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Military

U.S. Department of Defense

July 12, 2021
Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Hey, guys.

Q: Hi, John.

MR. KIRBY: OK. I have to get my iPad oriented now. There we go.

OK, lots of stuff to go through at the top, so please bear with me. I think earlier today, you know there was a transition of authority ceremony held at Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, marking the transition of command authorities from General Scott Miller to the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Frank McKenzie. As the secretary approved earlier this month, and as we outlined to you on July 2nd, General McKenzie will now lead the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and that's focused on four things: one, protecting our diplomatic presence in country; two, enabling the safe operation of Hamid Karzai International Airport; three, continuing to provide appropriate advice and assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces; and four, supporting our counterterrorism efforts.

As you heard from Secretary Austin just hours ago, before his meeting with the U.K. Secretary of State for Defense, Ben Wallace, This transfer of authority is only the next milestone in an ongoing drawdown process. Withdrawal remains on track to be complete by the end of August, and General McKenzie retains all existing authorities surrounding the conduct of ongoing counterterrorism operations needed to protect our homeland from any threats that may emanate out of Afghanistan.

As General McKenzie said to those that were in Kabul for the ceremony, and I'm quoting him now, "This ceremony marks an important milestone in and transition of our involvement in Afghanistan. What it does not signify is an end of our commitment to our Afghan partners." Now, as he said that we'll be able to support counterterrorism efforts and our Afghan partners from places outside of the country indicates a change in posture, but not a change in our resolve to support our partners.

Both Secretary Austin and General McKenzie have expressed their thanks to General Miller. You may have caught the secretary's comments just an hour or so ago to that regard, to thank General Miller and his team for their diligent execution of the retrograde of millions of tons of equipment and thousands of personnel, all conducted with great efficiency and without a single casualty, and I think that's historic. When you think about this kind of withdrawal, which is ongoing, but when you think about what they've accomplished in a short period of time and no one's gotten hurt -- and we had to assume it would be a contestant environment -- we haven't done something like this, so it truly was historic.

Now, following today's events, General Miller departed Afghanistan. He's on his way back to the United States, and we'll have more to talk about that in -- in the coming days.

Now, so moving on, here in Washington, I think I already alluded to it in my comments about Afghanistan, the secretary did welcome and host the secretary of state for defense of the United Kingdom, Ben Wallace, here at the Pentagon today. They are now visiting Arlington Cemetery, where the secretary of state for defense will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We'll put out a -- a readout later today of -- of the meeting and what they discussed.

Shifting gears to some ongoing exercises, in the European Command theater, the Ukrainian-US-cohosted Exercise Sea Breeze concluded over the weekend. Thirty-one ships, 40 aircraft and Navy and Marine Corps personnel conducted 175 events throughout the Black Sea, to include air, surface and subsurface warfare drills to build upon interoperability in the Black Sea region. The destroyer USS Ross and other U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet forces are now heading to Bulgaria to kick off the annual Bulgarian-led Exercise Breeze.

Our transition to the next exercise demonstrates our continued support to all of our Black Sea allies and partners, and shows our commitment to building a community dedicated to strengthening stability and security in the region. Also in Bulgaria, Exercise Thracian Star '21 kicked off today. This exercise builds upon our ability to integrate with NATO allies from Bulgaria, Greece and Romania to train for supporting regional security during peacetime, contingencies and crises. As part of the exercise this week, F-16s and airmen from Aviano Air Base, Italy will conduct training alongside NATO forces to enhance our ability to provide a credible fighting force.

MR. KIRBY: Now, in the Indo-Pacific area, yesterday marked the first day of U.S. Army Pacific's Forager '21, which is the primary training exercise in support of the Defender Pacific '21. Forager '21 is designed to test and refine the theater Army ability to deploy land forces to the Pacific, execute command-and-control and effectively conduct multi-domain operations throughout Oceana from July 11 to August 6, 2021.

Approximately 4,000 U.S. personnel are directly participating in Forager 21. This exercise will consist of several major events to include an 82nd Airborne operation, a bilateral airborne operation with a Japan Ground self-Defense Force and 1st Special Forces Group. And AH-64 helicopter live-fire exercise, multi-domain operations including movements of Stryker, Avengers and high-mobility artillery rocket systems and modernization efforts in this space in cyber domains.

Finally, NORAD and USNORTHCOM in partnership with all 11 combatant commands are leading the latest in the series of global information dominance experience or GIDE, G-I-D-E. GIDE 3 began July 8, and it will continue through the 15th of this month. The experiment is taking place globally through virtual events, but will also involve some live fly events in northern Michigan.

The experiment embodies a fundamental change in how we use information and data to increase decision space, as well as a concerted effort to create global integration. The goal is to shift the department away from today's regionally focused plans, strategies, force management and force design paradigms and budgetary and acquisition processes.

GIDE focuses on rapidly developing the capabilities required to increase deterrence options in competition and crisis to a data centric software-based approach. It's very much part and parcel of what you heard the secretary talk about a few months ago about integrated deterrence for the next century.

GIDE events will combine people and technology to innovate and accelerate system development for domain awareness, information dominance, decisional superiority and global integration.

Lastly, I know I said finally on that, but lastly, I want to note that and I know you all are aware that later this afternoon there will be a memorial service for Tejinder Singh, formerly of India, America today, over -- in downtown.

And again, I just want to use this opportunity to express our condolences on behalf of everybody at the department to him, to his family, to his loved ones, to his colleagues and actually to all of you who I know felt very deeply about him and his professionalism.

We mourn with you and we are certainly missing him here in the -- in the briefing room today. And I know it will be a very touching and fitting event that celebrates an incredible career in journalism.

Bob?

Q: John, thanks for those final words about Mr. Singh. I do have two questions for you related to the transfer of authority from General Miller to General McKenzie. First one is, do General McKenzie's authorities to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban end on August 31?

And the second question is when you mentioned that the airport security will be one of the four missions or purposes, what exactly -- have you worked what exactly U.S. troops would do at the airport? Will they be operating some sort of defensive weapon systems or what will they be doing?

MR. KIRBY: On your first question about authorities, what I can tell you is, as I said in my opening statement that General McKenzie has all those authorities now, as did General Miller. So, he possesses them now. I'm not going to speculate about timing on that.

But what I can tell you is that certainly throughout the remainder of the summer through the end of August General McKenzie has those authorities. I won't go beyond that in terms of schedule or speculating about what it would look like going forward.

On the airport, I think you know Bob, we already have some and have for quite some time some troops dedicated to security at the airport. There's an air -- aviation support element there, there are some defensive capabilities and I would expect that without getting into details, to some degree and in some way that support will continue through the drawdown.

Now what things look like after that and after we've continued to flush out all the details with Turkey, who has agreed to lead this security effort, we'll see. But, what that looks like going forward after the drawdown, but through the drawdown yes we will have requisite capabilities there at the airport to assist in the security.

Q: But it's not clear that they would continue after August 31st?

MR. KIRBY: I don't want to -- I don't want to get ahead of a decision making process that's not complete. We are still in discussions with the Turks about what security at the airport's going to look like. We're grateful for their willingness to lead this effort. You heard President Erdogan talk about that last week.

We're still hammering out, as President Erdogan said, we're still hammering out the scope of what that is and as -- when we get all solidified we'll be able to talk in more detail. But I don't want to speculate about a specific future presence at the airport for American forces just yet.

Q: Can I follow-up on the airport --

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Sure.

Q: So instead there's a -- some kind of an agreement on a framework for the providing security for the airport by the Turkish side, but there's some -- I guess some sticking points that are still under discussion. Are you -- are you able to highlight which issues are still being discussed with the Turkish side?

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- first of all, I would take issue with the description of sticking points. We've had some productive discussions with the Turks. We've been reading some of those calls out to you that the secretary has had himself with his counterpart. I don't believe I'd describe them as sticking points, but there are some modalities and some requirements that we're still working out with the Turks.

And again, I don't think it would be useful for me to publicly conduct a negotiation here at the podium. We're still talking with them. And when we have it more solidified we'll be able to talk about it.

Q: But is the U.S. open to the idea that they might have to provide some troops for the purpose of security at the airport in the future in Kabul?

MR. KIRBY: We are working out what the future security requirements are going to be at the airport. I'm not going to speculate right now what that's going to look like. As I mentioned to Bob, of course we have some responsibilities there, have had for a long time, they're still in place.

What it's going to look like when the drawdown is over I think we'll have to -- we'll have to get to later. It -- the only think I'd add is that the president has made it very clear we're going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul.

We know that in order to do that you have to have adequate security at the airport. So we are very aware of the need to adequate security at the airport so as to protect our diplomats and the work that they need to do in Afghanistan. I think I'll leave it at that.

(J.J. Green ?) I think you're on the phone?

Q: Yes John, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yes I can.

Q: We spoke some time ago about the Over the Horizon capability or capacity that the U.S. was working on and you've spoken about it some -- a couple times since then at the podium. Thanks for taking this question. But I wanted to ask you again, have -- are there anymore details about what that Over the Horizon capability would look like if it were necessary to utilize?

MR. KIRBY: There is already an Over the Horizon capability and we can talk about what that looks like. We have bases and facilities that we can use in the Middle East region and are. We have a carrier strike group in the region and that is being utilized. We already had existing Over the Horizon counterterrorism capabilities.

Now, would we like to be able to close down time and space and to make it faster and more efficient? Absolutely. And so, we are talking about and discussing with countries in the region about the possibilities of being able to use facilities and infrastructure that is closer to Afghanistan.

I don't have any progress specifically to report out today on that, but it's something that we're actively discussing in concert with our State Department colleagues, but again we have now a robust over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability and we're using it.

Q: Just a follow up on that.

MR. KIRBY: Yes, sure. Go ahead.

Q: Robust counterterrorism capability. If you have the ability to launch airstrikes why aren't you using them as the Taliban continues to take more territory in Afghanistan?

MR. KIRBY: Lucas, I thought we talked about this one last week. I'll try again. The mission right now in Afghanistan -- I went through the four missions -- is to continue the drawdown. General McKenzie now has the authorities to assist the Afghan National Security Forces where and when he finds it feasible to do so, but he has those authorities.

And as I also have said, the Afghans themselves have strike capability, Lucas. They have a good air force, a solid air force, and air force, by the way, that we're adding to and trying to improve the capability of. We're going to be giving them another 37 Blackhawk helicopters. That's more than they have right now, so in effect doubling their attack helicopter capability.

We're purchasing for them three more Super Tucano strike aircraft -- fixed wing strike aircraft. And we've agreed to help refurbish their part -- a good part of their fleet of Mi-17 helicopters. They have a robust air force. The Taliban does not, and they could use that air force in a strike capacity in support of their -- of their troops on the ground.

As we have said for quite sometime now, I think as you -- whatever the outcome are six to eight months from now, whatever it is we're going to be able to look back and we're going to be able to see that leadership -- Afghan leadership is really what made the difference or really what caused the outcomes to occur, Afghan civilian leadership, political leadership, and Afghan military leadership.

This is their country. This is their fight. These are their people, and the president has been very clear that it is now time for them to meet those responsibilities. Barbara?

Barbara?

Q: I didn't actually hear an answer to Lucas's question either time, and I want to ask that and follow up.

MR. KIRBY: Let me hear it before you follow up. I'm not going to repeat the whole thing again, but as I said General McKenzie has the authorities to assist the Afghans where he deems feasible.

Q: The question I believe -- Lucas can correct me if I'm wrong -- is the Afghan -- the Taliban had continued with very aggressive campaign of violence and intimidation. To the best of our knowledge we have not seen coalition air forces in action against the Taliban. We're not asking you what -- I'm not asking you what capacity the Afghans have. I'm asking you why, number one, have U.S. coalition forces not been brought into the action. What is it that you're waiting for other than have an airport?

MR. KIRBY: I never said that we haven't been brought into the action. I've never said that we haven't supported.

Q: (inaudible) the airstrikes?

MR. KIRBY: There have been moments during the drawdown where we have supported the Afghans, absolutely.

Q: Can we get details on what the most recent airstrikes have been?

MR. KIRBY: I think you can understand, Barbara, that given the situation that we're in that we're not going to be detailing everything we're doing to support, but it's -- it would be wrong to report that there's been no support to Afghan forces in the field during this drawdown.

And as I said to Bob's question, the general still has those authorities to use when he deems fit, when it is most feasible to do so.

Q: Can you at least give us some context? The drawdown's gone on for several months. Was it in the early days? Can you roughly tell us the last time there was a coalition airstrike?

MR. KIRBY: I will not. I will not do that because the drawdown is ongoing and as I've said from the very beginning we have to assume that this drawdown's going to be contested, so we're going to be careful about the kind of information we're putting out there, but it would be wrong to conclude and accurate to report that we have not come to the assistance of the Afghan National Security Forces throughout this period of drawdown.

Q: My other question is on the airport. You keep talking about future security requirements and the need to maintain security for the -- adequate security for the embassy in these future security requirements. So -- and that you're continuing to discuss this with the Turks about what these future security requirements are.

So by definition does that mean that there is not currently adequate security at the airport because you are still having discussions about future security? And what is your assessment of the security situation at the airport?

MR. KIRBY: It does not mean that.

Q: How does it not mean that? Help me understand.

MR. KIRBY: Because there is still -- the security at the airport has historically been a mission the Turks have contributed to under the resolute support umbrella, so they are there now and they've agreed to stay there.

There are -- but as all forces draw down out of Afghanistan there are going to have to be adjustments made to who else is helping the Turks and in what way that help is being rendered. That's the discussion that we're going -- that's happening right now, and I'm simply not prepared because it's not complete to detail that for you.

The secretary's comfortable that there's adequate security at the airport right now and is determined throughout the period of the drawdown to make sure that that security remains in place. Some of that security is being provided by the United States. What that's going to look like after the drawdown is over, we're just not there yet.

Q: So what's your assessment of what the Taliban's goal is?

MR. KIRBY: What's my assessment of...

Q: What is the U.S. assessment that -- pardon me, what is the Defense Department's assessment of the goal of Taliban -- of the Taliban?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to make it a habit not to get inside the Taliban's headspace here, and I'm certainly not going to talk about intelligence assessments. It is clear from what they are doing that they have governance designs certainly of a national scale. It is clear from what they are doing that they believe there is a military solution to the end of this conflict.

We continue to believe that the most sustainable and the most responsible end and solution to this war is a political one, one through negotiated diplomacy. A negotiated settlement that is Afghan-led. Nothing has changed about our desire to see that be the outcome.

Q: So you think they want to take over (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: I said they have -- clearly have governance designs of a national character because you can see it in the districts that they are trying to challenge and/or have occupied. Tom?

Q: Thanks, John. I have two questions. One is a few briefings ago you mentioned that there would possibly or most likely be some kind of ceremony recognizing the end of the mission in Afghanistan. Paraphrasing slightly, but you -- that was the response you gave to a question.

I am presuming, but please correct me, that today's ceremony is not what you were referring to, and if not when might -- is that still part of the plan?

MR. KIRBY: You're right. Today is not the end of the mission, and I don't believe that General McKenzie or Secretary Austin could have made that more clear. Not the end. Just a milestone.

Q: (inaudible) Yes.

MR. KIRBY: And, obviously, the secretary wants to be able to recognize the service and sacrifice of the more than 800,000 U.S. troops who have fought and served in Afghanistan and there will be an appropriate time for that. There will be an appropriate place for that. And when we have something to announce, we certainly will.

Q: I wanted to follow up on the Lucas and Barbara questions if I may please.

MR. KIRBY: Of course.

Q: I think it was in response to Barbara that you didn't want to say from the podium the detail, any kind of support -- specific incidents of support that the U.S. (inaudible) troops have given --

MR. KIRBY: That's right.

Q: -- in part -- and please correct me if I misstate what you said, in part because there's a concern of being attacked on the way out by the Taliban and others. You don't want to --

MR. KIRBY: As I said, we -- from the very beginning, we have to assume that at any time this drawdown can be contested by the Taliban. So far we have had no casualties. Everybody has gotten out safely --

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: -- and efficiently and we want to keep that as the case.

Q: So your theory is that by telling us, like say this happened three weeks ago we gained support -- I'm making that up, just to be clear -- that would possibly jeopardize this delicate balance we have now that there's been no casualties, no attacks?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think I'd put it in your words. I would simply say that operational security is a prime concern and we want to be very careful about the information we release right now.

Q: But the information that Barbara asked and Lucas and others about support, if indeed the coalition forces have supported the Afghan troops at some point in the past against the Taliban, wouldn't the Taliban already know that?

I mean, why can't you tell us about something that has happened, if indeed it happened in support of the Afghan Forces against the Taliban who, I would think, knew what hit them already?

MR. KIRBY: You're making a presumption that for some reason we're trying to -- we're trying to keep information from the Taliban --

Q: No, no, no --

MR. KIRBY: What we're trying to do -- no, Tom, wait. Just let me finish, please.

What we're trying to do is protect our options going forward to make sure that the rest of this drawdown can be safe and orderly. And so we are being -- I'll just say it, we're being fairly miserly about the kind of operational information we're putting out there. I know that's an adjustment from how, over the last 20 years, we've talked about this war and our involvement in it. But this is a delicate time, Tom, a very delicate time.

As you saw last week, Central Command said that we're just over 90% done with the drawdown, that means that you have less capability and you have less resources at your disposable -- disposal inside the country. So you want to be ultra-careful about the kind of information that's getting out there because the capabilities are now dwindling down and we got to be -- and we got to be careful. And we make no apologies for that. It's not about -- it's not about what the Taliban knows or doesn't know, it's about what we're putting out into the information space to make sure we preserve our options.

So far, again, nobody's been hurt. We want to keep that going throughout the entirety of this drawdown process.

Q: Thank you.

Q: John, last week White House press secretary said that this war has not been militarily won. Does the U.S. military agree with that assessment?

MR. KIRBY: I think we've said it all along -- and (inaudible) said it just a few minutes ago. We don't believe there's going to be a military solution here. It's got to be done politically. That is not a new talking point, it's not a new fact, it's not a new conclusion. We want to see a political settlement to this -- to this conflict, to this war in Afghanistan.

But as for the United States, the president has made it clear that our participation is going to transition now. We're going to bring our troops home and we're going to transition to a new relationship with Afghan Forces going forward.

Q: So, again, basically you are saying a different thing, right? She said the war has not been militarily won. It means that --

MR. KIRBY: We don't believe it -- because we don't believe that it can be solved militarily.

Q: And the other one. So Taliban has taken over the country and then thousands of people are already running away from the Carthage (with ?) Tajikistan into Iran. Even some of them have arrived into Turkey. And then (inaudible) the large (Bagram ?) base without even saying goodbye to Afghans.

Can you convince the world that this is something other than defeat, other than failure?

MR. KIRBY: This is a conflict that is going to be solved politically and -- it's a responsibility that the Afghan people, the Afghan government, and Afghan Forces now have to be responsible for it. They'll have us helping and supporting them but it's their responsibility.

This isn't about a defeat. It's about a transition to a new relationship with Afghan Forces and the fighting doesn't have to continue. I mean, you talk about it with this sense of inevitability that, frankly, I don't think we share, that there has to be more fighting, that the Taliban will take over the country. None of that is inevitable.

And as I said earlier to Lucas, I think when we look back six or eight months from now, what we're going to see is the influence of leadership and how much political military leadership out of Afghan leaders there was to not make that inevitable.

And let me just one more time, (please ?), you brought up Bagram, to go back on this again. There was full coordination in the turnover of Bagram Air Base, contrary to what I've seen in some press reporting. Full coordination. Days before, a walk through the whole base -- an aerial flyover of the whole base. A couple of days before, we hosted a couple of dozen Afghan engineers on the base to show them how to operate the electrical system and the water system. And I take issue with your characterization that we just walked out of Bagram without saying goodbye.

First of all, it's not a goodbye. It was a turnover to them and their custodial -- their custodial responsibilities and it was done in full coordination. Now, I can't -- I can't stand up and say with certainty and assert to you that every soldier, every Afghan soldier, at or near Bagram got the word that -- what was happening. But I can assert to you that I've seen the documents, that, in fact, the turnover was done in a coordinated way with senior Afghan military and civilian leaders. There was no secret about it.

Bagram was always going to be the last base turned over and the process of getting it ready for turnover was weeks long and months planned.

Q: (Inaudible) again. Twenty years of war, and you called it 20 years (of ?) U.S. oppression inside Afghanistan and the (inaudible) years, the United States military?

MR. KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the United States military accomplished the mission for which it was sent to Afghanistan, that was to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for another attack on the homeland. And there hasn't been one since 9/11. And Al-Qaeda, while present, is nowhere near the organization that it once was.

I'm not saying that there aren't terrorist groups operating out of Afghanistan. There are. We've been fairly honest and open about that. But the threats that they pose to the homeland are radically reduced. As a matter fact, what we said is the threats have actually moved elsewhere in the region and into Africa. And we need to be able to focus resources and strategy against that threat as it continues to metastasize.

So I can't speak for every veteran, and I wouldn't begin to do that because they're all entitled to their own opinions about their service and sacrifice over the last 20 years, but the mission for which the United States military was sent to Afghanistan was accomplished.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Let me get back to the phone. I've neglected that.

Carla Babb?

Q: Hey, John. I was -- I saw your -- hey, can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, actually I'm just -- my (iPad ?) died on me. One of the challenges of technology, so I just wanted to restart (it ?). Go ahead.

Q: OK, great, I was just wondering -- I heard your comments with Fox News Sunday and I wanted you to talk about if there's a worry among officials at the Pentagon that -- I know you've said the Taliban victory is not inevitable, but is there a worry that the Taliban is wiping out and will continue to wipe out gains that the U.S. has fought for and died for alongside Afghans?

MR. KIRBY: Carla, we are certainly concerned about the prospect that the social, economic, political progress that has been made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years could be harmed or put at peril by increasing Taliban advances. We're obviously concerned about that.

We're not -- thank you -- we're not unmindful of the threats that are posed in that regard, which is why the president has made it clear we're going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul so that our diplomats can continue to support those kinds of programs and initiatives.

It's also why we're going to continue to have a bilateral relationship with Afghan forces going forward. It won't be the same. We're not going to be on the ground with them, but we will still be with them. We will still be helping them financially, logistically, and in other ways. That's why this is just a transition to a new relationship, it's not -- it's not the end of the relationship.

Q: And then one other follow-up, if I may. Could I just -- I need to understand kind of where the buck (stops ?). What you had mentioned earlier about the air strikes, it seems to me based on what you had said that the U.S. is either not helping with the air strikes, it's not feasible according to General McKenzie for the U.S. to get in and (do ?) some of these air strikes, or the U.S. is helping with these airstrikes but not making a significant difference as the Taliban continues to make these gains.

So who is making these decisions on the air strike? Who does the buck stop with? Is it -- is it General Miller or was it General Miller until today, and now will it be General McKenzie? How involved is the Pentagon involved in (these ?) decisions, or how involved is the Pentagon with these decisions, I should say?

MR. KIRBY: So first on your list of three things that aren't happening, I take issue with all of them, Carla. I don't believe anybody has said any of those things. And as I said at the outset, General McKenzie now has the authorities that General Miller had and the decision-making ability for how he wants to or can or is feasible to support Afghan forces in the field.

Idrees?

Q: Hey John, can you hear me? Hey, can you hear me, John?

MR. KIRBY: Yes I can.

Q: I just want to pivot to Haiti really quick. The review that you guys are undertaking (under ?) request from the Haitian government, do you know when it will be complete? Are we talking days or weeks?

And I just wanted to make sure I understand the (NSA ?) statement, it had (a ?) list of folks who went to Haiti. It didn't have any DOD officials, so I just wanted to make sure, no one from DOD was part of that delegation that went to Haiti and returned today, (right ?)?

MR. KIRBY: Nobody from DOD was in that party that went down to Haiti. It was largely Department of Homeland Security and FBI, and it was to help the Haitians as they continue to investigate this terrible crime.

And as for the requests, we are aware of it here at the Pentagon. We are reviewing it. We're going to do so carefully and make sure that we completely understand it and will be discussing it inside the (interagency ?) but I have no decisions to -- and certainly no timeline to provide you today.

We're aware of it. We're reviewing it just like we would review any request for U.S. military assistance. If and when there is a decision to be able to speak to you about that we'll certainly do it.

And we're many (more ?)? Yes.

Q: OK. Thank you, John. I wanted to ask you about China's nuclear capabilities. Earlier this month the several U.S. (inaudible) reported the U.S. has began the construction of (silos ?) for ICBM in the northwest part of China. How much are you concerned about this new report?

MR. KIRBY: I think we've already talked about this. We're -- I'm not going to get into intelligence assessments of Chinese nuclear capabilities. Writ large we remain concerned about China's modernization and the development of capabilities that in many ways seem to serve no other purpose than to try to prevent U.S. and allied access to areas of the Indo-Pacific.

In our China -- our most recent China report we made no secret of the fact that we are aware that they continue to build out nuclear capabilities including the construction of silos. So we're mindful of this. We're certainly aware of it, and that is one of the reasons why the secretary has talked about this thing called integrated deterrence and revitalizing our alliances and partnerships in the region.

Q: Just a quick follow up. The U.S. and China do not have a trusted (inaudible) to discuss the nuclear issue as the U.S. and (inaudible) have. So I'm wondering how you are going to convey the DOD's concurrent (function ?) guided straight (to ?) China and discuss the nuclear issues comprehensibly?

MR. KIRBY: I just did. Paul Handley, AFP? OK, Stephen Losey, Military.com?

Q: Hi, sorry. I was trying to find the mute button. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Bonhomme Richard fire. Do you have any updates on where the investigation into that stands into the cause of it? And is it likely or expected we're going to see charges as a result of the investigation and what caused the fire there?

MR. KIRBY: I really can't help you with that one. I would refer you to the Navy to speak to that. That's not something that would be appropriate coming from me today. The Navy's a much better place to go for an answer to that question. Yes. In the back there.

Q: Thank you. My question on South China Sea. Today marks five year from the international (inaudible) decision on South China Sea which rejected Chinese historical claim on that area of the sea. How do the Pentagon assess this development of the situation in this five years?

MR. KIRBY: Well I would just reiterate what you heard Secretary Blinken say just a couple of days ago. Freedom of the seas is an enduring interest of all nations, and it's vital to global peace and prosperity. The international community has long benefited from a rules-based maritime order where international law is reflected in the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention sets out the legal framework for all activities in the oceans and seas.

This body of international law forms the basis for national, regional, and global action and cooperation in the maritime sector, and it's vital to ensuring the free flow of global commerce. Nowhere is the rules based maritime order under greater threat than it right now in the South China Sea five years later.

The People's Republic of China continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical, global throughway. And for our sake we remain committed to the freedom of those seas. I got time for one more. Yes, ma'am?

Q: So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the guide exercise or (inaudible) guide exercise? What kinds of goals are there of that exercise? How many days will it last?

MR. KIRBY: It goes from July 8 to the 15. I think I said that in the opening statement. The focus is on rapidly developing capabilities needed to increase deterrence options with a data-centric, software-based approach. The events they're going to be conducting will combine people and technology to innovate and accelerate development for it looks like four things -- information awareness, information dominance, decisional superiority, and global integration.

And if you have any other additional questions I'd point you to NORAD NORTHCOM. Go ahead, Lucas.

Q: But you said there was going to be flyovers at the (department ?).

MR. KIRBY: There is a fly event. Yes, there is a live fly event, but again, I'd refer you to NORTHCOM NORAD.

Q: John, there's a piece in the Wall Street Journal speaking about the Navy saying if it comes to war will the U.S. Navy be prepared? That's the headline. There's a new report coming out for some retired (brass ?) saying a key finding in this report is, quote, "many sailors found their leadership distractive, captive to bureaucratic excess, and rewarded with the successful execution of administrative functions rather than the core competencies of war." And quotes of a senior enlisted leader saying I -- recently retired chief saying, "I guarantee you in every unit in the Navy is up to speed on their diversity training. I'm sorry that I can't say the same for their ship handling training." Any reaction to this report?

MR. KIRBY: I think the Navy's already reacted to this, Lucas, and they have said that they welcome the insights that are provided in this report. They reiterate some of the things that they know they need to continue to work on and that they are working on it, and they welcome all input to help them as they continue to make sure that the surface community in the Navy continues to be the strongest and most viable surface fleet in the entire world.

Q: Is the Pentagon and the Navy also welcome the comments from the former Navy Secretary John Lehman – a respected the (alumnus ?) of this (building ?) -- who said that former five-start admirals who won World War II made mistakes. Bill Halsey was, quote, consistently getting in trouble for bending the rules and drinking too much. Chester Nimitz put his first command on the rocks. Ernie King was a, quote, "womanizer". They were punished several times, but Navy leadership always realized they were very, very promising officers. None, he concludes, could have made it passed captain in today's Navy. Do you agree with that assessment?

MR. KIRBY: Do I agree with the assessments of those former five-star admirals or...

Q: Secretary Lehman's decision.

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I -- look, I think obviously we have great respect for former Secretary John Lehman, and we certainly, as I said, we welcome all these insights and all the scrutiny over the United States Navy. And I think Navy leaders today understand well that their officers, their leaders, their petty officers, their sailors, they're human beings and that people do make mistakes.

And again, nothing that I've seen coming out of this report certainly the Navy has talked to this stands in stark contrast to what the Navy itself and the surface community know they need to continue to work on and that they are.

Q: (inaudible) Nimitz put his ships on the rocks as (inaudible) and he, of course, was still promoted to admiral. Could that happen in today's Navy?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to speak to individual hypothetical incidents. Running a ship -- running a ship aground, Lucas, is generally frowned upon.

(Laughter.)

And the Navy has all kinds of ways of making due accountability for that, but look. Everybody here in leadership positions understands that our people are human and that there are mistakes and there are mistakes. Nobody's interested in having a zero defect mentality throughout the military. Not just the Navy but throughout the whole military. We take accountability serious for just that reason, and the responsibility that leaders have to hold everybody in their charge to as high a standard of conduct and behavior as possible.

I want to pull back to what as I understand is the focus of this report and what Navy said about it is about making sure that we continue to have the most powerful Navy in the world, and you heard the secretary talk about this as recently as budget hearings just a few weeks ago. We do. It's the greatest maritime force ever in human history and it's going to stay that way.

And the fact that it gets -- that it makes mistakes as an institution, the fact that there are things that need improvement, all of that is proof that one of the things that makes us so great is that we're willing to do -- no pun intended -- a little naval gazing and there's -- and we're self aware of issues that we need to be improved upon.

And there aren't too many other maritime forces, navies, or even military forces around the world that can say the same thing, that they welcome scrutiny, they welcome criticism, and it's OK to hear from formers as well as members of Congress that there are things that need to be looked at or need to be improved upon.

And as I said, as the Navy said, they're well aware of the issues that were raised and they track very closely and align with things they themselves have been working on to try to improve going forward.

Q: Is the U.S. Navy ready for war?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. OK. Thank you.

https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2691684/



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