Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 29, 2014.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN REAR ADM. KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Look, I know there’s been some — some breaking news here out of Europe, so if you’ll just bear with me, I’m going to read you just a short statement here.
During a routine post-flight maintenance inspection of an 86th Airlift Wing assigned C-130J aircraft on Sunday night at Ramstein Air Base, the body of an apparent stowaway was found trapped in a compartment above the aircraft’s rear landing gear. American and German emergency responders were summoned, removed the body, and transported it to a German facility for autopsy and further investigation.
The deceased was an adolescent black male, possibly of African origin. The aircraft had just returned from supporting Africa Command operations with stops in a few countries. At this point, it is unknown where or when the deceased entered the landing gear wheel well. The location of the body did not impact the function or flight of the aircraft, nor would it be visible during standard pre- and post-flight inspections. The body was only discovered during a detailed post-flight inspection by maintenance personnel following.
Laboratory results that were taken from samples from the body confirmed negative test results for communicable diseases, and the cause of death, as well as the other circumstances surrounding this incident, remains under investigation. Our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to the — to the young man’s family, who no doubt must be grieving and worried right now. So I’ll leave it at that.
Q: Well, sorry, just to follow on that, how long was the plane in Germany before the — before it was inspected?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’d have to refer you to EUCOM for more detail on that, Justin. But if it — if it occurred — you know, if the body was found during a post-flight inspection, my guess is it’s very shortly after it got there, because the — it’s normal practice that you do pre- and post-flight aircraft inspection, so my guess is it wasn’t very long, but I don’t know exactly how long.
Q: No ID?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No ID.
Q: There was a report that the flight originated in Mali, but you said it stopped in a few countries in Africa?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I can’t confirm that initial press report about Mali. I don’t know that. Again, I’d refer you to AFRICOM and EUCOM for this — for those kinds of details. It did have — the aircraft did stop in numerous countries in Africa on its — on its — the routine missions it was conducting.
Q: You don’t have the list?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have the list. I don’t — I don’t have more detail about the missions the aircraft was conducting, either.
Q: You said it was Sunday night that they found this — the…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. Yes.
Q: Why are we just hearing about this now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think — I mean, there needed — a process needed to be undertaken to safely remove the body, to determine the status, and, you know, to take it to the lab. And also, there needed to be — because it’s a foreign national on a foreign base, there needed to be a level of consultation with the German government. So it took a little time for that process to work, to work its way through.
Q: (OFF-MIC) I mean, there’s been a couple cases of Ebola in Africa right now. Was there any concern that (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, sure, there was — there was concern and, again, the body was tested for communicable diseases and none were found. Of course there was concern about that, yeah.
Q: Who’s the lead on the investigation as to what happened? Is it the German authorities or military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: My understanding is it’s — it’ll be a combination of it. But, again, I’d refer you to European Command for more details on that.
Q: So in addition to being a tragedy for this young person, this is also a security breach, because aren’t these aircraft supposed to be guarded at all time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think — certainly that will all be part of the investigation, looking at security implications here for how a young man could get inside the wheel well of an Air Force aircraft, but I think it’s certainly not lost on anybody and shouldn’t be lost on you that, in some of the airfields where these aircraft have to operate, by nature of the jobs we’re doing and the — and the locations that they’re flying in and out of, that airport security, airfield security isn’t exactly in every case up to the same standard that we observe here in the United States or in many other countries.
So, I mean, this — the C-130 is — it’s a combat cargo aircraft. It’s designed to take off and land on — in austere locations, short, unpaved runways. Again, I don’t know where all it operated from, but the aircraft is a rugged aircraft designed to operate in austere locations. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that — that the security at some of these fields is not going to be at the same level.
Q: Well (OFF-MIC) surprise to everybody that there was a stowaway.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely. But it doesn’t — but what I’m saying is, again, security is going to be looked at here. Obviously, it will be. But we shouldn’t expect that the security environment in every location that these aircraft operate is going to be at the same standard, same high standards.
Q: But there are U.S. forces usually who actually guard the aircraft; is that not accurate?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, all this will be — yes.
Q: But normally — isn’t that normal procedure?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not an expert on aircraft security. I think certainly there — we try to provide as much security as we can for our aircraft when they’re operating in remote locations, and this will all be part of the investigation. We’ll figure this out. We’ll learn what happened here. And if there’s corrective action that needs to be taken, we’ll take it.
Q: Is this the same aircraft that had to make that emergency landing a week or two ago in Africa somewhere? I don’t have all the details.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t know the tail number of this particular C-130. I don’t know.
Q: Do they routinely do the same type of post-flight inspections that they were doing when they found the body at the other stops? Or is that — was it a different type of inspection where, once it was done with its whole series of flights, that…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: My understanding is that this was a more detailed post-flight inspection. I do not know what prompted them to do a more detailed post-flight inspection than they normally do. What I’ve been told is that the body wouldn’t have been found in a normal pre- or post-flight inspection. Again, what prompted them to do a deeper look, I don’t know.
Q: Can we change…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We certainly can. What do you want to talk about?
Q: Ukraine. We’ve heard over the last number of days about potential large rocket systems on the border possibly imminently ready to go into Ukraine and also more of a build-up of Russian soldiers along the border. Can you give us an update on whether that system has moved across the border, and the number of Russian troops who are arrayed along the border, and whether or not there are any efforts by the Russians to move across the border…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Are you sure you don’t want to ask anything more?
Q: I have more, if you’d like to wait.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, we got 30 minutes. We still — we continue to see Russian military forces gather at the — at the border with Ukraine, the southeast border with Ukraine. I’m reticent to get into an exact figure, but it’s certainly north of 10,000, is our estimate.
These are combined arms-type battalion tactical groups. What I mean by that is that they are capable across a wide spectrum of military operations, so it’s not just infantry. It’s artillery. It’s air defense. And in some cases, you know, armored capability.
So these are — these are very capable, very ready forces. And they are — and they are closer to the border with Ukraine than those forces that were — that we were talking about back in the spring, which we’re (inaudible) farther north and along the eastern border with Ukraine.
We do continue to see advanced weapons systems moving across the border being provided to the separatists, to include multiple rocket launch systems, artillery systems, tanks, and air defense systems. We continue to see that movement across the border, ostensibly to support the separatists.
And we’ve been very clear — I think Secretary Kerry was extraordinarily clear today about what our expectations are for that activity and that it obviously needs to stop. So support for separatists continues, build-up along the southeast border continues, and we do believe that — that this support does include the movement of heavy weapons systems. Does that answer all three? Or did I miss one?
Q: Well, no, Steve had talked specifically about something that was imminent. Do we know if that particular system has moved across the border?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn’t go into any more detail than what I just gave you.
Q: Admiral, this morning, some key members of Congress, including the chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee in the House, complained that this department and the administration are not selling the request that they made earlier for the $500 million to arm and train the Syrian rebels. They may support it, but they can’t make a case to their colleagues to get behind it without more information, more of a case from this building.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Are you preparing a sales pitch like that? And when can members of Congress expect to be able to talk about it in the open?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it’s not about — it’s not about a sales pitch. It’s about having a comprehensive and detailed enough plan that makes sense for the requirement. So let me just back up a little bit. I haven’t seen these comments, but we have engaged members of Congress in briefings on the Hill about the work that’s being done here in the department to develop this comprehensive train and equip program for a moderate Syrian opposition.
The secretary, as I’ve said before, has told the staff and made it clear what his expectations are, that he wants the work to continue expeditiously, but just as important, it has to be done well and it has to be thoroughly thought through. That work is ongoing. And we have kept members of Congress up to speed on the thought process that we’re undertaking to develop that program.
So I think — again, the secretary’s expectations are clear. We’re going to get there, and we’ll keep Congress completely informed throughout the process. It’s not a matter of, you know, waiting until it’s all done. We’ve been communicating with them; we’ll continue to do that.
Q: So it’s fair to say that the process now is, this department is preparing its plan for how it would do this? And then when that’s complete, you’ll be able to have these members talk in the open, because their frustration is, they need to be able to talk with their colleagues who are not dialed in with the defense world in the open in hearings, et cetera, to get behind the legislation…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s a fair concern. And, again, we’re going to be completely transparent and open as we move forward here working these plans. But the — but the plans for this mission are being worked diligently right now between the Joint Staff and the secretary’s staff. And, again, we’ll continue to keep Congress informed as we work our way through this.
And, obviously, we understand that we need the support of members on the Hill to move forward with this, because — because of the request through the — in the OCO request, the $500 million. We understand that.
Q: Just following up on Lita’s question, do you have — can you give us an idea anything about the pace of the build-up of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border or the pace of the flow of weapons across the border, has this slowed at all in recent days, in the past week?
And then, secondly, do you have any news on U.S. assistance to the Ukrainian military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first question, I would just — the way I would describe it is consistent. I don’t — the build-up of forces has not been at the pace — the aggressive pace that we saw in the spring, and the numbers are much lower. But it does continue.
And then the provision of these heavy weapon systems, certainly we see that continue, as well, consistently. You know, it depends on when you want to look at a starting point. From a month ago, yes, it’s much more intense than it was a month ago, but it continues.
And frankly, it’s — the concern for us is less the pace of it. The fact that it’s — that it continues to happen and it does nothing, again, to de-escalate tensions, it only increases the risk of violence inside Ukraine.
Q: And the second part, was that U.S. assistance to the Ukrainian military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We continue to look at — as I — I think you saw yesterday, Secretary Hagel spoke to his counterpart. They did talk about security assistance. And we continue to look at requests coming from the Ukrainian government. There is an interagency review process for that. We have been focused on the non-lethal side, but as we have been before, we’re open to considering more immediate requests by the Ukrainian government.
I don’t have anything to announce today, so there’s nothing additional that I can — that I can offer you. The non-lethal support and assistance that had been previously approved has made its way in the large part — maybe there’s a few items that are still working their way through the system, like the night-vision goggles, but pretty much everything else that was approved has found its way to Ukrainian security forces.
Q: I had two missile questions, one on today’s acknowledgement by the administration that Russia violated the INF treaty. What’s the implication, both budgetary and operational, for the Pentagon and by the Russian violation? And I had a second question about Iraq Hellfires.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any implication for us or impact on us from a budgetary or programmatic expectation. I mean, this was — this was a violation by Russia. We’re going to abide by the treaty, and — and our program — and you can go online and look at it — is fully supportive and in line with that treaty.
Q: I guess the budget implication would be possibly more money for nuclear — strategic modernization in response to their violation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the secretary made it clear when he put the budget on the Hill in the wintertime that one of the things we were prioritizing was nuclear modernization. And, again, I encourage you to go look — you can look and see the numbers yourself. I mean, so I don’t anticipate any changes to that. We stand by the budget we submitted. The budget as submitted rightly prioritizes nuclear modernization.
Q: Hellfires for Iraq, the secure — Defense Security Cooperative Agency today notified Congress of a potential sale of up to 5,000 Hellfires. It’s 10 times more than you’ve said before. Any sense of how soon that (OFF-MIC) if Congress approves it, how soon could 5,000 Hellfires be sent to Iraq? And do they even have the capacity to absorb those weapons and effectively use them, since they only have two Cessna planes firing them off?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have — I can’t give you an assessment now of how fast they would get there. My — if past is prologue, the shipment would probably be done in tranches, rather than in a whole — a whole shipment. But, again, I don’t want to get ahead of a process that’s just now starting on the Hill.
But I can give you a short update, if you want. I mean, as of the 28th — so that’s, what, two days ago — was that yesterday? What’s today, 29th? Sorry, yesterday. Total of 466 Hellfire missiles have been delivered in July, just this month. Since January, we’ve delivered 780, and there’s another 366 that are going to be delivered over the course of August.
So, I mean, we’re — the process of providing these Hellfire missiles continues. Again, I — that’s what we’re doing now, and that I can — I just — I wouldn’t — couldn’t speculate about exactly how the 5,000 would get there. Does that help?
Q: That does, yeah.
Q: Just to follow up on that, is there any update on the recommendations on how to deal with Iraq? The Iraqi ambassador yesterday was saying the U.S. is dragging its feet on this, and General Dempsey seems to be suggesting that the sense of urgency has kind of dissipated. Is the sense of urgency gone on dealing with this issue?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen General Dempsey’s comments about that. I don’t — so I wouldn’t speak to that. I — as I’ve said before, I think everybody shares the proper sense of urgency here about the situation in Iraq. There’s no question about that.
The assessments are in. They are still being reviewed. I have nothing new to announce on that. And at — if we get to a point where these assessments allow us to make recommendations to the interagency and to the president about a way forward, then we’ll do that. And from those recommendations may or may not flow decisions and then — and then we’ll go from there.
But, I mean, the assessments are still in the review process right now. But I would also remind you, Dion, I mean, this notion that we’ve done nothing is just false. We have 715 Americans, troops on the ground in Iraq defending our property and our people, and also providing assistance — security assistance and some advice through those joint operations centers, the one up in Erbil and the one in Baghdad.
And, oh, by the way, we’re still flying an intensified program of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, manned and unmanned, over the country, information from which is being shared with Iraqi security forces as appropriate.
So we’re — and Iraq still is the benefactor of one of the highest foreign military sales programs that we have with any country. So I — I take deep issue with this notion that the United States and the United States military in particular is not moving fast enough or doing enough.
But ultimately — and we’ve said this in the past, as well — this is a fight the Iraqi security forces have got to make. It’s their country. It’s a threat to their people. And we’ve made it clear that we’re willing to work towards helping them, but ultimately this is — this is their fight.
Q: I just think people looking from the outside seeing the Islamic State blowing up mosques, solidifying their holds, and hearing you say we’re reviewing, we’re assessing, we may come up with recommendations that may lead to something suggests that the sense of urgency is gone.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I would just — I just absolutely disagree. I don’t think that there’s been any lapse of sense of urgency here.
But, again, this is — this has got to be a problem that the Iraqi government solves with the Iraqi security forces. And what’s critical to this in the long run and what has given ISIL, let’s not forget, the momentum that it’s gained is the lack of an inclusive, multi-confessional, political process inside Iraq, and that is not something that the United States military can fix. There’s not going to be a U.S. military solution here. It’s just not going to happen.
Q: Is this just a bureaucratic holdup? Because it’s taking longer now to review the assessment than it did to actually produce the assessment.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it hasn’t. It has not. I mean, the assessment teams took about three weeks to come back with assessments. We’ve had the assessments for a little over a week.
Q: (OFF-MIC) more than two.
Q: Two weeks, I think (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, thank you. That’s still more than a week. Look, again, they’re being reviewed. And I’m not going to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet or recommendations that haven’t been formed yet.
Q: But, Admiral, is it fair to say that because the Sunni extremists advance has not continued on to Baghdad that this department and the government — the U.S. government in general thinks that there is more time to make a recommendation, to wait for the Iraqi government to form a unity government, as you said? The fact that they’re not marching on Baghdad, has that — that given you more time in your perspective?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, the question would imply that — that we’re sort of — we’re dithering on the decision-making process here based on events on the ground. And we’re certainly watching and monitoring events on the ground, but it’s not having an impact on the work that’s being done here in that regard.
So, no, I wouldn’t tie the work of the review of the assessments to specifically to the situation on the ground. It’s a very fluid situation. It can be radically different tomorrow than it is today.
I said it before, so I’ll say it again. It’s more important to get this right to offer the right recommendations forward for the interagency and the president to make than it is to do it quickly. And this is ultimately an issue that the Iraqi government has to stand up to and that the Iraqi security forces have to face.
Q: Regardless of when you start the clock, we are several weeks into this Iraq crisis. And the word from the president at the beginning was, this department would accelerate its military assistance to Iraq. Other than the Hellfires that Tony asked about, looking back, what other assistance was accelerated in terms of weapons or supplies?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We accelerated — I mean, there was other — I mean, there — two and three quarter-inch rockets, almost 20,000 of them have been delivered to the government of Iraq. We’ve also provided thousands of tanks, tank and small-arms ammunition, thousands of machine guns, grenades, flairs, sniper rifles, M16 and M4s. So…
Q: (OFF-MIC) or is this (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, this is just in total.
Q: (OFF-MIC) total?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is in total.
Q: And the word was we’re going to — the United States will step up its assistance after the fall of Mosul. What since that point has accelerated…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I just when through it with the Hellfires, which is — which is the weapon most in demand by the Iraqi security forces. And then, you know, back to Dion’s question, we’ve — we’ve intensified ISR over the country. And that’s — that’s still staying at a pretty high level. Roughly — I think it’s still roughly around 50 flights per day, manned and unmanned.
We put an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf, where she remains, as well as escort ships. We flew in 700 — more than 700 troops to provide both security assistance for our people and our property there, as well as to provide these assessments.
I mean, I can go through the litany all over again, but we have certainly intensified our efforts and our attention level on Iraq since ISIL took Mosul. But, again, it — the Iraqi government had an opportunity in 2011, when — when all U.S. forces left, and — and I remind you what we said back then, that we — that we believe that — that the Iraqi security forces were competent and capable to the threat that they were facing in 2011.
There was an opportunity given to the — to the Iraqi government in 2011 that they haven’t taken full advantage of, the way they organized, manned, trained and equipped their army. And we’ve seen some of those units fold under pressure because of either lack of will or lack of leadership, not all of them, and we’re seeing some — we’re seeing them stiffen themselves, continue to stiffen themselves around Baghdad. They’re retaking some territory, and they’ve maintained control over others they’ve retaken, like the oil refinery and the Haditha Dam.
But ultimately, this is an Iraqi issue to deal with. And the — and the — and as we indicated in 2011, the — and I could — I wish I had the text for you. I quoted it from our report to Congress back then. But paraphrasing it, the best chance we said back then, the best chance to decrease violence in Iraq was through an inclusive political process, not through the largest army in the Middle East or X number of tanks or X number of F-16s, but through an inclusive political process. That was the best chance to decrease violence in Iraq, and that hasn’t — that — that opportunity they’ve been — they were given in 2011 has not been taken advantage of.
Q: Admiral, the new Major League Baseball review system — I don’t know if you’re a baseball fan, but it’s gone into — it’s gone into…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m wondering where this one’s going to go.
Q: … it’s gone into effect. The longer — the longer reviews that have taken up to five, six minutes have been on very close plays. Sometimes there’s been some — just differences of opinion on the reviewers in New York City who are looking at the plays. Is another explanation for the length of time that it’s taking for this department and the administration to decide what to do with the assessments and the recommendations from Iraq? Does it suggest possible divisions within the Pentagon and within the administration over what to do next? Is that a possible explanation for the length of time?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, this is — the image you put in my mind was, you know, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey looking through this little hood scope, you know.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, no, not at all. Again, I think everybody — everybody understands the fluid, complex situation we’re facing in Iraq, which is all the more reason why whatever recommendations flow from these assessments have got to be the right ones, have got to be sound, and have to be based on logic, and — and not done in a rush. And I think that’s what you’re seeing here. You’re just seeing a very deliberate process.
Q: It’s a very tough call that requires time to decide what to do?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The decisions will be made by the commander-in-chief. I think our task right now is to take a look at these assessments and offer the commander-in-chief some recommendations — a range of recommendations, not just one way forward, but — but many ways forward. And then there has to be an interagency discussion about that and ultimately a decision by the president.
So it’s not about — it’s not about tough calls right now. It’s about — it’s about doing the hard spadework of going through these assessments and delivering appropriately measured recommendations. Does that make sense?
Q: Question on India-U.S. military-to-military relations. I understand that secretary had finally spoken with his counterpart in India and now he’s going to make a trip to India next week. So did he carry any kind of message from the president? Or what is happening now between the two countries under this new government and (OFF-MIC) under the new government?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything to announce with regard to the secretary’s schedule today. But he does look forward in the future to visiting India and to continuing to develop a good strong relationship with the — with his counterpart and the new government.
As I’ve said before, India is an important country in the region, and — and, again, we look forward to continuing to make the relationship stronger and better.
Q: Have not received any kind of list or any (inaudible) list or any…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q: (inaudible) on North Korea? North Korean military commander (inaudible) on the nuclear attack, White House and Pentagon and overseas in U.S. bases. What is the DOD’s comment on this? Specifically they mentioned (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The North Koreans said what?
Q: Nuclear attack in United States, and they mentioned the specific place, like White House, Pentagon…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn’t see those comments. But I’ll say the same thing I’ve said before. It’s time for North Korea to do what’s right for its own people. They should be spending more time and effort feeding, educating their own people then threatening peace and stability on the — on the peninsula.
Q: (inaudible) broadcast by Korean (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen the broadcast.
Q: (inaudible) right now and (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They have — they have a longstanding record of making aggressive threats and doing nothing to enhance peace and stability on the peninsula or in the region. And they have an opportunity to do that, and they should take it. Nothing is going to change about our commitment to our South Korean allies on the peninsula and — and to our allies and partners in the region and the responsibilities and the commitments that we’ll hold ourselves to.
Q: If it’s alright, I’d like to return to the Ukraine crisis. Over the weekend, we had evidence — evidence of Russian involvement with those satellite images. I was wondering if any other evidence of Russian build-up or Russian involvement is going to be coming out in the future?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nothing that I’m — that I’m prepared to announce here from the podium at the Pentagon. But in answer to Lita’s question, I think I’ve given you sort of the latest laydown as we know it today.
Q: On Ukraine, CNN reported that there was — the Ukrainians had fired short-range ballistic missiles. Do you have any information to confirm that or what the intended target of those missiles were?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports. I’m not in a position to confirm them. But I think, again, more broadly, we all need to just look at the — what’s causing an increase in the violence and the tension in eastern Ukraine is the presence of these separatists, one, and, two, the support that these separatists continue to get from the government of Russia.
Q: But part of the larger picture here is, is there is a counter-offensive by the Ukrainian government going on that is making inroads against the rebels, and that’s part of why we see a stronger response from Russia. Is that this building’s…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into these — the CNN report about the missile launches, and we’ve said it — and, yes, you’re right. Ukrainian security forces have been — have had some success in recent days against separatists in certain areas of eastern Ukraine — I’ve said it before. I mean, they have a responsibility for — to restore law and order and to defend their country.
Q: There’s also some reports that Ukrainian military is firing into Russia. Have you (OFF-MIC) anything (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen the reports.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen anything like that, no.
Q: Admiral, any movement what was announced last week about the 5,000 additional spaces for border kids. Has anything been worked out yet with HHS on what new bases might be used with this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nothing new to announce today, Richard. Health and Human Services are still assessing the use of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and that — as I understand it, that assessment is not complete. That’s really a decision for them to make. As I told you before, the secretary remains committed to assisting in ways that are appropriate from the Defense Department. Joint Base Lewis-McChord may provide one of those additional sites, but there’s been no final decision by HHS, and I would refer you to them for any more detail.
Q: On India itself, Secretary Kerry is heading to India tonight for attending the strategic dialogue in New Delhi this week. Normally that dialogue has a defense component, and someone from this building goes and attends that dialogue. Do you know who is attending this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t — I don’t have the name handy, but if we have somebody from the Defense Department that’s participating, I’ll — we’ll get back to you and let you know. I’ll have to take that for the record.
Q: On Afghanistan, there was another terrorist attack in Afghanistan today in which one of the close relatives of President Hamid Karzai was killed. Is it the situation in Afghan, security situation in Afghanistan getting more worse day by day? Is that your sense?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re aware of the reports of the attack. Certainly, thoughts and prayers go out to the Karzai family in that — in that regard. But it — Afghanistan remains — first of all, let me — the Afghan national security forces have made terrific progress in just the last year alone. And in almost every case, they’re fully in the lead. That transition continues and will continue throughout the rest of this year.
That doesn’t mean that it’s — that it’s a completely danger-free environment. It’s still a combat zone. And men and women from many different nationalities continue to be killed and to suffer wounds as a result of the actions of the Taliban, who are doing nothing to make Afghanistan a more secure and stable place. But the Afghan national security forces have made great progress in that regard.
Q: And one more on Afghanistan and the SIGAR report, which said that quite a substantial amount of military hardware which was brought by Pentagon for Afghanistan forces has went missing. What do you say on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We — we have — we’re working our way through that report, as always, remain grateful for the insight that — that the inspector general provides. I just would make two points. One is, the ultimate responsibility for accountability of equipment that is provided to the Afghans lies with the Afghans.
That said, we believe part of the accounting problems — and we’re not — we acknowledge that there have been some accounting issues, but we believe a large part of that is because there were two different databases that weren’t necessarily compatible. We’re working on making them more compatible.
In just the process of doing that, we’ve been able to reduce by thousands the numbers of discrepancies, just by comparing data between the two databases, so that by a magnitude of thousands, tens of thousands, actually, we don’t believe many of those discrepancies are valid. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some, but we take it seriously. We understand we have a responsibility here and we’re working our way through that.
Q: Going back to the flow of weapons from Russia to Ukraine, you mentioned that there were air defense systems that continue to flow in. Are these of the tracked variety, larger variety that we saw, like the SA-11? Is that of concern that these are large systems?
And the larger rocket systems that we have been talking about earlier, was this the Tornado system? And what exactly makes that weapons system of concern?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have any detail on that — on the specific multiple rocket launcher system, Louie. But to your first question, we do believe that some of the air defense systems that continue to flow up to the border and then across the border are of sufficient range and equivalent capability as to — as to what we saw shoot down the Malaysia airlines flight. So it’s not — it’s not an insignificant capability that we continue to see flow into the hands of the separatists.
Q: So the — I mean, obviously this is of concern, because they’re coming across the border and staying there. What kind of a message do you have for Russia, given the concern about these kinds of weapons?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Same one we’ve had from the beginning. The support to the separatist movement needs to stop. The territorial integrity of Ukraine, the sovereignty of the government, and the people of Ukraine need to be observed and respected.
Q: Do you have any updates on the Nigeria girls? (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything — I don’t have a — I don’t have a specific update for you today. Our participation in the search continues. It is not at the — it is not at the same level that it was at its peak, but it continues, both manned and unmanned — mostly manned at this point — and we haven’t seen — I’m not aware that we’ve seen anything promising or any kind of leads that would indicate where these girls are.