Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

July 19, 2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, everybody. OK, so I think you -- you've all seen the news and may have heard from my State Department colleague, but -- but I can confirm that DOD is now in receipt of a formal request for assistance from the State Department for a stateside location or locations capable of housing and supporting approximately 2,500 SIV applicants who have completed the SIV security vetting process. We have recommended, based on this initial request for assistance, the use of Fort Lee in Virginia as a temporary host installation capable of fulfilling this initial request. It's an initial recommendation for Fort Lee. So this initial group of SIV applicants would be able to, while at Fort Lee, be able to safely complete the final steps of the SIV process, such as final medical screenings and final administrative requirements.

These initial relocation movements, the first that are under Operation Allies Refuge, will again reaffirm America's commitment to those who have helped us and to whom we owe so much.

Now, moving forward, additional DOD supporting locations may also be needed, and we're examining other options to -- and certainly, we'll be able to provide additional information once we -- once we get that. I want to stress that Fort Lee is just an initial location. It is possible that there may be other domestic U.S. installations that -- that we'd have to examine for -- for use to -- to meet this request for assistance from the State Department, but that's where we are right now.

I'm also pleased to announce that tomorrow, Secretary Austin will meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan to reaffirm the U.S.-Jordan defense relationship and discuss regional security concerns. The meeting will take place outside of the Pentagon. We'll have more detail on that for you tomorrow, and we will, of course, provide a readout of it.

Switching topics, the -- on Saturday, the Navy christened the future United States Naval Ship John Lewis, a replenishment oiler during a ceremony in San Diego. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus were on hand for the ceremony, along with Navy leadership, and we're looking forward to welcoming the John Lewis into the -- the fleet.

On India, the department would like to congratulate our partners in the Indian Navy who last week received the first two of 24 MH-60R SEAHAWK maritime helicopters from the U.S. Navy, and their 10th Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft in Goa, India. India was the first nation outside the United States to operate the P-8 for surveillance missions in the Indo-Pacific. These capabilities will substantially enhance maritime security and strengthen cooperation and interoperability between our two navies.

And lastly, this past week, I think you probably have seen the news that widespread flooding is impacting communities in Austria, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. And I'm sure you've all seen the -- the images from -- from this flooding. Now obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and friends who have been impacted, who are -- who -- who -- who have lost loved ones, and certainly, those who are concerned for loved ones that are still missing. We're going to continue to stand with our allies and partners in these difficult times, and that's why some DOD personnel at Spangdahlem Air Base have partnered with their German neighbors to deliver about a thousand sandbags to neighboring communities, and airmen are augmenting local fire department efforts in Bitburg, Germany. These are small actions, but not-so-small actions, because they do generally show the -- the bond between the United States and our European friends, and -- and we're going to continue to lean in and help in whatever way is feasible and possible.

With that, I'll take questions. Bob.

Q: Thank you, John. On the Fort Lee announcement, can you describe more fully what the Defense Department's role there is, you know, at the site as far as security or anything else -- how long you expect them to be there?

And then on Gitmo, regarding the announcement of the repatriation of the detainee to Morocco, just so I understand, there are 10 others who were in a similar status of having made cleared for transfer by the Periodic Review Board process? Were those also in -- are they also working on giving repatriation arrangements for them for...

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to speak too specifically on those other cases, Bob. But you're right, the -- there are potentially 10 others in, you know -- for security reasons, we're not going to get ahead of process here. But when and if there's something to talk about in terms of transfer to either home country or another third country, we'll certainly do that appropriately. We obviously...

Q: Is there (inaudible) cases? I mean, they're actively being pursued?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I won't talk -- I don't want to talk too much about process ahead of time. If there's movement to speak to, then we'll speak to it at the appropriate time. We obviously still stand by the commission's process and the importance of doing it properly.

On your first question on what we're going to be providing, so a couple of things. We don't anticipate that these individuals and their families will be at Fort Lee or any other domestic installation, should another installation be required, for -- for long -- probably several days or so. You have to remember that these people and their families are in the very final stages of the SIV process, so there's just not a need for them to be on a military installation for -- for long before they'll work through the resettlement process, so just a few days. In those few days the request for assistance from the State Department that we have reviewed and the secretary has approved will include obviously appropriate housing for both individuals and families. Certainly food and water, proper sustenance, appropriate medical care that's needed, when it's needed.

And as much comfort as we can provide them in the short span of time that they're going to be there. I mean, they -- for instance, making sure that they -- that they have access to religious facilities if they need it, that kind of thing.

But again, really short period of time. So, it's important to scope that kind of support.

QUESTION : So you're not building any new housing of any kind?

MR. KIRBY: No. No. Not at all.

Q: When do you expect them to arrive?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific timetables on the schedule, David. I think you can all understand that for security purposes we're not going to be prepared to get ahead of the schedule. But obviously when they have arrived safely we'll certainly be able to speak to it that time.

Tara?

Q: A follow-up to Bob's question, when the (inaudible) and their families arrive will they be allowed to come and go as needed from the base? Or are they required to stay on the base?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I'm not prepared right now to speak to what the security and movement requirements are going to be once they get to Fort Lee. And again, I want to stress they would not be there for very long, just several days.

Q: And have there been any agreements been made between State and DOD about who is paying for this? Or is DOD paying for the housing and feeding and everything like that?

MR. KIRBY: The way I understand the arrangement is that the State Department will work with OMB for appropriate funding for this.

Q: John?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: As far as the numbers, you mentioned 2,500. So a portion of that 2,500 would be at Fort Lee, is that how it's going to work?

MR. KIRBY: No, what' I'm -- Fort Lee is the initial location that we're sited on right now as the -- my colleague at the State Department said earlier, this first group of 2,500 consists of 700 that are -- that qualified for the SIV program and then the remainder are their families. So, that's how you get to 2,500, 700 in the program plus their families gets you to about 2,500.

I don't know that, Tom. What I can tell you is the initial group will go to Fort Lee and then we are keeping open the possibility that there may have to be another site or sites available to handle the rest. I just don't -- I don't know.

Q: Is the -- besides the domestic U.S. military facilities are you still looking overseas at U.S. military bases?

MR. KIRBY: We are. We are still considering overseas locations. These would be, as I’ve said before, places at which those individuals and families who haven't gone as far in the SIV process as these initial 2,500 have. So, there's additional security vetting that has to be done for instance. And so they would be temporarily relocated outside the United -- the continental United States, but before coming in for resettlement. OK?

Let me go on -- to somebody on the phone. I haven't done that all here.

Steven Losey, Military.com.

Q: My question was answered. Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: OK. Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hey John, just to follow-up on the SIV question. It sounds like this is a very small slice of the SIV applicants that would be eligible to stay on a U.S. military base on -- in the continental United States.

Do you have an estimate of how many other more -- how many more of these people and their families would be eligible to stay at a -- this same location or a different location in the next couple weeks or months?

MR. KIRBY: (Inaudible) at this time Lara. Janne?

Q: Thank you John. I had a quick question. First question is the U.S. and South Korea cyber working group was launched last week to protect its defense technology and the military operations disturbances, do you have anything on that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't.

Q: Second question.

MR. KIRBY: I'll take the question.

(OFF-MIC)

Q: And the second question, there are reports that the North Korean cyber agents are based in China and these are in cooperation with the Chinese government, that therefore China and the North Korea conduct malicious cyber activities together. What counter measures is DOD taking action against this, this North Korea and China for (inaudible) cyber actions?

MR. KIRBY: Without speaking to the specifics of the activities you're talking to and we obviously don't speak publicly about cyber capabilities and how they're used. All I can assure you is that the department is a part of the interagency discussion about how to respond to cyber attacks and how to become more resilient as a government, as a society, with respect to cyber security and we have a range of capabilities at our disposal to do that, but I don't have anything specific to talk to.

Q: Do you think of any thing from the DOD damages from the North Korea or Chinese cyber attacks?

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

Q: You don't have any (inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to promise you that I would be able to provide that kind of information. But we're -- obviously we take cyber security very seriously. Courtney?

Q: Just a couple clarifications on the -- on Fort Lee. What kind of housing will they be in? I mean, where -- are they in dorms or something? The idea that there was 2,500 empty rooms on a base seems surprising.

And then on the medical that you'll be providing them appropriate medical care, does that mean -- I think many of them have to come here and have like a medical check or exam as the like final part of their process in SIV. Will those be military physicians who will be conducting those medical checks?

MR. KIRBY: So, on the first question, again, I -- and if I wasn't clear enough, I don't -- I can't say that all 2,500 are going to Fort Lee. I mean the -- you can expect that they won't -- they most likely all won't arrive together on the same day. That's a pretty big number.

So, I can't say for certain and that's why caveated right at the top that we might be looking at potentially other installations domestically to help make sure we can accommodate. But right now the initial decision is to use Fort Lee for this first group and we'll see where it goes from there.

I don't anticipate, as I said to Bob, the building out of infrastructure. So, to your point, well how can you -- how can you house 2,500 at Fort Lee? We might not have to. And the plan right now is to use existing housing infrastructure at Fort Lee to take care of these folks.

The specific requests from State asked for housing appropriate for both individuals and for families. And so we're going to, after looking at what we can do, Fort Lee seemed appropriate to be able to meet that initial request for this initial group to be able to house both individuals and families.

Q: (Inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: So -- again, these are individuals that have gone through almost all the steps of the SIV. There's very little left and they will be appropriately medically screened before they get on a plane and -- and come to the United States by -- I'm assuming the State Department will be taking care of that. Obviously we don't have the capacity to do that.

That said, when they get to Fort Lee, as I said to Bob, the request for assistance did ask for us to be able to provide appropriate medical care for them should they -- should they need it.

I'm not -- and that could include additional COVID screening, for instance. But again, we'll work that out in a case by case basis with these individuals. They will be medically screened before they get on a plane to come to the United States.

Q: Because if the -- my understanding is the last step of the SIV process, the medical screening that they have -- that they have to pass, so if that's suppose to occur here in the U.S. but it's not militarily positioned --

MR. KIRBY: No -- no, we would be -- we'd be participating in providing appropriate medical care for them here and that could include the medical screening that they still have to do, yes. Yes, Matt.

Q: Hi, John. Given that these 2,500 or so would only be at Fort Lee or whatever the final locations are for a few days, is this going to be possibly revolving door type of situation where new applicants who have been through security screening are coming in as the others are being cycled out or is this --

MR. KIRBY: I don't know and I don't want to get ahead of the decision making process. I can only speak to the request we got in over the weekend from the State Department and what we're doing about it. Again, initially at Fort Lee. And I can't really go beyond that right now because we just haven't made those kinds of decisions. Abraham.

Q: Thanks, John.

Q: Did you get any kind of demand signal that – be prepared for the tens of thousands more that may need placement domestically and overseas? I mean you often talk about how DOD is a planning organization, are you planning for tens of thousands more? And also any indication you might be using military air craft in the future?

MR. KIRBY: There's no requests for the use of military aircraft for the transportation of these individuals. And as for planning for tens of thousands, I think we've talked about this before, Abraham, we're mindful of the -- of the large number that are in the SIV program right now at various stages.

And we have said all along that DOD will contribute to the interagency effort to relocate -- to help relocate. I mean obviously we're not providing the transportation but to help in the relocation efforts of -- of all those in the SIV program that are interested and eligible to come to the United States.

So clearly we are planning for greater numbers than just this initial 2,500. But what that looks like over time, I just couldn't be able to predict right now. Sylvie from AFP.

Q: Hello, John. Russia announced today that it carried out a new successful test of its (inaudible) hypersonic missile. Do you have a reaction? Are you -- is the U.S. concerned about that?

MR. KIRBY: We're certainly aware of President Putin's claims. And while I won't be getting into specifics or providing any kind of an analysis on his claims, it's important to note that Russia's new hypersonic missiles are potentially destabilizing and pose significant risks because they are nuclear capable systems.

By contrast, the United States is developing solely non-nuclear hypersonic strike capabilities. So alongside our NATO allies we remain committed to deterrence while promoting greater stability in the region.

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: Yes, sure.

Q: And why are the Russians developing nuclear capable hypersonic missiles but the United States is not making nuclear --

MR. KIRBY: You'd have to ask Vladimir Putin why he's chosen to go that route. We've chosen as a matter of policy to develop non nuclear hypersonic capabilities and that's -- and that's what we're focused on.

Q: Russians have these nukes, shouldn't the United States?

MR. KIRBY: Lucas, I'm not going to get into a policy debate over what Putin is doing and why he's doing it. That is -- that is for -- the Russians should have to answer for that. That's a great question that somebody should pose to Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

What I can tell you is we're focusing on the non nuclear capabilities of a hypersonic technologies and we're moving out on that.

Q: These Russian attacks on diplomats and spies in Vienna, is this evidence that the Russian threat is growing?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to attribute -- I've seen the press reporting about the Havana syndrome, which I think is what you're referring to it. And I'm not going to -- I'm not in a position to attribute causation to that at all right now. I mean we take the safety and security of our personnel very seriously.

Q: (Inaudible), right?

MR. KIRBY: Lucas, I'm not -- I appreciate your -- I appreciate your dogged efforts to drag me down in to attributing to these things to a specific cause and our country and I'm just not going to do that right now.

Q: The threat against Russia is not rising right now?

MR. KIRBY: We are always mindful of Russia's destabilizing activities around the region -- around the world. Sorry. And that's why we're working closely with allies and partners, including NATO, to try to check those destabilizing activities as best we can. I mean you've heard the secretary speak, I think, quite clearly about the threats continued -- that are continuing to be posed by Russia all around the world and in cyber as well. And we take that very, very seriously.

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry?

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: All right, next question. Paul Shenkman?

Q: My question was already asked, John. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you. Tom Squiteri.

Q: Hey, John. Good afternoon. And thanks. Without addressing specifically, how would you characterize the prowess and acumen of the DOD cyber capabilities? I heard your response early but I was wondering if you can get -- would you call it robust, extraordinary, counterintuitive? What -- how would you describe it in a general way, please? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Tom, I would -- I'd say robust is a pretty good adjective. We're -- we're very confident that we have significant cyber capability and -- and those capabilities continue to advance every year. And again, we won't talk about those with great specificity but -- but I do -- I believe the secretary is very comfortable.

He had visited cyber command not long ago. In fact, took his French counterpart up there, what, a week or so ago and he remains very impressed by the capability that we have in the cyber realm.

And, Tom, while I'm on it. Something's been bugging me since the last time you and I had an exchange, I think it was a gaggle. And -- and you said I rebuked you. And you know -- and I bristled at that but you know what, you were right. I did not treat you with the respect that you deserved for a very fair question and I wanted to apologize to you for that.

Q: That's very kind of you to say. You're a great guy and I think you're swell.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Tom. I think you're swell too. Yes, sir?

Q: Mr. Speaker, I want to focus on Afghanistan and more detailed about Turkey role. So what will Turkey do to Afghanistan? Will Turkey take over security at Afghanistan main airport?

Because as you know, Turkey's Defense Minister Akar and Secretary Austin have talked a couple times on the phone and had a meeting on NATO in June. So what is the latest news about -- because you are closed 31st of August, so what will be the next with Turkey?

MR. KIRBY: We remain grateful that Turkey has agreed to lead the security efforts at Hamid Karzai International Airport. And as we've said all along, security there is going to be critical to our ability and any nation's ability to have a diplomatic presence in Kabul. President Biden has been very clear that we are going to have that kind of diplomatic presence there. So we need to make sure that the airport is appropriately secure.

The secretary has had numerous conversations with his Turkish counterpart about their efforts. We are still in discussions with the Turks about some of the final modalities and details and exactly what that's going to look like. But, again, we're grateful that Turkey has agreed to step up and -- and maintain leadership of that mission. Again, what exactly it's going to look like, we're still working our way through that.

Q: What about is it just the airport or will it be the (inaudible) Turkish forward...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: We're talking about airport at the security -- we're talking about security at the airport, sorry, sorry.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. KIRBY: Yes, we're talking about security at Hamid Karzai International Airport. I'm not sure what -- what other answer you are expecting.

Q: OK. I want to, you know, learn just the airport or maybe different area the Turkish force will be there?

MR. KIRBY: I can't speak for the Turkish military. I mean, that's probably a question better posed to them. They have agreed to lead security at the airport. There are some details that still need to be worked out. We know how important it is there because we want to have a diplomatic presence in Kabul. And so we're working that out with them. And as we've said all along, that -- that our remaining force presence in Afghanistan, that they will be there to protect and defend the work of our diplomats and to help provide security at the airport.

So though there will be some U.S. support there, but all the details of everything that's required is still being worked out with the -- with the Turks right now.

Tara.

Q: Want to follow up on SIV. Why was Fort Lee chosen as opposed to another facility? Is it because of its proximity to the State Department or was it just available space? You know, why Fort Lee?

MR. KIRBY: There is a lot of factors that went into Fort Lee, and I would, you know, argue that, again, I want to stress that it's just the initial recommendation that we're making. There could be others. And it comes down to infrastructure and appropriate support, medical, sustenance support. It just made a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons. But, you know, we're going to continue to evaluate this broader request for assistance as we go forward. Right now our initial recommendation to the State Department was to use Fort Lee and then, again, we'll see where it goes from there.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any update for you on the base-naming commission. But my expectation is that the name will not be changing that rapidly, Lucas.

Yes -- oh, hey, Brian. Hardly recognized you back there.

Q: Great to see you. Quick follow-up. The applicants that are going to Fort Lee, do they know they're going to Fort Lee? And do they know where they're going after they're processed?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. KIRBY: You'd have to ask the State Department, Brian, that's beyond the scope of our support for this. I don't know.

Mike.

Q: Hey, John, I'm wondering, can you say what the status is on funding challenges for the National Guard over the Capitol Hill operations? If this thing drags on for too long, what impact might it have on overall DoD operations?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, so I think you have seen the National Guard speak to this. They use their funding for operations and maintenance as well as -- as some of its pay accounts to basically frontload the money to support their Capitol mission. And so if we don't get -- if they don't get relief for this, the Guard's going to have to look at curtailing or - curtailing completely or drastically reducing their drill weekends, not only in August but also September, annual training as well as some operational maintenance. And then for more detail, I think the Guard can help you out.

But, you know, there's a potential real impact on their readiness. And you don't have to look very far, and I know you know this being a former soldier, about how important the Guard is just around the country where we've got wildfires, hurricane season is coming, it's likely it's already shaping up to be a busy summer for them. They have other demands on their time and their talents and their capabilities. So a degradation to their readiness and their ability to train is not good for the country and not good for the fellow citizens that -- that they serve.

Q: And what's the chance the chairman is going to come and speak to us any time soon?

MR. KIRBY: He's -- you would have to speak to the chairman's staff for that, yes. I've got time for a couple more. Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you. You had mentioned that at Fort Lee the Afghans would be on existing housing. Is that -- are we talking about barracks? And also just so I understand, are you saying that all 2,500 Afghans could go somewhere other than Fort Lee or a portion could go to Fort Lee and the rest go elsewhere?

MR. KIRBY: I think it's more the latter, Jeff. I mean, again, we're still working our way through exactly how we're going to meet this request for assistance. Fort Lee is the initial site that’s been recommended. It is possible that -- that others might follow, depending on the flow, not just the numbers but how fast they arrive in the United States and our ability to accommodate them. So we're going to be flexible, as Abraham rightly said, we're a planning organization so we're trying to think ahead here.

And I don't -- I couldn't tell you exactly, you know, what the -- what barracks or dorms or family housing that's going to be used, that's really up to leaders at Fort Lee to determine what's available. But as I understand it, it is a mix of both, you know, dorm room-like facilities, barracks facilities for individual or single soldiers, that kind of thing, as well as potentially some family housing units as well for whole families. But I'd refer you to Fort Lee and the Army to speak to that with more specificity.

The bottom line is that we're going to take this request seriously. We're going to give these people a safe place to stay for a few days while they finish the processing that they have to finish before they can then be resettled elsewhere in the United States. Again, it goes back to our sincere responsibility that we feel to take care of these people who have taken care of us. So it -- you know, obviously we want to make as comfortable as possible. What matters most is that we're helping facilitate their movement to resettlement and that's what this is all about. And then we only expect them to be there for a few days.

Let's see, Ellen from Synopsis?

Q: Thank you for taking my call -- my question. To switch topics, Military.com is reporting that the president of Uniformed Services University is retiring and indicating that it might be over some budget issues. Was wondering if you had any comment on that.

MR. KIRBY: I don't. I've seen that press report. And we're looking into it. And when we can get an answer to -- to you, we certainly will. But I don't have -- I don't have resolution or anything to speak to about it right now.

OK. Looks like we're done. Thanks, everybody.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.