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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Sept. 12, 2014
Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody.
 

Before I take your questions, I just want to start with a quick preview of Secretary Hagel's week next week. On Tuesday the 16th, as many of you know, the secretary will testify in an open hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he will brief the members on the president's comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.


Also on Tuesday, the secretary will be speaking at a Hall of Heroes induction ceremony here at the Pentagon for Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins and Specialist 4 Donald Sloat. Both these soldiers served in Vietnam and on Monday will be receiving the Medal of Honor at the White House.


On Wednesday the 17th, Secretary Hagel will deliver a keynote address to the Air Force Association at their annual air and space conference at National Harbor. The secretary is looking forward to discussing the importance of airpower and how to sustain it moving forward.


And, finally, on Friday the 19th, a week from today, the secretary will host a ceremony here at the Pentagon in honor of POW-MIA National Recognition Day. The secretary will be joined by his former Senate colleague, fellow Vietnam veteran and current Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission Max Cleland.


As the secretary has made clear a number of times, he believes that ensuring that we responsibly account for and recover missing service members is a solemn responsibility, and he views it as a very personal commitment, as well. So I can tell you that he's looking forward to speaking to an audience that will include family and friends of the missing, former POWs, members of Congress, veterans, and representatives of the major family and veterans’ service organizations.


And with that, I'll take questions. Bob?


Q: Admiral, with regard to the president's announcement the other night and Syria, in particular, can you differentiate or explain the degree of -- or extent of air defenses that are -- are being considered, you know, are being studied in eastern Syria, as opposed to the rest of the country? In other words, how much more -- how much deeper, more concerning are their air defenses in that part of the country?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me -- it would be difficult for me to speak with great detail to the air defense systems of another country. We’ve said all along that Syria does possess, continues to possess sophisticated air defense capabilities. Where they put them and how they move them around is -- is difficult to say with -- with any great certainty.


Obviously, air defense systems are normally placed in or near what a country believes to be its most vulnerable locations or where, in fact, they think these air defense systems can have the most effect. Generally speaking, the eastern part of the country is more desolate, more remote, less critical infrastructure there than in the western part of the country, so, generally speaking, one would assume that -- that most of their air defense systems are based around the west and around major facilities and major cities.


That said, Bob, and you know this, many air defense systems are mobile and can be moved and can be moved pretty rapidly. So I really don't have a perfect sense of what the air defense picture looks like in Syria, but I think the implication in your question is, to what degree are we considering that when we consider plans for potential air strikes in Syria?


And what I would say to that would be that, obviously, we want -- as we plan and prepare for the possibility of conducting airstrikes across that border, we're obviously factoring in every possible contingency that we can. And force protection is obviously a very high priority for us. And no matter where or when you're considering the use of strikes, you have to factor in defensive capabilities that could thwart those efforts.


Does that answer your question? Yeah, Justin.


Q: Admiral, thank you. On the strategy, specifically, do military commanders really believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed with U.S. airpower alone and without sending U.S. combat troops or U.S. troops in the field to lase these targets, to find these targets? Because one of the criticisms is you can't rely on others to do it. And without having these men in the field, you're not going to have an accurate picture of the targets.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The short answer to your question, Justin, is yes, but now let me try to explain what I mean by that. We've said all along -- Secretary Hagel has been very clear -- that there's not going to be a purely military solution to the threat that ISIL poses in the region, specifically inside Iraq. There's not going to be a military solution here.


We have been conducting airstrikes now for a number of weeks. I think we're up over almost 160 of them. They have helped provide some space and support to Iraqi security forces on the ground, as well as Kurdish forces up north. But military measures are not going to be enough.


And so the other thing that I would say is, it's -- we've been able to do these very effective and -- and we know we're having a tactical effect on ISIL, and we've been able to do that without, quote, unquote, "combat boots on the ground."


Q: Now you're doing more of them. You have -- you've said you're going to ramp up the airstrikes, so...


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're going to -- I think you can expect that we will be more aggressive going forward, but we've been pretty aggressive so far, nearly 160, all very effective, and effective without needing U.S. troops in a combat role on the ground in Iraq. The commander-in-chief has been very clear, we're not going to do that and that's not part of the mission going forward.


The other point -- and I think it's -- and we need to consistently make this -- is that the destruction of ISIL and their capabilities is going to require more than just airpower. We've been very honest about that. And it's going to require partners on the ground to take back and hold the territory that this group has tried and -- and it has tried to obtain and maintain.


It also is going to take the ultimate destruction of their ideology. And that -- that also can't be done just through military means alone. That has to be done through good governance, both in Iraq and in Syria -- we've talked about that -- and in a responsive political process, so that the people that are falling sway to this radical ideology are no longer drawn to it. So that's -- I mean, that's really the long-term answer.


Q: I think people would be surprised, though, to hear you say that there is no military solution, given the nature of ISIS. I mean, this is primarily a military strategy, is it not?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: What is primarily a military strategy?


Q: To defeat and destroy ISIL has to be done militarily, doesn't it?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it does not. It cannot be done simply militarily. And this is not an army. This is a terrorist group. Now, they behave in many ways militarily. They're unlike other terrorist groups that we've had to deal with before because they are concerned about grabbing and holding ground, being in control of infrastructure, developing streams of revenue, and they have these visions of governance of their own, brutal as it is.


But they're not an army. And we have been very consistent from the very beginning of this, Justin, that there's a military component to this strategy, but it's only a component. It's not -- it's not the panacea to solving the challenge that ISIL poses. The commander-in-chief was clear about that. Secretary Hagel has been clear about that. Chairman Dempsey has been clear about that.


Tony?


Q: Military theorists and planners use a concept called center of gravity when looking at an adversary in terms of its vulnerability points. If ISIS is not an army, what are its centers of gravity or, in layman's language, weak points that can be successfully attacked to allow the rest of the process to unfold?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Their ideology. Their ideology. I mean, when you talk about center of gravity, in military terms -- and, again, I don't want to -- I'm not trying to ascribe to this group the characteristics and the traits of an army or a military.


But let's just for argument's sake use your logic. I think it's their ideology is their center of gravity. It is what -- the center of gravity in military terms is the one thing that an enemy has that without which they lose all their strength and legitimacy, so whatever that is. We believe that's their ideology.


And back to my answer to Justin, that's not going to be defeated through military means alone. It's going to take time and it's going to take good governance, responsive politics, both in Iraq and in Syria.


Q: And what's the military role then if it's -- you're not going to crush their center of gravity, which is ideology? The strengths and the role would be what?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our role is to degrade their capabilities, which we are continuing to do, to support indigenous forces in Iraq, and hopefully in Syria, to take the fight to them. And we've said it before. This is ultimately a fight that -- and particularly in Iraq, that the Iraqis have to take on and have to win. To take ground away from them, to take legitimacy away from them, and to completely degrade their capabilities, destroy their capabilities to continue to wage war on the Iraqi people.


Q: And a Syria question. Now, three -- two, three weeks ago, the president authorized surveillance flights over Syria. He gave the authorization. In that time since then, how has the Pentagon's picture of the ground -- of ISIL ground operations in eastern Syria improved?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence issues here from the podium. Where I will go is I'll tell you that, obviously, in any preparation for military operations, you want to have the best situational awareness that you can.


To Bob's question, you want to know as much as you can about what you're up against. And we are in the process of trying to gain that situational awareness. And we're still in that process of trying to gain situational awareness. But I won't talk qualitatively about how that process is going or how much longer we have to do it or what we're learning.


But the direction has been pretty clear. We're going to be -- we need to be and will be prepared to defend American citizens, and we're not going to be beholden to geographic boundaries in doing that when it comes to going after terrorists. So in order to be prepared to do that, which is our mandate, we're going -- we're going to try to have as much knowledge and situational available to commanders as we can.


Q: It's improved, though, since the president gave this authorization, right?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We continue to work at it.


Maggie?


Q: As of yesterday, the 125 personnel and aircraft that were supposed to go to Erbil, that wasn't set yet. It's still up in the air. And so I'm wondering, is there a timeline for that in the coming days available, you know, to us? And also, why wasn't this set in place before the president gave his speech on Wednesday?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me make sure I understand what you’re asking, the 125 -- you're saying they're -- that we haven't set what we're doing?


Q: My understanding from this building is that you haven't figured out which assets you're going to move over to Erbil and which personnel is going to be moving to Erbil.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are still working through some of the sourcing solutions with that 125 personnel presence that will go to Erbil to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. There are still some sourcing solutions that have to be resolved.


That said, we're working at that very, very hard. And I think, as I said yesterday, that in the next week or so, you're going to start to see elements of that 475 that the president announced starting to move in.


What was your second question?


Q: Why wasn't this part of the strategy set in place before the president gave his speech on Wednesday?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: This was part of the strategy that the president announced in his speech. I mean, the president himself said in his -- in his speech that inclusive of this comprehensive approach was another 475.


Q: No, no, I got that. I'm just wondering why this wasn't in place, like, why this wasn't always worked out before he went in front of the American people and said this is what we're going to do.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: You mean why didn't we know when he gave -- when he announced it that we were going to -- what exact aircraft we were going to send?


Q: (off-mic)


ADM. KIRBY: We know very much what the requirements are. There are some specific sourcing elements that still need to be worked out, but they're going to be worked out very, very soon, and there's not going to be any major delay in getting those people into Erbil or into Iraq, as per the president's direction.


Jim?


Q: Admiral Kirby, thank you. You're aware of the CIA's updated assessment on the numbers, the fighting numbers in ISIS, from the earlier estimate of 10,000 to 20,000 to a range now of 20,000 to 31,500. Given the president's commitment in his speech on Wednesday to degrade and destroy this fighting force, and while I know it's not purely a military solution, but there's certainly a military component to this, but given that commitment, how does that increased number, estimated number of ISIS fighters affect your assessment of the duration and the intensity of operations necessary to accomplish that mission, to destroy this fighting force now that the estimate is that much greater?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have -- we have been looking at the threat posed by ISIL through very clear eyes, very clear eyes here at the Pentagon. Nobody has underestimated the threat that they pose inside the region or even to Western targets, as well.


And we certainly support the intelligence community's estimates in terms of their size. But nobody is underestimating the challenge that is ahead of us. As I've said, though, there's -- there's not going to be a U.S. military solution here, that we've got to have willing partners on the ground, politically and militarily, in Iraq and eventually in Syria.


It doesn't -- the 20,000 to 31,500 estimate doesn't necessarily change in our view from a military perspective, given the -- given that we are one component of an overall strategy, doesn't change our estimate or the secretary's belief that this is going to be a long-term struggle.


Now, we can't -- and it would be irresponsible for me to put a date certain down on the calendar and say it's going to be three or four or six years.


Q: I'm not asking that. I'm just saying, presumably it's a longer fight if you have that many more fighters to degrade and destroy.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're not just simply about degrading and destroying them, the individuals, the 20,000 to 30,000. It's about degrading and destroying their capabilities to attack targets, particularly Western targets. It's about destroying their ideology.


So while the numbers certainly got bigger -- and that certainly intensifies the scope of the enemy that you're facing -- I don't think there's a direct line between that and the duration of the conflict or the difficulty of the conflict. Believe me, everybody here at the Pentagon knows what we're up against and is taking it very seriously.


Q: Can I ask just about one follow about ally support? Secretary Kerry, as you know, is in the region principally to get allies on board, to do a lot of the things you're talking about, but also contribute to the military effort.


And based on the public statements of many of these countries, they're not exactly chomping at the bit to join in, including on this -- this urge to have boots on the ground in some capacity. I'm just curious, is the U.S., is the Pentagon prepared to take the lion's share of the burden for the military effort on its back if these partners don't pony up?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Two thoughts here. One is, again, we're looking at this, and the question seems to look at this through just military eyes. And this is much bigger than a military effort.


But putting that aside, the United States is leading this effort to build and sustain a coalition of willing partners. And that's the key word, Jim, willing partners.


Everybody has to come to this effort with what they can, where and when they can. And when we -- Secretary Hagel just was over in Georgia, and we had a stop in Turkey. And his message to both countries were, we'd ask you to do what you can, whatever that is. And we're not -- we didn't come with a specific request in hand.


And some countries have signed up for more aggressive kinetic activity than others. Some are willing to do transportation of assistance. Some are willing to contribute monetarily to the effort. Others are willing to participate in more aggressive military actions, but they all have to speak for themselves. And it wouldn't be our place to do that.


That said, we are seeing the coalition build in size and scope. Secretary Kerry was in the Middle East yesterday. And you might have read the communique coming out of Jeddah. Many Arab nations now have agreed that this is an issue they have to help deal with and that they're willing to chip in, but each are going to do it in their own way.


You said lion's share; I would say leadership. The United States, particularly the United States military, intends to and will continue to lead this coalition. But, again, military is just one component of it.


Q: Admiral, can I follow up on that?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.


Q: The French have said they might do strikes if asked. Secretary Hagel spoke to the French minister of defense yesterday. Has Secretary Hagel put a formal request to the French government to help with airstrikes in Iraq?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: It was a very good conversation with his counterpart yesterday, Minister Le Drian, who will be visiting here in the Pentagon in the near future. They did talk about in what ways the French would be willing to contribute to the coalition. I'm going to let the French speak for themselves on what they're willing to do or not. And I'm not going to -- I'm not going to go beyond that, beyond the details that I put in my readout of the call.

 Q: Can I have one other follow-up question on a comment you made? You said we know we're having a tactical effect on the Islamic State militants. Does that include re-helping the Iraqis retake ground? Can you put a little bit more meat on the bone in terms of what tactical effects you're talking about? Is it merely taking away weapon systems from them? Or is it actually rolling back gains?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're -- to date, Julian, we have certainly disrupted their ability to operate in the country in the places where we have been going after them, limiting their freedom of movement, forcing them to change the way they communicate and organize, self-task themselves.


We know we've absolutely helped remove them from areas and from infrastructure that they either had in their control or wanted to have in their control. And the Mosul dam is a great example of that. And we've -- through the use of strikes -- been able to help Iraqi security forces maintain their control of the Haditha dam. We've also helped prevent humanitarian disasters in the town of Amerli and, of course, Mount Sinjar, so we know
we're having an effect tactically.


What I said yesterday -- and what I think you can expect -- is that in coming days we're going to be more aggressive and shift a focus from what has been to date primarily defensive in nature to more offensive in nature.


Q: Can I ask you about Liberia and the Ebola crisis? Can you give an up-to-date timetable for the 25-bed facility that DOD is deploying? And also, given that the Liberian health system is completely overwhelmed, and given DOD's capabilities and capacity in fighting infectious diseases, why is the American military not sticking around to staff and run this facility?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll take the first one, that we are actively trying to get this 25-bed facility to Liberia. There are -- there are equipping, logistical, training things that need to be done before that can be loaded onto transport aircraft and get down there. But we're committed to getting it down there.


And we will provide personnel to go with it, to set it up, but not health care workers to staff it. They'll just be getting -- they'll set it up, make sure that it's operating properly, and then we're going to -- and then they'll leave. So that's this initial component.


But what I would also tell you, Helene, is that there's a very active discussion going on across the whole United States government about the threat posed by this terrible disease and the urgency with which the international community needs to respond to this.


The U.S. government will -- I'm convinced will continue to play a role here in trying to address this crisis. And as a part of that role, the Department of Defense has capabilities that might prove helpful. And we're -- we're a
part of that discussion right now. I won't get ahead of decisions yet.


But certainly, there's a -- there are capabilities that the military possesses that -- that might prove useful, in addition to this facility. Again, we're having those discussions right now.


 Q: But I don't understand what the point is of saying you've got a country where there's one doctor for 100,000 people with a public health system that's totally overwhelmed. You're going to build and leave a 25-bed facility there for health workers who are, like, completely stretched thin. Why not stick around and run it the way the British have done, with theirs in Sierra Leone?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would just tell you that we're -- there's a very active discussion going on right now about U.S. government efforts -- and, oh, by the way, it's not like, you know, the government itself -- our government hasn't done anything. There's been -- there's been a lot of effort by USAID -- and I don't want to speak for other agencies -- to help address this problem inside Africa.

 DOD, in addition to this facility, we have a number of doctors down there that have been down there trying to work on this problem. So there has been a lot of effort applied. And there's an active discussion, as I said, to consider other things that can be done.


 It's important, from a military perspective -- and that's all I can speak to -- that whatever capabilities we offer to this effort, it's got to be the right capabilities. I mean, most of military medicine has been focused over the last 13 years -- and actually is designed to be focused -- on battlefield trauma, battlefield injuries, the kinds of...

 Q: (off-mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is a capability, a limited capability against infectious diseases, absolutely. I'm just saying -- all I'm saying is, whatever we would contribute, it's -- whatever unique capabilities we might have, it needs to be appropriate to the -- to the effort -- overall effort and in support of a broader whole-of-government approach, certainly in support of USAID. And I would just leave it at that.

Q: Is there a problem getting people to volunteer because they're worried about contagion and that sort of thing?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're in active discussions right now, Helene. And the Department of Defense, the one thing we're really good at is rising to the call and to -- to doing everything we can where and when we can and lending appropriate capabilities. And without getting ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet, I can assure you that, regardless, we're going to -- we're going to continue to contribute in the best way that we can.


Yeah?


Q: Do you have an updated per day cost on the campaign?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.


Q: Has any assessment been done about what this expansion might mean in terms of cost?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The costs are -- we're always looking at cost. I don't have an estimate for you here today. I'll take it for the record. But as I said yesterday, for the operations that we've been conducting, they are being sustained through current-year funding.


Q: Lastly, is leadership being targeted, ISIL leadership?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have not targeted ISIL leadership to date. But as I said before, and I'll say it again, you're going to see a transition to more offensive efforts in Iraq. And certainly when you are -- when you are going after a network like this, one of the things that you also want to go after is their ability to command and control and to lead their forces.


Yes?


Q: I want to go back to the Jeddah communique. Many Arab countries signed the communique after the conference, but, for example, Turkey didn't sign, because of some concerns indicated in the communique in terms of the military campaign which will be conducted against ISIL.

 
What is the expectation of the administration from Turkey, in that sense, in terms of the military campaign and other contribution can Turkey make to this coalition, since the president also revealed his strategy?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We didn't go to Turkey with a specific request. As I said to Jim's question, our expectation is that Turkey as a NATO ally is going -- just by virtue of her geography is going to be a partner in this effort, and they indicated that they would be and that they want to be. But it's up to Turkish leaders and the Turkish people to determine how and when that is manifested. We're not going to dictate to that.


Q: (off-mic) if Turkey doesn't contribute anything to the military...


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think it's going to be an issue. I think Turkey will contribute; they've indicated that. But they're going to do it in their own way and in accordance with their own mandates from -- from the Turkish people.


Yes?


Q: Admiral, to follow up on Helene's question about Ebola, so that outbreak has been raging for months and months and months. And I wonder whether the fact that you're still in discussions about what to do is because you don't have facilities that are relevant to that outbreak or because there's some reluctance to offer DOD facilities? Has DOD offered to make things available? And the question is whether we want -- whether the administration wants to do that? Or what is the problem?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The question presupposes that we've done nothing, and that's not true. I mean, since the outbreak began in March, the whole government -- I can't speak -- really, I shouldn't speak for anything but the Pentagon, but the whole government has been engaged in fighting this outbreak.


We've asked for -- we got program funds approved for DOD Ebola response, around $30 million. This will include funding our effort to get the 25-bed hospital down there, as well as diagnostic equipment and supplies and for some training, as I talked about.


We've also requested to reprogram $500 million in this fiscal year's overseas contingency funds for humanitarian assistance and to include West Africa, some of it to be included for West Africa, some for Iraq.


And, again, we are -- we are actively working to look at capabilities that we might be able to provide that would be of use to nations down there, but also as part of a broader whole-of-government approach. So the notion that we've done nothing since March is just not true as a government. And at the Pentagon, again, we're very actively engaged in this.

 

Yeah, Phil?


Q: Admiral, can you give us an update about the outlook for the anti-government training program for Syrian fighters? Assuming Congress agrees that it can get going and authorizes the money, how fast could you turn it on? What kind of combat power can it generate? And how soon do you think it could have an effect in the war there against Assad and Syria?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've long said, Phil, that as part of having willing partners in Iraq, we also know we need willing partners in Syria. That's why we've asked for this $500 million through the OCO [Overseas Contingency Operations] budget for train and equip capability for a moderate opposition.


As you know, the Saudis have now indicated that they're willing to host training for us, which is a key component of moving this forward, to have a partner nation in the region that you can -- you can physically do this training. So that's very helpful, and we're very grateful for that. There are still some details to be worked out on that.


Another thing that needs to be worked out is the vetting -- recruiting and vetting process. There's no easy answers there. This is not a monolithic -- the Syrian opposition is not a monolithic group. It's not a recognized military force. There is no single recognized leader of the opposition, certainly not from a military perspective. And so there's a recruiting and vetting process that we still need to work out there, and we're working hard on that, as you might imagine.


That said, we believe that over the course of the year that the $500 million would help us -- would help fund. We think that now that we've got a partner in the region to help us facilitate this training that we could train more than 5,000 fighters over the course of one year.


Now, that would be in phases. It wouldn't all be all at once. The training itself would not take a full year, but we think that we could get more than 5,000 done in one year.


But, again, Phil, that assumes that you've got a stable, reliable recruiting and vetting process, and nobody is underestimating the challenge of getting -- you know, of having that done and done well. So there's still work to be done. Secretary Hagel continues to call on Congress -- you know, to pass that OCO budget request, specifically that $500 million so that we can -- so that we can get moving on it.


And it's going to take -- you had a question about how long it's going to take to get started. I mean, the long pole in that tent is the vetting process. So it's difficult to give you an exact estimate, but I think it's clear to say that it will be a number of -- a number of months before you can actually start, and then, you know, it's about -- it's a year-long pipeline of training opportunities.


Q: Can you give us a sense of how it will work on the other side of the training? Will 5,000 guys come out of this camp and go right into the fight in Syria? Or will they be -- will they go one at a time as soon as they're done? Or how is that going to make a difference militarily to the conflict?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have details on exactly how they're going to, you know, graduate, matriculate from this, and then -- and then go off to fight inside Syria. But we do think that a more capable and trained moderate opposition can have an effect, a significant effect inside Syria, not just against ISIL, but against the Assad regime.


Again, going back to -- I don't know what question it was I talked about there -- with good governance. I mean, one of the real issues inside Syria is there's not only not good governance, it's -- it's disastrous because of the Assad regime and the lack of legitimacy that he has to govern his own people.


And he himself is a big part of the problem. He himself is responsible for the growth of ISIL inside Syrian borders and their ability to recruit, to train, to equip, to sustain themselves inside Syria. So it's important to get a moderate opposition that is capable, with basic military capabilities, to fight the Assad regime, as well as ISIL.


Yes, ma'am?


Q: If you take -- if you take Syrians out of the battlefield to train them, that leaves the battlefield open for ISIS to take more ground. Are there people that are going to fill that gap while they're being trained?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The question sort of indicates, you know, that this is -- again, like this -- like an army. It's not. And, yes, you'll have to take some fighters out of Syria to train them, to make them more capable. When they go back, they're more capable, they're more ready.


And I think it's safe to assume that the moderate opposition has struggled right now against ISIL. ISIL continues to be a presence, a lethal presence inside Syria. So we believe from a cost-benefit analysis that it's certainly worth that risk to remove some fighters out of the country so that when they return they are much more capable.


Q: But who's going to cover the ground while they're being trained?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: The problem -- the problem inside Syria right now is ISIL has much of the ground. That's the problem. We need to take that ground, that opportunity away from them, we, meaning the big we, not just the United States military, or not through just airpower, but with a competent partner that you can work with on the ground.


Q: One quick question about the Navy jets. Do we have more details on that? Have we found the pilot? Can we get more details on where this crash occurred?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: As of the time I came out here, the Navy was still searching for one of the two pilots. The other pilot had been recovered and was -- was being treated for injuries. I don't have a lot of detail on the mishap. I would point you to Navy for the details on that and the specifics.


Obviously, the secretary was made aware of it immediately after it happened. And our thoughts and prayers, obviously, go out to both families.


Justin, I already got you. Tom? No, no, I'll come back to you, but I already got you. Tom?


Q: A non-Syria-related question. The Army has identified a problem with a lack of leaders in key combat commands. And I'm wondering if Secretary Hagel is aware of this and whether he's convinced that enough is being done to assess...


REAR ADM. KIRBY: A lack of...


Q: Diversity.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: ... diversity. The secretary has had numerous conversations with Army leadership about this and other organizational challenges that the Army faces. He believes passionately in the power of diversity at all levels of the military, not just at the upper levels, but at all levels, and, as you know, has been a very strong advocate for increasing opportunities for all American citizens, those who are, you know, qualified to serve in the military regardless.

 So this is something he's very focused on. He'll maintain focus on this. But he's also very comfortable and very confident that Secretary McHugh and General Odierno, just like the other service secretaries and service chiefs, in their leadership and their ability to manage through, you know, those kinds of issues. He's very comfortable, very confident that -- that to the degree there is any diversity challenges, not just from a racial perspective, that they understand his guidance and that they'll lead through it.

 No, I'll come back to you later. Nancy?


Q: I'd like to go back to some comments you made about the $500 million and what it was capable of providing Syria. You know, a lot of people were asking -- the United States spent $14 billion in the course of a decade in Iraq training forces, spent years training them, and presumably left a capable force behind -- government behind, good governance behind. And those forces were unable to stop ISIS from spreading into their country. Why do you have confidence that a year of training and $500 million will stop ISIS from expanding in Syria, where there is very little hope of any kind of governance...


(CROSSTALK)


REAR ADM. KIRBY: You've got to start somewhere, Nancy. Nobody is saying that the $500 million is going to solve all of Syria's problems. Not at all. First of all, the U.S. government support for a moderate opposition has -- has happened -- I mean, has gone on. This would be a major contribution now from the Defense Department.


But nobody has said that -- that this is going to solve all of the problems inside Syria or it's going to -- it alone is going to result in the complete destruction of ISIL inside Syria. Not at all. Nobody has said that.


And what we have said is, you got to start somewhere. And you got to have willing and capable partners on the ground. We have willing and capable partners on the ground inside Iraq. Yes, there were some army divisions, Iraqi army divisions that didn't do so well in the first days of this, folded up and walked away. And that surprised everybody, of course.


But what we're starting to see now, thanks in part to the assistance not only that the United States has given, but other countries, we're starting to see the Iraqi security forces meld and form into much more capable -- a much more capable fighting force than they were.


Another reason why we're going to transition now from a purely assessment mode to an advise and assist mode at the brigade level, so we can continue that progress. Same thing with the Peshmerga and the Kurdish forces. You have to have a willing partner on the ground. We don't have a partner on the ground in Syria. And this is meant to start that effort. But it's -- nobody is looking at it as the -- it alone as the panacea. It's got to be a comprehensive approach.


Q: So is it something that you see that -- that funding-wise, this would be the start of something that would -- you'd ask for an additional $500 million over the course of time? And also, can you help me understand, in terms of what sort of expectations the American public should have, in terms of what this force will be capable of, what -- you talked about how this was a starting point. Can you flesh out what that starting point looks like?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Your first question was...


Q: The $500 million, do you anticipate that if this is a starting point, that this is the first of perhaps several requests?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I think right now our focus is on getting the $500 million. That's really what the focus is. We've got to get this start. I mean, as we talked about yesterday, it's difficult to talk about the end when we're still trying to get the beginning of this started. So that's where our focus is on. And, again, the secretary really wants to work with the Congress to get that money appropriated.


To your other question, I mean, what -- what this will do -- this will help us train -- appropriately train vetted Syrian opposition that can help defend the Syrian people, that can help stabilize areas under opposition control, that can facilitate the provision of essential services, that can -- can deal with counterterrorism threats, and then eventually promote conditions for, you know, a proper political settlement inside Syria. If I had to give you the laundry list of things that we would hope that this training for a moderate opposition would do, it's that.


Yeah? Yes?


Q: Can you just talk a little -- sorry, Justin...

Q: It's okay.


Q: Can you just tell us a little bit more about the Iraqi army and their capabilities? And, you know, what's changed over these past few weeks or months that's going to make them capable against going against ISIL? And what's our coordination? We're advising and assisting. Are they taking the lead? Or what kind of semantics you're using here, but are they -- are you confident in the Iraqi army today? And why?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: One of the reasons that we're trying to move to an advise and assist mission is to help them get more capable. They have been doing well, not perfectly, but they've been doing well. They continue to need support, which is why, as I said before, we're going to move from largely defensive support to more offensive support, to help give them -- to help give them more space.


Q: (off-mic) ask, you know, hey, bomb this target or, you know, do this for us. I mean, you guys will act on your own? Or it's -- you know...


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're in constant coordination with Iraqi security forces, but the commander-in-chief was clear. We're going to move to an offensive role inside Iraq against these murderers. And I don't think that there's -- you know, there's not going to be a lot of speed bumps on the way to doing that.


That said, we do coordinate every day with Iraqi security forces. That's why we've got those two joint operation centers in Baghdad and Erbil, and we're going to continue to use them.


To your larger question, the Iraqi security forces are getting better. And they have -- they've -- they've held the ground around Baghdad. They've retaken ground north of Baghdad. They've now been able to, again, with our help and assistance, been able to hold onto Haditha dam, they and the Kurdish forces, working together, which is not an insignificant thing.


I mean, ISIL has -- has helped increase the cooperation between Kurdish and Iraqi security forces. They were together able to retake the Mosul dam facility. This was -- both those operations -- you know, that -- that was an Iraqi-led operation that we supported. And I think you're going to continue to see that support strengthening
and growing.


But they've had challenges. There's no question about that. Nobody's walking away from that, that over the last three years, when -- after we left, they were not managed well. They were not led well. They were not resourced well, and they were not trained well.


We alone cannot turn that around. That's why it was so important to have a new unity government in Iraq stand up. And, again, as I said yesterday, the vectors are turning more positively in that regard. Yes, there's still work to do as they stand up this government, but they have -- the prime minister and his officials have proclaimed that they're -- they are interested in becoming a government that's responsive to all Iraqis, no matter what their stripe, and that's helpful, because that wasn't happening before.


It's a long answer to your question, but I think I got to it.


Yeah? Yes, sir?


Q: What's the role for American security contractors and the expanded campaign now that we've got more American personnel going over? Are there going to be more contractors going there to protect them to provide security, anything like that?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have any visibility on the use of contractors there. I'd send you to Central Command on that. But, again, you know, everybody seems to want to go back to 2002-2003. This is not going to be the Iraq war. This is -- this is a counterterrorism campaign against ISIL, for which there's a military component to which we will contribute.


Okay, Justin, I think I'll give you the last question today.


Q: (off-mic) last one down.


(Laughter.)


REAR ADM. KIRBY: It was good.


Q: Yeah.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: All right. You get the...


Q: Well, now my question is morphing, but I do have to ask you this question. Do you now regret that details about the Foley rescue attempt were leaked to the press or -- or handed out to the press, given now the assessment is that they've sort of gone to ground with all their hostages and dispersed them, and seemingly make them more difficult to find?


REAR ADM. KIRBY: We -- we regretted at the time that we had to talk about this. There was absolutely was no intention of ever having to talk about that rescue attempt. But because of leaks to certain reporters, it forced our hand to try to provide some context to that. So it's not about do I now regret it. We regretted it at the time. We still regret that we had to talk about it.


Thanks. Oh, there's one more.


Q: And on your last comment, Secretary Kerry took a lot of heat for saying this is not a war. And you just sort of -- you're backing that up, this is not a war in your mind. You guys are all in agreement about that, that this could go on for years and we could be there for years bombing, but we're not at war.


REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was this is not the Iraq war of 2002. But make no mistake, we know we are at war with ISIL in the same way we're at war and continue to be at war with Al Qaida and its affiliates.


Thanks, everybody.