Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 27, 2015.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: The reason I’m late is that as you may know, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was here at the Pentagon visiting with Secretary Carter, sorry, and I just finished attending that meeting. So, if you could just let me, I’ll give you a quick readout of it, and then we’ll get right to your questions.
But during the meeting, both leaders discussed the unprecedented collaboration between the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces of Liberia in responding to the spread of Ebola. Secretary Carter also reiterated the Department’s commitment to support Liberia during the next phase of Operation United Assistance.
Secretary Carter and President Sirleaf briefly discussed yesterday’s announcement that the 101st Airborne Division had completed its mission there in Liberia and would be returning. But both made clear that they know that this departure is a larger part of a USAID, Department of Defense plan that’s approved by the president in January to transition Operation United Assistance to civilian and international organizations.
As you may know, currently we’ve got about 1,180 Department of Defense personnel in the area of operations down there in Liberia, and we expect that they’ll start to deploy home probably in April.
The secretary also reaffirmed that the United States is absolutely not leaving West Africa, and confirmed his decision to send a small DOD element of approximately about 100 military civilians and contractors to Liberia by the end of April.
This team will coordinate our Ebola-related activities, our support activities, facilitate capacity-building in the areas of emergency response, engineering and medical training with the Armed Forces of Liberia, and support a reach back capability of additional personnel if and when that’s required.
So, a very good meeting. They talked about obviously the Ebola response. They also talked briefly about shared counterterrorism threats in the region, but most importantly, I think both leaders commented more than once in there about the extraordinary response by this department and by the men and women of the Defense Department in — in helping the people of Liberia deal with this deadly disease.
So, with that, Bob?
Q: Admiral, a question on Afghanistan.
After the secretary’s visit there, I’m wondering where he stands in presenting his recommendation to the president, and whether to keep extra troops there this year or a larger number of troops there this year or next year.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah no. Nothing to announce with respect to that, Bob. And it’s not — I think it’s important that we remember this isn’t sort of a binary process where, you know, he’s now collected options and recommendations from General Campbell and he’s going to, you know, submit some sort of formal memo.
This is a — this has been and will continue to be a robust discussion in the interagency, and frankly, with our partners in Afghanistan about the way this drawdown plan is going to look over the next two years.
And I also think it’s important to remember that nothing has changed about the — that plan as it stands now.
There’s been no changes to the directive that we’ve been given by the commander in chief with respect to — and we’ve got about 10,000 now, how those 10,000 are going to scope down over the next two years.
So, we’re still operating on that original timeline. As you said in Afghanistan, and you heard President Ghani himself, I mean there’s a — certainly President Ghani has expressed an interest in having a little more flexibility in that, and Secretary Carter made it clear that he was willing to entertain those thoughts about flexibility.
The last thing I’d say, and this often gets forgotten too, is that the operational commander on the ground, General Campbell, he has flexibility already to manage now that the — the milestones haven’t changed. No decisions have been made about that. But he has the flexibility to manage inside of that based on conditions on the ground.
So, right now he — we still have to get down to about half the number by the end of this year and then down to essentially nothing in two years.
And General Campbell certainly has the flexibility and wherewithal inside that to manage the drawdown.
Q: But isn’t he — he’s considering recommending changes to those milestones of that timeline, right?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think what Secretary Carter made clear is he’s willing to consider options for changing it, and to be responsive to the request for flexibility by President Ghani. But ultimately, this is a decision that only the commander in chief can make, and as I said, these are decisions — these are discussions that are ongoing.
Q: So he hasn’t made a recommendation per se on specific changes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He has not submitted — he has not made — he has not come to any conclusions, nor has he pushed forward any particular recommendations to the commander in chief.
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Jen.
Q: Admiral Kirby.
Two quick questions, can I get your reaction to the Iran wargames that took place in the Strait of Hormuz this week?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: It’s been three days.
They targeted a mockup of an U.S. aircraft carrier. Do you see this as menacing?
They also said they’d — had tested a new strategic weapon. Is this of concern to the Pentagon?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’re aware of the media reports on this alleged test of a new weapon. I don’t have any information specifically with regard to that. I’ve seen the press reporting on that. And that’s about the extent of my knowledge of this test. What I would say with respect to that question is that we’re very comfortable, very confident in the military capabilities that we have in the region, particularly with respect to the Gulf and Gulf security.
As you know, we have the Fifth Fleet based there. There is an aircraft carrier the gulf, as you know. We’re very comfortable with the capabilities that we — that we have there.
And then as to the exercise where they fired on this mockup of an aircraft carrier, obviously, we watch all those kinds of developments closely. I’ll let the Iranians speak for the purposes of their exercise. This was more akin in our view to hitting a barge than it was an actual aircraft carrier that could defend itself with, you know, 70 some-odd planes and supporting ships.
And again, I’d go back to my last point. We’re extremely confident and capable in our defensive capabilities there.
Q: And just a follow-up.
You have said in the past that the funding to ISIS, you thought the oil funding had perhaps been disrupted. Where are you seeing most of the fund for ISIS come from, and what is the strategy to disrupt that funding?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s a great question.
I think the — what we had — they certainly continue to get revenue from the oil industry, black market oil industry. We know we’ve had an impact on that. It’s difficult to put a dollar figure on it exactly, but you know, through hitting crude collection points, from hitting refineries, we know we’ve had an impact on them.
But by and large, this is a group that gets the largest source of revenue comes from stolen assets: particularly banks. And one of the reasons why — I mean, there’s lots of reasons why you see them try to occupy populated areas. Obviously, if you have this vision of being a caliphate, a caliphate, the idea of a caliphate is to govern, so that means you need population areas to govern.
But they also seek those kinds of areas because that’s where the money is. Literally, the cash. And so we see them, as you — as they move into, or they had — they’re not moving into too many towns these days, but as they were occupying ground, it was also to — to steal money, to actually rob banks, quite literally.
And as their territory now is sort of static, actually shrunk a bit, we’re not seeing them able to do that as much. They aren’t grabbing new cash hoards because they’re not robbing banks.
So, nobody’s saying that they’re out of — out of Schlitz right now. They’ve still got — they still have resources at their disposal. But we know that they’re feeling the pinch, because they aren’t able to grab new ground, and therefore aren’t able to rob new banks and steal more cash.
So, the largest, again, I don’t want to beat this — but the largest source is stolen money and in order to do that, you’ve got to capture new ground. They’re not doing either right now.
Q: Do you have any evidence that they’re getting donations from Qatar, UAE, anything —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. I wouldn’t get into the specific places that they’re — but sure, they have — they do get some donor contributions. But again, we don’t assess that that is a large percentage of their resource capability.
Q: A couple of additional Iraq questions. On Mosul, I know you’ve said several times that, you know, the U.S. military wants to wait for the Iraqi military to really be ready to go against Mosul. But CENTCOM, you know, did put April and May on the timeframe on the public scope.
So isn’t it actually the case right now that factually, that April is no longer on the scope? Because now that’s just days away, and the fundamental steps that you would have to take to be ready for that are not happening.
So, can you acknowledge that at least April is not factually on the scope right now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Actually, the short answer to your question is no, I can’t, and I wouldn’t.
I think Secretary Carter spoke to this very well on our trip out to the region that this is going to be and must be an Iraqi-led operation, and that more critically, we’re not going to be able to go, nor do we want to go any faster than the Iraqis are ready to go.
And I think, you know, that has remained sort of where our heads are here in the Pentagon, and I think that’s the healthy way to look at it.
So, I can’t sit here and — you know, we’ve talked about this many times. I just can’t put a date certain on there and say it’s going to happen at a certain time, nor am I prepared to you know, rule something out and tell you definitively, “well, April’s out.”
I think we need to keep in mind that we all know Mosul is key terrain. And General Austin stood up here and said himself that’s going to be a very tough fight to try to retake Mosul.
And we’re only going to be able to do it if and when the Iraqis are ready to do it, and that we can ensure success, that we can prevail. It’s really important that — that when that day comes, that everybody is successful.
The other thing I’d say, Barb, is that — that the train, advise, and assist mission is not all about just getting ready for Mosul, it’s about improving their combat power, and they are — they are in the fight right now, retaking terrain that ISIL has either — has either recently tried to take, or is trying to defend.
So supply lines up in the north, the Peshmerga are cutting off supply lines of ISIL into Syria.
You’ve got an active fight going on right now in the town of al-Baghdadi, which just a couple weeks ago, everybody was pretty breathlessly worried about. The Seventh Iraqi Army is in al-Baghdadi, and having some success at taking it back.
A couple of days ago, they tried to take Kirkuk, and they had it for like a day, got kicked right out.
Q: But the thing is April is essentially 30 days from now. And one would have to think that the secretary of defense would have some notion or be seeking some notion if 30 days from now, the Iraqi military is ready to go.
And then I have a follow-up question about ISIS online.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The —
Q: So I mean, he’s got to be asking this. It’s 30 days.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can assure you the secretary of defense is very interested in the progress of the train, advise, and assist mission. He is. And he has been asking lots of questions about how well the Iraqi Security Forces are doing.
He’s concerned about how well they’re doing in the — in the training pipeline. And we’ve graduated some 2,500 or so already from this. But he’s also interested in asking lots of questions about how they’re doing in the field, and I just told you that they are in the field. They are fighting.
What the secretary has also made clear to the military leaders is that he doesn’t want to go — with respect to Mosul, doesn’t want to go any faster than the Iraqis are ready, and no faster than what we can assure ourselves of success.
So, the secretary is not overly concerned with the date on the calendar. It’s not like he’s looking at the calendar and saying “OK, yeah, April’s coming around the corner.
He wants to know General Austin’s view of — of when they’re ready, and what General Austin’s professional judgment is about what — and working with our Iraqi counterparts to making sure that as they step off on this, that they step off fully ready to succeed.
And it is a — it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that again, when I say Iraqi-led, I mean we really do mean Iraqi led.
The Iraqis have to also — they get a big vote here.
Q: Real quick, everyone talks about ISIS online, social media, the U.S. military through the NSA, through the intelligence community and the U.S. military, has massive capability on social media.
So, I think a lot of Americans are wondering why can’t you just turn ISIS off? Why can’t you get them off social media, turn off their access to the online world?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well you know I don’t — I’m always leery of getting into cyber capabilities here from the podium. A couple of thoughts here. One, yes, we’re very mindful of their agility in social media.
And social media allows for agility because of the — the vehicle itself. And so just shutting them off, it’s not as quick, it’s not as easy as just taking a switch and shutting it off.
First of all, we don’t own social media in the military. We participate in just like everybody else participates in it. And again, without getting into specific cyber capabilities, I can tell you we’re mindful of — of how they’re able to use it and we’re working very hard at this problem not just here in the Pentagon but with our partners at the State Department and internationally as well.
Q: CNO Greenert told House appropriators yesterday that he favored the continued existence of some kind of supplemental fund, even though OCO (overseas contingency operating funds) is scheduled to go away in three years if sequestration is repealed, he said even if it’s not OCO, let’s call it something else, but give me a supplemental fund, even if it’s scaled down.
Does OSD support the existence, continued existence of supplemental funding in the future, even after OCO is phased out?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, without speaking specifically to what the Admiral Greenert said, I think Secretary Carter is still working his way through this budget. He wasn’t here when it was submitted. But obviously our position here at OSD is that to the maximum degree we can, we want to have our programs and our readiness dollars processed through the actual presidential budget and — and to not have to rely too greatly on supplemental funding.
But again, I didn’t see everything that Admiral Greenert said.
Obviously, the secretary’s larger concern is that the services get the resources they need to be able to execute the defense strategy.
Q: Admiral, another trip follow-up please.
The secretary was asked on one of his troop talks about the limit on American troops in Iraq at about 3,000. And he said ” maybe that’s the right number. Maybe it’s not. I’ll have to go back and take a look at that.”
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right.
Q: Can you tell us where he is on either recommending to the president raising that ceiling or taking it away and letting that force there be what it needs to be as opposed to having that limit?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: A couple of things.
First, he hasn’t made any recommendations as — in terms of changes to our troop levels in Iraq. I think also it’s important to remember that the number has been set through a series of war powers resolutions. It’s not as if there has been some sort of over-arching, universal, enduring cap put on troop levels inside Iraq.
In fact, I think the commander in chief has made it clear that if he feels like he needs additional resources there, that — that he wants that flexibility.
But he’s — but it’s been done through a series of war powers resolutions. And each one of them, as you remember, laid out sort of a maximum number of — of troops anticipated for those tasks that the war powers resolutions submitted to Congress.
So right now, the — the overall maximum of those war powers resolutions is about 3,100. We’re near that right now. I could get you the exact figure. I don’t have it right handy, Phil.
But I can assure you that Secretary Carter shares the commander in chief’s view that you know, if there needs to be changes, that — that we explore those options and make those changes as we need to.
Right now, coming away from this trip, I don’t believe Secretary Carter feels that there’s a need to make any massive muscle movement changes with respect to troop presence, that he heard from General Terry and General Austin that the resources they have at their disposal is about right for the missions that they’ve been tasked to perform.
Q: Does he have any kind of date by which or any internal goal by which he could make these and other recommendations to the president on troop levels, on social media, or the other things that he saw and heard in Afghanistan in other places, or —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: An internal goal? I’m not sure I understand.
Q: Will he come to the point where he goes up to the White House and says, “Mr. President, here’s what I think we should do about ABCD,” or will it be looser than that?
He doesn’t have any kind of —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, if you’re asking if there’s like some sort of briefing he’s anticipating, you know, that he’s going to give on a certain date, no. I mean, the secretary, this department, Chairman Dempsey, routinely discuss with the commander in chief and with the national security staff over there, the National Security Council staff, ongoing operations inside of Iraq and frankly the air strikes that are going on inside Syria, it’s a topic of frequent, regular discussion.
So, it’s not like the secretary has in his mind that you know, I just came back from the trip, so I guess 10 days from now, I gotta go over and submit, you know, a recommendation to the president. That’s not how he’s looking at it.
He he has informed, obviously, informed the commander in chief about his trip and his observations. But I don’t — I’m not anticipating, and I certainly have nothing to announce today about any changes to either strategy or resources as a result of the trip.
And that wasn’t the purpose of the trip, to be honest with you, as you know.
Q: Admiral, can you help us understand what’s going on with the military commissions down in Guantanamo? I understand that some of the military judges were ordered to take up residence there in order to facilitate the process, and then I guess now there’s been some reversal of that.
What’s the thinking of that and what’s going on there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thanks Jamie, and I’ll do the best I can to address this.
You’re right, there was a decision to put in residence some military commissions council. Secretary Work has rescinded that decision. He was sensitive to the reaction of military commissions judged that there was perhaps an inappropriate perception formed by that decision and so in order to preserve — not that he believed in his — not that the deputy or Secretary Carter believed that the process was at all hindered by that decision or was inappropriate, I think there was a concern that the perception of it was misunderstood.
And so to keep in fact and in perception complete independence, that the independence of the military commissioned process, he went ahead and — and decided to rescind that.
Q: Has the military commissions been successful over these many years in the — in the sense that there have been very few convictions that have not at some point been vacated?
And I mean, what — what have these military commissions accomplished over the many years that they’ve been in — in effect?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, that’s a larger question than I probably have the time or the expertise to answer here. But I think what I would say in general is yes, we believe that this has been an effective process. It’s — we believe it continues to be important to hold these people to account, and the process is doing that. It may — it may not be doing it with the speed, or maybe even the efficacy that some would like to see it done, but — but we take it very seriously for our part that the — that there is a judicial process in place, that it’s fair, that it’s open and it’s transparent and that — and that it’s appropriate to the crimes that these individuals are being tried for.
Q: I’d like to clarify something you said earlier to Barbara.
Brett McGurk was the first, I think, to say that a Mosul offensive would be in the spring. You said it several times from the podium. And every time, the Iraqis have come back and said “we’re not ready. We’re not going to be ready.”
Barzani said it to Reuters, not until fall.
You said that this is an Iraqi-led effort. So, why is it that the U.S. and this building in particular repeatedly push for a spring offensive when the Iraqis kept saying that they weren’t ready until the fall as recently as — as you know, earlier this month during the CENTCOM briefing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, let me just challenge the premise of the question a little bit, Nancy.
I don’t think we’ve — I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Pentagon or the military has been pushing the Iraqis on any specific timeline.
I think the most general that I’ve been willing to go, I think from here, is — is that we were looking at roughly the spring timeframe.
I never pinned it down to a month.
And again, Secretary Carter has been very circumspect in terms of talking about timing here.
So, there’s been no — first of all, we haven’t laid a date certain down here at the Pentagon. Number two, we’re not pushing or aggressively trying to nudge them towards a faster timeline than they’re going to be ready. It has been consistent through the chain of command, not just here at the Pentagon, but down in Tampa, and out there in the theater that we’re going to work with them and make sure that they’re ready on their timeline, that nothing has changed about that.
I understand that through various press reporting, there has been an appearance of — of pressure or maybe a difference in opinion in terms of expectations.
But that’s the press coverage, and I can’t do anything about that. Actually, I probably could do something about that, but I haven’t, maybe.
But — but it’s not the case in actuality here, in the building.
We’re not artificially trying to accelerate this timeline.
And let me just — before I finish here, nobody has a — with the exception of the Iraqis, nobody has a greater stake in the ultimate success of operations inside Iraq, particularly in a place like Mosul, than the Pentagon.
So, there’s no — there would be no logic and no purpose for us to try to artificially accelerate things.
Q: I guess what I’m trying to understand is, I mean, you say press reports, but even the ministry of defense came out on a televised address and said that this is far more accelerated than — than we had discussed, that we were ready in the fall.
So, what I’m trying to understand is why would, in a CENTCOM briefing, would the U.S. talk about a specific month, when — when the Iraqis repeatedly were saying we are months and months away from even the vague timelines that we’re being offered from this building and from CENTCOM.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. Well, I can’t speak for the comments made by a briefer in a background briefing to reporters. So I just — I need to put that aside for a minute.
Well, all I can do is keep coming back to where Secretary Carter is and certainly remains after his trip to the region, and where I’ve been routinely for the last several months.
We’re not going to try to do this any faster than the Iraqis are ready to go.
And I saw the defense minister, Obeidi, I saw his comments, and frankly, you know, I would tell you, we agree with Minister Obeidi that — that there is no point in trying to go faster than the Iraqis are going to be ready to go.
Q: Is April-May faster than the Iraqis are ready to go? Is that the assessment of this building at this point?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know, to be honest with you. I mean, that’s a discussion that we’re having with the Iraqis every single day.
And I also think that it’s a little bit premature to be — to be looking at the calendar and saying, “well, here’s the week and here’s the month, and we’re stepping off.”
I just — I just don’t think that we’re there yet. There may be — I can’t — there may be people in the Defense Department that have aspirations or desires that go along a certain timeline, and I mean, look, that’s what we do here. We are a planning organization. We plan for everything.
But again, I just keep coming back to Secretary Carter’s main point, which is that we’re not going to go any faster than — than we can be successful.
And there’s not — to my knowledge, there’s no artificial pressure being applied to Iraqi leaders to move any faster than they believe they’re capable of.
And we have — certainly, it’s there, you know, this will be their operation, their leadership, they ultimately need to decide the timing. Of course.
But we know we have a role in that, because part of what we’re doing with this train, advise, and assist is to try to get them ready, not just for Mosul, but for all manner of offensive operations inside their country.
We know how to do this. We’re good at partnering with other — with other militaries in other countries, and — and we’re good at helping them identify the gaps and seams in their capabilities and then closing those gaps and seams. There are gaps and seams that need to be closed inside the Iraqi Security Force, and that’s what we’re working on.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Cami?
Q: Sort of a related topic on the training of the Syrian moderate rebels. Is there any update on that?
And a Turkish official was quoted today as saying under the new agreement, something about that program was starting on Sunday.
Do you know anything about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything with respect to Sunday. We’ll certainly welcome the agreement that — that we secured with Turkey to allow us to be — you know, to sort of cement the relationship with respect to train and equip of the moderate opposition members.
Let me — I’m trying to tell you where I think things are right now.
So, the agreement with Turkey was welcome. That was a — when we have like agreements, as you know, with other countries in the region, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and so it was good to get this one done, and it — it allows us to move forward.
I won’t put a date certain on when the training will begin, but I — but our assessment is that we could be ready sometime within the next four to six weeks to begin actual training.
There is, I think the last time I was up here, I said that we had roughly 1,200 individuals that had been identified for potential to participate in the initial round. I think that’s up to around 1,500 now. And of those 1,500, more than 100 of them have been — have been screened. No derogatory information has been found to date with respect to that. So, that process is ongoing, and that’s — and that’s an important first step.
The training, when it starts, will be roughly small — smallish. Probably 200 to 300 trainees per class. And again, nothing has changed about our desire that we eventually get up to, you know, 5,000, 5,500 over the course of a year for the initial installment.
And then — and then look, we’ll make adjustments as we — as we move on. If capacity — if the — if the recruiting pool is there and the screening process is — is successful and efficient, the number of trainees could go up. We’ll just have to see where we go.
But that’s — that’s the latest of where we are right now.
Q: So 200 to 300 each of the sites in the various countries?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: 200 to 300 per class. And I don’t know how many classes per site, but that’s roughly what we’re looking at.
It’s probably, in this early going, Cami, probably would be per site. But again, the capacity of this program could grow over time. We’re just going to have to wait and see.
The point I’m trying to make is there has been progress in terms of getting sites prepared, and we — as I said last week, you know, we’ve got some advance personnel already in the region that are helping with the final preparations.
There’s been progress now with not only identifying an initial pool, but starting to screen them. So that’s — that’s important. I didn’t have — we didn’t even as of last week, we didn’t have quite that, you know, that level of specificity.
So, things are moving in the right direction. Long way to go. Nobody’s underestimating the challenges here.
Q: Same number of Americans there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. I think I said, what, we had about 100 advance personnel in the region. And I think that’s — that’s still the case.
And eventually, what I said was we could have total U.S. personnel devoted to the mission, about 1,000. Not all of them trainers. Probably several hundred trainers.
Some will be intelligence analysts, logisticians, support personnel, that kind of thing. But that — there’s no change to the U.S. presence with respect to this since I briefed you last.
Q: Admiral Kirby, yesterday in the Senate, the Director of National Intelligence, and the DIA director both said they thought it would be about six to nine months before the Iraqis were ready for Mosul.
And my question is, why is there such a difference between this April-May CENTCOM, I guess prediction versus what the DOD’s intelligence arm is saying, six to nine months?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I honestly can’t speak to those differences of opinions. I mean, that’s why I want to keep coming back to our principle core objective is there is not to go any faster than Iraqi Security Forces are able to go, and it’s why I have assiduously avoided putting a date certain on the calendar here, as I talk about when this might actually occur.
The other thing that I think, if you don’t mind me pounding the podium on this again, the other thing that I think is really important for us all to remember is Mosul, important though it may be, is not the end-all be-all of operations on the ground inside Iraq.
That — that it is important terrain. We all recognize that. We all know that eventually, ISIL will have to be kicked out of Mosul. And — and that day will come. But in the meantime, there’s an awful lot of other work that needs to be done inside Iraq.
And I just talked a little bit ago about this town of al-Baghdadi, where as just, you know, a week or so ago, you know, the sky was falling because al-Baghdadi had been taken, and now the Iraqi Security Forces are taking it back.
So they are in the field now. And — and what we’re focused on in the train, advise, and assist mission is improving their combat power writ large, not just getting them ready for Mosul.
Q: Do you think that it’s the media that’s raised the stakes on the Mosul battle, or is it —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would never blame the media for raising the stakes on anything.
Q: It partly does come from — (Laughter.) — what officials have said at the podium in terms of the importance of —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s fair — it’s fair to, you know, some of the — some of the criticism here in the last question, I think it’s fair. There have been — there have been assessments, literally all over the calendar. I mean, I get that.
So, I’m not blaming the media on this, nor am I frankly blaming anybody in the department.
I mean, this is not — this isn’t rocket science. It’s not theoretical physics. This is military operations and maneuver of a very complicated, difficult sort in a country where we do not have the force presence that we once did.
It isn’t our fight on the ground. It’s their fight on the ground. Iraq, we forget, I think too often, is a sovereign country with a sovereign government and armed forces that are charged with the defense of their territory and their people. We are there to help them. This is their fight.
And it shouldn’t in almost any military operations, but just particularly in operations there in Iraq, it shouldn’t surprise anybody, and it certainly doesn’t surprise us that timelines are going to shift and that weather’s going to be a factor.
And the enemy gets a vote. I mean, warfare is not a straight line. It’s oftentimes a very squiggly line, and you have to navigate it as best you can over the course of time.
Q: Want to follow up on that. Wouldn’t it have been normal course of business for CENTCOM to reach out to DIA for its assessment before maybe talking to a bunch of reporters on the projected timeline of a battle?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, I would — I mean, I’m not going to speak to the comments on a background briefing by an anonymous source or where that came from. I mean, and I certainly won’t speak for Central Command. I can’t do that. I can tell you that General Austin is completely 100 percent dedicated to doing the mission there in Iraq the right way, not just about taking Mosul, but about getting the Iraqi Security Forces ready to sustain themselves and be efficient in the field.
I mean — and I talked to him myself just a few days ago. I mean, he’s very dedicated to the mission that he has been tasked to execute. So, I will let — I won’t speak to who’s talking to who on this. I don’t think that would be helpful.
Q: Do you have any update on the situation in al-Baghdadi, near Asad base? You mentioned this Iraqi army offensive. Have they taken back the town or —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, I’d point you to Central Command and the task force for more specific information. I don’t think I want to get into a tactical update here. But it’s our understanding that now, after several days of an operation which I believe is translated to Lion on the Prowl, Operation Lion on the Prowl, the Iraqi Seventh Army is engaged in the town of al-Baghdadi, and has achieved some successes on the ground there in terms of — of pushing back and beating back ISIL terrorists that are there inside al-Baghdadi.
I know that they have — certainly ISIL has taken a number of casualties, and they have lost and continue to lose portions of the — of the town.
I don’t want, again, nobody’s doing touchdown dances here. It’s an ongoing fight, so I don’t want to get ahead of operations that haven’t been conducted.
And obviously, we’re watching this closely and supporting as best we can.
But — they’re so far, progress is good and they’re having some success against ISIL there.
Q: Thank you. I’d like to shift to Libya. Now that the U.N. Security Council’s panel of experts on Libya has recommended to the security council that they form an international maritime force to protect Libya’s coast and to prevent arms and illicit exports of oil, is the U.S. military coming up with plans that could shift resources to help with that international force?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything Carla. And let me take it for the record to see if there’s some planning effort going on. I’m not aware of it. I don’t have anything on that, and I don’t want to speculate.
You’ve got another one?
Q: Admiral, just a quick follow-up on the Syria point you made earlier. This group of 200 to 300 that could begin training in four to six weeks —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, no, no, I said each class size would roughly be, at the outset, around 200 to 300.
Q: Will they go right back to the fight in Syria when they’re finished, or will they hold at one of these locations until a larger group of fighters is ready to go back into Syria? How will they actually be deployed once they’re finished with their training?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to Central Command for more detail on that.
So I mean I don’t know if it’s going to be so much as you know, here’s your diploma, off you go. One of the — it’s important to remember a couple of things. One, the main goal of the train and equip mission inside for Syria, the moderate opposition fighters, is to get them competent at basic military leadership and organization and basic military skills.
And so part of that is of course how you organize yourself. And I’m not an expert at this field, so again, I’d push you to CENTCOM for more details on how they see themselves organizing these graduates, and where and when and how they’re going to deploy them back into Syria.
The second thing I think it bears repeating the ultimate goals here with respect to this program, and it is both a train and equip program, I mean it’s not just training them. There’s a measure of equipping to go, but essentially for two main objectives. One, to go back to their own communities, their own neighborhoods, and to be able to defend themselves and their neighbors, and then eventually, over time, when they have — when they’re ready to go on the offense against ISIL inside Syria, I mean, that’s really what we’re talking about here, and that’s just going to take some time.
Q: Admiral, it appears at the moment that there’s some kind of a deal in Congress to keep funding homeland (Department of Homeland Security) at least for another three weeks. If there’s no deal, if it goes south in the next three weeks, does that impact this department? Are there responsibilities that this department has to take up for homeland? For instance, Coast Guard has said that they’ll have curtail some operations, particularly in drug interdiction. Is there anything in the works of planning in this department to pick up slack possibly for homeland?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
No, I think the Department of Homeland Security has made it clear that regardless of — obviously they’ve — they want their funding of course, but regardless, that they will be able to maintain critical homeland security missions. And the Coast Guard, I think, has said that as well, that while they may have to shed some operations, that they will maintain their critical, vital functions of coastal defense.
So I — I anticipate no role for the Department of Defense in this.
Q: And Admiral, sorry if I’ve missed this previously, but the 101st troops coming back from Liberia, will they have to go through the 30 days?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. They’ll have to go through — it’s 21 day, actually. Control monitoring. They’ll have to go through that, yes.
Q: 21 days?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, the 21 day control monitoring period that everybody else has gone through, they will have to go through as they come back.
Q: So, after these Free Syrian Army or moderate Syrian rebels are trained and equipped by the U.S. and they go back into Syria, what responsibility if any does the U.S. then have toward them?
Will the U.S. advise? Will the U.S. assist them in conducting operations? Will the U.S. provide air cover and support for these rebels?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We know that we’re going to be obligated to support them in some fashion. There’s no doubt about that.
I think the specifics of exactly what that’s going to look like is still very much under discussion. There have been no policy decisions with respect to what kinds of support would be provided, but we know that there’s going to — that we’d have an obligation to provide some measure of support, and when we get there, we’ll get there, and we’ll certainly talk about it, but right now there’s been no specific decisions made about it.
I’ve got time for just —
Q: And what if their — what if eventually, their operations extend beyond any confrontation with ISIS and they then reach out to go after Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right.
Q: What happens to the U.S. obligation at that point?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I don’t know that it would be very productive to get into hypotheticals at this very early stage.
I mean, the training hasn’t even begun yet.
So, I don’t want to entertain a hypothetical. Let me just repeat two things. One, we know we’d have an obligation for some measure of support. We’re working our way through that right now.
Two, the goal for this program is to get them to do those two things: to defend their communities, protect their own neighbors, and then go on the offense against ISIL.
The Syria component of this campaign is an anti-ISIL component. That’s the focus, not about the Assad regime.
It — nothing has changed about the — the policy that there’s not going to be a U.S. military solution to Assad. There is U.S. military component to going after ISIL, and we’ve been doing that in Syria, and it will — it will continue in terms of helping prepare an indigenous ground force to do the same.
Yeah, last question?
Q: Yesterday, DNI Chief Clapper said Turkey allows a permissive climate for foreign fighters heading to Syria. He said, quote, “I think Turkey has other priorities and other interests.”
Do you agree with him?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into publicly debating and discussing Director Clapper’s comments from this particular podium. All I can tell you from here at the Pentagon is Turkey remains a NATO ally and a close partner in the region. We’re grateful for the support that they have already lent to this effort and now, again, through this agreement, to allow training of moderate opposition on their soil. And we look forward to continuing to work with them.
I mean, each nation brings to this coalition what it can and what it’s willing to contribute. We’re grateful for that.
And we understand that Turkey has other regional concerns. Security concerns.
We recognize that — that they possess those concerns. We know that they’ve articulated those concerns. But where our focus in — back to my question and my answer to Mik (Jim Miklaszewski), our focus is against ISIL in the region.
Thanks everybody. See you next week.