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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

I've got some opening statements here, so just bear with me as I get through them.

First and certainly most importantly, on behalf of the Secretary and everybody here at the Department of Defense, I'd like to express the deepest of condolences to the people of the United Arab Emirates on the passing of their President and our friend, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

His Highness was a visionary leader for not just his country but actually for the entire region and we're grateful for his steadfast commitment to regional stability and security, and we continue to honor his legacy through what is and what we know will remain a very strong defense partnership with the UAE.

Secondly, this morning, I think as you've all likely seen, Secretary Austin held a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoygu. This is the first conversation they've had since February 18th and the Secretary urged an end to the conflict in Ukraine and he emphasized the importance of maintaining communication. I think you guys all saw that we put out our readout of that.

Now, as you know, we remain keenly focused on the evolving situation in Ukraine and Russia's aggression in the region. And the United States continues its course to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies to maintain a strong deterrent and defensive posture on NATO's Eastern Flank.

As such, Secretary Austin has ordered the deployment of approximately 10,500 personnel in the coming months to replace previously deployed U.S. Army units serving in the European theater of operation. These deployments are one-for-one unit replacements, which will leave our overall force posture in the region -- approximately 100,000 -- unchanged.

The units being replaced will return to their home station following an appropriate turnover of responsibilities, and these turnovers will occur over coming weeks, in the next couple of months, even. It'll go into the summer and it'll be a rotation over time.

Specifically, the 101st Airborne Division headquarters from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will deploy to replace the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters in the EUCOM area of responsibility. That's about approximately 500 soldiers.

The 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will deploy approximately 4,200 soldiers to replace the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in Poland.

The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas will deploy approximately 4,200 soldiers to replace the 1st Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Germany.

And the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade, consisting of approximately 1,800 service members from Fort Bliss, Texas, will replace the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade in support of the United States commitment to Atlantic Resolve. 

I want to stress -- I'll stop on that one and remind that Atlantic Resolve is a rotational deployment scheme for the U.S. Army since 2014. So the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade that will -- coming from Fort Bliss, this was a longstanding replacement in place. I mean, the 1st Air Cav Brigade that the -- that's there has been there for, like, nine months. So, this is the time for them to go, this was something that was prescheduled.

Lastly, like our previous announcements, these are not permanent moves. These moves are designed to respond to the current security environment. Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine. They are going to support the robust defense of NATO allies.

Those are the force posture announcements that we have for you today. We'll continue to keep you informed and remain transparent about our support for our European allies and partners. And when there's additional announcements or rotations to talk to, we'll talk to it, but that's all we have for today.

And then lastly, just a bit of house cleaning -- on Monday, the 16th of May, and then Thursday, the 19th of May, there's going to be an increase in helicopter activity in and around the Pentagon and the National Capital Region. This is part of a regularly scheduled exercise and I just wanted to get that out there now, before you start seeing a lot more helicopters and asking me what's going on. It's just an exercise, long planned, nothing to be alarmed about.

And with that, we'll take questions. Lita, you're on the phone.

Q: Hi. Thanks, John. Two things.

One, just on the deployments, you made it clear these are not permanent, but can you say whether or not discussions about any more permanent changes to the force posture in EUCOM are still under discussion and whether we can expect any announcements on anything like that in the near future?

And then I have a second question.

MR. KIRBY: I would not expect any announcements on permanent footprint changes anytime in the near future, Lita. As you've heard us say, the Secretary knows that the security environment has now changed, based on what Mr. Putin has done.

And so we expect that we're going to have to take a look at the permanent footprint in Europe and make an assessment about that, you know, in the future, but there's nothing in the offing right now.

Q: And my second question is on the drawdown funding. The letter last week made it clear that the Secretary believes that it's important for Congress to act quickly on the drawdown funding. Can you talk just a little bit about if there is a delay -- a continued delay by the Senate to move the bill, what impact does that have? Is there enough equipment in the pipeline that a delay of a week or two won't make much difference? Can you just put that in perspective? 

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I mean, we've got about $100 million left on current authority that has not been allocated or announced. And as the Secretary made clear, that we really would like to get the approval for additional authorities before the third week of this month so that we can continue uninterrupted the flow of aid and assistance into Ukraine. So obviously we continue to urge the Senate to act as quickly as possible so that we don't get to the end of May and not have any additional authorities to draw back -- to draw upon. But we believe with the authorities we have left, the hundred million dollars we have left, that will help us get more assistance into Ukraine, you know, by about the third week of -- the third week of this month, towards the end of the month. So we really would like to get this approved quickly so that again we can continue to source additional drawdown packages and without interruption. 

We've been moving at a fairly fast clip here both in terms of the individual packages that have been approved and how fast that stuff is getting into Ukrainian hands. And we would -- literally every day there are things going in and we would like to be able to continue that pace for as long as we can. 

Courtney. 

Q: So the third week of May is next week. So does that mean that if the funding is not approved by Monday that means there could actually be a stop or will you stop delivering things because you don't have enough...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think specifically we said something like May 19th is the day we really -- without additional authorities, you know, we'd begin to not have the ability to send new stuff in. So no decision yet on the hundred million. I think a decision will be coming soon on that. And as we urge the Congress to -- you know, that by the 19th of May that we're going to start -- you know, it will start impacting our ability to provide aid uninterrupted. It doesn't mean that on May 20th nothing goes in. I mean, because we're still filling out, the last package is still arriving. So it doesn't mean that, you know, come 19-20 May everything stops. But...

Q: So you want to have everything...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... from the last packages by 19 and 20 May. 

MR. KIRBY: That is correct. But we do want -- Court, we would like to have the cushion of being able to fill out additional packages in a completely uninterrupted way because eventually if you don't get those authorities soon -- if we don't get those authorities soon, I mean, it's possible that there could be a bubble, a period of time in which, you know, there's just nothing moving. And we want to make sure we avoid that. 

Yes, Oren, did you have a question? 

Q: I was going to ask a non-Ukraine question. I was just wondering, given the current tensions in Jerusalem, if there had been any contact between the U.S. and Israel either on the U.S. assisting with the investigation into the shooting and killing of the journalist or has the U.S. functioned as a liaison between U.S. and Palestinian security forces given the tensions? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any conversations to read out today. We have observed that the Israelis have said they are going to investigate that. We obviously encourage that investigation be as robust and as transparent as possible. But I don't have any additional conversations. 

Q: Have you tried to -- they refused to conduct a joint investigation, they, the Israelis and Palestinians, have you tried to bridge that gap...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: That would be a question for the State Department. The Defense Department has not taken a role in brokering the investigative process.

Idrees?

Q: Just back on Ukraine -- earlier today, Turkish President Erdogan said he was not in favor of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Firstly, have there been any major senior level contacts between the Pentagon and the Turkish counterpart since? And secondly, does Secretary Austin, I guess, have a reaction? Was he disappointed, was he -- I mean, does he have a reaction to, you know, a NATO ally saying "no thanks"?

MR. KIRBY: I would say we're working to clarify to better understand Turkey's position here and we'll refer you to the Turks to speak to President Erdogan's comments.

Q: Just -- just a bit more -- further on that -- I mean, without going into specific comments, given that they have been made, does the Secretary believe Turkey's still a helpful NATO ally or are they causing more problems at this point?

MR. KIRBY: Oh, of course. I mean, look, Turkey is a valued NATO ally -- that has not changed -- they're a NATO ally. And look, they've been -- they've been involved and helpful in trying to get dialogue going here between Russia and Ukraine, and they have provided assistance to Ukraine.

So nothing changes about their standing in the NATO alliance. I mean, we're -- like I said, we're working to better clarify the position here. Yeah.

Kristina, go ahead.

Q: So there's cake in the hallway down here. JADC2 is having a birthday -- first birthday. Is there any update on how that's coming together?

MR. KIRBY: I didn't get any invitation to eat cake.

Q: I know.

MR. KIRBY: Is that what you're asking about, what -- whether I have an update on the cake?

Q: No, an update on JADC2.

MR. KIRBY: I don't. I would refer you to the Joint Staff to speak to that specifically, but Happy Birthday to JADC2.

Let's see. Poonam? 

Q: My question's been answered. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: Somebody should go get us some cake. So -- I think Friday and everything -- I'll bet you they can't eat all their cake out there.

Paul Hanley from AFP?

Q: Hi, John -- hi, John. Can you hear me? (Inaudible) hear me?

MR. KIRBY: All right, Paul, we'll come back to you. Let's see. Anson from Asahi?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: Paul, you got me?

Q: Yeah, if you can hear me. I wanted to ask what was Minister Shoygu -- what did he have to say about the issue of Finland and Sweden joining NATO?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I -- we gave a readout of it and I just reiterated that. I'm not going to go into any more detail than what we've -- than what we've provided. I think I'm just going to leave it there.

Anson?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: OK, thank you for taking my question. I have two quick questions.

Previously, a Senior Defense Official said that there is anecdotal evidence of ground troops and officers not following orders. I was curious if -- in what instances are you seeing these officers failing to disobey orders? And then I have a follow up.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I'm just not going to get into much more detail at the tactical level, in terms of, you know, Russian units on the ground. We -- I -- we continue to have indications that the Russians have not overcome their command and control and their unit cohesion issues. 

And yes, we have indications that morale continues to be an issue inside certain Russian units. We don't have a fingertip feel of every one but I'm just simply not going to go into more detail than that.

Q: OK. And then also, a Senior Defense Official recently stated that there are about 105 operational BTGs in Ukraine. Given the extensive losses sustained by the Russians, the Institute for the Study of War has said that the measuring of the number of BTGs is no longer a viable metric for Russian force presence. What is the DOD assessment on the average range of troops per BTG? Has it gone down from the average 800 troops that had been previously seen per BTG? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Look -- we -- still -- the average size of a Russian Battalion Tactical Group is between 800 and 1,000 troops, depending on the mission of the BTG, but a BTG can still be operational and have less than 800. I mean, it depends on what it's being asked to do and where it is in the fighting.
    
And I don't -- I'm not going to get into, again, a blow-by-blow of every single Battalion Tactical Group that the Russians have in Ukraine. The point is that they still have an awful lot of firepower and forces available to them as they continue to prosecute this war now in a more confined space in the Donbas region. I think I'd leave it at that.

I already got you. Jim... 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Yeah, so -- which belies the problem -- the Ukrainians have been fighting hard for a long time against a lot of Russians. And how -- are they still combat effective? I mean, what's the assessment of that?

MR. KIRBY: Of the Ukrainians?

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, of course they are. I mean, they are putting up a very stiff resistance in the Donbas and in the south. They have prevented the Russians from achieving virtually any of their strategic objectives thus far in the war.

Now look, both sides have taken casualties, both sides have lost capabilities, whether that's actual hardware or defensive systems. That's -- it -- it's a war. And again, that's why we're trying so hard to make sure that Ukraine continues to have available to it the materials, the systems, the weapons to continue to defend themselves.

I certainly would not, nor have we ever, gotten into a detailed discussion of Ukrainian order of battle. I mean, I don't think, you know, we want to get that into the bloodstream but they absolutely are mounting a stiff and effective resistance to the Russians.

I think it's important to remember that the Russians -- as I said just a little bit ago, the Russians still have a lot of their available combat power still available to them. Yes, they have suffered casualties, some of their units have been depleted, no question. They have lost weapons and systems and platforms. But they still have an awful lot available to them.

And this is an area of Ukraine where they -- that -- the Russians are not unfamiliar with, the Donbas particularly.

OK, that's good for a Friday and I hope you all have a good weekend.

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