Delhi, India—(ENEWSPF)—August 8, 2014.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Hard stop at 3:30. The secretary doesn’t have any opening comments. We’ll just start giving him your questions. And again, as you know, this is on the record.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about the actual ISIL threat that you’re seeing? There’s been talk a lot about persistent ISR over Iraq. What is the actual threat? Where are you seeing them? What numbers? Tell us — give us some rationale for–
SEC. HAGEL: Well, ISIL is presenting a significant threat to the stability of Iraq. I think pretty clear as to what they’re engaged in: the terror tactics, the brutality. They are well organized, and they’re armed, and they are a significant threat to the stability of Iraq.
Q: Why now? And did something trigger this action in the past 48 hours or so?
SEC. HAGEL: The government of Iraq requested our assistance in the efforts that we made over the last few hours to bring humanitarian assistance to those trapped on Sinjar Mountain. So it was because the Iraqi government asked us for that assistance.
Q: And the air strikes that have been authorized, was there anything that triggered that?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, no strikes have occurred yet.
But just as the president said in his statement that was issued a few hours ago, he authorized CENTCOM to take strikes in certain situations, first the protection of American citizens and our interests; also to protect those people trapped on the mountain.
This is not anything new. The president has said before, I’ve said before that we’re looking at all options. The president has not taken any options off the table, except that he did reiterate again in his statement that under no circumstances would he be sending American troops, boots on the ground, back into combat in Iraq.
Q: What are the dangers, now having signaled that air strikes is the option that — (inaudible) — would use, that ISIL and the groups working with them will not, you know, work — you know, merge with the local population and people and make it difficult to distinguish who is the bad actor and who — who are civilians from the air? Do we have enough means to determine who is and who is not a fighter?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think certainly that is always a factor when you’re dealing with groups like ISIL.
But more to, I think, the core of your question, if ISIL would attack our interests — our consulate in Erbil, the Green Zone in Baghdad — or pursue the thousands of people trapped up the mountain, it’s pretty clear who they are. And it’s — they would be pretty identifiable where our air strikes could be effective.
Q: Are there things that ISIL could do that would avoid all air strikes completely? You said at the beginning they pose a general threat to the stability of Iraq. Does that mean there’s a sort of a general national security obligation to try and degrade ISIL, or if ISIL stops in place, doesn’t go any closer to these people, there won’t be air strikes? Or are we now down the inevitable path to try and restore stability while degrading them in some ways?
SEC. HAGEL: No, I think first, David, where you start — and the president’s been very clear on this — Iraq is a sovereign nation, and Iraq has the capacity, capability and the responsibility to protect its own country.
Now, we have been continuing to help them over the last few years. We will continue to do that. We said we would do that. But this is an Iraqi responsibility. This is not a U.S. responsibility.
We will help where we can, and we’ll continue to support the Iraqi government, as well as the Iraqi security forces. And in particular what’s going on up in the north, the Peshmerga.
Q: What’s your assessment —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is going to be the last one.
Q: What’s your assessment right now as to how many people actually got food and everything – the food drop? Are you going to have to do another one?
And what’s your assessment, your personal assessment from what you’ve heard from CENTCOM, as to whether you think strikes will actually happen, just based on —
SEC. HAGEL: Yeah.
Q: — what you’ve seen of ISIL so far?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, on the efficiency of those air drops, we have pretty solid information — verifiable information that of the 72 bundles that were dropped from the three aircraft, more than 60 got to those who we wanted it to get to and the people who were trapped up there. We have intelligence reports on that as well as some on-the-ground reports.
The question on whether there will be more depends on the requests of the Iraqi government. If they feel we can do more, and they want us to do more, then we’ll consider all those requests. I think the president has made that — that point.
On your third question —
Q: Air strikes. In your assessment, the intel you’ve seen, what you’ve seen of ISIL so far, how likely do you — personally do you think it is that air strikes will be needed to come?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to speculate on that.
The fact is, the president has authorized our commanders on the field, based on certain conditions, to go ahead and use those air strikes.
I said at the beginning that ISIL is a very significant threat to the security of Iraq. It remains a threat.
And, again keeping in mind the parameters of the president’s point here, to protect American citizens, protect our interests, to support the Iraqi government, security forces and — he’s given very clear guidelines on what conditions would be required in order for our commanders to use an air strike.
Q: Do you think —
Q: — a threat was going to be — I mean, a U.S. threat to use air strikes is going to deter them?
SEC. HAGEL: We’ll see.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Guys, we have to stop it there.