Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby, Dec. 12, 2014

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 12, 2014.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: You guys want to ask questions?

 Q: Sure.

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay. I’ll look over there. Raise your hand if you got a question. I don’t have an announcement today. Happy Friday, everybody. We’ll just get right to questions. Who’s first? Joe, no? Go ahead.

 Q: Admiral Kirby, I would like to ask you about the secretary visit to Iraq, if you could give us your comments on the visit, what was the purpose, and —

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. Well, two purposes, really. One was to thank our troops that are there in Iraq, particularly there in Baghdad. And he spent some time talking to the troops at the airport that are facilitating the security assistance mission. Number two was to meet with Iraqi leaders. And he did. He had very good meetings with Prime Minister Abadi and Defense Minister Obeidi to talk about their efforts against ISIL, their efforts in getting this unity government up and running, and some of the initiatives that they’re taking on. And as he said publicly after the meetings, he came away encouraged that the decisions they’re making are in the right direction and that we are making progress against ISIL.

 Q: Talking about progress, Admiral, what did he hear from the Iraqis? And what’s the secretary’s assessment on the — in regards to the ongoing airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and also in Syria? As you may know, now we are more the — more than 1,200 airstrikes has been conducted, have been conducted against ISIL in the last three months. So where are we now? And what have we accomplished? What’s next?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: Those are seven or eight really good questions. I think — let me just — to your first question, he came away with two — with two items from the Iraqi leaders, one, that they’re very committed to this new government and to moving Iraq forward politically and in a more inclusive way. And that means reform, particularly reform of the Iraqi Security Forces. And they’ve already — Defense Minister Obeidi has already made some pretty key decisions to replace more than 20 of their generals in the Iraqi Security Forces with more competent individuals. So they’re committed to reform and to a new, more inclusive government.

 Number two, they’re very, very committed to the fight against ISIL. And it is true that the prime minister indicated his, you know, desire for more heavy weaponry, and it is true that he, you know, in general said that he would — they would like to see more airstrikes by the coalition against ISIL. All that is in the context of their commitment to continue to go against this enemy.

 And one of the things that came out from both meetings was their strong desire to go on the offensive. I mean, this is — you know, this is a government, this is a military that very much wants to take the fight to ISIL and is not interested in simply remaining in a defensive posture, and they’ve shown that. They’ve defended Haditha Dam. They’ve retaken the Mosul Dam, as you know. They have connected to their forces defending the Baiji oil refinery. They have a campaign plan, and they very much are in the process of working that out.

 And you had —

 Q: (off mic) what about Mosul, for example?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think everybody understands that Mosul’s key terrain and that eventually a move will have to be made against Mosul. Nobody’s going to telegraph the punches here and exactly when and how that’s going to happen, but everybody recognizes that that’s going to be a key part of this campaign. It’s also going to be a difficult part of the campaign because of the terrain up there, because of the strength ISIL still poses in and around Mosul, but, you know, we get fixated on Mosul, one geographic area. And I don’t think that’s the right way to look at this.

 You have to look at it more holistically. There is still — there are still many areas where ISIL holds sway and controls. There are also areas they’ve lost and haven’t been able to regain. And as Gen. Terry mentioned last week, his assessment is ISIL is on the defensive right now. And the offensive swing is now in favor of the coalition and Iraqi security forces.

 But, you know, Mosul is important. Everybody recognizes that. It’s just going to take some time, I think, before we’re — you know, we’re at that stage.

 Q: Follow-up on Mosul?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.

 Q: (off mic) at the risk of staying fixated on it, yesterday, Gen. Allen called it — said it would be the climactic battle in Iraq, and then today we’ve spoken to the deputy prime minister who says, contrary to what many people think, I don’t think this will be a long, drawn-out battle. Are you doing anything to temper their expectations, to kind of slow roll their enthusiasm that you’re talking about? They’re saying they want to, you know, get in the fight, go on the offense. Are you doing anything to — is there a disconnect? And are you doing anything to kind of temper their enthusiasm?

 REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think there’s a disconnect at all. Certainly, that was not at all the impression that we got from our visit out there. I think everybody shares the same basic sense of urgency about ISIL and about the fight inside Iraq and the need to continue to move forward in a comprehensive, holistic way. Airstrikes are not the panacea, and everybody realizes that, and that there’s a key — there’s a key component here that both our Iraqi partners and we very much understand, and that’s improving the competence and battlefield capability of Iraqi security forces. That’s why this train, advise and assist program that we very much want to get started on is so important.

 It’s not about tempering enthusiasm or slow rolling or anything like that. It’s about working together in a very measured, deliberate way to go against this enemy in a fashion that is not just successful tactically, but successfully strategically. We’re meeting, you know, not just to take ground away from them, but to eliminate the threat that they pose to Iraq over the long term.

 Gopal?

 Q: Speaking of Mosul again, so last week there were reports just as the secretary was arriving in Iraq that the Iraqis are asking to move faster to retake Mosul, because they feel confident. And from the briefings and the meetings that the secretary had in Iraq, what is his assessment of — when is the Iraqi army ready and capable of taking on that offensive?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: They didn’t get into a specific timeline in terms of going after Mosul or, actually, any component of the campaign plan. I think it was — these were general discussions about the campaign itself and about how to move forward over the next few months. But there wasn’t any specific dates or times chosen for one objective or another.

And I also — I would take issue with this — the implication that they want to go faster than we want them to go. This gets back to the last question. I think everybody understands that Mosul is important. It’s key terrain, because ISIL still holds sway there and because the importance of the region in general in Iraq, in — is it part of the campaign planning? Absolutely. But that’s just the point. It’s part of a larger campaign, a larger military campaign against ISIL, and when we get to it, we’ll get to it when it’s appropriate.

QUESTION: But then, I mean, people from the podium have said that the offensive will be sometime early next year and that others are saying it might take much longer, and there are elements to it such as when will the National Guard troops be ready in Iraq? All of those are going to determine when that offensive will happen, so I’m just asking for an assessment of where all these different pieces are and was that something that the secretary got from this visit —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, I didn’t talk about specific timelines, Gopal. Everybody recognizes Mosul’s important, and I — but it would be — first of all, I couldn’t honestly look at you and tell you that anybody knows for sure when we’ll be ready to go against Mosul, when the Iraqis will be ready to go against ISIL in Mosul. I don’t think — I don’t think that anybody has that specific answer right now. And even if we did, it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about it publicly.

I’ll just go back to what I said before. Everybody recognizes that it’s going to be a key objective. It is part of the campaign plan. And that’s a very deliberate plan that the Iraqis have crafted and developed and are executing with our support, not just our support, but the support of all the coalition countries that are involved militarily, as well.

Q: One last point. So the final call on who makes that decision on when to move on Mosul, will that come from Iraqis or will that be largely an American decision?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s an Iraqi campaign plan. Obviously, we’re staying lashed up with them and coordinating and consulting, and I have no doubt that the final decisions about not just Mosul, but any step along the campaign plan will be something that’s decided jointly. Phil?

Q: Admiral, as you know, yesterday Secretary Hagel gave the Navy the green light to go ahead with upgrades that it’s proposed to its LCS [littoral combat ship] program, which include new weapons and some other upgrades to the ships. He drove this whole process. He was the one with then-Deputy Fox who asked the Navy to stop and take this look and then figure out a new way to go.

But the ships are very similar to the ones from before. What makes him confident now that these upgrades are going to make a difference to the concerns he raised about its lethality, survivability, and just its application to the Navy going forward?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What makes him confident is the analysis that the Navy did, which he found — and I think was clear in his statement yesterday — to be very thorough, very comprehensive, and precisely centered around the concerns that he had, the larger concerns he had about the capability of this particular type of warship.

So he’s very comfortable in the work that the Navy has done, and he looks forward to seeing the acquisition strategy that they end up developing for the ship. Everybody recognizes the need for a small — a small surface combatant for the Navy, a smaller warship than the destroyers that we now have in such great number. It’s really just an issue of how lethal are they, how capable are they, the kind of systems they have aboard, as well as their survivability.

And I would — you know, as you saw yesterday, as we move forward on an upgraded version of the existing variants, he also wants the Navy to, you know, be able to back-fit the — the holes that are in — in construction now and make them more lethal and survivable as well, to the — to the degree that is possible, given that they’re already, you know, under — many of them under construction.

Q: Did survivability drop away for him as part of this process, because it isn’t clear from what we heard yesterday how much better these ships are going to be able to withstands hits or damage in combat.

They have new armor in some spaces, but we didn’t get the sense that the survivability has been upgraded to the different conditions the Navy for the robustness of ships.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think the Navy still has some work to do in that regard to develop the specifics on survivability ratings, the — the — so let’s not get lost in details yet that haven’t been completely hammered out.

What the secretary is satisfied with is that the Navy did the analysis, they — they answered his request for improved lethality and improved survivability of this class of ship, and he looks forward to seeing the final work when it’s — when it’s complete, the acquisition strategy that — that they — they have to deliver by May of next year.

Tony?

Q: I want to follow up on LCS, then an Iraq question.

Just more broadly, why didn’t he leave this decision to Ashton Carter, who’s going to have to defend it for two years? Why did he make it now? Why didn’t he just leave it for Carter.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Two reasons, Tony.

First, he is the secretary of defense, and he will remain the secretary of defense until his — until Dr. Carter is confirmed and installed.

Number two, this was a concern — as Phil pointed out in his question, this is a concern that the secretary had about the ship.

As you know, when we submitted the budget, we — we asked the Navy to — to review this, and he wanted to — because it was his concern that the — the Navy was answering, he wanted to see the decision through.

Q: Let’s shift to Iraq a second.

The list of heavy — the heavy weapons that were requested, are — are the Iraqis going to give you follow-up list of what exactly they’re talking about, or would these weapons be covered by the $1.6 billion train-and-equip fund that consists of rifles and machine guns and Carl Gustav recoilless rifles?

Is that the same kind of the thing, or we talking heavy weapons beyond the train-and-equip?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, that — I’d have to point you to the — to the Iraqis about whether or not they’re going to submit a new list or not, but no — no specific list was submitted to the secretary in Iraq. In fact, no specific items were discussed in either his meeting with the prime minister or the defense minister.

This was a — certainly was an item that they expressed — an issue that they expressed interest in, but there was no specific list given to the secretary.

And the $1.6 does include some equipment and systems, but it’s — they’re not — it’s not designed for heavy systems; it’s designed for more personnel-related arms and ammunition.

Q: Do you find it curious that they said they needed heavy weapons, but they didn’t give you any sense of what those would consist of?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I don’t think it came as a — as a big surprise to anybody. I mean, they’re in the middle of a fight, an important fight against a very determined enemy, though right now, maybe on the defensive. Nobody can take that for granted.

And I think he understood that, you know, they — they certainly had concerns with respect to, you know, making sure that all the capabilities are available to go against this enemy.

I would remind you, though, that we have already accelerated arms and ammunition and some heavy systems to — to Iraq. I mean, we’ve accelerated Hellfire deliveries, more than 300 last month, hundreds more coming. Soon after the new year, we’re going to get the Iraqi government something like 250 MRAPs.

So I mean, there’s — there is already a serious effort to meet their needs, not to mention thousands and tens of thousands of small arms and ammunition that we’ve provided since just the summer time.

So there’s already, I think, great inertia by the U.S. government and the U.S. military, in particular, to meet —

Q: You mean great momentum, not inertia?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Did I use the word wrong?

Q: Inertia is not moving forward.

Anyway, continue.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, it is. It is.

Q: It’s maintaining whatever momentum you have, whether it be forward or backward.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thank you for the rhetorical backup.

In any —

Q: Inertia is both static and movement.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks, Mik.

So you see? I was using it properly.

In any event, there’s already been a lot of movement to fulfill their needs, and I think you’re going to see that continue, not to mention, as Joe pointed out, more 1,200 airstrikes, not just by us, by our coalition partners.

Q: Ash Carter’s not the only one who knows physics.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Barb?

Well, I — I don’t. I was a history major.

Q: The Saudi interior minister’s in town for a few days meeting with a variety of officials on counterterrorism, Al Qaeda, Yemen, ISIS, all of that.

We haven’t talked to you since the mission in Yemen and also the subsequent apparent rocket attack against a base in Yemen.

What’s sort of the state of play in terms of U.S. cooperation with the Saudis about their concerns about ISIS, their concerns about stability in Yemen? Are there — is there more cooperation coming?

Are there things you’re talking to the Saudis about, given that Yemen is right on their border and is so unstable at this point? Is your concern more focused on AQAP [Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula], the Houthis?

Can you put some of this into perspective for us?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s two components to this. There’s the — I think both a Yemen and a Saudi component.

Let me just address the Saudi side first. This is security inside Yemen, the danger posed by ungoverned spaces.

Certainly, the concerns that the Saudis have along their southern border are — are issues that we routinely talk to Saudi leaders about, and we understand their concerns quite well. In fact, we share many of those same concerns, particularly about the ungoverned spaces and the sanctuary that terrorist networks continue to find inside Yemen.

We also continue to — to work closely with the Yemeni government in that same respect, and as you know, Barb, we routinely work with and assist and support the Yemeni armed forces as they prosecute terrorist targets inside their own borders.

And it is still a dangerous place, and there are still places where terrorist networks continue to find sanctuary, and we’re going to continue to help them go after them.

Q: Now, so much of their operations right now is against the Iranian-backed Houthis as opposed to AQAP.

Are you — is the United States providing that support and cooperation against Houthi targets? Do you have — does — do you see that as destabilizing enough? Do you see that as a counterterrorism target?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I wouldn’t get into specific operational detail here from the podium.

I think suffice it to say we — we understand the concerns the Saudis have about the Houthis and the instability — the insecurity that — that see, again, on their southern border.

I wouldn’t speak, again, to specific targeting, but we — we certainly understand their concerns. We recognize it as a security challenge the Saudis feel that they — they are facing, and we routinely talk to them about this.

More largely, it is the ungoverned spaces inside Yemen and the terrorist threat which continues to exist inside Yemen that we’re mostly focused on.

Q: Real quick, a different topic.

Can you bring us up to date on what’s going on inside the Pentagon to prepare for a transition team for Carter’s nomination and confirmation — his confirmation proceedings.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We — the department has established a transition team to assist Dr. Carter with his confirmation as that process moves forward.

Secretary Hagel has designated his chief of staff as the head of the confirmation and transition process.

He’s also — and — and the chief of staff will be supported by Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Lumpkin, who’s going to be serving as the director of the department’s transition team. That team will be supporting Dr. Carter as he — as he needs it.

And the larger goal here, Secretary Hagel made it very, very clear that he wants this transition to be as seamless and as smooth as possible as any transition can be for the department and for Dr. Carter.

Q: And do you know yet, will Dr. Carter work out of the Pentagon, or has he chosen office space outside of the building?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to Dr. Carter and his staff for those kinds of decisions. I’m not aware of any request for office space here at the Pentagon.

Justin?

Q: Thanks.

In Syria, are you seeing evidence that ISIS and Assad’s forces are consolidating in any way against the moderate rebels or have been — reports suggest that they’re laying off each other and sort of focusing their energy on the — on the rebels.

And now three months after the Syria strategy was first articulated by the president, are you on track to vet, train and equip these rebels?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: To your first question, we’ve seen no indication of collusion between ISIL and the Assad regime with respect to what you couch as a common enemy in the moderate opposition. We just — I haven’t seen any evidence of that.

On your second question, the — we have not begun vetting yet the — we’re — one key component of that are the authorities and the funding that go with it, the Syria train and equip, which as you know, hasn’t been approved yet by the whole Congress

The House has passed their version, but the Senate still has to take it up.

But even with the passage, there is still some spade work that we need to do to get it up and running. And as Chairman Dempsey has said, made it clear that it’s going to be a three to five month process to get through recruiting and vetting. It has not begun yet.

Q: It has to be done in five months then, if it hasn’t begun?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think yes, we believe that we could still get this done in a three to five month time frame once we have the authorities and the funding to go with it. It’s not like we’ve been sitting idle, Justin.

I mean, as I said before, Gen. Nagata has established vetting criteria. We have been working with interagency and international partners in the region who know these groups and know these individuals. They have — we have been developing a training curriculum and a building block approach. We talked about that. And we’ve been doing the necessary preparations for the training sites that — that we know that we will have access to.

Q: It was my understanding that a significant portion of the funding had already been sort of reappropriated.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, the reprogramming request hasn’t been — has not, no.

Q: Yes it has. All four of the committees have approved the

(CROSSTALK)

Q: — reprogramming it for —

Q: It’s different than the omnibus.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: You know, you’re right, but we don’t — we have not started — have not started the recruiting or vetting process.

Q: And can you say today if or who would be doing recruiting on the ground in Syria?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Can I say who would be doing?

Q: Yeah.

If — if there will be recruiting on the ground in Syria and who would do that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: If you mean by the question will U.S. troops be on the ground in Syria, actively doing recruiting and vetting? No. We’re going to rely on interagency and international partners in the region to help us with the recruiting process.

The — the vetting can be done by — once they’re recruited and once we get them to the sites.

Yep.

Q: Just to follow up on the train and equip program, Brett McGurk, General Allen’s deputy, said that you know, the training will begin in March and won’t be completed until March 2016. Is there any concern that that’s a little bit of a — you know, too much of a slow pace in order to appropriately address ISIL?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’ve been under no illusions that this would — this would take some time. And I’ve said it before: we’re going to — we want to get this right more than we want to get it done fast. And it’s — it’s going to be time-consuming. And it’s going to — it — once you even start the training, you’re still eight to nine months of estimated training time before these members can — can go back into the fight.

It’s really — we know how to do this. We know how to do it very, very well. But to make it done very well, you’ve got to — you’ve got to invest the time. And we need to be patient and willing to do that.

Q: Did you notice that Kerry and Allen are both calling ISIL or ISIS Daesh now? Is that the Pentagon’s moniker as well? What’s — what are we calling this group, and why the switch to Daesh?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think there’s been a switch. We continue to use the phrase ISIL, but Daesh, as I understand it, is also an acronym in Arabic which means the same thing.

That’s my understanding. Here in the Pentagon, we continue to refer to them as ISIL, but you may see — you may even see some Defense Department individuals using that as well, particularly when they’re speaking to audiences in the Middle East. But there’s been no change from our policy here that we refer to them as ISIL.

Q: Do you have an assessment of the condition of Iraqi military equipment that had purchased from the U.S. over the past decade or so?

There’ve been a number of contracts announced of late, and DSCA’s [Defense Security Cooperation Agency] even announced possible contracts for logistics support for much of these U.S. systems. So that would kind of infer that they are not in such good shape.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that I would infer that. The — the — we have a very robust foreign military sales program with Iraq. In fact, one of the most robust in the world. I think it’s something to the tune of $12 billion a year, which is sizable.

It — that — that is separate and distinct from the acceleration of some of the arms, ammunition, and weaponry that we had been providing them since June.

So, it’s a very sizable program. I don’t have any specific details on it, to answer your question. I don’t think that I would read into any contracts that you’re seeing being let as an indication that things are going south or need to be changed or a radical divergence from the defense relationship that we have with Iraq. In fact, quite the contrary. I think it’s indicative of it.

Q: Is there any change in the status of the F-16, the Iraqi F-16 program?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.

No.

When the security environment is more permissive, then I think you’ll see them get delivered. In the meantime though, we are facilitating some training of their pilots.

John?

Q: Admiral Kirby, you mentioned that Iraqi leaders want the coalition to increase airstrikes. Are they wanting the geographic scope of the airstrikes increased and not other areas, or did they just want to increase the optempo? Can you kind of break that down?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was no specific breakdown in the request. It was a — it was a single statement made at the top of a meeting. There was no context provided later on. I think it was just a general statement of — back to what I said earlier, their desire to continue to go on the offensive against ISIL.

But there was no specific ask with respect to frequency, weaponry, or geographic location.

Q: And how many of the additional 1,500 troops that President Obama authorized last month have actually deployed to Iraq?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: None have yet deployed.

Q: When will that happen? Do you know now that the Congress has started voting on these spending bills?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think yeah, once — once the — once it’s signed into law, that certainly will free up the authorities in the funding to begin those deployments, and I think you’ll see them in the coming weeks and months.

Q: Before Christmas?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything to announce today in terms of specific deployments. I think it’ll take weeks and perhaps several months to get all 1,500 there. But as I said earlier, David, the commander has the authority to use resources he has in-country, and he’s done that. He’s got nearly 200 now that he has repurposed from other missions inside Iraq to begin doing some of this expeditionary advise and assist, particularly in Anbar and north of Baghdad. So, he’s already doing that.

Q: Got a question over there.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do.

Yes Ma’am? Thank you.

Q: Admiral Kirby, are you ready to track Santa this year? (Laughter.)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, as a matter of fact we are. If you go to NORAD’s [North American Aerospace Defense Command] website, and I will show you, I don’t have it right handy with me, but I’m sure your dad can help you, they have their Santa tracker all set up and ready to go.

What have you asked for?

Q: (off mic) and a (off mic) Big Hero Six toy.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That sounds pretty sophisticated. What is that?

That sounds like something we should give the Iraqis. (Laughter.)

Q: (off mic) like little robot pieces to them, and then another one (off mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Really? We ought to have some of those here.

Have you been good? Do you think you’re going to get all that stuff?

All right. I want a report.

Q: It’s on the record.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: All right. That’s right. It’s on the record.

Luis?

Q: Change of subject matter quite a bit here. (Laughter.)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Do you want to talk about your Christmas list?

Q: Unfortunately, I can’t divulge it, but it’s a state secret at home.

There’s been an incident aboard the USS Wyoming. This is an incident under investigation by the Navy that involves a surreptitious recording of female officers by a male enlisted.

Is this incident of concern to the secretary? Is he aware of this? I mean, what does it say about the process of integrating women onboard submarines and the issue of sexual harassment as a whole?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary is aware of it, was made of aware of it by Navy leadership when they — when they launched the investigation. He’s obviously deeply troubled by the allegations that Naval officers would do this to fellow Naval officers and it’s obviously — has no place in the United States Navy or the United States military, that kind of conduct. And it runs counter to every value that we stand for in uniform. And I think Navy leadership feels exactly the same way.

I — as troublesome as the allegation of this behavior is, and again I — it needs to be investigated before we rush to judgment about exactly what happened and who did what, but as troublesome as the allegations are, it’s not going to have nor should it have any affect on the integration of women into the submarine force, which by and large has gone exceedingly well.

And the Navy should take great credit for the energy that they put into this and the measured, deliberate pace that they have tried to go after it. Because it is a big culture change in the submarine force.

But the submarine force writ large has responded very, very well to this. And it’s not — this incident, these allegations are not going to slow that process down at all.

Q: This isn’t reflective of the broader issue of sexual harassment and sexual —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well it certainly — I mean, it’s certainly, again, if proven true, it’s — it’s certainly inappropriate sexual harassment conduct. There’s no question about that.

So, does it fit into or would we consider it sexual harassment in the sense that we talk about sexual harassment and other services and other circumstances? Absolutely.

Absolutely.

It — and it — again, if proven true, it’s not in keeping with any of our values, and it’s the secretary’s expectation that if proven true, people will be held accountable for that conduct.

Phil?

Q: Just one quick follow on Syria, please.

When the clock starts for the three to five months of vetting for the Syrian forces, will you be able to talk about it and keep us updates as it goes along, or is it going to be kept secret the way other involvement in Syria has been so far?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it’s not — the — two points. The training wouldn’t be done inside Syria. And I would — so yes, of course we’re going to keep you updated about it. And I get questions routinely up here and I try to answer them as honestly as I can.

But we’ll obviously keep everybody informed and updated as it — as it progresses. There’s nothing secret about the fact that we want to train a moderate opposition or how in fact they’re going to be trained or the curriculum that they’re going to undergo. And we’ll continue to talk about that as much as possible.

And if I could, just to a larger point, I mean, we’ve been as open and transparent as we can about operations inside Syria, kinetic operations against ISIL. We tell you every time there’s a — a strike, and what we hit, what we think we — what we think we damaged, and that’s also going to continue.

There’s been no secrets about our operations inside Syria.

Q: That’s a good point, but there are other aspects of U.S. involvement in Syria that have not been so clear to those of us on the outside. So, I’m encouraged to hear that you’ll be able to come out some day and say we began vetting —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely.

Q: — and the training has started.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we owe that to you and to the American people as well as to the Congress for the support that the Congress looks like they’re going to give us here.

So, we absolutely have that responsibility, and you can expect that.

Q: Just to be clear, the three to five month clock, I thought that had already begun. Has that not? I mean, when three to five months from when?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Three to five months from the time recruiting and vetting begins, and that hasn’t begun yet.

Richard?

Q: Admiral, just quickly on a previous point.

Did you say 250 MRAPs to Iraq sometime after the first of the year?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Correct.

Q: Secondly, I don’t know if you can respond to this, but in regards to the Senate report, it’s unclear from the report, but can you say did this department cooperate, provide help to the CIA in setting up the black sites in Afghanistan, Poland, and elsewhere?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have any — I don’t have any information with respect to that. And again, our — our involvement here with this — with respect to this report was making the necessary notifications to our commanders in the field, knowing that the report was going to be made public. But I don’t have.

And I’m not being evasive. I’m just not going to speak to another agency’s processes or procedures, those that were detailed in the report. The Department of Defense — so separate and distinct from that, the Department of Defense does not participate in torture: does not condone it, does not conduct it.

We didn’t then. We don’t now.

Thanks everybody. Have a great weekend.

Q: As far as the connection there, at least the Combined Joint Task Force 435 at some point comes into custody of a particular prisoner mentioned in the Senate report. He was one of the last three that were released the other day. So, there had to be some kind of cooperation coordination. The CIA at some point handed him over to the military.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not — I just don’t have any information specific to that today, Richard. Sorry.

Thank you. 

Source: defense.gov