Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—September 30, 2014.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Hey everybody.
I’ve got quite a few things to get through, so I’ll try to do this quickly, but there’s a few updates that I want to — to get to. First, on the campaign against ISIL. You may have seen the most recent release from Central Command but overnight we conducted another round of strikes in Iraq and in Syria, totaling more than 20. The strikes were pretty evenly divided between Iraq and Syria and were launched against both fixed and mobile targets.
So far, in total, the U.S. and our coalition partners have conducted nearly 310 attacks from the air. More than 230 of them have been in Iraq. The remaining 76, in Syria. We’re delighted to be joined in these efforts in Iraq today by the British, who conducted two precision strikes against ISIL targets in the northwest part of the country in support of Kurdish units who are in contact with the enemy.
The targets that we and our partners are hitting in this campaign range from the area around Baghdad to Fallujah, across north central Iraq to Mosul, and in Syria, from the east and north, near the borders with Iraq and Turkey to Aleppo, and of course, including Raqqa.
In other words, when we say we’re going to go after them, we mean it. But I also think it’s important to note that while we continue to hit them where they are, it doesn’t mean we can or even that we should hit them everywhere they are at every moment. We must choose. We must discriminate between targets that matter more to us in space and time than others, and between those that run higher risks of collateral damage or civilian casualties.
That’s a major difference between us and them. We care about preserving life. We’re willing to be careful and patient and precise, even if that means having to wait for them to make a mistake or to make themselves more vulnerable. We’ve been pretty honest about the fact that military action alone will not win this effort, but that shouldn’t be taken as an admission of ineffectiveness, and one of the ways we know we’re having an effect is precisely because the terrorists have had to change their tactics and their communications and their command and control.
Yes, they’re blending in more. Yes, they’re dispersing, and yes they aren’t communicating quite as openly or as boldly as they once were. That’s a good thing, because if they aren’t operating as freely, then they aren’t as free to achieve their goals.
That doesn’t mean ISIL doesn’t still pose a threat. It doesn’t mean they aren’t still trying and in some cases succeeding at taking and holding ground. No one said this would be easy or quick, and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate airstrikes. We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity.
Even as we share the sense of urgency about this group, we must also share a sense of strategic patience about this entire effort. And I think some of that has been lacking. Beyond Iraq and Syria, there are a lot of other issues on the secretary’s plate this week.
First, earlier today, the secretary met with Prime Minister Modi of India at Blair House. They had a good discussion on the full range of bilateral defense issues that we are facing together, following up on their talks in New Delhi last month.
In the meeting, Secretary Hagel noted the progress made during last week’s consultations between Undersecretary Kendall and the Indian Ministry of Defense on the Defense, Trade, and Technology Initiative, otherwise known as DTTI.
They also affirmed the importance of military-to-military engagement, to the overall U.S.-India relationship, and discussed the threat posed by ISIL and other violent extremist groups.
Second, you all saw the statement the secretary put out this morning welcoming the new Afghan government’s decision to sign the bilateral security agreement, and the NATO status of forces agreement.
This is something that the Defense Department has been working on for two years, and the secretary is gratified that we can now move forward in the planning and execution of our two important military missions in Afghanistan after the end of this year.
One, targeting the remnants of Al Qaida, and two, training, advising, and assisting the Afghan national security forces. Third, regarding DOD support for the U.S. government’s overall response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, I can announce today that Secretary Hagel has authorized the deployment of 700 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division headquarters element to Liberia.
This element will deploy in late October and become the headquarter staff for the joint forces command, led by Major General Gary Volesky.
Some of you may remember General Volesky as the former head of Army Public Affairs.
General Volesky and his staff will assume overall command of the effort, and with his arrival, Major General Williams will be able to return to his normal duties as the Army component commander for Africa command.
At the same time, the Army will deploy another 700 soldiers from various engineering units throughout the United States to supervise the construction of ebola treatment units, conduct site surveys, and provide engineering expertise.
I want to once again underscore that these deployments are part of a whole of government response to the ebola outbreak. The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities in support of our interagency partners.
This will not be an overnight process, but we are already making significant progress. Some 195 Defense Department personnel are now on the ground in West Africa. And over the weekend, the equipment for the 25 bed hospital and two mobile labs arrived in Monrovia. We expect the hospital to be operational about the middle of this month — sorry, the middle of October.
U.S. military personnel are not and will not be providing direct care to ebola patients.
And while I’m on the topic of unique military capabilities, I can also announce that as part of the Defense Department’s continuing effort to improve our crisis response capability around the world, the U.S. Marine Corps has established today a special purpose Marine air-ground task force as part of the new normal and the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
This task force, comprised of approximately 2,300 marines and several aircraft, based throughout the region, will improve CENTCOM’s ability to support theater security cooperation events such as exercises, as well as response to contingencies.
Planning for this deployment began in the summer of 2013, and therefore is not in response to the ongoing operations in Iraq. There is no timetable on the duration of this deployment, but ground and aviation units are expected to rotate on a regular schedule.
Finally, let me also note that the 2014 Warrior Games are underway this week in Colorado Springs. More than 200 wounded warriors from all the services are competing in a variety of events, including archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball, and track and field.
These games are a testament to the resilience and courage of our wounded warriors, and of this department’s enduring commitment to them. The secretary is proud of all these athletes, all of them competing, and wishes them well.
And oh yeah, Air Force plays Navy this weekend.
Q: Thank you.
Just a couple quick ones on Khorasan. al-Fadhli, do we have an update on his status?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not.
Q: Was it an important thing for you to keep the existence of Khorasan secret? Is that — did that happen? Is this something that was not talked about intentionally, the existence of this group?
And the reason I’m asking is there are suggestions out there that today particularly, that the threat posed by Khorasan was — was sort of fabricated, perhaps, by the administration as a pretext for war, to legally justify involvement in Syria.
How do you respond to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s absolutely false. It’s a ridiculous allegation. And we’ve been watching this group for a long time. I can’t account for the fact that it wasn’t a household name in America or elsewhere around the world. There were other organizations, not of this department, that certainly we’re tracking this group as well.
The notion that we would just, you know, make them up or fancify the threat they pose to — you know, to justify military action, is just absolutely ridiculous.
And I — go ahead.
Q: I was going to ask, is there a sound legal, international justification for hitting — striking Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The president has constitutional authority to protect and defend American citizens. That’s our job in the Defense Department, to project — protect and defend American citizens. It’s under those authorities, under his authorities that we’re doing this.
I meant to get you first. I am sorry about that. Go ahead.
Q: Not a problem. Based on what you said in the opening statement about being careful, being patient in — in where you’re going. How much of that is driven by some of the criticism over the last week about civilian casualties from activists? And have you gotten a better sense from doing some of these assessments about whether they’re have been civilian casualties?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: My comments were meant to put in perspective, yeah, quite frankly, some of it is to put in perspective some of the coverage, which has been in some cases a little shrill and hyperbolic, and not exactly in balance.
Nobody takes civilian casualties or collateral damage more seriously than we do. Nobody. No other military in the world. And when we think we’ve caused it, we look into it, and if we have to make amends, we’ll make amends. We haven’t — we still haven’t seen credible, what we would consider operational reporting that would verify that.
That said, Central Command is taking seriously the claims that have already been put forward by other groups, you know, non-military groups about civilian casualties, and they’re looking into them. They haven’t found any justification or any proof of those claims yet, but they’re looking at them: actively looking at them.
So, this isn’t just words. We’re not just spewing it. We really mean it. And we do take extreme caution and care in the conduct of these missions. But there’s risk in any military operation. There’s a special kind of risk when you do air operations. We’re cognizant of that, and we’re going to keep working at it.
But we’re not hiding behind civilians. You know, we’re not ducking into buildings and schools and hospitals and that kind of thing and putting civilians unnecessarily at risk the way these guys are. And that, I don’t think, is getting enough attention. We’re going to be as careful as we need to be. We’re going to be as precise as we need to be. But in so doing, it’s going to take a little more time.
That’s part of the price you pay. And that, I think, is some of the aspects of some of the coverage that I don’t think has been fairly represented.
Q: Admiral Kirby.
After a few weeks of recurrent air operation or airstrikes over Iraq and Syria, and after many ISR missions over both countries, how could you describe now the capabilities, the military capabilities of ISIL in both countries?
And in the last few weeks, have you been able to degrade them, at least in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s a lot in that question, so let me try to unpack this. We still — as I said in my opening, we still believe ISIL remains a very potent force. Yes, they’ve changed. Some of their tactics, there’s absolutely no question about that. In response to the pressure that we put them under, but that doesn’t make them less dangerous or less potent over time.
So, we’re going to continue to keep the pressure on them, by and large, from a U.S. military perspective and a coalition perspective, it’s from the air. Although we are advancing the advise and assist mission on the ground with — you know, with higher headquarters levels, but the ground forces that really matter, and what — what will really, ultimately, put the — the — the most significant pressure on this group is Iraqi forces on the ground, Kurdish forces on the ground.
They are doing better. No, it’s not perfect. As I said last week, it’s a mix. Not every Iraqi unit is as competent as every other, but they are holding the ground around Baghdad. They did, with the Kurdish forces, retake the Mosul Dam facility. It’s funny how quickly we forgot how complicated that was. And they continue to try to take back ground.
But it doesn’t mean it’s over. It doesn’t mean that ISIL still doesn’t pose a threat.
Q: Just a quick follow-up, Admiral. Do you have any idea what’s the size of ISIL militants? Are we talking about hundreds, thousands? And also, about the Khorasan group, are we talking about hundreds militants among them?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On ISIL, I don’t think I have any update to their potential strength, and what you heard from the intelligence community a couple of weeks ago, which is a range of about between 20,000 and 31,000. I hadn’t seen any new update to that, so that’s sort of the operating range with which, you know, we’re considering this — their overall strength.
I don’t have a roster of who’s in the Khorasan group. It is a — it’s a small offshoot of Al Qaida, as best I know. Not an extraordinarily large group, but I wouldn’t be qualified to put a number figure on it.
Q: Can we go back to Baghdad for a minute? Because Iraqi officials are saying now there has been ISIS fighting as close as five miles south of Baghdad. So, understanding everything you said, what does that tell you about ISIS’s capabilities and intentions towards Baghdad? What concerns do you have about it? And particularly, what looks to be their moves to get in and around Baghdad Airport?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’ve been watching this for awhile, Barb. It’s not — I understand, I’ve seen the coverage today that you know, they’re within five to eight miles or whatever it is, how it’s being reported. We have consistently seen them pose a threat to the capital city.
This is not a new thing. And they’ll make an advance and they’ll back off. They’ll try another way. One of the — you’ve seen several of the strikes that we’ve been doing and the last ten days to two weeks have been to the south and southwest of Baghdad because that’s where they’ve kinda maneuvered to. So, they continuously pose a threat to the capital city, and we continuously, in concert with the Iraqi security forces, are trying to put them back.
But this should come as no surprise to anybody that they have designs on — on Baghdad, as they have had designs on other cities and other places of infrastructure throughout the country.
Q: How convinced are you that Baghdad can be — remain safe, that Iraqi forces can hold Baghdad, and that Iraqi forces can hold the airport?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I can tell you is — with certainty is that we’re going to do what we can to help Iraqi security forces maintain control of the capital city. As I’ve said before, they have — Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad have been performing well. They’ve stiffened their defenses. They have — they have not allowed Baghdad to come under a major assault. They’ve — they’ve done pretty well in and around the city.
And as I said, we’ve been helping from the air put pressure on ISIL.
Q: One last – to press the point one last time, can the Iraqis hold Baghdad and hold the airport on their own without you?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I am — I am — there’s a lot of things I’m not good at. One of them is predicting the future. What I’ll tell you is that we’re — we’re watching it very closely. We have been watching it very closely. The Iraqi security forces have been continuing to stiffen their defense around the city. We believe that they’ve done a good job with that. They’ll continue to focus on it.
Obviously, it’s a — it’s a city of immense importance to them and to their government. It’s clear they share the same sense of urgency about protecting the city, and so I think, you know, we’re — I can’t predict anything one way or the other, other than to tell you what I can predict is we’re going to continue to work with them and their defense — their defenses of it.
Q: On Afghanistan. The Taliban has called the BSA a sinister plot by the U.S. to control Afghanistan and try to regain its international credibility as a military superpower.
What is the military’s response to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I almost don’t think that’s worth responding to. The whole purpose of the bilateral security agreement is to allow us to continue to enable the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces as they defend their citizens in their country. That’s the ultimate goal here.
We’re going to be coming down to less than 10,000 troops inside Afghanistan come next year, and their main purpose — not sole, but main purpose, is going to be helping the Afghan National Security Forces do what they’re supposed to do for their own people.
This whole effort has been about helping the Afghan government, the Afghan people secure their own borders, defend themselves, and — and advance their democratic government. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q: And since it’s been over a decade, and this is going to extend it for another decade, what have been some signs that the military has seen to show that the Afghan government and the Afghan military will be ready to take over their own training, will be ready to take over their own funding in 10 years?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, 10 years is a long time. And difficult to predict every bend in the road between now and then.
They’ve already, the Afghan National Security Forces, have already done an exceptional job. I mean they — just take a look at what they did this year, securing not one but two national elections. And they definitely put the Taliban on their heels. There’s no question about that.
Still, you know, there’s — the Taliban is still a force. I get that. But the ANSF is doing quite well. There’s more work to be done, which is why we’re glad we’ve got this BSA now so that we can continue with the advice and training and assistance mission next year.
But — but if past is prologue, and they — they, the Afghans, continue to exert themselves with the same energy, enthusiasm, and competence that they have — and they’re good fighters, I’m confident that — that we’ll get there, and we’ll get there, you know, we’ll get there on schedule.
Q: Yesterday, General Harrigian told us that the Islamic State was no longer massing, dispersing itself, pardon me, which requires the military to work harder to locate them. I’m just curious, what adjustments has DOD done to track the Islamic State, like did you introduce any new assets to the battlefield, or sensors?
And also, the oil refineries. I’ve heard that there is no concrete count at those refineries, but most of them have been damaged or destroyed. Roughly how many refineries does the Defense Department think the Islamic State has a hold of in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I need to make sure I understand your first question. You’re asking what we’ve done to get better intelligence and knowledge about what they’re doing in Iraq?
Q: I’m trying to figure out what changes you’ve made in order to deal with the fact that they’re no longer massing and now they’re harder to locate.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not sure I’m — we’re going to be talking about that from here.
I mean, everybody talks about, you know, them being a very adaptive enemy. We’re pretty — pretty adaptive here, too. And we’ve seen — we’ve seen them change because — because of the pressure that they’ve been put under by us, by our coalition partners, by Iraqi partners on the ground.
And that was expected. Nobody went into this from the very beginning thinking that they were just going to continue to behave exactly the same way after we started dropping bombs on them. But we’re going to adjust, too.
And as I said in my opening statement, if they aren’t operating as freely in certain places, which they aren’t, then they aren’t achieving as freely the goals that they’re trying to achieve, either.
So — so there’s an effectiveness from that perspective. But you know, I’m not going to detail any great specificity from here. You know, what we’re going to do to — to counter their moves. I mean, all I’ll tell you is we’re pretty adaptive ourselves, and we’re going to do the best we can to stay ahead of them.
The other — your other question was on the oil refiners. I — I’d have to get a better count. I don’t — I haven’t — I know we — you know, we hit 12 initially, and then I think we went after a few more over the course of the last few days.
I don’t know the total number of refineries that we’ve — that we’ve hit. We believed that — that they were in possession of somewhere between 15 and 20 oil refineries throughout the country. Again, I don’t know how many of those have been hit. Again, as I said last week, the idea was to deprive them of the revenue they were getting from those refineries, not necessarily to wipe them all off the map.
Q: Admiral, Secretary Hagel this morning, and you just now both endorsed the ANSF going forward. You said they’re good fighters, and they’re —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, they are.
Q: They’ve continued to make progress. I want to ask you about the American component for the way ahead now that the BSA has been signed. Given the president’s own comments and the comments of other people about the — how they underestimated the threat from ISIL in Iraq, how can this department be confident with an ever-shrinking number of Americans in Afghanistan going forward, that you can assess the capabilities of the ANSF, but also assess the threat that they face from security threats down the line?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re — we’re very comfortable that with the — the 9,800 American troops that will be in Afghanistan in 2015, at least initially, and there’ll be — you know, there’s a schedule to draw down even after that.
But we’re comfortable that with that as a going in number, that we’ll have what we need in terms of the assets and resources to continue to assess, inform, advise, assist, train Afghan National Security Forces, and that their competence will just continue to improve.
They are good fighters. They know the ground. They know the culture. They know the enemy. And in some ways, they know those things better than us. And that’s the way it should be. And that’s why, when we talk about, you know, I’m pivoting now, but back to Iraq, you know, when we talk about the ground forces, the most important ground forces are Iraqi ground forces. That’s why we talk like that. That’s how we’ve — you know, we’ve come to — come to learn about this particular kind of enemy, this particular kind of threat.
That answer your question?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, Tony.
Q: Today’s the last day of the fiscal year.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks for reminding me.
Q: Yeah on budget, couple budget questions.
Does the Pentagon plan to submit an amendment to the fiscal ’15 OCO to try to recover some of the $1.8 billion that the Congress rejected in spending? The Pentagon asked for F-35s and Apache helicopters as a part of their war OCO reprogramming, and those were rejected last — about two weeks ago.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: You’re short that money because it goes back to the Treasury. Now, are you going to ask for a — for an amendment to the OCO 2015 bill to try to recover that money?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any specific ask in that regard, Tony. I think I’d just leave, you know, where the way the secretary left it with you last week, that you know, we think — first of all, you know, we’ve got a C.R. heading into the year, so I think there’s a recognition here that — that we’re OK for now.
But as the secretary said, we’re going to need to continue to consult Congress about options for funding this level of activity in Iraq and Syria, going forward. But I wouldn’t prejudge now what form that might take, those consultations, or what — how it may end up looking.
But I mean, everybody recognizes that you know, as this effort goes forward, that funding is going to continually be an issue for discussion.
Q: For F-35 and Apache helicopters, but specifically F-35s, with war funding, when you’re one month into the air campaign, and you’re asking for reprogramming to buy eight planes that haven’t been fully tested yet, even.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I think where I’m going to be on this, Tony, is I’m not — I’m not going to get into the process issues, right now. Look, we’re — we recognize that there’s going to be some — some OCO needs going forward, and we also recognize the need to continue to consult with Congress going forward. I think that’s where I’m going to leave it.
Q: Today, four years ago, Secretary Panetta said that by today, the Pentagon would declare audit-ready its major components for your statement of budgetary resources. Geeky and mundane, but it’s been a continual problem with the Pentagon, not being able to audit your books.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Where are you today? Are you able to declare with some clarity that most of your organizations are ready to be audited?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK. I’m going to read this so that I don’t mess this up, because I was ready for this one.
And I can’t — at home, I can’t even balance my own checkbook, so I need to read this so that I get it precise.
I’m pleased to report that all the military services and many of our defense agencies have asserted their readiness to commence a schedule of budgetary activity audit for fiscal year 2015. And as you know that — and I didn’t know, but as you know, that is a different altogether than saying a schedule of budgetary resources.
It’s — it’s current year, it’s not over the length of the life of a program.
I want to make it clear that this is a current year funds audit, and not a full audit. But it will bring over 90 percent of our general fund fiscal year 2015 dollars under audit. This represents a lot of hard work by our financial managers, as well as our commanders and line managers. But we still need to test these assertions in an actual audit, and we know that much work remains to be done in order for us to achieve full audit readiness by the end of fiscal year 2017.
While the Marine Corps and a number of agencies have had a substantial amount of funds under audit, this fiscal year we will transition most of the department from preparation and practice to actual audit execution. And we will dramatically increase the percentage of the department’s funding under audit.
Q: I just have one follow up. Who — did you have anybody verify your statements?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I was hoping you wouldn’t have any follow ups on that.
I was hoping you wouldn’t have any follow ups on that.
Q: Well, did you have anybody verify the statements on audit readiness? Did the GAO or the I.G. or somebody to look over your shoulder and say, “yeah, the Pentagon’s not pulling a fast one and they’re ready for audit?”
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m very comfortable in what I’ve read here, and that it’s accurate. Yeah. Dion.
Hey, welcome back.
Q: I wanted to ask. I wasn’t here for the original debate over the — the Khorasan group.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s right, you weren’t.
Q: So, I still have a lot of questions, because there’s been mixed messages coming out from the administration over what threat they pose. You said they’re in the end state of a plan. Other people have said it was merely aspirational. And I think that’s what’s leading to the continued questions that launched this is there’s different messages coming from the administration.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right.
Q: So, can we get some better explanation, some more evidence to support your claim that they are in the end state, in the advanced stages of planning an attack on the U.S.?
That’s a pretty significant claim?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It is. It’s also an accurate claim. And I’m not going to get into intelligence matters here — from — from the podium. We — and I recognize, I mean, I’ve seen comments by anonymous sources which somehow seem to be more credible than people that are not anonymous on this issue, saying that it, you know, aspirational.
I’m not disputing that it was aspirational. We know it was aspirational because they were in active planning, and what we believe to be the near end of that planning and the potential beginning of an execution phase.
And as I’ve said before, that doesn’t mean that it was a day or two or a week or two away, it just means that we believed — we had good reason to believe that they were getting close to getting into that execution phase, where you definitely do get a closer sense of timing of an attack, and that the attack was going to be aimed at Western targets, perhaps — perhaps here in the homeland or in Europe.
I mean, nothing has changed about our — at least here in the Pentagon, and I can only speak for the Pentagon. Nothing has changed about our assessment that that’s where they were and that that’s what made them a valid target to be hit.
Q: Well, considering this country’s history with questions about manufactured intelligence leading to military action, why wouldn’t this administration, which was very critical of that, provide some more evidence to support these claims?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, I’m speaking for the Pentagon, Dion, and we conducted the strikes based on what we also believed and found to be solid enough intelligence. I am simply not going to detail intelligence matters here from the podium. I wouldn’t do that.
Because the group still exists, their aspirations still exist, and the aspirations of other groups that wish us harm also still exist. And as I said a week or so ago, I mean, far better for us to be to the left of an activity, an attack, than to be on the right of the attack.
And so while I welcome, you know, the scrutiny, and that’s — that’s fine, those are fair questions, I’d much rather be up here defending what we did before they were able to do something than having to be up here trying to talk about why we didn’t take action after they conducted an attack.
Q: John, do you want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Next question.
Q: How would you characterize the threat from Khorasan to the homeland now? Has it changed?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re still assessing the effectiveness of what we did. And again, we know we hit what we’re aiming at. We believe the targets were valid. Therefore, we do believe that we definitely degraded, damaged, destroyed some of their capabilities. There’s no question about that.
But I don’t think we’re in a position right now to say with 100 percent certainty that we foiled this specific attack or any future attack. We’re still looking at it pretty closely.
So, maybe a more crisp way of answering your question is we still believe the group poses a danger.
Q: Can I ask about coalition airstrikes that CENTCOM released today that talked about 22 strikes, but they were all by U.S — .
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: None of them were by the partner nations.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Is this the beginning of the U.S. not just bearing, you know, the majority of the strikes, but doing this alone?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. No.
I don’t know. I mean, again, I don’t put the air tasking order together. That’s a question better put to Central Command. My understanding is that this was simply a rotation based on maintenance needs and that kind of thing. It wasn’t — there’s no political message in this at all.
This was — this was simply a matter of — of convenience and availability of aircraft to conduct these strikes. And as you saw, many of the strikes were what we call “dynamic.” In other words, they’re — they’re fast movers. You know it’s — so — that — there wasn’t a lot of — there didn’t need to be a lot of pre-planning and a long look at it before launching. You get the aircraft in the air, they get a valid target, they hit it.
And so this was really more about aircraft availability and maintenance and that kind of a thing, not a — there’s no message here. There’s no message at all. I already got you Justin. I always go to you.
Q: You already got Phil, too.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I did not get Phil. (Laughter.) Sorry, Phil. You guys done?
Q: Yeah, on the coalition versus U.S. airstrikes, the last briefing, a colleague of mine had asked for a update breakdown about the number of munitions from coalition forces versus the rest that were dropped. And you said you might be able to provide that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m sorry. Let me take that for the record again, today.
Q: And on strategic patience, the start of the briefing, you’d said that was lacking? I’m wondering who you think that’s lacking by? Is it the Congress?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think there’s just a — you know, I think frankly in some of the media coverage, to be honest with you. I mean, there’s this — there’s this expectation that, you know, the airstrikes have a very immediate effect. And they’re very dramatic. And I know that. I understand that. And we do believe that they are — that they are having a very tactical effect on these guys.
But as soon as I say that, the next words out of my mouth are — but we — you know, we need to take the long view here. We’re certainly taking the long view at the Pentagon. This is going to be a long struggle.
This group will adapt, and we’re going to have to adapt right along with them. And airstrikes alone, you’re just not going to bomb them away. It’s not going to happen like that.
And, so I guess what you heard was a little bit of my own frustration in some of the media coverage, and the expectation is that well, you’ve been — you’ve dropped more than 300 bombs, and so — but they’re still grabbing ground. Yeah, that’s right. That’s a fact. They are still grabbing ground.
There’s more to this. There has to be more to this than just airstrikes. It doesn’t mean that the airstrikes aren’t important. It doesn’t mean that they won’t continue. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t being effective. What it does mean is, they’re just one piece of a much larger strategy that’s going to take some time.
And I think we are steeling ourselves here in the Pentagon for a long effort, and I think it’s important for — for people to understand that from our perspective.
Q: In Syria, for example, there’s nobody really on the ground to provide the rest of the —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q: So, should the American public be prepared for setbacks in Syria, since you’re only relying on airstrikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What do you mean by setbacks?
Q: Well, I mean, if airstrikes alone can’t stop ISIL, then — shouldn’t — shouldn’t the American public be prepared for losing towns in Syria or other setbacks that — that airstrikes can’t solve?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we talked about this last week, that I think also there was a bit of a misunderstanding about the difference in the strikes in Syria then and in Iraq.
And the initial round of strikes in Syria were really designed to get at them strategically. We were hitting command and control nodes, finance centers, training camps, oil refineries. Those kinds of strikes will continue, but fixed targets like that in a target-rich environment will become less target-rich over time because they’re fixed targets.
And so, you’re starting to see now, the evolution of some of the targeting in Syria. They’re still hitting some fixed facilities, just — just over the last 24 hours. There was a couple of fixed sites that were hit. But we’re also going to more dynamic targeting as well, of a tactical nature, getting vehicles, getting armored vehicles, convoys. You know, that kind of thing.
And that will continue as well. But the — the focus in Syria right now is on trying to remove their sanctuary. The freedom of movement and resupply and refresh that they’ve enjoyed inside the ungoverned spaces of particularly eastern and northern Syria. That’s really what we’re going after, there. In Iraq, it’s very much about going on the offense against them tactically and in support of Iraqi security forces.
So, back to my point about patience, it very much applies to Syria, because as you know, we’re just — we just got the authority to start this train and equip mission to get moderate opposition recruited and vetted and out of training facility, which again, we’re grateful for Saudi Arabia for providing that. Get them trained and then back into the field with better military skills, organizational capabilities, leadership. That’s going to take some time.
You heard Chairman Dempsey talk about this over and over again. It’s three to five months to get them recruited and vetted, and then another eight to 12 to adequately field them and get them back — back into the fight in Syria.
So, there is going to need to be some patience with respect to how much can be done how fast against ISIL in Syria. But — but that would — but it would be irresponsible for us to wait a year to — to 18 months to start to put pressure on them from the air when we know we can, and we have.
So, it has to be in combination. But it is going to take some time. And that was the whole point, you know, that I was trying to make when I opened up here. I just — I think it’s important for people to understand that perspective.
Did that answer your question?
Q: Yeah and on the question about the AUMF, I mean is it — I mean, this is going to — there’s a legal issue here, too. But, you know, is it correct to say — this came up in a newsroom discussion, that the U.S. is at war with ISIL? At war? Is that — does that — this building’s view?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. Yes. Dan.
Q: How much concern is there about the relationship between al-Nusra and — and ISIL and a potential alliance between those two groups possibly in the wake of this air campaign? And then I have a related question.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Between ISIL and al-Nusra?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You know, I don’t know the — ISIL is — though they claim to be broken off from Al Qaida, they were born of Al Qaida. And al-Nusra is an offshoot of Al Qaida. So, in our minds, from our military perspective, they are very much one and the same. And they can claim they’ve got differences with this or that group all they want, but we very much view them as one and the same.
Q: And if they are then one and the same or even possibly in an arrangement or an alliance, the U.S. then reserves the right to strike at al-Nusra members as well. Is that —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our job is to protect and defend American citizens. And we do that under order of the commander in chief, who has constitutional authority to protect and defend Americans abroad. So, I won’t speculate about future strikes against future groups. I just won’t do that. But we have the authorities that we need to — to again, to protect American citizens.
Q: And thus far, there’s been no strikes that you know of against al-Nusra positions?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q: On ebola, can you offer any more detail about these two groups of soldiers that you mentioned earlier?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: How long are they going to be there? What are their specific missions? And also what — what safeguards have been put in place to protect —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. The first group talked about going down with General Volesky. They’re going to help form his command element, basically. As he’s going to go down and sort of lead the effort. So, they’re — they’re at a headquarters level. They’re going to be helping him command and control the effort.
The other group, I think I said, was 700. Those are largely engineers, just to help. Because much of what we’re doing down there is creating infrastructure, or creating facilities that health care workers can use. And so, it would make sense that we would want combat engineers. Largely, they’re combat engineers. You know, we’ve got a battalion of C.B.s down there that are working right now on clearing ground and leveling ground to — to begin to prepare for these hospital units that will be built.
But those are — that’s what the — that’s what the soldiers are doing.
And then you had another question?
Q: Are the people who actually build them coming on after this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They will. They’ll come in waves. And we’ll continue to announce, as folks get down there, as you know, we’re looking at approximately, and it could go higher than 3,000 troops, eventually, could be detailed to this mission.
But — and we’ll — we’ll keep you posted as — as they all get there.
I do want — pardon?
Q: I asked about the safeguards also.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The safeguards.
All the troops that are going are getting trained on personnel protective equipment and on the disease itself. As we’ve said before, I mean, Secretary Hagel has no higher priority than force protection and making sure that — the — the threat down there is the disease, it’s not an armed threat, and so just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously, and we’ll make sure that they’ve got — they’ve got the protection that they need.
You also, I think, asked about how long. There’s no ending date on this right now in — I think in — you know, in general we’re — we’re looking at least six months, but it could go longer than that, depending on the needs of the — of the mission.
And it — I do want to just foot stomp one other issue, and that’s that — and we are in support of. You know, there was an article the other day, I think it was in the Wall Street Journal, and it — you know, the lead was that you know, the military is being slow-footed in their — in their leadership of this mission.
And I just flatly disagree completely with that assertion. First of all, we’re not in the lead. We’re a supporting element. And there’s been nothing slow-footed about the efforts that we’ve been taking to get down there. But you know, it’s loading a 25 bed military hospital on several aircraft takes some time. It takes some logistics expertise. And you have to have — you have to have level sites and adequate preparation on the ground before you can just start flying hospital equipment down there, and that’s what the C.B.s are doing.
But believe me, everybody in the military shares the same sense of urgency that everybody else does about this disease, and we’re contributing as best we can with the capabilities that we uniquely possess.
I’ve got time for just a couple more. Yes sir?
Q: Do you anticipate your Arab coalition partners undertaking strikes in Iraq as opposed to in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s for them to decide. That’s for them to decide. I won’t speak for other countries.
Q: Have we got an update yet on the daily cost of the campaign? I know as senator — Secretary Hagel said last week, he was assessing the long term cost. Have we got any updated daily costs, past the $7 million to $10 million that we’ve —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re still at the $7 million to $10 million, and as I said when I talked about it last week, it’s just an estimate and it’s likely to change over time. And as operations intensify, you know, you can expect that that number will probably go north of that over time. I think that makes sense, and that’s why to Tony’s question, you know, we’re going to be working closely with the Congress here, going forward, now that we’re in a new fiscal year.
Q: Can you say that the Pentagon spent about a billion dollars since mid-June, through yesterday or today?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’d have to do the math. And you know how I am at math. But I mean, I think it’s an average, seven to 10 is — $7 million to $10 million per day is what we’ve been — we’ve been working with.
Q: And we’re at about the 105th day, so even —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Does that come out to a billion?
Q: About, yeah.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, let me go back and check my calculator. I’m going to use my own calculator on that.
Q: You’ve criticized the media for being shrill and hyperbolic. Were you criticizing the established mainstream media, or the blog world, the Twitterati out there who don’t have any — they can just tweet whatever they want, or the media, regular media?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It wasn’t a blanket criticism of everybody. It’s just been the tone of some of the coverage. And I mean, I’m not going to point fingers here, but I just think, you know, there’s this — there’s this immediate nature in the information environment today which I completely understand, given, you know, how information and data flies around so fast.
And I mean, I — I — you know, social media and all of it, I get that.
But there’s also this expectation of omnipotence by the United States military, and omniscience, quite frankly, to your question, Maggie.
And nothing is ever that perfect. This is a — this is a complicated, difficult, cultural, religious, geographic struggle that we’re facing here in Iraq and Syria, and it’s not going to be solved overnight, and it’s not going to be solved through bombs, and it’s not going to be solved through anything other than a lot of hard work and time and effort, working with partners on the ground, people who actually know the culture.
And I think that’s what I was expressing, just that there’s this sense that “well, you’ve been dropping all these bombs, how come you haven’t defeated these guys in the course of, you know, lo, these two to three months with 300 bombs?” It’s not going to be that simple.
Q: You’re criticizing the public discussion, the public rationale, you’re not criticizing the major —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not criticizing that there is a public discussion. I’m just simply saying that some of the coverage, I think, has been — has been needlessly shrill, and the expectations have been, I think, inappropriately high on what can be accomplished just through military power alone.
That’s what — that’s what I’m talking about.
Q: Major news organizations versus bloggers and twitty — Twitterati, and you know, less than the upper tier of media. Coverage imply like, New York Times, the Post, the major organizations. That’s all I’m at.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m not going to point fingers.
Q: Fair enough.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: I wondered if you could elaborate on the Marine Corps Special-Purpose MAGTF. From the DOD perspective, is that allowing you to do more in the Central Command area, or would it ease the burden on other troops that are over there, or —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They will be, as I said, they — this was a — this was a deployment that was long-planned, certainly before operations in Iraq and Syria began. But they are deploying as part of this new normal to the Central Command area of responsibility. They will be available to General Austin, should he need them. And so, I can’t rule out that there may not be a role for them somehow in the current struggle against ISIL, but that’s not the purpose of the deployment. That’s not why they’re there.
They would be going anyway. But they will now be an available resource to him, should he need them.
Q: OK. And I know the Marine Corps has spoken about the benefits of having troops forward, given the lack of ships that they have, but I guess for DOD, you know, what does this bring, you know, what’s the benefit of having this particular —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it’s — it’s, as we’ve learned with special MAGTFs in Europe and their ability to be used in Africa. They’re agile, they’re — they’re very responsive, very flexible, self-contained. You know, they’ve got aviation capabilities right there, built-in.
I mean, this is one of the things that marines do best. And they’re going to be a welcome addition to — to General Austin’s arsenal.
I got one more.
Q: Turkey’s parliament says it’s going to look at voting on allowing foreign fighters or the U.S. to stage incursions into Iraq and Syria from its territory. Would that be something that would be a boon toward this fight, being able to use that land to mount some type of attacks?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, just to remind, there’s not going to be a U.S. ground combat role here, so just make sure that in my answer to this question, I’m putting that out very clearly. Whatever contributions Turkey wants to make will be helpful. And we know that they will contribute. They have to contribute, simply by virtue of their geography.
And they’ve stated that they will. I’m going to leave it up to the Turkish government to decide, you know, the form and the character of that contribution. We welcome it in whatever form it takes. They’re a strong NATO ally, a strong regional partner.
Again, you want to talk about a country who’s got a stake here, borders both Iraq and Syria. And deep knowledge of — of groups like this. And deep knowledge of all the cultural aspects that go along with a struggle like this.
So, we look forward to continuing to consult with Turkey about whatever contributions that they can make, and we welcome that.
OK, Justin. You get the last one.
So, what’s the difference between Khorasan and Al Qaida. Why aren’t we just calling them Al Qaida? That’s what I think a lot of people —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They are an offshoot of Al Qaida. I’ve said that. They are — and they are, we believe loosely affiliated with al-Nusra, which is also an offshoot of Al Qaida.
As I said to Dan’s question, I mean, we consider — we consider these groups one and the same. But — but they are — they self-identify as Khorasan, and that — and the — so they know we were referring to them as that group.