Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 20, 2014.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: All right. Well, I don’t have an opening statement today, so we can just get right at your questions.
You don’t have one? (Laughter.)
Q: I was going to defer to Jamie.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Hey, Jamie. Good to see you. (Laughter.)
Q: Good to be back. Good to be seen.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Is this — is this going to be a recurring thing?
Q: Yes, I’m afraid so. Your worst nightmare has…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. (Laughter.)
Go ahead, Lita.
Q: I was just looking for an update on Iraq and Syria on the training. I wanted to sort of get — clarify. I thought a couple of teams had left Baghdad to build the Anbar team. And I’m wondering, is it one team? Is it two? Is it 50 people? Can you give us some clarity on some of that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. We’ll start with the, sort of the premise that General Austin wanted to get a start on the Iraqi training and advise initiative as soon as he could. And he wanted to use forces that he has already in Iraq or in the region to do that.
A couple of reasons. One, it’s important and we wanted to get it started. Number two, it sends an important signal both to the Iraqis and to coalition partners of how seriously we’re taking this. And the sooner we get started, the sooner Iraqi units will improve in their capability and the sooner we’ll get coalition contributions to that particular mission.
So he has started using, again, intrinsic forces that he has there. A couple of teams — I think it started with a total of about 50. That was a few days ago. I’d have to point you to CENTCOM for any updates in terms of whether there’s been more added since — since then.
But there are — I think he’s looking at — at somewhere around — between 50 and 150 total to get — to get this thing started. And that’s what they’re — that’s what they’re working on.
Q: But is it — but this is shifting troops out of — out of the Baghdad teams, right? The existing teams that were in Baghdad. So didn’t that number now go down and…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, he took this — he took it out of hide. Sure. Now, I don’t know exactly from each location these teams were taken, but he did take it out of hide in order to get the — the training program up and going in Anbar.
Q: And just to follow up, does this mean, though, that in order to do this, you’re — he’s going to have to take it out of hide for a while? Or — and wait for any additional funding? Or is there anticipation that he’ll be able to send at least some troops in to bolster that Baghdad…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. Fair question.
I think we’re going to start — you’re going to start to see the initial elements of the — the 1,500 or so additional start to flow in the next weeks. So it won’t be — this won’t be something that — this temporary solution that he’s come up with isn’t going to be for very long.
I also — we’re also seeing contributions being offered by coalition nations. And I can’t speak for those specifically, because we want those countries to speak themselves in terms of what they’re going to contribute.
But we have secured numerous pledges from coalition partners to contribute trainers to this effort, and they will start to announce and then flow their troops in the next couple of months.
I think certainly by the end of the calendar year, you’re going to see a much more robust presence not just by the United States doing this but by coalition partners as well, and then it’ll go into the — you know, it’ll go into the early years as — as we start to flesh this out.
But the sites — the sites are being prepared right now to — to begin to facilitate the training.
The training has — I don’t know to what degree it’s actually started. Again, he’s just now starting to flow forces from inside the theater into these — into those sites.
Q: Is this — I thought these were the advise-and-assist, not the trainers.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s both.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s both. They’re going to do both. They’re going to get a jumpstart on both.
Q: Some Kurdish officials were meeting with journalists this morning here in Washington, and they’ve been talking over the last couple days about the need for heavy weaponry to go on the offensive against the Islamic State.
And I’m wondering, you know, is there any renewed consideration about this request from Kurdish officials that’s been kind of languishing for — for the last couple of months?
Do — do you have any sense of timing when weapons might move through the Baghdad government or maybe directly? Any update at all?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything new to announce in terms of Kurdish resupply except to say that — not getting into specific terms on a specific list — except to say that there has been consistent efforts to continue to resupply Kurdish forces and Peshmerga forces as necessary, largely done by the Iraqi government.
They’ve — they’ve been facilitating. They’ve been making decisions, the when and the how, and — and linking with the Kurdish forces up in the north to provide that. But I don’t have anything specific in terms of the — the list itself.
And other nations — would remind you — have continued to — to help provide the Kurds with arms and ammunition.
Q: And just on — on that point, I mean, they make the argument that they’re not really able to go on the offensive. They’re able to defend territory with weapons they have, but they’re not really able to go on the offensive without bigger weapons, you know, more — more aggressive weaponry.
Do you agree with that argument? Is that something that this building thinks is a valid argument, or is that something that they’re using as an excuse to try and get more weapons?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn’t call it an excuse.
I think certainly, we understand their need, or their desire, for more and ammunition to continue to fight ISIL.
I would remind you that they have, in fact, gone on the offensive up in the north, and they have retaken many towns and villages, more than a dozen, and they’ve been fighting very hard and very effectively.
Now, perhaps they think — they believe they need more of certain types of equipment or heavy weapons to be more aggressive than they have been, and I — I’m not on the ground there, so I wouldn’t be in a position to quibble with that perspective.
But they are taking the fight to ISIL there, and they’re — and they’re — and they have been quite effective.
And yes, the more you expend, the more you’re going to need. So I think it’s — for them to express valid concerns of wanting to be resupplied, I think everybody understands that, and as I said, it’s not like — it’s not like the Iraqi government is not focused on it or the coalition, for that matter.
Q: On Ukraine, is there any — are there any plans to send anymore lethal or nonlethal, I guess, military aid to the Ukrainian – Ukrainian military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We continue to — to provide military assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces and border guards. We are still focused on nonlethal assistance right now.
I have a list.
Q: Has there been anything added, like, today-ish?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. Nothing…
Q: Yesterday-ish, maybe?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nothing today-ish, but we continue to provide nonlethal equipment — night vision devices, explosive ordnance disposal robots and equipment, radios, body armor, helmets, shelters, fuel pumps, diesel generators — the same types of material that we have been providing in the past.
We continue to review all the requests by Ukraine. While the focus remains on nonlethal, we’re reviewing everything that they’ve asked for and continue — there’s an interagency process that looks at that all the time.
Q: A couple of follow-ups on Iraq, and then I have a separate question on Ebola.
I thought when the 1,500 additional troops were announced that their deployment was dependent upon congressional authorization. But you’re — you’re saying — and that authorization hasn’t come yet, has it? But you’re saying that they’re going to deploy in the coming weeks.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Are they going to deploy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. We can deploy troops to the theater, but — so that — that process can and will continue. And it’s going to take several weeks, as I said. And the — the commander can use — he can reallocate resources inside his theater as he deems fit. So he is going to be, you know, getting — try to get a jump start on this — on this program.
But it doesn’t mean that we still don’t need the authorization in terms of the resources that will go with the much more robust program that we’re trying to get done.
Q: (inaudible) can start without congressional (inaudible).
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He can start it at — he can — he can start it and he is.
Q: Can you — can you identify the other sites which you say are being prepared?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know if I’m at liberty now to identify them yet. There are still site surveys that are going on. And so there’s — I think there’s still a component of force protection concerns there. So, I’m not going to be at liberty to — to identify the specific sites.
Q: And then on Ebola, the — the story in the New York Times this morning about in-fighting in the battle against Ebola included one fact that American helicopters, American military helicopters that were going into the — out away from the capital and into the — into the outback, were refusing to bring back patients and blood samples. And this had aroused the ire of some UN officials.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: A, is that true? And if it is true, why? And are you going to change the policy to allow American helicopters to carry either patients or blood samples?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it’s important to remember what our core missions are in Liberia against the Ebola virus. And that is our unique military capabilities of command and control, engineering, training, and some logistical support. The — the mission inside Liberia of our troops does not include direct contact with patients, handling of patients, or of the blood samples.
With the exception of those mobile labs, those are obviously highly trained medical professionals that are — that are specifically trained to handle the — the samples of blood, but not the helicopter pilots, not the air crews that fly them.
And I also think it’s important to remember that — that the assets we have down there are dedicated to those core missions. And should they be taken away from those core missions, then those — then, you know, those missions in fact could suffer as well.
The other thing to remember is that — that the introduction — the handling of samples or patients fundamentally changes the — the requirements to protect our people. Safety is obviously a number one concern, and those pilots and those crews are not — they’re not trained and they’re not equipped to conduct those kinds of flights. Neither are the aircraft outfitted to handle that.
And to conduct a mission like that would require not only the extra — extraction of that asset and that crew away from other missions, but would — would result in a lengthy period of decontamination of both. And again, putting those — the lives of the crew in danger.
So, it’s not part of the mission and there’s a resource allocation component to this, as well as a safety component, too. I would also tell you that, and I don’t want to speak for other agencies, but I know that there has been consideration of — of — not by the Department of Defense, but of contracting for that kind of service, that kind of air service. And again, I think that’s all being worked right now.
Q: So it’s not going to change?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t see — I don’t foresee any change from a Defense Department perspective. I don’t see any change to the way in which our air crews and our aircraft are being used down there. And again, I’d point you, David, to the core missions that we — that we’re required to do down there. And that’s what our — that’s what our people are trained to do. That’s what they’re resourced to do. That’s what they’re equipped to do.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: On Ebola — What’s going to happen after December 7th when these 10 Ebola treatment units are completed and you still have 2,500 or how many troops in — in West Africa? What are these troops going to do? Are they going to start to draw down?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we don’t know, Phil. So, I mean, the original requirement for the mission was about six months. So I think General Volesky will continue to, just like any commander on the ground does, assess the requirement against the resources. And — and he’ll make recommendations about, you know, how he wants to go moving forward.
We have to be — that said, we have to be prepared for this to go longer than six months, which is why the secretary authorized the call-up of more than 2,000 Reserves and Guard to potentially go down there and relieve many of the troops that are in Liberia and in Senegal right now. But we just — we just don’t know.
The one thing about this disease — and I mean, I’m certainly no expert — is that, you know, it fluctuates. It changes. And so while the numbers are declining right now in terms of cases, that’s a positive thing. It doesn’t necessarily connote a trend. And we want to be mindful of that, too, that sometimes the numbers go down and then they go back up again. So we want to stay flexible.
Q: All right, is there a point in which you’ll need to have some sort of tasking or — or is it — is it only of couple of weeks after your target date to complete these units, and then I don’t know…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, from the very get-go, the — the — the emergency treatment units were never meant to be staffed by — by U.S. military personnel. We were building them, constructing them, and then turning them over to — to health care workers. That — that will continue to — to go on, and we’ve got, you know — as you said, we’ve got ETU construction going on well into December before they’ll all be done.
And so we’re gonna focus on that. We’re gonna continue to focus on the air bridge and the logistics that — that we have set up there in Senegal. We’re still conducting training of health care workers at the site in Monrovia. That continues, and that’s actually been going at pace. I think that’s going to be a mission that will endure for quite some time.
So it is possible that some of the troops will — that — the requirement — as construction gets complete, the requirement for those types of troops may decrease and General Volesky may want to make a recommendation to decrease the oversize — overall size of his force depending on that. But there’s also going to be some missions like the logistics and the training that I think will continue for some time.
So again, we’re taking a very flexible approach here. While it was originally set for six months, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna — that it’s gonna stop there. We have — we’re a supporting agency to this inter-agency effort, and the secretary’s made it clear that his intention is to support it for as long as required. But the numbers inside that — I think they will change and fluctuate.
Q: Admiral Kirby, two questions. First of all, what is the condition of the service member who came back and showed some signs of Ebola?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He — he tested negative for Ebola. He has now returned to — with his colleagues to the 21-day controlled monitoring regiment now that we know that he does not Ebola. I can’t get into specifics because of privacy, but I can tell you that it’s — that it’s — it’s an illness other than Ebola and imminently treatable and does not preclude him from joining the rest of his cohorts.
Q: Okay, and on Bowe Bergdahl, there’s the distinct impression that the review is done and that something or someone is holding the release of that information. What is holding up the release of that Bowe Bergdahl review at this point?
And secondly, Congressman Duncan Hunter says that a ransom was paid at one point but it went awry and the money went to a — a third party in Pakistan. And that was prior to the release. What is your comment to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I know of no hold-up, Jen, on the — on the — the Bergdahl investigation. I’d point you to the Army. I would refer you to them for any update status. But I know of no deliberate hold-up of this.
As I understand it, the — the work is complete, and it is now in review in staffing. And as you know in this building that can sometimes take a while, especially for major investigations like this. But I — I’d point you to the Army for more details about the status of it. Again, I — I have heard nothing and I’ve seen no indication that there’s been any deliberate hold-up of it.
On the — on the allegation that a ransom was paid to secure the release of Sergeant Bergdahl that may or may not have failed. I would tell you, and we’ve said this before, there was no ransom offered. There was no ransom paid. There was no — no money exchanged at all to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release. Nor was there an attempt to do so that failed.
Q: So you can rule that JSOC was involved in any sort of attempt to pay a ransom…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was no attempt to pay a ransom to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.
Q: So then can I ask why you haven’t formally responded to Duncan Hunter’s letter, which was sent on November 5th, if the answer’s so plain and simple?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We will respond to the congressman appropriately and in due course.
Q: Can I just follow up on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
The — the — I think the issue is — was — was money paid to a source, as you pay lots of sources to get information, who perhaps gave — gave false information, but money — money was — was paid to a source which you choose not to categorization as — as a ransom but somebody else might look at it and — and say was a ransom?
So the question is did — did any money change hands?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any money that changed hands with respect to securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl.
It is a fact, though, David, as you’ve pointed out, that on occasion, to obtain information, sometimes in the field, there are — there are such exchanges. That’s a fact.
But I have nothing here today to — to indicate validity in this particular — in this particular case.
Q: Admiral Kirby, on — on the — on the interview with Secretary Hagel last night with PBS, could clarify when — when the secretary said that Assad is indirectly benefiting from the — from the war of ISIS? What does he mean by that? From your military point of view, how Assad is benefiting from the war against ISIS?
And also, he mentioned also one more time the diplomatic solution. How does the Pentagon see a diplomatic solution in Syria? Do you think Assad would be part of it in the future?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the first question, Joe, the secretary has said this before. I think he said it in this very room that — that to the degree airstrikes against ISIL — and ISIL itself, you know, makes it harder for the opposition to — so — to the degree ISIL also poses a problem to the Assad regime — strikes on ISIL, clearly, he derives a tactical benefit from that.
That said, it’s not the goal. We’re not out to try to assist the Assad regime.
Number two, nothing’s changed about the policy that we believe Assad needs to go, that he’s lost legitimacy to govern.
Number three, he himself and his regime are largely to blame for the ability of ISIL to grow and sustain itself, particular in northeast Syria.
So this is — our strategy is a counter-ISIL strategy, nothing more.
Nothing’s changed on the political front, that we believe the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and has to go. But from a military perspective, this is about — this is about getting at ISIL’s ability — ISIL’s ability to sustain itself and to secure safe haven inside Syria. Nothing’s changed about that.
When the secretary spoke about a diplomatic solution, he was referring to that larger political settlement that must occur over time. There’s not going to be a military — U.S. military solution to the crisis inside Syria. Even — even the fight against ISIL isn’t going to be solved militarily, and we’ve said that before.
What has to happen is a long-term political settlement that — that ends with Assad not being in power and Syria — and Syrians having an ability to govern themselves.
Q: Okay. I got that.
But Assad is part of the conflict in Syria, and also ISIL is — is the other part of the conflict.
When — when the Pentagon — when the secretary talks about a political solution — a diplomatic solution, that means — that’s what I understand is — any solution should dealt with, with — with Assad or with ISIL.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, one of the reasons we’re — we want to get this train-and-equip program up and running for a Syrian moderate opposition is to help them pursue and negotiate a political settlement inside Syria, to — to — to give them the strength and the influence that they’ll need to secure that kind of political settlement inside Syria.
Q: Do you have anymore information on the — the release yesterday that the storage facility belonging to the Khorasan Group had been hit in Syria?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: Do you have any more details about that? And secondly, what is the Pentagon’s current assessment of this group of fighters?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We still assess the Khorasan Group to be a very real threat to Western interests and to American interests. That is why we continue, as we said we would, to go after them where and when we can.
The strike taken the other night against this weapons facility we believe was a success. We used a B-1 bomber, dropped several precision-guided munitions on this facility. And we know that the facility was destroyed.
And as I said before, I think you’re going to continue to see pressure being put by us on the Khorasan Group because we still assess that they remain a threat.
Q: Do you — do you believe that they’ve been degraded at all by these airstrikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, certainly. I mean, when you — when you destroy a facility that you know they’ve been using to store and to make weaponry, you’ve certainly taken that ability away from them. There were other facilities that we’ve hit in prior strikes that we know affected and degraded some of their capability.
In fact, one of the reasons this particular facility was hit was because we knew that — that they were restocking it after — after having suffered losses elsewhere. So they were moving equipment and material around because they — it had been at risk in other places. So we know it’s having an effect on them.
But that doesn’t mean that, you know, we’re ready to call mission accomplished here by any stretch at all. We — we continue to believe this group is a threat, remains a threat, and we’ll continue to go after them where and when we can.
Q: I have a question about a letter that was released this week written by the under secretary for policy that called for a comprehensive review of the hostage policy. I — what I don’t understand is if the NSC is leading that review, why did that response come from this department?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That — it’s really more of a bureaucratic answer than anything, Nancy. The — the letter that it was in response to was a letter by Congressman Hunter to the president of the United States. Congressman Hunter sits on the House Armed Services Committee, which is one of our oversight committees. And it was deemed by the interagency that the best way to respond to that particular letter and that particular member of Congress was through the Defense Department, because of our equities and his equities, quite frankly, in this department.
And so it was — it was signed out by Christine Wormuth, the under secretary for policy here. And that was — that was just an interagency administrative decision that was made.
Q: Can you give us any more details about what — given that the letter came out of this building, there was talk about looking at things like family engagement and other things. But there’s no detail in terms of how that review will look, who will be a part of it, when — when one can expect results from it, and what form that review will come out. Will it be a report? Will it be a series of recommendations?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I would point you to the White House and the National Security Council staff for specific answers to those questions. What I can tell you is that it is an interagency policy review in which the Department of Defense will participate and is participating. But in terms of the results and the direction and all that, I’d point you to the White House.
Q: Can you tell us who’s leading the DOD’s role in this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not just a single lead, I don’t think, for the Department of Defense. There’s several policy officials that are involved in it. Ms. Wormuth is obviously one of them and a principal in that — in that discussion. But it’s not just one individual.
Q: Thank you. Two questions please. One, can you give just a little assessment of Pakistan army chief’s visit to Washington? Whether the secretary is going to meet with him or not? Or who — who he met or any assessment, please?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I gave a readout of this meeting the other day. Deputy Secretary Work met, as did Chairman Dempsey, together with General Raheel. I read it out. I’d point you to that readout for specifics — productive, candid meeting, useful. We were happy to welcome him here at the Pentagon.
Q: But secretary is not meeting — because he’s still staying by waiting for the secretary’s return.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing — he’s what?
Q: He’s waiting for the secretary’s return, I believe — I was told.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay. I have nothing to announce with respect to the secretary’s schedule in that regard.
Q: On Afghanistan, please, quickly.
What do you think in the new government of Afghanistan or in the new Afghanistan after December, what role do you think India should play or you want India to play?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we answered this question before. India is a strong regional power and we know that India has interests in stability and security in the region. They have played a useful, productive role inside Afghanistan already in terms of some training that they have done.
I will leave it to India to decide and to speak to what they will contribute to regional security after the end of this year, but we certainly look to India’s leadership and their — and their continued participation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, yeah.
Q: On North Korea, North Korean foreign ministry officially announced yesterday they were going to have another nuclear test against the United States. How do you respond?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, North Korea is not going to achieve anything through threats and provocations, which is only going to further isolate them from the international community, and it’s going to undermine international efforts for peace and stability on the peninsula.
So I’m aware of the reports that they made these claims — or at least somebody has made a claim that they’re going to conduct another test, but I’m not going to discuss specific intelligence matters here from the podium.
Q: Yesterday, General Dempsey again pointed out the potential negative consequences of sequestration. I think he referred to it as “budget instability.”
So perhaps he hadn’t a case strong enough about what — what this could mean to the Pentagon, the U.S. military. Can you help us understand what the — some of the potential downsides if this is not resolved on Capitol Hill?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sequestration would literally render it impossible for us to execute the defense strategy that President Obama signed out in 2012.
It takes another $500 billion over 10 years out of our budget. We already had signed up to $487 billion, so it’s another $500 billion on top of that.
But worse, it requires — it would require — because of the lack of flexibility that you have to deal with it, it would require drastic cuts, mostly in readiness accounts.
And so you’re — you would be, through sequestration, literally making it impossible for the military, each of the services, to do that which they are required to do to execute the — the strategy.
It would predominantly hit hardest modernization, maintenance and operations accounts. This is the money that we used — you know, it’s the money used to actually, you know, keep the car moving and keep the gas in it and keep the people trained and how to — how to drive.
And that just, again, fundamentally renders us incapable, and we’d have to — we’d have to completely relook the defense strategy. And at a time when the world is as dangerous as it is and uncertain enough as it is, this is not the time to have to try to rewrite a whole new strategy based on what is, in effect, arbitrary and unnecessary budget cuts.
Do you have any comment or analysis to share on a new ISIS video, which purports to show French fighters in Syria burning their passports and calling for attacks in Europe.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ve not seen the video, Justin.
We’ve long said that there’s an issue of foreign fighters from all around the world, including Europe, joining ISIL and taking up this fight. It’s what makes ISIL, in our view, such an eminent threat to Western interest.
It’s not just about a threat to Iraq and the region, because these foreign fighters could very well, after training, find their way going back home and executing attacks.
So I — but I haven’t seen the video.
Q: What’s changed in our strategy to — in the U.S. strategy to win the information campaign, to defeat the ISIS information campaign?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s a lot of work being done and on an interagency basis.
Central Command has taken the lead for the military in that regard, and while I can’t get into too many specifics of that effort from the podium, I can assure that there is a lot of activity and energy being applied to countering the propaganda that ISIL continues to — to push out.
But — yeah, I’ll get to you in a second.
But we’ve talked about this before. But — the way to really defeat this threat is to defeat its ideology, and the best way to defeat the ideology is through good governance.
And that’s — while the propaganda effort certainly has our attention, what really needs to happen in both Iraq and in Syria is a situation where people have other options than to be attracted by this particular radical ideology.
Q: Does the department expect that what the president will announce tonight on immigration will have any effect on the thousands of our troops now serving with green cards, and has this department had any input with the White House on the formulation of this new policy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m sure you can understand why I would not get ahead of any announcements to be made yet by the president, particularly on — on that topic, so I’m just not going to — I’m not going to do that.
Q: Two things.
A clarification, when you talked about trainers at Al Asad, who are they training? Is it one of those nine Iraqi brigades? Or, I mean, have…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, this would be advising and training Iraqi brigades. And I don’t know exactly which ones.
Q: And also, do you have any information about a helicopter hard landing at the embassy? I guess this was…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, there was a — there was an HH-60, a medevac helicopter that did have a hard landing there at the embassy complex. It’s unclear right now — it’s under investigation, so it’s unclear exactly what made it have a hard landing, but they’re looking into that. There were no serious injuries, minor — minor injuries, and everybody’s been returned to duty from the crew.
Q: Was this a crash or a hard landing? I mean, is the helicopter…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right now, it’s been characterized as a hard landing. Again, it’s under investigation Luis, so that could change over time. But the — but everybody got out with only minor injuries.
Q: No indications of enemy fire or anything?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, there were no indications of enemy fire at all.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. Yes. Did I not make that clear?
Q: It was assumed, based on his prior question.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay. Thank you for your clarification.
Q: Telepathically here.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I knew what you were getting at.
Q: Thank you, Admiral.
Just an update on Ukraine. What is the current understanding of Russian presence or involvement inside Ukraine and also on the border in terms of troops, material and that sort of…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They continue to have postured, ready and capable battalion tactical groups on the — along the border with Ukraine, particularly down there on the southeast — southeast border between Ukraine and — and western Russia. These units have remained ready. They have remained close, in some cases very close to the border with Ukraine.
They continue to just by their very presence and readiness to do nothing but continue to destabilize and increase tensions there. So, not helpful.
We also, as we have seen for months now, continue to see Moscow reinforce and resupply and provide arms and equipment to the separatists inside eastern Ukraine. Again, manifestly unhelpful, doing nothing to decrease the tensions there. And frankly, continue to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Q: Is there any more update in terms of U.S. exercises, that sort of thing, to our NATO partners to address the overall provocations from Russia and that sort of thing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have any particular announcements today, Jamie, but we have — as we have had now for months, soldiers on the ground in some of the Baltic nations continuing to conduct ground exercises. Those are going very, very well. We’re participating — we still — we have increased and maintained that increased level of participation in the Baltic air policing mission. And as you know and have tracked, we continue to have U.S. Navy ships flowing in and out of the Black Sea as appropriate, to continue to conduct exercises and port visits there.
So, nothing has changed about the increase in our presence and our operations with allies and our commitment to meeting our treaty five obligations — our article five obligations, sorry.
Q: One more quick one on that helicopter hard landing. Why — why was there a medevac helicopter flying? What kind of missions are medevacs flying right now in Baghdad?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I understand it, this was a routine flight of some sort. It wasn’t — they weren’t in the process of actually going after a patient or anything like that. It was a routine training flight. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we would have nearby medevac capabilities because we have increased the level of U.S. troops in Iraq.
One more. Yes?
Q: Can you give us an update about how many Defense Department delegations have gone to India or come from there since Indian prime minister’s visit here?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re going to have to let me take that one for the record. I don’t have that one off the top of my head.
All right. Thanks, everybody.