PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Okay, just real quick at the top, in AFRICOM, the 17th iteration of Exercise Phoenix Express, a North African maritime exercise, is ongoing now in Tunisia and throughout the Mediterranean. It started on the 23rd; it goes all the way through the 3rd.
This is one of three regional maritime exercises executed by U.S. Naval Forces Africa in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility, and it's meant to provide collaborative opportunities amongst African forces and international partners to address maritime security concerns. More than 100 U.S. military and civilian personnel are participating in Tunisia and at sea in the Mediterranean, along with the U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and the expeditionary sea base USS Herschel "Woody" Williams. Other participating nations include Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.
And then just lastly, I think you all know it's Memorial Day weekend, and I know that you Pentagon reporters that you also know well and don't need to be reminded the significance of the day. It's a chance for the country to pause and to consider the lives that were lost in battle to defend this country and to keep our freedoms available to all of us. It's a special holiday, and it's also an opportunity to consider the sacrifices by so many families, the loved ones that those fallen left behind, and for those who are still with us, a fresh opportunity to remind us, at least here at the Department, of the sacred debt we owe them, to support them as they continue to grieve and they continue to take care of their families, as well. The secretary believes strongly in that obligation. And again, we will all be taking time this weekend to observe and to remember and to honor all those sacrifices, and I know all of you who have been party to many of those sacrifices will do the same.
So with that, we'll take questions.
Q: One quick follow-up from yesterday, and then a second question. Are you able today to provide any clarity on the missiles that were fired by North Korea? Yesterday, you weren't able to give us much more. I'm wondering if you can do any --
MR. KIRBY: No, I'm afraid I --
Q: -- any better today.
MR. KIRBY: I'm afraid I can't do better. We're still classifying them as ballistic missiles, multiple launches, but we're still working our way through the information on that, and I just don't have any more detail.
Q: And then on Ukraine, obviously, Ukraine has been asking desperately for some MLRS, some rocket systems that they have -- they say they desperately need right now. There's only two towns, I think, two areas and one province in the Donbas that Russia is now rapidly trying to take hold of, and will give them the entire province. Is it starting to get to the point where it's going to be too late to get Ukraine some of the systems they need?
MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you, Lita, is, you know, we're working every single day to get weapons and systems into Ukraine, and every single day, there are weapons and systems getting into Ukraine that are helping them literally in the fight, including howitzers, which are still arriving. And we're in constant communication with them about their needs going forward.
We knew, when Russia decided to focus on the eastern part of the country and that Donbas region that it was going to be an artillery, a long-range-fires kind of fight. It has proven to be that. Certainly, we're mindful and aware of of the Ukrainian asks, privately and publicly, for what is known as a multiple-launch rocket system. And I won't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet, but we are in constant communication with them. And our goal from the very beginning has been to try to help them in the fight that they're in today, and that's why these packages get kind of parceled out over time, because you want to be able to be adaptive to what they're facing.
So again, I won't get ahead of decisions. I've never done that since we've been starting to do these drawdown authority packages, but I can assure you that we are in constant communication with them, and we're still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield, and to succeed specifically in the fight they're in. I think I'll just leave it there.
Q: But do you think at this point that they are now at -- Ukraine is at a real risk of losing the Donbas region?
MR. KIRBY: I won't make predictions on the battlefield. We've also tried to stay away from that.
It is in many ways, a very close and intimate fight. I think I've described it as a knife fight and that's not an inaccurate way of putting it. There are places, towns, villages, hamlets, that the Russians and Ukrainians are in very close contact. And it's very dynamic, as I said yesterday. There are towns and villages which fall to the Russians on a given day, and then the Ukrainians will recover that days later. There's still a lot of back-and-forth.
And I don't think being predictive about how long it's going to take or who's going to win is a useful exercise right now. What we are focused on is making sure that the Ukrainians can succeed on the battlefield. And, again, that's the nature of the conversations that we're having.
The last thing I'll say, and I know everybody's interested in what's gonna be in the next package and what's not. I understand that. I'm just not going to get ahead of where we are. But I do think it's important to remind that, with the supplemental request now, we now have available to us several dollars more, just in drawdown authority, let alone assistance initiative contracting funds to help Ukraine in this fight.
And we're going to marshal and use that resource just as smartly as we've done for the last sets of drawdown packages, the last 10 that we've done. And the next one will be 11. We're going to be smart about this, and we're going to be in lockstep with the Ukrainians and with our allies and partners about it. And, 11 won't be the end of it. There will be more. And we'll do them deliberately in a sequenced way so that the kind of assistance Ukraine is getting make sense for the fight that they're in.
We want to see them succeed. We want them to have not only success on the battlefield but success in the outcomes here. And so we're going to be flexible going forward.
Q: John, I'm just trying to understand. Has a decision not been taken yet to give the MLRS to the Ukrainians?
MR. KIRBY: We are still working through what the next drawdown package is going to look like.
Q: And why has it taken so long on the MLRS?
Is it a money issue, that you didn't have the funding because of the supplemental?
We've been hearing about the MLRS, the need for it, for weeks now. What is holding it up?
MR. KIRBY: It's not a hold-up here, Jen. And I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that we haven't announced or spoken to yet. We have been in constant communication with the Ukrainians every day. I mean, just last week, you know, we had a contact group with more than 40 countries showed up to provide security assistance.
I understand that they have been asking for the assistance for a long time. And we have been talking to them. And I'm just not going to get ahead of where the decisions are.
Q: I'm just trying to understand the hold-up. I don't understand.
MR. KIRBY: I think I would take issue with the idea that there's a hold-up here. We are constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their needs and what we can provide, as well as what our allies and partners can provide.
Q: And isn't there a military issue right now in terms of, if the port in Odessa is not opened, you've heard all sorts of economic leaders and world leaders say that there's going to be a grain shortage. If you look out three, four months, there's going to be, you know, starvation in Africa as a result.
Isn't it time to open that port militarily and not, sort of, have the hard line that -- I mean, now that the -- the conflict will spill over if there is a grain shortage, shouldn't the U.S. and others militarily open that port?
MR. KIRBY: Look, we've been talking about this for a while. The international community is deeply concerned about grain shipments coming out of Ukraine and the blockade, and the effect that the blockade is having. And you've seen some European nations be willing to accept grain by rail. So there's ways to get some of that out there right now. But the president's been clear, we're not going to have U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine. That includes the skies over Ukraine. And that includes the potential for a naval conflict with Russia. So one of the things that the Ukrainians have said they want help with is coastal defense. And so coastal defense assets, including from the United States, are being sent to Ukraine, to help them with coastal defense but how they use those coastal defense systems is going to be up to them.
The world community is mindful of the weaponization of food that Mr. Putin is now doing. And there are, well beyond this department, there are conversations inside the international community about what to do about that, how to alleviate it. Everybody understands the pressure and the sense of urgency here and there's a lot of work being done on the diplomatic side to do that. Yeah?
Q: Two follow ups. So CNN is reporting that the administration is leaning towards sending the systems, the MLRS. I mean, is it wrong? Do you -- do you dispute that reporting?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of where we are in the process. Court.
Q: But I'm not asking about the process, I'm asking whether there has been -- that the administration is -- is leaning towards it --
MR. KIRBY: No, actually you are exactly asking process and I'm not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.
Q: I think I'm asking you about not process as much as an agreement that the administration may -- has come to. Because we've been hearing for weeks -- like Jen said, we've been hearing for weeks about talk of this. We know the Ukrainians have been vocal, that everyone's been vocal about this possibility, but it seemed like there was a stretch there where we were hearing a lot of pushback about it. It was the systems take a long time to train on, they -- they're expensive, the U.S. doesn't have a whole lot of them to give, they may be seen as provocative. We -- so we heard all of these things and that -- so what I'm wondering is if -- if -- if the U.S. -- if the Pentagon, the administration, whatever it is has made a decision that this system is valuable enough that those -- all of those speed bumps are not as important?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have any decisions to speak to today.
Q: Okay. And then on North Korea, I'm wondering -- in the -- this -- the launches earlier this week, did they exhibit any kind of a new stealth capability that made it more difficult for the U.S. to determine what was launched?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to get into the intelligence and the analysis that's being done on these multiple launches. We are continuing to look at that, continuing to consult with our allies and partners in the region, but I'm just not going to get ahead of where we are.
Q: Cause it's been more than three days now, if my math is right, which it may be wrong -- but it's been several days now since this and normally -- we all know that the capabilities that the U.S. has to look at a launch anywhere in the world --
MR. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: -- and within a certain stretch of time, know exactly what it was. And so we are well past that. So I understand not wanting to talk about intelligence but I don't -- it's not unreasonable to ask what was launched. And so that -- I -- I'll say it -- ask again, like, is there a belief that they launched an ICBM or more than one? And were there any new capabilities? If it's some new stealth capability, that would be interesting and that's why you guys can't tell us what it is -- or you couldn't see it? Cause that's the only thing I could think, why we can't know what -- tell me if I'm wrong.
MR. KIRBY: Look, I never said and would not say that it's not a reasonable question for you to ask. It's absolutely an appropriate question to ask. But I'm just not in a position to answer it with great specificity today. We have said multiple ballistic missile launches. We believe that is true. We're still analyzing those launches. And if and when there's a time when we can be more detailed about that, we will, but that time is not today.
Q: Is there a policy -- like, was the -- has the Biden administration established a policy that you will not talk specifics about North Korean launches?
MR. KIRBY: I don't know of any blanket policy in that regard. I mean, we take each one as they come and do the best we can to properly inform ourselves of what happened so that we have a better understanding of what Mr. Kim is doing, as I said, and we've already condemned these launches. Each one is a provocation, each one is a violation of existing UN Security Council resolutions, each one only increases tensions on the peninsula, and each one, no matter what kind of missile and no matter how far it flew or didn't fly, no matter what the trajectory or the metrics were, each one, we believe, is a learning experience for the regime in Pyongyang, and that's concerning. Yeah, Barb?
Q: I want to go back to Lita's very first question to you. She asked you "is it too late to send these weapons to Ukraine?" and you did not take the opportunity to say "no, it's not too late." You didn't take the opportunity to say "Ukraine is going to win." So I want to ask you that -- why -- I -- I haven't heard a note of optimism -- of unqualified optimism about Ukraine's being able to succeed in some time. So you have the situation in the Black Sea, you have the situation with the ports, you have hundreds of thousands of people possibly taken to Russia, depopulation of the east, Russia making progress in the east. How -- what is your assessment of what it needs to get Putin to reverse? Will he -- do you think there's even the remotest possibility or is this now bogged down, slugfest, quagmire?
MR. KIRBY: There's a lot there, Barb.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you. I appreciate it.
MR. KIRBY: I can start by saying no one has ever, ever accused me successfully of being unqualified optimist but --
Q: I think it's a serious -- yeah.
MR. KIRBY: It is a serious question and it's a fair question. We have been, I think, careful from this podium not to read out battlefield dynamics, not to speak specifically to what's going on the field. We're not there, we're not on the field with the Ukrainians and, let me, you had a long question, give me a chance here. The fighting in the Donbas it’s very real, as I said, it's very dynamic, and it literally changes every day. What we're seeing today is different than what we saw yesterday. I would just tell you, broadly speaking, and again, I'm just going to start at the operational level as best as I can and then I'm going to go out to your larger strategic question. Our assessment is that the Russians continue to make some incremental gains in the Donbas, not great magnitude, not leaps and bounds. They are facing and continue to face a stiff Ukrainian resistance, which is why I won't go so far as to say it's too late to provide the Ukrainians with any system or capability that they might need because they are very active in the fight and they have pushed back the Russians. Up near Kharkiv, they continue to push the Russians back.
And so they're going on offensives of their own. It's a very active fight right now and it will continue to change over time, and because it continues to change over time, our conversations with the Ukrainians change over time about what they're looking for and how much of what they're looking for, cause it's not just about the systems, we get all caught up in the systems, it's about how many are you going to get there and how many they need in the fight.
We've been talking about howitzers recently. So we've committed now over 100 howitzers, and most of them are actually not only in Ukraine but actually in the fight, according to the Ukrainians who tell us that. So we're adapting as much in real time as we can, as they have to adapt in real time because the fighting in the Donbas changes and in the south as well. Now, what it's going to take for Mr. Putin, I think, as you said to reverse himself, I think is the way you put it, I don't know. I think only Mr. Putin knows that and maybe perhaps some of his top leaders and generals. We don't know.
What you've heard the Secretary say, and I'll repeat it here today, is that Mr. Putin can do the right thing right now, right today, by pulling his forces out and by sitting down with Mr. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians and negotiating in some kind of good faith. There doesn't appear to be any hope for negotiations right now. Mr. Putin has shown no interest in any kind of diplomatic path forward. Quite the contrary, he has shown every interest in continuing to prosecute this war in the Donbas. He continues to add forces. He continues to add capabilities. He continues to conduct air strikes, all in a very much more concentrated part of Ukraine, so the fighting continues.
We are ever mindful, as we have been since the beginning, mindful of the clock here, mindful of the sense of urgency, mindful that time is not our friend, which is why we have been continuing to move equipment literally every day for the last 90-plus days of this war. And in fact, even before the invasion started, we were sending in weapons and systems, defensive weapons and systems so that the Ukrainians could defend themselves. And it's made a difference, Barb. We are almost 100 days into this, and Mr. Putin has achieved exactly zero of his strategic objectives. He didn't take away Ukrainian sovereignty, quite the contrary. As a matter of fact, I think he's reinforced for the Ukraine people how important their independence really is, and you can see them fighting for it every day, not just soldiers, but individual citizens. He didn't take the capital city. He didn't decapitate the government. He didn't take any major city other than Mariupol at this point. So he hasn't really achieved any of the strategic objectives, and he's now focusing on a much smaller part of the country. And so we're focused on getting them to be able to succeed in those fights.
Q: (inaudible) achieved the strategic objectives that the U.S. military and administration thought he had. But he has caused untold misery, violence and death in that country.
MR. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: The Ukrainian government says he is depopulating the east. He has shipped untold numbers of Ukrainians to Russian camps. So he certainly is achieving objectives by his measure, not the Pentagon -- the Pentagon's framework. You said you know the clock is ticking. What is that clock? Time is not on your side.
MR. KIRBY: That's right, it's not.
Q: So you have some kind of assessment of what that clock is and how much time you have.
MR. KIRBY: We know that the Ukrainians, they're fighting by the hour, and the flight changes almost by the hour. And so we are focused on getting them as much help as we can, as much support as fast as we can. Do we have a date on a calendar, Barb that says, well, by this date it's going to be over? No. No, and we wouldn't be able to do that. It would be completely irresponsible for us to do that. We know that the Ukrainians are in a live fight, a fight for their country, a fight for their citizens' lives, and too many, you're right, too many citizens' lives have been taken by this war.
Q: (inaudible) my last question: Is there any administration strategy here? I know there's diplomacy. Is there any Pentagon strategy, other than continuing to ship weapons? And how long can you keep it up?
MR. KIRBY: We have two goals, and they have not changed, Barb, two goals.
Q: But strategy, other than shipping weapons, how long --
MR. KIRBY: Our strategy has two components. Let me put it that way then, if you want the word "strategy" in there. One, it's to help Ukraine defend itself, and answering that need has changed over time, over the last 90-plus days. You know, earlier, we were all about Javelins and Stingers, and that's all you guys wanted to ask about, and now, we're asking about MLRS. I get it. The way we have helped Ukraine defend itself has changed over time as the fight has changed over time, and we're going to be committed to this for as long as the Ukrainians need the support. And it's not just us; it's other allies and partners. And the second component, and it's not an insignificant component, we don't talk about it a lot, is making sure we can bolster NATO's eastern flank. We now have over 100,000 U.S. troops in or around the theater in Europe, some at sea, some in the air, some on the ground to bolster NATO's eastern flank. And should these two other new nations now, Sweden and Finland, become new members of NATO, then that'll be some other commitments that we'll have to make. And so we're focused on that as well, to make sure that Mr. Putin understands that we will, as the president has said, we'll defend every inch of NATO territory.
Q: So MLRS is going the way of the Javelins and the Stingers, is what I just heard you say, which was it was a while, and then ultimately, it was approved.
MR. KIRBY: No, I said -- I just said --
Q: That's kind of what you sounded like.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, nice try. Nice try. Go ahead.
Q: To go back to the Javelins, they -- at the beginning of the war we -- we heard about the Javelins all the time. They were the star. There were photos of Javelins --
MR. KIRBY: That's what I just said.
Q: Yes, but photo of Javelins, you know, reaching their target and -- and destroying. We don't see anything about the howitzers. So do you assess that the howitzers have reached their objective and are used -- and help -- have make a -- have -- have made a difference on the -- on the ground?
MR. KIRBY: All I can tell you is what the Ukrainians tell us, what Mr. Reznikov has told Secretary Austin, and that is that the M777 howitzers have definitely made a significant difference on the battlefield, and they are using them in various places, and they're using them with very good effect.
Q: Okay. Do you have an example of a place where they could retake it?
MR. KIRBY: We know, for instance, that they have definitely used them in the Donbas, and we know that they've used them effectively against Russian formations there in the Donbas. But can I give you an exact date and latitude and longitude? No. I'd refer you to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on that. I mean, these howitzers belong to them. They're putting them in the field to defend themselves and their cities and towns and people, and they can speak to that much more definitively than we can. We're not, you know, we're not tracking each and every one, where they are on the battlefield, on any given day. But more than 80 of them, we know this because we're getting it from the Ukrainians. More than 80 of them are in forward units being used in combat every day, at least so far. Yeah?
Q: John, Peter Martin from Bloomberg. You talked about the incremental progress that the -- the Russians are making, and I wondered -- have you seen them learn from the mistakes they made early on? You know, exposed supply lines, armor vulnerable to more agile Ukrainian infantry. Have -- have -- have they improved the way that they've approach this fight?
MR. KIRBY: We have seen them try to remedy some of the challenges. So for instance, a good example is logistics and sustainment. I mean, they went so fast on Kyiv in the early days that they outstripped their ability to fuel themselves, feed themselves, resupply themselves. And of course, we, you know, we remember that vaunted convoy we talked about, and the Ukrainians were able to stop that resupply convoy from ever reaching front-line troops. And it had a significant operational effect on the Russians around Kyiv. In the Donbas it's a different terrain. It's flatter. It's more open. It's a lot of farmland, small villages and towns, and because it's in the extreme east of the country, it's closer to Russia and closer to their organic supply lines and capabilities. And so you can see them being mindful and wary of getting too far out ahead of their supplies. Part of that's easier for them to do because of the geography and how close they are to Russia and the terrain. But we see a deliberate effort for them to and you can see it, part of the reason that they're only making incremental gains, it obviously, it's due to the Ukrainians but it's also due to their weariness of getting too far afield of their ability to supply themselves.
We have seen them try, although with, no real success, but you can see them try to get better at integrating ground and air operations. Again, some of that's easier for them to do in a smaller geographic area. They're using smaller units now in smaller places and smaller movements, and so it's a little bit easier for them to integrate air support for their operations on the ground than it was when they were advancing on three major lines of axis geographically separated by hundreds of miles. So it's a little easier but we're seeing them start to try to get better at that. I would not go so far as to say we think that they have solved all of their air-to-ground integration issues. And command and control, they still suffer, they still have not been able to effectively manage command and control of their units in the field. So yes, as we've said that they would, we have seen them try to improve upon some of the mistakes they made early on but they have, by no means, been able to master them. Christina, good to see you.
Q: Good to see you too. Congrats on your new job.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks.
Q: They are very lucky to have you. I want to follow up on Barb's question. She asked is this now sort of a slog, a quagmire, is it bogged down? Would you say this is not a slog? How did -- it's a knife fight now. Is it a knife fight, you know, for, like, a slog, where (inaudible) the knife fight?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think we've been, and I talked a little bit about this yesterday. I think we're being careful not to slap a label on this or a bumper sticker and say it is this, other than I have said it's a knife fight and you can see that every day. And I think that's a good descriptor because it's close fighting, and in some cases very intimate. Like in Kherson, or around Kherson, between Kherson and Mykolaiv, you've got Ukrainian and Russian forces that are very, very close. And, again, it changes every day. So I think we're just going to avoid slapping a label on this. It's war, Christina, and it's close up war, it's brutal. And it's not just brutal on the soldiers, it is, as Barb rightly said, it's been brutal on the population, the people of Ukraine. Joe Gould?
Q: Hey, John. Thank you for taking my question. A question for you -- yesterday, we got a -- a readout of Kath Hicks' visit to the UK and there was a lot of -- you know, a lot said about science, technology and cybersecurity, it -- and -- and security cooperation between the U.S. and UK, but not so long ago, back in September, after the Afghanistan withdrawal, it seemed like U.S. and UK relations were a bit rockier. Would you say that -- that the -- you know, the security situation right now in Europe has galvanized that relationship or -- or injected new energy into that relationship?
MR. KIRBY: I think I would challenge the assumption that, because of Afghanistan, U.S.-UK relations suffered or were damaged in any way. I mean, the British are, we talk about the Special Relationship, which we firmly, strongly still believe in. I mean, they are tremendous allies and great friends. So I don't think we would associate ourselves with an assumption that there was some sort of damage done to the relationship because of Afghanistan.
I mean, we were at war in Afghanistan with the Brits for all of those 20 years. They were with us from the very beginning and right up until the very end and we helped each other in those two weeks of August as we worked together to evacuate literally more than 100,000 people.
But to your larger question, I think it's safe to say, fair to say, and evident that Mr. Putin's unprovoked war in Ukraine has definitely helped galvanize the entire alliance and certainly has galvanized, in many ways, the international community, or at least almost all of the international community, to be mindful not only of the danger Ukraine is in and the support that Ukraine needs but also the danger to the international rules-based order. We talk about that phrase a lot and it sounds perhaps bureaucratic but it's a real thing, it matters, a rules-based international order that we and the British and so many other allies and partners worked so hard to establish in the wake of World War II. And I don't think you can say that we grew closer to Great Britain because of this, cause we were already exceptionally close, but it's fair to say that our British allies and very much even before Mr. Putin decided to invade, saw things the same way and had multiple conversations about what we were we were watching Mr. Putin do in the fall early weeks of the winter. So there's incredible, I think, synergy between the United States and Great Britain, and I would say go larger than that and say inside the NATO alliance. Yeah, Lara?
Q: Just back on the MLRS), I know there's two versions, one that (inaudible) between (inaudible) miles and there's a longer strike version that can reach 150 miles. So what are the concerns about sending Ukraine the -- this longer range version?
MR. KIRBY: I'm just, again, Lara, I appreciate the question. I'm not going to speak to decisions that haven't been made or announced yet with respect to future security packages for Ukraine. I'm just not going to get in there.
Q: Is there -- is -- without talking about the package in particular, is there concern that a weapon like this might be provocative to Russia?
MR. KIRBY: We have, since the very beginning, as I said earlier, we've been working closely with Ukraine to provide them the best capabilities we can to help them in the fight that they're in, and that will continue. And the fact that you can do that but also have a prudent concern over escalation, which we've talked about many, many times, they are not mutually exclusive and there's no reason for them to be.
Q: Just on a different topic -- I just saw some reports that Iran has seized two Greek oil tankers. Do you have anything to --
MR. KIRBY: I'm afraid I don't. I can take the question, and if there's something that we can offer after the briefing, we can do that. Luis?
Q: Yeah, I don't want to get ahead of a decision, I'd like to get behind a decision, but --
MR. KIRBY: A decision that hasn't been made yet?
Q: No, no --
MR. KIRBY: Cause that's where we are. We are behind that right now.
Q: Correct, previous decisions. Can you enlighten us as to how that process actually works? I mean, the -- we've seen the meetings that General Milley had with National Security Advisor Sullivan and their counterparts. So, I mean, how does this originate with the Ukrainians and what is the Pentagon's role? And does it ultimately end up with a recommendation by the Secretary of Defense and then end up as a presidential decision? If you could just capture that for us.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, so each drawdown package is different, as you guys know. It’s different in size, different in kinds of systems and capabilities that are sent. Generally speaking, as a package is being considered, the first input is the Ukrainians themselves, what they say they need, and then our taking a look at that and seeing if we can help meet that need, and if we can't, who can? And then there's a decision made about, once we, sort of, talk about capabilities, then there's a decision about, well, how much, right now, can we get there? You know, speed is an issue, too. And their absorption rate is a fair concern, as well as their consumption rate. So that's why you, kind of, parcel these out a little bit, rather than just send everything in one lump. Because you want it to be relevant. So then there's the decision made about, okay, well, how much of X, Y and Z are we gonna send? And where's it gonna come from?
The drawdown means it comes, it's an authority the president gives us to take stuff off our shelf. It's stuff we've already bought, paid for. It's in a warehouse somewhere, on a base somewhere, overseas or in the United States. So now we know what we want to send and we know, kind of, how much. Where do we get it from? At the same time that that sourcing is being done, obviously you have to have the authority. So the first step, as you start thinking about what you want to send, is getting permission to do it. And it has to come from the president. It's called presidential drawdown authority for a reason. He will sign out the authority, "Okay, I hear what you want to send them; I give you the authority to do that." So that's the next step in the process. Then there's an administrative task that has to be announced by the secretary of state. That's the way the system works, because it basically is assistance to a foreign military. And then the secretary will then issue an executive order to the department to fill that need. And then we're off and running.
What has been fascinating for me to watch, as we've watched, as I've seen this now go, now, 10 different packages, is, because we know that time is not our friend, even as we're filling out the list and doing the sourcing, USTRANSCOM is already planning flights. They're already thinking, "Okay, if it's going to come from x base here in the United States, then, you know, what do I need to do; what do we need to do to make sure we have aircraft on scene as quickly as possible, to get it there?" I'm not saying we were slow at the beginning; they were still getting there pretty quickly, but we have now been able to shorten up the process so that it is literally sometimes as quick as 48 hours before the initial elements of a drawdown package are in the region, not 48 hours to get to Ukraine but 48 hours to the region. And sometimes, once it gets into the region, it can be in Ukraine 24 to 36 hours after that, which is just an incredible amount of speed.
It truly is, we say, "unprecedented," and it really is, in terms of the ability for the United States to move that much material and get it into the hands of Ukrainian fighters in a matter of just a few days. But it's because, now, we've done so many of these now, the system, the process, works quite well and the people at U.S. Transportation Command have just been heroic in their ability to identify assets to move that. And it's not all grey tails. I think you know that. They use commercial aircraft as well. But it's still under their auspices. Yeah?
Q: (inaudible). So it looks like Severodonetsk is going to be the next major urban conflict in the Donbas. The Russians have been trying to encircle it -- it's very similar to what they did in Mariupol -- and maybe choke the city off. What would you assess the Russians' ability to encircle the city has been? Have the Ukrainians been able to halt them at all and keep supply lines open like they did in Kyiv? And are you seeing -- kind of back on the lessons learned, are you seeing the Russians able to apply some of those lessons learned in an urban assault that we are seeing in Severodonetsk?
MR. KIRBY: Their operations have stayed largely doctrinal in approach. We haven’t seen a lot of adaptations in the way they do maneuver warfare. It's artillery barrages ahead of movement, right? Soak in an area to beat back whatever resistance is there, or prevent, try to prevent Ukrainians from being able to defend. And then once they feel like they've done that, they sort of move out in formation. Now, we've seen the formations being smaller because the terrain is just more confined and the objectives they're going at tend to be a little bit smaller. But it's the same basic idea. I won't, again, I won't predict. We are seeing fighting around Severodonetsk. There's no question about that, and we certainly do assess that the Russians want to take it. But it is, as far as we can see today, still being actively fought over.
Q: And are those counter-artillery batteries that have gone into Ukraine, have those helped Ukrainians be able to target Russian batteries that are assisting in their doctrine and moving forward at all?
MR. KIRBY: I would just, again, I don't want to speak for the Ukrainians and their tactics. We know from talking to them that the howitzers we're providing have been very effective, and they've said so, and that they have made good use of the counter-artillery radars that we have provided and continue to provide. I've only got time for a couple more, and then I'm going to have to go. Yeah, Phil?
Q: Yesterday, you had said that there was the defense attache in -- in Ukraine, and there would be no U.S. troops fighting in -- inside Ukraine. And I'm just wondering, could you -- are you prepared to broaden that out and say that there's no U.S. military mission currently inside Ukraine of any kind beyond the defense attache there?
MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you is there's a defense attache at the embassy, and that there is no change to the president's direction that there will be no U.S. forces fighting in Ukraine. And we are in active discussions with the State Department about whether or not it makes sense to have a U.S. military contingent to support their security elements at the embassy, but there's been no decisions about that.
Q: So you're leaving open the possibility of a training mission in order (inaudible) --
MR. KIRBY: There's no training mission inside Ukraine right now, and there's been no decisions made about returning trainers to Ukraine. Those same National Guardsmen are conducting training with other elements as well of the U.S. military outside of the country. So certainly, not going to walk off the fact that we are conducting training. We are, on some of these systems that are going in. But no training in Ukraine right now, and no decisions made about returning inside Ukraine. It's a war zone. Okay, I've got time for just one more.
Q: Thank you. I want to follow up about North Korea. Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council (inaudible) new economic sanctions on North Korea. Do you feel -- do you have a sense of urgency to increase deterrence against North Korea by military means, as it is now obvious that economic measures will not work?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I think, you know, we talked about, let me just, in response to these multiple ballistic missile launches the other day, we conducted a couple of exercises with both our South Korean and our Japanese counterparts. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about increasing ISR in the region as well. So we're able to and we'll continue to look for opportunities for an appropriate response, from a military perspective, if it makes sense as they continue to, again, conduct these launches and continue to provoke insecurity and stability on the peninsula.
I would remind that those two exercises that we conducted with Japan and South Korea in the wake of the most recent launch that was, they were in response to the missile launches. In other words, they were put together and executed very quickly, and that doesn't happen by accident, Rio, that happens because of good alliance management and prior knowledge and familiarity with one another's military capabilities and the constant training and operating that we do with both our allies.
And I think it's remarkable, we talked about, think you asked me, or somebody asked me the other day about the Russians and the Chinese in this bomber exercise, which we assessed was long in the planning and was not a direct response to President Biden's visit over there. By contrast, you know, we were able to act quickly in response to multiple launches by the North just a couple of days ago, to put on the table and get in execution a couple of exercises. Again, that's the sign of a healthy, strong, vibrant alliance and that's the proof and the value of having the network of alliances and partnerships that we continue to try to grow and improve in the Indo-Pacific region.
Look, I've got to go. Last thing I'll say, and I'll do it quickly so that I can get through it. I just want to thank everybody for what you do. It's important, you don't have to look any further than what's going on in Ukraine and the, just the brutality, the vulgarity of the war that Mr. Putin is waging on the Ukrainian people and the deceitful management of information that he has tried to put in place, shutting down a free flow of information to see how important it is what a free press can do.
And all of you either have been, will be or you have colleagues who are on the ground in Ukraine right now, putting their own lives in danger. And some of them have been hurt, some of them have been killed, and I know that Memorial Day is obviously about memorializing the fallen. I will also promise you I'll take some time this weekend to think about them as well. It's really important.
And I just want to thank you for that effort, thank you for the way you put me through my paces, even today, the last day, and I'm, and I got stretched, I got pushed, but that's what makes you guys so important, that's what makes this place so special.
I can't say that every day up here was pleasant but I can say that I felt, anyway, every day I was up here was meaningful, and that's not because of me, it's because of you, it's because of the questions you asked and the way you pushed and prodded and not only did your outlets proud but I think you did the American people proud. And I was proud to have a little piece of it, even if it was just for 18 months.
So again, thank you and we'll see you later. Bye-bye.