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Military

U.S. Department of Defense

January 24, 2022
Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Just one thing here at the top.  As you're all aware, the United States is deeply concerned about the current situation in Europe.  We remain keenly focused on Russia's unusual military activities near the Ukrainian border, including in Belarus, and consulting extensively with our transatlantic allies and partners.  The department continues to support diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation.

Now as the president has said, even as we continue to prioritize diplomacy and dialogue, we must also increase readiness.  In support of its obligations to the security and defense of NATO and the security of its citizens abroad at the direction of the president and following recommendations made by Secretary Austin, the United States has taken steps to heighten the readiness of its forces at home and abroad so they are prepared to respond to a range of contingencies, including support to the NATO Response Force if it is activated.

As you have heard me describe many times, our commitment to the security of NATO allies and our Article 5 commitment are ironclad.  As the president has also made clear, the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us, our allies, our partners.

As part of that commitment, the Department of Defense maintains significant combat-capable forces forward in Europe to deter aggression and enhance the alliance's ability to defend allies and defeat aggression if necessary.

The United States also has a commitment to provide forces to the NATO Response Force, otherwise known as the NRF, in the event that NATO should activate that construct.  And as you may know, the NRF is a multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and special operations forces, all components that the alliance can deploy on short notice wherever needed.

Altogether the NRF comprises around 40,000 multinational troops.  Within the NRF is something called the very high readiness joint task force or VJTF.  This NRF element, which is about 20,000 strong across all domains, includes a multinational land brigade of around 5,000 troops in air, maritime and special operation forces components.

I want to provide some facts on these preparations that will reinforce our commitment to NATO and to the NATO Response Force and increase our readiness.  Secretary Austin has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NRF or if other situations develop.

All told, the number of forces that the secretary has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel.  We'll continue to provide updates in coming days about these decisions.  But specifically this will insure that the United States in our commitment to the NRF has -- is consistent with their readiness for -- for rapid deployment, again, if activated.

In the event of NATO's activation of the NRF or a deteriorating security environment, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, transportation, and additional capabilities into Europe.

Again, I want to reinforce that as of now the decision has been made to put these units on higher alert and higher alert only.  No decisions have been made to deploy any forces from the United States at this time.  And when I say heightened alert, in some cases some of these forces were already on a heightened posture, readiness to deploy posture and the secretary decided to make it even more -- shorten the tether even more.

So in some cases units would go from say 10 days prepare to deploy; now they're at five days.  That's not the case for every unit that is being notified that they're on a heightened alert.  Some are simply more ready and -- and postured that way than others.

The idea, though, is that all of these units that he is putting on prepare to deploy will be ready to go on a shortened timeframe.  Again, no final decision has been made to deploy them.  The secretary will continue to consult with the president and the United States will maintain close coordination with allies and partners as we continuously review our force posture and make decisions regarding movement of forces into and within Europe.

As always we will remain in close coordination with allies and partners, as well as NATO and other multilateral organizations, as we continue to review our force posture as we make decisions regarding potential movements of forces into Europe and as we review the disposition of U.S. forces on the continent.

And with that we'll start taking questions.  Bob, I think you are on the line.  Yes?

Q:  Yes, thank you, John.  Of that 8,500 troops that you've mentioned, are those U.S. based only and would they -- are they intended only for deployment as part of the activation of the rapid response force or might they be set for other reinforcement purposes in Eastern Europe?

And lastly, why did the secretary and the president decide to do this now?  What -- what's changed just in the last two days?  Since on Friday you mentioned, as you have many times before, that the U.S. was prepared to reinforce in Eastern Europe if there were a Russian incursion only?

MR. KIRBY:  OK.  I think I remembered all three.  So let me try.  First, yes, the -- up to 8,500.  And I want to stress it's up to 8,500.  Again, no decisions to deploy have been made.  So this about getting units on a advanced heightened alert.  That doesn't mean they're necessarily going anywhere.

But of the -- of the 8,500 that I talked about, they are all U.S. based.  As -- and I'm sorry, Bob, your second question was?

Q:  Are they intended only for the -- the NATO rapid response force or could they perform other reinforcement functions?

MR. KIRBY:  The bulk of them are intended for the NATO Response Force.  That the vast majority of.  But as I also said in my opening statement, the secretary wants us postured to be ready for any other contingencies as well.  But the bulk of them are aligned for the NATO Response Force.  And then your third question was on timing.

I think, you know, we've been watching this very, very closely.  I also said that right at the top.  It's very clear that the Russians have no intention right now of deescalating and because not every one of these units that we are notifying are in -- all of them are not in a heightened state of alert.

It made prudent sense for the secretary to want to give them as much time to prepare to be on a shorter tether as he can, just in case.  Again, I want to stress, particularly with the NATO Response Force, it has not been activated.  It is a NATO call to make, but we have contributions to that response force as do other nations.

You know, as I said, its 40,000 and some odd strong.  Our -- our contributions don't come near the 40,000 number.  Other nations are going to have to contribute as well.  But for our part unilaterally we wanted to make sure that we were ready in case that call should come and that means making sure that units we contribute to it are as ready as they can be on as short a notice as possible.  Barb.

Q:  What's -- three quick things -- what specific capabilties -- military capabilities do these U.S. troops bring to Europe, these 8,500?  Second, could you say with some specificity what is the exact mission for these troops and what will your measure of success be.  How will you know when the mission is accomplished?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  So on capabilities, Barb, I touched this in the opening statement.  Again, when we are able to identify the units for you, we'll do that.  The reason why I don't have specific units today is because the units are being notified, as well as family members, and I think you can understand we wouldn't want to get out ahead of that notification process.

But broadly speaking, as I mentioned at the top, I mean these would be additional brigade combat teams, logistics personnel, medical support, aviation support, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as transportation and maybe even some additional capabilities after that.

Again, when we can identify for you the units, I think you'll see that they kind of cover the broad scope of those capabilities.  Missions haven't been assigned.  I mean the ready response force hasn't been -- hasn't been activated.

And so there's not a mission per se.  This is about the secretary wanting to get ahead of the potential activation and making sure that these units have the time to prepare if and only if they're deployed.

And then you had -- when will we know success; again, there hasn't -- there's been no activation, so there's been no mission assigned.  So, it's very difficult for me to give you a up-check or a down-check on -- you know -- what equates success.  What this is about, though, is reassurance to our NATO allies.

And we've been talking about that for quite some time, that we're going to be ready, we're going to be prepared to help bolster our allies with capabilities they might -- they might need and we're going to do this in lock-step with them and with the alliance.

This is really about reassuring the eastern flank of NATO and it's also about -- and I kind of covered this too, Barb, back to your question of success.  It's proving how seriously the United States takes our commitment to NATO and to the Article 5 commitment inside NATO.

Q:  (Inaudible) how will you know when your military goals are achieved?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, Barb, there's been no mission assigned right now.  This is about getting troops ready and back to what we're trying to achieve is a couple of things.  Obviously, we still would like to deter Vladimir Putin and the Russians from another incursion, number one.

Number two, it's to make sure that we're bolstering and staying unified with the alliance.  That the alliance stays strong.  And so, the large bulk of the reason for this -- these prepare to deploy orders, is really to make sure that we're ready to bolster the NATO alliance and to -- and to prove the solidarity of the alliance.

Those are the two sort of big outcomes here.  But again, no mission has been assigned to these troops, no deployment orders have been sent to them.  What the secretary has ordered them to do is to be ready to go in some cases on a much shorter tether than what they had before.

Jen.

Q:  John, can you rule out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  That is -- I think the president has already spoken to that.  As you know, Jen, we already do have advisers and some trainers in Ukraine.  They are still there at their work.

Q:  If you're not willing to send troops to Ukraine, what makes you think that this is going to deter Vladimir Putin?

MR. KIRBY:  I think there's a whole package of things that the administration is looking at to try to deter Vladimir Putin from another incursion, including very severe economic consequences.

This is -- this is about sending a strong message that we're committed to NATO and we're committed to assuring that our allies have the capabilities they need in case they need to defend themselves.

Q:  And do you need a new AUMF to send these troops to --  these 8,500?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any such requirement at this point.  And again, we have long standing commitment to the NATO Response Force.  We are just one of many nations that will contribute to it.  And this is very much in keeping with the policies and the procedures that have been laid down for activation of the NRF.  Again, if it's activated and it has not been.

David?

Q:  Are most of these 8,500 ground forces?  Would they go to the eastern flank?  And have you put any units in Europe on alert?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- so, I think, again, my -- yes, I think the bulk of them would be considered ground forces, David.  The, as for Europe, they -- as I've said before, there are lots of force capabilities already on the European continent under Gen. Wolters.

And I'm absolutely not ruling out the possibility that there will be intra-theater moved as well inside Europe to bolster NATO allies on the -- on the eastern flank.  And that kind of gets at your second question, which is, we're still in consultation with the allies about what they might need.

And so, I don't have decisions to read out in terms of specific locations.  But, we certainly have made it clear to the eastern flank allies that we're prepared to bolster their capabilities if they need it.

Again, I want to go back to a core foundation here.  The bulk of the troops I'm talking about today are intended for the NATO Response Force, the vast majority of them.  And that response force can only be activated by the alliance.  It hasn't been.  It is our contribution to the Response Force and we want to make sure that they're ready to go.

I think it's really important to keep remembering that.  No deployment orders have been sent, no missions have been assigned.  This is really about getting folks ready to go in case they're needed.

Courtney.

Q:  So the ones that wouldn't be assigned to the NATO Response Force, they would be going in unilaterally on behalf of the United States to some neighbors, right?  Can you give us any number, how many that would be?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I can't do that right now, Courtney, but I mean it -- it -- it could -- it depends on -- it really depends on the need.  And we're still in consultation with allies about needs.

So, I really would be reticent to give you a hard number right now, but we are in active discussions with our allies about any additional capabilities they might need on top of or outside of the NATO Response Force.

Q:  Does that include some of these intra-theater moves that you're talking about? Those?

MR. KIRBY:  It could.

Q:  So those --

MR. KIRBY:  It could.

Q:  -- so there could be movement within EUCOM, U.S. troops that are moved for -- that going to NATO allies that would not be part of the NATO Response Force?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, ma'am.  That is right.

Q:  OK.  (Inaudible) that -- has there been any consideration or decision about pulling U.S. troops out of Ukraine, as the State Department made the decision to pull some Americans out?

MR. KIRBY:  There's been no decisions about moving our trainers that are in Ukraine out.  But as I said many times, we're constantly looking at the situation.  We're going to do what's right for their -- for their safety and security. That's paramount to us.

But as of right now, they are still on the ground in Ukraine conducting their advise and assist missions.  And, obviously, if that changes we'll certainly -- we'll certainly let you know.

Q:  They haven't changed the number, right?  The footprint remains the same thing as --

MR. KIRBY:  It is exactly the same.  Yes, ma'am.

Let me go to some of on the phone.  I know there's lots of questions here.  We'll get to them all.  Jared Szuba from Al-Monitor?

Q:  Hi Mr. Kirby.  CENTCOM just put out a statement about the ballistic missile attack on the United Arab Emirates saying that U.S. Patriot missile systems at Al Dhafra Air Base engaged.  Is the department treating this as a potential attack on U.S. forces or was this just done to assist Emirati partners?  Can you give us more detail on that?

MR. KIRBY:  Well look, I don't want to get into intelligence assessments.  I mean, this was -- obviously this just happened early Monday morning.  So, clearly we have troops at Al Dhafra.  So, we are certainly going to be looking into the possibility that this was directed at our forces.

We, obviously, take that seriously.  You've seen the CENTCOM statement.  We responded to the attack, this ballistic missile attack.  And we'll be in close - close coordination with our Emirati partners as we continue to - to assess what happened and what we might need to do going forward.

But, I don't have a -- I can't specifically tell you what the intent of the attack was.  But, we have to assume, I mean it would be foolish for us not to assume that there -- that there was a threat to our people.  And as you saw from the results, we took that threat seriously.

Ryo. Nikkei.

Q:  Oh, thank you, John.  I have a quick question about China.  The U.S. Navy is now operating two carrier strike groups in the Western Pacific, and they recently conducted a large-scale military exercise with Japan.  Is this a message to China that China should not do something provocative while the U.S. is watching intensively on the situation in Ukraine?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  We engage in joint operations to include maritime communications, anti-submarine, air warfare, replenishments at sea, cross deck flight operations, the whole scope when we operate at sea and particularly when we have the opportunity.  And it's not unusual, Ryo, for us to take advantage of the opportunity when you have two aircraft carriers in the same body of water to exercise together.

We do this to strengthen our integrated at-sea operations and our combat readiness.  And look, I just reiterate -- let me try this again in English.  I would reiterate that all the training will be conducted in accordance with international law in international waters.  Janne?

Q:  Thank you, John.  I have two questions for, one is the North Korea and one is the South Korea and China, that the South Korean mission intelligence service mentioned about the possibility of the North Korean as being (inaudible) test fire.  And he pointed out that this was the intended to pressure the United States.  What is the U.S. response to the imminent test fire of the North Korean ICBM?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I'm not going to get ahead of test fire launches that haven't happened yet, but we've been very clear about our concerns over the advancing nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile capabilities of Pyongyang.  We continue to condemn it and to call on the north to cease these provocations and to abide by international law and these security council resolutions and to try to find ways to deescalate the tensions.

We have said very clearly -- I won't speak for my State Department colleagues -- that we'll be willing to sit down with them no -- without preconditions.  They've shown no desire to move that forward.

Q:  Did China - did China justify North Korea missile provocation?  Do you think that Chinas continues the support for the North Korean provocation is part of the strategic competition with the United States?

MR. KIRBY:  I think you'd have to ask President Xi that.  I mean, look.  China's a neighbor, a direct neighbor of North Korea.  They have influence in Pyongyang.  We know that.  They know that.  Pyongyang knows that.  And we've continued to call on China to use the influence that it has to support the international community and U.N. Security Council resolutions that China themselves have signed up for to help get them enacted and to support the sanctions, support them and to enforce them in a comprehensive, cohesive way, which the Chinese have not always done.

Let me go back to -- I'm sorry.  I'll go to you, Nancy, and then I'll go back to the phones.  Go ahead.

Q:  Thank you.  Just a couple clarifying points.  Is there a time limit to this pre -- to prepared deployed order, or is it open ended?  And would there then -- if it is open ended, therefore be a time when the secretary would issue another order sort of saying stand down essentially?

MR. KIRBY:  Well remember what it is. It's telling a unit -- or in this case several units -- to be prepared to deploy on a shorter tether than whatever it was before.  In some cases, as I said, it was 10 days.  Now it's five.

And there's no time limit on that preparation order, because we don't know -- excuse me -- if or when they would actually be activated and deployed.  And to Courtney's question I just want to stress again the vast majority are -- comprise our contribution to the NATO Response Force.  There are some that would -- that we are advancing their alert posture that are simply unilateral, that we would -- that we would consider sending on our own, again, in concert with allies.  You're not -- you got to talk to the folks that are going to host them and make sure that that's OK.

But it's -- there's not a -- there's not a specific time limit assigned right now, but it is something that the secretary's going to continue to look at if -- you know, certainly if not weekly than even daily to make sure that it's still the appropriate tether to have these troops armed.

Q:  And then could you clarify for me?  You mentioned that they would be in support of this NATO mission.  Is there any point where they would be under a NATO commander or would Gen. Wolters be wearing a different hat potentially when he -- when he takes command of them?

MR. KIRBY:  Well I -- I couldn't get into specific command and control here.  Again, the response force hasn't been activated.  But you're right; Gen. Wolters is the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, the head NATO commander.  And so, ultimately they would all be reporting up underneath him, but what the exact chain of command would be, difficult for me to say when they haven't even been activated.

Let me go back here.  Let's see.  Kellie Meyer from NewsNation?

Q:  John, thanks for taking my question.  I know we kept talking here and saying, you know, diplomacy is not dead here, but with the U.S. now preparing to send troops to allies on the eastern flank, is this just further agitating Russia?  And we're telling diplomats' families to leave and Americans to leave, so is this moving on from a diplomatic effort to preparing for an invasion?

MR. KIRBY:  NO, not at all.  Again, what we're -- what we're telling these units to do is to be ready to go on a shorter timeline than what they were before. We are not deploying them now. We are not saying diplomacy is dead.  You heard Secretary Blinken talk about this on Sunday in many outlets that he still believes there's -- there is room for discussion and dialogue.  I said that myself in my opening statement.

We absolutely still believe that there's time and space for that, and frankly the Department of Defense fully supports that as being the way forward here, to the way to a solution that deescalates the tensions.  But it would be irresponsible if, given the indications that we have that there is no intent by the Russians right now to deescalate.

And given that it takes a matter of time to get units more ready to go on a shorter timeline, it would be irresponsible if we didn't think about making sure that they were -- that they had plenty of time to prepare, and that's all we're doing at this point.

MR. KIRBY:  Let's see.  John Terpak?

Q:  Yes.  Can you hear me?  Can you hear me?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, sir, I got you.

Q:  OK.  So to activate something like this you probably need to have the Air Force in place.  Have you increased the number of tankers at Mildenhall or throughout Europe?  And do you anticipate that there could be a bomber task force deployment to Europe in the near future?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any -- I refer you to EUCOM for things like bomber task force plans.  I don't have specific things to talk about like that today.  And again, again, please remember what this is about.  This is about placing units on a heightened alert.  It does not mean that they're going to be jumping on gray tails tomorrow and leaving.  So obviously if there's a need for additional air transport, you know, we'll deal with that.

TRANSCOM is certainly -- Transportation Command, sorry, is tracking these prepare to deploy orders, and we'll obviously be postured as appropriate to support if needed, but that's if needed.  All we're doing at this point is placing these units on a heightened alert posture.

MR. KIRBY:  Tom Squitierri.

Q:  Hey, thanks, John, good afternoon.  Is NATO -- in NATO's support of its eastern members as well as Ukraine, is that support more complicated today because as Gen. Wolters and EUCOM have compared, there's not one but now several Fulda Gaps on possible invasion routes?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm going to try repeating your question because I'm not sure I totally got it, Tom.  Is it -- are you -- are you talking about evacuation routes of Americans leaving Ukraine, and is that harder to do now?  Is that...

Q:  No, can you hear me OK?  Can you hear me now?

MR. KIRBY:  Did I -- I got you, Tom, but I'm not sure I got your question.

Q:  OK, let me repeat it.  Is -- is the preparations by NATO and -- more complicated now to support its eastern members and Ukraine because, unlike during the Cold War when there was only one Fulda Gap, there are now more than one Fulda Gaps.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I would just tell you without getting into a historical comparison and it's usually not useful to go back into history and try to find exact comparisons.  The actions that Russia appears to be taking to threaten its neighbor further and to violate -- potentially violate further Ukraine's territorial integrity certainly make things more tense on the European continent writ large.

What I can tell you is that we remain committed to the alliance and we absolutely remain committed to bolstering the capabilities of our -- of our -- of NATO's eastern flank to the degree that they desire that extra support.

And it's not about -- look, I don't think it -- I don't think anybody wants to see another war on the European continent.  And there's no reason why that has to occur.  This could be solved very easily by the Russian's de-escalating.  By -- by moving some of these forces away, which they haven't done.

And so, NATO as a defensive alliance, and it is a defensive alliance, has a responsibility to its members to make sure that they're able to defend themselves if needed.  And that's what -- and that's the -- that's -- that's the spirit in which the secretary has made these early heightened alert decisions.  Jen.

Q:  John, just a point of clarification.  If NATO's a defensive alliance and these troops if they are activated are defensive, and therefore frontline NATO states, how does this protect Ukraine?  How does it stop Putin from going into Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  It -- it's -- it's designed to reassure our NATO allies, Jen.  It's -- it's designed to reassure our NATO allies.  And we are taking -- and we are...

(CROSS TALK)

Q:  How does it protect Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Jen, it sends a very clear signal to -- to Mr. Putin that we take our responsibilities to NATO seriously.  And we are also working inside the international community to implement severe consequences for Mr. Putin if he were to go and -- again into Ukraine.  Largely those are of an economic -- economic consequences.

So I get what your -- your -- your question is.  I'm -- I'm trying to be very clear, this gets to Barbara's question about what's success look like?  We, obviously, don't want to see another incursion in Ukraine.  We are using lots of levers to try to communicate why that would be a bad thing for Russia to do.

But number two, and it's not an insignificant number two, is to make sure that NATO stays unified, and that NATO -- our allies are able to defend themselves.  And that is what this decision is all about.  It's about putting these forces on a heightened alert in case NATO needs them.  David.

Q:  Is there a process by which this NATO response force is activated?  Does there have to be a -- a meeting?  Is it a political decision?  Or is it just a tactical military decision?  What is it?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, well, it's a NATO decision, David.  I -- I'd refer you to NATO to -- to -- to go through the puts and takes of exactly how that decision gets made.  But I'm -- I'm sure it's going to have to be one where all the allies are -- are -- are consulted and anyway it's a political-military thing.

I don't -- again, my -- I don't -- I think I better just refer you to NATO on the specifics of it, about -- about how -- how they activate the NRF.

Q:  Does it require unanimity?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I -- I'm going to refer you to NATO.  I'm going to refer you to NATO.  Yes.

Q:  John, two questions.  One is, what kind of action would spark an order to deploy?  What -- what needs to be -- what would been seen that could lead to a deployment?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, as I said -- as I said, the vast majority of these troops that we put on prepare to deploy are -- are to support the NRF, the NATO Response Force.  And so, what would -- what would -- what would engender a deployment order to them would be a decision by NATO to activate the NRF.

Q:  And can you say what might activate the NRF?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, that's a -- that's a NATO decision.  The -- again, please keep this in context.  This is our contribution to the NATO Response Force.  I won't speak for the alliance.  I'd refer you to NATO to speak to how and what a decision to activate is made, and under what circumstances they would make it.  Our job is to make sure that if they do, we're ready to go.

Q:  Second question is, you -- you've said a couple of times that the Russians show no sign of de-escalation.  Are they escalating?  Are they taking -- are they adding any more forces, equipment?

Are they -- from -- from a week ago, from two weeks ago, have their -- has their presence on the border enlarged or changed in a qualitative way that is escalatory?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  It's gotten bigger, absolutely.

Q:  Can you give us any details?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I'd refer you to the Russian Ministry of Defense.  They can speak for their force movements.  But -- and we've been very clear from the podium that I'm not going to get into talking about their troop movements.

But they -- they continue to add battalion tactical groups to -- to the western -- to their western border, to the border with Ukraine.  And in Belarus as well, the numbers there are increasing.  So they have not only shown no signs of de-escalating, but they are, in fact, adding more force capability.

Q:  Can I ask one more question?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  I'm unclear the -- the NATO Response Forces, the assumption that that's something that could be activated in advance of an invasion or only would have been activated if -- I know that it's a NATO decision...

MR. KIRBY:  That would be an alliance call.

Q:  I mean, what -- what's your understanding? I mean, is your understanding that it's possible that this is something that can be called up -- that these are troops that could be called up and sent for...

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I'd refer you to Brussels, Courtney.  It's really a decision for NATO to make.  And what the criteria are for activating it is really for them to -- to speak to, not -- not for us.  There's no -- I -- I don't know of a specific -- I mean, it's a existing response force, right.

And when it was established, you know, it -- it wasn't established specifically for the purposes of Russia invading Ukraine again.  So I don't know that there's a specific limitation that, you know, they can only be activated -- that would be a -- an alliance decision.

That's -- that would be a discussion inside -- inside NATO and inside the political leadership of NATO.  I, again, I -- I just don't know what.  What we're trying to do is make sure that if it is, whenever that is, we're ready to go.  Barbara.

Q:  Can I go back on one thing?  For the troops, the U.S. troops that might deploy; while they may get some kind of extra pay for deployment, can you find out for us whether or not they will get any kind of hazard pay, or i.e. combat pay, since they would be going into a situation where you clearly see potential hostile intent?  Can you find that out for us?

MR. KIRBY:  I'll take your question.  I have no -- no idea today.

Q:  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Joe Gould, Defense News.

Q:  Hey, John.  Thanks for taking my question, thanks for doing this.  You talked about troops being on high alert.  But what kinds of equipment is being readied to participate in the NRF, which is, as NATO builds it, a land, air, and maritime force?  And also does the department have any plans for industry to surge production or deliveries of equipment that's already approved for sale to European allies?  Maybe like the F-35 for Finland or Poland or Patriots for Poland, Sweden and Romania. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  For foreign military sales, Joe, you're going to have to talk to the State Department.  That's their province, not ours.  As for the kinds of -- I guess you were asking about systems.  As I said, these are brigade combat teams, logistics personnel medical aviation and aviation support.

Of course all the kinds of logistical and sustainment support that would go to be able to keep these forces in the field for an extended period of time -- transportation, command and control capabilities, communication capabilities as well as the systems themselves.

I think a lot more specificity will be clear once we can start identifying for you the units.  We're just not able to do that today because unit notification is ongoing and I think you can understand we wouldn't want them to find out from me at the podium that they're being put on a shorter tether.

We want to do this the right way.  But as we start to identify the units, I think the answers -- specific answers to your question will become a lot more clear.  Jeff Seldin, VOA.

Q:  Hey, John.  Thanks very much for doing this.  Can you give an update on U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces as fighting with ISIS in Hasaka is now extending into a sixth day?  Are U.S. or coalition ground forces firing on, engaging with ISIS on the ground?  Some reports from Hasaka seems to -- seem to suggest they are.

And is the Pentagon reviewing its force posture in Syria given the size and scope of this attack?  And separately on Burkina Faso, what impact is the attempted ongoing coup there having on U.S. cooperation with the Burkina Faso's military on counterterrorism efforts?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, on Burkina Faso I'm going to have to take the question and get back to you.  I'm not aware of any impact right now, so let me just take that question.  On coalition support for the Syrian Democratic Forces ongoing efforts to deal with this prison break -- and I would refer you to OIR for more detail here -- but just broadly speaking and I've already talked about this a little bit.  We have helped provide real-time surveillance during the event.  We have conducted a series of strikes through this days long operation to include the procession targeting of ISIS fighters who were attacking the SDF from buildings in the area and we have provided limited ground support strategically positioned to assist security in the area.

For instance, putting Bradley fighting vehicles across access points to help block as obstacles.  So there's been some limited ground support.  Beyond that I would refer you to OIR to get into more details.  Tony Capaccio.

Q:  Hi, John, two quick questions.  Are the 8,500 a blend of active duty and National Guard or all National Guard or, excuse me, or all active duty?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- I think the large -- the large portion of them is going to be active duty, Tony, but I can't swear to you that there won't be Reservists involved in this as well.  Again, all this will become more clear once we're able to identify the specific units.

But the vast majority will be active duty.

Luis Martinez?

Q:  Hey, John.  I'm sorry, I -- Tony was going to ask another question if he want - if Tony wants to go.

Q:  OK, John, is that all right?

MR. KIRBY:  Another one, my apologies.

Q:  OK, John, is that all right?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.

Q:  How -- how detailed a ground picture of Russian forces along the Ukraine does the -- does the Pentagon at this point possess?  I mean is it possible that we'll -- we'll know -- the U.S. will know if in fact an invasion occurs in real-time versus a bolt from the blue that catches everybody by surprise, kind of like Pearl Harbor?

MR. KIRBY:  What I would tell you, Tony, is we're watching it very, very closely and we believe that we have a pretty good side picture on what they have there and what they continue to add, both in terms of the western part of Russia as well as in to Belarus.
We're watching this very, very closely.

And obviously we're mindful of -- of things that the Russians could do that would potentially give us indications of some sort of imminent incursion.  We're not there yet, but we are watching for those indicators very, very closely.

MR. KIRBY:  Go ahead, Luis.

Q:  Thanks, John.  Just following up on what you said so far that no decisions have been made and that the bulk of these forces are pegged to the NATO Rapid Response Force.  Are they mutually exclusive?  In other words, can the president decide that he wants these forces, now that they're on a shorter tether, to head to Europe for some kind of unilateral purpose without having to await NATO to even bring this up?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, he's the Commander-in-Chief.  He can make whatever force decisions he believes is most prudent.  What he has decided is that our commitment to NATO is paramount right now.  And that's why he approved Secretary Austin's recommendation that these additional units be put on a heightened alert and that's where we are right now.

Again, I won't speculate or hypothesis about future force deployment decisions that the Command-in-Chief might make, but he obviously has the purview to shape force posture decisions as he sees fit given the advice and recommendations that he gets from the secretary and from the chairman.

OK, I'll take a couple more.  Yes, go ahead.

Q:  Sort of following up on Jen's question earlier.  The - if you're talking about reinforcing NATO's eastern front.  Do the -- do the countries on Russia's border, the NATO countries, say they are threatened by this Russian positioning against Ukraine so that they need the reinforcements?

MR. KIRBY:  You would have to talk with each of those governments, we're in touch with them.  I can tell you that they by-and-large, again I won't speak for other countries, but by-and-large they are equally as concerned about what Russia's doing as we are and as so many of their other allies are.

I would stress, again, that even -- even in the event that we provide additional resources unilaterally -- that is outside the NATO Response Force.  And that's a possibility, even from inside Europe.  It would be done in full consultation and coordination with a given ally partner nation.  We wouldn't do it -- you know you just don't go walking into another country just -- just for the sake of being there.

It's a -- it's a thing you do in coordination and consultation with them.  So to answer your question, in terms of whatever force deployments we might do, it would be at the request and with the support of a nation that did feel for whatever reason that they needed these extra capabilities.

Q:  But is there any sense that Russian troop presence on Ukraine borders actually threatens a NATO partner?

MR. KIRBY:  I believe -- again, I won't speak for other countries, but I believe they have spoken for themselves about the concerns they have about Mr. Putin's potentially aggressive moves here and we want to make sure, again, back to my answer to Barb, one of the key -- one of the key criteria here is being able to make it clear that we take our Article 5 commitments to NATO very, very seriously.

Yes, Jim.

Q:  John, what effect does the secretary's decision have on the 8,500 service members concerned?  I mean I imagine all leaves and passes will be canceled right now.  Are they packing up here?  Are they anticipating having a --

MR. KIRBY:  They're just being notified today.  Some of these units are already, just by nature of who they are and where they are, on shortened -- a shortened tether.  You know that.  What the secretary decided to do in many of these cases is shorten it even more.  So from in some cases 10 days prepare to deploy, you got to be ready to go in 10 days to now five.

So they will -- it depends on the unit, but they will have to make whatever preparations they feel they need to make to be able to -- to meet that five-day commitment.  That doesn't mean that in five days from now they're going.  It just means that -- that they need to be ready to go in as little as five days if asked for.

So they will be doing all kinds of different things to help get them ready for that.  And again, it would depend on the unit, whether it's maintenance on vehicles and -- and -- and systems.  Whether it's, you know, getting -- you know, getting some things prepositioned and pack -- packaged up and ready to go.

Certainly there'll be for the forces involved, I'm sure personal readiness things that they have to do and that's again, one of the reasons why I'm not giving units today, because the units are getting notified and -- and we want to also give them time to talk about this with their families so that their families are ready for this potential -- and I say potential -- deployment order that could come, but what's happening now is just getting them ready on a shorter tether.

Not all of the units are already on such an advanced PTDO* status.  And so it will take them a little bit longer to get in a heightened alert posture.  That's why we're doing now so that they have ample time to prepare.  OK.

Q:  But is it correct that no one is deploying in the next 72 hours?

MR. KIRBY:  I -- today we're not talking about deployment orders.  We're -- we -- we have no deployment orders to speak to, Barb.  And I think I'm just going to leave it at that.  All right, thanks everybody.

(* Eds. Note:  PTDO stands for Prepared to Deploy Order.)

https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2910061/



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