Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 7, 2014.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday.
I know you’ve all seen my statement on the additional troops that will be going to Iraq to assist in training, advising, and assist missions, and I’m happy to take further questions on that. So, I’m not going to reread my statement for you.
However, there is some Ebola information that I’d like to put out this afternoon as well, and then I’m sure we’ll dive into whatever’s on your minds.
First, the Department of Defense issued today — I’m sorry, issued supplemental civilian employee medical care guidance today for those employed to Ebola outbreak areas. Those employees deployed in support of Operation United Assistance who become ill, contract diseases, or are injured, are authorized to receive medical care at a military treatment facility at no cost to the civilian employee.
Additionally, those treated in theater will continue to be eligible for care in a military treatment facility or civilian medical facility upon their return at no cost to the employee.
Second, as directed by Secretary Hagel, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff issued guidance today for the implementation of a 21-day controlled monitoring period. This was the implementation guides that he asked the chiefs to come back and put into place while we continue to assess the efficacy of this controlled monitoring.
This policy applies to all military services that are contributing personnel to the fight against Ebola at its source, in addition to providing guidance for how controlled monitoring will occur, the policy states which installations have been approved as controlled monitoring sites. And they are Fort Bliss: El Paso, Texas; Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia; Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas; Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, North Carolina; Joint Base Lewis-McChord out in Washington; and then overseas, the U.S. Army garrison in Baumholder, Germany and the U.S. Army garrison at Caserma Del Din, Vicenza, Italy.
Selection criteria for these installations included proximity to medical facilities capable of treating Ebola, and the ability to conduct twice daily temperature checks, medical screenings, and to control movement and access.
Third and last, General Chuck Jacoby, the commander of U.S. Northern Command, has requested 30 additional personnel be identified and trained in order to provide backup capability to our existing 30 person Ebola medical support team. This request is currently being sourced, and we expect these 30 personnel will come from each of the services.
I want to stress that this is not being driven by an anticipation of additional need, and it is not a second team per se. It’s rather an effort to establish an additional cadre of personnel that will be given the same specialized training as the first group we trained last month: training that focuses on helping them train civilian medical professionals on the proper use of personal protective equipment while assisting with patient care.
This additional group will begin their training in San Antonio around November 17th. With that, I’ll take questions. Justin?
Q: Thanks, admiral.
For the purpose of television here, it would actually be helpful if you did have a brief statement on what you’ve announced today in your paper statement, and what the Pentagon has decided to do with regard to these troops and why.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
The commander in chief has authorized Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to deploy to Iraq up to 1,500 additional U.S. personnel over the coming months in a non-combat role to expand our advise and assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces.
Secretary Hagel made this recommendation to the president based on the request of the government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command’s assessment of Iraqi units, the progress Iraqi security forces have made in the field, and in concert with the development of a coalition campaign plan to defend key areas and go on the offensive against ISIL.
U.S. Central Command will establish two expeditionary advise and assist operation centers in locations outside of Baghdad and Erbil to provide support for the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above. These centers will be supported by a appropriate array of force protection capabilities.
U.S. Central Command will establish several sites across Iraq that will accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades, specifically nine Iraqi army and three Peshmerga brigades. These sites will be located in northern, western, and southern Iraq.
Coalition partners will join U.S. personnel at these locations to help build Iraqi capacity and capability. The training will be funded through the request for an Iraqi train and equip fund that the administration will submit to Congress as well as from the government of Iraq.
Over the coming weeks, as we finalize the training site locations, the United States will work with coalition members to determine how many U.S. and coalition personnel will be required at each location for the training effort. Ultimately, these Iraqi forces, when fully trained, will enable Iraq to better defend its citizens, its borders, and its interests against the threat of ISIL, and it is perfectly in keeping with the mission that we’ve been assigned there to assist the ISF and Peshmerga forces again as they improve their capability against ISIL.
Q: Thank you for doing that.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re welcome.
Q: Last week, General Dempsey said — he hinted at this — need. And he said the precondition for that is that the government of Iraq is willing to arm the tribes in Anbar. Do you have any assurances that the government of Iraq is going to work closely with these Sunni tribes and arm them? And are — is part of this plan to arm them yourselves or pay them or do anything you can to the awakening the previous strategy?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, through the Iraqi Train and Equip Fund, the department has requested funding to provide training to tribes that are operating under the auspices of the Iraqi ministry of defense. Ultimately, we expect that we’ll be able to conduct some of that training at the same locations where we will train Iraqi army and Peshmerga brigades.
I would also add that Prime Minister Abadi has made it very clear that he intends to continue outreach with the Sunni tribes. He was out in Anbar very recently doing exactly that. He’s encouraged his Iraqi Security Force leadership to do the same, to continue that outreach, and we — while I can’t put a fine point on exactly what all that cooperation will look like, we certainly, as I said at the outset of my answer, expect that there will be a role for Sunni tribes in this effort.
Q: Admiral, can you tell us when the Iraqi government made this request for this additional deployment of troops?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have an exact time and date on that, Phil. This is something that’s been in discussion for several weeks though.
Q: On another question, has Secretary Hagel committed to staying for the final two years of the Obama administration?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary is fully committed to his job as defense secretary and leading this department, and he looks forward to doing that for the remainder.
Q: (off mic) we were different than 10 years ago, U.S. trained — (inaudible) — Iraqis, but they ran away?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they didn’t all run away. And yeah, we did spend ad lot of money and effort training the Iraqi army. And when we left in 2011, we left them capable and competent to the threat that they faced. That opportunity they were given, the skills that they were provided, the leadership that they had were squandered by the Maliki government over the last three, three and a half years.
They weren’t properly led, they weren’t properly resourced, they weren’t kept properly trained, and that led — that and a lack of will, both political and military will at the top in some units led to their dissolution in the face of ISIL earlier in the summer.
So, we saw four or five divisions, and I think it was a surprise to us that they folded as quickly as they did, but not every one of them did. Not every division in the Iraqi army turned and ran.
And even before, I mean, we’re talking about just getting this stood up. As we speak today, they are very much on the go after ISIL throughout the country to include Anbar province. So, they are making gains. It is slow. It is not steady every day, but they are making gains and they are fighting back.
Q: So, this time you’ll have better teachers or better students?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is a completely different situation than it was then. First, we’re going in at the request of the Iraqi government. We’re wanted there. We weren’t wanted to stay there after 2011.
Number two, there’s a very acute threat that’s facing the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces, a threat that they are trying to grapple with right now. And they have acknowledged that they need a little bit of help in that regard.
So, it’s a completely different situation. And we’re confident that if we get the funding that we’re requesting from Congress, that we’ll be able to make significant progress in this regard.
The other thing I’d add is one of the — one of the reasons why we think this is a good idea right now is because the Iraq security forces have stiffened their spine and have gone on the offense and have shown that they’ve got good capabilities. But there’s gaps. There’s gaps in some of those capabilities, some of the enabling functions that they need a little help with and advice, and again, that’s what we’re going to provide.
Q: And finally, just on the record, are you asking any other country like India to join in this fight now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s a great question, and I meant to say that in my answer to you and I didn’t. There are several other coalition partner nations that have agreed to contribute to these — the train, advise and assist mission. In fact, literally within just the last 30 minutes or so, the secretary wrapped up a meeting with his counterpart from Denmark. And the Danes have agreed to provide 120 trainers to this effort. And there are other nations that have likewise said that they will — that they will contribute.
So yes, there will be — there will be coalition members joining us in this effort. We know that for a fact. And I think the list will continue to grow. I’d also add that — that the United States is not going to be responsible for funding this entire effort. We’re going to expect contributions from the government of Iraq and there’s going to be contributions expected from these coalition members. I don’t mean just in terms of people, but in terms of dollars as well.
Q: Have any of the Iraqi brigades selected for U.S. mentorship previously received U.S. train, equip, other mentorship et cetera from the previous Iraq war?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You mean like prior to 2011? Or do you mean — I don’t know, Spence. I don’t know. In fact, the Iraqi brigades that we anticipate putting through this training have not been selected yet. And we’ll be in consultations with the government of Iraq to determine that.
So, it’s — I couldn’t tell you right now because we just don’t know exactly what brigades we’re going to train.
Q: Can you explain what went behind the specific numbers of up to 1,500 new troops and 12 brigades?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. Well, I mean, there’s going to be two expeditionary train, advise, assist sites that — additional. And I don’t want to get into exact locations because we’re still doing site surveys of that, but one will be in Anbar province and one probably in the Baghdad province.
In addition to those — and those are not necessarily training missions. Those are advising missions, very much like what we’re doing in Baghdad and Erbil with our 12 teams now, we’re just going to be doing it now in expeditionary locations. Same function.
In addition to that, there will be several sites, and I can’t give you an exact number, but somewhere around four to five — what we call building partner capacity sites. These will be more hands-on training. And again, the sites are still being — sites are still being surveyed. In those locations, that’s much more hands-on training.
So, the 1,500 — less than half of it — less than half of them will be dedicated to the advise and assist mission. And of that number, and it’s around 630 or so, it’s important to remember that a good chunk of that will be enablers for the advisers — logistics, command and control, intelligence support for them.
So not all of the 630 or so are going to be technically advising. They’ll be some support.
The remainder of the number, which is I guess about 870, something like that, they’ll be dedicated to this building partner capacity missions, to the hands-on training. And I want to add that right now, just in terms of contributions that we know we’re going to secure from some other nations, we’re talking well over 700 additional trainers will come from foreign governments and foreign partners.
Does that answer your question? So it’s broken down — it’s broken down by, you know, a little less than half the number dedicated to advise and assist, the rest of the number dedicated to this building partnership capacity and the training mission.
Q: No, but is there a reason why it’s up to 1,500, and not, say, up to 5,000, not up to, you know — (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we looked at potential sites, and areas that we could do this at. I mean, you have to look at infrastructure at the air facility, the ability to actually, you know, house people. And then you have to look at the throughput. And you want to get 12 brigades trained — nine Iraqi, three Pesh. There’s going to be mixed skills and capabilities among those.
So, again, this was based on best estimates about how many people we need to train; how many sites we’re going to have to train them; and what the quality of those sites are.
Q: Why is this happening now? And can you assure people that it had nothing to do with the political calendar and the election on Tuesday that the announcement is being made this week?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s being done now, quite frankly, because the Iraqis have reached a — they have demonstrated the willingness and the skill to go after ISIL. So they’ve reached a point where they need additional help and guidance, particularly in areas like Anbar. So as we said, that’s one of the reasons why some of this advising mission will — will take place in Anbar.
So (A), they’ve reached a certain point. (B), it’s at the request of the government of Iraq. This — what really drove this was Prime Minister Abadi saying, “I need this extra help and I want this extra help; I welcome this help inside my country.” That’s really what drove this was a request from the government of Iraq. And then General Austin’s assessment that this would be beneficial to the overarching goals inside Iraq.
Q: So it was not —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was no — there was no political angle to the timing here. It was really driven by a request from the government of Iraq and General Austin’s assessment about having — this being the right thing to do. And I would add that that was an assessment supported by not only Chairman Dempsey, but of course the secretary, who formally made this recommendation to the president, that this was not only the right thing to do, but it was the right time to do it, based on where we are in the campaign.
And again, you don’t have to go very far back in time to, you know, Chairman Dempsey alluded to this at a press conference right here in this room not — not long ago, a couple of weeks ago. So, this was something that had been brewing for several weeks.
Q: When exactly did the secretary make the recommendation to the president?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I couldn’t give you an exact day, Helene. I mean, this recommendation from the secretary I would say it went over this week, but I couldn’t give you an exact day this week.
Q: (inaudible) — before Tuesday?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know if it was precisely before Tuesday. It was earlier this week, I know that.
Q: What’s the requirement to which Iraq at this moment as a trainer — (inaudible) — or are they going to renew people going to the country?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: These are going to be additional. So we have about 1,400 or so in Iraq right now. And this would be an additional up to — and I want to stress that — up to 1,500. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to get to 1,500, but the authorization that we’re asking is up to 1,500, or the authorization that we’ve been given by the commander in chief.
And these will be additional personnel and they would be, as I answered to Spence, broken down into two buckets, right? — the advise and assist bucket and the training bucket.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes?
Q: How long will it take to get these up to 1,500?
ADM. KIRBY: They’ll start flowing in — some of them will start flowing in as soon as this month. It’s going to take for the building partner capacity, the training, it’s going to take us probably a couple of months, two to three months to get the sites prepared and the regimen started. And then the training itself — we anticipate the training regimen itself to take between six and seven months.
Q: Six to seven months.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Six to seven months to complete the training, yes.
Now that, you know, David, that doesn’t mean they’re all going to, you know, with a shotgun start they’re all going to start training on the same day, but roughly the training regimen will be set for six to seven months in length.
Q: This is the better part of a year.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you now, between eight and 10 months, you know, total, depending on, again, how long it takes to get the sites prepared and the curriculum set and trainers in place. And it’s going to, you know, it’s going to take us a little bit of time to get the personnel inside Iraq. I mean, we can move quickly, but it is, you know, it’s going to take some weeks to get them all there.
Q: When you say that within these numbers there will be additional enablers, to include force protection —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Right.
Q: — more combat power is going to be going into Iraq — more Apaches, more —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I didn’t say — I didn’t say more Apaches. But there will be force protection capabilities that will be provided along with these trainers and these advisers. Absolutely. I mean, we’re not going to — we’re not going to put people, you know, in harm’s way unnecessarily. We’re going to make sure —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What’s that?
Q: The — the forces that go into protect your trainers and advisers, they’re not combat troops?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, they’re no more going to be in a combat role than the force protection personnel that we have there right now, that are providing additional security assistance for the embassy and the facilities in Baghdad and up in Erbil. No more than that.
Obviously, they are trained. They’re going to be trained troops. And they’re going to be able to defend themselves and to defend the trainers and the advisers. That’s their job, of course. But that doesn’t mean they’re being introduced in a combat role in Iraq. It’s a completely different scenario altogether.
And there’s been no change to that policy that we’re not going to reintroduce troops in a combat role. John?
Q: Admiral Kirby, will any of these additional advisers have the authority to call in airstrikes on behalf of the Iraqi forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s not part of the mission set, no.
Q: Do you have any update Wednesday night strikes against the Khorasan Group, who was killed, and whether there’s still a threat? Are they still able to plot and plan attacks against the West?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We still believe the Khorasan Group remains a threat. Nobody’s taking an eye off of that. And I don’t have an update for you on the effectiveness — specifically on the effectiveness of the strikes. We do know that they were successful in that they hit the targets we were aiming at, not to include some facilities in buildings as well as a vehicle. We do believe that there were Khorasan group casualties as a result of those strikes, but I am not in a position right now to identify who they were or exactly how many there were.
Q: Could you explain how the Pentagon differentiates between Khorasan Group, Al Qaida, and Nusra Front? There’s some skepticism about the use of terms and whether they’re sort of one and the same.
And you know, can you hit one without the other?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you know, they don’t have identification cards. And I mean, we recognize that. But the Khorasan Group, we have been watching for some time. They are, as you know, an offshoot of Al Qaida, a very violent, very capable offshoot. Small, but very lethal. And I don’t — I can’t say with any specificity what one member may — how that member may associate himself and some — and their loyalties fluctuate over time.
What I can tell you is that the strikes we took were aimed at the Khorasan Group and Khorasan Group members.
Q: Thanks. Several questions. Your statement earlier said the troops, the 1,500 were going in in concert with an offensive against ISIS in Iraq. Does that mean the offensive would not start until six or seven months when the Iraqi forces are trained up?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I think you might have misinterpreted what I meant by that. What I meant is it’s in keeping with the — what we’re doing in the training, advising, assist is in keeping with the offensive campaign that Iraqi security forces want to be able to continue to conduct. I mean, you know, I’ve heard all this talk about a spring offensive. I don’t know. I mean, you’d have to talk to the Iraqis about exactly what their campaign plan looks like.
But as I said, they’re going on the offense now. And what this is designed to do is to help them continue to be able to do that, to improve their capability and their competence on the battlefield. It is not — the timing of it is not tied to some campaign plan that would begin at the end of the training.
I mean, I think you’ll — I think we can expect to see that assuming we get the funds authorized from Congress to do this, that you’ll see both happening at the same time: training, advising, assisting, and fighting by Iraqi Security Forces.
Q: And the lead to my second question is, does Congress need to approve the $5.6 billion before these troops start flowing there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: OK. And then the third question. Of the 870 trainers, that means about 200 or so trainers will be at each training site throughout Iraq if there’s four, then five.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, again, we’re still working out the exact numbers, Christina. I think it’s fair to say that roughly each site would have a couple of hundred or so. But I don’t want to get pinned down on that number because it’s going to fluctuate over time.
We’re still working the sourcing solutions. The best I can do is my answer to Spence in terms of breaking it down: about 630 or so dedicated advise and assist, and the remainder to the building partnership capacity. And again, I just want to foot stomp that this is also going to be — there will be contributions from coalition nations to both of these missions as well, primarily the training mission. So, we will — we’ll see coalition members stepping up. We already have — to step up to agree to do this.
Q: I’d like to follow up to Justin’s question.
He’d asked you earlier about General Dempsey’s comments that the Iraqi government had to show a willingness to arm and work with the Sunnis. Can you — and you said that Abadi has shown a willingness to do outreach. Has he — has Prime Minister Abadi said that he is willing to arm Sunnis? And is that a reason for this decision?
And I’d also like to ask you about the training. Can you tell me specifically what these trainers will be doing? How will the training be different than the training we saw in 2011? What is it that they need to be trained on? Are we going back to basics, or is it something more specific?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On your first question Nancy, I don’t know. I don’t know if Prime Minister Abadi has said specifically that he’s willing to arm them. What we do know, and what he has demonstrated is his willingness to reach out to them and to be inclusive of them and their concerns. And as I said in my answer to Justin, we do expect that there will likely be a role for Sunni tribesmen in this training effort. We’ve got more work to do in that regard.
What they’re going to be trained to do, I mean, it’s going to be helping them with command and control. Now, I’m not talking about the advising. There’s also an advising role for that, too, but helping train them in command and control, in battlefield leadership, in tactical organization, in maneuver, in logistics, in intelligence matters.
I mean, there’ll be — it’ll be — training as much across the board as we can. We’re going to be focusing it on what the needs are, too.
And until we get the brigades identified and in, I mean, there’s going to be a little — there has to be a little flexibility. Not every Iraqi brigade is going to need the same thing as the next one. So, I mean, we’re going to have to be a little flexible on that. But is it — we’re basically just trying to improve their battlefield competence.
Q: But these are all things that you were training them on for upwards of a decade.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: Are you saying that Prime Minister Maliki’s leadership led to a degradation down to the most basic level of how the army functions?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, in some divisions, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And we have been saying that.
Q: And a few hundred troops can remedy that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Your question means that you doubt the veracity of what we’re trying to do here. I mean —
Q: I was just asking, if this is 170,000 plus that proved to be a problem.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re just asking. You were basically saying you don’t think it’s enough.
We believe that for — for the numbers we’re talking about training at the request, and this is important, of the Iraqi government, this is what they’ve asked us to do and the need that they have expressed, the requirement is coming from them, not from us. Based on that requirement, we believe that this is an appropriate number of troops to devote to the mission, absolutely. If we didn’t believe that this was the right number, we wouldn’t have submitted it.
Q: Can I just follow up —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: — on a quick question? Are they paying for it? Why is the U.S. paying for it if they requested it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You know, I said this at the outset. There will be, contingent on this authorization, there needs to be a commitment from Iraq to pay a portion of the funds to support the training and the advising and the assisting, and as well, there will be an expectation that coalition members also fund. So, we’re looking for coalition members not just to send trainers and expertise, but also to help fund.
And I think I answered that before. There will be a component of this that requires and demands Iraqi funds dedicated to it. So, it won’t all be U.S. funded. Yeah, back in the back there. Andrew?
Q: Did you say that there might be a role for the Sunni tribes to train in these U.S.-run training facilities? I mean, are you describing a scenario where, and did the president authorize a situation where U.S. servicemembers would be training like, irregular Sunni units?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was we’re going to look at that. And that there very well may be a role for Sunni tribesmen in this process. We’re still working our way through that, Andrew. I don’t have anything more detailed than that for you.
We recognize, and so does the prime minister, that outreach to the Sunni tribes and their participation in the process is key. We’re still working out way through what that would look like.
Yeah in the back there. Bill?
Q: How many — how many Iraqis do you estimate will come through this training?
ADM. KIRBY: Well, as I said, it’s originally going to be set up for nine Iraqi Security Force brigades and three Peshmerga brigades. I’m not an expert on exactly how many are in each of those brigades. And again, those brigades haven’t not yet been identified. So, I can’t give you an exact number right now.
Q: OK. is this part of the national guard effort?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is — No, not initially. That said, we do envision that this process could be used to help with the training and development of the national guard program. That’s not the plan or that’s not the intent at the outset, but there could be a role for that later on.
Q: OK. And lastly, will these trainers go out with these forces after they’re trained?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: Will the coalition trainers? Will they?
ADM. KIRBY: Well, I can’t speak for other nations. I can only speak for the United States. There’s no intent to put the trainers out in the field with these units once they’re trained. Nothing has changed about the policy that there will be no reintroduction of U.S. troops in a combat role in Iraq.
Q: Does it substantially increase the risk to U.S. forces to have them spread out in so many different locations around here?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No mission that we undertake anywhere in the world is risk-free, Dave. You know that. And that’s why I talked a lot about the force protection and the enablers that will go along with these trainers and advisers. A good portion of the number, in fact, the majority of the number of troops that will be in the advise and assist mission, will actually not be advisers: they will be force protection personnel as well as command and control, logistics.
So, yeah. There’s risk. Of course there is. Very little that we do doesn’t entail risk. But we try to mitigate the best we can. And I want to stress that these will — these trainers will be operating at fixed sites, that we are surveying right now. Force protection will be foremost on General Austin’s mind as those sites are selected, and if there’s any enhancements that need to be made, it’ll be done with that very much in mind.
Q: What do these expeditionary sites will be fixed location — (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely. That’s right. Yep. Yes ma’am?
Q: A couple of questions, but first off, just — I was hoping you would comment on reports that on October 27th in a briefing with Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan. He said that the Canadian government had committed to buying, at least verbally, four F-35 stealth fighter jets and that the government, the U.S. government, was just waiting for a letter of intent by mid-November.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I have no comment on that.
Q: And has there been dialog on the F-35 between the U.S. and the Canadian government?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I won’t speak to internal deliberations that we may or may not have with the foreign governments. And I would point you to the government of Canada to speak to whatever their procurement needs and intentions are.
Q: And on the topic at hand, just in terms of the coalition partners, is Canada — has Canada been among those talking about a potential increase?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I won’t — again, I could speak for Denmark today just because we met with them today and secured their permission for me to actually talk about the commitment that they were willing to make, but I wouldn’t speak for other countries.
You know, obviously Canada’s involved, too. They’ve been helping on the humanitarian side. They are now flying airstrikes over Iraq. Very, very capable, effective military. We’re glad to have them on board. As for this particular mission set, I would again let the Canadian government speak for itself.
Q: And lastly, is there on your part, an ask out to all coalition partners, including the Canadians?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have approached many coalition partners, especially those that we know have skills and this kind of training and — and tried to solicit their interest in it. But ultimately, as we’ve said all along, this has gotta be something that each country has to agree to do on their own or not to do on their own.
And those are their decisions to make. There’s — we’re not trying to force people into it or anything like that, but we certainly are encouraging those members that we know have the skills and the capabilities to contribute to do so.
Q: I mean, you said that coalition allies will be sending several hundred additional trainers to Iraq. But that number didn’t really make sense to me, because it’s pretty much what the Pentagon is going to be sending over there. Are you saying 700 plus what the Pentagon’s saying?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, that’s what I meant.
And have Operation Inherent Resolve allies agreed on a cap for like, you know, this much and no more?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of, but again, you’d have to speak to every individual nation about what they’re willing to contribute or what they’re not willing to contribute.
Q: OK, and you said there’s going to be 12 brigades for the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s maybe training 12 brigades.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, 12 total.
As I said at the outset, coalition members will be assisting us in this training. 12 total.
Q: 12 total, and that’s with all of the coalition members?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s right.
Q: No more on top of that, no surprise, Britain’s training some troop out there randomly in Erbil?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can only speak for the United States military, Maggie.
What I can tell you on this mission is it’s very much a coalition mission. So, 12 brigades is the plan at these several sites that will be set up. We believe that we’ll be able to have a throughput of 12 brigades. And frankly, and back to what I said before, this was what the government of Iraq requested. That’s not a requirement we laid on them. It’s what they’ve laid on us for 12. 12 total.
And the trainers that will be training those 12 brigades will not just be American trainers. They will be international trainers. Trainers from coalition members. As I said, Denmark has agreed to contribute and other nations have as well.
Q: Sorry, just to push the point a little bit. Britain, or the British defense chief said earlier this week that they were going to be sending additional advisers to Erbil. So, I’m trying to figure out if that’s something entirely separate, or if that role is under the whole 12 brigade thing?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to speak for every individual nation. They have to speak for themselves and what they’re willing to contribute.
The British have been terrific allies throughout this effort in so many different ways, but I’ll let them speak for what their role will be.
I think I can’t — I don’t think I could take it any further than that.
Q: Just back on quick Iraqi funding of this initiative. Is it fair at all to say at this juncture that the U.S. expects the Iraqis to pay the bulk of the expense of this additional training, especially given the culpability that the U.S. has been kind of throwing at former Iraqis?
ADM. KIRBY: The expectation is — in fact the requirement will be that the Iraqi government contributes funding to this effort. I do not think I would characterize it as the bulk.
Q: Thank you.
This week, the Pakistani army chief traveled to Kabul, and he has offered to train Afghan forces inside Pakistan. Do you think the U.S. is training Afghan forces and take away — do you think this is a helpful role coming from Pakistan?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think that’s something that the Afghan government needs to speak to, the degree to which they find that helpful. I mean, we’ve said all along, Pakistan’s a key partner in the region. Any opportunity that can be had to increase cooperation and coordination with the Pakistani military is a good thing, but I wouldn’t comment here from the Pentagon on that proposal.
In fact, I have not seen reports of that proposal.
Q: I am asking this because if Pakistan trains Afghan forces that will lessen your burden on by training Afghan forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the mission is going to change in Afghanistan at the end of the year, and it will be more of a train, advise, and assist mission under NATO auspices and we are working closely with our NATO allies on the sourcing for that.
We know for the United States, it begins at about 9,800 troops early next year, and then that will taper off over time as the — you know, the training concludes. But there will still need to be a significant international commitment to the training and advising of Afghan National Security Forces post 2014. And there are many nations involved in that effort, primarily through NATO auspices.
I would not speak to — or would not speculate about the role that Pakistan might play. That’s really for the Pakistani government to talk to. Carla?
Q: I have one more on Pakistan.
Pakistan army chief is traveling to D.C. I think next week or later this month. Do you know what he is going to talk here in Pentagon?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think you should ask the Pakistani government what he’s going to say. I don’t have — I don’t have anything to announce in terms of schedule with respect to that visit. And you should talk to the Pakistani leadership about what their expectations are for the trip.
Q: Yeah, I know.
You had told David that it’s going to take a couple months to set up these training sites, and then six months of training about — it’s been about a couple of months since we started the Syrian training. Where are we there, and will this effect the Syrian training? Are there going to be people — troops going in to advise, assist Iraqis that were plans that have been designated to train the — the Syrians?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s no connection with this program and the train and equip program that we are trying to get established for a moderate Syrian opposition. Absolutely no connection. Completely separate. And you said it’s been a couple of months since it’s started. It hasn’t started yet. We’ve said it’s going to take about three to five months in order to get the vetting process squared away, and that’s not done yet.
In fact, Chairman Dempsey himself said that the vetting process hasn’t even begun yet. So, we have more work to do on the Syrian side, but there’s no connection between the two.
Q: Right, but it’s been two months since we announced it. Do we have the sites yet? Because I know we keep getting little bits of information that we —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: For the Syrians?
Well, as you know, the Saudis have come forward and — and offered sites. And we have a team there that are working with the Saudis on exactly where those sites are and their suitability. So, I don’t have anything to announce with respect to that.
The Turks as well, in just the last couple of weeks have agreed that they would contribute to the training of a moderate Syrian opposition and fighters, and I don’t know exactly where they would do that. Again, the Turkish government would have to announce that.
But there have been at least two nations now that have come forward and said that they’d be willing to host this training. All very helpful. We have teams that are talking to both governments to try to nail down the particulars on that.
What we’ve said from the very beginning, that the long pole on the tent here was going to be the recruiting and vetting process, and that process hasn’t begun yet.
Q: And can I ask you a quick follow-up about Russia?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Since the Ukrainian government is saying that Russia has sent dozens of tanks into eastern Ukraine. So have we been able to confirm that? Have we seen any evidence that that’s happening and do we have a response?
ADM. KIRBY: No, I don’t have any independent operational reporting that would be able to confirm that report that these formations have crossed the border. What we do see is a continued presence of significantly capable and ready battalion tactical groups, Russian battalion tactical groups, right across that border. And they’re close.
And they are very capable. And they are doing nothing to decrease the tension in the region. So, not helpful. Continue to say that it’s not been helpful. But I have no independent operational reporting that tells me they’ve crossed the border.
Q: Can you step back one second here? If Congress doesn’t approve the package, the $5.6 billion package sent today, until January or February, nothing goes. Is it Congress —
ADM. KIRBY: We need Congress’s — we need the support of Congress to authorize the request, yes.
Q: All right. Because it’s — you’re in a continuing resolution right now until December 12th.
ADM. KIRBY: Mm-hmm.
Q: That’s an — you can’t use the continuing resolution to fund this.
ADM. KIRBY: No. This is part of an OCO supplemental request.
Q: And you think if it drags out, just some members of Congress, the new ones and the old ones and others, they need to get this thing passed before any troops can go over there, any of these 1,500?
ADM. KIRBY: We need the authorization and the funding that comes with it in order to be able to conduct this mission. And the secretary obviously is urging Congress to pass it as soon as possible.
Q: OK. One other one. You talked about the risk to U.S. troops. Tell the American people. Should they expect or be steeled for the potential that U.S. troops, even though they’re not in a combat role, could either be killed or wounded?
ADM. KIRBY: We already had a couple of U.S. military deaths associated with this conflict. Again, nothing we do is without risk. And we do the best we can to mitigate it. Obviously, the safety and security of our people is a top priority to us, but part of being in the military means being able to assume some risk in what you’re doing.
I don’t want to speculate here that we will or we will not. And we’ll have casualties. We’re going to do everything we can to try to minimize that occurrence. There’s no question about that.
Q: Thank you, admiral. Just to sort of follow up on that, can you elaborate a little more on the parameters that we’re going to the selection of these sites? Like, Anbar is the scene of a good deal of violence right now. So, just curious, the — what sort of assessment of the threat environment will play in the selection of these sites, sending U.S. forces there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, there’s several factors that are going in here. Obviously we’re mindful of the security situation there. So when you do site surveys, you look at geography. In the advise and assist mission specifically, this is a changing geography. We are going to now try to put advising teams now in what we’d consider expeditionary geography, which is where Iraqi security forces are taking the fight to the enemy.
So again, force protection is going to be a component of site survey selection, there. Facilities and infrastructure that exists at the sites are going to matter. I mean, a lot of what your ability to actually conduct training and to — and to assure a good throughput of trainees is going to be dependent on the actual site and its suitability.
There will — you know, one of the things that we’ll look at in some of these sites is the ability to accommodate aircraft and what kind of aircraft.
So, there’s a lot that’s going to go into this. We’re just now starting this process. And I don’t have — you know, again, I don’t have any more detail on exactly where these are going to be.
Q: If the forces again will be at brigade level, they won’t be going out into the —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: So, the advisers, yes. At the same level that they are right now, brigade and division, that level, they’ll stay at that.
The training mission, that’s the separate one, and that’s actual trainers hands-on training for Iraqi brigades. But they will be at a fixed training site, again, for which we have taken suitable force protection measures.
Q: Just one more question on this story, which is watched at this moment all over the world, but what is the intel you’ve done by the former Navy SEAL regarding the shooting of Osama Bin Laden.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: What’s the Pentagon reaction to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, our reaction is first of all, there’s an expectation when you join that elite group of individuals, and they are elite, they hire the best of the best. And they do an amazing and an amazingly dangerous and complex job. And they’ve done it very, very well for the last 13 years. Nobody — we all have enormous respect for what they do and what they’ve done for the United States.
There’s an expectation inside that community, a code that they ascribe to, that they will not seek recognition for what that they do, and they will not seek financial gain from what they do. And I can’t speak to the motivation of the individuals that have either conducted interviews or chronicled their accomplishments in books. But it’s fair to say that it doesn’t comport with that code.
The other concern that we have is the divulgence of classified information. Much of what they do for a living is very, very sensitive, and so the manner in which they do it needs to be close, so that we don’t endanger future operations; we don’t make it harder for their colleagues that are still in uniform and still very much out there on the front lines, that we don’t make it harder for them to do that job, or make it more dangerous for them to do that job.
So we are very concerned when anybody, regardless of whether it’s a special operator or note anybody who, in uniform, has access to sensitive or classified information, tactics, techniques procedures, and then when they’re no longer in uniform, decides to share that information publicly. That’s a deep concern to us. And it should be. It should be a concern to the American people.
Nothing takes away our pride and esteem for the job that those individuals continue to do. But there’s an obligation that comes with it, an obligation not to be candid about what they do.
Does that answer your question?
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate about actions we may or may not take.
Q: (off mic) that they shot Osama bin Laden. Which one was…?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just said we aren’t not going to talk about — we don’t talk about classified information or sensitive information. So there’s no way that I’m going to answer specific questions about the raid that ended up killing Osama bin Laden.
What matters is he’s dead. He’s gone, and I think that’s enough.
Q: John, is the man, Rob O’Neill, whose claim confirming to the press that he was the shooter, he’s confirming it, so it must be true. was he, A, a seal? And was he, B, even on that raid? Can you as a U.S. official —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because part of sensitive operations entails the identification of units and individuals that participate in them, and I am simply not going to go there. Absolutely not.
Luis, Last question.
Q: I can split it up in two please. Very brief.
You’re going to train 12 brigades. How many do you intend to advise and assist with this deployment? That’s the first question.
ADM. KIRBY: Yes, that’s all — that kind of detail is still being worked out, (Louis ?). I don’t have a good number for you on the advising mission. But what’s more important about it is the terrain. They’re going to be in more expeditionary geography, but I don’t have a detailed number of exactly what brigade or division. Remember, it’s not just brigades.
I mean, the adviser is at sort of that brigade division level. And I think it fluctuates based on where you are, in Baghdad or Erbil right now with those 12 teams. It’s a mixed picture. And they don’t just get permanently assigned to, like, one unit. I mean, you know, they move around.
Q: Going back to the Sunni tribes — just before we came in here, a senior administration official, on a conference call, spoke about the outreach to the Sunni tribes and talked about a parallel effort, a planning effort to train and equip, to organize and equip, as many as 5,000 Sunni tribesmen. Is that an American planning effort, or is that an Iraqi planning effort?
ADM. KIRBY: I think it’s both. I mean, I think this is something that we’re — again, to Justin’s question, I mean, I think we’re working our way through that with the Iraqi government right now.
Q: So the U.S. could be planning to train —
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t want to speculate one way or the other right now, Luis, but this is something that Prime Minister Abadi has made a priority. We support him in that effort.
We know — and you might remember, we were encouraging Maliki to do outreach to the Sunni tribes when that wasn’t occurring. So we certainly support those efforts. The details of how that would all come about, we’re just not ready to have a discussion about it right now.
Thanks, everybody. Have a good weekend.