Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 23, 2015.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Seven minutes.
It’s a Friday.
All right, just a few things at the top, folks, and then we’ll — we’ll get at questions.
I want to do a little bit, a few announcements on next week’s schedule, if you’ll allow me.
On Monday, Secretary and Mrs. Hagel will visit the Military OneSource call center in Virginia, to thank the folks who work there for everything they do to support our men and women in uniform and their families.
If you’ve ever worked with Military OneSource or you know about them, you’ll know that they provide information and support dealing with every single aspect of military life for anyone connected to it. It’s available 24/7, completely free for our troops and families, both online and on the — at militaryonesource.mil and over the phone at 1-800-342-9647.
Secretary Hagel has always believed that taking care of our people and their families in one of our highest and most solemn obligations, so he’s really looking forward to personally expressing his gratitude to the Military OneSource team.
On Tuesday, Secretary Hagel will meet with the service secretaries, service chiefs, combatant commanders and other senior DOD leaders to hold what will be, most likely, his final meeting of the senior leadership council.
While Secretary Hagel will, of course, be thanking the department’s senior civilian and military leaders for their close partnership over his tenure, the meeting, like all gatherings of his senior leadership council will largely focus on the substantive issues facing the department, ranging from current events around the world to, of course, our budget proposals moving forward for the next fiscal year.
There are a few things happening on Wednesday, as well. As you may know, on Wednesday morning, the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps will be testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the impact of sequestration on national security.
Later in the morning, the deputy secretary of defense, Bob Work, will deliver a speech at the Center for New American Security’s 2015 trans-Atlantic forum, which is going to be held — be held at the Willard Hotel, just across the river.
His speech will focus on our new offset strategy and its implications for America’s partners and allies.
Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, Secretary Hagel will attend the armed forces farewell tribute being held in his honor, just down the road at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. I would stress that even after this farewell parade, Secretary Hagel will continue to carry out the full responsibilities of his office and that he will do so right up until the time his successor is confirmed and installed.
And I just have a couple of other things as well. I want to just give you an update on counter-ISIL operations. Late last week, Friday, in fact, Secretary Hagel authorized an initial contingent of trainers and enablers to begin establishing training sites for the program to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition. We expect the first advance detachment, less than 100, to arrive somewhere in the theater in the coming days and the next wave of several hundred trainers and enablers will deploy in the next few weeks.
I also want to make an announcement here on Ebola and our efforts, Operation United Assistance, down in Liberia. As you know, we are providing critical support for the U.S. government Ebola virus response, bringing our unique capabilities, specifically speed and scale, to support the civilian-led response in West Africa.
At the request of the Liberian government as part of this whole- of-government approach led by USAID the Department of Defense has mobilized and adapted its resources in a very austere environment supporting a critical mission.
Our rapid deployment of personnel, from engineers to logisticians provided for the international civilian response by NGOs, USAID and the U.N. to grow their capability and capacity on the ground.
We are now backing more than 10,000 civilian responders on the ground in the various Ebola affected areas — this is the United States, not the U.S. military — the United States is now backing more than 10,000 civilian responders in affected areas, providing direct and indirect health care support as well as many other functions that were being handled by Operation United Assistance.
So, therefore, the decision has now been made that the ongoing work of Operation United Assistance does not require several National Guard units that were initially considered for deployment. We are confident that we can meet the continuing needs of this mission without activating these reserves.
We still have — and I think this is important to note — more than 2,300 U.S. military personnel serving in Liberia and Senegal in support of outbreak response efforts.
We will have more to say about the next phase of the operation in the weeks ahead, of course, as more work is completed and as we press for additional progress against this epidemic.
And with that, I’ll take some questions.
Q: John, the Syria training, can you be a little bit more specific? You said about less 100 will go initially. Which of the training (inaudible) the countries will they be going to (inaudible)?
Q: (off mic) how many in that second wave and third wave?
Does this suggest then that things are starting to move, and we could see training actually begin soon, or — where’ the vetting process stand at this point?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: So we expect this advance element, which is, again, less than 100, to be spread out across the multiple sites. And I don’t have an exact breakdown for you, Lita. That’s — I’d point you to — to General Nagata and his team at Central Command there to — to speak to how they’re going to break it up.
Again, this is just — this advance element is — is just — they’re sort of — sort of A team, if you will. They’re going to go after the sites, take a look at what’s there and — and prepare for further deployments.
I’m sorry. And your other questions?
Q: How large is that second group, and is that — will that group be parted to one side, or is that also across many…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re still working through the sourcing solution on the follow-on trainers. I think we’re looking at several hundred, as I said, and I don’t have any announcements to make on that, as I told you before.
When we are able to, like today, make an announcement, we certainly will. I just don’t have the specifics on that.
But I think you can — you will — you will see, as we’ve said, in the following weeks additional trainers going to each of those sites. And the breakdown, we’ll just have to — we’ll just have to get there when we get the sourcing solution.
So just don’t know right.
Q: The vetting.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What was your question on…
Q: The vetting.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What about…
Q: And what does this say about — will it start — will they be able to start training in March, or is vetting…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, as I said — as I said last week, General Nagata’s confident that if things remain on track — and sending this advance element in the next few days or couple weeks or so, that constitutes staying on track — so if everything stays on track and we get the additional trainers, we do believe that we’ll be able to start training in the early spring timeframe. I would be reticent — reticent to put a week or even on a month on it, but in the early spring.
And that’s — but that’s an if, Lita, that depends on a lot of factors.
So right now, signs are looking good. Things are moving in the right direction. But I want to stress what I said last week — and it’s still true today — active recruiting has not taken place.
We’ve had some initial discussions with moderate opposition leaders in Istanbul — General Nagata did. Very productive, good meetings, but it didn’t lead to, you know, specific people signing up yet.
So we still got a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do.
Q: Admiral Kirby, can you say which units these initial hundred troops or so are coming from, and are they special operators or conventional…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to — I’m not going to identify specific units. It’s mostly special operations forces, but I won’t identify actual units. Yeah? Go ahead.
Q: On — on Yemen, how confident are you all that you know what’s going on, on the ground there, and how confident also are you in whatever assets are there are enough that if the Iranian-backed rebels start to turn on diplomatic compounds, specifically the embassy, that you have assets to keep the embassy safe and then to evacuate U.S. personnel?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me start by saying the situation is still very unclear. It’s — it’s — we are monitoring it as closely as we can, but it — but it’s not clear right now in whose hands the government is or will be in the future.
So that’s something that we’re in close touch with our…
Q: (off mic) questions that you have about who’s in charge, that you have questions and you don’t have answers to.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s correct. We don’t have a full picture right now of the political situation in Yemen, nor are we in a position to predict exactly where it’s going to go.
So let me just put that right out there.
To your second question, obviously, protection of our personnel, whether they’re military or not — American citizens is obviously a key priority for us.
As you know, we have resources in the region, at sea, particularly, that are ready to respond, if need be, at the request of the State Department. There’s no need for that right now.
Again, I would just tell you that as part of this new normal environment that we’ve been in now for more than a year, we — we take security risks in that particular part of the world very seriously, and the combatant commander has resources and assets at his disposal should he need them.
Q: Thanks, Admiral.
Has the DOD reduced any DOD personnel in Yemen? And is there any kind of review or discussion going on about the military presence — U.S. military presence in Yemen? Or perhaps counterterrorism efforts there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, as you know, (inaudible), we don’t detail with any specificity the — the amount of personnel that we have in Yemen. I’m not going to start doing that today. There is a — there is a footprint of U.S. military personnel in there that have been dedicated to counterterrorism operations. They are still there.
It is something we monitor every single day. Even — even without the events of the last 24 hours, it’s something that we’re always mindful of. And that — and that presence fluctuates and has fluctuated; will continue to fluctuate, given the security situation on the ground and, frankly, the counterterrorism threats and challenges and opportunities there that we’re — that we’re facing.
Q: But has there been any reduction of DOD personnel specifically from the embassy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: From the embassy. There’s been no reduction of U.S. military personnel from embassy security duties in Yemen, no.
Q: In the last week or so, we’ve had a number of facts stated about the war against ISIS. Without putting them in context, we asked you I think it was last week, 700 kilometers regained, square kilometers regained out of how many? What percentage of land that ISIS once held does that represent? We now have senior officials saying that half the ISIS leadership has been killed. Is that one of two or 10 of 20?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right.
Q: And also the 6,000 fighters — out of how many?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. Let me see if I can provide a little bit of context on that, David.
On the — first of all, on the numbers of fighters killed, I want to — I want to revisit because I thought Secretary Hagel was very strong on this yesterday in what he said on numbers of killed. While it is something we’re mindful of, they are estimates only. And they are not being used by this department or Central Command as a measure of overall success.
It is certainly something we’re mindful of because it goes to the ability to degrade their capability, but it’s not the metric of success and it’s not — it’s not a metric that we’re going to hang our hat on when it comes to talking to the success of this strategy.
That said, the estimates on ISIL’s strength vary — vary greatly. This is not a uniformed army with identification cards and recruiting posters. So, it’s hard to say at any given time how many fighters they have in the field. And I would also point out that their fighters come and go. Not — you know, not everybody stays, you know, for the duration. It’s not an organized force.
The — the estimates put out earlier still stand, that — that the estimates of their strength is somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. That’s a pretty broad range because as I said, it fluctuates. So, if you take the 6,000 figure that was acknowledged yesterday, that’s would be — I would — if I were you looking for perspective, I’d say it’s that number out of somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000.
But I — I really want to stress again that that’s not a hard and fast figure. It’s not a figure that we’re paying an exaggerated amount of attention to. And the denominator there of 20,000 to 30,000 obviously changes and fluctuates all the time. So that’s that.
On the land, the 700 square kilometers that we talked about, which is I guess roughly about 300 square miles, we assess that that land retaken from ISIL is largely in the north and has been taken — taken back largely by Kurdish forces, Peshmerga. And just to put it in perspective, as we stand here today — and again, I want to stress that these figures change. So let me put that out as preamble.
Right now, I think the general assessment is that in assessed areas of Iraq — I’m talking about Iraq and I’m talking about those areas that — that matter and that we are able assess. So this isn’t the whole land mass of the country because there are very vast parts of Iraq that are unpopulated and not in contention, and frankly, aren’t relevant.
But in those areas of Iraq that are, you’re looking at roughly 55,000 square miles that ISIL has control or dominance over, roughly. In comparison to 77-some-odd square kilometers that the Iraqi government has control or dominance over.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And then there’s about, a rough amount, 56 or so thousand square kilometers that Kurdish forces have control or dominance over. So that’s about 188,000 total square kilometers — I did the math before I came out there, I’m pretty sure that’s right, of assessed area in Iraq — and I want to stress again, it’s assessed area, it’s not the entire land mass of Iraq.
So, there’s a little bit of perspective.
Q: (inaudible) you were bouncing back between miles and…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, I’m sorry, was I? Did I do that?
So all these — all these figures are square kilometers.
Q: And when you said 55,000 square miles you meant square kilometers?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I meant square kilometers. I apologize.
I thought I was going to get that right.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Thousand.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: 55,000 square kilometers right now is assessed at dominated by ISIL, 77,000 square kilometers roughly assessed as dominated or controlled by the Iraqi government out of Baghdad, 56,000 square kilometers assessed to be under Kurdish control.
Now, look, guys, again, I’m trying to help you answer your question, but I want to stress, again, these numbers fluctuate over time. They will change, they will continue to change.
I also want to point out that — and we haven’t said this in a while, but it’s worth repeating, this is gonna be a long struggle. I know we all want — we all want figures and facts and numbers that indicate, you know, all measures of success and/or, you know, struggle.
But it’s gonna change over time. It’s gonna continue to change over time. And it’s not simply — that’s not simply those, even those — even those figures are not simply the only metrics of success here.
You had something?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Leadership, I don’t know. I’ve seen this press reporting of half the leadership. I don’t know what that equates to. I’d point you to CENTCOM. I don’t have an assessment of what their leadership roster looks like.
Again, leaders come and go. And this isn’t — this isn’t an organized army with, you know, a bill of fare there, where everybody, you know, has a billet that they’re filling.
So, you know, it depends on what you mean by leader and at what level. I just don’t — I don’t have that kind of context today.
Did that get to your question?
Q: (inaudible) in Afghanistan yesterday was a report that General Campbell said that there had been a possibility to U.S. military will extend. Do you have any comment and more details, which section and when? Which factor is gonna be?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have to know a little — I’d have to know a little bit more about what he means — what did he say by extend. I’m not sure.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Extend what? Extend?
Q: The military mission in Afghanistan. (inaudible)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen the general’s comments. What I can tell you is that nothing has changed about our support to Resolute Support, the mission there, the NATO mission and the counterterrorism mission that American forces will continue to conduct inside Afghanistan with our Afghan partners.
Nothing has changed about the commander in chief’s direction that we will be down to about 5,500 at the end of this year and then down to zero at the end of next year. Those milestones are still in place.
General Campbell, that said, retains the flexibility and, in fact, has the responsibility to manage his force levels inside of those milestones, and that’s our expectation.
John — or, I’m sorry, Phil?
Q: Admiral, I want to, please, ask you again about SecDef’s comment from yesterday about how he fought in a war where there was a body count, and we lost that war. And this, taking on board your comments from a second ago about how this isn’t about square miles or a nose count or whatever, what can people on the outside look at or look for as a measure of progress here?
Because one of the answers he did give was the momentum has stopped, or they’re not driving around with their flags anymore or we’ve disrupted their command-and-control.
Those are things that you can see on the inside. What can people on the outside and what can Americans look for in terms of milestones or some way to gauge the progress of this effort?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, look, certainly, as I put out the numbers here of territory that is in dispute, that — that — that’s a valid thing for us to look at. It is not, as I said, the single metric of success here, but it’s certainly something we’re paying attention to, because what makes these guys different than a group like Al Qaida is they do have territorial designs. They have governing ambitions.
They talk about this caliphate vision of theirs. And in order to govern, you have to have territory under your control. So that matters, in that regard.
I’ll tell you what else we look at though, and this isn’t stuff that you can — you know, I can give you a yardstick and give you a number that matches up to it. But it’s how they behave; how they communicate; how they operate.
And we know that they are operating and communicating in much different ways now than they were seven months ago. They’re no longer out in the open.
You know, you — you know, we get shellacked here, right, because there’s not as many strikes anymore. And we’re running out of targets. Well, you know, one of the reasons why maybe there’s fewer targets is because they’re hiding more. And if they’re hiding more, if they’re — if they’re constrained, then they’re not as able to enact the same kind of influence.
So they’re changing the way they operate. They are definitely much more on the defensive. One of the things we’re seeing them do — now, we’re not seeing them try to take new territory as much anymore. What we are starting to see them do is defend, you know, so they’re getting into defensive positions on territory that they do have. And they are — we’re seeing them try to protect their own lines of communication, which is a military term for supply lines and communication lines.
And so we’re seeing them sort of retrench a little bit in that regard, and become protective over what they have, rather than get aggressive and try to take more. We’re starting to see more children being recruited to fight or to conduct suicide attacks, which means — which could — could mean that they are having trouble in the realm of recruiting and manpower.
So it’s really about how they’re behaving and what their — how they’re changing. You can glean a lot about an enemy.
I want to stress one more point, though. And that’s that while we are seeing signs of progress, and while we are seeing them more on the defensive, and while we are seeing signs that would indicate to us that they’re struggling in certain ways, whether it’s financing — and we know we’ve taken away millions of dollars of revenue from them just by the oil collection points and the refineries that we’ve hit.
And their inability to reconstitute machinery. They don’t have a, you know, brigades, you know, of mechanics out there repairing the trucks and humvees and the other vehicles that are getting destroyed, or replacing them. And it’s not like they have defense relationships with other countries where they can just acquire new stuff.
While we’re seeing all that, we’re also mindful that they’re still a potent force inside Iraq and in Syria. And that this is going to continue to take some time. I mean, we’ve been at it now kinetically since August, really, if you want to go back, since June when we start — first started doing humanitarian missions. So, what, half a year, right?
There’s a long way to go here. We’ve said this is going to take several years — three to five, probably. You know, from a military perspective, that the real goal here is good governance in Iraq, good governance in Syria, options for people so they don’t have to be attracted to this ideology. And I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: That’s the real center of gravity for this group is their ideology, not their fighters, not their trucks, and not necessarily, you know, every little camp they set up or position that they establish.
It’s about this ideology and that’s going to take time. And it’s not going to be done through military means alone.
So I don’t know if that answered your question.
Q: Can I just ask you one other followup, please? When you talked about the National Guard guys not going to Liberia, had there been a number of them identified who could have gone and who now won’t? Or had it even gotten to that process?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, there were units that had been — that had been prepared to deploy. So…
Q: Do you know about how many people were going to go and who are…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, actually, I’ve got a bit of an idea here. So, roughly 350 troops from four different states had been notified to be — to prepare to deploy; 280 or so from Minnesota; 14 from Ohio; 16 from Texas; and another 40 that were sort of from — I’m sorry — from Iowa.
So, I thought I had more info on this, but maybe I — I can’t find it. But yeah, so there were some — there were some units that had been identified.
I already got you. Phil?
Q: Just a couple of quick followups. On Syria, you said that there has been no active recruiting yet, but what about just the broader question of vetting? Can you speak to that?
And on Yemen, has the secretary (inaudible), anyone, any of his former counterparts, anybody at all in Yemen since — in the last week? And is there any updated plans for — for potential evacuation, given — since the resignation of the president?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s a lot there, Phil. On vetting, we’ve talked about this. This is going to be a multilayered approach on vetting. Active vetting hasn’t begun yet. We’ve said, though, we know how to do this and we’re not going to do it just alone. We’re going to do it with our interagency and international partners, people who know these groups.
Part of the reason that General Nagata met with some of the leadership — Syrian opposition leadership in Istanbul was to get a better sense of who they are and let them get a sense of what we’re trying to do with this — with this mission.
But we’ve said all along, the recruiting and vetting process, which will go hand in hand, will take about three to five months. And again, it hasn’t begun yet.
If everything stays on track, I think — we believe that we’ll get there by early spring, at least to get started. And then the training itself is going to be six to eight months.
So, you know, best case, if everything continues to go on track, you’re looking at units, groups that are trained and able to go back into Syria probably near the end of the year in the fall.
On Yemen — sorry, you asked about the need for an evacuation?
Q: (off mic) updated planning going on since the president’s resignation, which could obviously affect (off mic).
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I would direct you to our colleagues at the State Department, who really are in charge of that aspect of — of U.S. footprint there in Yemen.
What I can tell you from the military’s perspective is we — we had now — for — for several days, had resources, naval resources in particular, available and ready to respond. They are still there, and they are still ready, and there’s constant contingency planning going on in a dynamic situation like this.
Q: No additional resources have been deployed or flown in?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: And the secretary hasn’t reached out to anyone in Yemen?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: On Yemen, do military counterterrorism operations against AQAP require a willing partner in the Yemen government?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Certainly, a willing partner in — in Yemen, as in many places around the world, makes missions like that much more effective. There’s no question about it.
We’ve also proven the ability to go after terrorists in various places around the world unilaterally, and we still retain that — that right, that responsibility, and we’ll still make sure that we have the resources to do that.
But obviously, the preferred way to do this — and frankly, the most effective to do it over time is with a partner in the region, on the ground, in the country in particular that it is.
So yeah, it still matters. It still matters.
Q: But it doesn’t — it’s not necessarily the fact that there is not a president right now that the government is in dispute? It’s not a veto on military counterterrorism operations?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not as we stand here right now, Julian, but we continue to monitor the situation.
I think we recognize that we need to get a much better understanding of where things are going politically in Yemen before we can make any new decisions or any — or — or — or move forward in any significant way on counterterrorism in Yemen.
Q: Admiral Kirby, yesterday, the secretary mentioned the four training sites in Iraq to train up Iraqi forces. Can you give us any idea how many troops that’s supposed to produce and when they might be ready?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, let me — I actually do have an update for you on that. It’s here somewhere. Hang on.
OK. So there are four training locations in Iraq, and I can tell you that as of today, all four of them now have trainees, and training is ongoing at all four.
But the fourth one, which became active today, was in Irbil, and there’s about 100 Peshmerga forces right now there that are beginning — just beginning to do some training.
There’s still some site infrastructure work that has to go on at that particular site. The other three, we’ve talked about Al Asad, Camp Taji in the Baghdad governate, and then in Bismayah.
Right now, there’re about 3,600 Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces if you add the hundred that we had there that are — that are in the training pipeline.
So you got roughly 600 at Al Asad, 1,600 at Camp Taji and another 1,300 or so at Bismayah. And then as I said, you got the 100 up there in Irbil, which just started today.
And there’s various levels of U.S. troops at each of those sites assisting them. I would also point out that we are — we expect to — and we already have, in some cases — but expect to get additional coalition partners in terms of training at — at those sites.
But the training is up and running now, and it will, you know — will — we hope to flesh this out with additional trainers and trainees as time goes on.
Q: (off mic) aggregate, so what size fighting force is this designed to produce, and when might they actually be able to enter the battle?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: 12 total brigades is what we’re talking about. That’s — nine of which are Iraqi, three of which will be — which’ll be Kurdish. That’s the — that’s the — that’s what this training was ostensibly designed to handle in terms of throughput.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, the training is gonna — it’s a six-week long evolution. So they have three weeks on, with a one-week break, and then three more weeks of training. So each training session is three weeks.
Q: You said earlier that officials are meeting with Syrian moderate opposition, but that hasn’t led to specific people signing up just yet? The language used in the training conversation kind of is hinged on U.S. troops getting to train and vetting several hundred of the moderate Syrian opposition, but there’s been little discussion about whether the recruiting numbers are there.
Are they there? And is there any indication that there aren’t enough (inaudible) fighters to meet your several hundred figure?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re still working our way through that, Maggie. As I said, recruiting hasn’t begun yet, so it’s difficult for me to say that I can give you a set number of potential recruits.
What I can tell you is that coming away from Istanbul, General Nagata felt very optimistic that there would be a pool from which we could begin to recruit and to vet and to get into the training pipeline. But even he is unable at this time to give an exact figure on how big that pool will be.
And this is a — as — almost the same as my answer to Jamie, it’s a bit of a cumulative process. I mean, you got to get started somewhere and then additional trainees will flow from that.
One of the things that we really want to get at in this Syrian moderate opposition training is to teach them military leadership, basic unit organizational leadership.
And when you have good leaders, you tend to draw more followers. And you can potentially build more recruits. And the vetting continues, you know, to go from there. And you get it — and the more vetting you do, you know, the more people you get in the pipeline, the more vetting you can do. And the vetting will be on multi levels. As people work through the training they will be vetted again, at each building block. We’ve talked about that.
The more you vet, the more confident you are in who you’ve got and the easier it is to build out larger training populations.
Q: OK. So, correct me if I’m wrong. You just said that it’ll be about five months out before everything settles. At what point between now and five months will he have an idea of the size of the pool that he can draw from?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we’ll know as we get closer in the spring, we’ll have a better idea. But we’re still at the beginnings of this. And I’m just not able to answer that question right now.
Q: Could you clarify some points you made on the figures? I just wanted to make sure I understood your point. Seven hundred in the north, are we talking strictly about Iraq, so 700 square kilometers that have been gained back?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. Yes.
Q: So that doesn’t count Kobani?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s correct.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Now, on Kobani, well, never mind — go ahead.
Q: Oh, no.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, that’s all right. I actually had a factoid on Kobani, but I’ll leave it. Go ahead.
Q: I want the factoid.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, that’s all right.
You’ll have to — you’ll have to pry it out.
Q: And you said the Kurdish areas, does that mean that you believe that those gains were made because there were Kurdish forces on the ground? Was that a contributing factor? Were these areas that there were gains made in the absence of ground forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s a great question, and I’m glad you made me clarify that.
Absolutely these gains, though small in the aggregate, to the total square kilometers we talked about, were only able to be effected by forces on the ground. Indigenous forces on the ground. Now, with our support, of course, from the air. But, yes.
Q: All 700 had that component, if you will?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s correct.
Q: And 700 square kilometers out of 55,000 that was in ISIL territory, is that the kind of pace that you expected with this air campaign? Is it faster or slower than the U.S. military had expected?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s a — it’s not all because of the air campaign, as we just said. It has — it has largely been effected by good coordination with, in this case mostly Kurdish forces on the ground.
And I recognize, I think we all recognize that it’s a small percentage of the total right now. But we’re only six, seven months into this thing, too.
And ISIL had a big head start on us, coming into the summer. A pretty aggressive first quarter for those guys.
So, we — and we’d said all along, this is gonna take time, to uproot these guys and to really get at them. And so, I wouldn’t say it’s fast or slow or big or smaller. It’s — it’s, though small as a total percentage, it’s not insignificant.
The other thing is, let’s not look at, you know, a piece of ground, a square kilometer, as equal to any other square kilometer. The square kilometer’s we’re talking about that were retaken were retaken why? Because they mattered to ISIL.
You know, so not every square kilometer of that 55,000 I talked about matters the same way. And what the — particularly up north, the Kurds have been able to do is they’re taking back cities and towns and villages, places that matter to ISIL, population centers.
So, again, not every — not every square kilometer of the map that shows where they’re dominant, is of the same importance.
Q: Do you know the population — so, I’m sorry, is that since June 10th or August 8th, the 700?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m — I’m given to understand that this is over the last seven months.
Q: And what factoid do you have on Khobani?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you know, I think I got asked this a while ago. Or maybe it was last week, you know, what percentage, you know.
So, when we first started having the discussion about Khobani and everybody was breathless about its near fall, the estimate was that, you know, 70 percent or so of Khobani was under or under the threat of ISIL control, and now it’s flipped. Now, 70 percent or more of Khobani we assess to be in Kurdish forces control.
Q: Do you have some more figures for the rest of Syria in terms of what has been lost or gained (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not. I knew that there was — as hard as I try today — that there were going to be percentages, facts and figures I’m not going to be able to have. But — but we’ll keep looking at it.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re welcome.
Q: I wanted to ask about the impact that falling oil prices is having on the Iraqi budget. Has Iraq asked for the Pentagon or the U.S. government to defer payments on weapons? And are there concerns about what impact these budget problems will have on the fight against ISIS or on the government’s ability to sort of provide services for their people?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Certainly, any — any nations — I won’t speak for Iraq and Iraqi internal economics. That wouldn’t be appropriate. Obviously, economic indicators certainly play a role in any sovereign nation’s ability to defend itself. So yes, we’re obviously mindful of this and watching it, and we’re certainly concerned about Iraq’s ability to meet its own national defense needs. We’re willing to help in certain ways.
The secretary spoke yesterday about all the manner in which we are accelerating the shipment of materiel and assistance to Iraq. I’m not aware of any request by the Iraqi government for a deferral of payments. Let me take that question for the record and get back to you, but I’m not aware of any — any request about that at all.
Q: Budget questions. The chiefs are going up there Wednesday to talk about the impact of sequestration for a budget that hasn’t been released yet. How much freedom of latitude will they have to discuss the 2016 budget and impacts on their specific services? Or will they be under some — some kind of secretarial muzzle? (Laughter.)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the budget hasn’t been presented to Congress yet, Tony. So it’s — the purpose of that hearing is not to discuss the fiscal ’16 budget submission in any detail, since it hasn’t been formally presented to the Congress. That wouldn’t be appropriate.
I think what the secretary’s expectation is that the chiefs will testify honestly and candidly about the impacts that sequestration has had, since we did have to live with it for a little while, and potentially will have, to their ability to meet the requirements — the national security requirements of the nation going forward.
Q: So they won’t be able to talk about the ’16 budget and how it would be cut in their…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re not going to detail — they’re not going to outline details of the ’16 budget. They can talk — I mean, I’m not — they will be expected, as they always are, to be honest, candid and forthright with members of Congress. That’s their responsibility. But they — I would not expect them to get into any specifics about the ’16 budget submission since it hasn’t been submitted to the Hill yet.
Q: One other question. Ashton Carter now is going to testify about the budget in the first week of March. Why did Secretary Hagel not want to testify about his last budget?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it wasn’t just an issue of the secretary not wanting to testify, Tony. He had discussions with the chairmen of all our oversight committees, particularly Senator McCain and certainly Chairman Thornberry about — about, you know, the budget hearing season and schedules and that kind of thing. So, it wasn’t an issue of — of simply not wanting to do it.
I think the — I think where the secretary landed was that — well, obviously, he’s — two points. One, he’s going to be the secretary until he’s no longer the secretary. And if there’s a hearing, then he — that he has to attend while he’s secretary of defense, he’s going to attend it.
He well understands the oversight responsibility of Congress. I think he also saw that there would be merit and continuity on — in terms of the briefing to Congress through hearings on the budget, and that that continuity might better be served under one secretary of defense rather than two.
Q: Between February 2nd, when the budget comes out, and early March when Carter testifies, how is the Defense Department or the military services going to fill that void in terms of will there be think-tank sessions? Will they be briefing more regularly here about the budget in here? Or what? How are you going to fill the time void?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What would you like us to do? I mean, I’m — I think I’ve got a pen. I can take notes.
Q: Wouldn’t it be helpful if they came in not only just on budget and fire-hose everybody but a little bit more incrementals since they’ve got a month to do it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We don’t consider it a fire hose. It’s thoughtful presentations with great detail on context that unfortunately leaks a lot before that day.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, look, I mean, once the budget gets submitted — I mean — and — and we’ve made it public, we will continue to talk about it and defend it and provide context to up and to including testimony on the hill.
Q: There’s one factoid thing I want to ask you.
Back in April, the Pentagon put out an unusually helpful guide to the impact of sequestration for ’15 and going forward.
Is there any thought of updating that guide?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: First of all — first of all, we’re glad you found it helpful. (Laughter.)
That’s — thanks for the compliment. And yes, we will update it. Absolutely.
I got time for one more.
Q: Just a quick follow on Yemen, you mentioned that the U.S. counterterrorism footprint remained the same there. Does that mean — does that mean that…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was there’s not been any significant change or — no — no change since the events of the last 24 hours.
But — but I also said that footprint fluctuates and has fluctuated, will continue to fluctuate, given the challenges and the threats.
Q: Does that mean also that there are — that the ongoing training with the Yemeni security forces is continuing, or have they suspended those contacts pending some clarification or resolution of the situation there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have any specific detail on the — the — what training might’ve been scheduled for today.
So I — I’m reticent to tell you that there’s been no change or that there has been a definite change.
What I can tell you, though, from a broader perspective, Jim, is that we’re — we’re watching this very closely. I think we’re in kind of a wait-and-see sort of posture right now.
We need to get a better understanding of political where Yemen’s going before we can make any major muscle movement, changes or decisions about CT cooperation in Yemen. It’s obviously something we want to continue to be able to do. It has been fruitful. It has been productive. It’s been quite effective against AQAP inside Yemen. We’d like to be able to see that partnership continue.
But right now, given what happened yesterday, we — we’ve got to — we got to wait, take a look, watch this thing, monitor it before we make any major decisions going forward.
I just — on — on the specific training, I’d point you to CENTCOM for details on that. I don’t know what evolution may have been scheduled for today that, you know, could’ve been affected. I just — I just don’t know.
Q: Can I just follow on…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: … Nancy’s question, just because you’re talking about land?
Mosul is obviously one of those key areas the Iraqis have been able to take back.
This whole disruption of supply and communication lines, is that what’s happening now? Over the last couple of days, we’ve seen a lot of strikes around Mosul, quite an uptick in activity there. Is that the kind of thing that we’re seeing sort of the start of, this effort to retake Mosul…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know — I don’t — I don’t know that I would characterize it quite that way, Lita, as like, you know, a precursor to some imminent operation.
We — we — Mosul has always been on the radar screen. We are in a position and the Iraqis are in a position to begin to — to apply more effort and planning towards what we know is an operation against key terrain that ISIL holds.
I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t characterize any particular strike on any particular day as, again, a sign of imminent military overt action against Mosul.
That said, we know that that’s key terrain, and we know that eventually retaking Mosul must be done. It’s going to have to be done. But we’re not putting a fixed timeline on it.
And the other thing I’d want to point out is that we’re not going to go any faster than our Iraqi partners can. We’re going to support them throughout this. We’ve pledged that, we have proven that, and we’re going to go any faster than they’re ready to go.
That — that make sense?
OK. Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.