Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing

May 11, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  I do not have a topper.  So Lita, we'll go to you.

Q:  Having issue finding the mute button.

I -- I realize, before I even start, that you may refer part of this to CENTCOM, but CENTCOM's release this morning talked about retrograde between six and twelve percent of the entire process.  Is there any way you can give us a better sense of what that represents?  Are they -- are you all going to lump equipment and people and everything all into one big group and do a percentage of that, or can we interpret that as six to twelve percent of the troops that have come out?  And so secondarily to that, General Milley has said publicly that there are about 3,300 troops in Afghanistan, if you count SOF.  So are you all going to use your percentages to reflect that total, or are -- are you going to use the 2,500 number that OSD said publicly?  Any -- any clarity on some of this would be helpful.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, so Lita, you're right.  I will refer you to CENTCOM for more detail.  My understanding is that this percentage that they're offering is an aggregate percentage which includes resources, people, equipment, but also the degree to which we are closing and will continue to close facilities.  So I don't want to speak for them.  My understanding of that figure is that it's an aggregate percentage of progress across all the different lines of effort that go into retrograde.

Central Command has expressed a concern about -- about the release of personnel figures specifically.  Given that, we have to assume, and we are still assuming, that this drawdown could be opposed by the Taliban, and there is a -- there is a concern by CENTCOM that in revealing the numbers of people coming out, or for that matter, you know, there's -- as you know, there's been a temporary addition of -- of -- of some assets for force protection purposes -- that that provides a -- a level of situational awareness for the Taliban that -- that they're not comfortable with.  So we're respecting that -- that thought process.

But again, you know, for -- for greater detail on this, I certainly would refer you to CENT -- to CENTCOM.

Q:  John, just to follow up, so we should not at any point, when they -- they do these weekly, or whatever, figures, we should never assume that the percentage should -- would suggest any specific decrease in personnel there?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I think it's -- it -- again, I'd say it's an aggregate.  It's an aggregate percentage that -- that they're using to measure their entire progress towards retrograde.  And again, I -- I'd, again, refer you to them for more forensics on how they're determining that, but my understanding is it's -- it's -- it's not just about the people, but it's about the equipment and it's about the -- the -- the closure of facilities, as well as the can -- the kind of capabilities that General Miller has at his disposal.  So it's an aggregate of all that stuff.  It's not -- it -- it's not alone representative of any -- of any one thing.

And again, they've expressed what we believe to be reasonable concerns when it -- when it comes specifically to the -- to the people figure.  But because, again, we have to assume that our people and those of our allies and partners are going to be at -- at -- at some risk here as we begin -- as we continue to do the retrograde.

Barbara?

Q:  I'm going to follow up on that.  I mean, I think for historic purposes, purposes of the record, it would be really useful to get an actual definition on the record from the U.S. military, from the Defense Department of what they're talking about definition for -- for a lot of reasons, but two things:  You -- it's not hypothetical.  You could have a reporting period where you pull out a lot of equipment, but maybe not so many personnel.  So when you say aggregate, it's hard to determine what that might mean in terms of personnel, and that could flip the other way.  You could have a lot of personnel --

MR. KIRBY:  Right.

Q:  -- in a particular reporting period.  And does that include, for example, when it comes to personnel, as you just said, the uptick in numbers of people that have gone in due to force protection?  And, I mean, I suppose it's -- I mean, we're just discussing it.  I suppose it's possible over the coming weeks additional people might go in for force protection.  So this current aggregate of six to twelve percent, does that even hold for personnel if you get a shift of people going in?  If it's very hard --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- aggregate to know --

MR. KIRBY:  I understand and I would, again, refer you to CENTCOM for the forensics of how they're determining this.  That's --

Q:  -- possibly send a written definition so we're all working off the same language and we know -- nobody's actually spelled out, I think, what aggregate means in this case.  You know, like, you spell out what is an airstrike.  For years now, you have an operational definition of what is an airstrike, what constitutes an airstrike in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.  Just maybe think about something similar because it's impossible to know what this means.

MR. KIRBY:  I can explore the issue with CENTCOM, in -- in terms of providing the up -- up -- possible greater clarity on what the percentage indicates but I don't want to set false expectations that -- that in doing so, there's going to be a lot more granularity in -- in terms of the data itself as we progress through the retrograde.

Again, I -- I think you would all agree and understand that we have a -- a top priority of protecting our people and those of our allies and partners, and this is still a very dynamic environment.  I mean, it's -- it's not a static retrograde, it's very much dynamic and -- and the threats are real and we have to take them seriously.

So I'll -- I take your point.  I'll have a conversation.  I can't promise anything on the back end of it but I -- I -- I understand where you're coming from.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Let me go to the phones here too.  Nancy Youssef.

Q:  Thank you. 

I just want to reiterate Barbara's point about -- (I may that ?) -- how important I think it is to give those numbers out, not only because of the public's right to know but I think it really undermines the U.S. military argument and General Milley's point last week, that the Afghan Security Forces, that there's confidence in that they can sustain the security situation when the United States is not comfortable enough even releasing figures -- basic, rounded figures about the withdrawal.  But that's not my question, I just want to make that point.

Can we talk about Israel for a minute?  Could you tell us who is the highest ranking U.S. military official to engage with their Israeli counterpart, when that happened and what message they conveyed to the Israelis?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  I am not aware of any high level communication here from the -- the Defense Department with Israeli leaders over the last few days or weeks but I don't know if that's what you're referring to, or ever.  I mean, the -- the Secretary was in fact in Israel just last month, where he met with not only his counterpart, the -- the Defense Minister Gantz, but he had an extensive meeting with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that was just a -- a few weeks ago.

So I'm -- I'm -- I'm assuming you're asking about recent days, given the situation there, but the Secretary himself was -- was -- was in Israel just a few weeks ago.

Q:  I'm sorry I wasn't clear, I was referring to in the last week, in light of the recent clashes and the escalation of the use of the Israeli military.  The Biden administration had indicated it would be sort of engagement and I was just curious, from your perspective, why we haven't seen the U.S. leverage its strong mil-to-mil ties with Israel?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I -- I don't have any conversations to read out to you, Nancy.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Sylvie?

Q:  General Milley said last week that he doesn't want to hear about another date for the withdrawal but several European officials, including your German counterpart, the German Spokesman -- the Spokesman of the German Ministry of Defense, spoke on the record about July 4th.

So I wanted to know if you can confirm that this date as being communicated to NATO allies, and if so, what is the logic behind withdrawing very fast.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm -- I'm --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q:  No, no, go ahead.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I won't -- I'm not going to talk about our conversations with NATO allies, and they can speak obviously for themselves and their -- and their sovereign nations.  Let me go back to what we've been saying from the outset.

First, the -- the President's directive and his intention are very clear, that we will complete this retrograde by early September, and that -- that is the target, that's what -- that's what we know we have to do.  And the -- as I said yesterday, the -- the retrograde continues at pace.

I'm -- I'm not going to speculate about when exactly we're going to be complete but I would like to push back on the -- what I perceive to be the premise in your question, that we're somehow rushing.  I can assure you that neither General McKenzie or General Miller are rushing anything, that they -- that they very clearly understand that this has to be safe and orderly and responsible.  You heard all of those words from the Secretary and from the Chairman last week.  I -- I -- I can assure you that -- that -- that those adjectives are very much driving the retrograde plan.

Q:  So I -- I was not thinking about rushing, actually, I was thinking about --

MR. KIRBY:  You asked that question.  You used it in your question.

Q:  Going very fast, I said.

(CROSSTALK)

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  I'll check the transcript.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, let's -- Okay, let's assume you're right, and you said "going very fast."

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  It is not about -- it -- it's -- it's not about speed, it's about safe and orderly.

Q:  Because General Milley also said "don't forget there is a peace process."  He said that when he -- when doing the press conference.  So what I would understand was -- is that it's more about making sure that the Taliban don't advance too much and that when you leave, they don't control too much of the country so they -- they -- they can be a significant peace process, something that can really give some result ...

(CROSSTALK)

... do I understand well or is it -- I'm -- I'm completely wrong?

MR. KIRBY:  So first of all, I think if you look up rushing, it kind of means going very fast.  Sort of is similar.

Q:  No, there's no judgment in the -- when I fast.

Q:  Yeah, rushing is pejorative.

Q:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Going very fast is.

MR. KIRBY:  Going very fast and rushing are roughly the same thing.  What are you, the word police now?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  ... that's what we get paid for.

Q:  We do.

MR. KIRBY:  OK, you've got me there.

(LAUGHTER)

I walked right into that one.  The.

Q:  Will there be a transcript of this?

(LAUGHTER)

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, yeah, I'm afraid so.  Much -- much -- much to my regret.

Q: for purposes of a transcript.

(LAUGHTER)

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, that was Meghann, yes.

Q:  Excellent.

Q:  There you go.

Q:  Excellent.

MR. KIRBY:  But back to your -- back to your question, the -- that we are completing this retrograde and in the responsible manner that we are doesn't mean that -- that the administration isn't still supportive of diplomacy and -- and a political solution to this war and a political process.  I mean, we very much are.

Our job here at -- at -- at the Defense Department is to safely, and in an orderly fashion, remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, one.  Two, working with the State Department to ensure that we have a -- that we are able to support the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, which the President has also made clear he wants to continue, and we're -- we're in consultations with the State Department about what that looks like.  We don't have all of the answers right now.  And three, as you've heard the Secretary say many times, to support the work of diplomacy writ large.

And so we still support and want to see a political end to this war and -- and to see that the Taliban and the Afghan government work this out, and -- and -- and we're willing -- the United States is willing, not -- this isn't a DOD role but the United States is willing to -- to be a part of that process, and -- and -- and we don't think that the -- that the two are mutually exclusive in any way, OK?

Q:  So I understood well, if I.

MR. KIRBY:  You understood what?

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  My -- my question was do I -- do I understand well what you are doing and do you seek to confirm this.

MR. KIRBY:  Confirm what?

Q:  That you are trying to keep the peace process going fast -- would help the (inaudible) peace process.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I never said -- keep getting into this fast thing -- I never said -- I never said anything about the peace process moving fast.  The -- the -- the -- that's not at all what I'm -- I'm saying, and that's a -- it -- it -- it's a question for the State Department. 

We still support the political process, we still support a -- a -- a peace process, we want to see a political end to this conflict, and the Secretary made it clear that we're -- at DOD, we want to support the work of our diplomats, and -- and we are.

We also have a new mission given by the President of the United States to -- to transition to an -- to -- to retrograde all of our forces out of Afghanistan.  I -- I -- I -- the -- the two are not mutually exclusive.  Is that -- are you sure?

(LAUGHTER)

OK.  Let me go to the phones.  I've got to keep going back and forth here.  Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q:  Hey, John.  A couple of questions.  One, the Romanian President told President Biden on Monday that more NATO troops are needed on the eastern flank, given Russian -- Russia's recent aggression.  Is DOD considering sending additional troops to this region?  And then I have an unrelated question.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any such plans.  I -- no, I'm not aware of any plans.

Q:  Is this something that has been discussed, though?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any such plans to alter the footprint in Europe.

Q:  Has Secretary Austin spoken with his Romanian counterpart about this recently?

MR. KIRBY:  No, there's been no -- I have to go back and look at the record of -- of who he's called since he's been in office but I'm -- I'm not aware of any such conversation. 

Q:  OK.  And then my other question -- are you concerned, is the Secretary concerned about the situation in Iraq -- it's Balad, I believe -- with the F-16s?  It's been reported that the Iraqis have had to ground this fleet after the contractors left.  So is this -- is this a concern for Secretary Austin and what's going to be done about it?

MR. KIRBY:  We're -- we're committed to continuing to help Iraqi Security Forces as they defend their citizens and their country.  Our mission there, as you know, Lara, is about countering ISIS and helping them prosecute operations against ISIS.  We do that in -- in many different ways and obviously we're -- we're in close touch with our Iraqi partners about -- about their needs and -- and the capabilities that they require to continue to prosecute at -- at conflict, but I don't have any other detail today.  Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  What's the level of -- like, with Lockheed decision, did they -- I forgot the -- the word, the (inaudible) -- sorry ...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Coordinate.

... coordination, I'm sorry for that.  So what's the level of coordination between the -- the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin ahead of their decision to remove their contractors from…

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update for you on that. 

Q:  Nothing ...

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I -- I just -- I don't have ...

Q:  Is there any plan to maybe intervene ...

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't have an update for you on the -- on -- on this issue.

Q:  ... that they're leaving there?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have an update for you on the situation.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah?

Q:  On India, do you have an update on your U.S. assistance to India and COVID-19?  How many flights has ...

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think -- I don't think there's been...

(CROSSTALK)

... a change in the recent -- recent days.  I don't think -- let me just check real quick.  I don't think we've done -- I don't think there's been additional flights.

Q: (inaudible) let us know.

MR. KIRBY:  Let me see if I have it first.

Q:  (Inaudible) also some news reports about DLA, Defense Logistics Agency, planning to fly some (inaudible) hospitals to India.

MR. KIRBY:  There we go.  OK, well, I don't think I've got an update for you here...

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY... so we can take that question and get back to you on that.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  If -- whatever additional things we've done -- I -- I did give an update on this last week.  So what we'll do is we'll see if there is a -- any change to what I've put out last week.  There may not be, and if there isn't, we'll let you know that.

Q:  OK.  Given the position India is in, is it affecting the security's (positioning?) in Indo-Pacific for the U.S.?

MR. KIRBY:  Is it affecting what?

Q:  The security in the Indo-Pacific?  Because you know that China has the (inaudible) of the region.  India's (backlogged?) with its own COVID-19 process.  Has it in fact (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY:  I think -- I think to the degree that it's affected India, I think that's a question you should put to officials in New Delhi.  We're -- we're not aware of any decrements to the security environment caused specifically by this.  We do understand that it is -- it is a -- a significant crisis inside India, which is why we wanted to -- to help and to assist the -- and we acted as quickly as we did.  I can't point to a -- a specific issue that -- security decrement to the greater region that's been caused by this.  But to the degree that it -- if it -- if it has affected the Indian military, for instance, in some way, that's a question that only they can answer.

Q:  I'm looking at it from the U.S. -- from the U.S. point of view.

MR. KIRBY:  We -- I mean, there are -- there are a plethora of threats and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, and the secretary is focused on making sure we're ready to meet those threats and challenges not only within the U.S. military, but in concert with our allies and partners.  India is a strategic partner in the region who we very -- very much value.  One of his first stops overseas was to -- to visit his Indian counterpart, and you know, that cooperation continues.

Go ahead.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah. 

Tony Capaccio?

Q:  Hi, John.  John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I got you.

Q:  OK.  Two -- two quick questions.  One, what is the status of the zero-based review that Secretary Austin initiated on all the DOD boards?  And have any boards been eliminated?  And that -- I have a second question.

MR. KIRBY:  That review is ongoing, Tony, and no final decisions about board existence or board composition have been made by the secretary.

Q:  Any sense of when it's going to go on -- end, or is this going to go on ad infinitum?

MR. KIRBY:  No, it won't go on ad infinitum, Tony.  I think you saw in the secretary's direction that -- that we wanted to be able to come to closure on the zero-based review early this summer, and I -- all indications are that, you know, that that's on track.  That doesn't mean that there'll be a light switch thrown, and all -- all of a sudden, all the boards will be repopulated.  He'll have to make decisions based on what the review finds in terms of the future of these advisory boards, what they look like, whether we combine one or two, and in other words, reduce some redundancies, and of course, the composition of them.  So there's a lot of work left to do, but nobody expected that the review would -- would never end.

Q:  OK, good.  And -- and then an ask -- end question, a quick one.  Has the secretary decided to cut any additional deployment orders for aircraft, more Reaper orbits, more tanker tracks over Afghanistan to complement the six B-52s and the F-18s flying off the Eisenhower?

MR. KIRBY:  There -- I'm -- I'm loathe to get into specific operational issues of -- of -- at that level, Tony, and I think you can understand why.  Clearly, you know, we -- we spoke to the B-52s.  That's a major muscle movement.  We spoke to the extension of the aircraft carrier, a major muscle movement.  There are other -- and I've said this from the podium -- there are going to be decisions that we make throughout this retrograde that we're not going to make public.  So I don't have any decisions to read out or announce today.  The secretary's made it very clear that we want this withdrawal done in a safe and orderly way, which means we want to prioritize the force protection of our -- of our troops over there.

Q:  But John, wouldn't talking about increasing orbits of Reapers, wouldn't that give some confidence to the public that some of our best technology is doing constant orbits over there?

MR. KIRBY:  Tony, that's -- I mean, that -- I -- I'm just not prepared to speak to that level of specificity here.  We -- we -- we take force protection seriously and we always will, and -- and there are some things about force protection that -- that -- that we'll talk about and some things that we won't talk about.

Q:  OK, fair enough, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Yes, Abraham?

Q:  Yeah, thank you.  So President Biden spoke to the president of Romania and some Black Sea partners yesterday.  I wonder if there was a mil component to those discussions.  Any mil-to-mil discussions?

MR. KIRBY:  Not that I know of.

Q:  And also, the Colonial Pipeline stoppage -- I wonder if you can update us on how DOD stands with its supplies, and are there any sort of backup preparations being put into place?  Any movement on that to assure the there's no military impact?

MR. KIRBY:  And -- and as I said yesterday, we still believe we have sufficient supply to meet our requirements.  There's been no immediate impact on that, and the Defense Logistics Agency is -- is working through this right now, and I don't really have anything more to add.

Q:  Very good.  Thanks, John.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, Pierre?

Q:  Thank you.  Any requests from Israel to support them during the recent clashes in Gaza?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any requests for support, specific support from Israel.

Q:  What -- ammunition?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any specific request for support coming from Israel.

Q:  The week before last, the Israeli delegation came to have a meeting at the White House, Defense places, and also including the Pentagon.  And there was a component in the readout from the White House about having a kind of a task force to counter UAVs and precision (inaudible).  I'm quite sure that because this was, like, public, that there were meetings happened also at the Pentagon.  Any progress at this level?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have anything specific to -- to talk about in -- in terms of that.  There were meetings here in the Pentagon with members of the -- the Israeli delegation, but that's actually not uncommon at all.  I don't have anything specific on that issue, though.

Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  I just wanted to address -- if I heard you correctly, you said CENTCOM has asked the Defense Department not to release the total number of American troops in Afghanistan, and I wanted to know how that fits in with the Biden administration's commitment to be more transparent than the Trump administration.

MR. KIRBY:  Jeff, I did not say that CENTCOM asked us not to do it.  CENTCOM is, as the combatant command organizing and leading this retrograde, they are releasing the information that they believe is -- is appropriate, and I said that we're going to respect that.  It wasn't -- they didn't -- it wasn't an ask that -- that we don't do it.  It -- it -- this is -- this is CENTCOM trying to release what they believe is the most appropriate information right now.  And I -- and I recognize that not all of you necessarily think you're getting as much as you want, and -- and I understand that.  It's your job, in addition to being the word police.

(LAUGHTER)

And I understand that.  But I hope you also understand the concomitant obligation that Central Command and this department has to protecting our people.  We have to assume that this is going to be an opposed retrograde.  And if we assumed anything less it would be irresponsible of us.  And so CENTCOM is determining the information that they believe is the most appropriate to release about the retrograde.  And I'm sure even though you may not like all the data, I hope you can appreciate that they are making that effort. 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  They're updating it -- Jeff, they're updating it once a week now too.  I mean, there's a frequency to it that's predictable. 

Q:  Well, with respect, there is also no information from CENTCOM about the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.  And this is part of a trend that has been going on for at least five years where the Defense Department as a whole will not release mission capable rates and not numbers of airstrikes and other data that had been public before the Trump administration. 

So I ask again, where is the Defense Department's commitment to transparency? 

MR. KIRBY:  Jeff, I have to take issue with the question.  I really do.  I mean, where is the issue of transparency?  We're briefing here multiple times a week.  In fact I've heard complaints from some of you that we're briefing too much.  And I can tell you, and I have said from the podium, there is approximately 2,500 troops in Iraq.  And there is, I think -- I can check on the number in Syria. 

STAFF:  (INAUDIBLE)

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, yes.  Less than a thousand in Syria.  I think we can get you a better number on that.  We've not pushed -- we've not pulled away from that.  And we have told -- we have been honest about the number of troops that are in Afghanistan.  And what we're saying here, Jeff, and of all people I would think you would understand this having covered this building for as long as you have, that we have an obligation to keep our people safe, particularly in a retrograde that could be opposed. 

And I would hope that everybody would understand that.  I also understand you're not going to like all the data you get, or whether you don't get as much of it.  I do respect that.  I certainly respect your right to ask for it and to want it.  I would just ask that there is understanding in return that we need to be careful about the kind of information that's in the public space as we try to do this in a safe and orderly way. 

Barbara? 

Q:  So, very respectfully, the only thing I would sort of ask or say is two things.  Force protection, certainly, but I personally cannot recall the last time -- well, since you came to the Pentagon, yes, you brief very often, and it certainly is a good thing.  But I can't recall the last time we had an operational briefing from an operational commander in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.  General McKenzie was here giving the broad overview of the theater...

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, he was. 

Q:  Yes, he was.  And it's appreciated.  Taking all the question.  But we can all look it up but I can't how many months if not close to years it has been since we've had battlefield commander briefings.  So I would say, renew the request I -- of several months ago that before Afghanistan is in the rear-view mirror, we have some kind briefing from General Miller who is on the ground. 

And as long as we're all talking vocabulary today, why are we -- why is the Pentagon, why is the administration using the -- I really don't understand the use -- what the word "retrograde" as opposed to withdrawal. 

Q:  Yes, that's a good question, I was wondering too. 

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  There's no Machiavellian pursuit here.  It's a common military term for the removal of assets, either to, you know, back stateside or to other areas -- to other areas of responsibility.  It's a common military term.  There's -- there's no hidden pursuit there.

Q:  Can you ask General Miller (inaudible)...

MR. KIRBY:  I think -- and I think if you look at some of the public statements, certainly I know the secretary's made -- I mean, he had used the word withdrawal, too.  It's not -- we're not walking away from that word; we just think that retrograde better describes the logistical effort that's being pursued.  That's all.

Q:  Can you ask General Miller again if he would agree to do some kind of press briefing.

MR. KIRBY:  I'll be happy to pass on your interest.

Q:  (inaudible) you know, he -- while he has briefed the Afghan press and briefed the press in Kabul, and we want to acknowledge that, we have not had one here, and I think we'd be very interested to know what he has to say.

MR. KIRBY:  I'll be happy to pass on your interest.

Q:  Thank you so much.

MR. KIRBY:  You're welcome so much. 

Ashley from Jane’s.

Q:  Oh, hi.  I was trying to unmute.  I wanted to follow up from last month.  You had mentioned that the Pentagon is reviewing the previous administration's 2020 landmine policy to determine why that policy was made.  So I was looking to get some more clarity on who's conducting this, where does it stands, what effect that has on ongoing programs right now.

MR. KIRBY:  You know what?  I'll take that one.  I was not prepared to answer that today, so let me take your question and then get back to you, rather than be a blowhard here and pontificate.

Q:  OK, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  You're welcome.

In the room here.  Yeah, Jim?  And then again, I'll get you at the end.

Q:  OK.

Q:  John, just on the -- the over-the-horizon logistics, and over-the-horizon counterterrorism.  Is there any more thought being given to how that's supposed to be carried out in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  There are very active discussions going on now inside the department to -- to better define what over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities we'll be able to avail ourselves of.

Q:  And -- and just as a further -- even though the retrograde is -- is happening, at the same time, the Afghan forces still need to be resupplied.  I would imagine that pipeline is still moving, correct?

MR. KIRBY:  As -- as I've talk -- talked about, the -- and the secretary's mentioned, so one, General Miller still has capabilities as his -- at his disposal to support Afghan forces.  Those capabilities will obviously change over time as we get closer and closer to the end of the withdrawal.

And secondly, I -- I think you heard the secretary talk about this last week when he and the chairman were at the podium, that -- that we'll be also looking -- as -- as we transition to a different type of relationship with Afghan forces, some of that will include some over-the-horizon logistical support, as well.  What exactly that looks like and how that's played out, we -- we don't have that all figured out at this point.

Meghann.

Q:  Former acting Secretary Miller is testifying before Congress tomorrow about January 6th.  Has he had any phone calls or meetings with OSD to help prepare for that hearing?

MR. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

OK, I think I'm near the end on the phone.  The only one I didn't get to is Sam LaGrone.  Sam, are you still there?

Q:  Yes, sir.  Just real quick, following up on the IRGCN harassment of the Georgia transit into the Strait, I -- I -- I want to talk about it in the context of carrier presence of CENTCOM, like a -- a big driver for making sure CSG in there was the idea that there was a deterrent effect for Iran, but since the Ike has been in the region, there's been three IRGCN harassments -- one of the Coast Guard and -- and -- and another for Navy assets in the Gulf.

Moving forward, past Afghanistan, are you all starting to have conversations and how does the Secretary feel about maintaining this as a deterrent effect, and do you still think it is an effective deterrent against Iran?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I -- Sam, you know this very well -- I mean, an aircraft carrier strike group adds a lot of capability.  And while -- while it's difficult to -- to get inside the head -- heads of the IRGC and -- and why they do or do not do certain things, I mean, we may never know what -- what is deterred, quite frankly.

Clearly, issues -- incidents like what we saw over the weekend are -- are troubling because, as I said yesterday, they can lead to miscalculation, where somebody could get hurt, and obviously we don't want to see the situation and the tensions escalate.

The aircraft carrier and its associated capabilities, aircraft and -- and -- and ships also provide power projection opportunities, as well, and as I think we've talked about earlier, a -- a -- a big reason that the Eisenhower was extended in the region -- in fact, the main reason she was extended in the region was to provide additional capability and options to General Miller as he continues to affect the removal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

So there's a -- you know, it's -- an aircraft carrier and a -- and -- and the strike group, they bring an awful lot to the table, and when -- when -- when you move and -- and decide to move a capital asset of that importance, you -- you take into account all of the factors and all of the capabilities that you have at your disposal in doing so.

Mike?

Q:  Yeah, I wanted to confirm on -- on that, the -- the Navy ships and the Coast Guard cutters that were involved in that -- the two patrol coastals and the -- the cutters, they were -- were they -- or they were not part of this -- the -- the carrier strike group, right?  They weren't assigned to that, they were -- they permanent party there and -- and -- and in the region, do you know?

MR. KIRBY:  The patrol coastals, they -- they are forward deployed over there, yeah -- yeah.

Q:  Coastal -- they were -- they were not part of the -- I mean, they're not normally...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'd have to check the -- like, I don't know about Monterey.  I'd -- I'd refer you to the Navy in terms of the chain of command for each -- each of those units.  I know the patrol coastal boats are forward deployed over there, as are our mine sweeps.  There's, like, live mine sweepers over there.

Q:  Right.

MR. KIRBY:  But as for the cutter and the Monterey, I -- I'm just -- I don't have the -- I don't have the list of what the -- yeah, of what's in the strike group.  I'm sure the Navy can help you out with that.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  But I -- I -- I think, as you know -- I mean, you've served over there -- that, you know -- that strike groups often disaggregate at times to conduct separate types of missions.  It's not uncommon that -- that you'll have ships associated with a strike group that aren't necessarily near or operating in support of specific carrier operations as -- on -- on deployment.

Q:  OK.

MR. KIRBY:  And that's not uncommon.

Q:  Just a -- just a quick question.  How dangerous are those IRGC boats?  I mean, you know, there -- there are a lot of folks on -- on the Twitterverse yesterday saying, you know, what -- what -- why are they -- why are they so afraid of these motor boats?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, it's not about being afraid of -- of fast attack craft, it -- it's about protecting our assets and our people and our ships, and the -- these kinds of harassing activities can -- can pose a threat, and as I said, they -- they can certainly -- they can certainly lead to miscalculation, which could, you know, escalate a situation in -- in a way that's -- that's not helpful for -- for anybody's security.

They are armed.  I'm not an expert on the IRGC Navy but they are -- they are armed.  So they can cause -- they can cause damage and they can -- they can -- you know, depending on how their commanders use them, they could -- they -- they -- they pose a -- a risk to -- to life, the lives of our crews and -- and the crews of coalition vessels.

So, I mean, they're not -- the -- the -- they're not to be taken lightly, but it wasn't an issue of fear, it was an issue of -- of self defense and -- and making clear that we have that right of self defense in international waters.  OK, I think that's it for today.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.