Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby briefs reporters on a range of Defense Department issues at the Pentagon, Jan. 6, 2015. DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 6, 2015
KIRBY: Good afternoon everybody.
My New Year’s gift to you is no opening statement.
Q: Happy New Year.
KIRBY: To you too.
Q: Admiral, could you bring us up to date on the transition situation with regard to Ash Carter’s surgery and the possibility of a confirmation hearing this month, and where he’s working, that sort of thing?
KIRBY: I’m not at liberty to discuss Dr. Carter’s physical medical condition. You can understand, I wouldn’t be in a position to discuss that. I’d refer you to people that are representing him for that.
What I can tell you from our end is that, as I mentioned before the break, we do have a transition team here at the Pentagon set up under Mr. Lumpkin, Mike Lumpkin, who is running it, with all the requisite experts that need to be on such a team.
They continue to share policy papers with Dr. Carter and his team to the degree that they — they ask for things. They are provided information to digest, and — and you know, I think Dr. Carter and his team, you know, again, are working to prepare him for the confirmation process.
I don’t have anything in terms of schedule to provide you. That’s obviously not something we dictate here at the Pentagon. That’s something that the Senate Armed Services Committee manages, and so I simply don’t have any — any more information on timing.
Q: Is the Carter team operating out of the Pentagon?
KIRBY: There are office spaces available for them that I understand that — that they’re using, yes.
Q: And the secretary’s schedule, is he going to have any more public events?
KIRBY: I think you’ll see the secretary throughout — throughout the next month or so, publicly, yes. I don’t have anything to announce schedule-wise today, but I — I think as we do, and as the schedule firms up, you’ll see us provide that to you. But yes, there’ll be some public events in the near future?
Q: Do you know when the confirmation hearings are?
KIRBY: No, I just — what I just said to Bob, I don’t. And — and again, that wouldn’t be for us to speak to here, anyway. That would be for the Senate Armed Services Committee to talk to.
Q: Has Dr. Carter himself been in the building the last few weeks?
KIRBY: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q: Just a question about if you can review in a shorter about military-to-military relationship between the U.S. and India in the last 2014 and what do the future? And finally, if this building, Pentagon, is playing any role as far as upcoming visit of President Obama’s visit to India as a special guest of the public of India?
KIRBY: I don’t have any announcements to make today in terms of visits to India or with respect to the president’s visit. Obviously, we’ll support whatever we can with respect to information for that — for that visit, but I have nothing to announce today.
And as you know, and I’ve said before, our relationship with India is very, very important to us, and we believe it’s on a very healthy trajectory now under the new administration.
Q: On ISIS, can you give us an update of your sense of where ISIS’s relative strength is right now, what their momentum is, what impact at this point now, after several months, you feel that airstrikes have had against them?
What have you seen about ISIS on the ground, now?
KIRBY: I think the short answer to your question is that we very much see ISIL largely in a defensive posture inside Iraq, that whatever momentum that they had been enjoying has been halted, has been blunted. That has stayed steady over the last couple of weeks.
Even as we were working through the holidays, we were monitoring this and, as you know, conducting airstrikes.
But nobody is taking that progress for granted. There are parts of, as you know, they still maintain control over Mosul. There are parts of Anbar that are still being contested: Ramadi in particular.
They continue to threaten the city of Baiji, very much want — as you know, ISF has control of the refinery. ISIL continues to dispute that ownership.
And they continue to threaten Yazidis in and around Mount Sinjar.
So, it’s very much a contested environment, but what we don’t see, what we haven’t seen in the last several weeks has been any renewed offensive moves by ISIL of any significance. They have largely taken a defensive posture in the last several weeks.
Q: You’ve said — can you go back a minute?
At what point, and just to use the words I believe I heard you use, “momentum halted”…
Q: Talk about that a little bit. At what point did you see that? And what were the indicators that you saw? Also, what are you seeing inside Syria? What are you seeing with their foreign fighter recruitment?
KIRBY: I couldn’t give you a — a specific point at which, you know, we believe, well geez, we’ve halted their momentum. It — it’s come slowly, in various stages.
But I think it’s safe to say that over the last three to four weeks, we — we’ve been confident that that momentum has largely been blunted.
Again, Barb, nobody’s taking this for granted. And this is a very determined enemy.
To your second question, they continue to be able to recruit. Their ideology is very attractive to a particular swathe of young Muslim men around the world. And — and so again, we know that there’s still a lot of work to
The — and that’s why we continue to work towards a train and equip program for Iraqi troops. As you know, we’ve got some Iraqi units that are undergoing some initial training right now. There’s more work to be done. There’s more trainers to flow in.
So, nobody’s taking this for granted. But there isn’t — there wasn’t a point on the calendar where we could say, you know, “this is the day that turned it.”
And we need to be prepared in the future for renewed offenses by ISIL. We need to be vigilant for that.
Q: Not quite a tipping point yet?
KIRBY: I would not say that — I would not describe where we are in the campaign as a tipping point. We’ve been able to halt their momentum and have — and that has remained the case for the last several weeks, but again, nobody’s taking it for granted.
Q: In Iraq, but not Syria?
KIRBY: In Iraq.
Now in Syria, there’s not as much kinetic activity going on in Syria. Kobani still remains threatened, though in control by Kurdish forces, still remains threatened by ISIL. And as you know very well, we continue to conduct airstrikes in and around Kobani as we deem appropriate. But there’s just not as much kinetic activity going on inside Syria as in Iraq. That’s where the locus of their energy is.
Q: Can you provide any statistics to bolster what you just said about this halt in momentum in the last three weeks? I mean, we’ve heard a lot in anecdotes, but never in any real statistics. Can you tell us, for example, what percentage of ISIS’s equipment you’ve destroyed or oil revenues have — have been stopped?
KIRBY: I don’t have those figures handy, Nancy. I mean, I can try to go back and see if we can provide some more fidelity on this. I know we have in the past, and I’m sure CENTCOM is tracking some of those figures. So, let me take that for the record rather than try to swag it from here, and get back to you.
But — but that said, don’t — don’t — just because I don’t have the facts and figures handy doesn’t mean I don’t remain confident in the assertions that I’ve made here from the podium.
Q: But so, what are they based on?
KIRBY: They’re based — well, we know — we know for instance, we’ve had a dramatic effect on their ability to — to get revenue from oil. We know that, and I don’t have the figures handy with me. We know we’ve destroyed hundreds and hundreds of vehicles, artillery positions, checkpoints. We know that we’ve killed hundreds of their — of their forces. And we know simply by virtue of where they are on the map and how little they are moving now that we have blunted the momentum that they once enjoyed.
Now, they’re not as free to maneuver around. They’re not taking new ground, necessarily. And they’re — and they are in a more defensive posture. We know that.
And some of this we know simply by, you know, intelligence that we’re getting.
But I don’t have — I can’t just give you a facts and figures right now. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.
But that’s the basis of — of — of our assurances today.
Q: I’m sorry. Could you clarify something? Maybe I hadn’t seen.
You said you’d provided those statistics in the past, in terms of percentage of things. Can you remind me when’s the last time you’ve provided?
KIRBY: I don’t have that Nancy, I don’t know. Couldn’t give you the exact date. I know that we have access to those kinds of — that kind of information, and to the degree we can get it to you, we will.
What percentage of Kobani is in Kurdish control, and what percentage is in ISIS?
KIRBY: I think I’d be hard-pressed to give you an exact figure. But we know — but I would say the vast
majority of Kobani, we believe, remains in Kurdish force control.
At no point did ISIL ever really get more than about a quarter, 25 percent, of Kobani in their hands. We never saw it really get beyond that.
Now, where is it exactly today? I don’t know, Eric. I’ll have to — you know, I’ll have to get back to you. But we still believe the vast majority of Kobani remains in Kurdish control.
Q: So, a large number of airstrikes every day around Kobani. By far, the most in Syria. What does that reflect? Does that reflect a continuing push by ISIL in on the town?
Q: They’re trying to, you know, get at it from different…
KIRBY: I think it reflects the — the — their strong desire to still have Kobani. And that has not — that has not dampened. They haven’t been able to succeed. And as they present themselves, and we’ve said this before, we’re going to hit them.
Q: Admiral, would you please expand on a point you made in answering Barbara’s question about the American effort this year going forward? When are the next batch of troops going to get there? When do you expect that training of the Iraqis to hit its peak?
And can you tell us what the goals or ambitions are for that operation? Are they going to be training the Iraqis to basically just take on ISIL for the near term, and then kind of we’ll pull out again, or will the American effort be able to make it stick this time, and leave an Iraqi army that can function more effectively than it did when it was pressed by ISIS last year?
KIRBY: I think there’s an awful lot there. I think we need to put a little perspective on this, and I’ll try not to be too long- winded here.
First of all, I think you’ll start to see the flow into Iraq before the end of this month, additional trainers for that mission. I can’t give you an exact number right now. I don’t have it. Orders are still being written, transportation is still being arranged, and as you know, we’ll announce when we can. But I think you’ll start to see additional trainers flow in, you know, flow into country this month.
There are already hundreds of trainers there, some 300 at Al- Asad and more than 100 at Taji. There are two other training sites that we are preparing to receive additional troops. So, you’re going to see all month — in this month, you’re going to see continued development of that mission.
The mission is designed to train 12 total brigades, nine of which are Iraqi, three of which will be Kurdish. We’ve talked about this before. Those three will likely be trained up north in Erbil, obviously, and the nine Iraqi brigades down in the — the three southern bases. There — that training has already started, again as you know, on a limited scale. But it is by design a limited train, advise, and equip mission. Nine total brigades is where we’re going to start.
Now, this is a start, Phil. That doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to end. It doesn’t mean that’s — that’s the sum total of it. But we have to start somewhere, and that’s where we’re starting.
I also want to point out that we’re not trying to build an army from the ground up, here. Many of these units are well-trained. Some — so it’s a mixed bag. Some need more training than others. And that’s part of the work that our trainers have to — to get to when they get on the ground and they kind of see what are the needs? And they’ll adjust the training commensurate with the skills and capabilities of the units that they’re working with.
So, this isn’t about rebuilding the Iraqi army, it’s about trying to make more professional, make more capable, make more competent on the battlefield those units that are — that are there and they’re in the fight.
This is Iraqi’s [sic] army. This is their country. I think sometimes we forget that. This is sovereign state. They’ve — they’ve invited us in to kind of help them deal with this threat. Not kind of help them, they’ve invited us to come in and help them deal with this threat, this very real threat that they have, and we’re doing what we can.
Q: So, your expectation is when one of these brigades is finished training, it could need additional assistance or additional training…
Q: … down the line.
Q: After the coming engagements against ISIL?
KIRBY: That’s certainly possible. But our focus right now is on getting these initial nine brigades to a better level of battlefield competence. And again, each one comes at this with different history, different experience, different capabilities. We have to factor that in.
Q: And how big are these brigades?
KIRBY: I don’t have an exact figure. It’s a few thousand. But I don’t have — I don’t have an exact number. Again, I — maybe you should talk to the Iraqi army about their — about their force sizes.
Q: We’ve heard about setbacks that IS has suffered in northern Iraq and some other spots. What’s happening in eastern Iraq? They also lost some territory there? Is that…
KIRBY: There’s been some give and take in eastern Iraq, Dan. Nothing of great significance. Most of the effort that we see by ISIL remains to the north and to the west. That has not changed. But to the south of Baghdad and to the northeast of Baghdad, there continues to be some sporadic fighting, but it — but that’s not Q: And can you confirm too that there’ve been some more airstrikes by Iranian forces?
KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that, no. I mean, since the last time we talked?
KIRBY: I don’t have any additional information. I’d point you to Tehran to talk about their military operations. I don’t have anything.
Q: On Kobani, there were some media reports early today that Kurdish forces had retaken something called the security quarter where the police headquarters was, and other government buildings. Is that something you were tracking? Is that considered significant in any way? Is that something that you thought was a positive development?
KIRBY: This is the first I’ve heard of it, Julian, so I don’t have anything to — to really add to that.
As I said, we still believe Kobani is being held largely by Kurdish forces. It remains contested. ISIL still wants it back. So, let me — let me go back and see if I can corroborate that report. This is the first I’m hearing of it.
Has the secretary been made aware by either the Air Force reaching out to him, of their concerns that they are short of drone pilots or drone — or drones themselves? Is that something that has been brought to the secretary’s attention, and if so, what’s being done about it?
KIRBY: I’m not aware that a specific point has been made to the secretary regarding that — that issue. I mean, I’ve seen the press reports on it. The secretary has certainly seen that press report. But I’m not aware of any specific information that’s been brought to his attention on that.
More broadly, he’s certainly aware of the importance of unmanned systems, operationally, and the importance of keeping a trained professional cadre of people available to maintain and to operate those unmanned systems. It’s something that’s very much on his scope, very much high on his priority list. But I’m not aware of a specific report about that specific news article.
Q: Are the press reports true?
KIRBY: I’d have to point you to Air Force. I mean, this is a — as I read the article, it was about a memo written, an intra-Air Force memo that I simply can’t speak to from here. I don’t know.
Q: But is the secretary concerned about a shortage of drones or drone teams to conduct the fight?
KIRBY: I would just say more broadly the secretary is concerned about maintaining a trained professional-ready cadre of individuals who can maintain and operate these very important systems. I mean, they have certainly proven their worth over the last 13 years of war, and he’s committed to making sure that we continue to — to put into the field a ready, able fleet of unmanned systems.
Yes, in the back there?
Q: Admiral, when you said in response to Nancy’s question with numbers, that hundreds of — we know that hundreds of ISIL fighters have been killed, can you be more specific on that number? And also, can you give us any idea of civilians killed in the airstrike campaign?
KIRBY: I cannot give you a more specific number of — of how many ISIL fighters. We just know it’s hundreds: several hundred. It’s not —
I’d like to make two points. First of all, we don’t have the ability to — to count every nose that we shwack [sic]. Number two, that’s not the goal. That’s not the goal. The less of these guys that are out there, certainly that’s the better, but the goal is to degrade and destroy their capabilities.
And we’re not getting into an issue of body counts. And that’s why I don’t have that number handy. I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t have asked my staff to give me that number before I came out here. It’s simply not a relevant figure.
On civilian casualties, what I know is that CENTCOM, Central Command, is investigating several, what they believe to be credible allegations of possible civilian casualties. I don’t know all the details of that. I would point you to Central Command. I know that they are actively investigating what they believe to be at least a few incidents of civilian causalities that they think, you know, warrant further investigation, that they have found credible to investigate. On their own, they’ve done this. But again, I’d point you to Central Command for more detail on that.
And if I could just editorialize a second, I mean, this is something we always take seriously. We are very mindful of trying to mitigate the risk to civilians every time we operate, everywhere we operate. And so when we do believe that we’ve had occasion to cause collateral damage or hurt, kill civilians, we take it seriously and we look into it. It matters to us.
Q: Admiral Kirby, there have been a number of coalition airstrikes near Al-Asad. Can you say how close ISIL fighters have gotten to the base where U.S. trainers are located?
KIRBY: Well, certainly close enough to fire unguided rockets and mortars. And you don’t have to be very far away to do that. But I — I couldn’t give you an exact, you know, yardage, John. I mean, these are what we call “unguided and unobserved events.” In other words, these guys pull up, they fire a mortar or rocket, and then they — and then they pull away. They’re not waiting to see their results. And they’re not aiming at anything in particular.
It is also a huge base, roughly the size of Boulder, Colorado: 25 square miles. You’ve maybe been to Al-Asad. You know how vast it is. So, simply firing a rocket or a mortar onto Al-Asad property doesn’t constitute a major, significant threat to our forces or the Iraqi forces that are there. That said, I’m not diminishing the potential risk that exists from this. Obviously, that’s something we’re always mindful of.
And I would also point out to you, way back when, when we said we were going to start doing training at these force sites, and we talked about it for weeks after that, that we didn’t put anybody on those bases because we were doing force protection site surveys and making enhancements to the facilities to try to do the best we could to — to try to protect our people and the Iraqi units that are training there.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. Do you know when the trainers will arrive at these other two sites, where the training hasn’t started yet?
KIRBY: I don’t. And I think I answered that, I think it was to Phil. I mean, I think you’re going to start to see additional trainers flow in throughout the course of this month and probably into next month as well. I don’t have announcements to make today, specifically with units that are — that are heading that way, but I — but as we can, and as they get there, we’ll certainly let you know.
Q: Can you tell us about the agreement reached with Turkey for training Syrian rebels, and could you give us a broader update on where that part of the training program is? Has the vetting begun, or are the sites ready?
So, what I can tell you is that we continue to coordinate and plan joint efforts for training and equipping for moderate Syrian opposition forces with Turkey.
So those — those discussions are ongoing. I don’t have anything to announce today.
I think that the statement you saw come out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday is a good sign, a positive sign that things are moving in the right direction with respect to getting this train and equip program up — up and running.
We’re also working very closely with our interagency partners and some foreign partners to identify potential recruits. That process is very active right now. There are — there are groups, opposition groups that General Nagata and his team are talking to as we speak to try to divine from that, individual recruits. We’re not at that stage right now, but that — but that process of talking to the groups goes on.
So, no training has started yet. As you know, we’ve got three countries that have — have agreed to sponsor sites: Turkey, I just talked about that, Qatar, and of course, Saudi Arabia. And there’s other regional partners that we’re talking to as well about contributions that they might be able to make.
So, the effort continues, and we look forward to, in the new year, you know, getting it up and going.
I think if we continue to make the progress that we’re making now, that we believe we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring.
I already got you, Craig.
Q: Thank you, admiral.
You mentioned several credible allegations of civilian casualties in the war against IS.. Who’s making these allegations? Which credible organizations are making them? And how many casualties are we talking about that are being investigated?
KIRBY: I don’t know who initiated the allegations. Some of them come from inside. Some of them come from, you know, information we glean about our own operations.
So, it’s not like we only investigate civilian casualty allegations that some outside group brings to our attention, although that is often how they occur. I don’t know what, if any outside groups made allegations that now have led to an investigations by Central Command. You really should talk to them about that.
But I would tell you, and this is not a small point, I mean, it’s not just like — it’s not that we just launch an investigation every time somebody alleges civilian casualties. We do our own sort of pre- investigative work as well. Central Command does this. They have a very measured, deliberate process for this, where they take — every allegation is considered, they look at it themselves and determine whether it is serious enough, or there’s enough question to warrant a full investigation. And as I said, I know that there’s several that they are investigating now.
I’m afraid I just don’t have much more information than that at this point.
Q: Can you take that question and find out please? Soonest?
KIRBY: I can. Feel free to also call Central Command, but I’m happy to take it.
Q: They’ll probably answer you before they’ll answer us.
So if you could find out for us which allegations and in fact, are these now so-called sort of 15-6 investigations or are these actual formal, fact-finding investigations? Is it the I.G. that’s doing them? Have they turned them over to military investigators? Are they investigating themselves? When did these start?
KIRBY: Yeah, let me — let me try to get back to you.
Again, feel free to call Central Command too about their operations.
Q: But can you say Syria or Iraq or both?
KIRBY: I don’t know.
I don’t know. All I know is several that they’re investigating. I couldn’t – can’t go any further than when I’ve gone before on this.
Q: Can you also say approximately when these came to CENTCOM’s attention?
KIRBY: I don’t know.
Q: Because the — the consistent answer from them and from this department has — from this building I should say, has been we’re not tracking any, you know, reasonable incidents. Now it sounds like they are. When did these come to light?
KIRBY: Don’t know. Don’t know.
Q: And when you mentioned the air campaigns blunted the momentum of ISIS, at this point, now…
KIRBY: Not just the air campaign, Jim. The activities and operations by the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish forces on the ground. Let’s not forget that. This isn’t all just about airstrikes.
Q: Right. I wanted to follow on that a little bit. Is there a new sense or any sense of when the Iraqi Security Forces will be capable of sort of the deliberate offensive that will allow large swathes of territory to be retaken?
KIRBY: They have already undertaken offensive operations throughout the fall, and we’ve talked about that: Baiji, Mount Sinjar just recently, out in Anbar, particularly around Fallujah.
I mean, they have already reached outside themselves and gone on the offense against ISIL. Now, it’s been with some mixed success, no question about that.
I think what you’re probably getting at is Mosul, which is what most everybody’s interested in. And I don’t have an update for you on that. We’ve all — we’ve all talked about the fact that Mosul remains key terrain, that an offensive against Mosul will be an important, significant step forward against ISIL.
There is a campaign plan, an Iraqi campaign plan, that we are operating to support. We are not running it. It’s theirs. And eventually, everybody knows that Mosul’s going to have to be a target here. But I just don’t have anything to announce in terms of timing. And I — even if I did, I wouldn’t do that publicly.
Again, it’s not our plan. It’s the Iraqi plan.
Q: Is there any update you can give on the AirAisia search, what the Sampson and the Fort Worth are up to, and any talk of more assets going into the area as the search continues?
KIRBY: Sure. There’s no additional assets are — are enroute to the AirAisia search at this time. That could change. Search and rescue and recovery and salvage operations always do change over time, so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
But right now, our support consists of solely of those two ships, the USS Sampson and the USS Fort Worth. Sampson continues to fly aerial search and recovery missions with their two embarked helicopters around the clock, virtually.
Now, their success at recovering debris and bodies changes, of course, with the weather and the sea state, which as you know, can be quite varied this time of year in the Java Sea.
The Fort Worth has a helicopter on board that is also participating in aerial search and recovery. But more critically, there’s a team of divers on board the Fort Worth that are operating two Towfish sonar devices that they tow behind these rigid hull inflatable boats: two boats that the Fort Worth puts in the water with these divers, and they tow these two sonar devices.
The sonar is predominantly what we call side scan sonar. It’s used to help map the ocean floor and objects on the ocean floor. And it goes, again, at a very slow speed: two knots towed down there. They tow it down at about 20 percent of the total depth, so it’s operating at about between 30 and 40 feet beneath the surface.
I’m not aware of any significant wreckage that — that that particular, those particular two devices have — have mapped or seen or observed yet. But we’ve — you know, we’re at it every day, just like our international partners. And I think it’s important to remember that the Indonesians are in the lead. We are supporting them, and their search and rescue agency, and that they’ve done a very good job leading, coordinating, and managing this very difficult effort.
Q: About Iraq — really, a point of clarification. You talked about the flow of forces in the next month or so.
Q: Do you expect that that will be the bulk of the forces required for the training mission as defined currently, that that will be enough forces for — for the current training mission as defined, or will they continue to flow for several more months to support that mission?
KIRBY: For the Iraqi train and equip mission, we believe right now the additional — up to the additional 1,500 that the president authorized should be sufficient. I might remind you that as we get going on a Syria train and equip mission, and there are international partners that are helping us with both, but there may be manpower requirements, U.S. manpower requirements that you should look for as we get that program up and going as well.
Now, that’s not in Iraq, of course, but — but there will be additional manpower requirements for that.
Q: But the up to 1,500 will be flown — flowing in between January and February, and probably that will be…
KIRBY: I think you’ll start — my sense is you will start to see the bulk of the additional trainers to support the Iraqi train and equip mission to enter the theater over the next four to six weeks.
Q: You agreed earlier to take the question from Nancy about the metrics about progress. Can we get that today?
KIRBY: I will do my very best, Jamie.
Q: The Afghan government has talked about reconciliation efforts that have been maybe done by China with the Taliban. Is that something that you have been tracking? Is that something that this — the command in Afghanistan has an opinion on whether this is a good time to do a renewed effort with China as a broker between…?
KIRBY: I don’t have anything with respect to reports about China’s involvement on that, Julian. What I can tell you is that we have — it’s long been the Pentagon’s position to support a political reconciliation process, one that is Afghan-led.
And that’s — that is no small requirement. It should be Afghan- led. But we’ve long supported that.
I have one over here. Tony?
Q: I have a couple of budgetary questions.
One, this is broad, okay? As the fiscal ’16 budget comes up, there’s going to be a lot of attention placed on the so-called war budget, the overseas operations contingency fund…
Q: … OCO. As we draw — as the U.S. draws down in Afghanistan, there’s going to be an expectation of a — really, a real drop in that, that request. Can you give some sense of how many years the Pentagon thinks it’s going to be needing a so-called OCO?
You know, the Congress approved $65 billion for this fiscal year, $85 billion in ’14. Do you see it dropping and going away in a couple years?
KIRBY: The short answer to your question is can I gave you a sense, is no, I can’t. And that’s not to be glib or to be dismissive, but the truth is, Tony, as you know, we are at work now on the very early stages of preparing a 20 — well, the 2016 budget, which is about to go, and then of course, working on 2017. And that’s why I wouldn’t get ahead of the work that’s being done on that.
As you also know, overseas contingency funding is always a part of that budget submission, so I can — I can assure you that we are working hard on it, but I wouldn’t get ahead of the — of the process right now and try to give you an estimate.
Q: Well, does the Pentagon feel it’s going to have to ask for an OCO fund over the next three or four years, even as we pretty much diminish our involvement in Afghanistan?
KIRBY: Without getting into quantifying it, I think it’s safe to assume that we are planning to factor into the budget process right now overseas contingency funding. But I wouldn’t get into what that number might look like now.
And just because it went down over the last two years, you know, I don’t think that it’s logical to assume, and I wouldn’t want to get ahead of any process that it’s going to be even smaller still by some — by some degree. I just — I wouldn’t go there yet.
Q: And a separate budget question. The largest economic story in the world right now is the impact of the drop in oil prices. Has there any — has the Pentagon started to quantify the savings it may realize in its 2016 and 2017 oil contracts?
KIRBY: Not yet, Tony. I think it’s going to be May or June before we’re able to kind of give any estimate of how many — how much savings there might have been.
Most of the contracts we’re operating off of right now were set at older prices, and so it’s just too soon to tell now with the new drop and contracts that are now being let based on these new prices, what kind of savings may be achieved in the coming months.
But I think we’ll have a better sense by the middle of the year.
Q: I’d like to ask about Somalia. As you know, there was a U.S. airstrike recently that killed an intelligence leader for Al- Shabaab. It’s a second fatal airstrike, Godane was killed a few months ago. Is there any indication that Al-Shabaab represents an enhanced threat to U.S. interests on their own? Is that what’s driving this, or is this better intelligence on their whereabouts, and they’re just key leaders in the group?
KIRBY: Well, each strike you take is based on individual factors. I wouldn’t try to divine a big — a trend here, Craig. Al-Shabaab remains a threat. We’ve long talked about that. They’ve — they’ve certainly made known their connections to Al Qaida and their desire to deepen those connections and the threat that they pose not only to people in the region, but Western targets as well.
So, the way I’d put it is we’ve been very clear about what we’re going to do when we have actionable intelligence against legitimate terrorist targets. And you’re going to continue to see us act on — on that intelligence in the best way that we can.
So, just because there’s been a couple recently doesn’t mean that you’re going to see some huge uptick. Then again, you know, I wouldn’t at all dismiss the notion that there could be and that there will be future strikes against legitimate terrorist targets from Al- Shabaab.
Q: Any more specific assessments on what effect those strikes may have had on the group’s ability…
KIRBY: Well, I think we’re still assessing the results of these — of these strikes. But clearly, when you — you go after targets that have significant leadership responsibility such as the two that you mentioned, you know you’re going to have a significant impact on their ability to communicate, coordinate, operate, finance themselves.
I mean, all that’s factored into it. In fact, that’s part of the calculus that goes into the decision to strike or not to strike, is the legitimacy of the target and the significance of the individual.
I think I’ve got time for one more — or not.
All right. Thanks, everybody. See you later.