great questions, Meghann.  This is just an initial list.  Ultimately, the Secretary made these decisions.  And he was advised about this from talking to the senior service leadership about some of the challenges that they're having by the Chairman, of course General Milley.  And the court -- and policy particularly Personnel and Readiness. 

So, I mean, it was a team effort to come up with this list.  And it made you know, it's the initial list of installations.  It doesn't necessarily have to be the end of all lists here.  And you had another one.

Q:  Who are you looking for to be on the Commission?

MR. KIRBY:  So, we're going to, as I said, we're going to get to P&R we'll come up with 60 days.  They'll come up with a list identifying them.  It'll -- what we're going to be looking for are obviously people with experience and expertise in mental health.  Particularly suicide prevention, and people with senior organizational leadership expertise. 

Q:  So, in and out of the military?

MR. KIRBY:  It's I would, you know, again, I don't want to get ahead of the decision process.  But there'll be a significant amount of reliance on outside experts.  That's what independence is all about.  And so, I would look for that to be the main focus outside expertise.

Q:  The Sexual Assault Commission, had -- everybody was from outside of the Defense Department, but many of them were veterans had experience in both domains both in and out.  So...

MR. KIRBY:  Well, as I said, senior organizational leadership experience.  And I don't want to get ahead of the process.  But independent for the Secretary means independent.  We want them to be able to be brutally honest with us about what they're finding, and therefore, their ability to do that.  The freedom that they have to do that it's going to be important to the Secretary.  Luis.

Q:  John.  Jake Sullivan at the White House discussed some of the things that the President was going to be talking about at the NATO summit.  One of the things he talked about was working with allies on a longer-term adjustment to NATO's force posture on the Eastern Flank.  In answer to Travis's question, you talked a lot about the 82nd.  The 82nd is one of the main components of adjustments that have been made on the Eastern Flank.  But that's been done unilaterally by the U.S. 

MR. KIRBY:  Correct. 

Q:  So, is there a possibility that we could see a turnover from U.S. -- this turning from a unilateral mission to a NATO mission involving U.S. troops?  Or is the President talking about further contributions from other countries, NATO countries along NATO's Eastern Flank as opposed to just the U.S., which I think has surged the most number of troops there right now?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, we went from 80 to about 100,000.  Look, I don't want to get ahead of the President here and a meeting that that that hasn't happened in Brussels. When we were in Brussels last week, and the Secretary had a chance to meet with Secretary General Stoltenberg as well as many Defense Ministers across the Alliance, it was clear that the alliance itself was taking steps to bolster deterrence and readiness. 

I mean, we talked about these battle groups that are that are going to be formed.  And the degree to which they exist long term is really going to be an alliance decision, not something that the United States will be able to decide unilaterally.  But even before this invasion, we had some 80,000 troops on rotational and or permanent deployments to Europe.  And some of that, as you well know, is a result of decisions that President Obama made back in 2014 with the European Deterrence Initiative. 

With these additional rotational deployments. I don't know what the future is going to look like. I can tell you that the Secretary wants to preserve his options to unilaterally be able to continue to bolster the Eastern Flank.  We're not sure where this is going to go.  But the Secretary is convinced that wherever it goes, the security environment on the European continent is now changed. 

And we've got to think about it in a completely different way, no matter how this all ends up.  So, I think he wants to preserve as many options available to him so that he can tee those up to the President.  Ultimately, it's going to be the Commander in Chief’s decision.  But I think you're going to see a robust discussion inside the Alliance. 

But also, you'll see, I believe, you'll see robust discussions inside nations themselves, sovereign decisions that they might make about their own deterrence and defense capabilities.  Some of them will be just intrinsic to themselves because they are on the Eastern Flank.  Some of our NATO allies are not on the eastern flank but might make unilateral decisions as well. 

So, we're going to have to see where it goes.  Clearly though, the security situation, the framework here on the European continent is changed.  And I think everybody's going to have to deal with that going forward.

Q:  Do you think it'll impact the National Defense Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy that is supposed to come out soon?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get ahead of the document.  Luis, we're still working on that.  And there's been a lot of effort put into the national defense strategy.  So, I don't want to preview it.  I would only say that, as I said before, certainly, the strategy will have to be informed.  It will be informed.  It is being informed by what's going on in Ukraine.  Yes.  Dan.

Q:  The briefing earlier, with the Senior Defensive Official on background suggested that the logistical problems continue to manifest themselves.  Can you talk a little bit of how that looks at sea for the Russian naval forces and also for Russian troops on the ground that they are not sort of prepared for the winter weather?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I -- we continue to see indications that the Russians did not properly plan for logistics and sustainment.  We know that they continue to have fuel issues across their, their force.  And that they are still struggling with food.  I mean, you've seen the footage yourself of Russian soldiers looting grocery stores.  So, they're still having trouble feeding some of their troops. 

They either didn't properly plan for logistics or sustainment or they didn't properly execute to their plan, but they are still having problems.  It is exacerbated by the Ukrainian resistance.  Because the Ukrainians have targeted some of their resupply, as we've all talked about this month and convoy for so long.  So, we know they're still struggling with that.  We haven't seen indications that they are trying to resupply from outside of Ukraine. 

But we know that that's something that they have thought about.

Q:  Just to follow-up.  Also, it sounds like the combat power that they have deployed has been reduced slightly from what it was.  How do you explain that shift?  And is there some sign that they're pulling some forces out in some way, and does that connect with logistics, or munitions?

KIRY:  Have the combat power has?

Q:  The combat power being employed at the moment is less than 90 percent? 

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, I'm not -- I can't speak to specific data about their combat power.  But, I mean, they've been at this now for 27 days.  They've expended a lot of munitions.  They have put a lot of forces into this fight. 

And they're flying aircraft.  And they're launching missiles.  And you're seeing it for yourself, the kinds of hardware that they're putting into this.  So, it follows that after 27 days, that there's going to be a detriment to some of their inventory.  But I would remind, Dan, and we said this, as far back as November and December.  They were -- they have over time built up a significant amount of combat capability to conduct this operation -- this war. 

And they still have -- our assessment is they still have a significant amount of that combat capability available to them.  They are -- that said, they have been increasingly frustrated by a lack of progress.  Here it is day 27, and they haven't taken Kyiv.  They haven't taken Kharkiv.  They haven't taken Cherniv.  They haven't been able to isolate the Donbas area.  The Ukrainians are fighting back very creatively, very bravely, and that's not by accident, either. 

I mean, there's been a lot of training, a lot of security assistance that has been provided to them over the last eight years, certainly over the last year in particular, that has helped the Ukrainian stay in the fight.  Sylvie.

Q:  Yesterday you spoke about the Air Force activity that has picked up.  Does it continue today?  Did you -- is the – are the Ukrainians using their planes more?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm going to refrain from talking about the Ukrainian order of battle, Sylvie.  I think you can understand why we wouldn't want to do that.  I would just say a couple of things.  One, we don't believe that the Russians have achieved air superiority over Ukraine.  They're dominant in some areas to be sure, but not over the whole country. 

Two, the airspace is contested.  And it's contested, because the Ukrainians are making it that way.  And they're being very smart about how they're marshaling and using their air defense resources, which includes fixed and rotary wing aircraft, which they continue to fly.  Let me go back to the phones here, because I kind of ignored that.  Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Thanks.  Now, you said earlier that the Ukrainians were going on the offensive.  Do you think from a military perspective, it's possible that Ukraine can win the war?

MR. KIRBY:  We do assess that in some places they are attempting to take back territory that the Russians have captured or occupied.  I would just tell you, Phil, the Russians have not achieved any of the strategic objectives that they set out to.  And they certainly haven't achieved the objectives that they have, easily or without loss.  The Ukrainians are putting up a very stiff defense.  And what we continue to believe, is, well a couple of things. 

One, the war was completely unnecessary.  A war of choice, Mr.  Putin still had diplomatic options on the table when he decided to invade.  He can end this war today, by being a negotiator of good faith with the Ukrainians.  It can end today.  There's no indication that he's willing to do that.  But we still believe that it should end now.  And Mr.  Putin should commit to good faith negotiations with the Ukrainians to do that.

MR. KIRBY:  Mike Breast, Washington Post.

Q:  Thanks for taking -- thanks for taking my question.  This is going to be a little bit out of left field.  But is the Ahmadi family still in Afghanistan?  And if so, why is this taking so long?  We haven't heard anything about it in a little while.

MR. KIRBY:  Mike, thanks for that.  We're still working very closely with the family’s representatives with Mr.  Ahmadi's former employee, I'm sorry, former employer, to affect their safe relocation out of Afghanistan.  They are still there.  But we are working very, very hard.  It's a complex process.  We want to make sure that we do this in the appropriate way.  And I don't have more of an update than that for you.  Mike?

Q:  Yes, John, can you comment on the high mortality rate of Russia generals through this campaign?  As you know U.S. sustained one general officer loss after 20 years in Afghanistan.  But if Ukraine is correct there have been five Russian generals killed in a month.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, we can't verify those numbers, Mike.  I mean, we've seen them.  And I know the Ukrainians have reported the number I think the Russians...

Q:  Do you think this says anything about the Russian military or about this, this sort of unique nature of this campaign.  Assuming they've lost...

MR. KIRBY:  Its - I mean, again, you have to assume that they've lost all those generals, and we're not in a position to independently verify that.  The Russian military is not organized the way we are, you know, they don't really have a Noncommissioned Officer Corps.  They -- so -- and they've been struggling.  So, it's not out of the realm of the possible that more generals are more in the field.  But I just can't verify the numbers of how many they're losing. 

Look, take a step back.  They have struggled, again look, we talked about with logistics and sustainment.  They have struggled with maneuver.  They did not expect the stiff Ukrainian resistance.  They are not integrating.  We don't see them integrating air and ground forces the way you would think a modern military might do that.  They appear to be operating in silos.  We think they're having command and control problems. 

The ability to communicate with one another and communicate between units.  So there's been a lot that they haven't done successfully here.  And again, all of it -- all of that can end today, if Mr.  Putin agrees to negotiate in good faith and end the war.  Fadi.  

Q:  Thank you John.

MR. KIRBY:  I'll come over here in a second.

Q:  Two questions, one is follow-up on Luis’ question.  So, in light of the assessment by the Secretary that the security situation in Europe has changed.  Is the U.S.  in favor of permanent and collective re-posturing on the Eastern Flank of NATO, something to be taken by the entire NATO Alliance?  And the second one, as you recall, the previous aid package of 360 million actually was delivered in probably in a record time.  We had...

MR. KIRBY:  It was.

Q:  Yes.  I was wondering why -- and although this is more than double that.  800 is more than double that package.  Can you explain why you're still looking into how to source it?  Are there like issues related to shortages?  I mean, what's happening?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, look.  I mean -- yes, you're right, we delivered that 350 million in record time.  And we're going to be moving out just as expeditiously on this 800 million.  I mean, it just got announced by the President a few days ago.  And there's a lot in it.  I would also remind, Fadi, that there are shipments arriving literally as we speak every day. 

We're still completing that 350 million, I think we'll finally get to the end of it by the end of this week.  So, we're working on this very, very hard.  I mean, just think about it in one year alone, the Biden administration committed 650 million originally, then we added 350, then another 200, and then another 800.  So that all told, in the time that President Biden has been in office, we have now committed $2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine. 

And a large part of that initial chunk of 650 million was delivered before -- well before -- there was even a threat of invasion.  So, this is something we've been focused on.  And I think you're going to see that continued focus going on forward.  Now, we understand that now, you know, time is not necessarily our friend. 

We get that, which is why that 350 million was delivered so quickly, and it's why we're going to work very, very fast on this.  On the posture question, I think, Fadi, it's just too soon to know right now.

Q:  Your position on the issue, the U.S.  position, not the?

MR. KIRBY:  That's what I mean.  It's too soon to know right now.  I think the Secretary certainly understands that again, this security situation in Europe is changed.  And however, this ends up, we're going to have to look at the European continent in a different way.  And the Secretary understands that.  What does that mean, exactly, in terms of force posture? 

We don't know yet.  But I think the Secretary is willing to have that conversation with his leaders, civilian and military like, and certainly wants to be able to provide options to the President, should the President decide to go in new ways, but we're just not there yet.  Right now, the focus is appropriately on two things, making sure Ukraine can continue to defend itself by getting this stuff there as fast as possible. 

And two, making sure that NATO is prepared to defend NATO territory, and that we are prepared to do our part in Article Five commitments.  That's where the focus is right now.  And what the long term is going to be?  We'll have to see.  Jim.

Q:  Going back to Mike's question.  All of those problems with the Russian military, there are all sorts of reports that Russian soldiers are suffering frostbite.  You know, well, if there's any military in the world that you think would know, could operate in the cold, you’d think it was the Russian one.  Which seems to indicate an absolute breakdown in leadership. 

And all of those problems that you mentioned before, is this affecting the morale of the troops out there?  Are you able to assess that?  And could that be something that changes the tide in this?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I think all of you know, you guys have been covering the building long enough, you know, how important morale is to military effectiveness and cohesion.  Look, I would just tell you, we have -- we certainly have indications that morale is a growing problem inside the Russian forces that are fighting in Ukraine.  And as time goes on, and they continue to fail to achieve the progress on the ground that they want to achieve, we've seen increasing indications that morale and unit cohesion is a problem. 

And yes, that absolutely translates into potential military effectiveness issues.  I don't want to get into too many diagnostics here on a day to day basis of how they're doing.  I think I, you know, went through a whole litany of things we know that they have struggled with.  Clearly morale at the unit level, but anecdotally, we have indications that yeah, that's a problem.

Q:  And just another sort of - I'm sorry, Tom.  Just another aspect of this.  There -- the precision guided munitions, I guess, are running out, is the Russian industrial base capable of replacing those?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know, Jim.  I mean, as I said before, I mean, 27 days in, they've used a lot of munitions.  They are -- and I didn't really get to this earlier, but what we have seen as they have been frustrated on the ground, they have resorted to more and more long-range fires, as we call it here.  Bombardment by artillery, missiles, rockets.  And clearly that's going to have -- that's going to show up in an inventory decrement. 

But we don't have an exact idea necessarily of what that looks like for them.  Again, I think it's important to remind how much combat power, combined arms capability they built up over the fall.  And that they still have so much of that available to them.  But even for all that, it's quite stunning.  Even for all that power, that 27 days in, they really haven't achieved any of the strategic objectives we think they were after.  Tom.

Q:  Thanks, John.  Actually, a follow-up to two of our colleagues here.  One and, to Fadi's question about the 800 million.  Is it safe to assume, presume that like the 350 million, you're not going to wait until the entire 800 million is ready to go in order to...

MR. KIRBY:  Correct.

Q:  OK.  Thanks, and second one is Jim’s about morale.  There have been reports and I know you can't always confirm all reports you hear.  But there have been reports regarding Russian troop morale.  That some of the Russian soldiers are now slashing themselves, et cetera.  Causing physical harm to themselves in order to get sent home.  What can the Pentagon confirm or elucidate on this?

MR. KIRBY:  I’ve never been accused of being able to elucidate on anything.  But I can't confirm those reports.  Again, we have anecdotal evidence that they're having morale and leadership issues at the unit level.  But I've not heard that particular report.  Let me go back to the phones.  Jeff Seldin, VOA.

Q:  John, thanks very much for doing this.  Two questions.  Yesterday, President Biden confirmed Russia did in fact, launch a hypersonic missile and described it as a consequential weapon.  Can you share any additional information or assessment of what the Russians launched? 

Or how many times, how many types of hypersonic weapons the Russians have used so far in Ukraine?  And then also I know U.S. officials said there haven't been any signs yet of Russian recruited foreign fighters showing up in any number in Ukraine. 

Is there any sense of whether there are any Russian citizens, Russian residents, who have been motivated by the propaganda that Russia has been putting out to go and join the fighting perhaps traveling to the DNR or LNR to join up with militias there?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen any indications of Russian citizens volunteering spontaneously to go fight in Ukraine.  But that's sure as heck happening in Ukraine by Ukrainians.  We talked about that a little bit yesterday.  Average citizens, taking up arms, and sometimes even resisting without taking up arms.  It's quite extraordinary.  But I've seen no indications that that's happening on the other side, quite the contrary.  You see these -- this big fancy rally in an athletic Stadium. 

And which is clearly an orchestrated event by Mr.  Putin. And the shutdown inside Russia of any semblance of independent media or independent information available to the Russian people.  So clearly, they aren't getting fully informed about what their military is doing inside Ukraine. 

And as for the hypersonics, the President is correct, I mean, we do understand that at least in one instance, they used a hypersonic missile.  Interesting that you would choose that against a fixed building, at -- when you look at the range of hypersonic missiles at a relatively close range.  It's hard to know what exactly the justification was for that.  But it could very well be tied to inventory problems and performance problems that they're having with respect to precision guided munitions.

So, we'll just have to see where that goes.  As you've heard the Secretary say, and he said it just again on Sunday, that we don't view the use of that type of weapon is some sort of game changer here.  They took out a storage facility with it.  Or at least reportedly took out a storage facility with it.  That's a pretty significant sledgehammer to take to a target like that.  So, it's not exactly clear what their intentions were.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  So, a couple of questions on Horn of Africa counter-terror operations.  Last week army General Steven Townsend, he spoke before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  He raised a couple of concerns regarding counter operations.  The first was the so-called security challenges and risk as a result of former Trump pulling out the majority of 700 U.S. troops from Somalia. 

And he says it's hindering their ability to battle al-Shabab.  He also has concerns about the so called Over the Horizons approach to counter operations coming from Djibouti into Somalia, sort of like commuting back and forth.  And he also said that was sort of hindering counter operation that maybe it would be better to have a mixture of boots on the ground. 

So, what does the Secretary thing about these concerns?  And are there going to be troops - is he considering troops being deployed back to Somalia?  And what's his position on the effectiveness for the Over the Horizon approach?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Again, there's an awful lot there, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions the Secretary has or has not made or advice that he's going to give to the Commander in Chief with respect to our force posture in Africa.  Clearly, General Townsend is -- was honestly speaking about a continued threat from terrorist groups in Africa. 

And we're mindful of that.  And we're going to continue to work with General Townsend and our partners on the continent to adjust posture as necessary.  I don't have anything to speak to today, no announcements to make.  But it's not a threat that we're taking lightly, or that we're going to ignore.  Again, I don't want to get ahead of it. 

You could look at the global posture review and see how we laid out some of the concerns in Africa.  And again, we’ll, see where this goes.  Yes.  Is that Oren?

Q:  Yes.  Is there an effort to try to get a snapshot of civilian casualties at some point now that we're reaching a one-month marker, an assessment on what that number could be?  And in a related question, what specifically is DoD doing to assist in the evaluation of possible war crimes?

MR. KIRBY:  So, on your first question, I mean, there's no effort here by the Department of Defense to tally civilian casualties.  I mean, there's other international organizations that are taking a look at this, Oren, and you've seen that the estimates as well as we have.  We're just not in a position to independently be able to verify those.  We're not on the ground. 

And, as you well know, I mean, civilian casualties, even when it's an operation, when we are in the ground is often a difficult thing to nail down specifically.  So, we're not going to take that mission on here to try to give a tally.  Clearly, there are civilian casualties.  And clearly, they're mounting every day, because of the indiscriminate attacks that the Russians are conducting, because of what we see is intentional now. 

As they become more frustrated, and rely more on long range fires, and intentional targeting of civilians, and civilian infrastructure, residential homes, sorry, residential areas, hospitals, schools, that kind of thing.  And as I said yesterday, we believe there is evidence of war crimes by the Russian armed forces.  And we, across the administration, not just the Department of Defense, the administration is going to continue to gather evidence to provide to numerous investigative bodies as they look at this. 

But it's also -- and while we do that, and while that's important, it's also for the whole world to see.  We don't need to tell CNN about this.  I mean, you're on the ground as well, you've seen that.  It's pretty stunning coverage.  I mean, it's laid bare for everybody.  I won't get ahead.  It wouldn't be appropriate for us at the department to get ahead of investigative processes that we don't own.  It's just we believe we should call it like we see it. 

And we believe that there are war crimes being conducted by the Russian Armed Forces.  Heather from USNI.

Q:  Thank you so much.  I wanted to see if you can confirm any reports that Russia launched eight (inaudible) cruise missiles from Admiral Grigorovich frigates in the Black Sea earlier today or yesterday?

MR. KIRBY:  Heather, I can't - I'm not able to confirm that particular bit of reporting.  What I can tell you is we have seen in the last, you know, 48 hours or so we have seen increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea.  We have indications that in the Sea of Azov off Mariupol, that Russian naval vessels have contributed to the bombardment of Mariupol from the sea. 

But it's difficult for us to quantify that and we can't get to the level of detail about what munitions were used.  But clearly in the last couple of days, there has been increased Russian naval activity in the Black Sea.  OK.  I'll take one more.  Yes, sir.

Q:  John, what should the American public know about this new space defense partnership with Australia?

MR. KIRBY:  You're going to have to let me take that question.  I'll take one more. 

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  OK.  You -- you've eloquently talked about the long range, brutal fire the Russians are -- immediate firing on Ukrainians. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes. 

Q:  But the cyber warfare aspect of this.  Is Ukraine civilian infrastructure still up and running?  In terms of internet capability and command and control for the military?  This want fo cyber warfare capability, I guess, I haven't them seen it play out with the Russians. 

MR. KIRBY:  There are times and places when Internet access in Ukraine is being disrupted.  But there's also times and places when it's not or where it's being restored.  I -- and we talked about this a little bit before.  The Ukrainians have built up over recent years, their own cyber resilience, and we've helped them do that.  And it's not just the United States, other allies and partners have helped them do that. 

And they have managed to maintain a sense of that resilience, it's not perfect.  The Russians clearly have tried to act in cyberspace to disrupt Ukrainian abilities to command and control and to communicate.  But largely at a strategic level they failed to do that, because the Ukrainians still have good command and control over their forces in the field in ways that the Russians actually don't have. 

OK.  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.  We are out of town starting tomorrow.  So, we'll pick up the briefings on Monday of next week.  Thanks.