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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Dec. 19, 2014
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby

[*] KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.

Just a short announcement at the top, and then we'll…we’ll get right to it. I do want to announce that this week, Secretary Hagel authorized up to 1,300 more U.S. troops to deploy to Iraq. Approximately 1,000 of them will be soldiers from the Third Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. TheyIt will begin to deploy to Iraq in late January, and their mission will be to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces. This deployment is part of the additional, 1,500 troops that the president authorized in November.

And with that, I'll take questions.


QUESTION: You said that the secretary authorized up to 1,300, but there are only 1,000 coming from the 82nd Airborne. Do you know where those other 300 soldiers are coming from?

KIRBY: The other 300 are -- are deploying in various capacities from multiple services, largely enabler capabilities -- counterintelligence, logistics, signal --– a signal companiescompany. So it's -- it's multi-service -- Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and in smaller numbers, but in specific enabler capacities.

And we've talked about this before, John, that, you know, quite a good chunk of the troops that will be included in this 1,500 would be devoted to those enabling capabilities. I don't have the single -- I don't have every unit. We can get that for you if you want that. I mean, the -- the sourcing solutions have been arrived at. I just don't have each one because they're -- they're small, little, small groups, and I just don't have that level of detail today.


QUESTION: Admiral Kirby, has the secretary received the Bowe Bergdahl recommendations from the Army? Are those recommendations complete? Is the report complete? Are you going to release it before Christmas?

KIRBY: The secretary has not been briefed on the results of the Bergdahl investigation. I suspect he will be, perhaps as early as this afternoon. So I know that the work is done, but I would refer you to Army to speak to any -- anything. And just so -- just to be clear, I won't be reading out the briefing that he gets. This is an Army investigation and we're going to, you know, obviously, refer people to the Army to speak to it. But he will be briefed.

QUESTION: Who will ultimately decide Bergdahl's fate?

KIRBY: Who will ultimately decide Bergdahl's fate?

QUESTION: There are recommendations. But who is the final -- who makes the final decision? Will it go all the way up to the president?

KIRBY: Well, without getting ahead of any findings and conclusions or any processes usedissues,. tThe question -- if I could just challenge the premise. The premise of the question is that there is -- that there is some overt decision that needs to be made. I don't know that for a fact. But let's just assume that there is, it would be done by Army leadership. And I couldn't begin to tell you at what level that would be or, you know, a certain name of an individual who might be. But that's -- that's -- it's an Army organizational issue to deal with.

QUESTION: Is anybody in the Pentagon going to make any portion of these findings public today?


QUESTION: So we can't -- we won't expect -- you don't expect that we'll hear anything about this report until next year, and the recommendations, like why -- in other words, why would the secretary be briefed on it today, and then it would be held?

Because there are reports that this is scheduled to come out before the break.

KIRBY: Again, Justin, I can't get ahead or I can't get ahead of a process that doesn't belong to OSD. The secretary is getting briefed because that's the appropriate thing for the Army to do. But it's for the Army to decide what the next steps are. And, again, I just can't get ahead of that.

So, let me just put that aside, OK?

But it is a fact, and you've seen this before, separate and distinct from any discussion about Sergeant Bergdahl, you've seen this before, it is a fact that sometimes investigations are used in follow- on judicial processes, and therefore are not released until those judicial processes are complete.

So I can't speak to the timing of any release of the report and the investigation. But I can tell you that we won't -- that we, as the department, and certainly I think comfortable in speaking for the Army in this regard, that they're not going to go any faster than -- than they need to go in terms of process.

So, you're not gonna see it today. I would point -- I can tell you that for a fact. I'd point you to the Army for any discussion about what the plans are going forward.

QUESTION: But, just to be clear, Secretary Hagel will accept the findings of the Army, or he has the ability to overrule what the Army recommendations...

KIRBY: No, no, no. He's going to simply be briefed this afternoon. He will be briefed on the findings of the investigation. It's an informational brief to the secretary.

This is an Army investigation and completed by the Army, staffed by the Army.

QUESTION: And the secretary has no input in the investigation? KIRBY: If you mean he -- if he will change it in some regard or modify it, I don't expect so.



QUESTION: ... does he have the authority to do that?

KIRBY: No. This is an Army investigation.

QUESTION: Why would you say "I don't expect so"?

KIRBY: OK, no.

QUESTION: You can't say he has no authority -- he has no authority...

KIRBY: Jim, let me -- I'll be very clear. He is getting briefed on the findings of the investigation. He's not -- there's no expectation that there's going to be -- that he'll have any input or change to any of the recommendations. But, my goodness, he hasn't even gotten it yet, and you're asking me what, if anything, he's gonna change about it.


KIRBY: This is an Army...

QUESTION: ... the UCMJ, if he has any...


QUESTION: ... if he tries to change it?

KIRBY: I am not a military lawyer. He's getting briefed on the investigation. He will -- and the findings of it.


KIRBY: It is an Army investigation, and it is Army's decision to determine what, if anything, they will do as a result of the investigation and the findings.

The secretary is being briefed on it.

QUESTION: Well, you're almost leaving an implication here that he does have some authority or might even do a little arm twisting with the Army. Doesn't UCMJ cut him out of that process?

KIRBY: The secretary is not going to do any arm twisting for the Army, and I don't know what the findings are. He hasn't been briefed on them yet. So, I can't characterize what his reaction would be to the findings.

But there's no role for him in the process to modify the investigation.

QUESTION: Well, the question is, if it can't -- if it is not subject to change, why are they holding it? Why don't they just release it?

KIRBY: I've answered the question. I've answered the question.

QUESTION: But we don't get it. I mean, the secretary gets to see it. The question is, why doesn't everybody else get to see it. We've been waiting for a while now, it's been done...


KIRBY: I suspect that at the appropriate time, the Army will make the investigation public, at the appropriate time.

That time is not going to be today.

Louie? (ph)?

QUESTION: OK, Wwhy, exactly, is the defense secretary seeing this? Did he ask for the briefing, if he's not in the chain, if it's just an Army process, why...


KIRBY: The secretary of the Army offered him a chance to look at it, and he accepted the offer. And he is looking forward to taking a look at the findings.

QUESTION: And what would be the next step for the Army now that it's come to its conclusions? What would be the next step within the Army process?

KIRBY: Well, you'd have to talk to the Army about that, Louie. I don't know. This is not -- this is an Army investigation, and for them to speak to process, I won't get ahead of that.

QUESTION: Would you expect the secretary then in turn to brief the White House?


Joe (ph)?

QUESTION: Admiral Kirby, yesterday, General Terry talked about a bridging strategy with 5,000 Sunni tribesmen in Iraq. Could you give us more clarification on that? Who's doing the training? Who's taking the initiative? Who are those tribes?

KIRBY: I'm pretty sure General Terry covered this yesterday, Joe (ph), and so let me just go back and remind you where we are in the process. Because it matters.

The train, advise, and assist mission is -- is designed around getting 12 Iraqi brigades through this training, nine Iraqi security force, three from the Peshmerga. And we are in the process now of preparing the sites for that training and the trainers, which I've just announced are on their way, will be by there by the end of the month -- end of January. The focus initially will be on those 12 brigades, not on Sunni tribesmen.

I have also said, and we will continue to say, that as part of this plan, eventually, there could be training given to Sunni tribesmen. We're not at that stage right now. And whatever -- whatever training of those tribesmen would occur would be done through, by, and with Iraqi security force trainers. Does that make sense? The -- this is something that -- that we've talked to them about, and they very much need to own. It doesn't mean we wouldn't help in some way, but we're simply not at that stage right now.

The focus is, A, getting the trainers over there, getting the sites completed and ready to receive trainees, and then begin focusing on those 12 brigades.

John (ph) -- I already got you, John (ph). Maggie (ph)?

QUESTION: I have two questions. This week the president pardoned Private David Mannixng, who was convicted of conspiring to steal military property. I'm wondering if it's common for a president to pardon someone who's received a sentencing motion (ph) following a court martial proceeding? And was the Pentagon given a heads up on this?

KIRBY: I don't know the answer to either of your questions. You're gonna have to let -- I won't speak to the president's decision- making process in this regard.

The second question about precedent, we can look and see and try to get you an answer to that. I just -- I just...


KIRBY: ... can't help you with that.

QUESTION: OK, second one, the reports that Boko Haram militants have kidnapped about 170 women and children in Nigeria, you guys sent a couple of drones and 80 personnel out there when there's a kidnapping in April. And I'm wondering are you planning on stepping that up, additional drones, additional personnel, or no?

KIRBY: We've seen the reports about these additional kidnappings. We don't have any operational reporting to confirm it. Boko Haram remains a threat to the people of hat region in Nigeria, and we have continued to partner and offer assistance to the Nigerian government with their counter-terrorism efforts. I don't have anything to announce today in terms of specific assets or resources.

QUESTION: Thank youHey, general admiral, a question about North Korea. There's many reports out there about the speculation of them being behind cyber attacks here in the United States. I was just curious from a military perspective what the U.S. military understanding is of North Korea's cyber capabilities? And are they a cyber threat from a military perspective?

KIRBY: Well, without speaking to anything specific with regard to Sony Pictures, as you know, we take cyber threats very, very seriously. Cyber threats come from any number of state and non-state actors. I won't get into, you know, a laundry list here today, but this is something the secretary takes very seriously. It's why he has devoted so much of his energy to the cyber domain. And, I mean, it's something we're constantly mindful of. But I -- I don't -- you know, it's also -- it's also a domain where, you know, you have to be very circumspect about the degree to which -- the specificity to which you talk about both the threats, challenges, and of course whatever responses are available to you.

But -- but more broadly speaking, the Defense Department is certainly, on a routine basis, again, separate and distinct from the Sony Pictures issue, we are on a routine basis part and parcel of the interagency, broad U.S. government approach to threats in the cyber domain.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

Has the U.S. Cyber Command been tasked at all with assisting the FBI or any part of the government in its investigation into the Sony hack?

KIRBY: This is an FBI investigation. I'm not aware of any particular assistance rendered by DOD. That said, we have been part of the interagency discussions about -- about this incident.


QUESTION: Just a follow-on to North Korea. The FBI is blaming North Korea for the attack, and says it has evidence. At what point is it an act of war? And at what point does U.S. Cyber Command react?

KIRBY: First of all, I know of no official determination about the -- that's been made about the source of the attacks on Sony Pictures. So, I'm not in a position to speculate one way or the other. It's an ongoing investigation and I wouldn't get ahead of the FBI on that. As I said, we're part of the interagency discussion about the incident and about options that may be available.

I'm also, you know, not -- not able to lay out in any specificity for you what would be or wouldn't be an act of war in the cyber domain. We take -- it's not like there's a demarcation line that exists in some sort of fixed space on what is or isn't. The cyber domain remains challenging -- remains very fluid. Part of the reason why it's such a challenging domain for us is because there aren't internationally accepted norms and protocols. And that's something that, you know, we here in the Defense Department have been certainly arguing for.

Yeah, Richard?

QUESTION: Admiral, have Bergdahl and his lawyer been informed of General Dahl's report?

KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Army. I don't know. You have to talk to the Army.

QUESTION: And who, if it's not the secretary, who will ultimately sign off on this report? Will it be General Odierno?

KIRBY: I don't know. I'd refer you to the Army. Again, this is an Army investigation and they -- they really are better prepared to speak to process.


QUESTION: (inaudible) Congress has authorized the sale of four Navy ships to Taiwan, and the president signed it. So I wonder if you know what type of ships they're going to be, and what's the Pentagon's comments on this with regards to the military-to-military relations with the PLA?

KIRBY: I don't have any specifics on this -- on this transfer. As you know, this is not an atypical type of -- of a transfer with Taiwan. Separate and distinct from that, nothing has changed about the fact that we very much want to continue to pursue a constructive, productive relationship, military to military between us and the PLA.

And there have been, you know, positive signs just this last year. You know, the PLA navy participating in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, and we're going to continue to look for those opportunities. I think you saw Admiral Harris, the incoming Pacific Command commander, talk publicly about that just this week, that there are opportunities. There's no need for us to look at the military relationship with China as adversarial in any regard. So we're gonna continue to work on that.

QUESTION: (inaudible) there's a precedent in the past for selling Taiwan vessels, excess vessels, as opposed to newly built ships.

Can you explain a little bit if these -- if they would be from excess to inventory vessels, whatever we sell the Taiwanese?

KIRBY: I just don't have that detail today, Tony.

QUESTION: Is that something you can...


KIRBY: We can try to look it up. I just -- I don't have it -- don't have it available to me. Sorry.

Yeah, John (ph)?

QUESTION: Going back to Iraq, can you say specifically where these troops from the 82nd are going? Are they going to all four of those training sites? Will they be up and running by then? Or are they going to Anbar or Baghdad or?

KIRBY: I don't -- I would refer you to General Terry for specifics about where he's gonna put troops. I don't know that a decision's -- decisions have been made specifically with where they're gonna go.

As you know, there's four sites. We're not talking publicly about the locations right now, as force protection measures are still being applied to those sites. I suspect that General Terry will allocate them to those sites the way he sees fit. But I don't know -- I don't know what the -- what decisions he's made yet, if any, about where they're gonna go.

QUESTION: But they are going to the four sites, you just don't...


KIRBY: Yeah, they're going -- they're specifically going to be a part of this train, advise and assist mission, so you can expect that they'll be going to some of those or maybe all of them. I just don't know how he's gonna apportion them.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Thanks, Admiral. In Iraq, there's been some reports saying, out of Iraq saying that they're desperate for more air power support, that they would like more.

Can you give us what your assessment is of that? I know that there's been some more intense strikes recently.

And, also, can you give us an update on the training that's going on in Arizona, when do you think the Iraqi Air Force will be able to...

KIRBY: I don't have an update on their training. I know it's ongoing.

On the air strikes, yes, I think there has been an expressed interest by the government of Iraq for, you know, more activity from the air, more air strikes. And what I can tell you is that we are conducting air strikes at an appropriate pace and with an appropriate sense of precision and urgency to meet the threats inside Iraq, both the threats posed by ISIL, where they are and what they're doing, and our ability to support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces on the ground.

So, yes, you've seen a big spike here this week, but that was to help prepare the peshmerga for the operations that they conducted around Mount Sinjar, which, while they're still ongoing, have proven to be promising, so far.

So, there was a spike. Again, but that's in keeping with exactly the way we're approaching the business of air strikes here. It's two- fold. It's to go after them where we know we can and we should, but also to support Iraqi security forces on the ground.

So, you're gonna see -- you're gonna see the numbers fluctuate every single day. And that's what -- that's the measure that we're using to determine how many are done, where, and with what frequency.

Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Yes. And, then just on...


KIRBY: So, it is -- I just want to -- it's not just a matter of more or less, it's got to be appropriate to the threat and to the operations on the ground.

QUESTION: And then, just on the Iraqi efforts, what is the level of confidence? Are the Iraqis participating in some of these strikes? Do you anticipate that they'll be participating more soon?

I mean, how can they inspire confidence in the Iraqis that are looking for more help, I guess?

KIRBY: They, they -- the Iraqis have a limited air strike capability right now, we know that. They have in recent weeks conducted a few, sporadic kinetic air strikes of their own, but it's, it’s -- they have a limited capability.

And the other thing I'd -- and that's a capability that we're trying to help them develop and improve, no question about that.

The other thing that's important to note here is that it's not just about the United States' aircraft. There are coalition partners that every day -- and you've see the pressure, Lisa (ph), press release, that are participating in these strikes, too. So it's not just us doing this for them. There are plenty of other nations that are contributing. But everybody wants to see the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military improve their own capabilities to do this eventually.

Yeah, Jen (ph)?

QUESTION: On Cuba, can you rule out that a -- the normalization of relations will -- would entail the return of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba?

KIRBY: I'm not prepared to rule anything in or out at this point, Jen (ph). We're at the very beginning of this process of more normal relations with Cuba. I suspect that, just like every other agency in the government, there will be a Defense Department aspect to this and a Defense relationship at some point, at some level. We're just not -- it's way too soon to make any determinations about what that would look like or what -- or what the impact would be with respect to the base there, not just the detention facility, but the base there.

Now, that said, nothing has changed about our support as an institution for the policy of closing the detention facility there. And that process will continue. Transfers will continue. But as for the base itself, which you know has been there since the Spanish- American War, I think, it's just too soon to tell what -- what
implications this would be for there.

QUESTION: (inaudible) part of the negotiations for...

KIRBY: I wasn't -- I don't have any direct knowledge of the discussions with the Cuban government. So I couldn't say one way or the other. But I -- but I'm comfortable telling you that it's just way too soon in the process for any decisions or for any specific initiatives to be discussed today.

QUESTION: And a clarification on the 1,000 82nd Airborne forces going to Iraq, is their advise, assist role going to remain at the headquarters level and not at the tactical level?

KIRBY: It -- it's going -- the -- their -- their advise and assist mission is going to be exactly the same as it is in terms of the level of command as it is right now at the brigadier brigade or division level, at a higher headquarters level.

What makes this different is simply the geography. Because we're now -- you're gonna have advising teams out in the Anbar areas and north of Baghdad, and areas -- geographic areas where they haven't been before. But they're still gonna be on a base and advising and assisting at the same higher headquarters level that the 12 teams that are already there are doing. No change to that at all.

QUESTION: So it's not at the troop level, the Iraqi troop level?

KIRBY: If you mean are they going to be going out in partnership accompanying small units of troops, no. They won't be. Nothing has changed.


QUESTION: ... at the base level, are they gonna be training Iraqi troops and...

KIRBY: Well, there's two...


KIRBY: There's two -- two -- there's two missions to this. There's the advise and assist, and then there's the building partner capacity, which is Pentagon speak for training. So the -- those troops that are going to be advisers will be advising at the same level, right, at the division of Brivava will (ph)and brigade level higher headquarters level. That's advising. That's giving advice and counsel.

There are a great number of these troops that are gonna be involved in hands-on training of these Iraqi brigades. And so, they will be -- they will be involved with troop interaction, if you will, of Iraqi security force personnel, once those Iraqi brigades have been identified and have begun doing -- to do the training.

So there's two components here. There will be some troop-on- troop contact in a training environment on those facilities, but not out in the field. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: It does. And it leads you to believe, then, that those Iraqi forces are not capable or equipped to conduct combat operations at this point. Maybe...



QUESTION: ... if these forces (ph) have to go back in and teach them -- what? -- basic training?

KIRBY: We -- we train our own troops all the time. I mean, our own troops go through various levels of training not just at the beginning of their enlistments or beginning of their tours, but all throughout. We constantly, I mean, it's one of the things that the U.S. military really does well is train and develop and improve the capabilities of our own troops.

And so this doesn't -- this doesn't mean that they're incapable. Some units, and we've talked about this, Jim, some units are -- right now, Iraqi units are more competent and capable than others. The Iraqi government will choose those brigades that they want to focus on for this first implementation of the training program. And I suspect that -- that the trainers working with them will find that they are at varying degrees of competence in various skills.

But training is something you never -- you never stop doing and you never stop trying to improve. And it doesn't -- the fact that somebody's going through additional training doesn't mean that they're not competent or capable. It's just something we do. We have to do just to stay ready.


QUESTION: I have a personnel question and an ISR question.

Ashton Carter had back surgery, I guess, this week. We wish him well. But is there any potential that his recovery time might delay his nomination hearing into February? Do you have a sense of that one way or the other?

KIRBY: I am -- I am not able to speak to Dr. Carter's health situation. It would be inappropriate for me to do that. I can tell you the secretary wishes him well on his recovery, as well we all do. But I have nothing -- I have no information and wouldn't speak to his recovery timeframe and what that might look like.
QUESTION: And I have an ISR question that every child in the United States is interested in. Is the Pentagon at all concerned that NORAD's Santa radar may be in danger of being cyber-attacked or hacked? And are you taking any I.A. (ph) measures to prevent that?


KIRBY: Our Santa radar? I didn't know we had one of those.

Well, it's funny you should ask, Tony, because I did get an update this morning from NORAD. So, just bear with me, and I'll -- and I'll -- this is coming right from NORAD.

And they've broken this down for me, helpfully, in their various domains.

So, in the cyber domain, they tell me that their anti-Grinch firewall is up and monitoring for threats, and they are confident that the AGFW, anti-Grinch firewall, can defeat any malicious attacks.

In the land domain, they tell me they verified load-bearing capacity for all rooftops that the reindeer will land on. In the maritime domain, they say that Aegis radars are calibrated to track Santa and ships are standing by to conduct any lost gift rescue operations, if necessary.

So in case he drops anything off his sleigh, they can go -- we've got destroyers out there will pick them up.

QUESTION: And those are the missile-defense capable cruisers you've spent so much money?

KIRBY: That gets into a level of classification I'm not really prepared to go into (inaudible).


I don't think that would be helpful.

QUESTION: Why did you withhold that information from Jim Gregory's (ph) daughter when she was here?

KIRBY: Well, I didn't have it at the time.


KIRBY: It's not really about withholding. I know we like to hold on to secrets here, but.

QUESTION: Will Santa be on time?

KIRBY: Every indication we have is that he will be. I have no indication otherwise, let me put it that way.

In the missile domain, they tell me their radars can detect any and all objects traveling through North American airspace and its approaches. In the space domain, our infrared detecting satellites are calibrated to see Rudolph's nose.

QUESTION: So SBIRS will be...

KIRBY: It's right here.


QUESTION: ... satellite program (inaudible)?

KIRBY: Again, you're asking me for a level of details that I'm really not able to get into. This is classified.

And then, in the air domain, they report that Canadian NORAD Region and Continental NORAD Region are ready to escort Santa when he enters U.S. and Canadian airspace. Through our coordination with the FAA and NAV-CANADA, we can confirm that North American airspace is safe for sleigh travel.

So there you go.

QUESTION: Have F-22s been delegated to a patrol mission?

KIRBY: Well, come on, now, you know we don't talk about the specifics of force protection measures. We just don't. But I can tell you, it sounds to me like they are very ready for Santa.

QUESTION: They'll name a Rudolph reindeer after you.

KIRBY: That would be very nice. I'd like that.

Anything else? That might be a good way to end it.

Listen, it's the last press briefing for the year. I wish all of you, and Secretary Hagel wishes all of you, a happy holiday season and we'll see you on the backside.

Thanks very much.