Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Holds a Press Briefing

March 23, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody. 

(UNKNOWN):  Welcome back.

MR. KIRBY:  What day is it today?

(UNKNOWN):  Thursday.  Tuesday.  You’re jet-lagged.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I do have a little jet lag, which I'm sure you'll be able to take advantage of today.  Just a couple of thoughts at the top here.  Yesterday, the department virtually on-boarded Ms. Barbara McQuiston, Director of Research – Director of Defense, Research, and Engineering for Research and Technology.  She will initially serve as performing the duties of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and we welcome her aboard.

Over the weekend, the United States, Japan, Belgium, and France participated in the Group Arabian Sea Warfare Exercise in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, March 19th through the 22nd.  The multilateral surface, air, and sub-surface training was led by the French Marine Nationale's Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group and included the USS Makin Island, USS Port Royal and aircraft from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force.

Participating forces exercised the ability to operate aircraft from different partner nation ships, hunt enemy submarines, provide layered defense against air and surface threats, and conduct long range maritime strikes against simulated adversarial forces.  Such partnerships are the linchpin of global security and stability and these partnerships, we believe, are an asymmetric advantage that the United States has. 

We also just passed a new milestone for COVID vaccinations.  I think you saw the Secretary tweeted about this earlier today.  More than five million COVID-19 vaccinations have now been administered at DOD-supported sites, which include FEMA centers and U.S. National Guard state sites.  This would include more than one million vaccinations administered by active duty service members deployed in support of FEMA's support mission and assignments, and we're very proud to do our part to support the President's vaccination goals.

With that, we'll open it up for questions.  First, to Lita.

Q:  Sorry, difficulty with the mute button.  Thanks, John.  Two things - one, I know you don't want to wade into Afghanistan in any particular level of detail but the President made it clear that the withdrawal could happen but it would be ‘tough’ to do it by the May 1st deadline.  Can you give us a sense that, with a month to go, what the key difficulties are going to be and whether it is logistically possible?

And then, my second question is the Iraqis have sent a letter -- sent a request to the Biden administration to reopen bilateral talks.  Do you know if that's been accepted or if that will actually take place?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, thanks, Lita.  So on your second one, I don't have any announcements to make and I would refer you to the State Department for details on any upcoming strategic dialogues.  What I can say, as we've said many times, I know the Department of Defense is committed, of course, to our strategic partnership with Iraq and we're very proud of the security cooperation and the achievements that the coalition have made against ISIS.  Beyond that, I would refer you to State.

On your second [Ed. Note – first] question, obviously I'm not going to get ahead of any decision-making process by the Commander in Chief but I would point you back to what Secretary Austin said when we were in Kabul, which is that -- that he's confident that Generals McKenzie and General Miller, if a decision is made, to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, that they will get it done in a safe, orderly, and effective way.

In - in the room?  Yeah, sure.

Q:  Thank you, John.  As you know, we celebrated our New Year (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY:  We were there for - we were there for - for New Year's Day.

Q:  Thank you very much.  There is two questions.  President Ghani doesn't accept the U.S. concept of a transitional government, and he proposed some additional election, presidential election, within six months, and he rejected U.S.-proposal   Do you have any comment about it?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I'd let the State Department and our special envoy speak to the ongoing negotiations.  That's not our place here.  And I certainly wouldn't speak for President Ghani.  The Secretary greatly enjoyed his meeting the other day in Kabul with President Ghani and with the Vice President and as he said afterward, it wasn't about delivering a message, it was really about listening and learning from them about how they see the situation on the ground, and it will inform his participation in the review that's ongoing and it will certainly inform the advice, whatever advice that might be, that he'll give to President Biden. 

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yep.

Q:  A follow up on Afghanistan?  Who --

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, you're not waiting until the end?

Q:  John, what is the date where the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan can be done in a safe manner and at what point does this become a hasty withdrawal, you might have to leave expensive equipment like those MRAPs that could potentially fall into enemy hands?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, Lucas, I mean, I appreciate the question, but there hasn't been a decision made.  So it's literally impossible for me to give you a date on the calendar to point to when there's been no decision made by the Commander in Chief, and the last thing that I'm going to do is get ahead of his decision making process.

There's a review process going on right now and the Secretary is participating in that and when the Commander in Chief has made a decision, you know, we'll execute that decision, whatever it is, but it's impossible for me to give you a date certain.

What I can say is what I said before, that the Secretary is confident that General Miller, General McKenzie will execute, if a decision is made to withdraw, we'll do that in a safe, orderly and effective way.

Q:  And generally speaking, can you explain how hard it is to leave Afghanistan after nearly 20 years?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, I'm not sure I understand the premise of the question.  I mean, how is it logistically?  How hard is it emotionally?  I mean…

Q:  All of the above.

MR. KIRBY:  Again, your question presumes that a decision has been made to leave, and as far as I know, the President hasn't made – well, I know the President hasn't made a decision.  So again, it would be wrong for me to speculate either way until a decision is made, and then once that decision's made, whatever it is, we're going to execute it.

The Secretary has said and we all understand the history here.  We've - we've been there a long time, 20 years, and that, as the Secretary said in Kabul just - I think it was yesterday, maybe the day before, it - we all want to see a responsible end to this war that is sustainable and that's based on a negotiated political settlement.  That's - that's what we're all driving to.

Q:  Okay, (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY:  Let me -- let me go to the phones.  I'll get to everybody, I promise.

Q:  And we'll come back to talk about Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, sure.

Q:  Okay.  Cool.  Thank you of course.

MR. KIRBY:  But let me go -- let me go back to the phones.  David Martin?

Q:  John, can you update us on the state of military support to HHS and the problem of all of the unaccompanied children, immigrant children?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have much, David, but I can tell you that the Department has received a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children.

They've asked specifically for use of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and Fort Bliss, Texas.  We have just received this request so I don't have much more detail than that.  We'll analyze it and evaluate it just like we would any other request for assistance and we'll keep you posted as we know more.

Q:  Did they -- did the request include a number of children that would have to be housed at either of these bases?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know the answer to that.  I'm not not - sure whether they're -- well, let me put it -- as I understand it, they have certainly looked at both facilities and I'd let them speak to what specifically they're looking for in terms of numbers.

I haven't seen the request so I don't know what those numbers are is probably a better, more accurate answer to that.  I'm sure that they have an idea and I would point you to HHS for that. 

Barb.

Q:  I wanted to follow up from the secretary's trip over -- while he was over in Asia, he obviously expressed a lot of concern about China.  And U.S. military commanders are now worrying that Taiwan could be a serious flash point. 

My question doesn't go to diplomacy or deterrence.  My question is military nuts- and-bolts.  Right now today, is the Pentagon convinced that it could, if China was to make a move on Taiwan, that it could keep China out of Taiwan or if China did invade Taiwan that it could push China back out of Taiwan. 

How convinced are you that you can actually keep the Chinese from moving on Taiwan?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, nobody wants this to result in conflict.  And I would be loathe to speculate about potential future operations one way or the other.  The secretary is concerned at the significant changes that have been taking place in the PRC’s strategic forces, and he's also concerned about the lack of transparency by Beijing about what they're doing. 

We would certainly welcome greater transparency about both their intentions and their modernization program.  But again, nobody is interested in seeing this result in conflict of any kind.

Q:  Can I follow up? A different question entirely - you're coming up on the extremism stand down.  You're coming up on, I think, the 60 days quite soon in the next few days on the stand down.  What are the secretary's thoughts now about where does all of this go next.

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.  As I said, we wanted to get this period of stand down behind us.  He hasn't made any decisions one way or another in terms of changing policies.  But he continues to talk to the service secretaries and to the service chiefs about what they're learning, what they're seeing as a result of this.  That process will continue.

As I said, I don't have any policy changes or directives to announce.  But as I've also said before, the secretary wants to keep an open mind about what we can do to better address this problem.

And that would include how we recruit, how we train and maintain and lead people once they're in the ranks and how do we get them ready for being civilians again.  And how much are we making them aware and informing them about what and who is waiting for them on the other side.

I'm confident in telling you one thing, Barb, and that is as the secretary begins to make decisions and makes decisions, we will obviously keep you informed about that. 

Back to the phones.  Luis Martinez.

Q:  Hey, John.  Just following up on the question about HHS.  These are facilities that you had not mentioned before.  We had heard about Fort Lee and possibly another one.  But does that mean that you have to do assessments before you can provide assistance or opening up Bliss and J.B. San Antonio to unaccompanied minors?

MR. KIRBY:  Luis, there was a -- as I understand it, there was a site visit to San Antonio last week.  I don't have an update on a site survey for Fort Bliss, but that's typically a common practice to do a site survey.  I just don't have an update for you on Bliss.  What I can tell you is we have a request and those are the two sites that HHS asked for support from.

Q:  And have they given you a number of how many accompanied minors to expect at either or both facilities?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, that's to David's question.  I believe that in the request they have stated the numbers they're looking at.  I just don't have that information right here at podium and it's really a question better put to HHS to answer.

Q:  But would you take that question and get us answers?

MR. KIRBY:  I'll see if I can.  But again, I speak for DOD and not for HHS.  Did I say DHS?  I think I did.  HHS.

Q:  What numbers have been presented to DoD?

MR. KIRBY:  I will -- I will look and see if I can get that for you, Barb.

Q:  Clarify site visits and are there any additional that we also haven't been told about despite the fact we all ask every day?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know of any others.  As I said, there was a site visit to Lackland.  Typically site visits are part of the process.  I don't have one to speak to today with respect to Bliss.  And if there's others that are going to happen or that we can talk to you, we'll certainly talk to that.  I wasn't here last week. 

Tara?

Q:  Thanks.  Yesterday, HASC ranking member, Representative Mike Rogers, again called for the troops that are at the Capitol to potentially be drawn down, saying you just don't know why there's still so many there, but supports to the Quick Reaction Force.

And so I was just wondering if the secretary's had a chance to talk to the National Guard chief about the requirements there and if those members at the Capitol will be further cut quicker than had been anticipated?

MR. KIRBY:  So right now I think we got just under 2,200 in in D.C. right now, which is about what their request had been for was just at 2,280, I think.  So we're -- we're under that right now.  And it fluctuates everyday as people come and go.

I'm not aware of any conversations that the secretary has had with General Hokanson about the future of this mission.  Again, he validated the requirement, validated the request that had been made by the Capitol Police for the 2,280.  Like I said, we're just under 2,200 right now.  But I know of no changes to that.  Over time, as you know, that request takes us into May, I think the third week of May, and so we're executing to that plan right now.  And if that should change we'll certainly keep you apprised.

Q:  Given that some of the fences are coming down, is that level of military vehicles, military presence, the guys standing around, is it still needed?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, again, the Secretary has said he's not going to have them up there one day longer then he believes they're needed.  And as we said before, part of this is helping bolster capability gaps in the Capitol Police.  So it's a combination of whatever the threat assessment is but also the need to backstop and to fill capability gaps in the Capitol Police. 

Again, the Secretary looked hard at this, decided this was a valid requirement, and approved it.  And if that should change, or if and when it changes, we'll certainly keep you apprised.  But right now I know of no changes to that mission. 

Let me go back to the phone here.  Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  At the risk of angering the cable news gods again, some folks on the right are criticizing Vice President Harris for not saluting an Air Force officer when she got on Air Force Two.  I understand you're already working on this question but I wanted to see, have you heard back - is there an instruction or regulation that service members must salute the Vice President?  And is the Vice President expected in any way to return the salute?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Jeff, the men and women of the Defense Department have complete and utter respect for the chain of command and certainly for the Vice President.  I know you've asked, your staff have asked this protocol question, and we'll certainly staff it and get back to you.  But the men and women of the Department of Defense fully respect of course the Vice President and salutes are part of showing that respect.

Fadi.

Q:  Thank you - thank you, John.  So I'm going to go back to Afghanistan.  The visit by the Secretary, and noting that he said he went to Afghanistan to listen, and that this visit will help him in the review process to be more informed.  Did it move the needle one way or the other after he met the Afghani President, the political and military leadership in Afghanistan?  And I have a follow-up question.

MR. KIRBY:  Did it move what needle, Fadi?

Q:  The decision on the way he's thinking about whether the conditions on the ground and the May 1 deadline?

MR. KIRBY:  That gets to the kind of advice that the Secretary is going to give the commander in chief and I won't speculate about that. 

Q:  Okay.  And, as you said, although the secretary has confidence in his military leadership to execute the withdrawal when and if that decision has been made.  However, today Secretary Blinken in Brussels committed the U.S. to withdrawal troops with NATO.  He said ‘we went in together and when we leave, we're going to leave together.’  So that adds thousands more troops to the whole equation. 

When you move, from a tactical point or technical point of view, do you still think that if a decision is made U.S. and NATO  troops can leave on time.

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I appreciate the question.  And I understand the interest in the logistics of this.  There's been no decision made and I'm not going to get ahead of that process.  But certainly we echo Secretary Blinken's gratitude for the contributions made by our allies.  We understand that as we work through our process that when the President has made a decision that's a decision we're going to need to consult with and to inform our allies.  But I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet.

I mean we're obviously committed to keeping them appropriately informed but we're just - we're not at that point right now, okay.

Q:  But you’re not going to leave without them, so the U.S. will leave with the NATO troops?  No one will be left behind?

MR. KIRBY:  We've long said the mission has been and will continue to be lockstep with our NATO allies. 

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Let me go back to the phone.  Sangmin Lee?

Q:  It is reported that North Korea deployed a new multiple rocket launcher on one island in North Korea nearby the line of the Korean Peninsula.  So do you have any additional about this?  And, related to this, is there any indication that North Korea is preparing any provocation?

MR. KIRBY: I actually don't have any thing to add today to that, Sangmin. 

Yes. 

Q:  Going back to your opening statement about the exercise in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

MR. KIRBY:  Right.

Q:  -- I understand the operational part.  What kind of a message for friends in the area and to Iran?

MR. KIRBY:  What's the message?

Q:  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  What's the message to France?

Q:  No, no.  What is the message for those exercises that happened in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I think -

Q:  What is the message to friends and to Iran?

MR. KIRBY:  The message is really I think to the world when we do multilateral exercises like this that we value the training opportunities and, as I said in my opening, I think the message is the power of our alliances and our partnerships.  It's the power of multilateral operations, which, we believe, and the Secretary made clear on his trip to the Indo-Pacific region, is a real asymmetric advantage for the United States. 

It is common for Navies to exercise and train.  You have to train at sea.  It's not about sending a specific message to a specific country or for a specific issue.  It's to improve readiness across the maritime domain.

Q:  On a different topic, I think today is the second anniversary of the end of the territorial control of ISIS and it happened in Syria.  What are you looking for from the military point of view from being in Syria, staying in Syria?  What is the end game?

MR. KIRBY:  We still have a presence in Syria to continue to go after ISIS as part of a coalition effort.  ISIS is a greatly diminished organization and a significantly degraded threat.  I mean they don't own anywhere near the territory or have at their disposal the resources that they once had.  But they are still there.  They still pose a threat and we still believe that mission is valid two years on.

Dan?

Q:  Two questions on Afghanistan.  The Afghan government has said that they don't need U.S. troops on the ground but they need a financial commitment over the long term to help them pay for Afghan security forces and also to have the possibility of U.S. air power when needed.  Is that something that the Secretary is open to considering no matter what happens with the immediate decision on May 1?

MR. KIRBY:  Let's let the review finish, Dan.  And again, the policy review is still ongoing, as is the review of the Doha agreement.  And I don't, again, want get ahead of that process.  I understand the question but I think it's important to let the interagency complete this review, inform the President's decision making and then we'll go from there.

Q:  And then separately, on the border -- on the southern border, is there any consideration of sending more National Guard troops to help secure the border?

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no plans to do that.

Q:  And that's not under consideration or --

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no plans to do that.  They're at 3,500, I think, 3,600 right now, mostly National Guard, and as you know, they are providing enabling functions.  They're not involved in actual Border Patrol missions, they're doing things that will free the Border Patrol agents up to do their jobs.  I know of no changes to that mission right now.

Let me go back to the phone here.  Idrees?

Q:  Hey, John, thanks.  So just going back to Tara's question about the Capitol Hill Police, sorry, the  National Guard presence around the Capitol, last week.  When the Capitol Police said they were removing the outer perimeter fencing, they said it was because quote "there does not exist a known, credible threat."

So if the agency that has requested the troops is saying that there is not a credible threat, why does the Secretary feel the need to keep 2,000 more troops around the Capitol?  And was this new assessment of ‘no threat’ shared with the Pentagon?

MR. KIRBY:  I won't talk about intelligence issues from the podium, Idrees, but as I said to Tara's question, as he made this decision, and this decision's now a couple of weeks old, it was a combination of a threat assessment, as I said at the time, but also just as critically, an assessment of capability gaps that the Capitol Police have, both in terms of  capacity, numbers, and ability to provide for proper security of the Capitol complex.  So it's - it's both.

And as I said two weeks ago, the Secretary deemed the request valid and decided to source it.  Yeah?

Q:  I have two questions, John.  One, on Saudi Arabia and Turkey are currently cooperating to produce armed drones.  We know that the United States have some types of export limitations on exporting armed drones to the Gulf countries.  What's your reaction to the Turkish and Saudi cooperation on producing Turkish armed drones?

MR. KIRBY:  I haven't seen those reports. 

Q:  And on India, while the Secretary was there, we know that there is a border kind of problem between India and China.  Does the United States plan to somehow fortify or provide support to India to protect its border or somehow stand against Chinese on their borders?

MR. KIRBY:  We've seen movements by both sides to de-escalate and we welcome that.  I'd leave it at that.  Meghann?

Q:  Are you guys centrally tracking how many units have completed their extremism stand downs?  If you are, what's the completion rate?  If you're not, why aren't you?  And also, when will OSD, OSD PA be holding their stand downs?

MR. KIRBY:  Meghann , I don't have an answer for you on the data question.  This was not meant to be proscriptive by the Secretary, we wanted the services to do this.  I would point you to the services to speak to how they executed the stand down.

The Secretary has full faith and confidence that when he ordered this that the services were going to take it seriously and do it completely and fully.  He is not demanding that they get back to him, you know, with the numbers of all of the units that - that they've  put through the stand down, and so that's a question that's better put to them. 

I know you don't like it when we don't have data at this level but this wasn't a data call, this was a directive --

Q:  It does say in the guidance that you have to report the completion up the chain of command, so that's why I'm asking.

MR. KIRBY:  And that's - so that's a good question for the services because they're the ones that are executing this.  And on OSD, let me get back to you on that.  Jenny?

Q:  Thank you, John.  On North Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un released an older letter from Xi Jinping, China, today.  As we know it, China has the blood alliance with North Korea and the U.S. and ROK are allied.  Do you think that China will help North Korea's denuclearization?

MR. KIRBY:  Do I think what, Jenny?

Q:  China will help North Korea's denuclearization?

MR. KIRBY:  Will help de-nuclearize?

Q:  Yes, because their blood alliance together, how will China --

MR. KIRBY:  We know that China has influence in Pyongyang and we would like to see them use that influence to help with the denuclearization.

Q:  But influence will not work because the Chinese helped North Korea develop nuclear weapons behind it, so how are you going to trust the Chinese?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I'll leave my answer the way I put it - we know they have influence in Pyongyang and we want to see them use that influence.

Q:  Okay, the third one, is there any temperature difference between ROK and the United States --

MR. KIRBY:  Temperature difference?

Q:  Yes, last two 2+2 because it's kind of - difference of terms.  Like, South Korean Foreign Minister said denuclearization of Korean Peninsula but the - you know, Secretary Blinken said denuclearization of Korea.  What is the (inaudible) of that word be --

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, I think it's a distinction without a difference, Jenny. 

Q:  South Korea doesn't have any nuclear weapons. 

MR. KIRBY:  That's what I'm trying to say, if you let me finish.

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  It's it's Pyongyang, it's Kim Jong-Un that is threatening security and stability on the peninsula and in the region, through his weapons of mass destruction and his nuclear program, and that's what we're focused on.  When we talk about denuclearization, that's what we're talking about, okay? 

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Does that help?

Q:  Well, – now I understand we can say denuclearization Korea, not North Korea.  You say North Korea, right?

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  Thank you.  Peter Loewi?

Q:  Hi, John, thanks very much.  Is calling China a threat, a challenger, a competitor, an adversary contributing to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in this country?

MR. KIRBY:  Is calling China a threat - I'm sorry, did you - is - is that causing violence against Asian Americans?  Is that what your - is that what your question --

Q:  Is calling China a threat, the rhetoric coming out of multiple administrations, "they are a threat, they are a challenge, they are our adversary," is that contributing to the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes?  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not in a position to answer that question, Peter.   I couldn't speak for the sinister motivations of people that would perpetrate violence on Asian Americans or people of Asian descent.  I don't think there's anything that justifies that.  But I also think --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  -- wait -- wait, let me finish.  I also think we owe it to the American people to speak frankly about Beijing and their activities, about their modernization and about the opaqueness of their intentions.  And the secretary has made it clear that he considers the PRC a pacing challenge for this department, and we stand by that. 

But I certainly am in no position to offer a view about linkage here.  And regardless, as I said, there can be no excuse for this sort of violence and this sort of hate.  There's no justification for it.

Yes, in the back.  Yes.  Yes, sure.

Q:  Thank you.  Yes, I want to ask you about China's behavior in the South China Sea.  The Philippine government said on Sunday that there were more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels in the area where the Philippines claims its territorial sovereignty.  Do you think China's action is provocative and how is U.S. forces going to respond?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not familiar with this specific situation that you're speaking to.  But as the secretary made clear on our trip, that we are deeply concerned by the aggressiveness, particularly in terms of the maritime claims, that the PRC is making. 

And the conversations that we had with our allies and partners in the region -- and we met with two of our strongest allies, Japan and South Korea -- was about how seriously we need to take that aggression.  And from the U.S. perspective, how seriously we need to make sure that we have the operational concepts and the capabilities in place to deal with this pacing challenge.  And the importance of alliances and partnerships in general in terms of helping to provide for better security and stability in that part of the world. 

But I don't have the details on that specific -- what you were mentioning.

Ashley from Jane’s?

Q:  Hi.  I wanted to follow-up on the secretary's trip last week and specifically the meetings with the Japanese counterparts.  They mentioned that the Senkaku Islands had come up and I wanted to see where they, sort of stand on sending U.S. troops to those islands and what type of capabilities they're interested in potentially having there.

MR. KIRBY:  The conversations were largely about, you know – actually for the secretary, updating him.  He listened to our Japanese counterparts as they talked about the concerns that they continue to have.

He reiterated that we recognize the administration of the Senkakus by Japan and that we believed it was in the mandates of Article V of our mutual defense treaty.  But I wouldn't speak anything beyond that in terms of military actions by the United States.

Go, Mike?

Q:  Yes, I know you just got the request from HHS about Fort Bliss and J.B. San Antonio.  Did they tell you when they would like to start sending people there, or is it like as soon as possible, or is there something --

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I don't -- I mean, we literally just got the request today, Mike.  So I don't have additional details on the specifics of that request.  And to the degree we can get that for you, we will.  But I'd also point you to HHS to speak to it.  But I don't have here today.  All I can tell you today is we got those requests for those two facilities -- for support at those two facilities and we're analyzing it now.

Q:  Is DOD likely to approve it?  Is there like -- or are you all going to approving it, or denying it, or how does it --

MR. KIRBY:  I don't want to get ahead of the decision process.  But as you know, this is -- it's something that we have done before in '12 and in '17.  So this is not -- it's not out of the norm for us to support these kinds of requests.  But again, I don't want to get ahead of the decision-making process or the analysis which literally is just a couple of hours old.

Q:  Could you also quickly take the question, is it barracks -- empty barracks or construction of some type of housing such as at the border --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  As  I understand it, at – at San Antonio, it's for use of a vacant dormitory.  And at Fort Bliss it's use of some land.  But I don't know more than that, Barb.

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  That's as much as I've got.

Tony?

Q:  I have a couple money questions, one related to Afghanistan.  You know the interest -- Afghanistan is a topic now.  Over the last 20 years, how much has DOD actually spend in Afghanistan for operations and reconstruction?  I've seen figures thrown around of -- you know, spent trillions.  I don't think it's that high.  But do you have that or can you --

MR. KIRBY:  As I understand it, since 9/11, the total bill in Afghanistan for everything you're talking about comes to about $825 billion.

Q:  Billion and not trillion?

MR. KIRBY:  Billion, 825 -- just under -- just under that, I think.

Q:  Okay, realizing other places have -- they put in the national debt  as part of Afghanistan and veteran benefits, but my second question, I've asked you a number times on the FY '22 budget -- don't smirk, I just would like a --

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not --

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not smirking.  I don't smirk. 

Q:  Well you do smirk, but that's okay.  End of April is coming -- end of March is coming.  There's nothing in sight.  Is -- are the officials here concerned that the longer this goes the House and Senate are not going to have time to mark the bills up by September 30th and you're just going to be stuck with another continuing resolution that all you guys complain about over the years?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, Tony , I think you know what I'm going to say here.

Q:  I do, and that’s why I’m asking.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get ahead of OMB or the process.  And I'd refer you to OMB in terms of the process of moving the budget forward.  The deputy secretary, as you know, has been knee-deep in working the budget submission.  And again, I'm not going to get ahead of her or her timeline.  But she will work this very hard with the services to make sure that  once -- you know, once we're able to move on it, once OMB has laid it out there that we'll  work expeditiously and judiciously to  submit.

Q:  I'm just asking if people in Congress have enough time, if this thing goes in June or July, to markup by the end of the year --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I understand the question.   I'm not going to speculate about – about timing right now and I'm certainly not going to get ahead of OMB.

Q:  Fair enough.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  James Martone?  Okay, nobody there.

Q:  Could I ask a brief follow-up?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, sure.  Go ahead.

Q:  So given that the decision to keep 2,200-ish there was based on intelligence that's several weeks old now, has the department either requested or received a new assessment to see if that number of troops is still merited?

MR. KIRBY:  I know of no new assessment.  And as I said, Tara, it's not just – it was based not just on – on information about threats but also about capabilities and capacity that the Capitol Police needed support in.

Q:  And then what about the quick-reaction force that is under consideration and was one of General Honore's recommendations?  Is DOD looking at ways to source that?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any specific efforts right now to look at sourcing that.  The secretary's aware of that recommendation but I know of no movement forward on that particular one.

Jared?  from Al Monitor.

Q:  Hi, John, thanks for taking the question.  I was wondering if I could bring it over to Yemen on the Persian Gulf.  I'm wondering if the Defense Department -- the military has offered any support for the Saudis in their defense of the Yemeni city of Ma'rib which the Houthis are moving on and then I have a follow-up question real quick.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm sorry asking for any changes?

Q:  Have there been any advising or support from the Saudis defense or the Yemeni government's defense of the city of Ma'rib?  I know under the Biden administration's directive there is no support for offensive operations inside Yemen by the Gulf Coalition.  However, has the U.S. been able to -- has the military been able to provide support for the Yemeni government's defense of the city of Ma'rib?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any such provision.  Again, our presence in Yemen as I think you know is very much a counterterrorism purpose, that's what they're there for, that's the mission.  I know of no such request or no such effort to do that.  Let me go over here for a second, I already got you.  Ma'am.

Q:  (OFF MIC).

MR. KIRBY:  I'll come back.

Q:  On Afghanistan, can you please update us on the troop level now?  Is it 2,500 or 3,500?  And is it enough, if there are any attacks from Taliban, in case they decided to resume targeting the U.S. forces if it doesn't meet the deadline -- May 1st deadline?

MR. KIRBY:  U.S. forces, as part of the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan mission number 2,500, and as you heard the secretary say, and that we've heard from General McKenzie and from General Miller that they believe they have the necessary resources to accomplish their mission, which has not changed.  I won't speculate about what might or might not happen on May 1st since there hasn't been a decision made by this administration about where they're going forward.

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  A follow-up on my colleague’s question.  General Austin or Secretary Austin, sorry, was asked specifically if that 2,500 was enough to protect itself on May 1st.  So, he was asked the hypothetical question, could you elaborate on his answer?  And then I have a question -- another question about the trip.

MR. KIRBY:  What he said if I remember correctly is that our commanders always have the  right and the responsibility of self-defense, that's still the case.

Q:  So, that troop number that is enough?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to elaborate any more than the secretary did and --

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  -- as he said, as General Miller has made clear that  he has the resources he needs to accomplish the mission and that mission has not changed as of the 23rd of March.

Q:  All right.  And then also, on his stops in South Korea and Japan, were there any -- are there any concrete announcements to make?  For example, restoring the exercises with South Korea that had been suspended sort of as an overture to diplomatic negotiations with North?  Or missile defense in Japan?  Like the Aegis ashore that’s been delayed.  Can you address those two points in any concrete way?

MR. KIRBY:  I think you saw the press conferences he did in both places with Secretary Blinken.  Had there been any other announcements to make that would have been the venue to do it.  This was really about listening and learning from our allies and our partners in the region and to revitalizing those alliances and partnerships.  And I have nothing additional to  point to after the press conferences that both ministers made. Yes.

Q:  (OFF MIC) $825 billion?  Is it just re-construction cost or operational?

MR. KIRBY:  Total for -- since 9/11, as I understand it, that's the number total for our involvement in Afghanistan.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  The Washington Post is reporting right now that last weekend North Korea fired a number of short-range missiles.  Some sources are saying that they were actually cruise missiles.  Well, can you tell us anything about North Korean missile firings in the last several days?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I have nothing for you on that right now.

Q:  John, let me make it straight, because I'm not comfortable with what you said that the definition of the concept of denuclearization of Korean Peninsula is that there are efforts to this strategic assets of U.S. and withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea there are North Korean Kim Jung-Un friends.  Is that exactly what South Korean foreign minister said that there are same page go together.  What is the U.S. page of the denuclearization of the --

MR. KIRBY:  What is the U.S…?

Q:  Your definition of the denuclearization.

MR. KIRBY:  I've answered this, Jenny.  I mean, there's only one side here who is posing a threat to the region and to the peninsula through its possession of and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons and that's Peyongyang.  When talk about denuclearization that's what we're talking about.

Q:  I know but the -- Korea -- using Korean Peninsula --

MR. KIRBY:  I've taken now three bites at this apple with you.  It's the same, okay.  All right, thanks everybody, have a good day.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  John, one final clarification.  Can you help clarify the number you said this was an expenditure.  Is it DOD-only or the entire U.S. government?

MR. KIRBY:  I believe it's DOD but I'll check on that, let me check on that.

Q:  And another question on the kids, are just going to rubberstamp that or is that just a request?  You're reviewing it?

MR. KIRBY:  We don't rubber-stamp anything here at the Department of Defense, Lucas.  There'll be an evaluation and analysis done on the request just like every other request for assistance.  Thanks.