Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Kirby, Nov. 25, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 24, 2014. Presenters: Rear Admiral John Kirby, Press Secretary

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Good morning, everybody. No statement again today.

Bob?

Q: (off mic) — since Secretary Hagel submitted his resignation. It’s been characterized as a forced resignation or a firing, and I wonder whether you would say whether that’s an accurate characterization of what happened.

ADM. KIRBY: This was a mutual decision arrived at between the president and the secretary of defense after a series of discussions that they had about the next two years. And, that’s — and that is exactly what happened, that’s exactly how it — how it transpired.

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: It would be inaccurate to characterize this as anything other than that, quite frankly.

Joe?

Q: Admiral Kirby, to follow up on Bob’s question, can we expect with Secretary Hagel’s resignation that the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria, mainly against ISIL, will be changing with the new secretary of defense?

ADM. KIRBY: Would it be accurate to say that, to —

Q: I’m asking you if, do we expect — if you are — if you are expecting, with Hagel’s resignation, if we are heading to a new strategy against ISIL?

ADM. KIRBY: So, first, there’s no connection between the secretary’s resignation announced yesterday and the strategy that we’re pursuing against ISIL on Iraq and Syria, no connection whatsoever.

And so, I wouldn’t draw from one any kind of conclusions or changes to the other. The strategy, as the secretary has said, as Chairman Dempsey has said, as I have said, against ISIL is working. It’s making — we’re making progress. Iraqi security forces on the ground are pushing out, out beyond Baghdad, into Anbar. Peshmerga continue to gain ground in the north.

It’s not over, it’s not going to be easy. Nobody is saying that. But our support from the air and now our support to them in an advise-and-assist capacity and soon a training capacity will continue. So I see no major muscle movements or changes to that.

Q: (off mic) — on Afghanistan, could you confirm if the Pentagon is reviewing the size of U.S. forces after 2014 for the remaining two years, 2015-2016, over 9,800?

ADM. KIRBY: We’re still having discussions with our NATO partners about the Resolute Support mission and the resources that are going to be required to execute that.

As you know, it’s not all an American posture. The 9,800 is the number that the president has authorized for the American presence in Resolute Support, but that still means there’s a couple of thousand or so that need to be provided by coalition partners. We’re still in discussions with them about that.

As you know, the bilateral security agreement didn’t get signed until fairly late, so that has set back some of those discussions. Those discussions are ongoing.

But, there’s — there’s — as we stand here today, there is no change to the 9,800 force level.

Q: Admiral, the secretary said yesterday he’s going to stay at his job here until his successor is confirmed by the Senate. There’s no way to know how long it’s going to take, but, by all appearances, the new Republican-controlled Senate is going to make life very difficult for whoever that person is, so it could be a couple of months, let’s say.

What are the secretary’s priorities to get accomplished in that time, given that he may still be around here into the new year, maybe even for a couple more months?

ADM. KIRBY: The secretary is going to stay at the job and stay at work and continue to do the things that he has been doing the last two years. So I think it would be — first of all, I want to set aside any, you know, expectations that he’s somehow going to come up with a new set of priorities here in whatever time he has left in the job.

His priorities remain, and he outlined this in a speech in Chicago in May, people, capabilities and partnerships. And everything he does kind of lines up under those three major priorities.

He’s launched more than a dozen reforms. Some of them now we’ve reported out to you. Some still have to work their way through.

So he’s very much focused on implementing the recommendations and changes that he has accepted from the reforms that we put in place — Navy Yard shooting, nuclear enterprise review, medical health system review. So he’s very much focused on implementation of those.

Also, working with the groups that he has working on other reform initiatives he has out there. A military justice system review that he’s got ongoing, the medals and awards review that he has going on right now. And, of course, the continued weekly focus by the secretary on sexual assault.

So it’s very much for him about, you know, continuing to keep — to keep his foot on the pedal and moving forward.

Q: Here in town, since his resignation yesterday, it’s been very poisonous. There’s been a lot of negative comments about him from administration officials, always unnamed, in news stories, for the past 24 hours.

Does that environment make it difficult for him to stay in the job for the next couple months and be effective with the president, with Congress in Washington, given that there’s clearly bad blood between the White House and him or the White House and this building?

ADM. KIRBY: First of all, let me challenge the implication in the question that there’s clearly bad blood between the building and the — and the White House or between Secretary Hagel and the — and the team.

As I said yesterday, and I’ll continue to say, I mean, he considers himself a very strong partner inside the national security team. That will continue.

And his focus is not on the atmospherics and on the sniping by some anonymous officials in these various news accounts. His focus is on the men and women who wear the uniform and their families and on this very critical time period that we find ourselves in.

Let’s remember as we head into Thanksgiving and into December, that we’ve got a mission that’s ending in Afghanistan and one — a new one that’s starting up in that country in 2015. We’ve got a very serious fight against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. We’ve got huge budget uncertainty that we’re facing. And one of the things that he’ll be working on over the holiday break, is work that F.Y. ’16, fiscal year ’16 budget submission. There’s a lot of work to do.

When he left the White House yesterday, he came back to the Pentagon and immediately had a meeting with the senior leaders of this building, the service secretaries and the service chiefs as well as senior staff on his — on his staff.

And his — he had two things to say. It was a very short meeting. One, he thanked them for their support for the last almost two years in office and for the — for the support he knew that he was gonna be able to continue to gather from them going forward.

But, number two, it’s time to get — you know, I got to keep working, you know. And he did it. He had a counterpart meeting with the minister of defense from New Zealand yesterday afternoon. And he’s got a full calendar today. For him, it’s back to business as usual, and that’s where his head is.

Justin?

Q: Can we just go back to why he left? You said it was a mutually agreed-upon decision.

ADM. KIRBY: That’s right.

Q: What did they mutually agree was the reason that he had to go?

ADM. KIRBY: I think it was — this was the — this was born out of a series of discussions that he and the president had. And I’m not gonna detail all the specifics of those discussions. First of all, I wasn’t party to them.

I’ve talked about — I’ve talked about this, Justin. There was a — there was an understanding between the two of them that he had — that the secretary had accomplished a lot in his less than two years in office. In fact, he had accomplished many of the things that he had set out to accomplish and to work on while he was secretary. It doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to do. As I answered to Phil, there is still more work to do.

But it was a general understanding between the two of them that now was about the right time for new leadership at the Pentagon to implement and to carry to conclusion some of those changes and to — and to lead the Pentagon in the last two years of the Obama administration.

Q: (off mic) — completely reject these ideas that have been floating around, a couple of them detailed in the New York Times, that he upset the White House over Guantanamo policy and Syria policy, specifically pulling back from plans to repatriate four Afghans who had been approved for transfer, and that he wrote that memo to Rice saying the Syria policy was at risk of unraveling.

Q: You reject that those — those serious policy issues had anything to do with his dismissal?

ADM. KIRBY: There were — policy disagreements or debates and discussions were not driving factors in the decision that the secretary made to submit his resignation.

It is not only not uncommon, but it’s — it’s healthy for — inside any large organization for there to be very candid and frank discussions and sometimes even disagreements over — over the directions certain policies or programs take. That’s what you expect. That’s what you want.

And — and the president said it himself yesterday in the White House when he talked about the very candid and frank and forthright advice and counsel that he has received from Secretary Hagel and how much he appreciates that. And that’s his job, is to give his opinion.

But it is not the giving of that opinion that has led in any way to his decision to submit his resignation.

Q: Just one final quick one. Can you confirm that he actually stopped the transfer of four Afghans?

ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about specific policy decisions like that, Justin.

What I — what I will say just on the issue of detainee transfers, one, he fully supports the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility and therefore, the transfer of the detainees in that facility, fully supports the president’s policy that the Guantanamo detention facility should close and that those detainees should be transferred out of there.

He has also said himself that he takes his responsibility very seriously with respecting with effecting those detainee transfers and making sure that the assurances we get from third-party countries are adequate to our own national security. He takes that very seriously, and there’s not a single transfer that he signs off that he doesn’t do so in a very sober fashion.

Q: Admiral, on Afghanistan for a minute, six months ago when the president laid out the 9,800 plan, he said that the two missions were advise and assist the Afghans and — and target the remnants of Al Qaida. But I understand now, the White House has authorized commanders to target the Taliban in certain situations.

Can you offer a little clarity on — on what the authorizations for the commanders will be, regarding targeting the Taliban as opposed to Al Qaida?

And is it — is it fair to describe this as something of — of an incremental expansion of — of next year’s mission?

ADM. KIRBY: We — there’s been no decision to expand in Afghanistan the authorities that our troops have, commander has, to — to defend those troops or to continue to prosecute and go after terrorist targets. There’s been expansion of those authorities or the — or the policies that govern those authorities.

And going into 2015, we’ve always said there’s going to be two missions for our troops going forward. One is to support — resolute support, as you pointed out, which is the train, advise and assist mission, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and the other is, of course, to continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and those will continue.

Valid terrorist targets will continue to be prosecuted and our troops will continue to have the right and the ability to defend themselves when needed.

Q: Can you just offer — what is a valid territory? That’s not just Al Qaida, the remnants of Al Qaida. Included in — in those valid terrorist targets will be the Taliban —

ADM. KIRBY: Will be — will be — will be members of Al Qaida or Al Qaida-affiliated networks and other terrorist groups who continue to pose a threat to the national security of the United States and to the lives of our troops.

And while we won’t target Taliban for the — for the sake — just merely for the sake of the fact that they’re Taliban and quote unquote, “belligerents,” should members of the Taliban decide to threaten American troops or specifically target and threaten our Afghan partners in a tactical situation, we’re going to reserve the right to take action as needed.

Yeah, John?

Q: Just a quick follow-up.

I mean, isn’t it — obviously, the Taliban are going to continue to fight the ANSF after the end of this year, so is it fair to say that you guys will probably, on a pretty regular basis, be going after Taliban targets?

ADM. KIRBY: No, I don’t think that’s fair to say at all, John. I think I’ve characterized pretty clearly and succinctly under what circumstances members of the Taliban might, you know — we — we might be targeting.

Barb?

Q: What’s the secretary’s relationship with Susan Rice?

ADM. KIRBY: The secretary has a close professional relationship with — with Susan Rice, the national security advisor, as you would think he would as secretary of defense.

They meet and discuss — they meet more than once a week — I know that — and, of course, in — in other large setting meetings more than two or three times a week.

Q: Does she micromanage the — what he — him or the department?

ADM. KIRBY: (off mic) — this whole debate about micromanagement.

This is a huge institution, the Defense Department, 3 million people globally deployed all around the world and here in the United States. It’s an immense response ability for any leader, and Secretary Hagel has managed that responsibility very ably.

There’s not an issue of micromanagement from any other place outside the building, you know. It’s not about micromanaging.

There is — there is, as there should be when you’re talking about the kind of complex operations we’re conducting — just look at the questions we’ve gotten here, you know, today on how — on how difficult some of these problems are, that there would be a very deep and continued discussions in the interagency, not just between the Pentagon and the White House but between the Pentagon and State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI. You would expect that there is going to be large interagency and very complex discussions about this.

Q: What I still don’t understand — I understand everything you said about things change, making a change over the next two years because the agenda and the issues have changed since he first came into office.

What I don’t understand is why does that mean he had to go? Why didn’t he — why did Secretary Hagel not believe he could stay and do the job and adapt to those changes?

Why — why couldn’t he fight for his job to stay? Why doesn’t he want to stay?

ADM. KIRBY: This — this was a product of a discussion — several discussions he had with the president. The secretary and the president both agreed that two years was about the right time for him, this is the appropriate time to step down, that he had accomplished a lot in those two years.

And I would remind you that he still has — he’s still the secretary of defense, he has put into place many, many reforms that will strengthen the institution going forward and has made quite a bit of progress in defense diplomacy and that this was the appropriate time.

It’s not uncommon for — at least under this commander-in-chief, for defense secretaries to — to stay about two years in length.

Q: I — I guess I would press the question one more time, if possible. Why did Secretary Hagel not, himself, want to stay on the job?

ADM. KIRBY: It’s not that he didn’t want to stay on the job, and it’s not that the secretary doesn’t believe he isn’t, you know — that he’s not capable of — of — of still contributing or serving for the next two years.

He — he said it very well yesterday, that he considers it the greatest privilege of his life to — to have the job that he has right now and to serve the men and women of this department.

It’s that they both decided that he had accomplished a lot, he had done what he had set out to do in this job and that now, with two years left to go, it was an appropriate time for new leadership.

Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions.

One, as Secretary Hagel’s legacy is concerned relations between military-to-military relations between India and the U.S. and South Asia, where do — where he left those relations since he visited India but Indian defense minister never made it during his time here?

ADM. KIRBY: Is the question that — are we concerned about the relationship between our two militaries even — because the Indian minister of defense didn’t come?

No. I mean, we’ve said this — we’ve talked about this before —

Q: (off mic) India’s defense minister could not make it, because of the changes and all the new government in India.

But he visited India. But where do we leave this legacy — where he left the legacy between the two countries’ relations?

ADM. KIRBY: I think the secretary — whenever he ends up leaving the Defense Department, will leave believing that — that he helped strengthen the relationship between the United States and India from a military perspective, and one of the things he’s very proud of is launching this defense trade and technology initiative that Mr. Kendall is heading up.

That’s a new initiative. It’s another reform he’s put into place in the acquisition world that he’s very proud of, and it promises to even deepen the military-to-military relationship and cooperation that we enjoy with India.

Q: And the second, if I may.

As far as a report by the CFR, Council on Foreign Relations, that Pakistan will be making more than 200 nuclear bombs in the next six years. Is this a concern because reports said that those bombs not may be, but will be in the hands of terrorists in a sense.

Things are changing in the region in Afghanistan and all that. Are you concerned it’s building concern about these reports?

ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen that report, but we’ve long said that we believe Pakistan is more than capable of securing their stockpiles.

Q: Thank you Admiral Kirby.

So, you began by saying that the strategy toward Islamic State and Iraq and Syria is working. But at the same time, several officials here have also said that the memo that Secretary Hagel wrote to Susan Rice is basically challenging their assumption that this strategy is working.

So, which is true? Is the strategy working, and or is Secretary Hagel’s memo to Susan Rice saying that the strategy is not working?

ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to make it a practice of talking about internal communications the secretary has with the National Security Council or the national security team. So, that’s point number one.

Point number two is regardless of what those communications say, whatever the content may be, the secretary has been clear with you himself that he believes this is the right policy that we’re pursuing against ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, and that we are executing the right strategy. He has also said that strategy just by its own definition has to be constantly reviewed and evaluated, and we’re doing that. We’ve been doing that since day one.

We’re constantly looking at, you know, are you doing it the right way? Do you have the right resources to get it done? Do you need to change in any way, shape, or form to improve your effectiveness against an enemy like ISIL? And that will continue regardless.

But the — all this anonymous sniping about a memo doesn’t change the fact that the secretary fully supports the policy that the commander in chief has put in place about going after ISIL. The international effort to do so, it’s not just about the United States and the strategy that we’re executing.

Q: On his way out, would it be accurate to say that if in fact the characterization of this memo is accurate, that he is questioning, even though he supports the existing strategy, but he is questioning if that strategy is in fact the right strategy going forward?

ADM. KIRBY: I’ll go back to what I said before. The secretary is not questioning the effectiveness or the validity of the strategy that we’re pursuing against ISIL.

He said that in testimony. He said it in front of you guys. He believes that this is the right strategy.

Q: So what’s the best way to characterize, just to — not to belabor the point, but just to understand what he may have wanted to communicate in that memo to Advisor Rice or —

ADM. KIRBY: Without talking about individual topics and or hypothetical methods of communication, the secretary of defense’s job — part of his job, anyway, is to give advice and counsel. To poke and to prod and to ask questions and to contribute to an interagency discussion, and sometimes an interagency debate, about the national security of the United States. That’s his job.

And you heard it yourself yesterday from President Obama, that that’s exactly what Secretary Hagel did.

Yeah?

Q: I was hoping you could speak to the justification that was sent to Congress on the weapons for the Iraqi forces and the tribal forces in Iraq. It lays out $1.6 billion for a variety of weapons. Most of those weapons are American made. How will those — will those things be competed as Contracts? Are these add-ons to existing contracts? How does that mechanism work? And is there any concern with Secretary Hagel leaving that that funding is in any way jeopardized as it gets through Congress?

ADM. KIRBY: Well, we certainly hope that there’s no impact on Congress’s willingness and ability to approve that request.

I don’t think I have a good answer for you today on the specific mechanisms. So, you’re going to have to let me get back to you on that. But it remains a fact that we have a very robust foreign military sales program with Iraq, and that we have stepped up the delivery of certain arms and ammunition to the Iraqi government as recently as this month.

Hundreds more hellfire missiles were delivered to help them deal with the threat of ISIL, and I would expect that that kind of material support will continue. But you’re going to have to let me get back to you on the mechanisms, if that’s okay.

John, I already got you. Jamie?

Q: You mentioned that among Secretary Hagel’s initiatives was the — was dealing with the problem of sexual harassment, sexual assault in the military. And I apologize because I’m not up to speed on all of these things, but am I right in thinking that there’s a — there’s a report or a deadline coming up soon that he’s expecting some? And could you just bring up to date of where that stands?

ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, we owe the president a report on the status of our — of our programs and initiatives that are trying to eliminate sexual assault, sexual harassment in the ranks.

That report is being finalized. And we do anticipate delivering it on time to the president, to the White House, early in the month of December, so early next month. But I’m not at liberty right now to talk about it in any more detail.

Q: (off mic) — assume it’s going to — it’s going to have some specific recommendations for —

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the report that hasn’t been submitted. That wouldn’t be fair for me to do that from the podium.

But it’s a — it’s a very fulsome, comprehensive look at how we’re — how we’re doing against this problem in the Pentagon and the problems, challenges we’re facing, things we need to do better. But I wouldn’t go into more detail than that right now.

Carla?

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: I’ll get back to you, Jon.

Q: Is there a sense of frustration in the Pentagon having to go through new defense secretaries every couple of years? And how is that affecting the communications bridge with the White House?

ADM. KIRBY: No, there’s no issue with that.

One of the things you get really good at in the — in the military is change. I mean, it’s leadership changes in the military on a very frequent basis, sometimes more frequent than my spouse would appreciate. It’s just part of — it’s part of just being in this culture.

So, no, there’s no angst in that regard.

And what was the second question?

Q: How is this going to affect the communications bridge with the White House?

ADM. KIRBY: Oh, there’ll be no — there’ll be no affect on that.

Again, I think I’ve said it before, the communications with the White House and the other agencies in the federal government with the Pentagon are very close, very constant, as you would imagine they would be today with all the threats we’re facing. And I think we can easily predict that that will continue no matter who is heading the department.

Yeah, Jon?

Q: Admiral Kirby, I just wanted to get some clarification on the rules of engagement. Obviously, U.S. troops always have the right to defend themselves. But if Afghan forces come under attack from the Taliban, do U.S. ground forces have the authority to go to their aid? Or are you talking about close air support?

ADM. KIRBY: I think we understand that, moving forward, under the need to conduct counterterrorism operations, that there may be some enabling functions that we will have to continue to provide or to support and bolster for Afghan national security forces.

I wouldn’t want to get too specific right now about all those enabling functions and what they would look like. But, clearly, we know there’s probably going to be some need for some enabling support going forward.

Bob?

Q: Would that — that action that the president has signed in, will that result in any change in composition of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in January onwards?

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: Well, first of all — first of all, I’m not aware of anything new the president signed. As I said, this is not — this is — there’s no new decision here, that we’ll continue to prosecute terrorism targets in Afghanistan, as we said we would, and we’ll continue to support Afghan national security forces, as we said we would.

But, what we won’t do, is, just by virtue of them being a belligerent, won’t continue to go after Taliban targets. But if they pose a threat directly to our troops or to the Afghan security forces, certainly they become fair game at that point.

Q: You know, there are high-value targets sitting somewhere inside Afghanistan? You will certainly go and target them, right?

ADM. KIRBY: We will continue to go after terrorists who threaten the national security of the United States and our Afghan allies.

Q: (off mic) — troops in Afghanistan after 2014, will the change —

ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’ve been — we’ve been very clear about what that’s gonna look like. As I said, I think the very first question, it’s a 9,800 troop level, beginning at the end of this month, beginning of January.

Now, as I also said, since the bilateral security agreement got signed fairly late in the process, our coalition partners and allies continue to examine their resourcing, and so there may need to be some flexibility there with respect to what they’re able to provide. But nothing’s changed as we speak today about the 9,800 number.

And inside that number, will be a component dedicated to the counterterrorism missions. I don’t have an exact figure on that, and I don’t anticipate any major structural changes with respect to that.

Q: What’s the percentage of that? How many — how much percentage —

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. You’d have to — you’d have to talk to General Campbell and his staff. I don’t have the breakdown for you on that. And I don’t know that it’s all that relevant to begin with.

Courtney?

Sorry.

Q: Did you have a follow on that?

Q: No.

Q: The 1,500 troops that are supposed to be going into Iraq, first off, have any of them started moving or has anyone even gotten orders yet?

And then, can you also just clear up where this stands with congressional funding, whether — what will start before Congress actually funds?

ADM. KIRBY: Sure. That’s a great question.

I don’t know about orders, Courtney, so let me get back to you on that. But I can tell you that none of the 1,500 additional have arrived in Iraq.

That said, and we talked about this earlier, General Austin, as the — as the regional commander, has the ability and the responsibility, quite frankly, to move forces he has in-theater around if he needs to. And he has decided to do that in a very small way. Right now, the number is still about 50 that he has moved into Anbar province to begin the expeditionary advise-and-assist mission that we talked about. No formal training has begun as a result of the training, the building partner capacity mission, no training has begun yet in that respect.

So he has — and with respect to the training, and quite frankly, the advise-and-assist mission, he has the authorities, the limited authorities, to begin that now. And that’s what he’s done by moving some 50 troops into Anbar.

But we will need the authorities and the funding that go with the Iraqi train-and-assist fund that we — that we asked for. We still need Congress to pass that. We still need that funding to execute it in a more fulsome way, in the way it was designed to be executed with these 1,500 extra troops.

But, can we start doing some of it with troops that he has in theater? Yes. And he’s begun doing that, but, again, in a very limited way, because we don’t have the funding to support it in a more fulsome capacity.

Q: (off mic) — you don’t even expect that stateside troops who would be going over there will have orders until after Congress —

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, this is where the funding and the authorization that comes with that funding is so important, because of the numbers, the sheer numbers we’re talking about — 1,500 is a big number, and it’s gonna require funding and lift to get them over there. And so, we still need the support for Congress to begin this Iraqi training mission in the — in the way it was intended through the request to Congress.

But, as I said, that doesn’t mean that he can’t get a jumpstart with troops he has in the theater, and he’s starting to do that in a small way. I mean, he doesn’t have that many resources to pull from, as it is.

Does that answer your question?

Bob?

Q: There was a Yemeni army raid on an Al Qaida camp today that rescued a number of people, that was reported to have been supported in some way by the U.S. military. I wonder whether you can say that, whether it was or not, and whether any Americans were among those who were freed?

ADM. KIRBY: All I — all I’m gonna to be able to say today, Bob, is, as you know, we support the Yemeni government in their efforts as they tackle terrorism inside their borders and continue — and as they provide security — and we provide security assistance to various units.

So, beyond that, I would refer to the Yemeni government for any — for any comment.

Q: (off mic) — if there was any American role in the operation?

ADM. KIRBY: I would just tell you we continue to support Yemeni counterterrorism efforts and refer you to them to talk to any operations.

In the back there?

Q: I wanted to ask about a follow-up on something that was — Josh Earnest mentioned at the White House yesterday.

He said that for the next secretary, the priority or rather the issue of dealing with ISIL has risen to be a top priority, and that’s certainly something a new secretary would be focused on.

Considering that, and, for example, Secretary Hagel’s trip to Southeast Asia being postponed, why wouldn’t allies in that region, and others, for that matter, why shouldn’t they come to the conclusion that the Asia-Pacific rebalance is no longer a top priority of the department?

ADM. KIRBY: Because it’s not. The secretary has made six trips to the region since he’s been secretary. And the fact that he postponed the trip to Vietnam was really more about scheduling and issues that he wanted to be able to deal with here at home and nothing about his commitment to that part of the world.

He held the first ASEAN defense ministers meeting ever in the United States. Again, he’s made six trips. He has been very, very much a point man on the Asia-Pacific rebalance, securing important agreements with many countries over there for increased U.S. rotational presence. And he’s pledged and will continue to work on making sure that the latest capabilities the we have, P-8, the LCS, the Joint Strike Fighter, all as they come off the line are going to be flowing into the Asia-Pacific.

So our partners and our allies, five of seven of our treaty alliances are in the Pacific. Our partners and our allies, I think, if you ask them, they’ll tell you they’re very confident how much the United States is committed to this rebalance and specifically, the United States military and Secretary Hagel.

So, the trip being postponed was nothing more than a scheduling drill. And the secretary very much would like to get that trip back on the schedule and go to Vietnam.

I’ll take one more. David?

Q: John, General Breedlove is going to Ukraine. Has there been any change in the U.S. policy on providing only nonlethal?

ADM. KIRBY: Well, the question presupposes that there’s an official sort of line being drawn at — at nonlethal, David. We are — nothing has changed about the — the nonlethal assistance that we continue to flow to Ukrainian armed forces and security forces.

We continue to evaluate all Ukrainian requests for military aid and assistance, but right now, the focus remains on nonlethal.

Q: No decision has been made to provide lethal?

ADM. KIRBY: We continue to focus on nonlethal assistance to Ukraine.

Q: One more time. No decision has been made on providing lethal assistance?

ADM. KIRBY: We continue to be focused on nonlethal assistance to Ukraine.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

Source: defense.gov