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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Hi, everybody. Just one quick announcement. This morning, Secretary Hagel met with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, here at the Pentagon. The two leaders reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Israel defense relationship and committed to working closely together to ensure Israel has the capabilities needed to maintain its military edge.

Those discussions underscored that military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Israel is stronger than ever and, as you might imagine, they spent quite a bit of time talking about regional challenges in the Middle East to include international efforts to deal with the threat posed by ISIL.

With that, Bob?

Q: Got a couple of questions on Kobani. Could you give us your latest assessment on the situation on the ground, including whether Peshmerga from Iraq are now moving to Turkey and to Kobani?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have anything on Peshmerga movements. I mean, I've seen the press reporting about what the Turks have said they've agreed to. I've seen no movement in that -- in that regard yet.

The situation in Kobani still remains tenuous. We do assess that Kurdish forces in the city are in control of the majority of the city. I would hesitate to put a number figure on that, but we do believe that they are in possession of the majority of it.

That said, ISIL forces continue to threaten it. As you may have seen, overnight we took more airstrikes, I think somewhere around seven -- I'm sorry, less than -- less than -- I think it was less than five there around Kobani, but we're continuing to hit targets in and around there to help the Kurdish forces as they continue to fight against ISIL. So it's still a very mixed, contested environment.

Q: And on the -- the announcement of the airstrikes today, CENTCOM had made a note of the fact that they will no longer mention by name the participating countries. I'm wondering if -- I mean, it was OK with them initially, now it's apparently not OK with them. What happened to change the situation?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know. I'll have to take that one for you, Bob. I don't know what --

Q: You don't know if anyone complained to the secretary or anybody about it?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, not that I'm aware of. I'll take that one for the record, Bob.


Q: On Kobani, as well, there was a video that was released earlier today on YouTube that showed -- seemed to show some ISIS fighters and they -- with one of these bundles. Have you been able to in any way verify, has the U.S. military verified that? Was that the one that went astray and then was later blown up? Do you have any details?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The short answer is, Courtney, we don't know. The analysts in Tampa and here in the Pentagon are examining that video right now, as a matter of fact, and we're still -- we're still taking a look at it and assessing the validity of it. So I honestly don't know if that was one of the ones dropped and whether it is, in fact, or the contents of it are, in fact, in the hands of ISIL. We just -- we don't know. We're still looking at it.

Q: Can you even say whether -- like, it shows some mortars, some grenades, like some RPG parts. Were those the kinds of things that were even dropped?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: They are -- they are certainly of the -- of the kinds of material that was dropped, was small-arms ammunition and weaponry. So it's not out of the realm of the possible in that regard. But, again, we're taking a look at this, and, you know, we just don't know. And when we have something definitive that we can provide in terms of an assessment on that, we'll do that.

I do want to add, though, that we are very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands. In fact, we're only aware of one bundle that did not. Again, we'll -- if we can confirm that this one is or isn't, we'll certainly do that and let you know.

Q: I have a question on North Korea, unless you want to stay on Iraq and Syria.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Whatever you want.

Q: Just the -- this release that the State Department put out saying that DOD was able to provide transportation for Mr. Jeffrey Fowle, who was just released for North Korea. What can you tell us about this DOD plane? Were there DOD officials on it that were escorting him out or had played any part? And where did this plane come from? Who was it -- under whose authority did it fly in? Do you have anything?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can -- what I can tell you is that, at the request of the State Department, we did provide an aircraft to effect the transportation of Mr. Fowle out of North Korea. It is a DOD aircraft. It is based in Hawaii, manned by a military crew. But that's the extent of our knowledge in terms of our involvement of this.

Q: What kind of plane?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know what kind of airframe it was. I don't know.

Q: (inaudible) -- other two guys already -- (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Why what?

Q: (inaudible) -- Kenneth Bae and other guys --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think it was -- the State Department talked about this very clearly. We obviously are still working to secure their release, as well. But that is a State Department matter, not DOD. Our role in this today was simply to provide air transportation out of North Korea. That's the extent of it.

Q: And I want to go back to South Korea. Does the United States have any -- (inaudible) -- about the timeframe on the transition of wartime operation -- (inaudible) -- do you have anything on --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have anything to update you on that today. I mean, we continue to work very closely with our allies in South Korea on this.

Q: (inaudible) -- South Korea was discussing this issue at -- (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the talks. Every time we meet and talk with our allies in South Korea, we talk about the operational control issue, of course. But I'm not going to get ahead of any specifics before the meetings on Thursday. When we have those meetings, we'll have an opportunity to give you a readout of how they went and speak to it.

Q: Thanks.


Q: Admiral Kirby, yesterday, officials were saying that they believe that this one air drop that went astray had actually been destroyed by CENTCOM. Is there now a possibility that it wasn't actually destroyed? Is this the same bundle that is potentially in the hands of ISIL now?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, as I said to Courtney, we're aware that one bundle did not make it into the right hands. And you saw the CENTCOM release indicating that they destroyed it from the air. That doesn't -- all of that doesn't take away from the notion that this video is out there and that it could, in fact, be that bundle. We just don't know.

So you've got to give us a little bit of time. The video just popped. I can tell you that analysts are working as fast as they can to try to validate it. And when we have something that we can give you, we'll provide it. Just don't know right now.


Q: Follow-up on that, please? Do you know how much time lapsed from the time that pallet was dropped to when it was destroyed?


Q: (inaudible) -- take for the record and get back to us on?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll do my best. I don't know. As I said, we're watching -- we're looking at the video. We're doing our best to try to validate it. And I'm not going to get ahead of that process.

Q: But is it something that you would presumably destroy right away? Is -- and then how soon did you discover pallets got into the wrong hands --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I don't have the tick-tock of when we assessed that one had gone astray and then when they went back to try to hit it. I just don't know what that time gap was and whether that time gap would have allowed for them to -- you know, to get material from it. I just don't know.

Again, it's just now popped online. We don't even know if it's authentic, so you've just got to give us a little time to take a look at it.

Q: Quick clarification. Is it possible that more than one bundle went astray? I mean, it's possible that you destroyed one, but another one went off-course and ISIL captured it?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can only go as far as I've gone earlier, which is to say that we believe that there was only one that went astray. That's the indication that we have now and what we've been talking to since the -- since the air drop. So, again, we'll -- we'll take a look at this, and when we have something for you, we'll let you know.

Yeah, Phil?

Q: Could you give us a sense of how the Iraqis -- or the Iraqi Kurdish forces decided which weapons to send over? You know, was that in consultation with the United States? Were these weapons that they had had for a long time? Were these weapons recently given to them to help them in their own fight? And can you also give us a sense of what the -- how much of a boost you think this actually is for the Syrian Kurds? I mean, is this just a temporary relief? Is this going to make a difference? Is it a game-changer? You know --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Which one of the 10 questions do you want me to start with?

Q: The --

Q: Game-changer.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: You can't even remember all the ones you just asked. (Laughter.)

Phil. We -- we provided the transportation for them -- for the supplies. I don't know that we had anything to do with the inventory. I would refer you to CENTCOM. But my strong hunch would be that we did not get into a lengthy debate or discussion about what was going to be on the pallets. This was a request that we filled through the Kurdish authorities for material that they wanted delivered to the Kurdish forces and the Kurdish forces asked to be delivered there inside Kobani. And, again, it was small-arms ammunition and medical supplies, that kind of thing.

A lot of, you know -- a lot of bundles, 28 dropped. We know of at least one that -- you know, that didn't -- that we knew didn't make it, but we're pretty confident that the rest did. That's a lot of material. I think everybody is under the impression that it -- it was desperately needed and has been of service to them as they continue to hold most of the -- of the city.

How long they're going to -- you know, use to expend it all, I don't know. That's going to depend on the scope and the scale of the fighting inside Kobani. And whether there will be an additional drop, I don't know that, either. I think we -- you know, we talked about this right from the beginning, that we're going to obviously constantly assess and monitor the situation, and we'll make future decisions when we have to make future decisions.

Is it a game-changer? I don't know that, either. What I can tell you is -- and I don't know that we're looking for a, quote, unquote, "game-changer" here. But what I can tell you is that the constant pressure from the air and -- and it's not insignificant, the pressure from the ground by these Kurdish forces has done a lot to keep ISIL at bay from taking the whole town.

It doesn't mean that, you know, that's going to -- that that can forecast success, to your question about game change. I just don't know that we're there yet. This is something we're constantly watching and monitoring.

And as we've said before, General Austin has said before, that what -- what matters here is they keep flowing resources, they keep -- they keep presenting targets in and around Kobani that we're going to take advantage of and we're going to continue to do that. You saw that again last night.

Not all the targets have to be hit by the air. Some of them are being hit, you know, from the ground by these Kurdish forces, which is why, again, why the resupply was an important mission. Did that answer all 10 of them?

Q: Yeah, except for the one about where the -- where the Iraqi Kurds get the weapons that they sent. Were they donated through by coalition allies? Or --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know. You'd have to talk to the Kurdish authorities on where that all came from. I will note, though, it's worth remembering that several nations have agreed to resupply Kurdish forces, so it's -- I don't know where they all came from, but it's possible that some of them could have come from these -- from these donor nations. I just don't know.

Q: Thank you.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. Justin?

Q: Thanks. Just one quick follow-up on that topic. Are you certain that the one that went astray was destroyed by your airstrike? Or are you leaving that open maybe -- maybe it wasn't destroyed?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We know we hit it. The question about being --

Q: (off mic) -- wasn't hit by anything. This was pretty clean, the thing they show in the video.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. We don't know whether it's authentic. So you got to give us a little time here to figure this out.

Q: So you're certain you destroyed that one. OK. Are you -- are you --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Wait a minute. I -- the CENTCOM press release said that they hit it. We know that it -- we know that -- we know that it got hit. I'm not -- I'm not making any definitive judgments right now, and so we can get an analysis back on this -- on this video. I want to be very clear where I'm standing here today on that.

Q: OK. And then just two -- bear with me, two quick other ones. There's reports of mortars falling in Baghdad today in the Green Zone. Have you heard anything about that? It's sort of a new report, so --


Q: I -- printed it out just before I came in here.

ADM. KIRBY: Then I probably haven't heard of it.

Q: (inaudible) -- 30 minutes ago -- (inaudible)

Q: Thirty minutes ago.

Q: Three mortars, maybe -- (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen -- I haven't seen that press report. But it's not like there haven't been mortar rounds falling inside Baghdad before or there haven't been, you know, IED threats. And this should come as no surprise to anybody that ISIL has designs and wants to be able to threaten the capital city. So -- but I haven't seen those reports.

Q: And one final one from me. Have you seen the reports --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Are you sure? Because I'm not coming back at the end of this. This is it. You said one final one, so I'll --


Q: -- that was a different show you did over there. So have you seen the reports that two Haqqani leaders met with the so-called Taliban five in Qatar? And then they were -- according to a Taliban statement -- subsequently arrested or apprehended by Americans and then handed over to the Afghans and are now being held in Kabul?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing for you on that. I don't --

Q: Well, so you totally -- what do you mean, you don't have anything?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have -- well --

Q: You're not aware of the report? Or --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing for you on that right now. I'll take it for the record. And if I can get more information for you, I will, but I have nothing to say on it right now.

Q: Can you deny that it's true? I mean, the Taliban made these types of statements -- they're written statements. They tend not to embellish. So, I mean, they were pretty clear about this. Are you -- can you deny that this occurred?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing for you right now. I'll see what I can do to get back to you. And I'll tell you what, because I'm not going to help you with that one, I'll give you one more, but later on.

Q: OK.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: All right. Joe?

Q: Admiral Kirby, staying in Iraq, could you confirm that ISIS have taken three villages, Yazidis' villages in the Mount Sinjar in the last few hours? Also, if you could give us a broad picture in Iraq, how successful were the airstrikes since they have begun in August 8, I think, until now? Can we talk about success? And I have a follow-up question.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have any detail on the towns you're talking about. That said, we certainly have been tracking ISIL's interest in and around Mount Sinjar. And you've seen of late -- there's been a couple of airstrikes done in and around there, so we're watching that. I don't have anything today to confirm whether this village or that town has been retaken, but we do know ISIL continues to operate in that area and continues to want to grab ground and territory. They want to ground -- they want to grab ground and territory elsewhere in Iraq, too.

So I appreciate the question. And I'll try not to get too longwinded here, but it's a good one. If you looked at the press release that CENTCOM put out earlier today, you'll notice that virtually half the airstrikes that were conducted over the last 24 hours were in Iraq. Now, it wasn't a great number. It was -- you know, I think, seven and five or seven and six, something like that, but -- but just about half of them were conducted inside Iraq.

And if you take a look at the ones that were done in Iraq and look at where they were, you had one near Fallujah, you had -- you had one up by Mosul Dam, you had another near Baiji. And what that tells us -- a couple of things. One, the weather is starting to get better, so we're getting -- we're getting ISR platforms, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms are able to fly a little bit more now. The weather's gotten better. So we get more eyes on, which is permitting more freedom from the air, and so that's some -- one indication you're seeing.

The other thing that I want to point out about that is that if you look at where we're hitting, that's where ISF is, too, right? The ISF is -- and the -- Kurdish forces specifically are still in control of the Mosul Dam complex. ISIL wants it back. And they still threaten it. They don't have it, but they still threaten it. And the one strike was up there.

Fallujah, we've talked all about Anbar and Fallujah and Ramadi and all that, so one of the strikes was in Fallujah in direct support of ISF that are on the move inside Fallujah. And then the other one near Baiji, the -- General Austin talked about this last week, Iraqi security forces are advancing to try to help reconnect to Iraqi forces that are in control of the oil refinery there.

Their advances over the last few days have been slowed by the weather, which is clearing, and so they're moving again, but it also has been slowed by IEDs, almost 30 IEDs that they found and cleared, which has slowed their advance.

So they are moving. They are taking the fight to the enemy, and those strikes last night are indications that we're trying to support them, too. So the whole narrative out there that we've just turned our back on Anbar is completely false. There have been real challenges in terms of what we can do there largely because of the weather, but also because of some of the defensive mechanisms that ISIL has thrown up in the way.

So, you know, things are starting to -- things are starting to move. And I think you're going to continue to see that momentum there inside Iraq.

Q: Quick question. Could you confirm that the U.S. military assistance to the Iraqi forces this year have reached $10 billion? There's a report today in the -- somewhere I've seen it --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: $10 billion?

Q: Yeah, I think Defense One. Kevin is not here, but --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have -- one of the most robust foreign military sales relationships we have in the world is with -- is with Iraq. I don't have the --

Q: (off mic)


Q: The number, $10 billion, could you confirm it?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think -- I don't think I've got that. Let me just look real quick. So far this year, we've expedited shipments of more than $650 million in critical ISF counterterrorism equipment and supplies. These include Hellfire missiles, helicopter rockets, tank ammunition, grenades, flares, rifles, small-arms, and millions of rounds of ammunition.

And then we've delivered over 1,100 Hellfire missiles to Iraq. Recently, the government of Iraq has signed and funded an acceptance letter for 800 missiles. That -- just 800 there in addition, and we're postured to start delivery of those in November with an initial portion of about 100 to 200.

So I don't have the total figure number in front of me, Joe. I'll try to take that for the record. But the larger point I'm trying to make is, we have a very robust defense trade relationship with Iraq, and we're meeting those requirements as quickly as practicable.

Yeah, Phil?

Q: Admiral, I want to ask you to please expand on a point you just made about the air campaign stepping back up in Iraq as the weather clears. Can you give us a high-level sense about where CENTCOM is in terms of the limits of its capacity to sustain your operations over Syria and Iraq? Are they flying as much as they can? Or if they were ordered to do more, do they have the ability to put more ordnance on target, fly more tanking missions, do more ISR, if they were tasked to do so?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, General Austin will do whatever he's tasked to do, and he'll be properly resourced from this building and from the secretary to meet all the missions he's assigned, of course. But there's almost -- and I'm not accusing you -- but there's almost an implication in the question that we're somehow holding back, and that is not the case.

I think General Austin was absolutely clear when he was here with you that we're doing everything that we can, but there have been limitations because of weather. And there's also, you know, limits placed upon us, particularly from the air, when you're worried about collateral damage and civilian casualties.

So you self-limit yourself to a degree. You have to. But that -- but those limits are not based on resources. There's no resourcing limitations right now. General Austin is getting what he needs to effect the fight against ISIL.

Q: So in terms of the Anbar struggle, which you and other people here have said is contested and continuous, it's not a question of CENTCOM literally cannot fly enough to support the fighters there or resupply them there. They'll do whatever they get orders to do because they have the bandwidth to handle that, if they get that contact.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, just to remind, the overarching direction comes from the chain of command, from the secretary on down. The secretary doesn't pick targets out and doesn't micromanage the air tasking order that's given every day in terms of what aircraft are going to fly where, with what ordnance. I mean, that's -- those are decisions that General Austin and his chain of command -- that they deal with and decisions that they make.

And I can assure you that they're making the decisions based on what they can do every day to help degrade and destroy ISIL, and it changes every day. I mean, last night, just -- there weren't that many airstrikes. And, you know, we've seen nights where there were more than 20.

It depends on the situation on the ground and how many targets are presented by ISIL and whether or not we have enough good information to get them and get them effectively. So it's going to change every single day.

But I can tell you that General Austin has the resources he needs. And if he doesn't, he knows he has the wherewithal to ask for more, and the department will make sure that he has what he needs. But he's going to make these decisions, and they're going to change day-to-day based on the situation.

Does that answer the question? Barb? Let me just go to Barb here for a second.

Q: Going back to Iraqi forces, you sketched out a number of fairly geographically tactical moves forward that Iraqi forces have made, but stepping back, what is your assessment now after weeks of analysis by these U.S. teams, weeks of assessment, what is the percentage of Iraqi forces across the board that are now capable, prepared, and trained to go into combat? What's the status that you see of the Iraqi force? And I have a follow on.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have an exact percentage for you, Barb.

Q: Well, how do you -- you've had assessments going on for weeks now. What is the U.S. -- what is the Pentagon's assessment of the capability of Iraqi forces?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Without getting -- I don't have a percentage for you. But we have been -- we've been very honest -- first of all, the assessment part of the mission is over. Those teams are now advising teams. There are 12 of them. Seven are advising higher headquarters in and around Baghdad. The other five are up near Erbil. So they are now advising teams. And as you know, there are plans in place to get more advising teams going.

Without getting in percentages, I can tell you that our advisers assist -- that it's a mixed picture of competence and capability throughout the Iraqi army, and sometimes even within units. This is an army that was not properly resourced, properly trained, properly maintained for three years. And so there -- it's a very mixed picture. There are some units that are very capable and others that need work.

And General Austin and those teams are trying to work with both types of units to make sure that they're as competent and capable as they can be. A full third of the Iraqi army is in Anbar. That's not insignificant. And as I pointed out, the -- I don't know whose question -- they're fighting.

Now, are they having success every day? No. But I don't know a single war in human history where you could count every day that you -- that you had ultimate success in every endeavor that you -- that you attempt. So they're working at it, and we're trying to do the best we can to help them.

Q: Do you believe that they have made any strategic, in other words, across-the-board advance in rolling ISIS back as an organization, rather than these isolated geographic cases that you have mentioned? Have they made any strategic advance in pushing them back?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: They have retaken the Mosul Dam facility, not a small feat. How quickly we have forgotten how difficult that was to do. And they did it with their Kurdish partners. I saw your -- the look on your face there. That's not -- that's not an insignificant thing that they did.

They have preserved possession of the Haditha Dam. They continue to stiffen their resolve and defend the capital city. We talk about mortars falling in here and IEDs, and I'm not discounting the violence that still occurs, but the capital city is still safe, and we don't assess that it's under any imminent threat. That's because of the Iraqi security forces.

Amerli, Baiji, which you're now starting to see unfold right in front of your eyes, they're advancing on this town of Baiji to try to come to the relief of the forces that they have there in protection who still are in control of that oil refinery.

Q: (off mic) -- next area of attack by Iraqi forces with U.S. airstrikes?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: They're doing it today. I don't -- it's not -- I'm not giving away future operations when I say that they're actually advancing on Baiji as we speak. And they're doing -- they're doing it well.

It -- but, you know, your question about rollback, I mean, I don't think in a war like this -- and we've all been watching for 13 years, these kinds of struggles. You're not going to see some massive rollback. This isn't, you know, landing on the beaches of Omaha on June 6th. It's going to -- there's going to be days where they advance and days where they have to pull back. There's going to be towns that fall and towns that they recover or don't. That's what we've been saying about Kobani all along. It's going to be mixed, and it's going to be ugly, and it's going to be messy every single day.

Q: Can I ask one quick follow on Kobani? I think it was last -- when General Austin was here -- I think it was him that said Kobani could still fall. You're painting today a very -- a more optimistic picture of Kobani. Do you think it's no longer -- since the Kurds are in charge of the majority of the town, do you now assess that it is unlikely Kobani will fall?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I do not. I don't think we would assess that at all. We still believe the situation in Kobani is tenuous and uncertain, and we still believe that the town could still fall. That said, as we speak here today, Kurdish forces defending the city we believe are in possession of the majority of it, and that they have definitely -- combined with our airpower have slowed ISIL's advances on the town and stunted -- stunted? Stinted -- stinted some of their ability to threaten it. It doesn't mean it's not still under threat.

Q: Admiral?


Q: As one more question about Kobani, given the fact that that town is a border town, just a few kilometers from the Turkish border, that's where the rebels are based. I'm just wondering, from a military perspective, there wasn't a better way of deliver those weapons and military assistance to the rebels than dropping them from the air, as you see the risks involving that? Some of them might have actually dropped into the wrong hands.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Was there a better way?

Q: (off mic) -- in Turkey and transport it through, like, land to the rebels, hand them over -- (inaudible) -- Turkey -- (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into discussions that we have or haven't had with the Turks on this. We have done air drops successfully before. It's a very efficient, effective way of getting supplies to a needed population quickly. I mean, the -- we did it on Mount Sinjar. We did it in the town of Amerli for humanitarian purposes. And we did it in Kobani to help these guys continue to fight.

And let's just for argument's sake -- and only argument's sake -- say that this bundle ended up in the hands of ISIL. It's one out of 28. So I think that's a pretty good record of success from the air.

Q: (off mic) -- actually -- (inaudible) -- talk to the Kurdish people on the ground or you see even the social media websites associated with the sympathizers of those militants. There are a number of pictures of more than one bundle, actually.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen anything but the YouTube video that's out there. The vast majority of the bundles we know ended up in the right hands. It's a very safe, effective, and efficient way to deliver supplies, and I don't think anybody in the Pentagon is going to apologize for conducting the mission the way it was done.

Q: (off mic) -- assume that you did that because you had to, Turkey was not willing to allow you to use its land --


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're comfortable with the decisions made --


Q: -- much easier to do that with -- the border is three, four kilometers away from the rebels.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are very good at air relief. We're very good at it. And it was deemed the best, most efficient, effective way to get the supplies in. It's a decision we made, and we took it. -- (inaudible)


Q: -- if I could just follow up on the air drops, has that now set a precedent for doing similar air drops to FSA -- (inaudible) -- for instance?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn't look at this as a precedent-setting event. As I -- as I think I answered to Phil, it -- it was effective. And we're going to keep our options going forward. But was it setting a precedent? I wouldn't go there.

Q: (off mic) -- do it for other rebel forces -- (off mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we're going to -- militarily, we're going to keep our options open with respect to how to use that delivery mechanism, should it be needed in the future. But I'm not going to speculate about where and under what circumstances we might do that.


Q: Sir, a question on Kobani. So you said the town is still tenuous and uncertain, could still fall. But the -- combined with the increasing number of airstrikes and the resupply to the Kurdish forces, are you saying that the momentum against ISIL is gaining ground, that the momentum that ISIL is threatening this town has slowed down now?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I think -- as I said, I think we've certainly stinted -- we certainly slowed down their momentum in and around Kobani. There's no question about that. And I -- and when I say we, I don't just mean we, the United States, from the air. I mean the Kurdish forces on the ground, as well.

But war is a messy, fluid thing. And tomorrow or next week, you know, we could be having a different conversation about that. So while the -- the indicators are going in the right direction here in terms of Kobani and the safety of the town, nobody's taken it for granted. We're obviously monitoring it very, very closely.

And, again, I want to remind you that why it matters so much to us is because it matters so much to ISIL. And they are flowing resources and, therefore, presenting targets that it would be foolish for us not, given the capabilities we have, to hit, because the overarching goal here -- and we need to -- you know, you need to tie what's going on to Kobani to the strategy. And there's a very direct link. It's about degrading and destroying their capabilities.

So every time we hit them and we kill some of their fighters or we knock out some of their firing positions or we hit a vehicle, we're helping to degrade their capabilities. It's not like these guys have a whole, you know, troupe of auto mechanics that they're training to keep this stuff going. So their ability to sustain themselves is limited.

And when we continue to take equipment away from them and fighters, we are -- we know we're depleting their strength. But it's going to take a while. I mean, we're very cognizant of the fact that even as -- as pinpoint effective as these strikes can be, it's still going to take a while to ultimately achieve that goal.

But when you're talking about Kobani, it is very directly tied to a large -- the larger effort. It's also, frankly, tied to an effort to deny them sanctuary and safe haven in Syria. Clearly, they want Kobani. Some people say it's for propaganda. I don't know. You should talk to them, but they clearly want it.

It would very -- at the very minimum serve as some sort of safe haven for them or sanctuary. And part of the goal in Syria, from the very beginning that we started hitting targets in Syria, has been to deny them the ability to sustain themselves and to find sanctuary in that country.

Q: Quick question on the air drops and resupplying of weapons and ammunition. The 27, 28 bundles that were dropped last weekend, is that all that is required by the Kurdish forces on the ground? Or is there a possibility there's more requirement and you might do more?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think I answered this before. We met the need. And, again, we transported equipment. We didn't -- it wasn't our equipment we dropped. We transported it for Kurdish authorities. We'll continue to monitor and assess the situation, and I won't get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet about whether there may or may not be, you know, an additional resupply mission.

Q: Just to clarify --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, go ahead.

Q: Yeah, on the air drops, who picked up on the ground these drops actually, these bundles? Which group? Because the CENTCOM -- (inaudible) -- all the bundles -- (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: By Kurdish forces. By Kurdish forces.

Q: Which ones?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know -- I don't have their names, and I don't have their ID cards. I don't know. Kurdish forces that were defending Kobani picked up the vast majority of the bundles.

Q: There are seven different Kurdish forces on the ground right now who are fighting against ISIS. So --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not have an inventory of who by name or by organization picked up the bundles. They were dropped for Kurdish -- to the Kurdish forces. All of the Kurdish forces defending Kobani -- and we know that the vast majority ended up into their hands.

Q: You organized these air drops with someone on the ground. Someone was waiting for these air drops, right?


Q: Yes. Which one? Which group?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have an inventory for you, and I'm not going to get into that with you. The Kurdish forces defending Kobani, we -- we provided Kurdish equipment, requested by Kurdish authorities for the Syrian Kurds that are in there defending Kobani. We dropped them. And I can tell you that the vast majority, by a long shot the vast majority, ended up into the hands of Kurdish forces that are defending Kobani. I do not have their names or their carrying cards. I don't know.

Q: A follow-up. This corridor that the Turks are trying to open for the Peshmerga, they will -- are planning to -- (inaudible) -- Peshmerga will pass to Kobani through Turkey. So once they realize this plan, would it be possible to replace this resupply operation with this corridor instead of these air drops?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's a great hypothetical question that I'm -- I usually do a bad job answering. I'm not going to go there.


Q: I have to ask you about resourcing. You've talked about it a couple of times. We're in October now. Back in March, you were hoping that Congress would give a signal that sequestration may be relieved in 2016.


Q: Looking for a signal, eight months later, with the airstrikes going on, Ebola going, I mean, not high dollar issues, but do you see a signal right now that sequestration is going to be relieved in 2016? Or are you telling the services, plan for the worst?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The guidance that has been given to the services has been to plan for both, for the -- the president's budget estimate of last year, which -- which it did not in the out-years account for sequestration, but they also -- we also have asked them to plan for budgets that does account for sequestration remaining the law of the land.

And nothing has changed. If you'll allow me the commercial, nothing has changed about the secretary's strong opinion that sequestration needs to be repealed and needs to go away because of the severe impacts that it's going to have on military readiness in the out-years.

Q: So it's a rerun and nobody's paying attention to your commercial. So at this point, is the signal -- basically you're saying Congress is not going to ease up on the sequestration and that the services should plan to execute their worst-case plans?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have to be prepared for both eventualities, Tony. I think it would be -- you know, and I think the secretary believes it would be imprudent, you know, not to think ahead and to be -- and to let the services start to plan for that eventuality. Obviously, that's not the hope here, clearly, but we have to be -- and he has tried to maintain a posture of being very clear-eyed about the future.

Q: OK, on Iraq, you've talked about maintaining strategic patience. You've talked to the public from the podium. Today you're talking about don't expect a massive rollback. You're not going to see Republican Guard units, ISIL units streaming out of Iraq like they did in 1991, the Republican Guard. But strategic patience, no massive rollback, what should the public be looking for by way of a tipping point where ISIL, the balance will be shifted? Is it only going to be shifted when you start seeing massive ISF counterattacks?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't -- in a struggle like this, I don't know that you can expect a tipping point, a specific point in time where all of a sudden you know everything is going to be better, that it's -- that you've turned a corner. That's very unlikely in a war like this, particularly a war like this where, you know, you -- you've got indigenous forces on the ground that are -- especially in Iraq that are, in some cases, trying to improve their skills while they're fighting at the same time.

I think it's going to -- and we've said this, and we've been very honest. It's going to take a while. We are in the Pentagon planning for this to be a years-long effort. And I just don't think that anybody here could look the American people in the eye with certainty and say, "We know this will be the tipping point and we know when it's going to happen."

We do believe that we will succeed in this mission, that we will destroy and degrade ISIL and their capabilities. We have confidence in that. We have confidence in that strategy that we're executing.

We also have certainty that it's going to take some time and it's going to be messy. There are going to be days and there's going to be weeks when we don't make as much progress, we and our coalition partners, as we'd like to. But I can't tell you that we're going to know exactly when, you know, we've turned a corner here.

Q: The Bush administration had certainty that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when they invaded in February -- or March of 2013. So be careful with certainty.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's what I've been saying. I mean, I'm -- that's exactly -- I'm not trying -- comparing this to the invasion of Iraq, but --

Q: The certainty part of it, though, that you can destroy these guys. So --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're confident and certain that the strategy will work, Tony. This isn't about being confident and certain of a particular piece of intel. This is about being confident in a strategy that we're executing that we're actually enforcer of now. And I think everybody shares a sense of confidence that the strategy is the right one.

But it's going to take a long time. And there's going to be -- there's going to be changes. There's going to be things that we have to adjust as we go forward, and there's going to be days when it doesn't go as well as others.

Q: Thanks.


Q: On Kobani, could you give a little context when you say a majority of the town is now held by the Kurdish forces? That suggest that they've gained back ground, the ISIL has been pushed back, that ISIL held more than a majority at one point. So is --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think we ever -- I don't think we ever assessed that they held more than a majority of the town, but that we certainly did -- and we were honest about the fact that we knew they were inside the town and held portions of it. I don't think we ever said that they held -- I don't think we ever believed that they held a majority of it.

We do believe, though, that the Kurdish forces are in control of the majority of the town, which on the flip side conveys the sense that we do believe ISIL is inside Kobani, in some strength. But we don't think that they're making much progress, and they haven't. I mean, what gives me -- what makes it possible for me to say that is that we -- we've been watching this now for weeks.

And certainly in the last several days at least, we know that ISIL hasn't made any progress inside Kobani. So that's where that comes from. But it could change. It can definitely change.

Q: And then on Iraq, in Anbar, do you anticipate the possibility -- are you looking at the possibility of sending U.S. advisers to Anbar province, since you have these additional facilities there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think -- I think what you're getting at is, you know, with combat units that are fighting in Anbar. The answer is no. The advising teams are at brigade- or division-level headquarters, higher-level headquarters. I told you before, 7 of the 12 are in and around Baghdad, and that's where they remain.

Q: But what about setting -- for example, of setting up the joint operations center in Anbar province?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's no plans for a joint operations center in Anbar right now. There's two joint operations centers, one in Baghdad and one in Erbil. There's no changes to that.

Q: And then last thing on the arms sales and deliveries. On these tank rounds, what's the -- what does that reflect? Can you give us a little -- elaborate a little bit on that? Are there -- are the Iraqi forces using Abrams tanks in Anbar?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't -- I don't have their order of battle in Anbar, Dan. I'm sorry. I mean, it's a good question, though, and I can get -- we can get back to you on -- in terms of what we think they're employing them for, but, I mean, there's all -- as I read out, there's all manner of ammunition and arms that we're providing to Iraq and have been providing to Iraq. It's a strong defense trade relationship even before the events of this summer. I wouldn't speak to exactly how and in every circumstance they're using this material.

Q: And is it ruling out the possibility of advisers going to Anbar? Or is that just not happening ever?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm -- you know, these questions about ruling things in and out, they're -- so rather -- let me tell you what we are doing. We've got 12 teams, 7 in Baghdad, 5 in Erbil. They are at higher headquarters level. That's where they are remaining. And the advice and assistance they're giving are at that level.

They are not going out into the field. And I am aware of no plans to send them out into the field. The -- it's been clear from the very beginning that we are not going to return troops in a combat role on the ground inside Iraq. The advising teams that we have are at a higher headquarters level, and they're providing advice and assistance only at that level.


Q: How much is this costing? Do we have an update on that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Actually, I think I do. It's still -- the estimates are still at $7.6 million a day. And for Tony, I actually have a total here, because I -- I didn't do the math.

Q: I know that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Roughly $424 million since the beginning of kinetic operations on August 8th.

Q: And one last question. A couple weeks ago, you've mentioned that we were in discussions with Saudi Arabia about starting this training program, which is going to be months away. Have we ironed out any more details? What's the latest with the training program?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's still a team -- a CENTCOM team that is working with Saudi authorities right now to nail down some of the particulars about the facility itself and the curriculum that will be used to train moderate opposition to include numbers of trainers and all that kind of thing.

And so those details are still being worked out. I don't have anything to announce today. Nothing has changed about our assessment that it could take, you know, three to five months to complete the recruiting and vetting process.

I'll go over here. Christina?

Q: Thanks, Admiral. Are any airstrikes in and around Kobani attriting ISIS in a significant way? And how -- how are we measuring that? And also, are the strikes there having an impact on ISIS in other places that we see?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Did you say Kobani?

Q: Yes.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well -- are they attriting ISIL? Yes. We know we've killed somewhere on the order of several hundred of their fighters from these airstrikes. We know that we've hit scores of pieces of equipment and vehicles that they no longer have possession of.

And, again, I want to remind you, it's not like they have repair shops and people that, you know, are trained to -- to actually maintain the equipment that they've taken. But to your question about, you know, metrics, this isn't -- the effort there isn't just about warheads on foreheads. I know I used that phrase last week, but it -- not that that's not -- and I'm not diminishing the importance of taking fighters off the battlefield. But that's not what -- that is not the overarching goal here.

The overarching goal is to degrade and destroy their capabilities, to eliminate them as a threat, and there's many ways you do that. One of them is taking away their sanctuary and safe haven, taking away their ability to finance themselves. And you've seen us hit some crude collection points this week, as well as more refineries.

It's why -- and it's why -- that's why the Mosul Dam matters to them and Haditha Dam matters to them and why Baiji matters to them, because it's sources of revenue. So trying to deny that ability for them to breathe -- but, yeah, there's a component of this -- this is tactical. And there's dynamic strikes that are being taken to actually take them off the battlefield and to attrite their forces.

We're not -- we're not naive, though. We know that this ideology is attractive to a large number of young men and that -- that sometimes the struggle itself and the fact that other young men are being killed is attractive to recruit others.

So, I mean, we're mindful of that. That's why we're convinced -- and we say very clearly -- that we think that we're going to be in this for a long time. But is it having an effect on them in Iraq? Yes, we do believe it is having an effect on them in Iraq, as is the -- as are the tactical strikes that we're taking inside Iraq, in terms of changing the way they communicate, the way they operate, the way they conceal themselves.

We know that we're having an effect. I think -- I think General Austin talked about this very -- very clearly last week about the direct effects that we know we're having. And we can tell through various sources of information that we're putting a hurting on them. But again, it's going to take a while.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me go to Jim, and I'll just take one more after that. Go ahead.

Q: Yeah, on the question of advisers, I understand that the teams are in Erbil and Baghdad now, but since they are going down to the level of brigade headquarters, aren't any of those brigades deploying to the field sort of in some forward positions?

And, secondly, as the Iraqi security forces start moving out and start moving in a place like Fallujah and Ramadi, would that necessitate a tighter coordination with the air, you know, so that as -- as Iraqi security forces are moving, the close air support is moving along with them?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The answer to both of your questions -- and I'm a little out of my depth, because I'm a naval officer -- but the answer is yes. Now, but I want to -- on your first question about the brigades and divisions, as you know, Jim, there's an element of brigade and division headquarters staff that kind of stays put. That's where our advisers are.

But are there sub-elements of those brigades and divisions that are out and about and deploying inside Anbar? Yeah, the 9th Division and the 1st Division of the Iraqi army are in Anbar. But that doesn't mean that the headquarters are, and that's -- and I don't know exactly each and every headquarters element that our advisers are with. But our advisers are at that higher headquarters. They are not -- they are not deploying out into the field with sub-commands and sub-units belonging to those divisions or brigades. Does that make sense?

And then to your other question, as they continue to push out in Anbar, absolutely we continue to look for opportunities to support them from the air. I just talked about at the beginning of this, you know, we hit -- we hit a target in Fallujah. We hit a target in Baiji. All that's being done in very close coordination and cooperation with Iraqi security forces and the needs that they're expressing that they have for our air support. So there is close coordination in that regard. I mean, that's been a big function of it.

We have just time for one more. Louie?

Q: (inaudible) -- go to another part of the world, Russia. Have you seen a big pullout of Russian forces from around the Ukraine area? Last week, the Russians said they were pulling out 17,500 troops. And further north, Sweden is involved in a large search for this unidentified underwater activity. Have they contacted the United States for assistance in this search or any kind of a -- any kind of intelligence assessment that they --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any outreach by the Swedish government for assistance, but let me take that for the record. I'm not -- not being as -- certainly been made known to me in terms of any requests that they've made.

And on -- on Russia and Ukraine, what I'll tell you is we have seen the movement of some Russian forces away from the border with Ukraine, but there still remains a large number there. And they still continue to threaten the stability and security inside Ukraine by their mere presence. And nothing has changed about the fact that Russia continues to foment instability inside Ukraine.

And let's not forget, you know, the -- the Russian troops that remain in Crimea, which clearly haven't left. So there remain large numbers of Russian conventional troops that continue to threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Q: So no significant movements from the border region --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we've seen movement, Louie. I'm loathe to get into a specific estimate about that, in terms of numbers. But we have seen movement of some forces away from the border.

Movement of that kind is, of course, welcome, but it doesn't change the outcome, and that is that there are still large numbers there right across the border that continue to threaten the security and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.