Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 14, 2014.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Hey, everybody. Sorry I’m a little bit late. Just a few points before we get to your questions.
As you know, yesterday, we announced that a team of U.S. military personnel accompanied by USAID conducted an assessment on the situation on Mount Sinjar and the impact of U.S. military actions to date. The team assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar than previously feared, and that’s largely because of our successful humanitarian air drops and U.S. airstrikes on ISIL targets. These are the kinds of missions, as you know, that the military trains for all the time and we do it better than anybody else.
These efforts enabled the Peshmerga to assist thousands of Yazidis in evacuating from the mountain each night over the last several days. Those who remain on Mount Sinjar are in better condition than we previously thought they might be, and they continue to have access to the food and water that we have airdropped. And as you may know, we did yet another airdrop last night.
The secretary is very proud that we’ve been able to effect this kind of change around Mount Sinjar, and in particular thanks to the skill and professionalism of our military personnel.
While this assessment has led us to conclude that an evacuation mission is far less likely, we’re not taking our eye off the ball with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We continue to assess the needs of the Yazidi people, as well as others who have been displaced in northern Iraq. We will conduct additional humanitarian airdrops, if needed, and we appreciate the assistance of the British, the French, and other countries, as well as our interagency partners, working with us to provide assistance to the Iraqi people.
Meanwhile, as Secretary Hagel reiterated last night, the situation in Iraq remains dangerous and our efforts there are not over. The president has been clear about our limited military objectives in Iraq. They are, one, to protect American citizens and facilities; two, to provide advice and assistance to Iraqi forces as they battle ISIL; and, three, to join with international partners to address the humanitarian crisis.
U.S. military remains ready to conduct — or continue, I’m sorry, airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Erbil and to protect the Yazidi people. However, while our airstrikes and our humanitarian aid have had an impact on the situation in northern Iraq, there is still no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is for the Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqi citizens and unifies the country in its fight against ISIL.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Bob?
Q: Admiral, in his remarks this afternoon, the president described the situation as dire for those who are facing ISIL’s army, elsewhere beyond the Sinjar area. So — and you referred to the possibility of additional humanitarian assistance. Can you be a little more specific about where and when and what type of humanitarian aid might be delivered? And also when you referred to the airstrikes possibly continuing, are you talking about an indefinite period of time, given the fact that no one seems to be able to turn back ISIL’s momentum?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first question, I can’t be any more specific right now. I mean, as you know, that’s one of the reasons we have assessment teams on the ground, to help us figure out what might be required in the future. We believe we’ve been very successful with the humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar, but as the president said, as Secretary Hagel said, we’re going to continue to evaluate and assess the situation throughout Iraq, and there very well could be, from those assessments and that look, additional humanitarian missions.
And I wouldn’t rule out that there could be more airdrops here, either. I don’t — right now, it doesn’t look likely that we’re going to need any more on the mountain or anywhere else, for that matter, but we’re certainly going to hold that option open. That’s what we do. We provide options to the country’s leadership with that respect.
Now, on your other question on airstrikes, the airstrikes that we have been conducting and authorized to do so are predominantly to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Erbil, although the president was very clear that we have the authority to conduct airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel and facilities anywhere in Iraq, including down in Baghdad.
Right now, the focus of those strikes has been up in the north near Erbil. Out of the 25 airstrikes that we’ve conducted to date, about half of them have been designed to hit ISIL targets in and around Erbil with respect to the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities, and about the other half were conducted in and around Mount Sinjar to blunt ISIL’s activities there with respect to the refugees.
But — so that’s the focus of the strikes. And I wouldn’t speculate about future operations. And you know I can’t do that right now. We still have assessment teams on the ground. We’re still gaining the benefit of their knowledge and their observations, and we’ll just keep at it.
Q: Admiral, can you give us an idea, an estimate of how many Yazidis are left on Mount Sinjar? And, secondly, the governor of Anbar province said publicly today that he had been promised in discussions with U.S. officials that there would be airstrikes in Anbar province against ISIL, as well. Is that — can you tell us anything about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the estimate of refugees on Mount Sinjar, it’s difficult to provide an exact figure, but we think it’s somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000. I’d also add that a number of them, perhaps up to 2,000 or so — and, again, this is an estimate — reside there and may not want to leave. It’s home to many of them. So not all of them will necessarily be looking to leave the mountain. That’s our best estimate right now, based on the assessment team’s visit there.
On the governor of Anbar, I’ve not seen those remarks. I think I’ve pretty much answered the question with respect to airstrikes and the authorities we have been given and what we’ve been conducting to date, and I wouldn’t go beyond that right now.
Q: Admiral Kirby, why didn’t U.S. surveillance and drones pick up on the fact that there weren’t tens of thousands of Yazidis on top of Mount Sinjar? I mean, as recently as yesterday, State Department spokesman, Ben Rhodes were talking about tens of thousands of the Yazidis. I don’t understand why the drones couldn’t see that. Or did they?
And also, the arms to the Peshmerga, the Kurdish Regional Government says that they made a request last week and that they’ve not heard back from the Pentagon and they’ve not — and they are, you know, desperate for weapons.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first question, Jen, first of all, we do believe there were tens of thousands of Yazidis on that mountain. And thanks to our airstrikes and, quite frankly, thanks to the airdrops of food and water, which helped sustain those folks, we believe that thousands of them, you know, were leaving every night.
Now, I can’t give you an exact figure of how many every night, but certainly more than 1,000 or so every night were leaving the mountain with Peshmerga help, again, because of the security and the sustenance that we provided.
It is very difficult — and you all know this –persistent surveillance flights, whether it’s manned or unmanned, it gives you great situational awareness, but not perfect situational awareness. And so I think it’d be difficult and imprudent to think that we could know everything simply by flying over a mountain even 24/7.
So we made the best estimates we could based on the limited picture we had from the air. But even we weren’t completely confident in that, which is why Secretary Hagel sent that small assessment team to the mountain, because there’s no substitute for getting eyes on. And there was some risk involved in that, but he felt it was important and we did that. And that’s where we got a much better picture of what the situation was.
But I think the estimate of tens of thousands was accurate at the time. And it’s just that, again, because of the security we were able to provide and the Peshmerga’s very courageous efforts, thousands were able to leave every night.
And then, I’m sorry, your question on Kurdish requests. They have requested some material assistance, and we’re taking a look at that. But I would also say that not — beyond just taking a look at it, and the secretary talked about this, we have been helping Iraqi security forces resupply Kurdish forces, to the degree — I mean, helping them palletize, helping them transport Iraqi equipment and supplies to Kurdish forces, so that’s happened, it’s ongoing. We’re also working with international partners in the region who may also have an interest in helping resupply the Kurds, and we are open to considering additional options, as well, in that regard.
So we’re not blind to the requirement, to the demand for equipment. And what I can tell you is the interagency is focused on this.
Q: Are there legal reasons not to at this point that are tying your hands?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: None that I’m aware of, no.
Q: Admiral, I want to ask you to please clarify a couple of things on Mount Sinjar. One reason the White House gave for this interest was to avert a potential genocide of the Yazidi people there. Did the military prevent a genocide in this case?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We believed that the risk of genocide was real. I mean, we were at the outset talking tens of thousands of these refugees who were being chased and slaughtered and fired upon by ISIL. And, again, I’ll go back to the strikes. I mean, nearly half of the 25 strikes we’ve conducted have been in and around Mount Sinjar.
And we know from talking to people, some of them there, that it was the strikes themselves that helped encourage them to leave. Of course, again, they — I don’t want to discount the great work of the Peshmerga forces who helped escort them out. But, yeah, I think we all believed that it was a legitimate fear of genocide.
I mean, look, they’re up against some pretty brutal people here, you know, beheading young kids and chasing down innocent women and children and slaughtering them. I mean, I’d also say, the threat that ISIL poses is not over. I mean, it’s not like we’re sitting here just breathing a sigh of relief now because everything is better — or things look to be better on Mount Sinjar.
We’re still very mindful, as in my answer to Bob, very mindful that there are — that there may yet be humanitarian needs elsewhere in Iraq, and we’re going to continue to review that and look at that.
Q: In the case of these people, are they still in large enough concentrations, having moved away from this area of threat, that the military can protect them and safeguard them with airpower? Or are they just…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You mean off the mountain?
Q: Correct. Is — the Yazidis — or are they so diffuse as they’re fleeing that it doesn’t make sense to try and supply them with airdrops or protect them in the same way…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’re taking a look at that now, and I don’t think we have any firm answers. They are fairly displaced. Now that they’ve left, some have decided to move into Syria and stay there. Some will disperse to other areas in Iraq. Again, we’re taking a look at that now. And I don’t think we have a perfect sight picture of exactly where they all are, and it would be difficult for us to say that we can protect every single one of them based on their dispersal.
Q: (OFF-MIC) the threat from mass violence has passed at this point, you believe?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We believe that the threat to the mass violence on Mount Sinjar has passed, largely passed. That said, we’re not going to take our eye off of it and we’re going to continue to watch it. We still have — as I said — several thousand left on that mountain, and many of whom may want to leave, and so we’re still mindful of that, which is why we did another airdrop last night and why we’re still watching the situation. So I will just say that, you know, we’re constantly assessing.
Q: Can you talk about the threat that you’re seeing to Erbil now, after like six or seven days now of strikes? Is the threat as pressing as it was when all these strikes began?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We think that we’ve had a disruptive effect on ISIL’s ability to threaten Erbil, but we don’t believe that it’s been completely eliminated. It’s difficult to know what their intent is exactly with respect to Erbil, so we’re watching it very closely. We have — as you know, we have a joint operations center there. We have a consulate there. We have responsibilities to American citizens and facilities, and we’re not going to let go on that. But it’s — I can’t give you — I mean, what I would tell you is we still believe that Erbil faces threats from ISIL. It’s just unclear exactly what their full intent is.
And that’s point one. Point two, we know we’ve disrupted their ability to threaten, ISIL. We certainly put a hurting on them with respect to their activities in and around Erbil. And we’ll continue to do that as needed.
Q: Admiral Kirby, as you may know, local reports in Iraq are saying that ISIS militants are gathering moving toward Baghdad. Do you see any role for the U.S. military helping the Iraqis to defend or protect Baghdad, at least?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Any kinetic focus in and around Baghdad would be under the authority of protect U.S. personnel and facilities. That said, we still have assessment teams on the ground in and around Baghdad. We still have a joint operations center in Baghdad that continues to share information and help the Iraqis themselves coordinate their activities.
But — and I’ve said this before — the threat that ISIL poses inside Iraq is essentially an Iraqi threat to face. We stand by, and we’re willing to help and to coordinate a little bit with them, but we’re — as the president said, we’re not going to become the Iraqi air force. This is their fight to fight. We’re willing to help to the degree we can.
And as I said in my opening statement, and as has been said before, ultimately, the real answer for peace and security inside Iraq is an inclusive government, a unity government. And Secretary Hagel urges them — now that they’ve named a prime minister — to get a cabinet going and get this unity government stood up.
Q: Just quick follow-up, Admiral. Do you rule out that the U.S. Air Force might launch airstrikes against ISIL near Baghdad in the upcoming days?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to rule anything in or out. But to the degree that we conduct any airstrikes in and around Baghdad, it would be under the authority we’ve been given by the commander-in-chief to protect U.S. personnel and facilities. Again, the president’s been clear. We’re not going to become Iraq’s air force.
Q: (OFF-MIC) just returned from India and Australia, also Secretary Work will visit the Asia Pacific. Could you comment on the implications of these trips in the effort by the U.S. to rebalance to the Asia Pacific? Also, are these efforts by the DOD to try and draw some attention to the Asia Pacific from Iraq and elsewhere? Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The rebalance is something that Secretary Hagel and Secretary Work are fully committed to. And the trip that we just took, which was the secretary’s sixth trip to the region — he’s going to make four this year — I know it’s the first trip for Deputy Secretary Work, but I think given the fact that there’s a lot going on in the world that we’re still making these visits and still having these discussions speaks volumes about how important we believe the Asia Pacific theater is.
I mean, more than 350,000 American troops are based somewhere in the Pacific, 200 ships, the majority of the Navy is in the Pacific. And we have five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific region. We’re very committed to that region.
To your second question, it doesn’t mean that we take our eye off the ball of the rest of the world. We know we have security commitments around the world in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, and we continue to work mightily on those commitments. And there’s been no slackening in that regard.
Now, I will tell you — and I’ll say this unashamedly — that if sequestration remains the law of the land, it’s going to be harder and harder for us to meet those commitments. The defense strategy that we put forward, which allows us to conduct this rebalance and still focus on those parts of the world, will be put in jeopardy.
Q: Admiral Kirby, do you have any cost estimate for these air operations that have been taking place in Iraq over the past week? And also, can you give us any insights into what these assessment teams are telling you about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces at the current time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have a cost estimate. I’d refer you to CENTCOM. I mean, it’s coming out of normal operational funding. I just don’t have that for you, John. And the assessments that you know the assessment teams have done, they still remain classified, so I’m not going to get into a lot of detail on that, but, again, I think part of the missions we’ve been conducting recently have been informed in part by the assessments that the assessment — assessment teams provided.
And, again, I’ll say that they continue to provide their observations. They’re still largely in an assessment mode right now and continue to help inform the kinds of decision-making that policymakers are making.
Q: Ben Rhodes said yesterday — and you’ve repeated — that the long-term solution confronting the ISIL in Iraq is an inclusive government. Can you help me understand how that would be — how a nascent government with an Iraqi security force that cannot take back any of these areas that have — that ISIL has taken could lead to some sort of long-term stability? Can you walk me through how that would happen?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: First of all, I think it’s unfair to say they’re not capable of taking back ground. They have taken back some ground. Now, some ground remains contested; there’s no question about that. And we do continue to see the ISF show capability, competence, and confidence in protecting and defending Baghdad.
So I wouldn’t just dismiss their ability to defend their people quite so haphazardly as that. But a government that’s responsive to all its citizens can alleviate some of the conditions that terrorists, like ISIL, prey upon, the joblessness, the hopelessness that these extremists are able to capitalize on, to spread their warped ideology.
And a government that’s strong and responsive and inclusive, we believe — and we said this back in 2011, Nancy, when we left the country, we said the exact same thing, that that’s the best chance for peace and security inside Iraq, and that hasn’t changed.
Q: Right, but can alleviating those conditions do enough to stop a force that has the kind of equipment it has, that operates as a quasi-military, that doesn’t honor borders and can move freely back and forth between Iraq and Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There are two levels here. There’s a tactical level, which is what you’re talking about. And, again, we remain committed to doing what we can inside the authorities we’ve been given to assist the ISF in this, their fight. So there’s the tactical level.
But over the long term, the best chance for peace and security is an inclusive government. It has to be you can’t just focus on one and not the other. It has to be done in tandem. There has to be enough work by Iraq’s leaders, military and civilian, on both. Otherwise, if there isn’t, again, as Secretary Hagel said, there’s not going to be a purely military solution, certainly not a purely American military solution here.
Q: Does the Pentagon now need White House or State Department approval for military-to-military sales to Israel? They say they were blindsided by some of this and caught off-guard.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I’ll just say that the process — there is an existing process for handling arm sales to Israel. It’s a process that we’re constantly looking at, constantly assessing, certainly in light of the much-increased operational tempo that the Israeli Defense Force is under now, as they defend themselves from Hamas. It warrants — that process continues to warrant assessment and review. And I think I’d leave it at that.
Q: Jump back to the ISR question. This 40,000 number really seemed to kind of be out there for a while. Nobody really pushed back on it and really seemed to kind of motivate the administration to make this — whatever this campaign’s called this last week. I mean, it’s hard to square how it went from, you know, potentially — as many as 40,000 all the way down to 5,000. I know you’ve kind of explained some of them have left.
But why would the ISR, like, not get a better picture of what was going on, on the ground, even within the last day or so?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s very difficult to do nose counts from the air, Gordon. I mean, it’s just an imperfect science. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights from the air are useful, but they are not perfect. And in a case like this, where you know people are being slaughtered and chased and hunted down, I would, frankly, rather our estimates be a little high than a little low in a situation like that.
Now, I don’t know if they were wrong or not. I never used the 40,000 number. I’ve seen that number out there. We certainly know it was in the tens of thousands. But I think, look, if you’re going to — in a situation like this, if you’re going to have an estimate, where it comes down to saving people’s lives or helping save their lives, I’d rather be high — and, frankly, I’d rather be wrong in the end.
And I don’t know that we were wrong, Gordon. The bottom line is, once we got eyes on the mountain, we were able to see that there were far fewer than had been previously thought, in large part because we helped them get off that mountain, and that they were in better condition. Again, if you’re going to be wrong about something, that’s a pretty good thing to be wrong about, that these people were actually in better condition.
Now, those that are still up there, while they have been provided a lot of food and water — and, again, there was — I’d remind you, another drop last night — we still believe that some of them need medical care that is not available to them. So nobody’s writing off the situation on Mount Sinjar.
Q: And just quickly, are the 130 staying kind of somewhere in one of the three, you know, Baghdad or Erbil? Or are they coming — are they returning?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Some of them — as you heard the president’s comments, some of them will be redeploying outside of Iraq, and I suspect some of them may be staying to help augment our efforts in the joint operations center. Very fluid, very — it’ll fluctuate from day-to-day, I think, a very dynamic situation, but — as the president said, many of them will be leaving the country.
Q: Admiral, thank you. When will you know when exactly this unnamed operation is complete? What has to happen in order for it to be over?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The president said that this could take some time. He was also clear that he’s not put a timetable on this. Neither has Secretary Hagel. So I think far less important than the duration is a discussion, and I think it’s worth reminding everybody a discussion of the very limited military objectives — achievable military objectives that we’ve been assigned.
And how do I know they’re achievable? Well, again, because look at what happened last night. You know, when we had an assessment team go out there…
Q: (OFF-MIC) seems to be over, the humanitarian piece…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not over. No, it’s not over, Justin. And I’ve been saying that. We think that the great crisis that we thought existed on the mountain, we certainly have alleviated that. But nobody’s turning a blind eye to humanitarian suffering there inside Iraq elsewhere. Again, I don’t have any decisions to announce today, but it’s not over.
And ISIL continues to pose a threat — back to my answer to Courtney — to U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, particularly right now in Erbil, not so much in and around Baghdad. And we have the authority to conduct strikes to protect them, so it’s not over.
Q: So is the objective to defeat ISIL? And why are you not going after their leadership?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The objective — the objectives are clear. And I read them in my opening statement. I’m happy to read them again, to work with international partners on the humanitarian crisis, to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, and to continue to advise and assist the ISF, the Iraqi security forces, as they — and I want to emphasize that word “they” — take the fight to ISIL inside their country. Very clear objectives. We’ve been working on them every day. I can’t be more simple than that.
Q: Why haven’t you named the operation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have a good reason for why there isn’t a name. And, frankly, I’m not so sure that that’s relevant. We have very clear objectives. We’re achieving them. Nobody’s worried about what kind of patch they’re going to wear on their uniform as a result of this.
Q: Well, some say that by not naming it, you’re sort of reducing the significance. For instance, it will be harder to make a historical reference to this operation without a name.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t agree with that in the least bit. And the comments by the secretary last night and the president today makes it pretty clear that the work of the U.S. troops and our interagency and civilian partners have been doing are well appreciated, well documented, well known. And it doesn’t matter if it has a name or not.
Q: Thank you. Just want to get some more clarity on who exactly the U.S. is making a commitment to protect in Iraq. The president, when he spoke just a short time ago, spoke of the situation still being dire in the rest of the country beyond Mount Sinjar. And he spoke of — his word — an urge for humanitarian mission to protect other groups that may be under threat. And he went on to list Christians, Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds, which is the entire population of the country.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: These are pretty bad guys.
Q: They are, no question. And we do know that ISIS has threatened them in various parts of the country. I’m asking, is the U.S. making a commitment to extend a protective umbrella over all of these groups, if they come under threat, as the Yazidis did, from ISIL forces with a similar operation, humanitarian aid, airstrikes, if necessary, to protect them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think, as I said, we continue to assess it. And I’m not going to speculate about potential future operations. Our military objectives are clear. And we continue to pursue those goals and those objectives. But I wouldn’t speculate about decisions that haven’t been made yet about perhaps future humanitarian missions.
Q: I’m (OFF-MIC) the president’s comments here. And the mission as defined initially was humanitarian operation to protect the Yazidis. Did not mention other groups that may at some point come under threat…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q: … or, indeed (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because there was as imminent threat at the time to tens of thousands of people on that mountain. A mission — or a threat, by the way, that we helped mitigate.
Q: No question. So I’m just asking, if you see similar circumstances with these many other groups, many of whom do face and are, frankly, facing a threat from ISIS, does the U.S. react in the same way with that commitment? Are you being tasked to come up with options and be prepared to do that if Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Kurds come under similar threat?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific options for other groups under threat. But as I said, we continue to monitor the situation closely. We are a planning organization. Our job is to provide options. But ultimately, those are policy decisions that are not made here in the Pentagon. I’m not aware of any impending or imminent other humanitarian missions in the offing right now.
Q: If I could just ask a follow about the path off the mountain, you and I have spoken about that, you mentioned it, that about 1,000 of the Yazidis a day are getting off the mountain, and that’s one reason why the U.S. has not carried out a bigger evacuation mission. We’ve spoken to our reporters on the ground, you know, CNN has a couple folks there, and they describe this journey off the mountain as deadly for many, the young and the old, people come out with feet bleeding. It’s a 10-, 14-, 16-hour walk. Is that an acceptable way to evacuate people from the view of the U.S. and just sort of let it happen as it is, as opposed to providing more aid?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, I think we provided in many ways the vehicles– the possibility for them to get off that mountain. We also helped sustain them with food and water. Nobody — and I said this at the outset — nobody’s discounting that they’re still suffering in Iraq, that these people are still suffering, and I’ll remind you, there are still thousands on the mountain who continue to suffer.
And our thoughts and prayers go out to those that have lost their lives, lost loved ones, been hurt, been injured, either by ISIL or in the passage off the mountain. But the fact is that most of them have left, and most of them have found shelter or sustenance elsewhere.
And, again, that’s a real credit to the Peshmerga and their courage and, again, to the courage and dedication of our troops. But ultimately, the situation inside Iraq, the security situation inside Iraq is for Iraqi security forces to deal with, that this is their country, their responsibility. We’re doing what we can to help, but we’re going to do it with an eye towards assisting and aiding Iraqis and Kurdish forces to come to the aid of their own people.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Yes, sir. Two questions. One, about your visit or secretary’s visit to India, recent visit, what U.S.-India relations, military-to-military relations have achieved this time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It was a very successful visit. The secretary gave a set of remarks there that I thought spoke to the importance of the relationship with India and our efforts to work on better defense cooperation, specifically with defense technology and trade, the DTTI Initiative, Defense Trade and Technology Initiative.
There are opportunities here for co-development and co-production that we hope to — that we hope will come to fruition here in the future, particularly with the Javelin anti-tank missile, shows great promise. But we were warmly received by Indian officials, came away from it feeling very, very positive. In fact, the secretary was talking about that this morning to the staff about the trip and feeling very, very encouraged by it.
Q: Going to a statement from the Indian government, India is the largest arms purchaser of the U.S. arms, or U.S. is the largest exporters of the arms to India for the last three years. Is that — do you think this visit will have promised to continue to be the largest arms (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We didn’t make as a goal a specific goal saying, you know, the largest or any — at any rank here in terms of arms provision. What we wanted to do was begin to have a dialogue and form the basis of a strong relationship with the Modi government, and we believe we were successful at doing that.
Q: And, finally, just quickly, since India has a new government, and secretary is also new as far as his counterpart in India is concerned, you think ice have been broken from the past, as far as relations are concerned?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re looking forward. We’re looking forward. There’s no sense talking about the past. It’s a new government. We had a great set of discussions. We believe the relationship is on a good, strong path forward, and that’s the secretary’s focus, is on the future.
Q: The secretary has invited the counterparts from India to the U.S.?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He did.
Q: Thank you, sir.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yep, Maggie.
Q: Okay, we send 129 guys over there, 20 went to the mountain on an excursion. What did the other 109 do to support the mission? And if they didn’t, what was their expected role, if there needs to be more done on Mount Sinjar?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was only a need to send less than 20 to the mountain. Other people inside that element were various levels of support, communications, logistics, command and control. We had air crew for the Ospreys. I mean, I’d have to point you to CENTCOM if you want, you know, a detailed list of what every person did. I don’t think that’s very relevant.
I think what was important was we put an extra assessment team there in Erbil to do exactly what we wanted them to do, which was go to the mountain, give us a sense of what the situation was. That got done, and it was able to get done in less than 24 hours with less than 20 people. And we’re grateful for that. We’re also grateful that it was executed safely. Again, it’s really immaterial about what every individual was doing.
Q: Can I have a follow-up, please?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Please.
Q: OK. So you send a group of 20 to a really big mountain range and it’s a daytime excursion and that’s enough? Like, that’s good enough to assess the entire situation?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, we’re confident in the assessment that they came back with. We’re comfortable with the work that they did, grateful for it.
Q: Admiral Kirby, the governor of Anbar province has reportedly told some news organizations that the U.S. has promised to set up a JOC in Anbar and also to provide airstrikes. Do you have any comment about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It seems like the governor of Anbar has been talking a lot today. I haven’t seen those comments. I know of no plans to set up a joint operations center in Anbar province.
Q: With the change to sort of the approach the DoD and the White House having towards Sinjar and what’s going on there, is there any communication with UK or French military leaders as far as maybe ramping down their — their sort of participation in what’s going on in the country? Or is that going to sort of maintain (inaudible) possibility of other options that you’ve mentioned (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, as I said at the outset, we continue to work with international partners on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. And as I also said at the outset, we’re mindful that, though conditions are better on the mountain, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t humanitarian issues elsewhere in the country. And we’re going to monitor that. We’re going to assess that. We’re going to review that. And there may be follow-on options coming from that.
So we are going to continue to need the help of our international partners, and Secretary Hagel made this very clear on the trip that he was extraordinarily grateful for the offers made by Great Britain, by the French, and, frankly, while we were in Sydney, by the Australians. And there’s others, as well. This is — this is going to have to continue to be a focus of the international community, not just the United States.
Q: Can I follow up on that, actually, on the humanitarian…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: So how — just how big — because we’ve been watching ISIS sort of, you know, track through Iraq since December or January of this year. And there — and along the way, we’ve heard about nothing but atrocities the entire time. So how big of a scope does the humanitarian crisis have to be for the U.S. or these international partners to have to get involved?
I mean, the Yazidis I understand the initial assessment was tens of thousands, but how big of a scope are we talking if it’s — if it’s considered for the entire country?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not bounded by necessarily geography. It’s not bounded by necessarily a number. There’s not like a whole number that’s a trip wire that will say, well, if it that’s number, then all of a sudden we’re going to get involved. I mean, you have to look at — as we do elsewhere in the world, you have to look at human suffering in context of what’s going on inside the country and your ability to affect or not affect.
And, ultimately, these are policy decisions based on looking at it in context of the entire situation inside Iraq. So I can’t give you a menu that says, well, here’s exactly what would require action. What I would tell you is that we’re not taking our eye off the ball in terms of humanitarian suffering in Iraq.
And nobody is doing high-fives here at the Pentagon because there are fewer people on the mountain than we thought. And there’s no happy dances here because we think the situation is better there on the mountain. We understand that there continues to be human suffering in Iraq, and we continue to assess and monitor that, and I think the president was clear, the secretary’s clear that we remain committed to working with international partners to try to alleviate the best we can.
Q: Could you demonstrate a happy dance (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I don’t think I will.
Q: Admiral, I wanted to ask you about military surplus sales to domestic police departments, and particularly what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, right now.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: There’s been a lot of criticism, including from some members of Congress, about the increased militarization of domestic police forces, with some saying also that the oversight of this program is not up to where it should be. I wonder if that’s concerns that the secretary shares and whether what’s happened in the last week has given the DOD any pause for the future of this program.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is a law enforcement support program that the Defense Department administers which provides to law enforcement agencies around the country surplus military equipment, gear, arms, ammunition, vehicles. This is a useful program that allows for the reuse of military equipment that otherwise would be disposed of that can be used, again, by law enforcement agencies to serve their citizens.
So the program serves a purpose. That said, it is up to law enforcement agencies to speak to how and what they gain through this system. And I’m not going to inject the Pentagon into this discussion. How this equipment is used to serve local citizens, again, is up for local law enforcement agencies to speak to.
Q: I wanted to ask you about North Korea. North Korea just fired five short-range rockets to the East Sea of Korea. What is your assessment of the kinds of the rockets or the location or (inaudible) and second one is, do you think it will be (inaudible) to the bigger ones, as we have saw in military exercise between U.S. and Korea next week?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Do I think that there’s going to be another bigger launch in — well, okay, so I’m not going to speak to North Korean intentions. I think it’s an exercise in futility to try to figure out what it is Kim Jong-un does and why. Some people are saying that these five rockets were fired in conjunction with the pope’s visit. My guess is the pope worries about a higher authority than Kim Jong-un.
So I’m not going to speculate about what they did or why. What I’ll say is what I’ve continued to say almost every week. North Korea needs to meet its international obligations. It needs to pay more attention to feeding its own people and educating its own citizens than further destabilizing the peninsula.
And the other thing I’d say is, regardless, our commitment, our treaty commitments, one of the five of seven treaty alliances we have is to the South Korean government. We take very seriously our treaty commitment there on the peninsula and to security on the peninsula. Nothing’s going to change about that, and it’s not going to affect our desire, ability and intent to continue to exercise and work on interoperability with our South Korean counterparts.
I got time for just one more. Richard?
Q: Admiral, you said earlier that the process for access to the stockpile of weapons in Israel is under review or will be under review. What is the — can you speak to what the process is now? For instance, the Israelis want access to it. Is that — can that access be granted by this department alone? Do you have to refer it to the White House, to State? Is that the sort of thing you’re looking at in this review?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I didn’t say it was under review. And if that’s the way it came across, then let me correct it, because I don’t believe that’s how I put it. What I said was, there is a normal process for the provision to a foreign military sales program of arms and ammunition to Israel. And the resupply that was done a couple of weeks ago was under that process.
That said, it makes sense, given the situation that exists now — I know there’s been a cease-fire, another one, but it certainly makes sense, given current conditions and the operational tempo now of the IDF. It makes sense for us to continually assess and review the process through which those foreign military sales are provided.
That’s all I’ve got. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.