Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

July 6, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Okay, a couple things at the top.

Today Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl met with Saudi Vice Minister of Defense, His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman to reaffirm the U.S.-Saudi defense relationship.  Undersecretary Kahl emphasized the U.S. commitment to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory and its people.  The two leaders discussed efforts to end the war in Yemen and share the U.S.-Saudi commitment to counter Iran's destabilizing activities.  Dr. Kahl thanked the vice minister for working closely and constructively with U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking to end the war in Yemen and condemn the Houthi cross-border attacks.  The undersecretary also noted the need to work together on addressing the proliferation and dangers of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Secretary of Defense Austin also took the opportunity to take a few moments of the bilateral engagement to express our commitment to our defense relationship with Saudi Arabia and to discuss regional security and stability.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, also took time to participate in a portion of that meeting with the Saudi vice minister.

On to Exercise Sea Breeze '21 -- over the weekend, Ukrainian President Zelensky visited the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross to reinforce the bonds of our two nations.  Today, USS Ross got back underway, continuing to build our maritime interoperability in the Black Sea.

Also in Sea Breeze, U.S., Ukrainian, Canadian, Polish and Georgian divers are working side-by-side to remove a civilian vessel that sunk in 2016 and is now blocking a portion of the Odessa Port pier.  This cooperative dive and salvage operation and -- will increase port access and maritime safety, demonstrating the tangible lasting impacts our partnerships.  And as we've said, exercises like Sea Breeze allows participants to learn from each other and strengthen relationships between NATO, allied and partner nations in the region.

And lastly, as I think you all are aware of the tragic news on Sunday from -- out of the Philippines, the secretary did offer his condolences to the government of the Philippines and the families of all those lost in that crash in Sulu.  We'll -- we will continue to provide whatever support the Philippine government needs in -- to -- to respond to this tragedy.  The secretary is scheduled tonight to speak on the phone with the secretary of national defense of the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana, and certainly, we'll provide a readout of that call after -- after it happens, but that's -- that's the schedule now.

Okay, we'll go to questions.  It looks like Lita, you're up.

Q:  Hi, John.  Thanks.

Two things.  One, can you say on the meeting with KBS, was there any discussion about any specific requests that the Saudis have for anything from the United States, including, noting the recent withdrawal of some patriots from their country?  And then secondly, on Afghanistan, General Miller is at NATO.  Can you talk a little bit about his message to -- to the NAC and to Stoltenberg today, and whether he's going to be doing any other diplomatic meetings over the coming days?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any additional detail on the -- the meeting with the Saudi vice minister of defense other than what I just read out to you.  I mean, clearly, they talked about a range of -- of security interests there in Saudi Arabia.  And as I said, from our side, we reaffirmed the Saudi's right and responsibility -- capability to defend themselves and their territorial integrity from these -- these Houthi attacks, particularly UAV attacks, and we take our commitment to helping the Saudis -- contribute to that self-defense very, very seriously.  So I -- I think I will just leave it at that.

As for General Miller's visit to Brussels, it was -- you may have seen the Secretary General Stoltenberg issued a -- a tweet after that meeting was over.  It was very much an opportunity for the general to update the secretary general on the -- the progress of the drawdown and of the coming authority -- I'm sorry -- command authority changes that -- that I briefed you on on Friday, and I would really refer more to -- to NATO and -- and the secretary general to speak in more detail, reading out that -- that meeting.

But again, as I -- and I -- I -- I said this on Friday, I mean, we can expect over the next week or so as we get ready to do this transition of authority that General Miller may be moving in and around the -- the -- the theater and elsewhere to prepare for the proper transition over to -- to General McKenzie, and this visit to the NATO was -- was part of that.  It's also, you know, we need to remind that the Operation Resolute Support still exists.  He is still the commander of Operation Resolute Support.  It is not uncommon or atypical for him to brief NATO leaders about -- about his activities in -- in that role as the commander of Operation Resolute Support.

As for additional travel, I'm not going to get ahead of his schedule.  I think you can all understand why we wouldn't do that.  But as we get closer to this transition of authority from General Miller to General McKenzie, we will certainly keep you updated to the degree we can.

Tom?

Q:  John, can you walk us through what happened in Bagram?  The Afghan military is saying the U.S. left in the dead of night; didn't inform them.  Looters broke in, grabbed a lot of stuff.  And there's also reports that left behind were hundreds of armored and unarmored vehicles.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  So I mean, I've seen those press reports, Tom.  What I can tell you is that there was coordination with Afghan leaders both in the government, as well as in the Afghan Security Forces about the eventual turnover of Bagram Air Base.  As you know, it was the seventh and the final base that we turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces.  You don't do that in a vacuum and this wasn't done in a vacuum.

I can't speak for the level of information that -- that -- that went down the Afghan chain of command but I can tell you that Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover of Bagram Air Base.  In -- in -- in fact, some of that briefing included a -- a walkthrough of facilities on the base with senior Afghan leaders, and --

Q:  Is that with Civilian Aviation Authority people?

MR. KIRBY:  I beg your pardon?

Q:  Was that with the Civilian Aviation Authority people?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know the details of that.  I do know that there was a walkthrough of the facilities with senior Afghan leaders and --

Q:  Can you say when that was done?

MR. KIRBY:  Just let me finish.  The -- the -- the specific conversation and coordination about the turnover of Bagram, the -- the final conversations occurred about 48 hours prior.  Obviously, for operational security reasons, we didn't go into the exact hour at which all U.S. forces would -- would leave Bagram.

Again, as I've said from the outset, we have had to operate under the assumption that this drawdown could be contested at any time.  And so we're very careful about what we say and how -- how much detail we provide out there, but there was coordination.

Now, as for exactly who, I'd refer you to General Miller's staff for the -- the -- more -- more details on that, but there was coordination done at -- at higher levels in the government and the Afghan forces, it was done in plenty of time, and it's not like the closure or the turnover of Bagram was at -- at all in dispute throughout this drawdown process.  Everybody knew that was happening and -- and there was general understanding about roughly when.  Again, as we got closer, more detail was provided to -- to Afghan leaders.

Q:  In as far as what was left behind?  Were there armored vehicles?  There have been reports of hundreds of armored and unarmored vehicles left behind in Bagram.

MR. KIRBY:  There were some vehicles obviously left behind and some turned over to Afghan officials.  Again, I'd refer you to Resolute Support and -- and General Miller's staff for more detail on exactly how many and -- and -- and in what condition they were, but yes, there were some vehicles, and that's -- again, that hasn't -- that's not uncommon with some of the other turnovers of other -- other facilities that -- that we've had, okay?  Tara?

Q:  Thanks, John.  Another on Bagram -- the -- each of the statements that has been released by the Defense Department has said that all of the equipment being brought out were non-defense articles.  After the reports of the vehicles being left at Bagram, has -- are we leaving a bunch of military equipment behind for the Afghan Army?

And the Defense Department today also said that 90 percent of the drawdown or withdrawal was complete.  At that point, is basically everything that's left just at Kabul now?

MR. KIRBY:  I wouldn't -- I don't -- I -- let me check on that one.  I think I'd try to go to CENTCOM on your last question before I'd try to speculate but I think, in terms of the equipment left behind, no weapons are being left behind.

Throughout the drawdown, a few hundred small arms and ammunition were transferred to the ANDSF, and again, I think CENTCOM can provide you a little bit more detail on -- on that, okay?

Q:  What about the vehicles?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I don't have a full breakdown of -- of the vehicles.  It -- some vehicles were left for use by the Afghans, some were destroyed because they were no longer usable, and some were properly transferred out of the country, some brought home, some transferred to other places in the region.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  But I don't have -- I don't have a breakdown of every vehicle, I just don't have that level of detail.

Q:  Okay, separate topic.  This weekend, Deir ez-Zor, did it come under attack or not come under attack?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I think we -- I think we put something out over the weekend, that -- that there were -- there was no attack on Deir ez-Zor.

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  No, that was disinformation of some sort, but there was no attack.  Lucas?

Q:  Hey, John, if more than 90 percent of the U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan, why don't you just declare the mission over?  Are you stalling to get the interpreters out?

MR. KIRBY:  What the CENTCOM statement said was 90 percent of the withdrawal was complete.  We have refrained, from the very beginning, speaking about specific numbers of people.  Again, for valid operational security reasons, I'm not going to break that precedent today.

As I said on Friday, the drawdown continues.  And as I also said on Friday, we expect it to be complete by the end of August.  Clearly, when you look at the percentage that CENTCOM put out, 90 percent complete, it tells you that our presence is small, both materially and physically, in terms of people, but I'm simply not going to get beyond what CENTCOM has -- has provided, again -- again, because we have to assume that as this withdrawal continues throughout the summer that it could be contested, and we don't want to see anybody get hurt.

Q:  You also said Friday that you're not speeding up the withdrawal.  Does that mean you're delaying the withdrawal in order to get the interpreters out?

MR. KIRBY:  It means the withdrawal is on pace and we will -- we will be out by the end of August, which is a -- a slightly ahead -- slightly ahead of what the -- the -- the President's original direction was, but -- but not -- not so far ahead that I -- that I -- and I pushed back on you on Friday -- not so far ahead that -- that I would indicate that it's being radically sped up.

Q:  But is it being slowed down?

MR. KIRBY:  No, it's not being slowed down.  It -- it is -- it is -- it is occurring on -- on pace.  And again, there's -- there's still work to be done here on this drawdown as we get -- as we get through the summer.  Let me take one from the phone.  I -- I know we've got lots of hands up.  Carla Babb?

Q:  Thanks, John.  Let me go back to Bagram really quickly.  The reports are saying the -- the new commander was not notified.  I mean, would you not say that that's a huge oversight, either by DOD or the Afghans?  Somebody forgot to tell this commander because he's telling reporters that he didn't know until after the U.S. forces had left.  So is that not a big oversight?  And then I have a couple follows.

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I -- I can't dispute the reporting that you've seen there.  I'm certainly not going to -- I'm not in a position to -- to -- to publicly dispute the -- the commander's comments to -- to press.  I can't speak for how Afghan leadership briefed their people.

What I can tell you is that there was coordination between General Miller and his staff and senior Afghan military and civilian leaders about the turnover of Bagram. That I know.  And that there was -- that -- that even to the degree of there being a walkthrough.

Now, I -- what -- what this commander knew and when he knew it, I simply can't speak to that.

Q:  Okay.  Then also, we've heard the reports that the electricity was shut off and that allowed looters to enter, which doesn't sound safe or orderly, which is what the U.S. -- U.S. has been saying and you've said from that podium many times, about having a safe and orderly withdrawal.

So why was the electricity shut off and was the U.S. responsible for that?

MR. KIRBY:  So that's a -- a question that's better put to people on the ground there in Afghanistan.  I -- I don't -- I don't have that level of fidelity of -- of information in terms of the exact tick-tock of -- of -- of how the base was -- was -- was turned over.  So I -- I really would refer you to them for more detail about that.

Yeah, Abraham?

Q:  Thanks, John.  Could you update us on how the Afghanistan mission will be conducted from over-the-horizon, including support for the Afghan Air Force?  Is there anything more on that?

MR. KIRBY:  As -- as we've said, Abraham, we're still -- we are capable of conducting over-the-horizon counterterrorism right now -- it's difficult but it's doable -- and we are continuing to explore other options in the region to be able to enhance that capability going forward and we are having active discussion, in concert with our State Department colleagues, about that very thing.

I don't have a breakdown for you right now what that's going to look like.  But, again, it's important to remember we already have an over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability that the -- a carrier strike group in the region, we've got facilities throughout the -- the Middle East that have and will continue to be of value in this regard so we have that capability.

As for the support for the Afghans, we're -- we're still working out what that contract supports going to look like.  Once the drawdown is complete many of those contractors are still there providing that kind of support to the Afghans and the Afghan Air Forces as you and I speak.  And -- and we are actively working ways in which that contract support can be done remotely or virtually or even physically outside the country.

Q:  John, if I may on the Black Sea exercises.  While Sea Breeze is going on, while NATO had some aerial exercises happening, Russia was doing S-400 tests and they were also practicing bombing mock enemy ships.  Were these Russian exercises announced in advanced?  Was there a deconfliction?  Did they interfere at all with the U.S. exercises happening in the Black Sea?

MR. KIRBY:  There's no interference and with -- with exercise Sea Breeze I'd refer you to our colleagues in Moscow to speak about the degree to which they coordinated those exercises.  We're focused on Sea Breeze and Sea Breeze has gone off quite well.  And continues to -- continues to be an active exercise.

Q:  Is it an infringement for the U.S.?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know infringement on our ability to exercise in Sea Breeze by -- by Russian activity.  Yes, Oren?

Q:  Two questions.  If the first 90 percent of the withdrawal took two months why is the last 10 percent taking two more months?  And then, can you update us on the border mission and the extension of National Guard troops for the --

MR. KIRBY:  On the first question, Oren, you know, it's -- it's not -- it's not a linear process.  And I think you guys were critical of some of the updates previously in the -- in the summer that the percentages didn't change much from week to week.  It's not a linear process.

Ninety percent means 90 percent but there's -- that means there's still 10 percent to do.  And as you get smaller in both force size and in capability, that -- that capability -- those -- those resources need to be marshaled even more carefully as you -- as you begin to whittle down.  So, that's where we're at right now.

It's -- we're on pace, on schedule, and I think we'll be done by the end of August.  But you -- you -- I think it would -- should be logical that as you get smaller, again, you want to marshal those resources much more carefully as you -- as you press forward.  On your second question, Southwest border.

So, the secretary did approve an extension of DOD personnel to support the Southwest border mission into the next fiscal year, for fiscal year '22.  It's an authorization to support it for up to 3,000 personnel.  Yes?

Q:  John, thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Good to see you, my friend.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

MR. KIRBY:  Been a while.

Q:  Thank you.  The Afghan civilians are worried about after the U.S. leaving Afghanistan about their safety and security.  So, what they are saying that they were better off with the U.S. forces there and now Taliban will come and they are fearing their lives, common Afghans in Afghanistan now.

Second, what role you think India will play as for the military role is concern -- has Pentagon had any conversation with the Indian Military officials, what their role will be there?  And finally, any UN role?

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.  I don't have any -- I don't have any updates on the UN.  I'd let them speak for themselves.  And I think I'd give you a similar answer on -- on India.  We have certainly had discussions, as you know, one of our first stops on international travel was to New Delhi.

I -- I would let the Indian government speak to whatever role they want to -- and relationship they want with Afghanistan going forward.  That would be inappropriate for us to speak to.  But -- but, certainly, they have -- as a -- as a nation there in that region they have concerns, they have -- they have equities and we respect that.

They would have to speak for that.  And -- and not -- on your first point about safety and security of the Afghan people, obviously, we -- we're mindful of these concerns.  But as the president has made clear, our troops accomplished the mission for which they were deployed to Afghanistan, it has not -- we have not suffered an attack on the homeland from Afghanistan.

And the president's made clear that one of the reasons when they keep this over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability is to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for attacks on our homeland again.  And that's the focus right now.

We have spent a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of resources in improving the competency and the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces and now it's their turn.  It's their time to -- to -- to defend their people, defend their territory, defend their sovereignty.  And it's really -- it's going to be up to them now to -- to do the work of the security forces for -- for that particular country.

Q:  Many Afghans who fled Afghanistan 20 years ago and they have painful memories here and they have families also back home because of the Taliban and Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden among others.  And they are now fearing and they are scared now asking the U.S., especially the Pentagon what message you think secretary will have for them.

MR. KIRBY:  I think the message that we have as a government to them is that we still are going to be a partner to the Afghan people and to the Afghan government going forward.  That partnership, that relationship is going to look different than it has over the last 20 years.

And that -- it's going to be financial support; you've heard the president make some announcements about that.  It'll be over-the-horizon support in terms of logistical and technical and aviation maintenance support.  But our commitment to the future of -- of a stable and a secure Afghanistan has not changed.  It's going -- it's just going to look different, we're just not going to be on the ground the way we are now.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  Let me go to the phones.  Stephen Losey, Military.com.

Q:  Hi.  Can you talk a little bit about what the Pentagon is planning to do regarding the COVID vaccine once the FDA fully approves it?  Are there preparations in the works for making it mandatory once FDA approval does come through?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t want to get ahead of the FDA.  Right now it's being used under Emergency Use Authorization, which makes it a voluntary vaccine.  Should the FDA approve it, then I am certain that Pentagon leadership will take a look at what our options are going forward, including the potential option of making mandatory.

But I'm not going to get too far ahead of process right now.  It is an FDA -- it is not FDA approved and therefore it is still a voluntary vaccine.  I would like to add that as we speak almost 69 percent of DOD personnel have received at least one dose.  That's not bad.

So, we -- we've got work to do, clearly, we'd like to see that percentage continue to climb.  But it is -- it's at a healthy 68.8 percent I think as of today.  So, we -- we want to keep encouraging our people and their families to get the vaccines.  They're safe, they're effective, and it's really the best incentive to protect you, your families, and your teammates.

Q:  But are there communications going out telling divisions within the military to prepare for such a mandatory decision should the approval come --

MR. KIRBY:  I think there's been -- there's been some preliminary discussions at senior levels within the department to think about what the next logical steps would be, if and when FDA approval comes in.  We're planning organization.  I don't think that should surprise anybody that we're trying to think about what the implications would be and how we would -- how we'd react to that.

But I don't have any decisions to announce today or specific procedures and protocols to speak to.  It is still under emergency use authorization and it is still a voluntary vaccine.  Again, a vaccine we -- vaccines of which we believe are safe and effective.  And we encourage everybody to -- to get them if they haven't already.

Let me go to Tony Capaccio from Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi, John.  Two questions, one Afghan and one unrelated.  On the cybersecurity announcement that was made today on JEDI, what involvement did Secretary Austin have on the final decision to recalibrate the whole contract?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, the secretary as -- as secretary of defense was obviously the final approval of this decision.

Q:  Okay, so he made final approval of the decision.

All right, second subject, your Chief Information Security Officer Katie Arrington, her attorney last week acknowledged that she's on administrative leave for some potential unauthorized disclosure of classified information, yet to this date she does not know the charges against her.  Can you give some -- can you comment on that at all?  Will DOD lay out what she's exactly accused of to at least her and her attorney?

MR. KIRBY:  Tony, all I -- all I can tell you is that -- that -- that this individual is on leave and I'm really not at liberty to go beyond that right now.

Q:  All right, when she -- when a final decision is made, can you consider laying out what happened, the focus on her high profile?  She was the face of the department's cybersecurity initiatives, so I -- I think it's only fair you lay out what happened to her at the end of the -- at the end of the review.

MR. KIRBY:  I can't promise how much detail we're going to be able to provide, Tony.  Again, I -- I'm simply not able to comment further than I already have on this.

Janne?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I think that you may have seen the report last weekend that South Korean military successfully launched an underwater-launched SLBM, submarine-launched ballistic missile.  What would you like to comment on this?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm -- I'm -- I'm not going to --

Q:  Do you think --

MR. KIRBY:  -- comment on that.  That's the -- our South Korean allies can speak to their capabilities.  I think that's appropriate for them.

Again, you've heard me say so many times, we take our security commitments to the alliance very, very seriously.  And we're always looking at ways to improve and sharpen our interoperability and the capabilities that the alliance can put into the -- into the field and into the fleet to -- to defend the security of the Korean Peninsula.  I think I'll leave it at that.

Q:  But why -- why you not comment to this?  Because this -- you know, that's very important because North Korea have SLBM already, but --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, again --

Q:  -- deterrence against North Korea --

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I think this more appropriate for our South Korean allies to speak to their individual military capabilities, not for us to.

Q:  And another question, do we have anything about U.S. and Australia, South Korea, and Japan joint maritime exercises?  They were starting July 5th through 10th.  Do you have anything on that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think I have anything on that.

Q:  You’re missing a lot of things?

MR. KIRBY:  I am missing a lot of things, thank you.

(Laughter.)

It's always good to hear that.  Let me just check and see.  I don't have anything on that so we'll take the question and we'll get back to you.

Q:  It was the Indo-Pacific area.  They have some big exercises.

MR. KIRBY:  In the Pacific area, Chris.

Q:  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, we'll check on that -- I'll check on that.  I don't have anything for you.

Q:  That’s your job.

MR. KIRBY:  No, you're right, and I -- I -- every time I call on you, I'm reminded of how I'm failing at my job.

(Laughter.)

And it -- now, it's public out there, but I appreciate -- I appreciate the -- the reminder.  Idrees from Reuters?

Q:  Hey, John.  You -- you mentioned that the U.S. didn't specifically give an hour, for example, when, you know, you would be departing Bagram but can you say did you at least say "we're leaving on day X or day Y," or was it just broader saying "we're going to go walk through 48 hours before and then we're going to leave at some point"?

And -- and -- and a follow up to that is -- is was it -- critics will argue that it sort of speaks to the fact and the trust between the U.S. and

Afghan military that you can't even let them know when you're departing the largest U.S. base, and how does that -- and -- and that it bodes very poorly going forward.  How would you sort of -- response to those criticisms?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, Idrees, I'd -- I'd tell you that there -- there was notification at the higher -- higher levels of Afghan military and -- and civilian government about our -- the turnover of -- of Bagram.  I mean, it -- it -- we're -- we're -- the -- the lexicon we keep -- that -- that I keep hearing about Bagram is, you know, we -- we turned out the light and left.  It -- it was a turnover, just like the previous six bases were turned over.  And so there were turnover discussions with Afghan leaders.

I can't speak for every conversation that happened, I certainly can't give you an exact day on the calendar that -- that -- you know, that -- that was provided but as I said, some 48 hours before, there was -- there was -- there were ample discussions about the turnover of the base, to include a walkthrough of -- of facilities.  So -- so it wasn't done, you know, in some sort of shroud of -- of secrecy.

And as for the -- not being able to -- to specifically provide the hour or hours of -- of departure, again, I think you would all understand why we would do it that way.  It's not -- it's -- it's not a statement about whether we trust or don't trust our -- our Afghan partners, it's a statement of the fact that we have to consider that this drawdown could be contested by the -- the Taliban.  And we have to take that in consideration.

It would have been irresponsible and -- and I would expect you to challenge us if we had been so specific as to give, you know, the exact hour as our -- as our troops were -- were -- were turning over that base and -- and -- and leaving.  That -- that would've -- that would not have been a prudent thing to do.

But again, we -- we have to assume and we're going to continue to assume that at any point, the drawdown could be contested, and it would, again, be irresponsible if we didn't do it that way.  Yeah?

Q:  In Iraq, John, the al-Asad base, again, was under attack yesterday by the -- yesterday, and also, there were also some engagements to armed drone over green zones.  Do you have anything about that?

MR. KIRBY:  We've -- I think we've already talked about this.  There were two separate rocket attacks in -- in Iraq, as you -- I think OIR released a statement, that at approximately 2:45 local time, al-Asad Air Base was attacked by three rockets.  The rockets landed on the base perimeter, no injuries.  The damage is still being assessed.  I think OIR, Inherent Resolve, will be able to provide more updates.

And as the -- the State Department released earlier this morning, defensive systems at the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad engaged and eliminated an airborne threat.  The embassy is working with our Iraqi partners to investigate and will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our staff and our facilities.

Q:  Do you have any idea whose capabilities were --

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't have attribution at this point.  We're obviously -- our State Department are working with our Iraqi partners on that -- on -- on the green zone incident, and as I said, our Iraqi partners are looking at al-Asad, as well, and I think Inherent Resolve.  As more information becomes available, we'll certainly be able to provide that to you.

But in terms of specific attribution, I -- I can't give that to you right now.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Yeah?

Q:  Okay, thank you.  I have two separate questions.  First, I want to follow up on Afghanistan.  So when -- when the president announced his plan to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, he argued the United States should focus more on the current challenges, such as China.  So I'm wondering how the pullout from Afghanistan will benefit the Biden administration's policies towards China, from the military perspective?  What do you think that the -- that the pullout will allow the United States to do on China?

MR. KIRBY:  It's -- it's about a focus, it's about focusing on what we believe continue to be the biggest security challenges that we're facing.  The -- the -- we -- we just aren't seeing significant terrorist threats emanating out of Afghanistan the way they used to.

Now, obviously we remain committed to not letting that happen again -- we -- we have and we'll explore additional capabilities to ensure that.  But it's really about focusing on what we believe, as a country, are -- are -- are bigger national security challenges, and frankly, that includes the pacing challenge that -- that China poses, as well as challenges that -- that we see coming out of Russia.

So it's -- it's really a -- a -- a focusing of our -- of our energy and our resources on -- on the -- the challenges that we believe are most relevant to the American people from a national security perspective.

Q:  The second question -- the -- yesterday, the Japanese Deputy Prime Minister publicly said Japan and the United States need to defend Taiwan, if Taiwan is invaded by China.  So could you give us a sense of where Japan and United States are now regarding the policy coordination for the Taiwan Strait contingency?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, I'll let the -- I'll let the Japanese government speak to their comments.  What I would tell you is nothing has changed about our policy with respect to -- to Taiwan.  We continue to observe the One China policy and recognize that, in accordance with the three communiques, the six assurances, and of course the Taiwan Relations Act.

We also remain committed to helping Taiwan defend itself.  Again, with bipartisan support over many decades from Congress on that.  Nothing's changed about that.  And the last thing I'd say is nobody wants to see the situation dissolve into -- into conflict, and there's no reason for it to.

So we're focused on making sure Taiwan can continue to defend itself.  And obviously, separate and distinct from Taiwan altogether, the Secretary's made clear that -- that in the Indo-Pacific region, we've got to continue to pursue what he calls integrated deterrence, which is about netting our capabilities and our -- our resources together across the Joint Force but also working with our allies and partners, and that certainly includes Japan, South Korea, Australia, many other partners in the region.

Q:  So -- so in terms of policy coordination, are you still at the early stage or are you well prepared for the --

MR. KIRBY:  At what -- at what stage?

Q:  Early stage.  In terms of the policy coordination with allies, such as Japan, are you at the early stage --

MR. KIRBY:  Early stage.

Q:  Early stage, yeah.

MR. KIRBY:  Early stage.  I'm -- I'm sorry.  Yeah, look, I -- I don't want to get into hypotheticals here with respect to Taiwan.  We have alliance commitments with Japan that we take very, very seriously, one of the reasons why it was the first stop on -- on the Secretary's first international trip to Tokyo.

I'm not going to speculate about potential conflict in any one part of the Indo-Pacific region.  We work closely with our -- our Japanese allies for lots of good reasons in the region.  And again, nothing's changed about our policy with respect to Taiwan.

I appreciate where you want the question to go but we're -- we don't -- we -- what we don't want to see is any need for this to dissolve into conflict.  The -- the -- we want to -- we want to, again, adhere to the One China policy and we don't want any unilateral changes in the situation with respect to Taiwan.

Again, our commitment is to making sure that Taiwan can continue to defend itself.  Courtney?

Q:  I just want to make sure I understand this -- the Bagram thing.  So you're saying that the reason that the U.S. didn't inform the Afghans -- the Afghan government of the exact time that the U.S. was going to leave Bagram is because of the concern about the Taliban and it -- the potential for Americans to be -- to, I guess, come under attack as they were leaving?

MR. KIRBY:  What I will say is the -- the exact hour of departure was not divulged for operational security purposes -- we -- because we want to, again -- the first -- when we talk about this drawdown, we talk about it being safe and orderly.  Safe's the first word.  And for operational security reasons -- and that's not different, Court, than other turnovers we've done in the past in Afghanistan.

Q:  But -- but you're saying you didn't divulge it to the Afghan military or the Afghan government, when the U.S. was leaving the base.  Is that correct?

MR. KIRBY:  That's correct.

Q:  So the concern is that the Afghans would've potentially -- I -- who -- I mean, this -- the Afghans have been --

MR. KIRBY:  I think -- I think -- I think in general, we felt it was just better to keep that information as close-hold as possible.

Q:  I -- I mean, you -- you -- you see this signal, or the -- the -- the -- that that sends to the Afghans.  So the concern is that by notifying them when the U.S. was turning a base over to them, that -- that it will get to the Taliban.  Like, I mean, you -- you can understand where the --

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I can't speak for how the Afghans interpreted that decision but it was a decision made in the best interests of -- of the safety and security of our people.

Q:  Thanks.

Q:  Can I do a quick follow up to that?  If it's safe and orderly, why don't you hand the keys to someone?

MR. KIRBY:  I beg your pardon?

Q:  If it's a safe and orderly transition of the Bagram Air Force Base, wouldn't you hand the keys to somebody?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not really sure I understand your question, Abraham.  I -- I'm not crazy about the tone in which you've asked it but I also don't understand, like, what you're trying to say.  The keys to what?  The --

Q:  The base -- the Bagram Air Base.

MR. KIRBY:  We did turn over the base to Afghan leaders, Abraham.  I don't -- I've said it now three times in this briefing, and there was a walkthrough of facilities.  So I'm not really sure I understand what you mean by keys being turned over.  Yeah?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (Inaudible) Television.  You just said that it is time for Afghan National Security Forces to defend their people, defend their territory and defend their sovereignty, and it is their time to do the work of the Security Forces.

So my question is, if they fail to defend their country, what is the plan B for the United States?  Can you be more specific about the partnership between the United States and Afghan government?  And will it be more military partnership?  And finally, will the U.S. continue to keep some -- one of its foot in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY:  One of its what?

Q:  Foot in Afghanistan.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Feet -- feet.

Q:  -- given -- yeah, given that a small amount of troops will continue to stay in Afghanistan per monthly?

MR. KIRBY:  So the President's been clear -- we're going to draw down our troops out of Afghanistan.  That -- it's -- that -- that he has -- as he's made clear, it's -- it's time to end this war and it's time for the Afghan government, the Afghan people, the Afghan forces to defend their sovereignty and -- and their people, and that's the direction that we're moving in.

But he also made clear that we're still going to have a bilateral relationship with Afghanistan.  And from a DOD perspective, we're still going to have a relationship with Afghan forces.  It'll be over-the-horizon, it'll take place in a different way.  We're not going to have boots on the ground, if you will, advising and assisting them in -- in -- in real operations, but -- but that relationship will still exist.  We're not turning our back on the country of Afghanistan or the Afghan people.

But it's time now for us to complete this mission and for the Afghan forces to defend their own people, and -- and -- and again, their -- their sovereignty.

Q:  Can I ask a follow up question to that?  Because General Austin Scott Miller just said that last week, I mean.  There's a path to civil war which is visible.  This should be a concern for the world.  And if Taliban takes over the government, this should be a concern, especially for the United States because the United States homeland is under to -- it means that the homeland will be under threat.  So that's why I asked that question -- will the United States keep one of its feet on the ground?

MR. KIRBY:  The only -- the -- the only presence that will remain in Afghanistan, once our drawdown is complete, is that which is required to protect our diplomatic mission there, because we want to be able to keep an embassy, we want to be able to keep the programs and policies that our diplomats are pursuing in Afghanistan vibrant.

So the only force presence will be there to -- the only force presence there will be designed to help support the diplomatic presence.  And as for, you know, if the Taliban take over, that's a big if, that's a hypothetical, and I don't think it's helpful for anybody right now to engage in hypothesizing about what -- what -- you know, what might happen, you know, in months and years from now.

Our focus is on completing this drawdown in a safe and orderly way and transitioning to a new relationship with the Afghan forces so that they can continue to do the work of defending their people and their sovereignty, and that's where -- that's what we're -- we're focused on right now.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Let me go back to the phones.  I -- I have not been good about that.  Adam Morey, Military Times?

Q:  I didn't have questions.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, that's right.  There's a "no" next to your name but it was highlighted.  So when there is a highlighted --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  All right, we'll go to Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you very much.  I was hoping you could elaborate on your previous answers on Bagram.  How much was the concern of a green-on-blue attack?  How much did that factor into the decision not to tell the Afghan government exactly when Bagram would be turned over?

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Jeff.  I think I'm going to leave my answer the way I left it with Court, that the decision was made solidly in keeping with our concern for the safety and security of our people as -- as they left Bagram, and I think I'm just going to leave it at that.

Q:  Thank you.  And Jen Psaki said it today, as a White House press briefing -- she deferred a question about why the U.S. military turned off the electricity and the water at Bagram to the Defense Department.  Is that something you can provide an answer to?

MR. KIRBY:  That -- we -- I got that question earlier, I don't have that level of detail.  I've seen the press reporting about the electricity being turned off.  I've not seen press reporting about the water.  But I'll tell you what I'll do, because I don't have that level of detail, we'll take the question and see if we have more detail on that.

Yes?

Q:  Thank you.  Two items in the readout with the meetings of Prince Khalid with the leadership at the Pentagon, one is the -- I'm seeking more details, if possible, of the coordination between the U.S. and Saudi commitment to counter Iran destabilization activities.

The other one, if more details is available also, is it seems that every time that there is a meeting and readout there is an issue about the UAVs.  And it's been, like -- coming -- increasing -- that's my impression.  Are you feeling that there is an increase of danger because of those UAVs?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I don't -- all you have to look is -- look at your own press reporting to see that UAVs are becoming increasingly weapons of choice here and -- and a threat to not only us and our people but to -- to our friends and partners in the region.  There's no question about that.

And you know, I point you back a couple of weekends ago, when -- when President Biden ordered some retaliatory strikes, one in Iraq and two facilities in Syria.  They were structures -- they were facilities that were directly tied to this UAV threat, both in terms of how those UAVs were commanded and controlled as well as how they were maintained and the logistical support for them.  So yes, it is becoming an increasing threat and we're all mindful of that.

Q:  One related --

Q:  Cyber question --

MR. KIRBY:  Okay, I -- I've really got to get to the phones, so hang on just a second --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  I may have missed this --

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q:  -- but it didn't seem like there was an announcement before the vice minister's arrival today that he was coming.  Usually we get, you know, a heads-up so we can cover it.  Was that on purpose or was that -- did I just maybe miss --

MR. KIRBY:  I think we did put an advisory out that he was coming.  I'm pretty sure we did, didn't we?

Q:  I don't think so.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have a good answer, if we didn't.

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  Sorry.

Q:  Cyber question, why isn't the Pentagon's Cyber Command taking down these Russian cyber criminals so that they can't, you know, hold the West hostage?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, Lucas, I mean, we're all mindful of the -- the -- the threat -- the cyber threats coming -- emanating out of Russia.  And the president has already announced some measures with respect to that.  We believe -- and we said it before that a U.S. response to those threats has got to be whole-of-government.  It's got to be across the interagency and not just residing in one -- in one building and one -- one agency.

Q:  Because REvil has fleeced already the largest meat supplier in the world of $11 million.  Now, they want $70 million for taking out some -- Swedish groceries and some other stuff.  Isn't it time CYBERCOM takes these things offline --

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I'm --

Q:  -- like, today?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not going to talk about specific cyber capabilities that are resident here at the department, and I think you can understand that.  We are all mindful of these growing threats to national security as well as to civilian infrastructure.  And that's why DOD is part of a larger whole-of-government effort to try to deal with this issue.

Q:  And a quick football question --

MR. KIRBY:  How did we get from cyber to football?

Q:  It's what we do here in the Pentagon.

(Laughter.)

Has the Defense Secretary allowed recent graduate of the Naval Academy Cameron Kinley to attend training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I've seen -- I saw your tweet on this.  I have no announcements or decisions to speak to right now about that.  Yes, in the back there.

Q:  Hi, John.  Has the U.S. made any progress on potentially securing basing access in either Tajikistan or Uzbekistan and will that factor into the discussions or meeting between SecDef Austin and his Turkish counterpart tomorrow?

MR. KIRBY:  He looks forward to speaking to his Turkish counterpart tomorrow.  I won't get ahead of that -- the agenda for that discussion.  But clearly, I think it's safe to assume that Afghanistan will be top on the list.  As you saw, we had conversations last week with the foreign ministers of both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who also met with the State Department as well.

I won't detail the specifics of those conversations but clearly, we are, and continue to have conversations with leaders in neighboring nations about the kinds of possibilities for support that they can offer.  With respect to a range of over-the-horizon capabilities we want to be able to -- to bring to bear in our support to the Afghan forces.  And when there's something specific that we can announce and speak to, we certainly will.

Q:  Okay.  And can you confirm that Secretary Austin will be meeting in person with his Turkish counterpart tomorrow?  Or is that a virtual meeting?

MR. KIRBY:  I believe it's going to be a phone conversation.  Yes?

Q:  Hi.  The reports from the ground in Afghanistan suggest the Taliban continue to make progress and take over more districts.  And the Afghan military said they are preparing a counter strike or a movement to -- to counter that.

My question is sort of in-between Bagram and the longer-term.  Is what is the Defense Department doing in the next few weeks, the next few months specifically to help the Afghan military conduct their -- their fight against the Taliban?

MR. KIRBY:  What I would tell you is, as I mentioned on Friday, General Miller still has all the existing authorities he had before in terms of coming to the assistance and the defense of Afghan National Security Defense Forces.

When he transfers that command authority over in some days time to General McKenzie, General McKenzie will possess all those same authorities as we go ahead and complete the drawdown over the summer.  So, we -- we still have the authority to assist the Afghans in the field if they need it.

Q:  Can you give some specific examples in how that might be conducted with --

MR. KIRBY:  I think the way you see it -- the way you've seen it being conducted in the past, through -- through airstrikes.

Q:  Okay.  Follow-up.  On the -- the original mission to -- to fight Al-Qaida, and ISIS as an extension, how do you see their threat?  Are -- are either of these groups adding strength or becoming more active as the U.S. pulls out?  How do you assess their threat right now?

MR. KIRBY:  Not going to get into intelligence assessments.  Clearly, there are Al-Qaida elements still in Afghanistan, as are ISIS elements.  And we are watching this very, very closely.  I, again, won't talk about the specific intelligence assessment but we're going to monitor this going forward.

And as the secretary has made clear, we have now and will be able to retain over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability such that if we see threats emanating from Afghanistan that -- directly against the homeland, we'll be able to take action.  Yes, in the back there.

Q:  Thank you.  The combined neighbor exercise -- joint military exercise is now -- has started this week in Indo-Pacific region.  So, as the Pacific Vanguard and then there will be Talisman Sabre soon.  So, this could be a follow-up question but can I say that this is de facto targeting China in the event of a conflict with China or Taiwan?  So, can you elaborate more on --

MR. KIRBY:  We routinely exercise our capabilities across joint and combined units all the time to improve our capability as well as improve interoperability with our allies and partners.  And no one should take away from these exercises that they're pointed at any one specific potential adversary or even any one specific threat.  It's not at all uncommon for us to conduct these joint and multi-national exercises.

Q:  So, now we see -- we -- now we see that some European allies like France and UK also like join in the joint military naval exercise in Indo-Pacific.  So, do you think or do you have any plan to expand the countries who join the military exercise in Indo-Pacific region?

MR. KIRBY:  I'd point you to INDOPACOM for more specifics about their exercise regime.  I -- I don't have that level of detail.  We -- we certainly welcome multi-national partners to -- to join in these exercises.  It's obviously a sovereign decision that each country has to make for itself.  Whether it wants to participate, and, again, we wouldn't speak for them.  But I -- I -- I'd point you to INDOPACOM for more detail about the -- the multi-national component of these exercises.  Paul Shinkman.

Q:  Yes, hi, John, thanks for doing this.  There's been a lot of skepticism about the extent to which the U.S. could re-deploy to Afghanistan as it did to Iraq in 2014.  Particularly whether it would have the support of nearby countries?  Does the department believe that it could re-enter Afghanistan if it thought that it needed to?

MR. KIRBY:  It's -- Paul, that's a hypothetical that I'm just not prepared to engage today on.  Our mission, our focus right now is on completing this drawdown in a safe and orderly way, transitioning to a renewed relationship with -- with -- with Afghan forces.

And, again, the president has been very clear that we are going to -- to be able to maintain and retain a counterterrorism capability commensurate with whatever threat might emanate out of Afghanistan towards the homeland.  And that we have now and that we'll continue to pursue robust over-the-horizon abilities to -- to meet that commitment.  I guess I've got time for one more.

Sam LaGrone?

Q:  John, just to go back to the idea of disinformation, within the last couple-three weeks in the Black Sea, in the lead up to Sea Breeze and during the exercise we've seen falsified AIS data for two NATO warships and the USS Ross all positioning them in relatively what could be considered controversial positions off of Crimea.

Are you all in the department concerned that this level of disinformation is putting sailors at risk in the Black Sea as they're conducting these operations?  And is there any plans to kind of police this space in the future?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Sam, I'm not going to speak to the details of -- of the reports you're -- you're talking about.  What I would tell is that this exercise is happening and occurring in international waters in accordance with international law.  It's a defensive exercise.  And it's one of the most robust Sea Breeze exercises we've conducted to date.

And we're proud of that.  And we're proud of the interoperability and the capability that is showing that -- that we can have with international partners in that international seaway and, again, we'll continue to read out the exercise and make it as transparent as we can.

Q:  Sure, John, but it's -- it's not about -- it's not about the exercise itself, it's the fact that there's someone out there that are falsifying positions of U.S. and allied warships in ways that look provocative.  I mean, it's beyond the exercise itself, I mean, and it's looking at a -- a piece of information that's out there that a lot of people use to rely on to -- to understand what's going on in the maritime, just from the merchant.

So I'm -- I'm just curious if the department is concerned about this level of disinformation, not only just from a -- a maritime -- just from a maritime security standpoint?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, our security at sea is -- is vital to us, and -- and clearly, we're concerned about any information out there that could put our people, our ships, our sailors at -- at greater risk.  I'm just not going to get into the specifics in terms of this particular issue you're -- you're talking about.

But clearly, we're always concerned about safety and security first, okay?  Thanks.

Q:  Thank you.