Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Conducts a Press Briefing

May 10, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Sorry I'm a little bit late.

OK. I do have a few things at the top that I want to get through, so please bear with me. I think you saw, we advised the deputy secretary's travel, she's traveling to Austin, Texas, where she will meet with Army Futures Command and meet with the commanding general there, General Murray, as well as personnel from Army Futures Command for an overview of their mission. She'll also move on to Killeen, Texas, where she will get a chance to meet with soldiers and leaders at Fort Hood, which, as you all know, is home of the U.S. Army's III Armored Corps.

On Defender Europe 21, the exercise -- the EUCOM exercise, we continue to showcase our close ties to allies and partners with an airborne exercise, during which a large contingent of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division flew nonstop from Fort Bragg to conduct a night jump -- night jump into Estonia.

Today, U.S., Polish, and Romanian paratroopers conducted daytime airborne operations in Romania. And the event was live-streamed as well on their Facebook page.

Also in keeping with the larger Defender Europe 21 exercise, Special Operations Command-Europe is conducting exercise Trojan Footprint 21, which is focused on enhancing interoperability. The exercise is taking place at locations in Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, where U.S. personnel are integrating with troops from eight European allied countries and partners.

Out to the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Army-Pacific is participating in Exercise Tiger Balm, a bilateral exercise with the Singapore Army that started on the 6th of May and will run through the 21st.

This is the 40th anniversary of this particular exercise, which is focused on strengthening our partnership, solidifying interoperability, and building trust which help us all enable a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Exercise Tiger Balm is the longest-running bilateral exercise the Singapore Army has with any defense partner. And this exercise is of great importance to both our armies. Our partnership continues to be one of professionalism and mutual respect and trust.

I think you saw over the weekend Central Command -- the Navy component of Central Command released information and imagery from the seizure of illicit weapons from a stateless dhow, or boat, traversing international waters of the north Arabian Sea over the weekend. During a routine flag verification boarding, the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey and its embarked U.S. Coast Guard Advanced Interdiction Team discovered thousands of assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, as well as several dozen Russian-made antitank missiles.

The original source and intended destination of this materiel is currently under investigation. The materiel is in U.S. custody awaiting final disposition. And assessment of the findings will be an inter-agency effort.

As I think you all know, the Navy conducts routine patrols in the region to ensure the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic and disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity. And, of course, to safeguard the rules-based international order.

On the Navy, as I think you may have seen, they commissioned their newest ship, the USNS Miguel Keith Saturday at Naval Air Station North Island. Miguel Keith is an expeditionary sea base. This commissioning brings the number of deployable ships in the United States Navy up to 296. There are two other expeditionary sea base ships operating in the fleet along with Miguel Keith. The Miguel Keith will be now part of the forward-deployed naval force operating from Saipan.

And with that, we'll go to questions. And I think first to Bob.

Bob, you there?

Q: Yes, I'm sorry about that, had a little trouble un-muting myself.

John, I have two quick questions, John. First, has the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline operations affected the Defense Department fuel supplies? And the second question is regarding the Wall Street Journal report about the Defense Department considering, how to say it, pulling out of or ending the JEDI contract in light of the legal delays, is this accurate? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: On your first question, Bob, the Defense Logistics Agency is monitoring inventory levels and we're awaiting updates from Colonial Pipeline. There are sufficient -- there's sufficient inventory on hand for downstream customers. So there is no immediate mission impact. Obviously we're coordinating with our inter-agency partners.

On the JEDI contract, hold on a second, I do have lines on that, I think, somewhere here. Yes, here we go. As I think you saw Dr. Hicks say recently, in fact, I think just last week, we're going to assess where we are in regards to the ongoing litigation and determine what the best path forward is for the department.

We continue to have, I think you know, an urgent unmet requirement for enterprise-wide commercial cloud services at all three classification levels, but we remain fully committed to meeting these requirements. We hope through JEDI, but these requirements transcend any one procurement. And they're going to have to be met one way or the other.

Tara.

Q: Okay, John, thanks for doing this. At last week's HAC-D hearings, the chairwoman suggested that none of the funds that were taken from DOD to fund the border wall that -- will be coming back to DOD. That was followed by some press reporting on Friday. Can you clarify for us what, if any, of the funds that were taken to fund the border wall will now be coming back to either military construction projects or counter-drug operations, et cetera?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, fair question, I'm -- and I'm afraid I -- I can't quantify that right now. We -- we're still working our way through that. So the -- the bottom line is that we're looking hard at what reallocation is possible and what amounts and to what other programs, and we just don't have solidity on that right now, we just don't have a good answer right now.

Q: And just for an update, can we get the numbers of how many service members are currently at the border?

MR. KIRBY: I'll have to take that one. I don't know that I have that exact answer. So let me -- let me take that and -- and we'll see. It's important to remember -- I think you know, Tara, that the -- the work we're doing there is really supporting the work of Border Patrol. We're not actually conducting border patrol or law enforcement activity, it's -- it's sort of support roles so that they can focus on their job, but I don't think I have the latest numbers on that, so I'm going to have to -- I'll have to take that question and get back to you. Yeah, Pierre?

Q: Following up on the 5th Fleet work with the boat loaded with weapons. First, a question, if you don't mind -- do you, at this time, think that more work needs to be done to make sure that there is no weapons -- are coming through this channel, especially that they are intended to the Houthi and are using them against Saudi Arabia?

MR. KIRBY: Do I think more work needs to be done? I -- I -- I think this is a constant focus of -- of -- well, one constant focus of our naval assets in -- in the Central Command area of responsibility, is to -- is to stop this illicit flow of arms and material that can support terrorist groups in the region. It's something we're constantly monitoring and -- and constantly focusing on.

So I don't know that I'd tell you that -- you know, that it's an issue of more. It's something we're -- we're -- we're doing every day.

Q: One more follow up -- you mentioned that the anti-tanks are Russian-made. The statement of the Fifth Fleet mentioned also another part of the load that -- is Chinese. Do you hold Russia and China responsible because they are not really keeping up with the end user of what ...

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of the investigative work that's being done now to figure out the -- the origin of this material, where it really came from, including, you know, how many hands it might have passed through or where it was going. So let's not get ahead of the process right now.

The most important thing to remember is that -- that this is illicit traffic of the kind of material that can support terrorists in the region, and we're committed to doing what we can, with the international community, to stop in that traffic and that flow.

Let me go to the phones here. Jeff Seldin, VoA?

Q: Hey, John, thanks for doing this. Two questions. One, I'm wondering how you -- the Pentagon would assess so far the performance of the Afghan Security Forces as they've been trying to fend off some of the -- the Taliban attacks over the last couple of weeks? Obviously there's a ceasefire coming up but have they performed to the -- the level that the -- the U.S. expected, given all of the training and all of the work that's been done over the past few years and, you know, given the concerns that have been mentioned, that there's a need to wean them off the U.S. airstrikes, since that's going to be inevitable?

Also wondering if there's any update on progress on basing agreements for U.S. counterterrorism forces in the region.

MR. KIRBY: No updates on basing requirements in the region. That is something that I think we're still working our way through.

On your first question, it -- it's -- it's really more a question, you know, are they meeting the -- the -- the expectations of the Afghan people and -- and the government in Kabul, not our expectations? And I'm -- as you know, I'm loathe to speak about specific operations that we're conducting, and I'm even less inclined to want to speak to specifics of the operations that Afghan forces are conducting. I would say only two things: One is it's important to remember that for a while now, for a long while, they have been in the lead in operations in their country, and they are fighters.

I -- I don't, again, want to qualify in -- in, you know, in particular, operations one way or another. But they -- they do have more capabilities now than they've had in just the recent past, as the secretary and the chairman noted last week when they were up here. You know, you're talking about a force of roughly 300,000 across the both the -- the army and the police forces, and -- and they're fighting and they're defending. And again, I'd -- I'd leave it to the Ministry of Defense in Kabul to speak to specifically their assessment of how their troops are doing.

The last thing I'll say on this -- and again, the secretary made this very clear -- that our bilateral relationship with Afghan forces is going to change as we complete this retrograde. We're not -- we're -- we're not leaving this relationship; it's just going to take on a different character, and it's going to be largely done one remotely and through largely financial support.

Barb?

Q: Two questions, two different topics. First, did the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf or the North Arabian Sea have some kind of new encounter with the IRGC?

MR. KIRBY: So what I can tell you, Barb, is that earlier today, a large group of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, also known as the IRGCN, fast boats conducted unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers and failed to exercise due regard for the safety of U.S. forces, as required under international law, while operating in close proximity to US. Naval vessel -- vessels that were transiting the Strait of Hormuz. While exercising the right of transit passage in accordance with customary international law in that strait, six U.S. Navy vessels, escorting the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia -- and the escorts included the guided-missile cruiser Monterey, who we just talked about -- encountered a group of 13 of these fast attack boats. This group of fast attack boats -- boats approached the U.S. formation at high speed, closing in as close as 150 yards. After following all the appropriate and established procedures involving ship's horn blast, bridge-to-bridge radio transmissions and -- and other ways of communicating, the Coast Guard Cutter Maui -- U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui fired approximately 30 warning shots from a 50-caliber machine gun. After the second round of warning shots, the 13 fast attack craft from the IRGCN broke contact.

Q: All right. If you could explain a couple things. So, 30 warning shots?

MR. KIRBY: In total.

Q: Right. Two different...

MR. KIRBY: Volley. There was a volley at roughly the 300-yard mark, and then another volley of warning shots as they got into 150 yards.

Q: And all of those from the same Coast Guard cutter?

MR. KIRBY: That's correct.

Q: And it was -- you used very specific language -- in the strait.

MR. KIRBY: In the strait.

Q: So not just outside, not just inside.

MR. KIRBY: In the strait.

Q: And is that not -- even though they come out and look all -- you -- you know the Iranians observe you all the time. Do you have any sense of whether it is unusual for them to do that in that particular piece of water, and particularly, if they saw a U.S. Navy submarine? Have you seen that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have the history here, so Barb, I -- I'm afraid I can't answer how frequently or common are these sort of incidents inside the strait it -- it -- itself. So I'd refer you to Navy; that they'll -- they'll have -- or -- or CENTCOM might have a -- a -- a better sense of the history here. But having transited that strait many times myself, I mean, it's -- it -- it's an international waterway, and -- and of course, when you're in the strait, you -- there's -- there are certain limits to your ability to maneuver, and it is a chokepoint in the region. So it's not insignificant that this kind of dangerous, unsafe and unprofessional incident -- behavior occurred there.

Q: How long did it last?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have the duration.

Q: And you've had helicopters overhead as you (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't have any additional operational details to add today.

Q: If I could ask a quick question on a completely different subject, which is Jordan. King -- King Abdullah of Jordan tweeted earlier today that he had received a phone call from General Milley, and that the two of them -- this was on the king's Twitter account -- that the two of them had discussed the situation in Israel, the violence and the overall political security situation. Since King Abdullah tweeted that earlier today, that tweet has actually disappeared from his well-known public Twitter account, which seems a little peculiar that he would disavow the conversation with Milley somehow.

That said, I want to ask a Pentagon question, not a Joint Staff question. But now...

MR. KIRBY:                              You knew where I was going, right?

Q: Now that the king of Jordan has put this in the Pentagon arena, that there was a conversation with our -- the most senior U.S. military advisor to the president of the United States, what is this building's position on Israeli policy and actions right now, amidst the current security situation?

MR. KIRBY: You know, Barb, I'm going to have to take the question here. I'm not -- I was not aware of the -- the tweet. I was not aware of the conversations, and therefore, I'm ill-equipped to speak to the specifics of whatever conversation occurred, so... Q: Well...

MR. KIRBY: Let -- let me...

Q: Love -- love to get the answer.

MR. KIRBY: I'm sure. Let me do the best I can, understanding that if this conversation occurred, it -- it -- it occurred between the -- the chairman and -- and the king, not -- not the secretary. So we also want to be mindful, but we don't want to speak for the chairman.

Q: And if the secretary winds up talking to King Abdullah and -- or any Israeli leaders and you're able to tell us, that would be useful.

MR. KIRBY: We routinely provide readouts of his conversations with world leaders. I have no such conversations to speak to today. Yeah.

Let me go back here to the phones. David Martin?

Q: John, the Navy usually takes a video of these instances in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz. Are you aware of whether there is any video of this latest encounter? And if so, will -- is OSD going to approve its release?

MR. KIRBY: Dave, I don't know if there's video of it. I'm -- I'm happy to look into that, and as you know, we -- we typically do release video once it's gone through a -- a -- a proper review for classification. So if there's video and if it's something that we deem that we can in fact release, we would -- as past practice, we would be supportive of that.

Q:  Can I follow up on a different subject. The reports that the European allies have asked the U.S. to slow it's withdraw from Afghanistan to better accommodate their needs.

MR. KIRBY: I wouldn't speak for our European allies and partners and our coalition partners for their own pacing of the withdrawal. What I can say is that we have our marching orders from President Biden and that is to complete the retrograde by early September. We'll have -- tomorrow central command will put out an updated progress report for all of you like they did -- like they did last Tuesday.

So I don't want to get ahead of that. But I can say broadly our retrograde activities continue apace. And again, our -- our mandate is to be out by early September and that's we're focused on. Lara?.

Q: Thanks, John. On speaking with Afghanistan, can you say -- is the violence over the weekend complicating the draw down at all or hastening the effort? And then I have a separate question on Israel.

MR. KIRBY: Thus far, Lara, we haven't -- I'll put it this way, there hasn't been activity that has degraded our ability to continue the retrograde at pace. Obviously, I mean, the secretary talked about this last week.

The violence is still too high and we saw an attack over the weekend again that -- that killed a lot of young school girls. So we all want to see the violence come down. But thus far with the exception of a harassing attack here or there that had no impact on our forces, we haven't encountered anything that has affected our ability to continue to retrograde on pace.

Q: Then in terms of the violence against Afghan's, the uptick in that violence, is there any talk of potentially slowing down?

MR. KIRBY: As I said to David, we're -- we're focused on meeting the president's intentions and his orders, which is to be out by early September. We haven't seen anything thus far that has affected our ability to -- to meet that objective.

I do want to just -- I'll just go back a little bit to David -- David's question; obviously we're in touch with our allies and partners and we remain supportive of helping them as they conduct retrograde of their forces. I won't speak to the specifics of those conversations or what their pace is because it's really -- they're a sovereign nations, it's for them to speak to.

But obviously we're in touch them. And as the secretary has said, we went in together, we served together and we're all going to come out together, that's -- that's the overarching goal with our NATO allies.

Q: (Inaudible) can you comment on the violence that's happening in Jerusalem right now? Netanyahu accused the Hamas militant group of crossing a red line with the rocket attack.

MR. KIRBY: Yes.

Q: And promised a response. So I'm wondering if you're concerned about a drastic escalation?

MR. KIRBY:  I would say this, today's rocket attack from Gaza into Israel is unacceptable and the United States supports Israel's right to self defense and here at the Department we're going to continue our cooperation to insure that Israel has what it needs to defend and protect itself.

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: OK.

Q: Are you concerned in any way about Israel using excessive force against unarmed Palestinians in Jerusalem?

MR. KIRBY: I think that's a question better put to Israel authorities. Obviously we -- we -- we don't want to see -- obviously we don't want to see innocent lives taken and nobody wants to see this level of violence.

But as I said in my answer to Lara, these rocket attacks from Gaza are unacceptable and Israel has a right to defend itself. And here at the Department we're going to continue to support to a degree -- the best degree we can, their ability to protect themselves and their citizens from -- from these kinds of attacks.

Let me -- let me go to the phones here. Sam LeGrone, USNI.

Q: Hey, John. Two quick questions and a follow-up from the Fifth Fleet stuff. Number one, what is the investigation or the investigative agency that's looking into the Monterey seizure from the dhow. And then number two, you said that Georgia was transiting the Strait of Hormuz during the recent IRG unsafe unprofessional encounter.

Were they going in to the Gulf or coming out? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: My understanding is going in, Sam. And on your first question, my understanding is this will be an inner agency investigation because it crosses a lot of different agency lines. 

Meghann?

Q: I asked this a couple of weeks ago, I just want to see if anything has moved. But the extremism working group, the first few action items that they, have deadlines been set for them to get back to the secretary with their suggestions or findings or anything like that? And if they haven't, why not set deadlines?

MR. KIRBY: I don't believe there's been a specific deadline set but I know that they're hard at work. The working group is hard at work at filling the mandate from the secretary. I think he's -- again, as we've talked about this, we're -- he's more interested in making sure we get this right rather than get it fast.

Q: Sure. But these are immediate action items. One of them is to come up with a definition that the Department can use to evaluate individual cases, how could there not be a deadline for something like that?

MR. KIRBY: They're working on that right now, Meghann. And that they don't -- that I don't have a specific deadline to speak to doesn't mean that there isn't a sense of urgency here or an understanding of the sense of importance.

And I would remind that what we're really focused here on is the kinds of activity and behavior that is inspired by extremist ideology, not necessarily a broad definition of extremism itself. 

OK. Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy.

Q: Thanks, John. Does the secretary plan to meet with his Chinese counterparts at the Shangri-La dialogue or on the sidelines?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any specific bilateral meetings to announce here today. We are in the planning stages of the trip to the Shangri-La -- Shangri-La dialogue, sorry. And as we get more detail on what -- because you all know there are bilateral and sometimes multilateral meetings that occur on the sidelines. As we get more detail on that and we'll be happy to share with you. But I just don't have anything additional today.

Q: Got it. Do you know if they've spoken yet?

MR. KIRBY: They've not spoken. In the back there.

Q: And in this weekend, the Yahoo News published an article, which claims based on interviews with 15 current and former U.S. officials that on the killing on General Qasem Soleimani. Kurdish counterterrorism played a major role and Israelis also passed some information. Can you -- can you comment on that?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to comment on the specifics of that story, and as you know we don't talk about the details of military operations. The only thing that I would add is that our embassies are diplomatic faculties focused on the work of diplomacy and not involving, conducting, or overseeing military operations. That's about as far as I'm going to go. I already got you, Tara. Abraham?

Q: Quick clarification. So the border wall construction, that funding if it's already spent it was shifted from one location to the other. Where would it then come back from? And also is there a total yet for how much was shifted? And so, that's the first question.

Second question, the Deputy Secretary Hicks's visit to Fort Hood, is there anything related to the IRC that she's going to be doing down there? Can you give us an update on that?

MR. KIRBY: I think they'll give you a better read out obviously of her discussions there, so I don't want to get ahead of that. I would certainly expect that issues surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment given the Fort Hood report that was so recently released, I would fully expect that that will be part of the discussion there, but I'll -- I don't want to get ahead of her or her staff, and I'm sure they'll provide an appropriate readout of it.

On the border wall question, you lost me. What are you looking for?

Q: How much was spent down there? That was a question that came up I think the last week or the week before that you were going to look into, and then...

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a -- I don't have a dollar figure to give you right now in terms of how much was actually spent. It's difficult to estimate the precise costs for suspension actually until the contractors have submitted claims for their actual costs, so we just don't have an exact dollar figure right now.

And I like I said, I think was it Tara asked or somebody asked in terms of what's going to be recouped and where that's going to go, we are working our way through that right now, OK?

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Let's see. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. This is the second incident in which U.S. vessels have fired warning shots at the IRGCN in recent weeks. Do you get the sense that the Iranians are trying to pick a fight with the Navy and Coast Guard?

MR. KIRBY: I think I'd let them speak to their intentions, Jeff. Sadly, harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon. It is something that all our commanding officers and crews of our vessels are trained. It's a threat they're trained for when serving in the Central Command area of responsibility particularly in and around the Gulf.

So they have the right of self defense. They have the means at their disposal to defend their ships and their crews. And they also as I think we've seen now in this second incident are very stringent about following the proper procedures for providing warnings verbally first and then if need be through the use of warning shots to try to change and to mitigate the Iranian behavior.

This is, as we said at the top, it's unsafe. It's unprofessional, and this kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation there in the region, and that doesn't serve anybody's interests.

Q: Well that's my follow up question. At what point are U.S. vessels allowed to sink these IRGCN boats?

MR. KIRBY: That gets to specific rules of engagement, Jeff, and I think you know we don't talk about that. I'll just go back to what I said before, and that's that our commanding officers and the crews of our ships, they have the right of self defense and they know how to use that right. Yes . Yes, ma'am?

Q: Do you have any update about recent terrorism attack in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique? And also if you have an update about the training that U.S. military are providing to the Mozambique soldiers?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think I have an update. Let me just look here to make sure that I don't have an update on that. I'm probably going to have to take your question. Yes. I don't have an update, and I certainly don't have any specific operational thing to speak to, but we do conduct joint counterterrorism training down in Mozambique. It is not directly supporting combat operations, though. It's to help their forces improve their counterterrorism capability.

I'm not aware of any change in that posture or that capability, but again I think I'm going to have to take your question in terms of an update on where things are there. It's also -- I would also -- I mean, I'm happy to do it and we will, but I also encourage you to reach out to our State Department colleagues, too. They might have more and more contextual information that we would have on that situation at the Defense Department.

Q: About the attacks, the recent attacks, how the Pentagon saw?

MR. KIRBY: We are not -- as I said before, we are not involved in military operations in Mozambique. What we do is do some joint counterterrorism training for their forces. So I'm confident in telling you that we're not participating in a military role -- a U.S. military role in this recent violence. Our missions down there are very precisely dedicated to helping them improve their counterterrorism capabilities, OK? Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about China's behavior in space. Supposedly the debris from a large Chinese rocket around this in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, but we are not sure where precisely it would fall for several hours before it grounded. And there was a risk for people's lives and property. Do you think that China's handling of space debris was responsible?

MR. KIRBY: I think you saw the NASA Administrator speak to this yesterday, calling on China to be more responsible in the way they manage the realm of space and their entry into orbit, material and systems. And I think you also heard the secretary himself speak to this on Thursday. I can't improve upon the way he put it, that we want to see everybody who are actors in space do so in a responsible, deliberate way that's mindful of the safety of all our citizens here on Earth.

Q: A follow up of the United States has want to establish international rules and norms of responsible behavior in space. Do you think the recent events highlight the importance and urgency of an international code of conduct in space?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to get ahead of like a specific code here. I think you've heard our Space Force Chief of Staff speak to this that obviously we all want everybody to behave responsibly here, and according to some, you know, internationally accepted norms, that's important, for the safety of everybody who uses the space domain to communicate and to improve situational awareness. We want everybody to behave responsibly and to ascribe to, at the very least, some internationally accepted norms of behavior. 

Yes. Peter Loewi, Asahi. 

Q: Hi, John. Thanks very much. Yesterday China and Indonesia held joint naval exercises. Do you have any comment on this and will it impact any Indonesia-U.S. joint exercises in the future? I think Garuda Shield is scheduled for August? 

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any impact it would have to any joint exercises with Indonesia, Peter. And I wasn't tracking the bilateral exercise with China. I'd refer you to both those countries to speak to their goals and objectives there. It's not something I have visibility on. But, you know, we still look forward to bilateral opportunities with the Indonesians. 

In here, yes, ma'am. 

Q: Hi, thank you for finally giving me a chance to ask some questions. My name is (Jean Yung Kim ?), I'm working for South Korean daily newspaper (inaudible). You can call me Jean next time. 

MR. KIRBY: Jean. 

Q: Yes. 

MR. KIRBY: You said "finally."

(Laughter.)

Q: Yes, because I was like -- yes. 

MR. KIRBY: OK. 

Q: So I have two questions about the illicit cargo seized in northern Arabian Sea. First, (inaudible) the statements from the 5th Fleet, and that the crew on the dhow was released after questioning. So I'm just curious about what -- how the inter-agency investigation team will pursue whoever is responsible for it, for selling the weapons and if there are any (inaudible) investigation process? 

And my second question is, the weapons, the Russian-made -- like Russian and then Chinese weapons, I'm pretty sure that North Korea has a lot of those kind of weapons and even has the ability to produce the copies. So I understand that you don't want to get ahead of the investigation, but can you just exclude North Korea from the line of investigation or what will be the...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: Can I exclude them, you mean as a potential destination? No. As I said at the beginning, the final destination of this material is unknown. That's why we're investigating it. I can't speak to the specific issues with the crew. I'm certain that we had opportunity to speak to them about their cargo. And I just won't get ahead of the investigation. Sorry.  

Q: OK. 

MR. KIRBY: Let's see, Terace? 

Q: Yes, hi, John. Thank you for taking my question. It's actually a follow-up about the space debris. I know that Secretary Austin said that the military was not going to get involved as far as possibly shooting it out of the sky. But do you feel there should have -- more should have been done as far as the military to try to set than going to start the military to try to I guess direct the debris or alleviate the debris from it landing near the islands of the Maldives? 

MR. KIRBY: I -- if you're asking if I suggested that we felt we should have done more to direct the debris? 

Q: Yes, the question is, do you feel more should have been done? 

MR. KIRBY: There's a limit to what you can do, Terace, when you have an object of this size traveling at the speed at which it was going. I think you all had the opportunity, if you wanted to, to get online and see how it was tracked. It wasn't really known until very, very near its entry into the atmosphere where it was going to enter the atmosphere. And as we put out that night, Saturday night, it -- around 10:15 that we had a firm enough indication that it reentered somewhere over the Arabian Peninsula. 

And honestly, we were tracking it as close as we can. So there is a real limit to what not only what any -- any military capability could do, but any tracking capability could do given, again, the size and the speed at which this was traveling. 

Let's see, go back in here. Yes, in the back? 

Tara, I'll come back to you in a second. 

Q: Thank you. Want to follow up on the China rocket debris. Were there any communication between the U.S. side and the Chinese side during this course of -- the fall of the debris? 

MR. KIRBY: All I can speak for is the Defense Department, and the answer to that is no. 

Tara? 

Q: Thanks. Just really quick, get a couple more details on the IRGC incident. Do you know what time it happened? I know Barbara asked how long it happened, but...

MR. KIRBY: I don't. I mean, this is information that we're really just getting, honestly, before we came up here. So I'd refer you to the Navy or CENTCOM, it might have more detail about that. 

Q: OK, and in perspective, it seems like 13 fast attack boats is an escalation. We've seen these prior incidents, but it has been like groups of twos or fours.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: It's certainly more than we've seen in recent past. Again, I don't have the full history. The Navy might be able to help you with that. I can't say definitively that we've not seen that many since whenever. It's significant. And as I said to Barbara, that it occurred in the Strait, an international chokepoint waterway, that too is significant. And they were acting very aggressively.

Q: (inaudible) behavior, was it swarming, were they circling around? 

MR. KIRBY: All I have is the context I have so far which is that they were approaching at a very fast speeds towards the U.S. formation. 

Q: Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes. 

Barbara. 

Q: Do you have any -- on that, do you have any assessment of how much of this is the IRGCN perhaps acting on their own, directed from the central government in Tehran, any signal from the central government in Tehran about whether they support this at the moment given the multinational talks that are going on, on the nuclear agreement? Do you assess that the government in Iran is supportive of this IRGC effort? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't think at this point that we have a great sense of the command-and-control element here for the IRGC Navy. I think you know the IRGC Navy reports directly to the supreme leader. But what level of command-and-control and visibility there was from Tehran, I don't think we know that right now. 

Q: Is there some suggestion, perhaps, that, you know, even though it has been several months now, the death of Soleimani has led to less -- a lessening of command-and-control over the IRGC forces? 

MR. KIRBY: You know, that gets into an intelligence assessment issue that I just would not be at liberty to speak to. Again, the command-and-control in this particular incident is not clear. 

Q: And just to button up the Chinese rocket incident, perhaps, maybe. Can you say definitively now that it is over the Defense Department had no plan in place to shoot it down? Can you say that? Can you say definitively there were no military assets on any kind of specific alert status to either render assistance had there been landing on U.S. -- on the United States or (inaudible) territory. Was there any -- anything that you guys were doing or ready for that we do not know about? 

MR. KIRBY: I -- anything that you do not know about. I would just point you back to what the secretary said last week, there were no plans to shoot it down. 

Q: And you have nothing on an alert standby --

(Crosstalk)

MR. KIRBY: I think I'm going to leave --

Q: -- (inaudible)? 

MR. KIRBY: I will leave it at what the secretary said, there were no plans to shoot it down. 

Tajinder?

Q: Oh, hi. First of all, thank you very much for solving the problem with the parking lot and I have two short questions. 

The first one is about -- do you have any comment on China's move to draw a line of separation on Everest Summit to permit -- to end the mingling of climbers from COVID-hit Nepal and those ascending from the Tibetan site? Because this is the way China already is trying to get more and more across the border -- you know what's going on with India all the time. 

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Tajinder, that's a question better put to the State Department. That's not something that the Defense Department could speak to. 

And I missed the bit about the parking lot. 

Q: The -- all of the journalists there, I do not know if anybody has thanked you, but people are thankful that the parking lot -- the press lanes have been designated again as press lanes. 

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm glad to hear that. Glad it got fixed. You're welcome. 

Q: OK. It is -- it is fixed -- 

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome. 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: -- easiest question I've had all day. 

Q: And the second one is --

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome. 

Q: (Hello ?). And the second one is --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Hello. 

MR. KIRBY: All right. I think we've got a couple more on the phone here. Tom -- Tom from Talk Media. 

Q: Hey, John. Thanks a lot for taking the call. Thanks for doing this. 

I don't want you to give me an intelligence assessment or get ahead of anything but just wanted to know when the -- depending on -- generally first become aware and get visibility of China's plan to enhance and construct an airstrip on Kanton in Kiribati. Is this an island too far and is it one of the kind of things that is an element that falls under the global posture -- Global Force Posture Review now underway? 

MR. KIRBY: Not -- our Global Force Posture Review is about our global force posture. And it's an ongoing effort that the secretary wants to make sure that -- that gives him visibility on where we have our resources and whether our resources are adequate to the strategy and -- that we're trying to conduct on behalf of the American people, our ability to defend the nation.

Q: Well, that is --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: -- that work continues, I certainly won't get ahead of it. 

Q: Right, but -- depending on when did they first become aware of this happening.

MR. KIRBY: Again, I think you probably answered your own question there when you said you know I'm not going talk about intelligence assessments and I don't think I'm going to start doing that today. 

Ellie Watson, CBS? 

Q: Thank you. No question. 

MR. KIRBY: OK. Sangman Lee? 

Q: Yes. We have a North Korean policy but we don't know if there's a big action planned. And related to that, can you tell me about U.S. and South Korea joint military exercise is going to be conducted in the same way, like a scaled-down manner, as we did in the North Korea policy?

MR. KIRBY: I think I understand your question, is how does our -- how will our trainee events with the South Koreans be affected by the policy review that's now complete on North Korea. Is that right?

Q: Right. That's right.

MR. KIRBY: Yes. So again, I would refer you to the NSC to speak to more detail about the policy review. But in essence, the approach that the administration wants to take is deliberate and a phased approach to try to find diplomatic space to get to the denuclearization of North Korea. And of course, here, at the Defense Department, we support that effort wholeheartedly. We support the work of our diplomats. 

That said, the secretary also takes very seriously our security commitments to our treaty allies in the Republic of Korea. And we have an obligation working with them to make sure that forces on the Peninsula, across all realms of service, are trained and ready -- as we say, ready to fight tonight. And so, the training events are conducted there under General Abrams leadership are designed for that purpose, and that will continue.

Any more here in the room?

MR. KIRBY: All right. I got -- last one here is Qassem? 

Q: John, thank you very much for the -- the -- the question about Jerusalem -- the escalation in Jerusalem. You said -- the question was, if -- are -- you are concerned if the Pentagon -- as Pentagon -- as U.S. official, you are concerned about the escalation, and the excessive use of force in Jerusalem, you said, it's a better question to put to Israel. Can you clarify this answer? What should we ask Israelis?

MR. KIRBY: Speak to how the -- specifically, how the Israelis are defending themselves against these attacks. Obviously, as I also said, and I hope you caught that, but we don't want to see any innocents killed here. But the rocket attacks coming from Gaza are unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people and its territory. And the Department of Defense remains committed -- very committed to helping Israel do that. 

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: That's what I said.

Q: Yes. Understandable, but ...

MR. KIRBY: OK. Thanks, everybody.