Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

April 7, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  David you look like you were falling asleep there. You look like you were falling asleep on me there. All right. Sorry again for the delay, guys.

Just a couple of things at the top. Today, we were delighted to have the first lady, Dr. Biden, visit the facilities of Military OneSource, the call center in Arlington. Her -- she -- she announced today the return of Joining Forces, and her visit recognized the important role of the Military OneSource Call Center as the department's flagship program for comprehensive resources in support of well-being and readiness. The program provides worldwide access to 24/7 information and support to service members, their families and their -- and survivors.

Dr. Biden also had an opportunity to meet and thank the call center staff and the team members who answer the phones and provide virtual support every day. Military OneSource is the Department's, as I said, flagship program.

Earlier today, the first lady also officially announced the return of Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling on all Americans to mobilize around service members, veterans and their families to support them through wellness, education and employment opportunities.

Also this morning, some of you may have noticed this -- the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency conducted a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Mi-17 tragedy here in the POW/MIA Corridor at the Pentagon. The event honored 16 U.S. and Vietnamese personnel who lost their lives in -- in an April 7th, 2001 helicopter crash in Vietnam. For those connected to the Department of Defense mission, we're -- we are all bonded by a solemn oath to never leave a fallen comrade. And today, they commemorated the legacy of 16 extraordinary individuals who sacrificed their own lives in keeping with this oath.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley attended, as well as Mr. Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency; also, the ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United States attended as well, and delivered remarks.

MR. KIRBY: Finally, Secretary Austin spoke by phone today with his Finnish counterpart, Minister of Defense Antti Kaikkonen. Secretary Austin thanked the minister for the robust defense relationship with Finland, and looked forward to its continued growth. The secretary also reaffirmed that the U.S. seeks to be the partner of choice for Finland's defense modernization needs. Minister Kaikkonen congratulated the secretary on his position and expressed appreciation for long-standing bilateral military cooperation and shared values.

They expressed a understanding -- a mutual understanding of regional security aspects of climate change, which will be the most pronounced in the Arctic in the near term. Both individuals -- both leaders expressed a shared concern about the deteriorating security situation resulting from increased Russian Federation activity along the Ukrainian border. The leaders agreed to meet in person at the earliest opportunity.

And with that, we'll go to questions. Bob?

Q: John, in connection with the U.S.-Iraqi strategic dialogue, the joint statement that was put out afterwards included a line that said that the U.S. mission -- military mission in Iraq has reached a point where it allows for, quote, the redeployment of any remaining combat forces in Iraq.

And I'm wondering whether this is an indication that you -- that Secretary Austin might agree the time has come to further reduce forces there? They seem to agree to that.

MR. KIRBY: Well, the joint statement says that what we -- what the two sides have agree to is to -- some additional technical talks on the eventual redeployment. And I think we all realized when we were invited in by the government of Iraq that this mission was aligned against ISIS and that there was no expectation that -- that it was going to be a permanent, enduring mission or footprint.

So I think we've all been working toward the eventual redeployment when we both agree and -- and the Iraqis believe that there's a -- there's a need for that mission to end and there's no need for American support on the ground.

So I think what you saw in that statement was a reaffirmation of the partnership that we have enjoyed with Iraq and the significance of the mission that still exists against ISIS and that eventually we will want to talk about -- when it's the appropriate time -- to talk about the proper redeployment and the scoping of that footprint.

Q: But it doesn't represent a decision to move beyond where you were before, in other words toward -- toward withdrawing?

MR. KIRBY: No, there was no specific agreement of a date certain or a certain number of -- of troops by a certain date. It was, again, a reaffirmation of what we've always believed about the mission there: that it wouldn't be a permanent one, that it's aligned against ISIS, and that we -- whatever changes to that mission and to that footprint would occur in full collaboration with our Iraqi partners. And I think you saw that basically throughout the document was -- it was reiterated.

Yes?

Q: Can I follow-up?

MR. KIRBY: Sure. Go ahead, Pierre.

Q: Is it essential for the U.S. military to stay in Iraq for the time being?

MR. KIRBY: This is a mutual decision by the Iraqi government and the United States government. And again, Pierre, we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And the mission is singly focused on going after ISIS. And particularly -- and you saw this in the communique, our role is advise and assist. We're there to help Iraqi Security Forces improve their capability and their competence against ISIS.

And I think, again, if you look at that communique, you'll see that both sides agree that that mission is still important and that -- that we're going to continue, as we always will in any operational environment -- continue to review and look, again, about our footprint and our force posture. And determine whether it's appropriately sized and scoped to the mission.

MR. KIRBY: The mission's still valid. The invitation by the Iraqi government is still in place and we're continuing, as we have been, even before today's talks, to talk with the Iraqi government about what that -- what that mission and that footprint is supposed to look like.

Q: The statement refers specifically to remaining combat forces. Are combat forces included in that 2,500 number that we used? Because we recently found out that in Afghanistan, 2,500 does not include all of the troops that are really there. Is 2,500 the -- the real number?

MR. KIRBY: 2,500 is the number of U.S. forces in -- in Iraq. The -- the mission largely has been, and for a long time, has largely been one of advise and assist.

Q: Includes -- 2,500 includes --

MR. KIRBY: 2,500 is -- is the footprint of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Q: -- combat forces?

MR. KIRBY: David the -- the mission is largely advise and assist and that is the -- the -- the goal and the purpose of the 2,500 U.S. personnel that are in Iraq are to help assist the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to go after ISIS.

Q: One more time -- does it include --

MR. KIRBY: The -- the 2,500 U.S. personnel in Iraq are there to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces. That -- and -- and I don't -- so they're -- they're -- they're -- in the communique, it reflects -- that communique reflects the environment as -- as it has been for quite some time in Iraq, in terms of U.S. posture.

Q: I'm going to take that as -- as a non-answer. Can I ask you a -- a second question? You referred to the deteriorating security situation along the Ukrainian border. What -- what -- how -- what do you mean by "deteriorating"? How is it deteriorating? I mean, that's --

MR. KIRBY: Well, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the -- back -- back in late March, there were a couple of Ukrainian soldiers killed in -- in skirmishes. And the rapid and building presence of Russian forces along that border and in Crimea certainly are not conducive to creating an air of stability, you know -- you know, in -- in Ukraine.

As I said yesterday, it's not completely clear what the Russians are doing there, we'd like to understand that more, and that uncertainty is obviously not contributing to a more stable, more secure situation.

Q: Is it still assessed to be an exercise?

MR. KIRBY: I've seen that the Russians have assessed it to be an exercise.

Q: By the U.S.?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments here from the podium, David. As I said, the -- the full intentions are not 100 percent clear and we'd like to understand more about what it is the Russians are doing there and what they intend to do there, but it is not conducive, this -- this buildup, and a fairly rapid buildup, it's -- it's not conducive to -- to greater stability. Let me go here to the phones. Nick Schifrin, PBS?

Q: Thanks, John. A couple on extremism. Just making sure that there's no update on the readouts from the services to the Secretary? And -- and trying to ask a question that you haven't been asked repeatedly over the last week -- can -- can you take on a couple of specifics that the advocates say, you know, why can't you reveal how many people have been separated because of extremist actions? Can you have visibility into those who have conducted extremist actions below the threshold of a crime and therefore earn the -- some kind of administrative rebuke, and the overall criticism that the military has talked about this in the past but not actually confronted this in a serious way? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any updates for you in terms of the Secretary's getting a readout from the services. That hasn't happened yet, it will happen later this week and certainly when we can, we'll -- we'll be able to provide you more context about that.

Your other question gets at -- at -- at something I think the Secretary wants to get his hands around, too, which is a better sense of the data, and and I can't -- you know, I -- it -- we don't have all of that data right now but we are working more closely now with law enforcement to try to get a better sense of the sorts of investigations they're doing of people affiliated with the military and being investigated for criminal behavior associated with extremist ideology.

And I say that very clearly. "Military affiliate" doesn't mean necessarily somebody on active duty and the reserve capacity. You know, most of them happen to be veterans and obviously we don't have purview over veterans.

And as for your other question about data surrounding separations, that is certainly something that the Secretary's interested in trying to pursue, in terms of a better data collection, but as you pointed out in your question, Nick, sometimes individuals are administratively punished below the level of a court martial for activity that violates the uniform code of military justice.

And -- and there -- there's -- there's never been a central database of that here at -- at the department. That is something that is done at local level -- local command levels and -- and usually on a regional basis, not something that -- that would be looked at here.

The other thing, and I've said this before, is that even for criminal behavior that does rise to the level of -- of court martial, it's -- it's not like it's always evident what motivated that behavior. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not, so it's very hard for us to be able to spit out data for you that's -- that's -- that's very specific with respect to disciplinary actions over behavior that is inspired by extremist ideology.

But again, that's part of this exercise, is to figure out what we don't know, figure out what we can know and -- and how do we go about knowing it? And that -- that's, again, I think, all going to be wrapped up into the discussions with the Secretary and I'm sure will help inform whatever decisions and policies he wants to pursue going forward.

Q: And on that overall criticism that the military has talked about this in the past, said it was going to tackle the problem but never actually did it?

MR. KIRBY: -- speak for what was done in the past, Nick. All I can do is speak for Secretary Austin and what we're trying to do right now. And the -- the stand down now has ended, he does expect to get a readout from the services here before the end of the week, and then we'll move forward and -- and we'll keep you as informed as we can as we move forward.

What I can tell you now is he's taking it very seriously. Meghann?

Q: I have another stand down question. Now that it is complete, there are some reports, some tweets out there that particularly National Guard units haven't completed their stand downs. I will ask the National Guard Bureau about this but is there any accountability mechanism from up here to make sure that all of those units are -- are present and accounted for in terms of the stand down?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen those tweets, Meghann. The Secretary's expectation is that all of the services, including the National Guard, will have completed their stand downs over the course of two months. That's why he gave them 60 days to do that. We'll -- we'll know -- learn more and know more when he gets a chance to speak to the chiefs later on this week.

Q: And is there -- I mean, are -- do the services even have a way to make sure, from their level, from their headquarters level, that all of those stand downs have been done so that they can go to the Secretary and say with absolute certainty "yes, every single one of our people has had this briefing"?

MR. KIRBY: Well that's a question for the services to answer. They would have to do that individually in accordance with their own reporting processes. See -- Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hey John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, sir.

Q: Okay. I have a personnel question. On late Friday, the White House nominated Michael Brown as the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. I've got a couple questions. I understand that Secretary Austin really pushed the White House for his nomination. Do they have a previous business relationship? I'd be curious to hear that. And secondly, if you look at his bio, it's top heavy in commercial software experience and of course his Silicon Valley work with the Defense Innovation Unit. But he has no real Defense Industry background or apparent expertise in assessing technical risk of major weapon systems like the F-35 or the Columbia Submarine Program. What expertise would he bring to the job if confirmed?

MR. KIRBY: Well, Tony, I'm not going to speak about the Secretary's advice and recommendations to the President. These were nominations made by President Biden and obviously, we were glad to see them as you saw in the Secretary's statement and we look forward to these talented individuals getting a speedy confirmation in the Senate. But Michael Brown has deep experience in national security that we believe will prove essential in helping guide our efforts to defend the nation and to secure our interests around the world. As you noted yourself, he recently served as the Director of the Defense Innovation Unit here at the Pentagon, he also co-authored a Pentagon study on China's participation in the U.S. venture ecosystem. The Secretary is confident that he has the skills, the talent, the experience and the acumen to take on this role. And again, he looks forward to working with the Senate towards the confirmation, Mr. Brown as well as the other nominees.

Q: So don't you -- but his technical expertise by nature, weapons programs, seems to be lacking. Working DIU with small Silicon Valley contracts is a little different than managing risk on the F-35, would you agree with that?

MR. KIRBY: Tony, the Secretary is 100 percent confident in this nominee and his ability and his talent and experience to do the job.

Yes, in the back there?

Q: Thank you, I would ask you about the latest U.S. Navy Freedom of Navigation Operation in the Strait of Taiwan, the 7th Fleet announced Wednesday that the guided missile destroyer, USS John McCain, transited the Taiwan Strait. Is it a response to China's announcement earlier this week that the Chinese aircraft carrier conducted military exercises near Taiwan?

MR. KIRBY: We don't conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send -- to respond to some specific event or the specific action of another country. We conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send a message about how strongly we believe in international law and in the freedom that all nations have to sail, operate and fly in accordance with that international law. Freedom of the seas doesn't just exist for fish and icebergs and that's the purpose of conducting these operation, to reinforce that notion. Okay? Yes.

Q: John, on the Ukraine, Ukraine (inaudible) asked for membership into NATO. Would the United States support a Ukraine's (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: I think you saw our statement yesterday that this is an issue for NATO to bring up. I think you saw my counterpart at the White House make clear that the President is -- is certainly willing to -- to have conversations, but this is an issue for NATO.

Q: Also, does the United States have any naval capabilities currently in the Black Sea?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have an operational laydown for you. We have been routinely operating inside the Black Sea. I can't tell you at this point whether I know we have ships there or not. But you guys have been tracking this and following it, it's routine for us to -- to operate -- again, Freedom of Navigation -- inside the Black Sea, but I don't know what's there now, okay?

Let me go back to the phones, guys. I'll get to everybody.

Paul Shinkman, U.S. News?

Q: Yeah, hi, John, can you hear me okay?

MR. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: Just a clarification on your comments just now about Iraq. So there's some local news reporting about the statement today and any meetings that have been taking place that implies that there is some sort of new agreement that takes place, a new intention to plan for U.S. withdrawal and a -- and a change to the U.S. mission in Iraq, that now it's limited to train, advise and support.

So I guess my questions are -- are it sounds like, from what you said, that this is a reaffirmation of things that were already in place. Is there anything new today that was not the case yesterday? And does the U.S. still have the ability to conduct unilateral strikes in Iraq or Syria?

MR. KIRBY: Talk about operational authorities specifically in Iraq, Paul. There's a lot in that communique. Not all of it had to do with the security sector and -- and the fight against ISIS, and I would encourage you to read the whole thing because I think there was a lot of interesting developments in there beyond just the security component.

Clearly, one of the things that they agreed to in this was to -- to have technical talks going forward about the potential redeployment. So that -- that is -- that is a new thing in the document.

But the idea that there would eventually be a redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq is not new -- I mean, we didn't go into Iraq -- again, we went in at the invitation of the Iraqi government, we didn't go in there with the idea of being a permanent presence. The idea was to defeat ISIS. And that's still the goal, and that's still the objective, that's still the mission. But we have always known that eventually -- and I think that word is in there, "eventually" -- there's going to be a redeployment of forces from Iraq, of course there would be.

Yeah, go ahead, Joe?

Q: -- what's the department assessment of the attack against the Iranian Saviz ship yesterday in the Red Sea? As you may know, many Iranian reports indicate that -- the attack happened below the waterline. Based on your experience, is this something that you could -- we could -- you could read something out of it?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- obviously we're aware of the reporting of this incident. What I can confirm for you is that no U.S. forces were involved in the incident, and I can't speak beyond that.

Q: Quick follow-up, The New York Times has quoted U.S. officers that Israel informed the United States that it's going to attack the -- the ship that is being used by the IRGC for intelligence purposes. Could you confirm the New York Times' report?

MR. KIRBY: No, I cannot, I cannot.

Back to the phone. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. The Taliban have attacked Kandahar Airfield and FOB Chapman. What is the military doing to stop Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO troops?

MR. KIRBY: We condemn today's attack on Kandahar Airfield, home to several hundred U.S. and coalition personnel. While the attack resulted in no casualties or damage, the Taliban's decision to provoke even more violence in Afghanistan remains disruptive to the opportunity for peace presented by ongoing negotiations.

Q: Thank you. I didn't quite hear an answer to my question as to what the military is doing about the continuing attacks?

MR. KIRBY: We always have the right of self-defense for -- for our troops, but our focus right now is on supporting a diplomatic process here to try to bring this war to a negotiated end with an enduring and sustainable peace, a political settlement--

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: -- goal right now, as well as, of course, the current mission is in effect, which is to continue to advise and assist Afghan National Security Forces as they improve their capabilities to -- to defend their own citizens.

MR. KIRBY: --Um okay, let’s see here back here in the room, Dan?

Q: So going back to Iraq, you described how the -- the threat from ISIS has diminished, and that would shape the discussions going forward. What about in Syria? Is -- what is the justification to keep U.S. troops in Syria?

MR. KIRBY: The same. It's a counter-ISIS mission. The very small number, less than a thousand that we have in Syria, are working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to, again, advise and assist and help enable their ability to go after ISIS.

Q: Presumably that's also under review? You don't see that as an open-ended presence?

MR. KIRBY: Of course not. We -- and we constantly, as I said before, where we have troops engaged in operations, it's a constant review process, it's something we're always looking at.

Q: Is another factor that you also have to devote a certain amount of resources to protecting those troops that are in Iraq and Syria, and that as you look at the global forces that you want to deploy, that in Asia, you need more perhaps resources? And by withdrawing troops from Iraq and Syria, you also free up other resources?

MR. KIRBY: Two things there. One, we always count -- consider force protection where we have troops, particularly in harm's way. But -- all around the world. I mean, you always factor in the kinds of functions and capabilities and resources you need to provide proper force protection. That's always baked into the process.

But your larger question gets to exactly why the secretary's conducting a force posture review around the world, to take a look at the footprint and the resources and making sure that they're properly aligned to whatever our strategies are and the missions inherent to those strategies are around the world.

Jenny?

Q: Thank you, John. I have a question on independent exercise of USFK, I think you hear (inaudible). As part of the North Korea denuclearization, the U.S. Forces in South Korea have recently conducted single exercise to retrieve North Korea's WMD, weapons of mass destruction.

What was the reason for the training that excluded South Korean military?

MR. KIRBY: That excluded -- is that your question?

I'd point you to U.S. Forces-Korea to speak to the specifics of their training events, Jenny, I don't have a great depth of knowledge in this particular training event that you're talking about. I can't really confirm it and I'm certainly in no position to confirm the specific details.

We've talked about this many times before. Training is important on the peninsula, we have to make sure that the alliance is sound and solid and ready to obviously defend our interests and the interests of our Korean allies on any given day.

Q: What is the focus on the review of North Korean policy at the level of the Ministry of Defense? I mean U.S. defense.

MR. KIRBY: What is the level of what?

Q: The Ministry of Defense for the -- the review of the North Korea policy. What is the focus -- is the focus?

MR. KIRBY: Focus?

Q: Yes, of the review of the North Korea policy at the level of the Ministry of Defense.

MR. KIRBY: Well as you know, this administration is conducting a review of North Korean policy. That's ongoing. I'm not going to get ahead of that. As we talked about before, the -- the goal here is the -- the denuclearization of North Korea. That's -- that's where the threat comes from but how exactly we're going to achieve that goal is all, again, you know, being discussed and analyzed right now.

And as I think you heard the Secretary say when we were out there in -- in Seoul, that we're going to -- that we're going to -- whatever we, as an administration, decide is the -- a proper course, it's going to be done in close consultation and coordination with our Korean allies. You're welcome.

Dan Lamothe, Washington Post?

Q: Good afternoon, John, thanks for your time. I wanted to follow up on Jeff Schogol's question, particularly whether or not the Pentagon has an assessment of the Taliban's attack today? Do you think that's in an effort to upend the ongoing dialogue? Why would they do that at this time and -- and -- and I guess why not respond? Is -- is -- is there an effort here to sort of have strategic patience and not -- and not respond?

MR. KIRBY: I think -- look, whether -- whether or not -- so first of all, it's hard for me to get in -- it's hard for us to get inside the head of the Taliban and exactly what their goal and intent was here. And this just happened today, so I -- I can't deliver a -- a comprehensive analysis of -- of what we believe they were trying to achieve or what message we -- you know, they -- they were trying to send.

Clearly, as I said, we condemn the attack and we believe that this decision to provoke -- provoke even more violence remains disruptive to what we believe is an opportunity for peace that's presented by these ongoing negotiations. And -- and I'm not prepared to, again, today, offer an assessment here of exactly what this means to the agreement or to the peace process going forward.

And then your question about why not respond? I mean, this just happened today. I -- I think we need to do a -- a -- a fuller assessment of -- of ourselves -- ourselves, of -- of what happened and -- and why before any potential operational decision is made one way or the other. As I said, our -- our commanders always have the right of self-defense.

I would add that -- that there were no casualties, no damage, and in fact preliminary indications are that these rounds didn't even fall inside the perimeter of -- of the airfield.

Go back -- oh, I just did the phones. I can go back here to the room. Abraham?

Q: A follow up on that. Does -- if the Taliban attacks Kandahar Airfield and U.S. forces are there, is that a violation of the agreement?

MR. KIRBY: I think I -- I think I just actually kind of dealt with that question talking to Dan. I'm -- I'm not prepared to give you an assessment right now one way or the other as to how this sits with the agreement. Clearly the violence is too high, clearly this attack certainly indicates that -- that it's going to be disruptive, that -- to the opportunity to achieve a peaceful negotiation but I'm not prepared today to give a -- an assessment of -- of this attack as balanced to the -- against the Doha Agreement, okay?

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. Question about U.S. Africa Command, specifically in Niger, West Africa, a delegation of U.S. Africa Command attended the inauguration of newly elected president of Niger, President Mohamed Bazoum last week.

The delegation included AFRICOM ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Ambassador (to Niger?). Two questions. Do you have an update on the approximate number of U.S. in Niger? And secondly, what is the U.S. military goal in Niger under Secretary Austin?

Because in the past administration the U.S. goal (militarily?) in Niger appeared to be a bit vague and undefined given that the (Sahel?) are an extremely dangerous part of the world. And in 2018 four U.S. soldiers were killed by an Islamic state in Niger. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to have to get back to you on the number. I don't have that with me here today. And we'll get you a more specific answer on the -- the bilateral relationship with Niger.

But in general -- okay, in general, in the Sahel and in Africa -- AFRICOM works very hard on the relationships, the partner relationships with many countries there on the content designed largely to help them improve their capability in counter terrorism. That's the general thrust of the security relationships that we have in Africa. But we'll get you something more specific to better answer your question on Niger. I wasn't prepared for that one today.

Oren?

Q: Back to Ukraine for a moment. Have there been follow-up conversations with Ukrainian counter parts and is there any sense on whether Ukraine believes the Russian presence there is an exercise or otherwise?

MR. KIRBY: I have no more updates -- no more conversations or consultations with Ukrainian officials to read out and I would point you to Ukraine to speak to what they believe the Russian presence is all about there.

Oh boy, let's see, Jennifer from New York Times?

Q: Hi, thanks. So at one point -- there was a request for like, I think, 10,000 troops to support FEMA vaccine sites. We see Operation Warp Speed kind of -- it's not a thing anymore. Would you describe the role of the military in the vaccine effort as kind of reduced -- reducing at this point, still ramping up, what is their role at present?

MR. KIRBY: (We are?) actively involved in supporting FEMA vaccination centers right now. As of today there's 4,242 active duty troops deployed in support of this mission. That does not count, I think, more than 20,000 national guardsmen that have been supporting local and state efforts to help vaccine American -- vaccinate Americans. Apologize.

There are a total of 31 vaccination teams deployed of various sizes. I -- we can get you a breakdown by state. I have it here but I'm not going to read it to -- it would take a long time to get through all of it. But there's 31 teams deployed.

And I don't have any additional announcements to make with respect of more teams. But -- but we're -- we're very much still engaged in this mission. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you. I have a question about U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan; particularly the relocation of Marine Corp air stations Futenma. So April 12 marks 25 years since U.S. and Japan has announced that they have reached agreement on return of Futenma. 25 years later, you know the return is still not accomplished.

And construction relocation facilities is facing a technical difficulty. And return is now expected to delay to 2030. So my question is how do you assess this delay of construction of the facility?

And the second question is does that impact have an impact on the ongoing global posture review?

MR. KIRBY: So on Futenma, I think you heard Secretary Austin when we were in Tokyo just a couple of weeks ago thanked the government of Japan for their continued coordination on this. We still support the relocation. I don't have an update for you on the construction delays. I think we're going to have to take that and get back to you because I just don't have that information with me.

But obviously we appreciate the government's role here and support. And again, as you saw us say when we were in Tokyo not long ago, I mean this is an alliance that's iron clad and we take our security commitments very, very seriously to the government and the people of Japan. Ma'am.

Q: I want to follow up on Iraq. On this line in the joint statement, since this is the mission now, advising and training. So what is the difference between the mission of the Coalition and the mission of the NATO in Iraq?

MR. KIRBY: The mission of NATO in Iraq. NATO has a training mission there as well. They do.

Q: (The same mission?)

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to speak for NATO. They do have a training mission in Iraq that is also aimed at improving the capability and competency of Iraqi security forces. We also have an American mission in Iraq that is largely advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces as they prosecute to fight against ISIS. Okay. Sangmin?

Q: Okay. Thank you, John. Last month on March 25, North Korea launched two short range ballistic missile. I know you've been doing analysis of this missile. So what is it you assess on this missile? Is this a (inaudible) one?

And second question is do you think that North Korea has a platform capable of delivering submarine launch ballistic missile?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into intelligence assessments of what the DPRK is pursing and we have not finished our analysis and assessment of the March 25 launches. Jared?

Q: Hi, John. Thank you. Two quick questions. First, are you able to confirm Axios' report that SECDEF Austin -- Secretary of Defense Austin will be traveling to Israel in the near future?

And then second question, about the joint statement today with the Iraq strategic dialogue -- strategic dialogue with Iraq, is it possible that the U.S. coalition combat -- excuse me -- U.S. coalition forces may remain in Iraq after combat forces are pulled out in order to further support or facilitate NATO's expanded mission?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have -- so there's a lot there. On the trip I don't have any travel to speak to or announce to today -- announce today. On your Iraq question, I don't have any announcement or expectation to speak to today about what the presence of American forces will be in support of the NATO mission.

The Iraq security dialogue today was really about the bilateral relationship between our countries and the U.S./Iraqi mission inside Iraq to prosecute the fight against ISIS. And I wouldn't speculate one way or another right now about either the future footprint and posture of that mission or the future footprint and posture of the NATO mission going forward.

Q: Can I just follow-up on that real quick?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: Has -- has NATO officials requested additional U.S. support for the expansion of the mission -- the -- of NATO's mission in Iraq?

MR. KIRBY: Not aware of any such requests. Nancy?

Q: Can I follow up on Iraq, please? I have two questions. In the communique, it says this -- there will be talks in -- up -- upcoming technical talks about the future of U.S. forces deployed in Iraq. Can you offer any details on what those technical talks would be, who would be a part of them and what sort of timeline that you're thinking of?

MR. KIRBY: I don't actually, Nancy. I know "technical talk" sounds like an interesting bit of jargon but it -- it does refer to bilateral discussions going forward. I suspect that both sides will be equally represented and my understanding is that these talks would not necessarily be at the same level of participant that we saw today in the Iraqi security dialogue today -- the strategic dialogue, excuse me. So it will probably be done by more staff level individuals to -- to get at the eaches of what that posture should look like over what period of time.

Q: Do you have a sense of who, if anyone, would represent DOD in those talks going forward?

MR. KIRBY: I don't right now but certainly when we get to the next talk, whenever that is, we'll be able to speak to it for -- from the podium, and let you know right now, as I understand it, a -- a follow on discussion hasn't been scheduled yet. So we're a little bit away from that right now.

Bob?

Q: Just a quick follow up on that. Did you say that these technical talks are a new thing, a new step?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, that -- that they've -- that they've announced that we're going to conduct a round of talks going forward to -- to re-examine the footprint. I mean, I -- I think that that was an outcome that was a result of today's dialogue.

Q: So is that a reference to a continuation of a process or is this the start of a technical talk? (Inaudible) there are -- in other words, is that new, is that part --

MR. KIRBY: We've been in consultation with our Iraqi partners throughout the mission there. My understanding is that the decision to continue -- the decision to conduct technical talks going forward is an outcome, is a result of today's dialogue. That's my understanding.

But have we -- you know, I don't want to leave you with the notion that we haven't, to date, ever had discussions with our Iraqi partners at staff levels about what we're doing there and what the footprint looks like and what the capabilities are, we have, but I think in today's communique, they made a point of noting that we will conduct now a series of technical talks going forward.

So I as I said, I -- I my understanding is that that is a bit of a new development as -- as a result of the dialogue today. Yeah, in the back there?

Q: Thanks. On Iraq, just a little bit more, the last time U.S. forces kind of left Iraq and left the Iraqi military to stand on its own, they didn't do so well when ISIS came calling and knocking on the door and they kind of melted away faster than defense officials were expecting.

What is different about the process this time and how much confidence does the Pentagon have that the Iraqi military will be able to withstand, whether it's another surge of a -- of an Iraq -- of an ISIS 2.0 or challenges from Iran, that the military -- Iraqi military will maintain cohesion and will not disappear in the face of the challenge?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think if you go back to 2014 and we -- and you look at how the Iraqi Security Forces performed, I mean -- and we said it at the time, that -- that when -- when the United States left Iraq, it did leave Iraqi Security Forces much more capable and competent but -- but after our departure, management, leadership was -- was not sufficient to keeping their combat capability in -- in place. And -- and that -- you know -- and that resulted in a -- a more sectarian force that -- that lacked the ability to effectively fight ISIS in it -- in the early -- in the early months of ISIS's rise there.

But we've been there now for several years, again at the invitation of -- of the Iraqi government and in full support and coordination with the Iraqi Security Forces, and they are better and they are more competent and ISIS is, while still a threat, no question, is nowhere near what it was back in 2014, both in terms of size, capability, resourcing, recruitment and -- and their own competence, and certainly from a territorial perspective, the -- they virtually have almost no ground anymore.

So -- and that's a testament not just to what the United States has been able to contribute to the effort but to the whole coalition, cause it's not just about the U.S. in -- in Iraq, there is a -- there is a coalition still aligned against ISIS, and it's also a testament to the Iraqi Security Forces and the manner in which they have -- they have improved their capability and -- and responded to the training and the assistance that they've been getting from the coalition.

So they are a -- a much better force now than they were before, and again, you know, it's -- it's not as if, you know, we're -- the -- we're -- we're turning off the lights today as a result of this strategic dialogue. What we agreed to today was that the partnership is still really important, that the threat is still really there and that eventually, we're going to have to continue to monitor that threat and that presence, you know, going forward, and that eventually, as we always assumed, eventually the United States would not be needed to be there to help the Iraqi forces continue to prosecute this fight. They are a -- they are a vastly better force than they were before.

Okay, I've got time for one more. Terace?

Q: Yes, hi. I have two questions. This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and so I wanted to ask what is the Pentagon doing to recognize that? Also, what would be the military leaders' words of encouragement for survivors who may be, you know, stuck between whether they should report an assault or whether, you know, face backlash if they do report assault? I know the military's cracking down on people reporting sexual assault. So is there anything that --

MR. KIRBY: We're cracking down on people reporting sexual assault?

Q: Cracking -- you're -- excuse me, no, you want people to report. No, you're -- you're investigating reports more thoroughly than before. Like, there's being -- steps that are being taken to encourage service members to feel more comfortable with reporting and kind of how the process works.

MR. KIRBY: Well look, it -- it April may be Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month but for Secretary Austin, it's something he focuses on every day. In, you know, his second day, right, the day after he reported aboard the Pentagon, he issued his first directive -- was on trying to get our arms around sexual assault and sexual harassment here in the ranks. It is something he has repeatedly, continually talked about and stressed. So it's every day here at the Pentagon.

And you saw -- I think you were -- you participated in the last press conference you -- we did with Lynn Rosenthal, the -- the Chair of the Independent Review Commission. Just today, she conducted the second of what will be three engagements -- virtual engagements with sexual assault advisors -- I'm sorry, sexual assault survivors and advisory groups associated with victims and survivors, as well as military service organizations, and that dialogue will continue. She wanted to introduce them to the highly qualified experts that she has enlisted to join the commission and to field and -- and solicit -- field questions and solicit their ideas.

So it is something we're pressing on every single day, and you're right, we do want people to feel more free, more comfortable to -- to report incidents up the chain of command, and that's some -- that's, again, going to be a continual focus.

It is still a problem in the ranks, it's still a serious threat to the men and women who serve in the United States military and I think you'll see Secretary Austin continue to keep the pressure on the entire time he's in office.

Okay, thanks, everybody, appreciate it. Sorry again for being late. I know that's becoming a habit and I promise I will try to fix that going forward. It's not -- it's not what I want to do and it's -- it's not good for you or me, so.

Q: Thank you.

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