Department of Defense Press Briefing by Admiral Kirby, Oct. 31, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—October 31, 2014.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Happy Halloween.

Sorry to make you wait. Well, maybe not so much.

Good afternoon. I do have something. I’m going to ask you to bear with me as I read it — an update. Just literally within the last half-hour, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Jess Wright, signed a memo, a change memo to pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment procedures and protocols for DOD personnel.

This is reflecting the decision that the secretary made, as you — as you tracked yesterday, to support the Joint Chiefs’ recommendation that our troops returning would go through this controlled monitoring process for about 21 days. But it also includes some guidance on civilian personnel. And I know some of you had asked about that. So just bear with me. I’ll read to you the section that regards DOD civilian personnel.

So, civilian employees who are deploying in response to the Ebola outbreak in western Africa have two options upon redeployment. They must choose between these options prior to departure from theater. Option one: Active monitoring and return to normal activities. Under this option, DOD civilian employees will comply with guidance from the CDC, state, and local public health authorities unless otherwise directed. This includes returning to normal work duties, routines and life activities consistent with that guidance. DOD components will comply with active monitoring guidance in this memorandum, to include twice-daily temperature checks.

Or option two: To voluntarily participate in military-controlled monitoring. Under this option, DOD components will allow civilian employees to voluntarily participate in the same control procedures that military personnel will be undergoing as established inside — inside this directive earlier — earlier in the document.

For all personnel, during the 21-day post-deployment active monitoring period, there will be no leave or temporary duty or temporary additional duty that will be authorized outside the local area, to ensure continued fact-to-face monitoring, except for civilian personnel participating voluntarily in the military-controlled monitoring program. In that case, there question of temporary orders is kind of moot at that point because they’re going to be in controlled monitoring.

So I wanted to provide that guidance to you because some of you had asked about civilians and how they would factor into the protocols.

And so with that, Bob?

Q: Just — I have a couple of questions for you, but just for clarity’s sake, on your first point about the two choices. The first choice, essentially, is to go along with the state or the CDC guidelines, period.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Correct.

Q: Okay.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Which would be active monitoring, but they’re able to go home, they just have to take their temperature twice a day.

Q: (inaudible)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. They just go — exactly — just go home.

And the only caveat to that is that they’re not going to be — if they choose — if they choose that option, they won’t be allow to take out-of-area leave or out-of-area temporary orders once they — during that 21 days.

They’ve got to stay home. Not in the house, but they’ve got to stay in the area. Does that make sense?

Q: So, my two questions are, one is, could you elaborate on or explain a little bit further to the point that General Dempsey made yesterday, about him saying the Pentagon is planning or considering how to expand the train-and-assist mission in Iraq to Anbar province?

And the second question is, are you aware of or do you have any comment on discussions among a number of Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, I think UAE, to form their own military alliance?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me take the second one first. I mean, these are all nations, as you know, Bob, that we have been talking to as part of coalition efforts. And those discussions and in some cases very active participation continues.

As for discussions that those nations may be having amongst themselves, I’d refer you to those governments. I’m not — I’m not privy to that, we’re not privy to that, and wouldn’t speak to it.

On your second question, I’m almost really loathe to try to add anything to what the chairman said. I thought he was quite clear that we have 12 advising teams right now, seven in Baghdad, five up in Irbil. They continue to work at the brigade and division level.

We’ve long said that the advise-assist mission is a core part of this effort to make Iraqi security forces more competent and capable in the field. And it’s certainly a possibility that those advisers or perhaps even additional advising teams could advise brigade or division-level headquarters that are operating in Anbar.

There’s no plans for that right now, but I think the chairman was referring to the potential for that, should the need be there.

But he also said that it’s important that the Iraqi security forces continue to reach out to the Sunni tribes on their own, and to bring them into the fold. And the more inclusive that they prove to be, the more competent and capable they will be as well, as a team in Anbar.

So, I think it’s an option that remains on the table, but we’re not there yet.

Q: Are there any plans, aside from Anbar, is there any plan to increase the number of teams that are in Iraq?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s no plan right now that I foresee. I certainly have nothing to announce with respect to that. There’s 12, total, right now.

Justin?

Q: So, what’s stopping you from sending them to Anbar — You said if there’s a need, you’ll do it. Well, isn’t there a need? Eighty percent is in ISIS control.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Justin, I think if we believed there was a significant need for that, and the Iraqi security forces or the Iraqi government felt that that need was acute and asked for it, we would certainly consider it. But I think the chairman, again, was pretty clear: This is an option that remains on the table. We’re just not there yet.

And we have 12 teams that, again, they’re working at brigade and division level. And I want to stress that, you know, when we talked about — when he talked about Anbar, I think some people misconstrued that to mean that, you know, we’d have, you know, advisers down at a very low, tactical level, out in the field in Anbar. That is not what he’s referring to. And that’s not what we’re referring to.

It would not change the character of the advise-and-assist mission. It might change some of the geography. But not the character. The same level of advising would be done.

Q: Just to follow up on that, CNN is reporting that there’s at least planning or discussions going on for the possibility of deployment of advisers should that be needed to Anbar.

And I’m curious — I guess the question is just because of the planning taking place, is that an acknowledgement that — or a fear that if U.S. advisers were not deployed there that Iraqi security forces would not be able to handle the job of pushing back ISIS forces out of Anbar?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, not at all. We plan for any number of contingency here. That doesn’t mean that the contingency’s going to happen. And it doesn’t mean that it conveys any lack of clarity or a lack of confidence on our part. I mean, our job is to try to think ahead. We’re always doing that.

Again, we’re not there yet. It remains an option that we certainly could consider. But — but there’s no need for it right now.

David?

Q: One of the things the chairman said yesterday was that the sites for training the Syrian opposition have been chosen. How many sites and where?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I know there’s several sites. You know, the Turks have agreed to host train-and-equip there. And the Saudis have agreed to host train-and-equip missions there. I don’t have the exact sites for you. I can take that for the record and perhaps get back to you on that. But there are several that are in play.

As the chairman also said, countries are starting to come forward with the potential to contribute trainers to this, in addition to the trainers that we’ll contribute to it. But the vetting process hasn’t begun yet.

Q: I believe General Allen said three countries had agreed host and train Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the two that I’m aware of. I’ll have to get back to you if there’s a third.

Q: And what — what does that do to your estimates of output of the number of composition of fighters that you could put out in a year?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it could certainly increase the level of output. The more training sites that you have, certainly the more, potentially, assuming that you can get to there through a vetting program, we could potentially increase the through-put of training. There’s no question about that.

Right now, we’re still working at — because it hasn’t even started yet. We’re still working at an estimate of about 5,400 a year. That — but — but again, that could change. And we said that from the very beginning. If we get more sites in and the — and the regiment becomes efficient enough, we certainly would hope to increase that. But that’s the — that’s the going-in starting figure right now.

Q: Is there an estimated start date for vetting?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I don’t have an estimated start date on the vetting process. It hasn’t begun yet.

Joe?

Q: On the equipping, could you confirm a local report in Syria that Assad forces have gained grounds, mainly in the north part of Syria in Aleppo and basin part of the country? Are you aware of that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ve seen the reports, Joe. I can’t speak for the Syrian government and what they’ve — what they’ve done or haven’t done. Joe, you’ve got to remember. We’ve talked about this before. Our role inside Syria is to deny sanctuary and safe haven to ISIL. And the missions that we are flying there are in support of that mission. We are not flying missions in Syria to monitor the daily progress of Assad’s forces.

Let’s take this back to a larger issue. The Assad regime still needs to go. The Assad regime is still a big reason why ISIL has the sanctuary and safe haven that they’ve been enjoying inside Syria. What we’re trying to do is deny them that. That’s what we’re focused on.

Q: Admiral, yesterday, the secretary talked about how he owes the president and the National Security Council his best thinking on strategy generally in Syria, specifically. Has he and the Department received any response or satisfaction in answer to his concerns about the outlook for Syria, and specifically dealing with the Assad regime there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think I’m going to go beyond what the secretary said, but the issue inside Syria is a key component of this larger, regional approach, and the strategy that we’re executing.

The strategy is working. We believe in the strategy. But the robust discussion that goes on inside the national security team continues to this day.

I mean, every day, this is a topic of discussion. And the secretary, as you said yesterday, believes that it’s his job as defense secretary to add to that discussion in a very candid, forthright way, and he does that. The chairman does that. Everybody on the interagency team does that.

The secretary is satisfied that — that — that his voice is being heard, and that that discussion is ongoing.

Q: The issue inside Washington seems to be this discussion is not getting resolved. There’s a senior Defense official in news report after news report saying the White House is micromanaging us, we can’t do this right, we don’t know what the outlook for the strategy is. When is this going to be resolved, or will it take the president himself to step in and resolve it?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the question, presupposed, is that there’s something to be resolved. I mean, I can’t speak for the anonymous sources in these stories and the complaints that they might be proffering.

From our perch, the strategy is working. It’s the right strategy. It’s going to take some time, and we’ve talked about that before. This is a long struggle. You can’t judge the complete success of the campaign after just three months. It’s going to take some time.

But we all believe that the strategy is the right one. And the execution of the strategy is — is going as it should. That doesn’t mean it won’t be adjusted over time or metered here and there. I mean, you constantly make new decisions as you go through that. But it doesn’t default the whole strategy.

So, I mean, I think I’d push back a little bit on the — the implication in the question that there’s something larger in the strategy that needs to be fixed. And that — I don’t believe that we believe that’s the case.

From what I read in the New York Times, there is an outstanding question about the Syrian units that you just talked about that will be fighting there in the next couple years, and what kind of support the U.S. will provide them when they come into contact with Assad’s government forces. Has that question been answered, or is that one of these things that’s still under discussion?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we’re constantly talking about all aspects of this. And the secretary got asked this question in the — in the Senate hearing about the degree to which we would or we wouldn’t protect opposition members that we train to be — came under attack, and he said we would come to their assistance.

And I’ve said that here, too. So, there’s — but again, every aspect of a strategy, as you go through a day to day, you always re-examine. You always assess. You reassess, and you make new decisions based on progress you’re making or progress you’re not making.

It doesn’t mean the strategy itself isn’t sound.

Courtney?

Q: I have an Ebola question.

So, before this 15-day plan has been presented I guess to the secretary or clear, there’s several small groups that are supposed to be coming back. Where will they be going? Is there some sort of an intermediate base, or at this point is everyone who’s redeploying, U.S. military that is, redeploying from West Africa, will they all go back to Vicenza, if that’s the place, even if that’s not their home base?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Don’t know the answer to that, actually.

General Rodriguez is looking at that exact issue right now. And I don’t know when the next transit of individuals is. I don’t think it’s imminent. Probably within the next week or so. So, we have some time to figure this out.

But I think General Rodriguez is working on that right now.

Q: What’s the thinking of having different rules for DOD civilians versus military personnel? Is it based on the length of time they may be there? Is it based on the duties they may perform while they’re there? What’s the thinking that they should have a different set of rules?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s two components to this, Julian.

One is because they’re civilian employees and not uniformed servicemembers. We legally can’t force them to undergo a controlled monitoring regimen the way that we can with uniformed troops.

And number two, quite frankly, they are going to be down there in just far fewer numbers. There’s a — there’s a math component to this, as the chairman said yesterday, that we are — U.S. military members are the largest cohort going down there in big numbers. And we go in units, and we come back in units principally. And so there’s a — there’s a component here of just simple size.

Right now, there’s about 55 DOD civilians down in West Africa between Senegal and Liberia, total, compared to, you know, well over — I think we’re up at like 1,200 in terms of U.S. uniformed personnel. So, big difference in the population size.

Q: Do you, just as a quick follow-up, is there any exception for uniformed military members who might have, you know, might be just doing a short, quick trip as part of a distinguished visitor tour, or a quick support, as opposed to someone who’s going to be there for several months as part of the deployment?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: This memo covers that. For somebody who’s transient personnel like that, they would not have to go through 21 days of controlled monitoring, you know, if there was — if we believed there was no risk of exposure. Obviously, if you’re down there for a short period of time and you for some reason come in contact and we think there’s a high risk of exposure, obviously that changes the game altogether. But if it’s a transient issue like an air crew and they don’t ever come into contact, and they’re only down there for a little while, they don’t have to go through the whole controlled monitoring process.

That’s all laid out in the secretary’s memo which we will, of course, make available to you after the briefing.

Q: Switch to Russia?

Yesterday, NATO said two-dozen aircraft, Russian aircraft, were intercepted and tracked within the last 48 hours. The NATO secretary general has said that while NATO is not back on a Cold War footing, that the Russian activity has undermined the trust. Does the U.S. military also feel that Russia’s activities have undermined trust towards them? And what steps are we going to be prepared to take in response to flights on European soil — I mean European air space?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we certainly don’t see this — these increased flights and activity as helpful to the security situation in Europe. Clearly, they — they pose the potential risk of escalation. They also, quite frankly, could pose just a potential risk to civil aviation just in the sheer number of and size of and scope of these flights. So, they’re not — they’re not exactly helpful.

But what also is not helpful is Russia’s continued interference inside Ukraine. So, putting these flights aside, this is an opportunity for Russia to try to do the right thing and meet its international obligations to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors.

But we’re watching these flights very, very closely. I can tell you that there was another — there were more flights today — NATO-tracked flights out over the Baltics and North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft involved fighter jets, long-range bombers, and tanker aircraft. So there was another round as well today. I don’t have more detail on it than that.

So we’re watching this closely. And again, what we’d ask authorities in Russia to do is to take steps, concrete tangible steps to reduce tension, not increase it.

Q: Do you trust what Russian officials are saying at this point?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oftentimes, their words do not — are not backed up by actions. And we judge another nation and their intents by their actions.

Tony?

Q: Going back a couple years to the case of Matthew Bissonette, famous SEAL, who wrote “No Easy Day,” “60 Minutes” is going to have him on Sunday saying he’s under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. The New York Times did a story today on it.

His attorneys tell told both outlets that he’s under criminal investigation.

I want to ask you, did the Pentagon ask Justice to launch an inquiry, either Pentagon, NCIS, or the Joint Special Operations Command? This is two years running now, and this case hasn’t been resolved. So I want to just ask you, did the DOD instigate this criminal inquiry?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to the details of an investigation, Tony, but I can tell you there is an investigation ongoing regarding the book “No Easy Day,” and some of the assertions in it.

But I won’t get into details of it, just because of — because it’s ongoing. So I really can’t — I know unsatisfying as this is for you, I just can’t give you more detail than that.

Q: It’s unsatisfying, but it’s also why two years later you guys still are dogging after him? Can you explain to the public why — what about the book was so off-putting to you?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, you’re asking me to get into detail on an ongoing investigation, and I just simply can’t. And I would challenge this assertion that, you know, you guys are dogging him. I mean, there’s an active investigation. And we don’t investigate, we or any other agency, investigate things lightly.

But, again, I think we need to let it proceed, and I just won’t go into more detail than that.

Q: A question, buried in the New York Times article is an assertion I want to see if you agree with. It said that, the Times said that the film, “Zero Dark 30,” benefited from extensive assistance from the Pentagon and the CIA.

I don’t expect you to address the CIA part, but I don’t recall extensive assistance from the Pentagon for that movie. Can you push back or at least give some clarification there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, actually, I can. Anticipating that I might get this question, I have in front of me the report done by the inspector general of DOD about this, this issue, this idea of support to the movie, “Zero Dark 30.”

And I’ll just read for you the last paragraph: “Within the Department of Defense, we did not identify instances whereby any Special Operations tactics, techniques and procedures-related information was provided to filmmakers.”

So, no. There was no active participation by the Department of Defense in that movie to reveal any tactic, technique or procedures or classified information to the movie’s filmmakers.

Q: The SEALs, another SEAL Team VI question. Fox News next months, and during sweeps, is going to have a two-part series on the man who shot bin Laden.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Is that true, Justin?

Q: I have no comment.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay.

(Laughter.)

Q: As satisfying as that may be for —

(Laughter.)

Q: My question is, did you guys know two SEAL Team VI members who, one we know was on the raid and the second one who may or may not have been, talking about this. You were here when Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates slapped the hell out of the White House and others for talking too much about it.

Three years later, now, are you concerned that SEAL members from the raid are going to start talking, breaking their supposed code of silence?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we have a concern generally when any of our members in uniform reveal classified information in the public, in whatever way that is, a book, a memoir or a movie, an op-ed piece. I mean, always — that’s always a concern for us.

I mean, you dog us all the time about over-classifying things. And, right. Well — but we take operational security very, very seriously, and we’re very concerned any time any member of the Department of Defense takes it upon him or herself to — to do that, to — to violate operational security.

It’s obviously a concern. I’m not — I’m a public affairs officer. I’m not a special operator. I’m not a SEAL. I wouldn’t pretend to be one.

But I know that they live by a very high code of — of silence because of what they do. There’s a code of ethics inside the SEALs about not talking about what they do and not seeking recognition for what they do. I think it’s a — it’s a very honorable code. And my friends who are SEALS, I know live by it and are very proud of it. And I think it’s something that all individuals who are participating or have knowledge of sensitive operations should follow.

Q: Will we revisit this in a couple of weeks when they have their special on?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’ll all be watching. I’m sure with baited breath. But thanks for the programming guide. That was —

(Laughter.)

That was good.

Q: (inaudible) — report, we’ve seen that before, haven’t we?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know. Is that — is that — I have to check. I —

(CROSSTALK)

Q: — disclosed classified information and they took it out later?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We found out in June of 2013. And it was — it was provided to Congress. So I — I will check on that. I will check on that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: If it hasn’t, I’ll — we’ll look — we’ll look into that for you.

Yeah?

Q: In response to Ebola, the Chinese minister of defense says it — it has deployed 50 military health workers to Liberia and is also building a, I think, 100-bed hospital there. I — I wonder if there’s collaboration or coordination between the two militaries over there in Liberia.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any collaboration or coordination between the two militaries, but we certainly welcome China’s contributions to the effort.

Q: Just to follow up — but the transient personnel that you mentioned, the — what’s the timeline? Like, I mean, what’s — is there a specific amount of time that someone’s on the ground that would qualify them as being transient versus —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Hold on– I have to look. Let me look here and see. I don’t know. Can I take that for the record and get back to you? Otherwise I’ll just be flipping through this manual here.

Q: Yeah, unless you — is it in the memo that you’re gonna give us?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: It might be. I just — literally, the memo just got signed. I haven’t had a chance to read every graph of it.

I can tell you that’s the spirit of it for transient personnel. I don’t know if it’s specified in here in terms of the time limit. But let us take that for you and get back to you.

Yeah, Dan?

Q: Based on the chairman’s comments yesterday, should we be expected arms to start flowing to some Sunni tribes? And what would the U.S. role be in that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Don’t talk about future operations. You know that.

We certainly — we have conducted resupply missions in the — in the past. As you know, just a few days ago, we did deliver by air drop some meals to some Sunni tribesmen.

I won’t rule anything in and out at this — or in or at this particular point.

The larger point to be made, though, is that we — we expect and we look forward to increased collaboration between Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribesmen.

Q: And the secretary, just to be clear, shares the view of the chairman that there is a need, eventually, for an expanded advisory mission in Anbar if this kind of precondition is met with the Sunni tribes. Is that his position?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary shares the desire that I think the chairman expressed that — that we will continue to reassess and evaluate the advise-and-assist mission, and should it need to expand, and we believe collectively that that’s the right thing, that we would do that.

Again, though, Dan, we’re not there yet. It is a — it is a possibility. It’s a probability. But we’re not there yet.

Q: But, I mean, the Iraqi army is now reduced, as you know, to I think something like three bases, basically. I mean, they’ve been pushed back steadily. So, the clock is ticking. This is a fairly urgent decision.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of how many bases they have.

You heard the chairman talk about, in Anbar there, in largely defensive positions. That is true.

That said, you also heard General Austin, when he was here, say that they continue to push out. And they are pushing out inside Anbar.

It’s a very mixed, fluid situation. So it’s — I think on any given day, the situation changes there. And you know, we’re going to continue to evaluate it. And if we need to adjust, we’ll adjust.

Yep?

Q: Two questions. Secretary Hagel believed that asset removal should be a priority in this —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What removal?

Q: The removal of assets.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nothing has changed about the policy of this government, a policy that the secretary supports, that Assad needs to go: that he has lost the legitimacy to govern, and he needs to go.

And he is a big part of the reason why ISIL has been able to grow.

Q: Yeah, I know. I mean, since he led ISIL or ISIS like — be in Syria so it does not that make it better like if he — if we remove him for them, and then struck ISIL —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not —

Q: Does Secretary Kerry — Hagel believe that the removal should be in the strategy?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about internal deliberations and discussions about strategy.

Two things. Assad needs to go. The secretary fully supports that stance, because he has lost the legitimacy to govern his people and he’s a big reason why we’re countering ISIL in the first place.

The strategy that we’re executing is a counter-ISIL strategy, and as I said earlier, we believe the strategy is the right one and we believe it’s working. Doesn’t mean that in the execution of it there’s going to be
readjustments and assessments and changes made in the execution of it. But the strategy is the right one, and the secretary said that himself many, many times.

Q: So, you’re saying that the strategy could morph into one that goes directly after Assad?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about — about —

Q: Doesn’t right now go after Assad, and you’re saying it could change —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Strategy is to counter ISIL’s strategy. We constantly evaluate the execution of it. There’s no plans to change the strategy.

Q: Except there was that memo where Hagel apparently said he thinks Assad needs to be a part of the strategy.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s no plans to change the strategy.

Q: If you want to address that, it was very clearly written, he wouldn’t talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it, why not?

I mean —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s no plans to change the strategy.

Last question.

Q: I’m going to back to the secretary’s comments yesterday about Assad. He said that he is deriving some benefit from the U.S. military action in Syria. Can you describe what those benefits are? What is happening on the ground, that the Assad regime is benefiting from this.

And the side point that there have been reports that there have been significant uptick in Syrian air force strikes against opposition targets over the last week: possibly in the hundreds, comparable to what your operations have been there.

Is that something that has led to —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ve seen reports about the alleged uptick in Assad regime strikes against their opposition. I can’t verify those numbers. Should come as no surprise to anybody that Assad continues to want to eliminate his opposition. I mean, that’s what he’s been doing, and in a quite brutal fashion.

And I don’t think it should be surprising to anybody that he continues to do that.

I think what the secretary was referring to was in as much as ISIL is a problem for Assad, and we’re going after ISIL and reducing their influence and their presence inside Syria. Yes, tacitly, does that benefit the Assad regime in some way? Of course it does.

That is not what we’re about, though. That’s not what we’re trying to do. It’s a counter-ISIL strategy. We’ve had this discussion before. Nothing has changed about our position as a government that Assad needs to go.

Q: But the dichotomy that’s raised by your defense of the airstrike targeting ISIS, because if the side benefit is that Assad’s grip on power is improved while you’re launching this, then that goes counter to your idea that he should go.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, actually I — I disagree. Nothing has changed about the position that he needs to go. He’s lost the legitimacy to govern. And this isn’t about strengthening his hand. We recognize that he’s not going to oppose the strikes we’re taking. He hasn’t opposed the strikes we’re taking, not at all. And we recognize that, because we also — we recognize that in a way he sees — he see a tacit benefit to that.

I’m not — nobody’s disputing that. But I think we need to come back to the larger purpose here, which is not to assist the Assad regime. That may be — that may be a tangential development. It’s about going after ISIL and denying them safe haven and sanctuary inside Syria. And that’s what the strikes there are all about.

Q: It also improves his fight against the very militias that you are trying to empower potentially in the fight against ISIL.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, look, I mean we’ve been very clear about our willingness and desire and our efforts to build a train-and-equip program for the moderate opposition. And we’ve also said that we recognize there’s going to be many purposes to that, not just going against ISIL, but also against — about working towards a political settlement inside Syria, which means going after the Assad regime.

So, I mean, part of the reason we’re doing the train-and-equip is to equip them and train them and give them the military skills so they can defend their cities, their towns, their people, can go against ISIL, and can also work towards a peaceful — a political settlement inside Syria.

Okay? Gotta go. Thanks very much.

Source: justice.gov