Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Holds a Press Briefing

March 10, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  OK.  A couple of things, so bear with me please.  Was that a sigh?  You don't want to hear what I have to say at the top of this?  You just want to get right to the questions.

Q:  We waited so long.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, buckle up, because I got quite a few to get through.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  I think as you saw last night, Secretary Austin approved a request from the U.S. Capitol Police to continue the deployment of National Guard members through May 23.  Nearly 2,300 personnel will continue to support that mission.

This represents a reduction, as I think you all know, of roughly 50 percent of the current support force.  During this extended period, Defense Department officials will work with the Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the National Guard footprint as conditions allow.  We obviously thank the National Guard for their continued support throughout this mission, as well as their significant efforts across the nation, combating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This morning we also announced the secretary's first overseas trip, departing on Saturday.  He will visit U.S. Indo-Pacific command headquarters in Hawaii.  He'll get a chance to visit with U.S. troops and senior government leaders in Japan and the Republic of Korea and senior government leaders in India.  We're looking forward to a terrific trip.

The first part of which, as you know, will be with the Secretary of State Tony Blinken.  And so there will be two plus two events in Japan and in South Korea. 

On a different subject, yesterday the secretary established the Department of Defense climate working group to support Executive Order 14008, which identified climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Mr. Joe Bryan, special assistant to the secretary for climate will be the working group chair.  The climate working group will be the primary form to do a couple of things.  One, to coordinate department responses to the executive order and subsequent climate and energy related directives.  And two, track the implementation of actions and progress against future goals.  We're going to post the establishment memo of defense.gov; if it's not up there now, it certainly will be by the time we're done with the briefing if you want to see it.

Additionally today, the Department released our annual freedom of navigation report for fiscal year 2020, during the period from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020.  U.S. forces operationally challenged 28 different excessive maritime claims made by 19 different claimants throughout the world.

Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims or incoherent legal theories of maritime entitlements that are inconsistent with customer international law pose a threat to the legal foundation of the rules-based international order. 

Consequently, the United States is committed to confronting this threat by challenging excessive maritime claims.  For more information, I encourage you to read the entire press release and the report, again, on defense.gov, on our website.

On the COVID front, this morning Secretary Austin visited the Defense Department team that's working on the federal COVID-19 response for vaccines and therapeutics.  For nearly a year, the team under General Perna in his leadership has supported the mission to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics for the American people.

And they did it in record time.  During the visit he saw the vaccine operation center and received an operational update on vaccine manufacturing distribution efforts.  To date, the team's efforts have led to the development of three safe and effective COVID vaccines and they have facilitated the delivery of nearly 130 million doses of vaccine across the country, enabling more than 93 million shots.

Finally, today is the 10-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which led to the formation of Operation Tomodachi, which as you know, translates as friends.

It took place from March 12 to May 4, 2011.  It involved 24,000 U.S. service members, 189 aircraft, and 24 naval ships in support of the Japanese government.  Together with our Japanese partners we remember those who lost their lives and suffered greatly from the natural disaster and we also thank all those who supported their relief efforts.

And with that I'll take some questions.  Lita first.

Q:  Hi, thanks.  John, two questions.  One on the National Guard, how concerned is the Defense Department that the city of D.C. and the Capitol police are relying so heavily on continued Guard support?  Were there questions about whether or not other law enforcement agencies were asked to help beef up the Capitol Police also?  And then my second question is, as you know, the USS Eisenhower is in the Med.  Has the Secretary made any decisions about carrier presence in the Gulf region?  And can we expect that the carrier will indeed go on into the Middle East area?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any operational schedules with respect to the USS Eisenhower to speak to today, Lita.  And as for your first question, clearly we've been in close consultation with the Capitol Police, as they've been refining their requirements.  And I'll let them speak to the process by which they refine their requirements for assistance. 

And the Secretary feels committed to making sure that, as we fill this requirement, and he believes it's a valid requirement, that we're also taking a look and considering and mitigating whatever risks there might be to the National Guard in other areas, in their home states and other functional areas.

And we believe we did that analysis, he is confident that analysis was done, and that's why he went ahead and approved this request.  As I said yesterday, and I know we always talk about whatever the threat requirement is, and we don't talk about that in great detail, but was also about helping the Capitol Police in a new environment, right now, as they begin to understand what requirements and capabilities they're going to need to perfect and improve upon going forward. 

So, we are comfortable that the analysis was done.  We're comfortable that the request was valid.  We're comfortable that we're going to be able to source this until May 23rd and then we'll see where we are in a month or so, in terms of - whatever it looks like going forward, I certainly wouldn't speculate one way or the other.  Barb?

Q:  I want to follow up on that.  The question is, I think, what made the request for National Guard, specifically, valid in the Secretary's mind when we are always told that the National Guard is not the first response force, civilian law enforcement, civilian capabilities. 

If the Capitol Police don't have the capacity to deal right now - enough man power to deal right now with what they're facing, why did the Secretary specifically feel that the National Guard was the correct solution?  And is it correct that you are -- the Department is talking to a number of governors to get them to make commitments to stay - to contribute forces to this extended period of time, that you currently don't have the full commitment projection through the anticipated end at this point.

MR. KIRBY:  It is certainly true that National Guard leaders are in touch with the states across the country and they're talking about specific sourcing solutions with them.  I'm not going to get ahead of that process but, yes, that's happening.  As you might expect, he just signed the order last night and nobody wanted to get ahead of the Secretary's decision, so, here we are the day after, and of course they're talking to the governors of various states about how to best source this. 

And again, when we have better answers on the back end of that, we'll certainly let you know.  And as to your other question, Barb, I think it's really an issue of capacity.  I mean -

Q:  Let me stop you.  I'm sorry, yes but why did the Secretary feel the National Guard was the correct answer?  Did he ask?  Did anybody bring information to him about the availability of civilian law enforcement?  Or was the National Guard the only option on the table?  Why did he feel it was the right one?

MR. KIRBY:  The National Guard was the specific request made by the Capitol Police.  I think I would point you to the Capital Police in terms of how they better defined the requirement.  And it is about capacity, which has a lot to do with numbers.  And augmenting the Capitol Police right now in this new environment that we're all living in post-January 6th. 

Plus as you know, Barb, the National Guard, it's not unusual for them to support local law enforcement under Title 32; they have that capability, that mandate.  It is not the kind of mission that you would typically look at for Title 10 active forces to do.  So, the National Guard is the right place.  If you're looking at the -- the Department of Defense, it does make the most sense.  And many Guardsman, as well you know, do come from civilian law enforcement agencies, that's...

Q:  So civilian law enforcement was not an option?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm going to let the Capitol Police talk about what options they looked at.  I can tell you that we did the analysis here, and determined that it was a valid request, a valid requirement, and suitably -- the number was suitable to the need, and that's why the secretary approved it in full; 2280, I think, is the exact number until May 23rd.

The secretary's comfortable that this request was done in good faith and -- and that again, the analysis here at the Pentagon was done well in terms of getting to the numbers and for that duration of time and using those assets.  OK.

Q:  John, what is the real threat?  We have not heard what the real threat is that requires them to stay two extra months.  And isn't this just free labor for the Capitol Police because it comes from the Defense Department’s budget and it's cheaper for you to have National Guard there than for them to ask for...

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think I'd describe it that way.  I mean, yes, the Department of Defense will be funding this as we funded the previous mission, which ended the end of the week.  But that's not how anybody's looking at this or, you know, foisting this on the Capitol Police- that they're looking at this as -- as free labor.

They have a need, they have a legitimate need for some capacity assistance in a time which is fairly uncertain right now.  I'm not going to speak to specific threat, and as I've been trying to say over the last few days, it's not just about the threat environment in a highly polarized, hyper-charged environment that we're in right now.

It is very much about a capacity assistance to the Capitol Police as they begin to flesh out and develop what they're going to need long-term to deal with a new reality on Capitol Hill.

Q:  And, John, did they give you a reason why May 23rd?  I mean, is there something magic about that date?  And did you get any sense from them, I know you said call the Capitol Hill Police, but they're not exactly as, you know...

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I can't speak for an agency that's...

Q:  Did they give you a reason why well into the end of May and did you get any sense from Capitol Hill Police or others -- ‘Listen, we may come back early May and say we need you through the fourth of July’ or something?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know of any speculation on their part that they're going to have to come back again and ask for more, we just aren't there right now.  I don't have a specific answer to why May 23rd, but again, we looked at this from soup to nuts, and again, we believe that this extra two months, basically is going to be about two months extension, is a valid requirement and we're going to fill it.

Let me go back to the phones here.  Luis Martinez. 

Q:  Hi, John.  A question about the border- can you give us an update on how many troops you still have there, active duty troops, and whether there's any discussion about broadening the mission in the wake of what's going on there now with increasing migrant flow? 

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update on the number of troops that are still down there supporting.  I don't think there's been any changes, but let me get back to you on that, Luis.  And what was your second question? 

Q:  It's kind of related to that, just has there been any discussion about sending more troops there?  We've seen now that the governor of Texas has sent in, I think it's another 500 of his own Guardsmen.  But is there any discussion of more active duty troops being there?  We know that the mission in a way is only going to last for now through the FY funding, but any chance that could be extended or augmented? 

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know of any plans to extend or augment the current force posture, but we'll get you an answer on how many are down there in the current mission. 

Meghann. 

Q:  So there is a medical squadron commander at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi who says that they're having sort of an alarming increase in COVID cases both on and off base there.  I was wondering if you could confirm that, and if there are any trends in troops deployed getting cases more often now than troops at home where cases seem to be declining across the board? 

MR. KIRBY:  So - I mean, I'm aware of this video which I understand was part of the normal sort of command information videos that were done at Prince Sultan Air Base back in the middle of the month.  And as I understand it, since that video has been made, additional vaccines have been sent to Central Command to help them flesh out their vaccine distribution program.  And we're certainly mindful of the need to meet those overseas demands, particularly for deployed forces. 

As you know, we talked about the scheme being changed just recently to put deployed forces back up in to tier one which they hadn't been originally.  I mean, one of the original when this whole thing started was sort of concern by operational commanders not to have the vaccine because they didn't want deployed troops to fall ill as a result of the second shot, if you will. 

But now that the vaccines have proven themselves very safe and effective so there's an increasing demand and we're meeting that demand - we're trying to meet that demand.  But we're certainly mindful of the need to continue to get them to forward-deployed forces and you'll see that change. 

Q:  In terms of the trends in cases that you're seeing of people still being infected abroad, are you seeing more cases in troops downrange versus here at home? 

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of the specific data on positive cases overseas.  I don't think the numbers in central command are higher, in fact, anecdotally what I've been told is they're lower than what we're seeing in the rest of the population back here at home, so we're not seeing particularly a spike overseas right now. 

Tara. 

Q:  Thanks.  Earlier today, the Reagan Foundation released a poll that found that public trust in the military and public support for the military had dropped 14 percent since the first year they did the poll in 2018.  One of the many reasons - and there were many were some of the events of last year. 

Is the secretary concerned that extending the presence around the Capitol was adding to the risk of this loss of trust in the military or loss of perception - seeing it as an occupying force at the Capitol?  And then I have a follow-up. 

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't talked to the secretary about the report, it just got posted online, so we're still working our way through it here.  So I couldn't tell you that he believes there's a linkage between what happened on January 6 and those numbers - the drop in public confidence. 

And I'd be surprised, Tara, if that was the case that a single event like that - as dramatic as it was would be responsible for numbers coming out the way they are.  The military is still the most trusted institution in America, and we take that trust and confidence very, very seriously and want to make sure that we're always earning it, always deserve it. 

Q:  Just a quick follow-up on that, and I have a second one.  It wasn't just the January 6, it was a year's worth of when they were there in June in front of some of the D.C. monuments, and just the role of the military over time, but no specific cause.  And just the concern of the military basically guarding D.C., whether that came up at all in the considerations of letting the Guard extend its stay here? 

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not sure I follow your question…  Was the previous mission that the military had in D.C., did that affect the secretary's decision to approve this? 

Q:  Did he think about it overall as a big picture -- having guards still be there, still protecting and sealing access to the Capitol and to the entire Capitol complex much like in June when there were rows of Guard members in front of some of the national monuments?  Just that perception, do you think - did that weigh in? 

MR. KIRBY:  I think what weighed most heavily on the secretary was a solid analysis of the request and the capacity that the Capitol Police believed they still needed in the wake of what happened January 6.  I think -- look, everybody wants to make sure that our lawmakers have a safe and secure environment to work in, and we rely on the Capitol Police's judgment – because that's their job up there -- to tell us what that need is. 

And the secretary looked at this just like he would for any other request for forces, or request for assistance -- let's validate the requirement and then if we agree that it is a valid requirement let's go after the sourcing that makes the most sense.  And so we're working on that. 

I don't think the secretary was driven by imagery from the past year.  I think in general all Americans - and the poll, even though the numbers in this survey seem to show a drop in this particular survey, it's clear that the American people still support and trust the men and women of the military.  And I don't think it's anybody's ideal situation to see them have to be on patrol here in the nation's capitol, but here we are. 

And so the answer is, do you continue to meet what you consider a valid requirement for their services and their support, or do you just walk away from it because you don't like the idea of it?  And that's just not the way the secretary analyzes these kinds of requests. 

Q:  OK.  And then last, you know March 12 is right around the corner, it's a lot easier to ask forces that are already here to stay rather than source up new forces to get there in time for March 12 to be an extension.  So in these calls out are you asking the states who are already here to extend some of their forces instead of bringing in new? 

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, there's going to be some number of that will be asked to extend past March 12, past Friday, to allow for the transition in of the new Guard units that are coming in.  I think there'll be -- a transition period.  It won't be quite so binary as Friday all these 5,100 are gone and then the 2,280 show up.  It just won't work like that.  So we are talking to some states about some of the current troops that are involved on Capitol Hill to stay for a short period of time. 

I'm getting less than two weeks as we begin to transition the new group in, yes.  Let me go back to the phones here. 

Sylvie?

Q:  Hello?  I have a question about the trip of the secretary to China – sorry, to Asia.  I wanted to know first what is the message that the Secretary wants to convey to China when he will be travelling?  And also, the Secretary of State is going to meet with representative of the Chinese Communist Party next week.  I wanted to know if the Secretary of Defense has any plans to meet anyone from the PLA?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sorry, from where?

Q:  The PLA.

MR. KIRBY:  The PLA?  Oh, oh.  So, on the second question the answer is no.  On your first question this trip is about working to revitalize our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, in particular with Japan and South Korea.  As you know, the majority of our treaty alliances are in that part of the world, and the secretary - and I don't want to speak for the Secretary of State but I believe he feels the same way that we want to re-energize our commitment to those treaty alliances, and that's really the message here going forward is that we know we need strong allies and partners and friends in that part of the world, and there's a lot going on, and China is certainly a key piece of what's going on there in terms of the coercion and the aggressive activities they're taking in the South China Sea. 

But this is really about, you know, in terms of message sending, it's about sending a strong message of our commitment to these alliances and partnerships. 

Abraham?

Q:  I want to return to the National Guard requests.  On the statement and then what you've described today there's no mention of actual threat intelligence.  Was that part of the request from the Capitol Police?  Did Secretary Austin review threat assessments when he made his decisions?  And also why did he grant the full amount when he could have granted a lesser number of troops?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  He granted the amount that he believed was warranted and he believed that the request was valid for the full 2,280.  That's why he made that decision.  And I'm not going to get into threat assessments or intelligence.  You know I won't do that, but clearly that's always a factor when you agree to put forces into a mission somewhere even if it's here at home.

Q:  So it was part of the request?

MR. KIRBY:  He considered all the factors that are required before deciding to commit additional forces for an additional amount of time. 

Terace?

Q:  Yes, sir.  I'm sorry.  I was trying to find the unmute button.  Thank you so much for taking my question.  It's in regards to the Guard being here as well.  I've spoken to various Guardsmen and they're getting burned out.  And so, what is the Pentagon -- what's their message to them for those who are getting burned out being here for so long, and also is there any concerns, what's going to be done to keep others from experiencing that same burnout?

MR. KIRBY:  Well thanks for the question.  And I think we've talked about this quite a bit.  I mean, the leadership here at the Pentagon, including the secretary are mindful of the demands that are being placed on these men and women and their families quite frankly.  I mean, many of them, particularly the ones that are here now, I mean, they had to leave jobs and homes and to do it on short notice.  And they're still out there in what has been a pretty wet, nasty, cold winter.

And so, we're mindful of the privations that they've had to endure and we're going to be mindful of that going forward with the next group coming in here through May.  And part of it is staying in constant touch with them as leaders here at the Pentagon have done, making sure that, as General Hokanson has, having meals with them multiple times a week, walking in line with them, making sure that we're listening to their concerns and we're answering them as much as possible.

I'm not surprised to hear you say that you've talked to some that are tired.  It's been a long winter and we all recognize that, but we also all recognize the requirement to have them up there and to meet a valid need by the Capitol Police for additional security here at the Capitol complex. 

Jen?

Q:  Any change to the Fort Lee situation or decision making?  Have you received a request from HHS?

MR. KIRBY:  No requests specifically from HHS for installation support at Fort Lee, no.

Q:  Any other military bases?

MR. KIRBY:  None that I'm aware of, but we have reached out to the services to look at and to ask for their input about what installations might be, if asked, might be suitable for this.  As you know, we've done this before, but there's been, outside of Fort Lee, no other site surveys that I'm aware of and no requests from HHS for any military support at this time.

Q:  And we're coming up on the one year anniversary tomorrow of the COVID shutdown.  Does the secretary feel that he has a clear understanding about the origin of the virus and how important it is for him and the military to understand the origin of this pandemic?

MR. KIRBY:  Well the secretary's going to leave that to the scientists that are studying the origin of the virus.  His concern, Jen, quite honestly is much more on making sure we're supporting FEMA vaccination sites in the country, and I think we're up to 17 now that we actually are in the process of supporting, and, to Meghann's question, making sure that the men and women of the Defense Department in the appropriate scheme at the appropriate time are being offered the vaccine to take it to protect the force and to protect their teammates.  That's where his focus is right now. 

Phil?

Q:  Hey.  Real quick just a quick follow up on Sylvie's question and I had a separate question on China.  Just - so what should we read into the fact that Secretary Austin isn't going to be at this first top level meeting on national security issues and other issues with the Chinese delegation  in Alaska, and does this suggest that he's waiting for something else to happen before he starts his military engagements? Is  the  PLA is just not interested in talking to him yet?  And then again I have a separate question on China.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  I wouldn't read anything into the fact that he's not joining Secretary Blinken in Alaska.  We're diverging after the Korea stop, and the secretary's moving on to go visit our Indian counterparts in New Delhi, and Secretary Blinken has his schedule to execute, so I wouldn't read anything more into it than that.

And you know, when there's an appropriate time for him to engage directly with his Chinese counterpart, he'll do that, but it's not scheduled to be part of this trip.  Go ahead.

Q:  OK.  And then Jeffrey Lewis who's an arms controls expert who's very knowledgeable about North Korea made a comment yesterday where he said that he thought that Admiral Davidson might be exaggerating, perhaps inadvertently, about the size of China's nuclear arsenal.  And I was wondering whether the secretary shares Admiral Davidson's views about the size of China's nuclear arsenal?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't had a chance to speak to the secretary specifically about Admiral Davidson’s estimates.  But as I said the other day, I mean, we all share concern about the degree to which they are improving their delivery vehicles and their inventory, which clearly is commensurate with pretty aggressive regional ambition.  So, we all share that concern. 

Tom?

Q:  Staying on China and that meeting with Secretary Blinken, you said Secretary Austin won't take part but will anyone from the Pentagon take part in that meeting, do you know?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware.  As you know there is an assistant chairman of the joint chiefs who often travels with the Secretary of State, I'll have to check and see if that individual's part of agenda but if so then I would assume he'd be part of that discussion.  But again, I don't want to speak for the State Department either.  Yes.

Q:  On India, will the Secretary raise the issue of S-400- India's purchase of S-400 from Russia?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get into the secretary's conversation with his counterparts in India, and I'm sure you know we'll read those out at the appropriate time and do so publicly.  But I'm not going to get ahead of discussions that he hasn't had yet with them.

Q:  And also on climate change -- climate program, so just I read in 2019, a report suggests that the U.S. Air Force caused more emissions than the entire African Continent.  So, what are the tools in the hands of the Defense Department to contribute to the efforts of climate?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, one of the things that the climate working groups going to be looking at is our own energy efficiency programs here.  And there have been, and the Pentagon has made strides across multiple administrations to get better energy efficiency programs, systems, and capabilities in the force and I think you can expect that Secretary Austin will continue to look at those programs and see if they can be improved and/or accelerated. 

Let's see, Sam, from USNI.

Q:  Hi, John, following up on the HASC INDOPACOM hearing today, Sea Power and Projection Forces Ranking Member Rob Wittman asked Admiral Davidson whether or not he would support retiring an aircraft carrier ahead of a refueling overhaul, and this was a live issue back in 2019 when the previous administration had proposed retiring USS Truman.

It kind of seemed to come out of nowhere, so what does he know that we don't, given some of the reporting out here that budgets are at a topline or budgets are probably going to be the topline from last year, not the big increase that we saw proposed with the Trump administration.  Are aircraft carrier reductions on the table in terms of the FY22 thing because Representative Wittman seems to think so, thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I'll let Representative Wittman speak for what he knows, that wouldn't certainly be my place and it's also not my place to get ahead of the FY22 budget process.  I mean, we're still, obviously, working through that and we'll respect the process that's led by OMB.  So, I'm not going to get ahead of that at all. 

Jenny?

Q:  Thank you, John.  On Diplomacy Committee over several years, Congressman and the experts have said that the love letter diplomacy between former President Trump and the North Korean Kim Jung Un did not succeed in giving up the North Korea nuclearweapons.

In particular, the diplomatic (inaudible)  is important to dealing with  in North Korea but strong defense power is also required to deter North Korea.  What are your comments on that?  (inaudible).

MR. KIRBY:  Well, he is the Secretary of Defense so I think you can safely assume from that in the discussion he's going to having it's going to be focused on making sure that we're meeting our security commitments under and through our alliance with the Republic of Korea, and he'll be going there with the Secretary of State who can certainly speak to the broader foreign policy objectives of the United States thatwe wouldn't certainly comment on that. But clearly, the secretary looks forward to this chance to go and to meet with his counterpart and with Secretary Blinken's counterpart to talk about the broader direction that we want the alliance to go in.

Q:  But in fact, for three years there has been no theatre training, no other training, so how are you going to keep the security on the peninsula?

MR. KIRBY:  I've already talked about this quite a bit.  I mean, we recognize that training and readiness of military forces -- our military forces on the peninsula is important.  And we're confident that our commander there, General Abrams is managing that quite well.

And so, certainly, while some training in the past had been modified to provide space for the diplomatic efforts you talked about,  it's not like there was no training that was ever done.  And I won't speak to specifics of training on the peninsula but we all know that military readiness remains important.

Q:  But diplomatic efforts did not work. (inaudible) Love letter diplomacy-  it doesn't work.  So, how are you going to do that?  I mean, the Biden administration?

MR. KIRBY:  Why don't we wait until the trip is over, and then we can talk about it on the other side?  I mean, but I think there's going to be a consorted effort here to make sure we're revitalizing that alliance.  That's the purpose of the trip.  I won't get ahead of outcomes as a result of that, and I certainly won't speak about diplomacy and foreign policy here from this podium.  My days of doing that are over.

Q: (Inaudible) I mentioned about the defense policy?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I answered your question about defense policy.

Q:  Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY:  You're welcome very much. 

Peter Lilley

Q:  Hi, thanks very much.  I wanted to ask about the Climate Task Force.  Admiral Davidson had said both in the Senate and in the House when asked about climate he talks about  their disaster management center and how they worked to mitigate the effects of climate disasters but mitigating the effects is quite a bit different than mitigating the events themselves and so I'm wondering how this task force will go beyond simply mitigating damages and instead mitigating risk? Thanks

MR. KIRBY:  So I think -- I mean, it's got to be both, it's got to be both. It's got to be about making sure that our installations, our facilities, are more resilient, given the effects of extreme weather that is driven largely by climate change, and we're seeing this, our Navy bases are seeing this already. Not just Navy, of course, but I mean that's clearly one obvious example.

So it's got to be about improving resilience to the kinds of things that the climate now is driving in terms of extreme weather, but it is also got to be about what we can do at the Defense Department to contribute to energy efficiency, to contribute to reduced emissions here by the United States, and of course we operate all around the world.

So we feel that extra sense of responsibility to drive at outcomes, but it's not one or the other, it's got to be both. Let's see, here in the room, Mike?

Q:  Yes, thanks John.  A couple of questions, not artillery related.  Just wanted to -- circle back to the...

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you.

Q:  ... I want to circle back to the National Guard story. Is there a concern with this starting some sort of precedent that other police departments may suddenly start tapping into their guard units like a temp agency looking for free labor anytime there's some kind of shortage?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I don't think there's any deeper concern about that.  And again, I mean, the question that you and Jen posed, you seem to presume that that's how the Capitol Police is looking at this or that's how civilian law enforcement look at it, and I just don't -- we have seen no indication that they look at the guard as free labor.

I think this is what it is, and then the Secretary did this analysis -- or looked at the analysis that this was a valid request for some -- for support to fill out capacity gaps that they have in the near future.

Q:  Okay, so second question.  There's some people up in the Hill that started calling the area Fort Pelosi in light of all the presence there, any comment on that?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I'm not going to comment on the partisan nature that unfortunately this mission has taken on.  That's not our role.  Our role was to treat this request for assistance as we would any other, and the secretary is comfortable that we did that.

Yes, back there.

Q:  Thank you. I have two questions about the Secretary’s trip to the Indo-Pacific region. The first question is, why does the secretary need to meet his counterpart in person instead of meeting (inaudible) or speaking by phone?

MR. KIRBY:  Well they already have spoken by phone, and actually both ministers in those conversations said they looked forward to being able to meet the Secretary in person. And we're obviously mindful of the COVID environment. Nobody decided to undertake this trip without special care to the pandemic and the impact it's having, and I think you'll see that.

We'll be able to provide you more detail about the trip later on in the week, and I think you'll see that  due caution has been paid to making sure we're observing safety protocols and CDC guidelines even when we're overseas.

And it's not a trip of long-duration, as I think you know, I mean all of that was factored into the need to do this, but such importance is placed on the Indo-Pacific region, as it should be, that both Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken felt that this was a trip worth making at this particular time.

Q:  My second question, you mentioned the importance of the alliance and the partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, but the bi-lateral relationship between Japan and the South Korea have not been stable because of the political disagreement and historical dispute. 

And the strained relationship has a negative impact on the Secretary's cooperation as we saw when South Korea was about to terminate the intelligence-sharing framework with Japan in 2019.

Do you think those historical disputes and political disagreements should be kept separate from the fight out of security and military cooperation?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I'll just say that recognizing that there are tensions between those two countries, we still encourage them to work together.  And we look forward to exploring trilateral ways where we can all work together to address security challenges in the region. I think I'd leave it at that.

Q:  Is the Secretary of Defense scheduled to visit the DMZ this time?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we'll have more details about the trip later on, but to answer your question, no.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, I think I just -- let me put a fork in that one right now.  No.  Yes, go ahead.

Q:  Thank you.  So this ahead of Secretary Austin's trip, there will be a QUAD -- the first QUAD summit ahead of the trip, so I would like to ask about QUAD. Does Secretary Austin have any plan to talk about QUAD Plus, it's like extending and expanding shape of QUAD, and asking South Korea to join our place of roles in QUAD Plus?

General Davidson yesterday at the hearing highlighted importance of QUAD, saying that the QUAD, as the diamond of the democracies in the region, and he said that he expected it to build into something bigger, so I would like to know if he had any plan to urge Korea to like more join or do some more roles together with Japan, Australia, and India?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any changes or future plans for the QUAD to speak to today.  I mean, the Secretary looks forward to participating in the discussion that will take place on Friday.  And we recognize the importance of those countries, to regional security, but I have nothing more beyond that.  Okay.  Jared?

Q:  Hey John, thanks for taking my question. If I could just bring it back to the Persian Gulf real quick, I just had a quick question and then a follow-up. Is there any update on this past weekend's strike on Ras Tanura and other locations in Saudi Arabia, any further assessments that have come through?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure. Oh, is that right? Hey guys, you can get him back in a second, if you want, I think he had a second question.

Q:  Hey, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY:  I'll get right back to you, go ahead, Jared.

Q:  Great, I just wanted to follow-up on that, and then I think it was Prince Faisal bin Farhan said today that the kingdom is going to be taking, you know, deterrent measures to protect their oil infrastructure.  Have there been any requests or any consultations with the department about additional air defenses or further integrating Saudi's air defenses?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't have any updates on that.  As we've said in the past, we take very seriously our commitments to helping Saudi Arabia defend itself against these attacks, attacks which are still happening and still having an effect on the citizens of Saudi Arabia.  But I don't have anything specific to speak to in terms of additional request for assistance.  Go ahead.

Q:  Thank you.  As you know, the First Lady is on the west coast, visiting bases yesterday and today.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  And while she was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord yesterday, a DoD official told -- cited this statistic of 15 percent of military families on the base had a child in -- on the autism spectrum.  So I'm wondering if there's any wider force analysis about this kind of situation within the families.

MR. KIRBY:  Ma'am, that's the first I've heard of that anecdote. So let me look into that and we'll see if we can get you something.  I don't know - I've never heard that statistic before, not challenging it, just not heard it.  And I don't know if we have, so don't let me overpromise here, I don't know if we have data that gives you a force-wide look at the prevalence of autism in military children.  But I'm happy to take a look at that.

Q:  And just a follow up, there's a program called the Exceptional Family Member Program.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  Is that DOD wide?  And if so, how is that working out?  Because it seems like that fills in a lot of the spaces that need to be filled in when you have an exceptional child.

MR. KIRBY:  It is force-wide, and it's long standing, the EFM program.  I'm not an expert in the details of it, but it goes a long way, or historically, it has gone a long way, to easing the burdens on families that have, particularly special needs children or other members of the family that are special needs.  But largely it's really about children and it's a long-standing program that has had good effect on making it easier for men and women to serve in uniform, making it easier for them to have their families with them as they serve.

It effects certain things like your next assignment, making sure that if you are going to move, that you're going to move to an area where there's the proper care in place, military health care, for your exceptional family member.  It's a terrific program.  Yes, in the back there.

Mosh?

Q:  Thanks for doing this, just one quick one on China.  Yesterday Admiral Davidson said that the U.S.'s military edge over China is eroding and that China could potentially take action to seize Taiwan within the next six years.  Does the Secretary share that view?  Is that a huge concern of the Department?

MR. KIRBY:  The Secretary believes it's in no one's interest for the issue over Taiwan to come to blows or to conflict, there's no reason for that to happen.  We take our responsibilities to Taiwan seriously, as has administrations, bipartisan, and legislators, bipartisan, for many, many years.  What he also believes, and he's told you this himself, that we have to make sure that here in the department, that we're treating China as the pacing challenge he believes it to be.  And that means having the right operational concepts in place, making sure that we are properly resourced in the Indo-Pacific and that we are developing the proper capabilities to make sure that we can meet that challenge from a military perspective.

Clearly, China is behaving in ways that are not in keeping with an international rules-based order.  And as the Secretary of State has said, that they seek to not only challenge that order but to supplant it.  We are mindful of that here at the Defense Department and that is where his focus is. 

OK.  Yes, in the back here.

Q:  Thank you very much for the opportunity.  I've got a question about QUAD.  So there's a lot of discussion going on the diplomatic side about the vaccine coordination, on the vaccine, and COVID.  What should we expect on the defense side?  Is there going to be a defense ministerial meeting also or is it -- should we...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a defense ministerial meeting about the QUAD to announce today.  But I -- you know, these are nations that the secretary maintains communications with but I don't have a specific -- like, a defense ministerial meeting to announce or to speak to.  And it's not going to be part of this particular trip. 

OK, yes.

Q:  You can go...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, yes, yes.

Q:  Relating to your...

MR. KIRBY:  I can get to Barb later.  That's all right.

Q:  Related to your comments on the 10th anniversary from the disaster in Japan...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  ... I wanted to ask you how you think the bilateral relations of the United States and Japan has developed since then or if the roles of the two countries have changed in these 10 years?

MR. KIRBY:  That's a lot of history to speak to there.  Why don't I just keep it to what we've been doing for the last, you know, six weeks that we've been here.  I mean, obviously this is a key alliance and a great friendship and we value that.  As I talked to yesterday in terms of speaking to this particular, very tough anniversary that we're facing here today.

Our focus in the administration moving forward is to make sure that that alliance, which is such a key to regional security and stability, stays strong and gets stronger.  And really, that's what the secretary wants.  That's the message he wants to send when we head to Japan here next week.

I'm just not an expert enough to give you the last 10 years of history here.  We're looking ahead.  We're focused on making sure that alliance is as strong and as vibrant as it can be going forward.

OK.  Barb, did you have one?

Q:  I do.  I want to come back to this.  I'm sorry, but...

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think you are.

(Laughter.)

Q:  Just to quote you, you said, the National Guard was the specific request made by the Capitol Police.  And then you approved it.  The National Guard was the specific request made by the Capitol Police.

The Pentagon has always said -- to my knowledge, at least -- that users  don't get to request specific forces.  They request a capability and then you evaluate it.  And then, you decide whether you want to fill it with something you have that works.

So it's fine that it was the request by the Capitol Police.  But did you ever consider any other option such as civilian law enforcement?  Why did you fill it? If not, why did you fill it without looking at other things, which...

MR. KIRBY:  It's not...

Q:  ... I think you always do?

MR. KIRBY:  It's not our place to consider civilian law enforcement for a request that we received for National Guard troops.  Our requirement -- no, Barb, wait now.  Our -- our -- our job was to evaluate that requirement, and we did that. 

And the reason why it was for National Guard is because they already had the National Guard there.  It's a mission the National Guard's already doing.  And as I said before, from a legal perspective it's an -- you know, it's an appropriate use of National Guard in support of local law enforcement under Title 32.  That is -- that's normal.  That's expected.  That's -- that's part of the -- of the rubric there. 

And so, they asked for National Guard support.  We evaluated that.  We validated the requirement and the secretary approved it. 

It's -- I know what you're -- I know what you're after.  But again, you've got to understand what our requirements here are:  to look at the request and evaluate it.  And we did that. 

I would let the -- and I wouldn't speak for the Capitol Police, but I'd let them speak to the degree to which -- when they looked at their needs, what other sourcing did they look at?

Our job was to take the request as it came to us, evaluate its validity and then decide whether or not to source it.  OK?

Q:  Did -- just straight up, did the controversy over how soon the National Guard was able to be on Capitol Hill January 6th -- just the controversy itself, did that -- did you feel -- did this department feel political pressure to respond with -- this National Guard extension because of the weeks of controversy now about all of this?  Did it play a role?

MR. KIRBY:  Political pressure play a role in this decision, is that what you're...

Q:  Did you feel political pressure to approve this extension to the Capitol Police because of the criticism that the department came in for -- from -- over the last several weeks over how fast it responded on January 6th?

MR. KIRBY:  The secretary was not driven by political pressure and he was not driven by the specific events of January 6th, which is currently under investigation anyway.  He looked at this analytically, had his staff look at this analytically about what the need was, the capacity gap that we could fill and then how best to do that.

Q:  Did the Capitol Police ever specifically tell either the secretary or the department about a specific threat that they feared or did they -- or were they speaking in general terms?  I mean, because -- since they're the ones who allegedly know about these threats, have they ever conveyed it specifically to the Defense Department?

MR. KIRBY:  The Department of Defense has had visibility into the threat environment that has governed the presence of some of the troops on the Capitol Complex.

Ellie from CBS?

Q:  Hi, thank you.  Sorry, double mute.  You said you were asking -- the department's asking the services for suitable places if HHS were to make a request.  When are you guys expecting those to come in from the services?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a date certain on that, but there was a -- we did ask the services to go take a look at t what installations they might think might be appropriate.  But I don't have a suspense date on that -- a deadline on that.

And again, I would stress that this is not uncommon.  I mean, we've done this twice before, where we want to get ahead if there is going to be a request.  There hasn't been one.  But we want to make sure that, if there is one, we're ready for it.

Q:  If I could follow-up on a Mosheh’s question, is the invasion of Taiwan a red line for U.S. military?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to speculate about that.  I think I've answered the question on Taiwan quite well today.

There's one last thing I do -- Meghann to your question on the video, I did find some additional notes here.  The cases in Air Forces Central Command have been well below comparable to U.S. average, especially at Prince Sultan Air Base, and they continue to drop.

Right now, there are currently below five cases in the theater and their average is less than one new case per 100,000 a day.  At the time of the video, which as I said was a few weeks ago, there were some slight spikes in the host nations, but we haven't seen an increasing trend since the large transition of personnel in January, and even then, as I said, they are still below U.S. averages. 

OK, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.