Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Conducts On-Camera Press Briefing

May 18, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Just a couple of things at the top, and then we'll get at it. I think you saw that the secretary spoke again with his Israeli counterpart this morning, Benjamin Gantz. The secretary again reiterated our unwavering support for Israel's right to defend itself, and to protect Israeli citizens and civilians. And he of course lamented the loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives.

He expressed his support for de-escalation of the conflict and for the restoration of calm. But, again, I think you guys already saw our -- our readout.

On to Defender Europe 21, the big exercise over in Europe. Over the weekend, Defender-linked Exercise Swift Response wrapped up in Romania with a joint air assault led by the Royal Netherlands Army. U.S. Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache pilots joined Romanian Pumas to transport equipment and Dutch forces across training bases.

Yesterday, Immediate Response – also part of Defender – began; Exercise Immediate Response. More than 5,000 troops from a dozen countries will conduct live-fire exercises across 31 training areas until the first of June.

The European Command commander, Gen. Wolters, will be traveling to Slovenia this week as well, to attend a distinguished visitor day to look more at the exercise.

Yesterday, U.S. Strategic Command led Operation Apex Charger, where six long-range strategic bombers conducted a global air power projection event to demonstrate our commitment to collective defense, and to integrate geographic combatant command operations and activities.

U.S. Air Force bombers operating from multiple locations around the globe integrated with NATO allies and partners in the Arctic, North America, Europe, and in the Indo-Pacific region. This mission demonstrates our ability to command and control bomber forces to support assigned missions anywhere at any time in support of our defense strategic objectives.

Beginning today – separate topic – beginning today, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs are hosting the 2021 DOD V.A. Suicide Prevention Conference, and we're doing this virtually. Both the secretary and Chairman Milley offered remarks, which will be available on Defense.gov if they aren't already.

The secretary expressed his regret, of course, in these remarks, over the tragic loss of brave men and women to suicide, and the grief that their families continue to suffer as a result. And he expressed his commitment to doing everything that he can – and we can as a department – to change the lingering stigma around asking for mental health support. That conference will take place, again, starting today through the 20th.

Over the next few weeks, in coordination with FEMA and state and local officials, several DOD-supported community vaccine centers will be mission-complete – in other words, done – and will begin reducing personnel as the – as the sites reassess the size of the vaccination support teams that are going to be needed.

And we're very proud and very grateful of the support that our service members, both active duty and National Guard, have provided to help combat the pandemic, including administering over one – I'm sorry – 15 – I’ve got to make sure I get my glasses; I can't tell if there's a decimal point in there – 15 million vaccines to the American public at over 900 sites.

As of today, we are providing support to 30 vaccine sites through 3,289 personnel, including 1,390 vaccinators. So we're still at 30 teams, but I think over the coming days and coming weeks, you'll start to see those teams reduce in size as more and more people are electing to get the vaccine.

On personnel-related issues, this week, we onboarded two other DASD-level individuals: Heather King, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, and Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities checked on board, and Maynard Holliday, director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization is also here. We're glad to have them on the team. That would bring our total of appointees to 112.

Now, a COVID mask reminder. Last week, I think you saw the deputy secretary updated mask-wearing guidance for the Pentagon Reservation. DOD employees who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks. Now, that's fully vaccinated, means, you know, after your second shot, plus two weeks. However, those who are not fully vaccinated must continue wearing a mask to protect themselves and others.

All other force health protection guidance remains the same in terms of social distancing, hygiene, and certainly we'll keep you informed if any of that changes.

Finally, looking ahead, on Thursday of this week, you're going to notice an increase in helicopter activity around the Reservation and the National Capital Region. This is, again, due to a regularly scheduled exercise. I think you saw part of that exercise playing out yesterday. And again, we'll see another round of it on -- on Thursday.

And with that, Bob?

Q: Hi, got a question for you on Afghanistan. Zal Khalilzad’s testimony today on the Hill, he said that the withdrawal is proceeding without any significant interference from the Taliban and that he expects that to continue to be the case.

Now, I know, early on, at the beginning, you said you assumed there would be attempts by the Taliban to interfere. I'm wondering if you've changed your assessment?

MR. KIRBY: We would agree that thus far, the retrograde continues at pace, the withdrawal continues at pace with nothing more than some minor harassing attacks that have had no impact, so we agree with that assessment.

We -- we certainly hope that that remains the case, going forward. But, Bob, we're not going to take anything just on hope and face value. We have to assume and we have to plan for the potential that -- that it could be resisted, it could be opposed by the Taliban. So we're -- continuing to take all the right precautions, make sure that Gen. Miller has all the options at his disposal to be able to do this safely.

Abraham?

Q: Yeah, thanks. Could you shed some light on this reporting about a pilot program screening social media content for extremist material? And what Bishop Garrison's role might be on this?

MR. KIRBY: I think there's some misreporting on this, Abraham. Actually I don't think there's been misreporting, I know there's been misreporting. There's no pilot program ring run by Mr. Garrison or the extremist working group to -- to examine social media.

Mr. Garrison is leading the extremist working group on a number of efforts to try to help us come to grips with learning how -- what the scope and scale of the problem of extremist activity in the ranks really is, and helping us divine some potential solutions, going forward.

For instance, you know, how much and to what degree do we need to train future veterans about these groups as they try to recruit them, going forward. How do we get a better sense of the data collection possibilities here in terms of really understanding the true size of the issue. And doing a separate study on the -- on the degree to which extremism exists inside the ranks.

He's not rewriting policy. It's a working group, designed to tee up options and ideas and recommendations to the secretary, and that work continues. So there is no -- you know, there's no pilot program that I'm aware of, certainly none inside the extremist working group, to -- to champion some sort of new approach to look at social media.

I would remind you -- and I think you know this -- that we already take a look at the social media footprint when we are considering recruits as they come in. Many of the services do that -- in fact, I think all of them do that, which is just good common sense.

And we do have -- and there has – for a long time, well predates the extremist working group – an insider threat program here at the Pentagon that we're always looking to improve. And part of that insider threat program is to take a look at social media activity out there so that we're -- that we can be as informed as possible. But there's no pilot program.

Q: When you say, "look at social media activity," of active service members beyond the vetting stage?

MR. KIRBY: If there is -- again, the insider threat, right, is, you know, when there's a concern about the potential of a threat coming from inside, you know, one of the things you want to do is take a look at the social media footprint and see what's out there in the public space.

Q: So that is happening?

MR. KIRBY: That has been happening for a while. I mean, if you have cause to be concerned about an individual or a group of individuals and what -- and the threat that they might pose to the organization, it would be irresponsible not to take a look at what's out there in social media.

But it's not a -- but -- you know, just to be clear, OK? Because I want to make it very clear to you that we're not -- the extremist working group is not running a pilot program to look at social media.

Q: So then this purported document that's out there, could you release that document to...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen the document that's -- that's been written about.

Q: OK.

MR. KIRBY: So I can't comment on a document I haven't seen.

Q: If it exists you’ll let us see it?

MR. KIRBY: If it exists, we'll look at it and see if it's -- if it's something that's potentially worth public release or that we could. But I'm not going to make any promises at this point.

Q: Thank you, John.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: Just to follow up, is there a private firm being employed to look at the social media accounts of service members?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I am not aware of such a contract with such a company. And certainly there is no such contract being led by the extremist working group or Mr. Garrison's organization.

Yeah?

Q: But all you're answering is that they're not doing it right now. I think the question at hand is, are you considering, is the department considering an option to engage in some different type of consistent, constant monitoring of service members' social media?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any such effort to do that now ...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... I'm not asking if you're doing it now.

MR. KIRBY: I -- I know, Barb, but, I mean, this -- this -- you know, a -- how much -- how much farther in the future do you want me to predict? There's no effort run by the extremist working group to set some sort of new social media monitoring policy.

We already look at the social media footprint of potential recruits and we already have, as I answered to Abraham, an insider threat program which does include the monitoring of social media activity, as we should, as we must. I'm ...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... are you looking at an option of extending, expanding, whatever verb you want to use, something different than what the department does now?

MR. KIRBY: I'm -- I'm not aware of any efforts to expand what we're doing right now, but -- but as I said at the outset, the extremist working group is certainly going to look at the degree to which the information environment impacts or is impacted by extremist activity. That would include the social media landscape.

But it's -- it -- it's -- it's putting the cart well -- well before the horse to say that we've -- that we've got some, you know, policy we're getting ready to roll out that would -- that would dramatically increase or expand social media monitoring.

Q: I have a quick follow up on a different subject. The secretary's readout today of his third phone call with Benny Gantz, for the first time, mentions the Palestinians. He has not done that in his two previous readouts.

So I have two questions on this -- why today did the department decide to suddenly start mention -- mentioning the Palestinians, and what has Secretary Austin learned about the Israeli bombing of the news -- of the building in Gaza where news organizations were housed?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence issues. And as for mentioning the Palestinians, I mean, there's -- I -- I -- I -- it's not as if there was some sort of radical shift in the way the secretary's thinking about the conflict today. We have seen casualties on both sides -- he mentioned that in the readout -- and those casualties continue to mount, and that's of concern to him and that's why he -- he mentioned it on the call today and that's why it's mentioned in -- in the readout.

(CROSSTALK)

Hang -- hang on a second, guys. Wait, guys, just hang on. I have to get -- I know, but I haven't gotten to anybody on the phone, and if I don't get to anybody on the phone, then I get in trouble. Let's see -- John Ismay? And you're -- oh, no, you don't have a question.  Idrees, from Reuters?

Q: Hey, John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: If I could just go back to the call Barbara was mentioning -- so you -- it -- it -- mentioned -- you know, it's quote-unquote "Israeli-Palestinian lives" -- so when that was brought up, what was the context and what did Secretary Austin say? Did he say "hey, stop killing so many civilians" or was it more of a "hey, just don't kill as many"? I mean, it's -- it's unclear what he actually meant. And -- and -- and I have a separate follow up.

MR. KIRBY: The secretary was clear that we don't want to see any additional innocent civilian lives lost on either side. Who was -- go ahead.

Q: Give us a little bit more on -- on the call, on the substance. Did he ask his counterpart in Israel what are the things that we should not be seeing done by the Israelis, what are the things that should be done, or they would like to see an immediate ceasefire?

I mean, give us a little bit of -- more substance on what they talked about.

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to provide a whole lot more context than was in the readout. I typically don't do that. But -- you want to get that, Jim? So I'm not going to go into more detail than was in the -- the readout.

I can tell you that the readout accurately reflected the tone, the tenor and the -- and the main gist of the phone conversation.

Q: A follow up -- is Israel receiving now any military support from the U.S. to continue its operation in Gaza?

MR. KIRBY: If you're asking me are they -- have they asked for any additional, specific support for these operations, the answer's no.

Q: I'm asking if they are receiving any support to continue their operations.

MR. KIRBY: They have not asked for any additional support. The -- we continue to stand by Israel's right to defend itself and it -- and its citizens. As you know, we have a strong bilateral military relationship with Israel and that has not changed as a result.

Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. The -- the House Armed Services Committee issued a statement about this Intercept news story, saying that "the committee understands the Department of Defense is exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations. We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform."

Can you discuss this on -- the -- these ongoing efforts to use social media screenings for background investigations?

MR. KIRBY: Not -- not any more than I -- I -- I think I've already done, Jeff. I mean, we -- obviously we look at social media footprint when we're bringing somebody into the service and when you get -- go up for a security clearance -- and I've gone through several myself. I mean, they look at just about every aspect of your life, and clearly that includes getting online to seeing, you know, what -- what -- what kind of a footprint you have out there and what your activity is. That just makes good sense. And so yeah, that continues.

And as I said, we -- we have an insider threat program that, again, would be imprudent and irresponsible if it didn't also take a look at -- at potential social media activity as a way to glean motives and -- and intentions of individuals that might wish us harm.

The -- this is all above board, it's all transparent, it all makes common sense. There's -- there's no effort inside this extremist working group to somehow spy on every individual in the military or spend hours and hours just gleaning through social media activity, just for the sake of doing it. This isn't about some sort of surveillance program of our own people.

What we have -- what the -- what -- what we are interested in doing is seeing how the services are doing, and as they recruit, seeing if there's things that can be learned, things that can be improved in that regard, but there's -- there's -- there's not an ongoing, you know, surveillance program going on here tied to the extremist working group.

Tom?

Q: John, back to Afghanistan. Congressmen Meeks and McCaul have asked the Pentagon to do more to help State Department with the special immigrant visas, to help Afghans who work for the Americans.

Can you talk about that at all? Is that something the Pentagon's looking into? And what are you doing now to assist the State Department in pushing these visas, if anything?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, Tom, it's really a State Department program, and it would -- it wouldn't be appropriate for the Defense Department to lean in in any tangible way. Obviously -- and you've heard the secretary talk about this -- you -- he -- he agrees with the president, that we want to do whatever we can to help those who helped us over the last 20 years. He's committed to that, having served in that conflict himself. But it is a State Department program and we're going to respect the State Department's equities and their initiatives inside that program in terms of making sure that it meets that need.

Q: Well, the chairman and the ranking member have suggested that DOD can do more. Are you saying that DOD shouldn't do more?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't see their -- I haven't seen their letter; I haven't seen what they're asking for DOD to do. Clearly DOD is in support for --

Q: -- (inaudible) employment verification that this particular person worked for --

MR. KIRBY: I won't get ahead of correspondence I haven't seen. But obviously this is a State Department led program. We are in support of it. We certainly support the effort to do what's right by these interpreters and other individuals that helped us throughout the last 20 years.

We'll take a look at it -- I've not seen the correspondence. Obviously we'll take a look at that and -- and we'll respond appropriately.

Sam Lagrone.

Q: Yeah, sorry, John. Looking for the mute button.

There's been some complaints on Capitol Hill that they're not going to have a whole lot of time to do posture hearings over the budget. Schedule is limited. I think for a good example is the Navy's posture hearing next Thursday is happening like four hours before the Navy briefing, or before anybody gets to see the actual releases on the budget.

What's the department doing to insure that the committees and Congress writ large have the opportunities to do the oversight on the spending bills? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Well, we don't control the timing of the release of the budget. Obviously that's up to OMB. So that's out of our hands. The secretary is absolutely committed to congressional oversight and he understands the responsibilities that members of Congress have, particularly on oversight of the budget.

And we will continue to work as closely and as aggressively as we can with the committees to make sure that they have -- that they have access to the department's leaders across the board to ask these very important questions and to provide proper scrutiny and oversight of the budget process.

So it's a work in process.  Sam, we'll -- we'll stay latched up at our level with -- with our oversight committees to make sure that any concerns they have are being addressed as much as -- as best -- best that we can. Yes, in the back there.

Q: Gen. Mattis said that if the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians continues that there's a risk of broader destabilization. Does the secretary share this concern or this assessment? If yes, did he convey this message to his Israeli counterpart?

MR. KIRBY: I think that -- I think if you look at the readout from today you can see that that very much is his concern and we expressed that in the readout of the phone call that -- that we all want to see the -- the violence deescalate.

We don't want to see tensions get worse than they already are. And I think, you know, that the secretary made that -- made that plain and we tried to capture that in our readout of it.

Q:  Did he ask for, like, immediate cease-fire?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into any more detail than what's in the readout of the phone call. I can tell you that that readout accurately portrays the content of that phone call and the tone and the tenor that the secretary took.

Lara.

Q: Hey, John. So two separate questions. Just one following-up on Tom's question about the special immigrant visas. I understand this is a State Department-run program, but what can DOD do specifically to protect these people as we withdraw and then after we withdraw?

MR. KIRBY: Well, as for while we're there, I mean as you know, Gen. Miller has some capabilities to continue to support Afghan security forces and certainly there are still Afghans that are helping us specifically in our ability to try to help them.

And just like we have for the last 20 years, those that are involved in those kinds of operations and are assisting us, we do everything we can to help make sure that they're protected in the same way that our troops are, as we've talked about.

As the retrograde gets closer to completion, our ability to continue to support the Afghan national security forces on the ground in a kinetic way from inside Afghanistan will obviously change and our support will eventually migrate to one of over the horizon support.

And it'll be -- in terms of the ANSF and DSF, it'll be logistical support from over the horizon, as well as some financial support. But eventually -- I mean this is their country to fight for and it's their country to defend and it's their citizens to look after.

That doesn't mean that we aren't still going to support the State Department as they try to look for ways using the special immigrant visa program to get those people out of the country, that want to come, and here to the United States, we're going to continue to do that. But it is a State Department-run program.

Q: There are 15,000 applications in the pipeline. It takes 800 days on average to get one through. We have 116 days left. So are these people just going to be stranded?

MR. KIRBY: Lara, that's a question for our State Department colleagues, not for DOD to answer. We don't run that program, but I can assure you that the State Department shares the same concerns we have about taking care of these people who have risked and sacrificed so much to help us accomplish our mission over the last 20 years.

Q: Sorry, just a separate question. How do you enforce the mask mandate and not being able to remove your mask if you're not vaccinated, can you enforce that?

MR. KIRBY: The -- we -- we think that the best – the best tool of compliance is the integrity and character of our people and their willingness and ability to be honest about their vaccination status. There's not going to be an active policing on the -- in the Pentagon Reservation of one's vaccination records. We're going to rely, as we always do every day, on the integrity of our people.

Let's see, Kristina Anderson.

Q: Hi, thank you for taking my question. So in the topper you kind of covered what I was going to ask, which is about the operations, Defender Europe '21, and then if you wanted to say a little bit more about that or additionally the SOCOM cooperation with or in conjunction with NATO's forces; that would be terrific. Otherwise, I don't have a question because you covered it.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I think I gave a pretty fulsome opening statement about the exercise. I don't really have more to give you outside of that. But we can certainly point you to European Command. You might have more -- additional information about the exercise.

Q: And that’s Swift Response as well?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry?

Q: That includes the exercise Swift Response as well?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I'm sure -- I'm sure there's additional information we can give you. I don't really have anything additional to add from my opening statement. 

Jen.

Q: John, Captain Lohmeier who's a Space Force commander, who's been removed while they're investigating some of his actions, he's saying that he was asked through military higher-ups to spread to the rest of Buckley Air Force Base videos that backed the 1619 Project, that talked about whites as evil. What is your response to that? And also, did he try to get permission to publish this book? And should he have gotten permission to publish the book that he’s (inaudible) right now --

MR. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Air Force specifically about the review process and I think they've addressed this. There is -- anytime you're going to write a book based on your military experiences or about military matters and you're using your rank and title and you're service as a credentialing opportunity as an author you do have to get a policy review by the Department of Defense. And I think the Air Force has already addressed the issue that there was no policy review. But again, I'll let them speak to this.

On the video question, I -- I'm aware of the comments. I frankly don't -- I don't know enough to know what he's referring to. There were, as part of the extremism stand down, each of the military departments, and of course the secretary, did put some videos together as training resources.

It was not, at least from our level, and I can't speak for the services, but there was no requirement that anybody use the secretary's video. We posted it on the website, it's publicly accessible. There was no requirement that they show the secretary's video.

And at no time in the secretary's video, which I think you've all seen, does he address anything other than what we're trying to get after here, which is to make sure that we all understand the oath we took to the Constitution and that we all know that we have a responsibility to look out for one another and to watch out for these kinds of behaviors. So, I'm not really sure what he's referring to there.

I know of no deliberate effort by any of the services to push or require the watching of videos at all, and certainly none that espouse the sorts of ideas that he allegedly claimed they did.

Let's see, Peter Loewi.

Q: Hi John, thanks very much. We were wondering about the IDF’s elaborate deception which appears to have been an attempt to use independent foreign media for tactical purposes. Do you have any comments on that incident or more broadly does this department feel that such tactics are appropriate? Similarly, on the attacks on the building housing foreign press, can you confirm that the munitions used were not manufactured in the United States? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: I do not have a comment on those press reports of deception. That's a question that only the Israeli Defense Forces can answer. That's not for me to speak to. And I don't -- I'm not going to comment on specific munitions.

Again, the Israeli Defense Forces, they're responsible for these operations. They should be responsible for speaking to them. And I think as you know, arm sales are handled by the State Department, not by the Defense Department.

Yes, in the back there?

Q: (Inaudible) in Syria a group close to YPG stoned U.S. convoy carrying State Department delegates and protesting the United States for being silent against Turkish operations in northern Iraq. I just wonder if the department still believes that PKK and YPG are two separate groups, irrelevant group, or (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: We've been long clear that we recognize the PKK as a terrorist group. There's been no change to that policy and we -- we are working on the ground with Syrian Democratic Forces who, again, are with the coalition. A raid against the operations that we're conducting with them are a raid against ISIS. There's no change to our policies.

Fahdi.

Q: Hey John, thank you very much. I have a question. I know you don't want to comment on U.S.-made weapons that are being used in Israel operations. However, my question is this, does the secretary or the department have any responsibility to make sure that when Israel uses these weapons in operations, noting that so far 217 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 63 children.

U.S. media and international media outlets infrastructure have been targeted. Does the department have any responsibility to press Israel on the usage of these weapons and basically holding it up to the same standards that the U.S. military actually follow in its own operations?

MR. KIRBY: Again, Fahdi, questions better put to the State Department. They handle arm sales, not the Defense Department. There are, as you know, end user agreements for many arms sales. I won't get into that specifically because they're different for different countries and for different systems, but that's handled by the State Department. Your question is much better put to them.

Yes, Janne?

Q: Thank you John. I --

MR. KIRBY: But I will say -- just before -- the only thing I'd add is, and again, it was evident in the readout today of the phone call, we certainly continue to express our concerns about the tragic loss of innocent life on both sides.

Janne.

Q: Thank you John. I have a question about the U.S. in South Korea, Japan. Defense Minister talk, Ministers talks (inaudible) the trilateral meeting of the (inaudible) security and diplomatic and intelligence have already been heard. Do you have anything for the trilateral defense minister talks? If so, are the time and the places decided?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any meetings to read out today, Janne. But I'll -- we'll ask our experts in the policy realm if they have anything to update you on that. I don't have anything on the schedule to speak to.

Broadly speaking, as you know, we want to encourage the deeper trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan and South Korea. We think that's good for the region, it's good for all of us individually.

Q: Because last week the U.S. in South Korea agreed to hold an early defense minister -- trilateral defense minister talks. I think that you have a plan already, something, but you didn't say.

MR. KIRBY: You might know more than me. I don't -- I don't know. So, I'll take the question. We'll ask our experts in the policy shop if they have something afoot there, but I'm not aware – I’m ...

Q: (Inaudible) this is very important there because accept to defense minister talks that they already got, you know, security, and diplomatic, intelligence – so, why isn't it helping?

MR. KIRBY: I can't -- I can't answer for why. I don't have an answer to your question. We'll take a look and see if there's something being planned. I just don't have a meeting to announce to speak to today.

I would remind that the secretary's first overseas trip was to both Japan and South Korea and he had a chance to speak with his defense minister counterparts in each country for a matter of a couple days in each case. So it was the first trip he took, again, with Secretary Blinken, and we thought it was a very positive first step for us to take.

Q: But you have a plan, right?

MR. KIRBY: A plan for …?

Q: A plan for the trilateral?

MR. KIRBY: Again, Janne, --

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- I did -- I did -- I -- I -- I took it -- I already took it -- I took it twice.

Q: Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: We'll get back to you. Yeah?

Q: Hi. The Chief of the National Guard today told Congress that DHS has asked for an extension of the troops at the border beyond this fiscal year. Can you give us an update on that status? Would that -- is the DOD working to source that, and what would that deployment look like?

MR. KIRBY: You know, I'm going to have to get back to you on that one, too. I wasn't tracking those comments, but it's a fair question. We'll -- we'll -- we'll try to get you a better answer. Yeah?

Q: Thank you. The South Korea President Moon Jae-in will visit Washington later this week. What does the Pentagon expect from the U.S.-South Korea summit later this week -- do you think that South Korea should join Quad -- Quad in order to enhance the maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region?

MR. KIRBY: That question -- the second question about the Quad is for South Korean officials to answer, not for the U.S. Department of Defense. The secretary looks forward to participating in President Moon's visit later this week, but it is -- but the agenda and the outcomes and the results, all that is -- is better put to the White House and my colleagues at the White House to speak to, since the visit is at that level, but the secretary will be participating, as appropriate, in -- in events.

Q: (Inaudible) Secretary Austin ...

MR. KIRBY: Did I say the president? I meant the secretary -- the secretary will be participating in events as appropriate.

Q: Secretary Austin met with President Moon Jae-in separately or is that -- the meeting -- summit talks ...

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- I don't have a -- a -- specifics of -- of how it's all going to lay out that day. I -- I don't anticipate a separate meeting between the secretary and -- and President Moon, but the secretary will participate, as appropriate, in events associated with President Moon's visit.

Q: Actually I have a follow-up question about the South Korean and U.S. summit, because yesterday -- so my first question is, ever since the former U.S. president (inaudible) the U.S.-ROK joint military exercise, the joint exercise has -- remains in a gray area between the two countries, partially because of COVID-19, partially because of the, like, complicated diplomacy, but do you expect the summit -- this, like, summit will bring this exercise or -- to where it was before -- so, I mean, to restore its condition or just make some clarity about the importance of a joint military exercise? And that is my first question. So do you expect something from the joint leaders' statement?

And my second question is yesterday, President Biden announced that the -- send 20 million doses of -- of coronavirus -- COVID vaccines to overseas, and two days ago, U.S. first -- South Korea, they offered South Korean troops to provide some J&J vaccines.

So is it a part of a bigger plan for DOD to distribute or supplying U.S.-made COVID vaccines to overseas, and do you think the allies and partners will have -- on -- on the priority?

MR. KIRBY: So on the -- on the summit, again, I'm -- I'm -- I'm going to refer you to my White House colleagues to talk -- to talk to the agenda and what they're looking for. That's really not appropriate, coming from the Department of Defense.

I won't talk about specific training events one way or the other, other than to reiterate that -- that we take seriously our security commitments and our treaty requirements with the Republic of Korea, and that includes making sure that our forces are trained and ready -- as we like to say, ready to fight tonight, if need be, and nothing's changed about our focus on that.

On the vaccines, I -- I'll let, again, the -- the president speak for the degree to which the administration is going to accelerate delivery of vaccines overseas. That's really, again, not a -- a DOD equity. And so I can't speak to the degree to which the Defense Department would be involved in distribution. I -- I just -- I -- I'm not aware of any specific, overt plans for us to do that. That's really something, again, for the White House to speak to. OK?

Yeah, Nancy?

Q: I have two follow up questions to Barbara's question, please. On the statement on -- in reference to the Palestinians for the first time that you put out today, does the secretary believe that the Israeli use of force has been proportionate up until this point, as the inclusion of the Palestinians in that statement suggests that he has changed his opinion in the course of this conflict?

And on the -- on the call between the two, the Israelis have said that they shared intelligence with Secretary Austin about this strike on the building housing AP and Al Jazeera, and given the serious of the -- seriousness of the allegations and the expectation that by releasing that information to the U.S., that that – adds credence to their decision to launch those strikes, I wonder if you'd at least confirm that you have that information, that it's been conveyed? I'm not asking for specific intelligence, but that it was conveyed.

And if -- and what -- what happens from this point -- this is something the U.S. has asked for, I imagine in -- in an effort to get credibility and transparency for it about the strike, and I think one way to advance that would be at least to acknowledge that it happens and that the U.S. is doing ...

MR. KIRBY: I won't speak to intelligence matters or intelligence shared one way or the other between Israel and the United States. In -- I can assure you that the secretary, as we indicated today, laments the loss of all innocent life, Israeli and Palestinian, and he expressed that concern today in the phone call.

And I'm  ...

Q: Can you say whether he's -- he feels that strike -- that use of force has been proportionate?

MR. KIRBY: He would like to see the situation de-escalate and he would -- and he -- and -- as we've made very clear, does -- does not desire to see any more innocent lives affected or lost as a result of this conflict. We've got one more.

Q: Hi, I've got a quick question on the Israel-Palestine issue again. So a few days after the fighting broke out last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl met with Israeli counterpart -- his Israeli counterpart here at the Pentagon.

The readout from the call seems to suggest an openness on the part of the department to continuing to support Israel, potentially materially, as requests potentially come in. Just wondering what the latest messaging from the department on that is. Is -- has that messaging changed? I know the Israelis haven't requested anything yet, but does -- does the department's openness to assisting the Israelis with -- with ...

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I'm not -- I'm not sure I -- I -- I came away from that conversation with the same impression that you did, but obviously we have a longstanding, bilateral security relationship with Israel and that relationship continues, and we want to continue to see it improve over time.

There are no additional requests by the Israelis for support, with respect to these operations, and I don't -- I know there's -- that there's no change to that situation, and again, what -- what we want to make clear is, again, Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens from these rocket attacks and we support that right of self-defense.

We also would like to see the tensions de-escalate and -- and for no more innocent lives to be lost, OK? All right, thank you, everybody.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.