Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby, Jan. 9, 2015

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 9, 2015.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. And happy Friday to you.

I do have some announcements here at the top today, so just bear with me. I want to start with an announcement by Secretary Hagel about our new POW/MIA agency. I think you all have his statement by now, but today Secretary Hagel is directing the department to reorganize its efforts to account for missing personnel into a single, accountable, responsive and transparent organization. one with comprehensive oversight of personnel accounting resources, research and operations.

This new agency will centralize all communications with family members of the missing, streamline the identification process, centralize budgetary resources, improve the search, recovery and identification process, and develop proposals to expand public and private partnerships.

Throughout his tenure at the Pentagon, Secretary Hagel has made clear that finding, recovering and identifying the remains of those individuals is of the highest priority.

The steps he is announcing today will ensure that DOD more effectively and transparently accounts for our missing personnel, while ensuring their families receive timely and accurate information.

Effective Monday, leadership will be place for a new, consolidated, personnel accounting agency. The agency will be directed, on an interim basis, by Rear Admiral Mike Franken, a highly qualified leader who has strong operational and policy background. And the search for a permanent director begins immediately.

Major General Kelly McKeague, the commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, will serve as the interim deputy director.

This agency will be overseen by the undersecretary of defense for policy, and it will be advised by Lieutenant General Mike Linnington, the military deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and someone well-known to you all, as well as well-known to veterans’ organizations around the country.

Through 2015, the headquarters for the new agency will be in Washington, D.C., but it will also operate from its Hawaii location, with satellite laboratories in Nebraska and Ohio.

A decision on the agency’s permanent location will be made by early next year.

As Secretary Hagel has said himself, America will remain committed to always bringing home our missing and our fallen. The decisions that we are announcing today will ensure that we honor that solemn obligation.

My second announcement is that next week, Secretary Hagel will embark on his final domestic trip as secretary of defense to thank servicemembers and their families across the country for what they do to defend this nation every day.

Joined by Mrs. Hagel, the secretary will visit with personnel from each service who have been supporting some of our most important missions including our ongoing rebalance to the Asia Pacific, our nuclear enterprise, and ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The trip will begin on Tuesday with the secretary stopping first at Whiteman Air Force Base to visit with airmen who pilot and support the B-2 Stealth bomber. This will be the secretary’s sixth visit to see the nuclear force, reflecting his commitment to reforming the nuclear enterprise and to keeping our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective.

It’s also an important opportunity to highlight the present and future role of long-range bombers in America’s ability to project power across the globe. From Whiteman, the secretary will fly to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, one of the bases that makes San Diego the largest U.S. military and veteran community in America.

Miramar is home to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and the secretary is looking forward to thanking Marines there, including those who recently returned from Afghanistan and those who are preparing to deploy to support Operation Inherent Resolve.

On Wednesday, the secretary will fly out to the amphibious assault ship USS America, one of the newest ships in our fleet, and one that is currently undergoing work-up — work-ups off the Pacific coast. The America will be one of the first ships to deploy with an F-35B squadron. And her presence in the Pacific reflects the Defense Department’s commitment to ensuring that our most advanced platforms support the rebalance.

Secretary Hagel’s trip will culminate on Thursday with a visit to Fort Bliss, where he completed basic training in 1967, and a stop at the White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in the country.

As a former Army sergeant, the secretary is looking forward to returning to Fort Bliss to speak directly to the current and future leaders of the Army’s noncommissioned officer corps, including those NCOs that are presently attending the Sergeants Major Academy.

At Fort Bliss, the secretary will give his last major speech to the troops as secretary of defense, reflecting on the current state, on the health of the force, and on what the military and our entire nation must do to uphold our commitments to each other and to those who wear the uniform.

Now, lastly, today is the final day for a couple of our colleagues in the Pentagon press corps. Chris Carroll will be leaving us. Today is his last day with us at Stars and Stripes. I don’t think Chris is here today, but he’s been with Stars and Stripes for almost four years and he will be returning to his roots as a science writer, taking up that job for the University of Maryland. It makes a much shorter commute for him than the one that he has right now. We’ve all appreciated his sense of humor, his superb writing style, and his ethics as a journalist. I’ve traveled with Chris many times and have enjoyed each and every one of them. So we’re going to miss Chris.

We’re also saying goodbye to Justin Fishel. Justin’s been with Fox for 13 years, covering the Pentagon for seven. And you’ll be leaving to go to ABC News. We haven’t always appreciated your sense of humor — (Laughter.) — and traveling with you is no where near as fun. (Laughter.)

But I know I speak for all of us, Justin, when I say we’re going to miss you. We really are. You’ve been a bit of an institution around here yourself. And you come from great stock, as we all know. Your grandfather was right there on D-Day right at the very beginning covering for Stars and Stripes himself, Mr. Andy Rooney, a legend in journalism, an individual that we all look up to. We all look up to you, too. And we’re going to miss you. I really do appreciate everything you’ve done here, so thanks very much.

And with that, I will give you the first question.

Q: That is a first in itself, I think. (Laughter.)

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Burn your bridges.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: It must not have been easy for you to come up with something nice to say, but you sort of did. And I appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

(Laughter.)

Q: So, to the news of the day. Given the remarks from the director of British intelligence about Al Qaida plans for major attacks in the West, what, if any, steps is the U.S. military taking in a defensive posture? And does defense intelligence match that reporting out of Britain that — that there are major attacks in the works, or at least in the planning phase from Al Qaida?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, without getting into specific intelligence, which I’m loathe to do from the podium, I can tell you that, and without speaking to the specifics of that comment, we’re always concerned about the threat to Western targets represented by terrorist groups like Al Qaida. And specifically, the offshoot group, the Khorasan group, which you know we have, you know, recently targeted in Syria.

This week’s action — this week’s horrific attacks in Paris I think is a grim reminder to all of us of how serious this threat is, and how we have to continue to work closer together, the international community as well as interagency here in the United States government, to combat this threat, and we are, and we take it seriously.

The secretary, as you know, called his French counterpart this morning, and they spent quite a bit of time talking about this — this need to continue to put pressure on these groups and to share intelligence and information as best we can.

So again, I can’t talk with specifics to this. But no one — no one has taken our eye off the ball when it comes to the threat posed by these radical extremist groups to Western targets and to include — you know, to include here in the United States as well.

Q: What’s the — what’s the status of AQAP right now?

I mean, these French terrorists were linked to AQAP. There’re reports that one of the brothers may have travelled there, done training there.

What is the status of this group, and can you confirm that any of these individuals travelled there and trained there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Really not going to talk about details that are being investigated by the French. It would be inappropriate for me to do that, so let me put that aside.

AQAP remains a lethal threat and a terrorist network that continues to threaten not just the region but the West, and it’s one that we take very, very seriously.

Their expansion into places like Yemen is one we’ve long tracked, long been aware of and as you know, we’ve not been shy about hitting their interest and targets there when and where we can, and we have a good relationship with the government in Yemen with respect to that.

This is a group that is trying to grow in strength. It is a group that looks for ungoverned spaces from which to operate. There are places in Yemen that represent those opportunities to them. And again, we’re going to focused on it.

Craig?

Q: Speaking of Yemen, what’s the current scope and extent of U.S. military presence in Yemen to fight or to counter AQAP?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into specific numbers, Craig.

As you know, we do routinely work with Yemeni forces to deal with this threat inside their country — and it is their country — so the numbers of U.S. forces that conduct these counterterrorism operations and help the Yemenis deal with this threat is small, and it’s transient. It fluctuates given the circumstances and the threats.

So I can’t really give you a number. In fact, if I were, that number would probably not be accurate, you know, in just a few short weeks from now.

It’s a close relationship that we continue to want to nurture and to improve, but it — but it does change overtime.

Q: Given — can you speak generally? Has — have those numbers increased or diminished, and is — is there any correlation between that and perceived threats coming out of Yemen.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: If you’re kind of addressing it in respect to what happened in Paris this week —

Q: Not in respect to Paris, just in regard to the perceived threat —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t — you know, going back even a couple of years, I think I’d be careful before I would say it’s increased or decreased dramatically. It fluctuates based on, again, the threat and the challenges.

And so I think it would be inaccurate to say that there’s a trend here to speak to with respect to — to presence. The most important thing to remember is that — is that that presence is based on a very real threat and that we continue to evaluate it more closely with Yemen to address it.

Joe?

Q: Admiral Kirby, talking about Yemen, do you have any information, or could you confirm that one of those suspects in the attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris has been in Yemen in 2011, had contacts with al-Awlaki also.

Do you have any information about that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I — again, I — Justin’s question, which was similar — I’m just not going to get into issues that are under investigation by the French.

Q: From — from your point of view, from the Pentagon’s position, if — if this building had any information about that, regardless what happened in Paris.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not in a position to confirm intelligence about these individuals, and I don’t want to say anything from the podium today that’s going to affect in any way details that are being investigated by the French. It just wouldn’t be appropriate.

Q: Two questions.

One, Secretary Kerry is leaving for India. Since Secretary Hagel is not going to India and you’re not going to be part of the president’s visit, is Secretary Hagel giving any — sending any message through Secretary Kerry to India on future military relations between the two countries?

Is Secretary Kerry carrying any message from this building?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think there was a specific message that Secretary Hagel asked the secretary — Secretary Kerry — to convey. But he met with Secretary Kerry this week, as a matter of fact. They talked about a lot of things, but clearly, as we’ve said before, the relationship — the defense relationship with India is important and Secretary Kerry understands that. And I’m sure he will carry Secretary Hagel’s best wishes as he — as he goes on the trip. But — but there wasn’t a — you know, a specific ask of Secretary Kerry as he goes on this trip.

Q: Apparently, U.S.-Pakistan relations are concerned and Al Qaida, since recently big attack on the military children took place. Is secretary or this building is happy now with Pakistan is taking action against Al Qaida? Because a number of terrorists are still running around in Pakistan, openly, and wanted by the U.S.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The — the sanctuary that these — some of these groups enjoy in Pakistan has long been an issue of concern for us, it’s long been a topic of discussion with our Pakistani counterparts. And, again, I want to remind, as I often do, that it’s important to remember the Pakistani people have become — are victims of this — of terrorism, just like the people in Paris are this week.

And it’s a common threat, a common challenge that we all have to continue to work on together and to look for ways to improve that cooperation.

I will also tell you that — that cooperation with Pakistan and Pakistani military in general continues to improve.

Q: Finally, what I was going to say, Pakistani people are really asking the U.S. to help, because they are the innocent victims, like you said. And what U.S. can do now to put more pressure on the Pakistani government or the military to —

(CROSSTALK)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not about us putting pressure on the Pakistani government. It’s about the Pakistani government continuing to address this threat in keeping with their best interests and the interests of their people.

And it’s a shared threat, a shared challenge that we have, and we have maintained an interest in helping them deal with, and that will continue.

Carla?

Q: Thank you. Can you give us a recap of the latest on the Air Asia help that we’ve been giving?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not much has changed. I’m happy to walk you through what I know. The USS Fort Worth and the USS Sampson are still on the scene. They continue to conduct both aerial — actually aerial search, surface search-and-recovery, as well as using this side scan sonar to help try to find wreckage on the ocean floor.

So, we continue to support in all the ways that the Indonesian government and their search-and-rescue agency deem fit to ask us to do.

And there’s no time limit on this. We’ve said before, we’ll be there to help as long as we’re — as long as long as we’re needed.

I don’t know of any additional major developments and — in the search. I don’t have any additional details on that to report today.

Yes? Maggie?

Q: Yesterday, Bob Work directed judges assigned to Gitmo military tribunals to stop juggling those tribunals with other work. About how many judges does that impact? When did the Pentagon decide commuter judges were a problem? And how does the new directive quicken the pace of the Obama administration close at Gitmo?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s really about — this is about making this function of a military judge more permanent and fixed, and so that they are more available to assist in the judicial process down there.

I don’t have a good number for you on how many. Southern Command would be able to help you, I think, with that, better than I would. But it really is about helping streamline the process.

And in so doing, also helps us work through the other — the other, and more complicated, process of eventually closing the facility, which this department remains committed to doing.

So, in that regard, it will help us, as we continue to work through these cases, but it is not specifically tied to the process of detainee transfers. And detainee transfers will continue to be conducted.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: On North Korea, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un wants preconditions for the dialogue with South Korea, and North Korea demands the U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea and no U.S. and South Korea military exercises.

What is the U.S. position on this?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments. So, without addressing those specific comments, which I can’t — I haven’t seen, so I can’t validate that — them. What I will tell you is that nothing has changed about out commitment and our treaty alliance requirements with South Korea — the Republic of Korea on the Peninsula. Nothing has changed about our commitment to keep U.S. forces there and inside that — those alliance requirements. And nothing has changed about our commitment to security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: Okay.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: Admiral, there was recently a shooting at the El Paso VA Clinic. Is the secretary going to be making a stop there on his upcoming trip?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s a great question. He’s not going to be stopping at the clinic. I think he wants to be mindful that he doesn’t do anything to disrupt what we can assume is an ongoing investigation. That said, he is planning to meet with some of the first responders who responded to the scene of that shooting and to thank them for — for their good work there at Fort Bliss. But there’s no plans right now for him to actually go to the scene. And I think you can understand why. He wouldn’t want to be a disruptive influence there.

Phil?

Q: Admiral, two quick budgets questions, please.

First, is the secretary planning or preparing to go up the hill when the budget comes out early next month and do the usual round of hearings in the House and Senate Committees? Or will he send the deputy secretary? Because, although this budget was prepared under his aegis, he might not have much more time in this job.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think they’re still working out exactly how the Hill calls will go with respect to the — the budget drop, Phil. And I just don’t have anything with respect to his schedule to announce today.

Q: Okay. The second thing is, following this week’s announcement about the European base consolidation, is the Pentagon going to make any other different pitches to Congress about its request to close bases in the United States? Or is it going to make the same basic appeal that it has in the past, that this would save money, and it makes sense to do, even though a lot of members of Congress clearly don’t agree because they haven’t permitted that process to go forward?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Separate and distinct from the budget submission, which I won’t speak to you today. What I can tell you is, nothing has changed about this department’s view, Secretary Hagel’s view, that another round of BRAC is required. You know, we’re operating right now with what we think is about a 25 percent excess infrastructure here in the Continental United States. And we simply can’t afford that. And it’s — it’s unnecessary. So, nothing’s changed about our position, and another round of BRAC required. And I suspect you’ll see that — that be part of the discussion moving forward into February.

Q: So, does he think and does the department think that the European process announced this week will strengthen the Pentagon’s hand when it goes up to the Hill and says, “We’ve already started this overseas. Now, we have no excuse not to do it here at home”?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think so, Phil. That wasn’t the intent for the European infrastructure consolidation. Wasn’t — wasn’t being used — it wasn’t intended to be used as some sort of leverage for domestic BRAC. There are completely two separate processes altogether.

Now, it is the same idea. You want to reduce infrastructure to meet your requirement and your resources. And that’s what we’re trying to do in Europe. That is exactly what we would — we want to do here in the United States. But it’s a different process altogether. And certainly, the one should not be construed as aiding or assisting or trying to improve our chances of doing the other. We obviously — as the secretary has made clear, we want to work with Congress to effect another round of BRAC.

We know this is not an easy thing for the Congress to take up and to deal with. We know these are not easy decisions to make. The secretary wants very much to work with the Congress as we move forward to try to get another round of BRAC. It really is necessary. It really is necessary. And it’s time. It’s overdue, actually.

Joe?

Q: You mentioned — on the reorganization of the recovery effort, you mentioned the satellite labs that include the one in Nebraska. Are those going to see any changes in terms of growing, shrinking, changing the way they operate? Or will they be largely the same?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it’s too soon to tell, Joe. I mean, as I said in the opening statement, they’re — we’re still going to rely on them. But I’m not in a position here today — that’s all part of getting this organization up and running and getting it under a single director. Consolidating these efforts, and then — and then — and I suspect, just like in any good organization, efficiencies and improvements will be constantly sought. But I’m not prepared today to say with any certainty that there’s going to be changes in those labs.

Yeah, Christina?

Q: Thanks, Admiral. On the BRAC, several lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to supply weapons directly to the Kurds. And the Kurds have asked them directly, as well. I was wondering if there’s any consideration in the department in doing so.

I believe several representatives from the Office of Security Operations accompanied McCain up — Senator McCain up to Erbil when he was there over the break.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I will tell you that the Kurds continue to receive material assistance, not just from the Iraqi government, but from foreign governments. And the manner in which we are helping with that material assistance to the Kurds is through the Iraqi government. And we still believe that that’s the right approach, that the material assistance that they receive should be — should come through the Iraqi government.

Now, as I said, there are some foreign nations who are also providing arms and ammunition. They are too working through the Iraqi government. Nothing’s changed about our policy that that’s the best way for this to occur.

But it doesn’t mean that we’ve taken our, you know, eye off the fact that they continue to need sustenance and support. And obviously, we, you know, we’re going to continue to look for ways to make sure they get that. But again, through the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

Q: (inaudible) — Afghan Journal — from Afghanistan.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Welcome.

Q: About Afghanistan, what do you think nowadays the cabinet — the new cabinet – has not been announced yet? Do you think that it’s going to be effective as far as security or lack of security for the Afghan military to provide effective security nationwide in Afghanistan to consult?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We certainly applaud President Ghani’s efforts to stand up his — his government. And we’re — we’re grateful for the work and the efforts that he — that he’s already put in place and the trajectory that this relationship is on now that we have a new mission inside Afghanistan.

But it would be inappropriate for me here at the Pentagon to, you know, to comment on the speed with which is effecting certain changes or selecting heads of his ministries. That’s really — that’s a pace and those are decisions that only he and the CEO can make. And, you know, we would defer to them to speak to that.

But again, more broadly, we’re grateful for the support that we’ve already received from this new administration in Afghanistan, for President Ghani’s strong leadership, and for the trajectory that the relationship is on right now.

Yes?

Q: Do you consider Mullah Omar still a threat to the U.S.? Is he still a target of the U.S.?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: To the degree he is still targeting our Afghan allies and U.S. troops, yes, he remains a threat.

Q: (inaudible)?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.

Yes?

Q: Two on Iraq. First, on the civilian casualties and those investigations and reviews, do you have anything more on how many civilians were potentially wounded or killed in, you know, those two incidents, exactly where they were in Iraq and Syria?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t. I’m sorry, Dan. I would point you to CENTCOM to talk about the details of that. I don’t know.

Q: And then separately on Iraq, we’ve heard often that ISIL is under pressure. Mount Sinjar was sort of recaptured. Is there any evidence that the supply lines and supply flow to ISIL has — has been restricted? Or that they’re suffering a shortage of supplies and weapons in Iraq?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What we do know is that they are putting increasing emphasis on protecting what we call “lines of communication,” which is a fancy way of saying supply lines and sustainment capability. We know that they’re putting — you know, I talked about Tuesday them being more in a defensive crouch, and they are.

And what we’re starting to see what they’re doing is they’re trying to protect the areas they are in control of now, which I might add is some 700 square kilometers less than it was about six months ago. They’re trying to protect what they can hold onto now, and they’re also we’re seeing them put a lot more emphasis on protecting their lines of communications.

So they are making those — that’s where they’re putting their energy. And — and if you look at the airstrikes we’re conducting, and you look at some of the operations that are being done by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, you can see that — that we’re trying to disrupt their ability to do that, to preserve those lines of communication.

So, that is a real point of the combat right now is this over lines of communication. I mean, we’ve long said — in fact, the strikes — many of the strikes that we take, you know, inside Syria, are aimed at their ability to sustain themselves. That’s a key.

This is, you know, what they — while they still have wide swathes of territory, again, a lot less than it was a few months ago, they have to be able — one of the keys for them to — to maintain the control they have is to — is to be able to sustain themselves, and we’re trying to make that as difficult as we can for them.

Nancy?

Q: Can you clarify, please, the 700 square kilometers? Is that only in Iraq, or is that Iraq and Syria?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have — I think it’s both. I don’t have it exactly on a map, but we know that it’s about 700 square kilometers less than it was a few months ago.

Q: And you know where the break down is — how much of that is in Iraq and how much of that is in Syria?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t. I don’t.

And I’m frankly not sure how relevant that is. I mean, it’s — they have less ground now than they did before. They’re trying to defend what ground that they have. They’re not going on the offense much, and they’re really trying to preserve their own oxygen.

So I mean, as I said, this is all indications — as I said on Tuesday, of a group that — that finds itself increasingly on the defense.

Q: And how many square kilometers do they still control?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know, Jim. I — I can get you an estimate for that. I don’t have that handy.

Q: How about percentage of what —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t.

Q: — territory (off mic)?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t.

Gordon?

Q: Just real quick, are there any new troop announcements since you spoke on Tuesday in terms of deployments to Iraq of the 3,100?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. I have nothing new to announce with respect to troop movements.

Dave?

Q: The senior leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army is in U.S. military custody in Central African Republic. Can you say how he came into U.S. military custody and what the U.S. will do with him? Will it turn him over to international courts?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I cannot right now, Dave. It is true that we are — we — we have an individual in custody that — that we continue to interview. I’m not liberty at this point in time to either identify the individual or certainly speak to the progress of those — of those interviews. I’m just not at that point right now.

Q: Do you believe he is who he says he is?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said, I’m not at liberty right now to identify the individual.

Q: What would be the basis for having him in military custody? Why would the Americas not turn him over to one of the partner countries?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Again, Craig, you know, all I can do is tell where we are now. We’ve got this individual in U.S. custody. There’s interviews going on, and I’m just really not going to go farther than that today.

I appreciate the question. I just am not able to answer it.

Q: Can you give us a high-level rundown of operations there?

How many American troops are there? What kind of work are they doing? Are they in contact with enemy forces? Are they in fire fights?

What kind of work are they doing, because this is something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention for a while.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can get back to you with more specifics, but in general, we are — this is a — these are support missions, counterterrorism support missions, very small numbers, and I’ll try to get you some more fidelity. I just don’t have it handy right now.

I’ll take one more. Tony?

Q: A couple things.

One on Iraq. Just to follow up on the line of the questioning.

CENTCOM’s putting out releases showing very small targets being hit by the U.S. Can you talk a little bit about the role of the A-10 Warthog in those attacks? Congress going to be very interested in what it’s doing over in Iraq.

And is it participating in a lot of these small — attacks on small targets?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Tony, I — I just don’t have the air tasking order in front of me, so I couldn’t tell you with any great deal exactly how many targets A-10s are hitting, or how many missions are flying.

They are on the air tasking order. They are flying missions. I would really point you to CENTCOM for more fidelity on that. I just don’t have it.

Q: Israel —

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That said, it doesn’t change — its participation in this operation doesn’t change the department’s desire to continue to retire the aircraft.

Q: Doesn’t that make it a little difficult, though? You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth if you’re using it in combat, yet you want to retire it. A member may grill you on that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not at all. Not at all. There’s ships that are at sea right now that we have full intention to decommission, and we have one guided missile frigate left in the Navy.

And I believe that ship is underway right now for a mission down south, and when that mission’s over, the ship will be decommissioned, and it’ll be the last one on the class.

It doesn’t have — the fact that an aircraft is flying operational missions doesn’t change — it shouldn’t change — frankly, it should have no impact on a larger discussion about — or a decision about the future of the program itself and the airframe. Again, nothing changes about our desire to have it retired.

Q: Yesterday, General Gantz, Israel’s top military official, visited Mr. — Mr. Hagel in kind of a goodbye tour.

Can you give a sense of whether Gantz expressed any frustration over the — his government’s lack of buying weapons that were announced like two years ago and the big $10 billion-combined Arab- Israel arms package?

Especially, the V-22, it was a billion dollar sale was approved a year ago by Congress, and it’s really gone nowhere. That was the centerpiece of the deal.

Did Gantz express any frustration or give a sense of why his government hasn’t pursued the sales?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I issued a readout of that meeting, as you know, and that’s about as far as I’m gonna go in terms of detail what was discussed.

But —

Q: There’s nothing about this in that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right. Right.

(off mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I appreciate the question. But I issued a readout. I’m not gonna go any farther in detail than that.

But, look, I mean, we have a — as you know, we have a very strong relationship with Israel, and nothing has changed about our desire to improve their capabilities and to maintain their qualitative military edge.

There are many capabilities that we look at in terms of that commitment. The V-22 is one of them. This is a decision made by the Israeli government, you know, a sovereign decision that they have to — they have to speak to. And we remain at the ready to — you know, to continue to support that as well any number of other programs that they’re interested in.

All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend. 

Source: defense.gov