U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby||June 13, 2014|
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
Let me just start with a brief update on Iraq. Secretary Hagel continues to monitor the situation there, as do defense and military leaders here at the Pentagon. Over the last 36 hours, the secretary has met a number of times with senior military leaders to discuss events on the ground and to prepare options for the president's consideration. I won't detail those options, but I can tell you they cover a wide range of military capabilities, and will be designed, as the president said, to help break the momentum of ISIL's progress and bolster Iraqi security forces. But clearly, any decision to employ these options rests solely with the commander in chief.
I think it's important to remember that for several months now, we have been working in close coordination with the State Department to augment the capabilities of Iraqi security forces. Our focus has been on increasing their capacity to defend themselves and their people and remain responsible for taking on the threats over the long term.
In March, we delivered 100 Hellfire missiles on an expedited time table, bringing the total to some 300. That's in addition to millions of rounds of small arms fire, tank ammunition, helicopter fired rockets. Late last year, we delivered additional armed scout helicopters to the Iraqi armed forces. And a few weeks ago, we -- we notified Congress of an additional $1 billion in foreign military sales.
The secretary believes that it is imperative that Iraq and its neighbors have strong security forces to meet evolving threats from the violence that's spilling over, certainly, from Syria's borders. We are fully committed to that effort. But in keeping with that effort, we continue to provide counter-terrorism support. That support has included ISR capabilities. And we have intensified this ISR support in recent days at the request of the Iraqi government.
I also think it's important to remember that we have some 35,000 U.S. military personnel in the Middle East region. Our forces there work closely each and every day with our partners to defend against external aggression and terrorist networks that threaten America and its allies.
And before I take your questions, I do want to just say a few words about Secretary Hagel's meeting this morning with the -- with the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. They discussed the force posture agreement that he and the president announced yesterday. This is a 25 year agreement that will provide an enduring framework for the initiatives that our governments embarked in November of 2011. That includes rotational presence of Marine Corps and Air Force assets, as well as partnerships on space and cyber.
We're deeply grateful for our partnership with the Australian Defense Force. Secretary Hagel looks forward to discussing further defense cooperation at the annual Australia-United States ministerial consultations later this year in Australia.
And with that, I'll take questions.
Q: Jack, can you just provide maybe a little bit more detail? Do you know if the Bush has indeed gotten into the gulf or is heading for the gulf at this point, or even generally, can you say when it should be expected to get there?
Can you give any sort of broad assessment of the ISIL numbers or capabilities that the U.S. believes they may or may not have?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On your first question, I have nothing to announce with respect to force movements in the Central Command area of responsibility. The aircraft carrier Bush and her strike group remain in the region and ready for any tasking that General Austin cares to give them. But as we speak right now, there is no aircraft carrier zorching into the Persian Gulf.
The -- on your other question, yes, I did use that verb, on your other question, look, I mean, we've been watching events in Iraq for some time and watching ISI -- ISIL's movements and developments, capabilities. Clearly, they're well-resourced. And what we're seeing is a not unsophisticated, you know, degree of cooperation and organization on their part, and of course, momentum. And the president spoke to that earlier today about, you know, the need in the near term to help Iraq break that momentum.
As for their, you know, capabilities, I mean these are -- this is an armed militant extremist group. And we do know that as Iraqi security forces have pulled back or left and vacated areas and bases that we certainly have reason to believe that ISIL have benefited from that with respect to some captured equipment and systems, but we don't have a really perfect sense on exactly what they've got and their capabilities of using what they've got. But I mean, look, we've seen the video. You see that they're absolutely, you know, they're driving some of these vehicles, they're in possession of some of this stuff, but I'd be loathe to tell you that we actually have a really solid sense of what they've got.
Did that answer...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Numbers, I mean, look this isn't -- you know, this isn't an army. Like, you know, a nation state army. So, I think any estimate of numbers would be imperfect, but I clearly, I think they're in -- it's in the thousands. And -- and we know and we've said for quite some time that they -- you know, they continue to gain sustenance and reinforcements from foreign fighters from Syria as well. But I think if you were to characterize it in the thousands, I think that's accurate. But I -- again, I'd...
Q: Less than five, or really...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just, I think I -- I just would say stay with thousands. But I mean, I'd be hesitant to give you a hard number on this. It's not -- it's not -- hang on just a second, let me finish the answer. It's not the kind of force that is easy to put down numerically and to count. I mean, these are -- this is not an organized nation state army. But I think -- I think if you left it at thousands, you'd be fine.
Q: What plans then could you draw up? I mean, what realistically are you looking to do if you, as you say, you're not clear on what they have, where they are, what their command and control assets are, where at the...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Justin, what I said was we don't have a perfect indication of the captured equipment that they have. But we've been watching, as I said at the outset of my answer, we certainly have been watching their growth and development and their activities inside Iraq. It's not that we haven't been mindful of the threat that they pose or what they're capable of doing, and I'm just simply not going to detail options that -- that Secretary Hagel and the leadership here in the Pentagon are proposing.
Q: But your comment that you have good options to take them out if you were told to do so?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our job is to provide the commander in chief options. We are doing that. And as we have been on -- in so many other places in the world, we're confident that -- that we will be able to provide the commander in chief options to be as flexible as he should choose to want to be.
Q: Given the lack of intelligence that the United States has on the ground in Iraq – I don't know if you agree with this - are you confident that these options that the Pentagon leaders are working on, to provide to the president, can give the Iraqi government the opportunity to retake what they have lost, like the city of Mosul and other cities?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, Joe, your question gets to, you know, objective. And I'm just going to point back to what the commander in chief just said a little bit ago, that -- that there's a near-term objective here to help Iraq break this momentum, and -- and again, we're going to provide options that -- that try to meet the commander in chief's intent in that regard, and I'm just simply not going to go into, you know, into much greater detail than that. But I -- I think it's important to also make it clear that you know, over the long term this is, as I said on Tuesday, this is a -- this is -- this is the sovereign state of Iraq. They have security forces. I mean, this is a -- this is ultimately a threat and a challenge that the government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces have got to be able to rise to meet.
Q: In the same context, are you aware that the Iranian revolutionary guards have sent special operations -- special forces inside Iraq, and if they did so, what's the Pentagon reaction on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I've seen the press reporting on that, Joe, but I have nothing to confirm that there are Iranian special forces inside Iraq. And I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. The only thing I would say, and it's been said before, is that you know, we encourage all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, to play a constructive role in, you know, in -- in Iraq, clearly, and what -- given the challenges they're facing, but also in the region.
Q: The president said that it was not under consideration to send U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. Does that imply that it would be or is it under consideration or would it be under consideration to send American soldiers or DOD civilians to do other things in Iraq, like, you know, advising, ISR support, either under DOD authority or under U.S. OSCI authority?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I'd remind you that we already have in Iraq and have since 2011 a small number -- well, again, I'm not going to -- to get into hypotheticals about what options may or may not be sent over for the president to consider. I think he was pretty clear about, today, what he didn't want to do, and you know, our job, again, is to provide him options to consider. And we're doing that. But I'm not going to speculate about what they are.
Q: You mentioned at the beginning that you've increased ISR in recent days at the request of the Iraqi government.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yep.
Q: So can you be -- out to that recent date, so in response to this crisis, when did they request? Can you tell us any more about what you're doing? And to follow up on Justin's question, if you don't even -- if the -- if the Pentagon can't even confirm that there are Iranian fighters on the ground, what is the quality of the intelligence? How can you give the president realistic options if there's so many holes in the intelligence?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn't say there were holes in the intelligence, Barb. So let's go back and unpack this a little bit. We have, at the request of the Iraqi government, we have for some time now been providing some ISR support. As I said, it's not like we haven't seen ISI's developments inside the country. In recent days, this week, if you need to put a time on it, this week, we got additional requests from the Iraqi government for additional, more intensified ISR support, and we're -- we're providing that.
Q: Can you say how?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I cannot. I mean, we typically don't talk about the methods through which we -- we'd conduct ISR missions, and we certainly don't talk about intelligence matters here publicly. And I can tell you that -- and also that -- you know, let's not forget the larger point, you know, which is we -- we've been sharing information with the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi security forces since we left the country in large numbers in -- you know, down to, you know, to what we've had there since 2011.
So, I mean, this idea of an information sharing arrangement is not new. But yes, it's intensified this week in conjunction with the activities.
Q: And the lack of precise, on the ground intelligence, if you don't, can't confirm if this department cannot confirm that there are Iranians, even confirm that there are Iranian forces in Iraq, how can you credibly give the president viable options when you don't have a full intelligence picture?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Intelligence is never perfect. It's not a perfect science. It never has been. It never will be. It's an important capability, it's one that we continue to -- to develop with the Iraqi security forces, and I'm -- I'm -- as I said to Justin's question, I'm comfortable and confident and so is the secretary that the options that the military will to the president will be robust enough for the commander in chief to make the decisions he -- he needs to make.
Q: Don't you think it's important to know if there are Iranians there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Barb, we -- we're working on this as hard and as fast as we can with our partners in Iraq. And as I said, I don't have anything to confirm Iranian special forces inside Iraq. But we've also been clear, not just this week, but we've consistently clear that Iran needs to be a responsible partner in the region. And we continue to urge them to do that.
Q: Just on this answer. So you said you want Iran to be responsible, and prior to this answer, you said they should play a constructive role. Can you first like, outline what a constructive role could be within this crisis, the first question.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They could stop supporting extremist networks, right? That's one thing.
Q: Military involvement by Iran be constructive or not in this situation now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I'm not -- I'm not going to write an action plan, you know, for the Iranian government to play in the region. We've been clear about what our expectations are for Iran, and I think I've certainly been clear here today that we want all of Iraq's partners to play a constructive role as they face this very real challenge.
But Iraq and Iran are sovereign states. The degree to which they talk to one another and make decisions, that is between the leaders of those two sovereign states. But this is a very real threat inside Iraq. It's a -- it's a -- it's a -- certainly a threat in the region. And, again, I think this is a time for everybody to make sober, deliberate, measured decisions.
Q: And the second question, so based on the -- your assessment, the DOD assessment of the situation in Iraq, do you envision any scenario where the U.S. can provide some kind of assistance in the Iraqi government, without getting directly involved in a military way, to break this momentum you've been talking about?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, that's what the -- that's what the -- that's why the president has asked for actions. And he's reviewing the options.
I mean, but, again, I'd remind you, it's not like -- you know, the premise of the question is that, you know, we just walked away from Iraq, and -- and we didn't.
There has been since 2011 a small number of U.S. military personnel working in the embassy to help continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces.
But I also think it's important for people to remember that -- that the Iraqi security forces work for the government of Iraq, and there is a limit to how far advice and assistance can go in the course of three years.
Some of what we've seen in the -- the -- some of what we've seen from Iraqi security forces in some parts of the country speak to deeper challenges inside the Iraqi government, to include political differences.
You know, and I remind you of something we said back, you know, back in 2011, the best safeguard against a return to violence -- this is back in 2011 -- is to continue commitment of Iraqi leaders to resolve their differences through politics.
And I think some of what we're seeing now with ISF, Iraq security force, problems stem from, you know, ongoing political challenges that remain inside Iraq.
Q: But are these forces capable on their own to face ISIL?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm sorry, say that again?
Q: Are these forces, the Iraqi forces, based on your assessment, capable at this moment to break that momentum you've been speaking about?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The...
Q: The U.S. assessment of the Iraqi forces...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the president made clear that in the near term he wants to have options available -- in the near term -- to help break this momentum, so to clearly help – have us help them in the near term break this momentum.
We -- and I'm not gonna be cute about it. I mean, we're certainly disappointed by the performance of some Iraqi force units with respect to the challenges that they have faced in the last few days.
But over the long term these are threats and challenges that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces have to -- have to -- have to meet them for themselves and for the Iraqi people.
Q: Given that you've been sharing so much information or information with the Iraqi government since 2011, all the training that's gone into building up the Iraqi force, the equipment that's been sold to help them perform their duties, how surprised were you or were you not at all surprised at the way the forces performed so poorly when push came to shove and they were actually confronted with a real threat?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think, as I said before, we're, you know, certainly disappointed in the performance of some of these units. And I don't -- and I -- and I think -- I think it's fair to say that -- that we didn't expect for them -- for those units to not have stood up to the threat. We didn't -- we didn't -- I don't think -- we certainly didn't expect that level of performance.
But -- but, again, the president said over the near term we're gonna look for ways to help -- help them break the momentum here, and then we'll do that.
Q: Do you have any concern that perhaps some of the Iraqi commanders may have been feeding information to ISIL or in other ways undermining the performance of the units?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have not seen any information to that -- in that regard.
All right, I'll let you guys go.
Q: Admiral, as we know, the original Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein was disbanded soon after the U.S. invasion in March 2003. A new army was totally reconstituted and trained over the subsequent years. Is -- is the response of your Iraqi security forces in the last week or so in Mosul and other areas, is that a -- kind of a poor commentary on the training that the United States provided to Iraqi security forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely not. No, not...
Q: And why not?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: When we left Iraq in 2011, we left the Iraqi security forces at a level of competencies, particularly on counterterrorism that we believed was appropriate to the threats that they faced. And I would remind you, not that I probably don't need to, but -- but there was a lot of -- a lot of blood and treasure that went into -- to giving the Iraqis that opportunity. A lot of young men and women didn't come home, giving them that opportunity. And I know Secretary Hagel believes that -- you know, that that is exactly what we did, but that was three years ago. And you know, to some, to a degree, the Iraqi government has to speak to the proficiency of their armed forces.
Yes, we have a small group there who has stayed in the embassy to help advise and assist, but it's not -- it's not a overt, active training regimen that -- that we got them to what we believed was an appropriate level of competency in 2011. Now, obviously, the threats change too, clearly. But as I said earlier, this is a sovereign country, these are sovereign armed forces, and while we're going to tee up options for the president to consider for, you know, a near term break in this momentum, ultimately, over the long term, this is the responsibility of Iraq: Iraq's government, Iraq's people, and their security forces.
Q: Did U.S. have requested the Iraqi government some sort of inventory or assessment of the equipment that was seized by these people, and how important this could be in order to prepare...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any inventory we've asked. But as I understand it, the Iraqi government is investigating the -- the events of the last couple of days, and -- and as I understand it, they're looking into the scope of captured equipment and systems that belong to the Iraqi government, but I -- I wouldn't prejudge how that's going to come out.
Q: Is there a note for intelligence now to provide some aerial support in case the commander in chief requests it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't understand the question.
Q: If the president orders some aerial support to control the -- the advance of the people, do you have enough intelligence to avoid massacres and not...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, let's not get into hypotheticals right now. I don't think that's very helpful at this point.
Q: Thank you. Most of your policies on Afghanistan are based on your Iraq model, so how can you ensure people of Afghanistan and also U.S. that the (inaudible) now in Iraq is not replicated in Afghanistan after 2016 when you withdraw all your troops?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think your premise of your question is just wrong. I mean, the decisions in Afghanistan are not built on an Iraq model. There's no Iraq model. And this is a completely different situation. The president has made some decisions about what our force presence will look like in Afghanistan after the end of this year, assuming that we get a signed bilateral security agreement, and what the mission would look like in both size and complexity over the next two years.
I fail to see, you know, a comparison to Iraq in this regard. And I would remind you that -- that the -- that we had remained open to discussing a follow-on presence in Iraq, assuming we could get the same sort of agreement, legal protections for our troops, which the Iraqi government was not able to produce.
Q: Based on your Iraq experience, what steps are you going to take to ensure that Afghan forces are strong enough to defend any kind of Taliban attacks like this you have seen?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I'll -- I think we can stand pretty well on the record of our performance over the last two to three years in terms of helping develop the competency and capability of Afghan forces, which are in the lead right now, and doing quite well. And if you don't -- you know, if you need proof, go back and look at the -- the security of the elections that just occurred.
So, I mean, I think -- and nothing changes about our commitment to that. And the NATO Resolute Support mission post 2014, at the end of the ISF mission, when the combat mission ends, is all about furthering their competency and their capability, and as the president made clear, we're committed -- we're committed to executing that.
Q: (OFF-MIC) from the Iraq experience, and the Iraqi forces that you trained are running away from fighting against the Islamic forces right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Three years after our mission ended in Iraq. I mean, we believed then and I'll say it again, that when we left Iraq, we left with Iraqi security forces that were competent to the threat that they were facing. That threat has evolved over three years, and frankly, the Iraqi security forces have changed over three years.
I mean, the Iraqi government should be able to speak to their organization, their manning, their resourcing and their training and equipping of their armed forces over the last three years.
As I said we are going to provide options to the president to see if we can't help break this momentum in the near term but over the long term this is an Iraqi government challenge and threat to -- to meet.
And as I -- as I said, you know, as we said back then, the best safeguard is for continued commitment by Iraqis' leaders to resolve their difference through politics, through peaceful politics and inclusive government. And I think it's fair to say that there's still -- that that process is far from mature right now.
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
I'm sorry, Mick, you had your arm up a lot.
Q: The president said it, you repeat it in just about every one of your answers: break the momentum.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: Momentum can easily be regained, so are we talking about a long-term military commitment here?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not going to -- I think the president was clear about --
Q: -- break the momentum? Stop them from shooting today, tomorrow, next week and then we, you know, we stop whatever assistance we're going to provide?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think we need to -- we need to let this decision-making process work its way through, Mick.
We are providing options to the president. The president, the commander in chief, is going to make decisions based on the options that he's provided and you know, it's not all -- you know, it's a whole interagency national security team that are reviewing options for the president's consideration. It's not all about the military.
I think the president was clear about what his near-term objective is. And again, we are going to provide options that help achieve that objective.
Q: That's what it sounds like the U.S. is making a commitment -- would make a commitment to, in fact, support the Iraqi government for some period of time in any one of these advancements, reforms that they plan to pursue but in the meantime the enemy forces here, the militants, just aren't just going to pack -- pick up and leave.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are committed to the helping achieve the president's objectives and I'm going to leave it at that.
Q: Can you say whether there's -- I have seen some reports that in addition to the ISIS force there are some other former insurgent groups, former Ba'athists, those types, that are adding to the momentum of this campaign.
Do you have any evidence at this point that the threat is multifaceted beyond this one particular organization?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, look, it's not a -- you know, it's not a monolithic organization. Extremist groups rarely are. I don't have any particular insights into their makeup and their manning. I mean, clearly there's a lot of the foreign fighters involved here. You know, it's Lita's question about the numbers, it's a fluid number. And it's a -- it's a -- it's not a hierarchical organized nation state force.
And it matters a little -- matters less to us you know, what kind of a ID card they are carrying or who they think they belong to and more about what they are doing. And what we can do to help Iraq's security forces again in the near term.
Q: Is this now a civil war?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, what we have is an armed militant group and network threatening the internal security of Iraq and I'm not going to put bumper stickers on it. I think everybody is aware of the threat that's being posed to the Iraqi people by these guys. And again we are all -- we're committed to doing what we can in the near term.
Q: Does the Pentagon have any information you could share it with us. Who is funding, who is financing ISIS? And do you agree with a lot of analysis here in Washington, D.C., mainly some of -- some think tanks saying that religious movement in Saudi Arabia are behind finding ISIS? What do you -- what could you say on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said, I don't have a lot of insight into the way they are funded and supported but clearly, as I said at the outset, they are funded. They are getting support. They have resources and I am not -- I'm not in a position now to quantify or clarify where it is all coming from. And again, you know, back to Richard's question, I mean, it matters a little -- what matters is what they are doing inside of Iraq and that is what our focus is on.
Yes, in the back.
Q: Do you have confidence in the Iraqi security forces' ability to hold Baghdad? And do you have to break --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'll let Prime Minister Maliki speak for his forces and their capability in and around Baghdad.
Clearly, we have a very fast moving, dynamic situation, that -- that the whole national security team is focused on, and -- and that's -- and that's the spirit in which the options for a military perspective that we're -- that we're -- that we're proposing, you know, for the president's consideration.
But let's -- let's focus on -- on what we need to do right now.
And I'd rather not, you know, hypothesize about what the Iraqi security forces will or will not do.
As I said earlier, certainly we were -- I'll just say, yes, we were surprised and disappointed by the poor performance of some Iraqi security force units there, up in the north. I mean, I'd be less than honest if I said that, you know, that that performance instilled a lot of confidence. It didn't.
Q: Do you blame Maliki for the sectarian divide in those areas that has led to, perhaps, their poor performance?
And, on Baghdad, specifically, there are Americans there, so what are we doing -- what are you doing to protect the Americans, specifically at the embassy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This isn't about blaming anybody, Justin. I mean, I think I've made it clear, you know, that -- that there's been a lot of -- a lot of factors I think that have -- have played into where the Iraqi security forces are three years after our departure.
That's interesting history. But we have to focus on what we can do in the near term to help the Iraqi security forces meet this threat.
On your second question, we know that there are many Americans in Iraq and certainly we have, you know, an operational embassy there in Baghdad. That embassy is still operational. There's been no request by the State Department for a need to -- to move those Americans out of the country. And, you know, and that's a -- obviously that's a -- that's for our colleagues at State to speak to.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me get Louie, in the back.
Q: I have two questions, one on this topic and another one.
Yesterday there was a video that came out on the social media. It showed a very long line of the -- of prisoners that had been captured, I guess by ISIS in Tikrit. There are reports today that half of those numbers, maybe 1,700 of them, were killed in a mass killing.
Do you have any information to support the information that there was a mass killing of Shiite soldiers who had been captured by ISIS?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not
Q: Second question. Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States last night. Around the same time yesterday there was also a news report that cited to letters that were supposedly written by Bergdahl while he was under captivity. Do you have any information to verify that those letters were legit?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I cannot -- I can't confirm the authenticity of the letters. I mean, we're aware of the news reports about the letters, but I can't confirm the veracity of them.
Q: I want to just go back a minute to the question in the back. You gave up the opportunity when asked to say that you think -- this department believes the Iraqi forces can hold Baghdad. You didn't say -- you wouldn't answer that. You said you'll let the prime minister speak for that.
So I'd like to ask again, does the United States military think the Iraqi military can hold -- does this department, does Secretary Hagel think that the Iraqi forces can hold Baghdad?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn't give up any opportunity not to answer it. I take any opportunity I can not to answer your questions. (Laughter.)
No, look, I'm simply -- I'm -- we -- we...
Q: It's a serious question, Admiral.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I know it is, Barb. I'm trying to answer. I'll try again.
I'm not going to -- the question about his forces' ability is a question that he and the Iraqi government are best able to answer.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Clearly -- clearly they're -- they are facing a significant threat. And, clearly, not every unit in the Iraqi security forces have -- have risen to meet that threat.
And it's not lost on anybody here that the threat is real, which is why the commander in chief has asked the military leadership here in the Pentagon, the secretary of defense, to provide him some options to review. That's what we are focused on right now.
And then, you know, whatever the commander in chief decides, it -- should it include military options to assist them in breaking the momentum that ISIL clearly has, we'll execute those.
And then, you know, if there is a decision, and should there be, when there is, we'll speak to that at the appropriate time. But I'm -- you know, I - they're clearly a force facing a threat and not -- again, not all of them uniformly, have in certain places, I mean, let's just call it like it is, have met -- have met that threat capably.
Q: Admiral Kirby, is the U.S. military making any preparations or moving any forces in case the State Department does request an embassy evacuation? And also, who is moving these contractors that were in northern Iraq to other places? Do you have any info about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On your first question, look, I mean, all regional commanders have assets at their disposal, particularly our Central Command commander has assets and resources, should evacuations be required in any country which falls under his purview, and we have, you know, standing plans to -- to conduct those missions should they be required, but we're not there yet.
And I would also remind you that when we're talking about non-combatant evacuations, again, the State Department makes those decisions and military assets are not always the first tool of choice for that. So, General Austin has resources and capabilities at his disposal should he need them, should they be required. There's not such request for that, requirement for it right now. On the other question about the contractors in Balad, they are contractors, and my understanding is, and I don't want to speak for the company for which they work, but my understanding is that the company is arranging for their departure from the Balad air base, and I would refer you to them to speak to how they're doing that. It's not a U.S. government mission.
Q: You painted the portrait of ISIS as a -- not hierarchical, non-state actor, non-state military, yet a significant threat. You don't know the numbers basically, the numbers are fluid, but in the thousands. How does that complicate military options? Doesn't seem like they have a, quote 'center of gravity' that air strikes could take out or break the momentum. I mean, how does the fact that they're fluid, non-state, and in the thousands versus the 600,000 manned Iraqi ministry of defense and interior force? How does that complicate the options?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think what the options that are being prepared by the building will cover, as I said at the outset, a wide range of military capabilities. And yes, one of the capabilities that we are tasked to provide options for would be kinetic strikes, which can be incredibly effective and powerful when done the right way to achieve objectives. I'm not going to get ahead of though, decisions the commander in chief hasn't made yet. I'm just -- hasn't made yet. I'm just not going to prejudge that.
So, look, the -- you're right, they're not, as I said, they're not a nation state army, but clearly they are interested in geographic gains as well, and we've seen that happen. And again, I just -- I think there's a whole swathe of military capabilities that could be useful depending on what decisions the president wants to make.
Q: In Libya, when Gadhafi had a standing army of -- regiments that we went after. Syria, last August, you were here: set-piece army. This doesn't seem like a set-piece force that you could employ traditional military...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They're not, but the Iraqi security forces are. That's what -- that is an army. And I think, again, whatever, you know, the thrust of whatever options would be to assist the Iraqi security forces in meeting this threat.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the president's been clear about -- about his intent with that in that regard to help to -- in the near term, to help break the momentum of ISIL and to -- and to assist Iraqi security forces as they continue to meet this threat.
Q: You're planning for unilateral air strikes by the United States, but in coordination with some combined arrangement...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Whatever we would do, it would be in coordination with the Iraqi government, and that -- and the Iraqi security forces, and certainly, you know, at the request of the Iraqi government.
But you know, again, I don't want to get into a lot of hypotheticals or chase the rabbit hole here of exactly what options. I mean, our job is to provide the commander in chief options. That's what we do every single day, all over the world. That's what we're doing now. The commander in chief has to make these decisions.
Q: The ISR you've intensified, is that unmanned, unarmed ISR or manned ISR? Can you say that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm just gonna say that we are -- as I said, we're intensifying this week our ISR support -- ISR support to -- to the Iraqi security forces. And I'm not gonna qualify it any further than that.
Q: I'd like to take another crack at breaking momentum.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.
Q: Again, what does that mean? Does that mean simply preventing the militants from taking down Baghdad? Or does it mean reversing the gains that they have made so far?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Mik, I think it's not helpful at this early stage before the president has even made any decisions to go into great detail in describing precisely what capabilities will be applied and to what tactical effect.
I think, again, he was very clear in the near term we're going to try to help the Iraqi security forces break this momentum, this momentum that they have clearly, ISIL, has clearly built in just the last several days.
And I think that's what the focus is on, that's what the focus of the planners here in the Pentagon, that's what Secretary Hagel's focus is on. And I would leave it at that.
Q: Well, again, that implies, though, this is just not a short-term fix. It sounds like it's -- you're committing to a long-term solution.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What we have been committed to in the long term, since we left Iraq, you know, in -- since the time that mission, I should say, in Iraq ended, is a -- is a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq and Iraq security forces, and Iraq security forces that are competent and capable of defending their people, defending their territory, defending their country.
Now, clearly, they're under strain and threat right now. And so, again, the president was clear that -- that we have an interest in helping them in the near term combat this very real threat. But over the long term, and I'll go back to what I said, you know, we said it in 2011, over the long term, what really needs to happen inside Iraqi security forces and inside the government is an inclusive, peaceful political process that allows for that -- the competency and capability of the Iraqi security forces to -- to be sustained.
There's been some challenge in the last few years with respect to that. And, again, that's something that -- that problem, that issue is something the Iraqi government needs to solve.
Okay, thanks everybody. Appreciate it.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|