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

Nov. 4, 2014
Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Courtney, I delayed for you.

Q: Thank you.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: – Are you good?

I don't have any announcements other than to say that the entire OSD Public Affairs team joins me in congratulating you on the newest additions to your family, Julian. Two new chickens, I understand, for the coop. I'm hoping that there'll be better force protection measures in place for these youngsters. We're pretty good at that. If you need any advice, just let us know. We don't talk about it publicly, but maybe we can help you a little bit.

All right. Lita?

Q: Watch the Fox! (Laughter.)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That was really bad.

That was really bad. (Laughter.)

Lita.

Q: I'll pass on asking Julian any questions at the moment.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Did you name them?

Q: Yeah, do you want to know? Daisy and Ms. Patmore.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we're going to have to get an explanation of that, but we'll wait until the end of the presser.

Go ahead, Lita.

Q: Just a couple questions on the Iraq, Syria. One, is there any consideration to expand the operation to go after al-Nusra? What's the -- what is the thinking behind that, and what are the possible prospects? And then secondly, there's been -- there'd been a lot of discussion early on about how the number of teams in Iraq were going to be expanded, and they've been sort of at that same level for quite some time.

Has the decision been made that they will not be expanded anymore, or are we still waiting to see additional troops going in?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first question, obviously, you know, we don't speculate or talk about potential future operations, so I wouldn't do that here today. But we are certainly monitoring the situation in northern Syria as best we can. We're not unmindful of the tension and the violence that has existed between the various opposition groups and al-Nusra and the al-Nusra Front.

But again, I wouldn't want to get ahead of anything at this point.

I would also add that these tensions inside Syria is one of the reasons is that we want and we're looking forward to getting this train and equip program up and running so that we can train a moderate opposition to better defend their citizens, their towns or villages, to go against ISIL and to work towards a settlement inside Syria.

On your second question, you're right, the number of advising teams has not changed. It is still a dozen. Seven in Baghdad, five up in the north.

But I -- there's been no decisions not to try to introduce additional teams. So, what I guess I'm saying there is that the options still remain very open as to whether or not we would or will add to the number of advising teams. Right now, it's static at 12, but this is something that CENTCOM continues to consider.

Q: But just to follow up on Syria, I mean, we're also hearing that there hasn't been much progress on vetting for the Syrian moderate opposition. So, is there progress, and how is that moving along?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's progress in setting up the curriculum. There's progress in getting the sites ready. There's progress in getting trainers contributed to the effort, not just from the United States, but from other nations. But the vetting process has not begun yet. There's still some additional work that needs to be done. And we're all mindful of -- of the importance in getting it -- the program, getting it established and getting it running.

But again, that vetting process has not yet been completely codified. There's still some work that needs to be done on that.

Barb?

Q: I know that you and the secretary are well aware of a number of news articles with the typical anonymous Washington leaks, suggesting that Secretary Hagel is not terribly in favor with members of the national security staff and some at the White House. Noticing that today of all days, he's going to the White House this afternoon to meet with the president, and that he -- you have -- the department has announced he is postponing his long-planned trip to Asia, what is your sense of his relationship with the White House right now? Is he changing all these plans because he doesn't want to be seen out of the mix at such a crucial time? Why is he making all these changes. Does -- is there some sense that his relationship with the White House staff and the president is not what it should be?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary enjoys a very close relationship with the president and the national security staff. He considers himself one of the team that helps the president sort through significant national security challenges and decisions.

And -- but let me just pick apart a little bit of what you -- you just went through, because you talked about it a lot. First of all, it's Tuesday. Every Tuesday, he goes over there and meets with the president. So, the fact that today's Election Day doesn't change his schedule, week to week.

It's Tuesday. This is the day that he goes over there with the chairman to meet with the president when they're all in town, obviously. And there are some other meetings that he -- he will attend over there.

The trip. We never announced this trip. So, for people to say that you know, it's been canceled: it wasn't actually announced. But that said, there was a long-planned trip to both Burma and Vietnam for next month that, in light of schedule demands, demands, most of which were beyond his control, we're having to postpone.

And I want to emphasize the word postpone, not cancel. He still very much wants to go. And we will go. But in light of the likelihood, at least we know of one, and be the likelihood of more congressional hearings in the next couple of weeks, it was deemed the most prudent thing to do to make sure that he was available, so, to answer questions from Congress about any number of matters that are on their minds.

So, this was simply a prudent scheduling decision and nothing more. And we absolutely have every intention of making this trip. And I would add that he called the relevant leaders, his counterparts in that part of the world, to let them know why we weren't coming, and that we very much intend to come back.

Q: Can I just follow up on Lita's question, then? What you haven't done is close the door to an option of potentially bombing Jabhat al-Nusra targets.

Is that what you mean to do? Do you mean to leave the door open to it? And can you just clarify: there's options for everything, as -- as anybody who stands at that podium always says. So, is there an option being considered for targeting Jabhat al-Nusra?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I am really not going to get into speculating about what options we may or may not be considering with respect -- specifically with respect to kinetic operations, to active operations, or strikes in particular. That, obviously, would not be a very wise thing for me to do here from the podium.

We're watching it very closely. We're not unmindful of the -- of the violence and the deep-seeded tensions between these groups. We're also not unmindful of our strong desire to help train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition that can go against ISIL, that can defend their towns and villages, and try to seek a better solution inside Syria.

But I Would not get ahead of decisions that haven't been made. I just won't do that.

John?

Q: Admiral Kirby, can you give us an assessment of the Khorasan Group? When the air war in Syria first began, we were told that they were in the last stages of a major -- planning a major attack on the West. And then after those initial Tomahawk strikes, we really haven't heard much about them at all.

Can you say whether those strikes were successful, why there haven't been follow-on strikes, to what extent this group remains a threat to the U.S.?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we know and we said it at the time, John, that the targets that we were aiming at, we know we hit. And we know we hit them with good effect. I do not have anything to announce with respect to individual leaders and their -- and whatever happened to them.

I just don't -- I don't have anything in that regard.

That said, the Khorasan Group, we still believe remains a dangerous entity, that they still have desires and designs to attack Western targets, and we take that threat very, very seriously. I think I wouldn't go beyond that.

Q: Is there any reason why there haven't been more strikes against the group, or you haven't been locating them or is there any other hindrance?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The only thing I would say, John, is that again, we're -- we're very aware of the threat that this group poses, and we've been nothing but aggressive the last several years, the last decade or more, about going after the threats to our security and to the security of the American people when and where we can and when and where it's appropriate to do that.

So, again, I won't talk about potential future operations one way or another. But I don't think anybody that belongs to a group like this has reason to doubt our sincerity when we say that we're going to hold you to account.

Q: The Khorasan Group is closely associated with Nusra. Many of the targets that you hit on that first day of strikes in Syria against Khorasan were also identified by locals as Nusra sites and things, facilities shared by the two groups. Is there any assessment of what damage or what those initial rounds of strikes was on Nusra Front as opposed to Khorasan in terms of changing their operations or disrupting them?

Were those strikes, you know, weeks ago, effective or ineffective?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: On Nusra? You know, I don't have an assessment for you on that Julian, and I don't know that I would even be able to provide that to you.

The targets that we hit that night, and we talked about this afterward, were aimed at facilities that we knew were in use by members of the Khorasan Group, a group that we also had strong reason to believe were in -- near the execution phase of long-planned strikes on Western targets.

As I said before, we know we hit the targets that we were aiming at and had good effect on them. It remains to be seen if there was an -- a like effect on actual leaders.

The nexus of Khorasan and al-Nusra gets murky at times. We know that they certainly do share some of the same goals and communicate. But I don't know -- I wouldn't be able to give you an assessment of what effect those strikes had on al-Nusra versus the Khorasan group, specifically.

Q: Following up on one other point on the vetting of a moderate, Syrian opposition. Is this something that the U.S. plans to take the lead on? Is this something the U.S. plans to have an allied government participate in? Are there any decisions made on the vetting process, you know, other than that it hasn't yet begun, in terms of deciding who's going to do it and whether it's going to be a shared responsibility?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Actually, those are all great questions that we're asking ourselves right now, and that's one of the reasons why it's taken a little while to get this regimen and this curricula stood up.

There's a lot that goes into this: the physical geography, the site selection, the site appropriateness, the participation of partner nations and what that's going to look like. And there's -- again, there's a lot of homework to do here.

And I think it's -- we've said it repeatedly, it's more important to get this right than to get it fast because the stakes are so high and because it matters so much, to Lita's question, matters so much about, you know, making sure that we are -- that we can deliver on helping develop a trained, moderate opposition in Syria that has the requisite leadership and military skills to actually go ahead and defend territory inside Syria.

So, I don't have specific answers for you, but that's because we don't have specific answers on all those questions right now. But those are very much the relevant topics that we're working our way through.

Q: Admiral, two quick follow ups to some points that you made. First, the secretary is a very important player in Washington. Clearly, his schedule is sent well in advance, especially when he travels. Is it fair to say that these new demands on his time are unexpected and kind of came up out of nowhere for you to decide to cancel this trip to Asia?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn't say, Phil, that they came out of nowhere. I mean obviously, fairly recent decisions here to not -- to decide not to go on this trip. It's not a decision that the secretary made lightly. It's not a decision that he enjoyed having to make. He was very much looking forward to this trip. He has made six trips to the Asia-Pacific theater as the secretary. He is extremely and strongly committed to the rebalance. And he understands the ramifications of not being able to go.

But they were -- these were some scheduling demands that came up in the very recent past here, you know, last several days to a week or so.

And again, this was not a decision that he made lightly. So, he wasn't in a rush to make it, but obviously you get to a point where you've gotta make a decision one way or another because you're affecting so many other people's schedules as well as his own.

Q: Can you tell us any more about what they are? You mentioned congressional hearings will be a part of it. Are they meetings inside the Pentagon? Are they meetings with other people in the administration? I mean, what are the new exits and -- you know, pressing demands on this?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, I'm not prepared today to detail his entire schedule for the next couple of weeks, but we know there's at least one hearing that's on the books. And we expect there to be others. There may also be some briefings on the Hill that he may have to attend or have to help prepare for as well as probably, you can expect the meetings and discussions here in the Pentagon and in town as well.

So, again, I think it was just a -- it was a combination of factors driven by a lot of current events that led him to believe that this was the most prudent thing to do.

And again, I want to stress this trip is not canceled. It's just postponed. We are going to make this trip. We will go back. When we have something to announce on that, we will.

Q: And on Syria, just real quick, the Washington Post and McClatchey and some other news outlets reported this week that the combat taking place inside Syria between the opposition groups there could represent a major blow to the U.S. strategy to train this opposition force you were just talking with Julian about a second ago.

Are you prepared to knock down that impression that there's a big setback or there was a big loss that will hurt the Americans' ability to actually, you know, vet and train and eventually field those 5,000 Syrians?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't believe that we view current events as a major setback to the goals that we've set with respect to training and equipping the moderate opposition. Obviously, these kinds of developments are certainly, you know, not helpful to the security situation writ large. But we don't view it as a major setback or major blow to our ultimate objectives of training a moderate opposition, no.

Yes?

Q: On the Iraq. Are you aware that -- of (Floca ?) reports in Iraq that more than 30 Iraqi civilians were killed in Anbar province in the last few days because of the airstrikes?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: These are civilian casualties from airstrikes in Anbar? I'm not aware of any of those reports. I've seen -- I haven't even seen press reporting on that, no.

To your point on civilian casualties, let me just foot stomp it again. Nobody takes this more seriously than us. And every time there's a credible allegation, it's fully investigated. We've yet to be able to substantiate any of the allegations on civilian casualties to this date. That does not mean that we're dismissive of these reports and these allegations.

It doesn't mean that we don't take it seriously. It just doesn't mean that we haven't been able to independently substantiate them.

Q: Anbar province?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I've seen nothing on that, Joe. No. Cammy?

Q: Do you have any further clarification on what U.S. assistance, if any, more extremist forces in Syria may have gotten their hands on in pushing those moderate forces out in the past several days? There were some reports that they had gotten their hands on some U.S. food, even some heavy weapons, Nusra?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have not seen any operational reporting that would substantiate claims that they got their hands on American-made equipment, food, or supplies in order to fight the moderate opposition. That -- I've not seen anything on that.

Q: Seized it after they pushed them out of these places?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Seize it after them. No, I have not seen any operational reporting on that, Cammy. I'm happy to go take a look and see if there's something to that, but I have not seen that at all.

Q: But specifically, these TOW anti-tank missiles, I think was very concerning.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I just haven't seen it. I haven't seen it. Dave?

Q: NATO is expressing concern about Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border today. Have you seen anything new near the Ukrainian border with the Russians?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen anything new today. I think General Breedlove covered this pretty well with you yesterday. We still believe that there's something on the order of seven battalion tactical groups that are still there on the Russian side of the border, just across from Ukraine. But as General Breedlove said, we certainly saw them exert some activity heading into these two elections, if you will, but nothing other than that on the Russian side of the border.

And again, we still believe that they are fomenting instability inside Ukraine with some members of the Russian military as well, but no other movements that I'm aware of.

Justin?

Q: Thank you, Admiral.

What's the status of the Yazidis? There's reports again that thousands of them are again stranded on Sinjar, surrounded by ISIS forces. Is there any update on the status of the Yazidis?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've been monitoring Mount Sinjar, actually since the humanitarian missions that we undertook a couple of months ago. We -- and I've said this before, we have consistently seen ISIL not in the same numbers that we did before, but we've seen them continue to try to threaten the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, so we have been watching this very, very closely.

And you've seen in some of the CENTCOM press releases yourselves that we have taken strikes around the mountain on occasion when we believe we had a valid target and a valid need to do that.

So, it's not something we're not -- we aren't still watching. We absolutely are. We are still striking ISIL targets near the mountain when appropriate, and we're watching it.

Q: But what are you seeing? Are you seeing people starving and stranded and being captured and killed or sold into slavery? Those are the reports that we're seeing. What are you -- what are you seeing?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen any operational reporting that would connote major or new humanitarian disaster on Mount Sinjar. It's something -- we're watching it as closely as we can. We have taken action in and around Mount Sinjar, and I expect that you'll see that continue. But I'm not aware of any operational reporting that supports that.

But look, Justin, I don't want to at all come across like we're not taking it seriously. We're watching it very, very closely. And we have in the past intervened to prevent a humanitarian disaster there. And I suspect that if we would believe that there's reason to do that in the future, we would keep that option open as well.

Q: Final question. There's a report - one of the reports I'm reading says there's approximately 10,000 Yazidis stranded there, once again. Is that assessment off-base?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can't say it's off-base. I haven't seen anything that would corroborate that, but I certainly can't dismiss it either.

Jim.

Q: Just to come back to al-Nusra and Syria for a moment. You mentioned the violence among groups and that you're monitoring the developments of recent days. Is it the Pentagon's assessment though that this is basically skirmishing among opposition groups, or has al-Nusra made actual territorial and tactical gains in recent days?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I guess without getting into -- you know, into intelligence matters, Jim, I think the short answer to your question is both.

I mean, these are groups that we have seen violence between them before. We have seen territory swap and change hands before between al-Nusra and opposition groups. It's not -- this is not a new phenomenon. And we do have reason to believe that al-Nusra has made some territorial gains of late in the last few days. There's no question about that. So, I guess, again, the short answer to your question would be both. Yes?

Q: Two questions. One, just following ISIL.

They are making their headway towards Asia, especially in the Indian Ocean and I guess to Pakistan and India. And many people are still coming and joining them because they are getting some kind of incentives. You are aware of these reports?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Of their ability to collect recruits in India?

Q: Right.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of specific ISIL recruiting of Indians inside India. That said, we've long talked about the threat of foreign fighters and the attractiveness of foreign fighters to ISIL in the number -- thousands of them around the world that are -- that we know of. And that's just that we know of. So, it wouldn't surprise me or shock me that they might try to recruit individuals from India, as they are trying to recruit people from all over the world.

Q: And second question on Pakistan. There was suicide bombings inside Pakistan on the Wagah Border, and innocents, scores of innocent people were killed, and many of them were injured. This comes at a time that the Pakistani government is internally in trouble because of those protests and all that. And also, at the same time, campaigning going on by the Pakistani military against the terrorists inside Pakistan.

So, what we do make this? These terrorists now targeting innocent Pakistanis inside Pakistan?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I really wouldn't say anything different than what we've said in the past. I mean, Pakistan, the -- the Pakistani people know well the threat of terrorism. They've suffered now from it for years. And the Pakistani military continues to take casualties as they go against terrorists inside their country. It's very much an internal threat inside Pakistan. And we are mindful of that, which is one of the reasons why we're grateful that the communication and coordination with the Pakistani military across that border continues, and it's pretty healthy right now.

But this is obviously a threat that the Pakistani people know all too well, and that's also an indication of the continued terrorism threat that emanates from that part of the world.

Q: A recent terrorist attack, you have not received any kind of help from the Pakistanis or any communications?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: For what?

Q: For this recent attack there, you have not received any kind of communications or any --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any, but I would refer you to the State Department on that. I just wouldn't have that level of detail.

Nancy?

Q: General Dempsey suggested, and the New York Times reported again this weekend, that there were plans underway to work with Iraqis to take back Mosul and Anbar from ISIS. And I was wondering if you could clarify something. I don't understand: the U.S. had upwards of 170,000 plus troops at one point in Iraq, spent a trillion dollars in a decade training the Iraqi Security Forces, and they proved unable to combat threats against the state.

Can you help me understand why the American public, why the Sunnis in Anbar should be any more confident that from Tampa, at a brigade level, the U.S. can help the Iraqis come up with a plan to take these territories back from ISIS, when they've proven so far unable and unwilling to stay or fight in any way in these Sunni areas?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, there's a lot there.

What was that?

Q: Why not?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me try to break it up this way. First of all, when we left in 2011, we left an Iraqi Security Force operation and an Iraqi army that was competent and capable to the threat, and we said so publicly. The threat has changed, but the other thing that changed over the last three years was that they weren't properly trained and resourced, led, equipped. All that. We've talked about that.

So, the Iraqi army certainly declined in capability and leadership from 2011 to today. And we saw whole divisions just fold up there in the north when ISIL advanced early in the summer, largely through lack of will and leadership.

But that's -- that army, like so many armies, there's not a homogeneous group. I mean, there are some units that are better than others, and there are units, certainly in and around Baghdad and in Anbar right now that are fighting back, and they are taking the fight to the enemy.

It's been slow, no question about it. Weather has been a factor lately. The defense in depth by ISIL with IEDs has also been a factor, slowing them down. They've been methodical. But they have been advancing -- advancing on Baiji, advancing in Anbar. It's a fluid, mixed picture to be sure. But they are fighting back. And they do have a plan to continue a counter-offensive against ISIL in the coming months. And I'm not going to get up here and detail for the public what that plan is, but I can assure you they do.

And it's very deliberate. It's very methodical. And it will require some support and help from the United States and from coalition members, no question about that. And we're willing to provide that -- that help and that cooperation.

But there's two things that are important to hang on that cooperation. One is, they have to continue to improve and to continue to prove willing and able to conduct these operations. So far, most of those units are doing that. But that has to be sustained. And as General Dempsey said the other day, it also has to be supported by, and this is my second point, supported by a political inclusiveness not just inside the army, but inside the Iraqi government.

Now, they've been saying the right things and initial indications are that they're doing the right things to be a more inclusive, responsive government. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done there. We're clear-eyed about that. But it's only going to work if the Iraqi army represents all Iraqis, and that -- and are willing to change and to continue to try to improve themselves.

So, I think there's every reason right now to have that expectation here in the Pentagon, that with our help and with the help of coalition members, parts of the Iraqi army and hopefully one day all of the Iraqi army will be able to secure and defend their territory for all Iraqi citizens.

Q: But you talk about how there's been initial suggestion that the Iraqi government is moving toward that direction. What are those indications? Because when you talk to people in Anbar, they say that they're not getting those indications. And all this time, you're talking about a lot of caveats for this work while ISIS is becoming increasingly entrenched in Anbar.

So, what I'm having trouble understanding is, what confidence is there that one can craft a strategy against a more forceful enemy from further away with fewer resources?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: ISIL has been in Anbar for a long time. So, they -- I mean, they -- months and months and months, they've been -- they've been entrenched in places in Anbar. So, it's not a new development that they're in Anbar. So, let's just take that off the table.

The -- they are -- there is territory inside of Anbar that is changing hands from time to time, and they are fighting over Fallujah and Ramadi. And it's a mixed picture. But the Iraqi army is -- they are making gains. They are slowly advancing and making gains. And that's promising. And that's behavior we want to see continue. And that's why we have advisors at the brigade and division level to help -- help them perform better for themselves, help them with intelligence analysis and dissemination, help them with basic organizational skills and tactics.

So, we believe that there's every reason to continue, and I don't want to use the word hope, but to have a measure of confidence that these trends can continue.

And on the Iraqi government, I mean, again, they've just stood up. It's going to take some time. It takes time in this country when you have a new government for things to take root. It's going to take them some time, but they're beginning to appoint leadership and reward good leadership in the Iraqi army where it's merited. We're starting to see positive signs.

But -- but I also -- Nancy, I don't want for anybody to come away from what I'm saying here as being all rosy and ultra positive. We -- we're very pragmatic about the approach that we're taking. General Austin, General Dempsey, Secretary Hagel, all were very clear-eyed about the challenges that still remain in Iraq and the challenges that are -- that continue to be represented by ISIL.

These guys are not 10 feet tall. They're just not. But they remain a dangerous, lethal enemy. And everybody's taking the threat seriously. And as we've said before, the strategy is very much an Iraq-first strategy. We've -- you know, we -- there's a lot of attention right now on Syria, and we understand that. And we understand why.

But the -- the locus of the energy right now has got to be applied inside Iraq appropriately, because that's where these guys are operating and maneuvering, and that's where they're grabbing ground or continue to try to grab ground.

Tony?

Q: Three months into the air campaign, what impact -- what's the emerging battle damage assessment of what impact the airstrikes are having on ISIL's ability to resupply from Syria into Iraq?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have facts and figures with me, Tony.

We do know we had a good effect and an impact on their ability. We've had a very -- let me how to put this. We've had a significant impact on their ability, we believe, to sustain themselves and to resupply themselves. That doesn't mean we've erased it. You've said it yourself in the question. It's only been three months.

And I know of no military strategy in history that can be judged after only 90 days. A strategy is, by definition, a long-term goal and objective and a vision for where you're trying to get to. And you're just -- you're not going to be able to give it a report card, you know, in 90 days.

That said, we do know that we've had an effect. We've eliminated streams of revenue from oil, both by hitting collection points and refineries. So, we know we've taken away from them millions of dollars per week that they could've been getting off the illicit sale of oil: refined oil.

We know we've hit their command and control facilities inside Syria. One of the reasons why we think Kobani is so attractive to them is because it's additional safe-haven and sanctuary that by the way, they don't have now. We're not even talking about Kobani today. And that was something that we didn't go a day without talking about.

We've hit their training camps. So, we know we've had an ability -- an affect on their ability to train recruits. And we have definitely had an impact on their ability to maneuver, communicate, coordinate, command, and control their forces inside Iraq.

They are behaving much differently today than they were even a month or six weeks ago. They're dispersing more among the population, not communicating quite so brazenly as they were before. They're not moving in large numbers the way they were. You don't see big convoys of ISIL tanks and trucks and vehicles. So, they have been forced to be a little less conspicuous than they were.

And as I said before -- but let me -- you know, as I said, if they're not as free to operate, and they're not, then they're not as free and able to achieve their ultimate goals.

Nobody is saying that it's over. There's a long way to go here, but they're -- they have definitely felt -- felt the full weight of the pressure that's being put on us.

Q: Significant quotes, that's a fairly bold assessment.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it's a fair assessment.

That doesn't mean though, Tony, that we've wiped out their ability to sustain themselves. It doesn't mean that they aren't still attracting -- and I don't know who asked me about foreign fighters, but we know that they continue to attract people to their ranks. It's a radical, warped ideology that for many reasons is attractive to a lot of young men in the Middle East and around the world.

That's not going to change overnight. You and I have had this discussion about their center of gravity being the ideology. You don't wipe that out through airstrikes, and you certainly don't do it in 90 days.

Q: Well, what's a fair metric. Is the six month mark more of a fair metric? We've got air supremacy over there, with the most powerful Air Force in the world, able to bomb them relatively at will when you know where their targets are. Is the six month point a fair assessment for the public to say, "hey this doesn't seem to be working?"

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think we're looking at it as, you know, incremental assessments. We assess ourselves every single day. In fact, multiple times a day. I think, you know, CENTCOM planners and analysts are looking at how effective we're being all the time. But a key component is, and we didn't talk about this, is the indigenous forces. And this kinda gets to Nancy's line of question, which was very -- which was I think a very great line of questioning in terms of the quality of the Iraqi Security Forces.

So, airstrikes alone are not going to do this. We've said this. Military power alone is not going to do this.

And -- but the most important forces of all are going to be indigenous forces. That's why what we're seeing out of the Iraqi government, though early, is promising. And what we're seeing out of leadership, basic leadership at the Iraqi Security Forces, is promising, and that's why we're so eager to get this train and equip program going for the moderate opposition.

Q: Congress: I'm going to tie it to a thought. She said "deep seeded tensions in congressional hearings." Deep seeded tensions was in relation to Syria, but if the Republicans win the Senate, as it's expected today, Senator McCain becomes the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. How would you characterize Secretary Hagel's relationship with Senator McCain, irrespective of the intemperate marks -- remarks he used about you?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, the one thing I don't do well is talk about politics, and I -- I just won't do that, Tony. The secretary has a good relationship with many members of Congress, and I believe that he believes that relationship with Senator McCain is also strong and productive. And it has been. And it has to be, given Senator McCain's position on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

I wouldn't speculate one way or the other about the elections today, or what that's going to bode for the future. Whatever happens, I can promise you that Secretary Hagel will continue to work very closely with Congress on very important issues of national security going forward, regardless of what happens in the polls today, because we need Congress's support to get done so many of the things that we're trying to get done, not the least of which is taking sequestration off our backs.

Q: Speaking of which, do you see any signal that sequestration is going to be removed as the law of the land in 2016?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, all I can go by, Tony, is the law of the land as it exists, and it comes back in 2016. And we are working very, very hard to try to get Congress to remove it, to repeal it, but right now, it, you know, it -- you know, barring any changes, it becomes the law of the land again, and that's going to severely impact our ability to execute the strategy that we've been mandated to execute by the president.

Jim?

Q: Admiral.

Is there any consideration within the department to possibly scaling back the effort on Ebola in West Africa, given some of the upbeat assessments coming out of the region, particularly from Ambassador Power?

And would it be along the lines, as has been suggested by some AID people on the ground over there, that the 100 bed treatment centers that are planned to be set up, and I believe there are two or three to be operational later this -- the middle of this month, that they would be scaled back from perhaps 100 beds, 50 beds, to 20 beds, to 10 beds, something along those lines. Is there any thought to scaling back the military effort at the moment?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The short answer is no. You've rightly pointed out we've got one emergency treatment unit that has now been complete. Will be staffed here in the next week to 10 days, I think.

Q: Is that a 25 bed?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, this is a -- this is the emergency treatment units, which I think are 100 beds. The 25 bed hospital in Monrovia, that's essentially complete now, but it's not yet staffed. I think it's going to be another, again, week or more before that's fully staffed by health care workers form the public health service.

Remember, when we started this, the military's mission was to lend our unique capabilities, training, logistics, engineering, command and control. We continue to do that very aggressively, every day. And I don't think there -- I can tell you there's been no plans to change that right now.

The initial numbers coming out of Liberia have been promising, that the numbers of cases seem to be getting smaller. Nobody's taking that for granted. Nobody in the health care profession and certainly nobody here in the Pentagon. Because we know that the history with this disease is that the numbers sometimes fluctuate. And you might see a dip for awhile, and then it'll go back up.

So, we are still moving out with our plans to build these facilities and to get them ready for staffing by other agencies in accordance with the capacity that they can hold.

Now, if -- if time shows that this -- these initial decreases in numbers are in fact a real trend, I mean obviously that would be -- those would be decisions made by other agencies, not the Pentagon.

Our job is to make sure that those facilities are ready to go and ready to be inhabited and ready to be used, and that's what we're going to do.

Court.

Q: Are you aware of any DOD civilians or contractors who have taken you up on the -- taken the department up on the quarantine in Vicenza yet?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me get back to you. I don't think so, but something tells me there might have been -- there might have been one or two individuals who I think just opted for the active monitoring. But let me get back to you, Court. I don't want to just guess. I think there might be something on that.

Q: Totally a separate question. The former SEAL who wrote "No Easy Day," can you explain a little bit more about the investigation? What's the Pentagon's role in that, in this investigation into whether classified information -- it's sort of unclear who's leading this, who's taking part in this?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice for that question.

Q: The Pentagon doesn't have any kind of role in it that you're aware of?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn't go so far as to say there's no role, but I can't really speak about an ongoing investigation, the character of it or not. But I think your question's better answered, you know, by the Justice Department.

Yeah, I've got time for just a couple more.

Q: (off mic) and Vietnam. Do you think -- who would be the next window of opportunity for the secretary to go to the Vietnam and (off mic)?

I think by the end of the year, it's impossible, so next year or next year, if there's something about that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We haven't made any final decisions about timing. I can assure you that he will make the trip. I just don't have anything to announce with respect to specific timing today.

Louie?

Q: Can you go with him first. He's had his hand up a little longer.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. You're such a gentleman.

Yes sir?

Q: Thank you, Admiral. I have received information that a T-4 airfield outside of Homs province is about ready to be overtaken or has been overtaken by ISIS, that includes MIGs, Sukhois, SA-3s. Do you have any information on that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not.

Q: Second question. Since Turkey is going to be training moderate forces, and their stated goal is to do away with the Assad regime first, how does that -- how do we reconcile that from a policy perspective in going after ISIS and having a unified position in approaching ISIS as opposed to trying to take out the Assad regime?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I won't speak to the goals and objectives of another government. But look, we welcome Turkey's willingness to contribute in the train and equip mission. We are in active discussions with them about the details of that, and how it would come about, but we're very grateful for that. And I think it just shows the degree to which the international community is taking the threat posed by ISIL very seriously.

Louie?

Q: Do you have an updated assessment on what actually happened in northwest Syria over the weekend with al-Nusra and these other FSA-affiliated fighters? I know yesterday it seemed a little unclear as to what your assessment was.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think I answered -- my answer to Jim's question -- I mean, we -- we do assess that there was fighting, and we assess that al-Nusra did gain some territory as a result of this fighting. I don't have exact details on this.

Our -- our information and knowledge about all things Syria is limited, because again, our -- and it's important to remember, our focus in Syria is on ISIL and denying them safe haven and sanctuary. And so the bulk of our ISR assets and energies are directed in that regard.

So, it's a little unfair to expect that we would have exact details of what al-Nusra's doing on any given day or ground they might be taking or losing on any given day.

Broadly speaking, we do -- we're aware and certainly we're monitoring as best we could the fighting. And it does appear as if ground was gained by al-Nusra. But I just wouldn't have any more detail than that.

Q: And are you getting into any significant amount of ground that was gained? And also, there were reports of --

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, I don't want to -- I can't clarify it any more than that, Louie.

I mean, we're aware of the violence that took place, and the fighting is not uncommon for these groups to fight one another and for territory to change hands. It has happened before. We're watching this as best we can, but again, important to remind you, our focus is on ISIL inside Syria and the sanctuary and safe-haven that they are trying to hang onto inside that country.

All right. I'm going to go, but you want to explain the names? I think we all would like to know the names.

Q: We need to catch up on Downton Abbey.

Q: It's OK. I didn't know either.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, explain him, please.

Q: They’re the assistants on Downton Abbey.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: In Downton Abbey? Well, that's that show my wife watches all the time. (Laughter.)

And I go downstairs to watch something else.

All right, thanks everybody.