Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds An Off-Camera Press Briefing

July 13, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right, I do not have any opening comments today.

So Bob, I think you're first.

Q: Thank you, John. A question related to Afghanistan, the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted today in a Russian magazine as saying that the Russian government has conveyed to the Biden administration that it's opposed to the U.S. placing any troops in countries neighboring Afghanistan, specifically the former Soviet Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan. 

And so, I'm wondering -- my question is can you confirm that the administration received that message? And what is your comment on it?

MR. KIRBY: Cannot confirm that we -- that that message has been delivered by the Russian government. That's really a question for our State Department colleagues. What I can tell you is that we continue to have discussions in concert with our State Department colleagues, with neighboring nations about possibilities and options for support of over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities.

Q: So is the Russian opposition -- if it were to be conveyed to you, would that be a factor?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- again, that's a question really more fitting for the State Department, Bob. But we are having discussions with independent nation-states that are neighboring Afghanistan about the possibilities for options, and those discussions continue.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Meghann?

Q: A follow-up on this one?

MR. KIRBY: -- Okay.

Q: So -- thank you (Laughter.) -- Ryabkov actually said that, "Redeployment of the American permanent military presence to countries neighboring Afghanistan is unacceptable." So do you have any comments on what he said, especially that --

MR. KIRBY: No, I do not. I'm not going to amplify my answer any more than what I've given to Bob.

Q: Yes, but you talked about over-the-horizon capabilities, he -- he -- he's talking about permanent American presence in the -- those nations --

MR. KIRBY: I don't know, you'd have to ask the Minister.

Q: (Inaudible) haven't asked my question yet. So my question is that -- is what you're looking at now to support the mission in Afghanistan is something permanent or for a period of time? What is -- what is the thinking in the Department?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I mean, we're looking for other options to close down space and time to give us even more nimble, over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities that we have now, and I suspect that the nature of those options, the scope, including the duration of the need, all of that would be worked out on a bilateral basis with the nation that we're talking with or talking -- or the -- the negotiations that we're having.

And since those discussions are ongoing, I'm not at liberty to go into great detail right now what that's going to look like going forward. 

Q: Yeah, but I'm -- I'm asking about the thinking. The -- does the Department think you need long-standing -- a long period kind of presence in order to deter and deal with any threats coming from --

MR. KIRBY: -- we would like to have -- I -- I -- I know you're trying to get at the duration of time thing. What I can tell you is we're looking at trying to have as many different options to choose from as possible that will allow us to sustain an even more robust, over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability than that which we have now.

And I'm not prepared at this juncture, since these discussions are ongoing, to speak with any specificity about the duration of time, and -- and all of that would be worked out with -- with a partner nation, a host nation, as it is -- as -- as we do today, and -- and that would be a -- a -- a function of the discussions with them and I suspect that -- that -- that those kinds of components -- duration, scope, proximity, infrastructure, all of that -- would -- those kinds of -- all of those factors would be part of the bilateral discussions. (

Meghann?

Q: The Countering Extremism Working Group has a progress report recommendations due, like, right about now. Do you guys plan to release the results?

MR. KIRBY: They are wrapping up their work, they have not presented their -- their working group's findings to the Secretary yet, but we do expect that that will happen in relatively short order. And what -- what I can tell you is that to the -- certainly, to the maximum degree possible, we will -- we'll be as transparent as we can about what they -- what they're coming back with.

It's not -- it's a working group, so it's not like they've done some study, it's really more recommendations. They were tasked to come up with some ideas and some thoughts about how we can go after this problem in a more cohesive, comprehensive way.

And so it -- it -- obviously, depending on what the Secretary approves or doesn't approve, we will be as transparent as we can be on -- on those things, yeah, but I -- I don't want to convey that it -- that there's necessarily going to be some -- like, a report that we're going to hang on the website, but we will -- once the Secretary's received their recommendations and determined how he wants to go forward, we'll absolutely be transparent about that.

Yeah, let me go back to the phones here. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. Will the Defense Department be involved in relocating Afghan interpreters who do not live in Kabul? One organization estimates that 52 percent of the SVIP applicants live outside of the city. Since those areas are contested, is that a job for the Defense Department to -- to -- to pick them up?

MR. KIRBY: Jeff, I think that it's a -- you're not going to like this answer -- but that -- that the -- but -- and you rarely do -- but the -- the -- the question's really better posed to our State Department colleagues who are in charge of the SIV program.

And -- and I don't have the data that you have in terms of where these people are. What I can tell you is -- what I can tell you is that we are committed to doing our part and helping meet our obligation to these men and women and their families, and the locus of that effort right now is on identifying locations overseas that would serve as appropriate, temporary residences for these individuals as they complete the process.

Some of those installations will be U.S. installations, some of them will be installations that we are using in host -- in other host nations, and as I think I've said, we've -- we're also talking to third countries -- third party countries that -- in which we don't have any presence but that they might be willing to dedicate some locations to them.

And so our -- the -- our -- our focus right now is on that. As I tried to make clear earlier, as for transportation, that is really in a -- in -- the State Department's responsibility right now and -- and I think I'd -- I'd refer you to them for any more details about -- about what they're thinking on that.

Q: Thank you. If I heard you right, did you say U.S. military bases are being identified to host Afghan interpreters and their families? Can you say how many at bases and -- and how many people they might accommodate?

MR. KIRBY: It'd be overseas, and I've said this before -- there's nothing new here -- we have talked about the possibility of U.S. military installations overseas being looked at, and that is true. These are -- but these will be not necessarily continental U.S. military -- U.S. military installations.

And I'm not going to give you the number or the details. We're still working our way through that. 

Mike?

Q: Is there a particular reason why the bases are overseas -- are solely overseas and not continental bases?

MR. KIRBY: I think -- I -- I think right now, it's -- it's -- it's an issue of -- of proximity more than anything.

Q: -- Guam closer than --

MR. KIRBY: I'm -- I'm -- I'm not going to get into speculating on what -- what installations are on … Again, guys, this is something we've been talking about for a while. This -- there's -- there's nothing different here. We -- we're looking at --

Q: -- rather than not wanting to have -- the -- the -- the optics of -- of, you know, having another group of people into the country --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: For those who are in the Special Immigrant Visa process, the thinking right now is that it's -- it's better and more efficient to look at locations overseas right now. And so that's what our focus is on. 

Lara Seligman?

Q: Hey, John. I was wondering if you could answer a question about Latin America? I know that typically, the Pentagon has put a lot more resources into CENTCOM and PACOM over the last decade or so. Is this potentially going to change? Will you be potentially re-looking at that, in light of the Global Posture Review and what's going on in Cuba and Haiti this week?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- well, you're right, there is a Global Posture Review going on and it -- and it will help inform resourcing decisions for the Secretary, with respect to where we have people and how we're employing those people, and I have no doubt that the Western Hemisphere is one of those regions where we'll -- we'll be -- we'll be looking at but they are looking at, and it will help inform our resourcing decisions going forward.

I'm not prepared at this point to provide specific details on what that might look like. But again, it's -- it's a global look, and we're going to be able to take a look at, what strategies are we pursuing in what parts of the world? Are those strategies still the right ones? And if they are or if they're not, how are they properly resourced?

So again, without getting ahead of the decisions on that, that's the goal. It -- I -- I -- I would caution anyone from thinking that events this week in -- in -- in Cuba or Haiti are necessarily going to have a -- a -- a specific effect on the Global Posture Review. I mean, obviously, we're watching these situations or what -- certainly have been aware -- aware of them. But I -- I -- I would -- I would not read more into it than -- than that. I wouldn't want to suggest that some recent newsworthy events are necessarily going to drive major changes to -- to Southern Command. But again, we're taking this review seriously and -- and we want to -- it's really tied to strategy, not necessarily headlines of the day.

Yeah?

Q: You were talking about the attacks by some militias on the U.S. Soldiers and (inaudible) in Iraq and in Syria. You were -- you said that you were very concerned, very worrying those are threats using lethal weapons. And then you said something that two people were injured who wouldn't know what would have happened if it is a different case. 

MR. KIRBY: Hmm?

Q: You -- you -- you mentioned -- I mean, in part of your answer that two people were injured in one of the attacks, and who could, like, think about what could have happened if it is a different case? Do you remember this?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I don't think I used those exact words, but I think I'm -- I think I'm tracking.

Q: Let me elaborate. I mean, on -- on -- on this, what did you mean by what could have happened?

MR. KIRBY: I mean, we were fortunate that there were only very minor injuries to those two individuals, and it's a -- you know, it -- and again, a -- a reminder that underscores that these attacks are serious and we have to take them seriously.

Q: Do you hold Iran responsible for what those militias that are backed by Iran, do you hold them responsible for these attacks?

MR. KIRBY: We -- again, without getting into attribution, many of these attacks are conducted by militias that are backed by Iran, and we have made clear the degree to which Iran support for these militias needs to stop.

Q: There was, as quoted by Reuters earlier today, about a Iranian high-ranking officer who had meeting in Baghdad with leaders of Iraqi militias, but are supported by Iran, and he's calling them to continue the attacks on Americans and on American facilities. Do you have any (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: We have made very clear our concern about these attacks, and the President's firm commitment to protect the safety and security of our personnel in Iraq. You have seen us act in the past in that regard, and we always retain the right of self-defense. Now, how and when we execute that right is up to the commander-in-chief, but the -- these attacks are dangerous. They're potentially lethal, and we take them seriously.

Yeah, Barbara?

Q: Just to stay up to date on -- on COVID and the Department's efforts, so noticing that U.S. Forces Korea put some restrictions back on because they've seen an uptick in cases there. And I was just -- one -- a couple of things, again, just to stay up to date. Still the case that no move towards mandatory unless the EUA is lifted. Is that still where you are?

MR. KIRBY: There has been no change to our policy on --

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: -- voluntary vaccinations.

Q: Okay. And to any extent, are you seeing concern, as we've seen these rising outbreaks apparently largely of unvaccinated people getting the Delta variant stateside with U.S. bases, with the U.S. military. Any discussions of keeping an eye on it, tracking it, potentially putting any restrictions or measures back in place? Anything we're missing that you're doing that's a result of any concern about this rise in cases?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think you're missing anything, Barb. I mean, we had the -- the COVID briefers here a couple of weeks ago. We're obviously watching the Delta variant closely, as you would expect that we -- we would. We continue to believe that a vaccinated force -- is that you or me?

Q: I'm so sorry.

MR. KIRBY: A vaccinated force is a protected force, and we are hovering very close now to 70 percent of the force having received one dose. That's encouraging, but there's more work to do. And so we continue to be in the -- in the mode of encouraging troops to get vaccinated to the maximum degree, and -- and that, you know, again, we -- we believe that's the -- the best way forward. But we are obviously watching with concern the Delta variant, and -- but -- but I know -- I know of no policy changes as a result of -- of these recent outbreaks around the world.

Q: And -- and I was just wondering, you -- you know, would there -- I know it's slightly hypothetical, but because of the level of concern that you want people to get -- troops to get vaccinated. You think it's the best solution. Are -- are you at the point yet where there would be any reason not to make it mandatory, once the EUA's lifted?

MR. KIRBY: I think what we're really looking for right now, Barb, is -- is FDA approval. It -- it's not just about the EUA being lifted; it's about FDA approval. And again, we -- we're --

Q: So (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: Go ahead.

Q: Once FDA -- once all the roadblocks are clear at FDA, would -- given how important you think it is for people to -- for troops to be vaccinated, would there be any reason not to make it mandatory for the department?

MR. KIRBY: As I've said before, if and when these vaccines are FDA-approved, the secretary will certainly want to explore additional options for vaccine delivery.

Jeff Seldin?

Q: Hey, John. Thanks for doing this. About a week and a half ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian media that ISIS is concentrating its forces in acquiring territory in northern Afghanistan, and he blamed what he -- he called the hasty withdrawal by NATO and -- and the U.S. But my questions are, does the Pentagon agree with any part of that Russian assessment of what I.S. -- what -- what I.S. -- ISIS is doing in northern Afghanistan, whether or not it -- it's strong enough to retake any -- any territory? And -- and second part, what's the latest assessment from the Department on whether or not the Taliban are living at least to that part of the agreement, in terms of trying to keep ISIS in check?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I'm -- I'm not going to give you a very satisfactory answer, Jeff, because you're asking about intelligence assessments and I'm just simply not going to talk about that. 

We are mindful that terrorist groups still operate in Afghanistan. You mentioned ISIS. We also know that there's pockets of Al Qaida there as well. The Taliban had agreed in the Doha Agreement to not permit a safe haven for terrorist groups in -- and to not espouse or support terrorist groups. 

Our expectation is that they're going to -- that -- that -- that they -- that they need to live up to those agreements. I'm -- I'm certainly not going to get into where we think these groups are operating and -- and how and to what number. But one of the reasons why the President ordered us to make sure that we have over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan is precisely because we know these groups are still there.

Right now, the threat to our homeland emanating from Afghanistan is greatly diminished. We're not taking that for granted. Nobody's -- nobody's looking the other way. Nobody's ignoring the possibilities here, which is again why we're working so hard with our State Department colleagues to try to develop additional over-the-horizon capabilities and options so that we can make sure that no attack on the homeland ever emanates from Afghanistan again.

Q: Have you seen any indications, though, that within -- since the withdrawal is -- was announced by the President that the Taliban have taken any actions against the Islamic State?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments, Jeff, and that's what you're asking me to do. I'm not going to do that.

Yes, Tom?

Q: Appreciate it, no worries.

Q: Yesterday, John, during the briefing, you cited six-to-eight months then we would know about the efficiency -- my word -- of the Afghan military and political leadership in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan. You said it twice, six-to-eight months. What prompted you to use that time frame?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, don't -- and don't read -- don't read anything into that, Tom. What I'm -- what I -- what my --

Q: That's exactly why I'm asking. I don't want read anything into it, so I wanted to clarify it before I broadcast it.

MR. KIRBY: I wasn't trying to predict certain outcomes in six or eight months. My -- my main point was that wherever we look back --

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: -- whether it's six months, eight months, 10 months, 18 months -- okay? I'm not -- I'm not putting a timeline on it. 

But -- but when we look back from the future on the -- when we look back at the outcomes that -- that happened in Afghanistan, the one constant, the one thing that we'll be able to know for sure is that those outcomes were directly the result of leadership, political leadership and military leadership.

Q: Don't rebuke me, John. I was asking to clarify it and that's exactly why I asked you --

MR. KIRBY: I'm not rebuking. I'm not rebuking.

Q: That's -- that's why I asked you, because I didn't want to say that you said in six-to-eight months, you know, we --

MR. KIRBY: Fair enough.

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: I wasn't rebuking. I was just trying to clarify.

Okay, who else? Yes.

Q: Just quickly on Afghanistan, Pakistan (inaudible) said today that (inaudible) has said that the withdrawal had been completed. General Miller's departure yesterday (inaudible) described as another milestone towards the full withdrawal. And I was just curious, obviously you can't go into details about what specifically is left, but what milestones do you now have to hit before a full withdrawal is, sort of, done?

MR. KIRBY: We're -- we've got roughly six weeks before the end of August that -- that -- the target that the President has given us. We believe we can meet that goal -- certainly meet that goal. 

But there are -- without getting into specifics and timelines, there are still some things that need to be -- still need to be fleshed out -- security at the airport, making sure that we have everything that we need to have in place for the security of our diplomats going forward. So I mean, there's -- there's some things still left to do. Obviously, with 95-percent of the drawdown complete, there are less things to get done in the next six weeks than there have been in the previous couple of months since the President made his decision, and -- and that's what we're going to be focused on.

Q: The departure of SIV applicants is not necessarily one of those things you need to hit by the time August -- end of August rolls around, right? That's something that can continue -- or will continue?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I don't want to get a -- I don't want to speculate about what -- the President made it very clear when he talked to the nation not long ago -- what, last week -- that -- that we're going to move out very briskly here on getting some of these SIVs out, and you heard him say that as soon as, you know -- early August -- the end of the month, early August, we expect to be able to start moving some of them out.

So we'll do that. And the -- as he also said, you know, there's about 2,500 that are -- that have gone up to the Chief of Mission Approval that are very far along in the process and not all of them have indicated a willingness to leave.

So right now, the numbers aren't at such a level that -- you know, that we think it's going to be difficult to -- to move them to a third location. But they are two separate processes and what -- what we're focusing on in Afghanistan now is security for our diplomats, security at the airport, providing assistance to the Afghan forces, when feasible and where appropriate, and making sure that we complete the drawdown. Those are sort of the four tasks that we're doing right now in Afghanistan.

Q: So (inaudible) your preference is -- this Department -- government's preference is still for the SIVs to be moved out using civilian charter airlines -- flights, right?

MR. KIRBY: It's not a preference, it's State Department policy. That's how -- that's how these are done, they're usually done with -- with chartered aircraft. And -- and it's our understanding that that's still the process, that's still the transportation that is being considered.

I don't want to speak for the State Department but that's -- that's still the -- that's still the preferred option. 

Q: Not necessarily the U.S. military?

MR. KIRBY: That's correct. Yeah?

Q: -- sort of clarify those? Cause I'm a little confused. The end of August isn't a deadline for getting these folks out if we -- if they want to go. I mean, the diplomatic mission is -- U.S. diplomatic mission is still going to be open, it's still going to be able to process things.

This can happen long after the -- the retrograde --

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: -- the -- the drawdown and the SIV process are not linked in time and space. That's what I was trying to say.

Q: Okay, sorry.

MR. KIRBY: But the President made it clear that he wants to start moving some of these people out as early as the end of this month and -- and into early August, and clearly, we would still be in the drawdown process. 

But again, to the question, the -- right now, the -- our role in the SIV process is largely around finding it -- locations that -- and transportation is being handled by the State Department, as is appropriate for that program.

Q: Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Yes?

Q: Two questions, one's kind of basic, the other one's a little more progressive. First one is about the Global Posture Review. I -- I'm used to thinking about the Global Posture Review in terms of geography but I'm wondering if -- how Space Force fits into that, how space activities fits into it. I presume that that would have to be included. And then I have a second question that's more --

MR. KIRBY: The Global Posture Review is largely about geography, it's really about looking around the world and where we have people and installations and infrastructure and whether it matches the strategic goals.

To the degree that -- that those people and those resources and those facilities touch on the Space Force, well, clearly that will be part of it because they are -- the Space Force does -- you know, they -- they -- they're in charge of the -- of our operations in space but they -- they live here on earth and they -- they use facilities. And so clearly, I think, to the degree that -- that that's the case, it'll -- it'll get factored in.

Q: Okay, so it's a resource -- more of a resource issue.

MR. KIRBY: It's a resource and strategy effort.

Q: So the second question I have is given the rising incidents (inaudible) of commercial space activities -- now we've had a -- a launch a couple of days ago, Virgin Galactic, and we have another one coming up on the 20th, Blue Origin, and SpaceX is talking about doing this -- Elon Musk has come out and said that he's going to travel too, and then the rising tempo of cargo shipments that are going up to the ISS and back -- and the National Space Station and coming back via NASA, all these things are sort of speeding up. What's the impact on Space Force in terms of the resources that they have and their staffing and so forth?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I don't know that there's a specific impact to Space Force from all these commercial activities but obviously -- and you've heard General Raymond talk about this -- that -- that we know we need to have healthy relationships and partnerships with -- with industry, in -- in terms of how the United States is -- is -- is using space and taking advantage of the -- the space realm.

Q: One more, if I can?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: About six months ago, Space Force and NASA signed a -- a Memorandum of Understanding. I'm wondering if this is going to be updated now, given the additional -- more recently -- and the Administrator of -- NASA Administrator was in the hallway today, so I'm wondering if there was any impact, any implication there about a new agreement in the offing or maybe it was just an interesting floor visit?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I -- I couldn't speak to his visit to the Pentagon. I don't know. I mean, we can take the question and get you something back. I -- I don't -- I don't know what -- what he was here for and I don't have any kind of an update on --

Q: -- SecDef's Office, so.

(Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I don't have anything on the schedule to -- to speak to. 

Nick Schifrin?

Q: Thanks, John. Just wanted to ask specifically on Afghan Air Force -- send support there, see if we can add a few more details. So yesterday, you went through the additional support that is being offered to the Afghan Air Force. Can you describe at all when that support might arrive in the country and can you describe how much support remains inside the country to the Afghan Air Force with U.S. contractors?

MR. KIRBY: Several hundred U.S. contractors still in Afghanistan. Some of them are in support of aviation requirements, not all. And again, the drawdown continues. I don't have an update for you, Nick, on, you know, dates on the calendar when the -- these air frames are going to get A, refurbished, or B, delivered. 

We -- I can tell you that this month, we do plan to deliver two additional Blackhawk helicopters of the 37 that we are preparing for delivery to the Afghans. So two of them will get delivered this month. As we know more on the -- on the rest, we'll -- we'll certainly tell you.

On the Super Tucanos, I don't have dates of delivery. I'm happy to go ask that question and see if we have any more clarity on that. We're purchasing three more for them. And I just don't know what the -- where that is on the -- you know, where that is on the schedule.

Q: Will the Black Hawks come with any additional support at all or will they all be supported by whatever remains in country?

MR. KIRBY: I don't anticipate that there would be -- other than whatever needs -- whatever's needed to deliver them and help the Afghans get them ready, but I wouldn't be -- I wouldn't be expecting that this would mean any kind of significant plus-up in American people -- American individuals, whether they are contractors or troops being there in Afghanistan.

Q: And sorry, last one. When it comes to the few hundred contractors are they included in the 95-percent? I'm assuming they're not. If you're willing, can you talk at all about their schedule and how long the agreement is for them to stay?

MR. KIRBY: Are included in the 95 percent. As is said, the drawdown continues and they are part of the drawdown. I'm sorry, what was your second question?

Q: Whether you can detail how long there's any agreement for them to stay? Or any details about what they will continue to do moving forward?

MR. KIRBY: No. They are part of the drawdown and as I said, there are still several hundred in Afghanistan. But I'm -- I don't have details because each of them -- work -- they work for different companies. There are different contractual relationships. And we don't have that level of fidelity right now in terms of when each of them would be leaving and what the circumstances about the contractual relationship would be going forward.

Q: Okay, thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Okay. Yes?

Q: On Afghanistan, there's been more attention on China's presence and engagement there as the U.S. departs. I wanted to ask if the department has any strategic concerns about an expanding Chinese presence or engagement in Afghanistan going forward?

MR. KIRBY: I think what I'd say is our hope would be that whatever other nations want to do in Afghanistan going forward that they do so with the Afghan people the foremost in mind. And that they too do it with a spirit of supporting a negotiated political solution to this. And that -- and that they don't take activity -- they don't take action or espouse policies that make it harder for us to get a negotiated political solution or make -- or put the Afghan people in any greater harm. 

Q: (Inaudible) discussion with Chinas or efforts to discuss with China about the situation in Afghanistan going forward?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any. 

(Inaudible)

Okay. Wafaa? 

Q: Hi John. I'm wondering if you can confirm what SANA, the Syrian new state agency is reporting about a new attack? Actually they're saying it's a second attack in 24 hours on a U.S. base at Al Omar oilfield in (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything on that. We'll -- we'll get that.

Q: Are you aware of -- are you aware of any attack on U.S. bases in Syria in the last 24 hours? Or this last week?

MR. KIRBY: I think that we spoke to there was -- there was an ineffective rocket attack on an oil field, we talked about that publicly, but it was ineffective and I can't remember when that was. It was a few days ago. But I'm not aware of any in the last 24 hours.

Q: Do you have any like information on like exercises that the coalition forces is conducting in the area?

MR. KIRBY: I do not. 

Q: Okay, thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Paul Handley?

Q: Hi John. Can you hear me? Hello, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: I can.

Q: Yes, yesterday you talked about the Afghan Air Force and you described them as you have before as the key advantage that the Afghan forces have over the Taliban. Is it the Pentagon's view that the Afghans are not adequately using their Air Force or not effectively using their Air Force over -- against the Taliban?

MR. KIRBY: I don’t think we've made a judgment like that, Paul. I mean, what -- our focus is on making sure that we continue to support that Air Force. And it is -- it's a capable Air Force and we have helped make it capable over the last 20 years. And we're, as I talked to Nick, we're trying to make it even more capable going forward.

We know that they have the capabilities that they need to come to the aide of their troops in battle from the air. They have that capability. We're going to try to make that capability better. 

And as I tried to say, perhaps as not as eloquently was Tom would have liked me to say yesterday, a lot of it's going to come down to leadership. It's going to come down to how those capabilities are used in the field, the political and the military leadership over that. 

And I think -- and I think, you know, Afghan leaders understand that too. They know how to defend their country and they know the advantages that they have. It's really now about using those advantages. Taking advantage of those advantages. 

But I'm -- we're not making an assessment here at the Pentagon about how they're necessarily doing it on a day-to-day basis. They know what they need to do, they know that we're going to support them in that process. And again, I think it all comes down to leadership in the end.

Q: But it -- I mean, by repeating that, and I mean you understand the question? Is that it sounds like there's a degree of frustration with the -- with the leadership.

MR. KIRBY: I think -- look --

Q: In making these decisions and countering the Taliban.

MR. KIRBY: -- we -- we know that they know what they need to do. And we know that they know how to defend their country. And really, as I said, when you look back at this it -- whatever the outcomes are, good or bad, it's going to come down to how leadership was exuded, how leadership was demonstrated. And I think that's really going to be the test here in the coming weeks and months. 

Okay, thanks everybody.

Q: And can I do one follow-up?