Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—October 24, 2014.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
It’s been a long week. I don’t have an opening statement for you. I’ll spare you that. I’ll just go right to questions.
Q: Admiral, I was going to ask you about some of the comments that General Scaparrotti made this afternoon or this morning. (Laughter.)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And I know why, because you didn’t get a question at the last one. (Laughter.)
Go ahead. Sorry.
Q: When he was asked about his assessment of North Korea’s ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and to mate it with a long-range missile, he said he believes they probably have that capability. Does Secretary Hagel also believe that? And have they discussed that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The — certainly John Scaparrotti keeps the secretary apprised of all matters of relevance there on the Korean peninsula. We have no reason here in the Pentagon to doubt General Scaparrotti’s views on this. Certainly, there’s — there’s no question that the North Korean regime continues to try to pursue a nuclear weapons capability and program. There’s no question about that.
And we try to monitor that progress as best we can. I think the general was as honest with you as could be. And again, the secretary shares the general’s concerns about their — their attempts to acquire this capability. The secretary agrees with General Scaparrotti that this is — that this is a capability that they — that they want.
And I think the secretary also shares the general’s views of the seriousness of the matter and the degree to which we need to constantly monitor it.
Q: Is there anything more to do — be done — excuse me — be done beyond monitoring it as far as Hagel is concerned?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s — you know, I think General Scaparrotti put it pretty well. I mean, this is a pretty opaque regime. It’s hard to know with great certainty what’s going on there on any given day. But we remain very, very focused on security on that peninsula. And as I think the talks this week testify to, we remain very committed to our treaty alliance commitments on the peninsula and to the South Koreans as well.
So, I think, you know, the — the best we can do is to continue to monitor it and watch it best we can, with an understanding, and I think General Scaparrotti made this clear as well, with an understanding that there’s going to be a limit to everything that you can possibly know.
Q: If I could follow up, please.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Scaparrotti said he believes they have the capability. You just said it’s a capability they want, which is a far cry from actually having…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He didn’t say that they have the capability to put a nuclear weapon on an ICBM. He said he believes they have the capability to miniaturize — to get to that. But they have not moved — we have not seen evidence that they’ve done it. And we’ve not seen certainly any evidence that they’re testing or in development of it.
So, I think the general was also clear that they’re — that they are a way away — a ways away from developing that capability.
Q: So, you think that — sorry.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it’s OK. Go ahead.
Q: Do you think that they’re…
Q: … well, I’m confused. Do you think that they’re — so you think that they don’t have the capability yet? The Defense Department broadly does not agree with General Scaparrotti that they now have that capability…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let’s be clear. I mean, General Scaparrotti said he believes they have the capability to miniaturize.
Q: Does DOD believe that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have no reason to doubt the general’s assessment on this.
That’s — that’s not the same thing as saying that they have the capability to mount, test and deliver a nuclear weapon on an ICBM.
Q: What’s the difference?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The difference is the ability to get the — to get the material into — into a state that — that it could be weaponized but not that it is, not that they’re at that point right now, and that’s what General Scaparrotti said.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Mik, I don’t know if I can parse it anymore, and I don’t want to. I think I’ve answered the question.
The — the — we believe that they are certainly marching towards that capability, that they want that capability.
We have no reason to doubt the general’s belief, but as the general also said, he has no facts or evidence to confirm that.
So we share his concern, we share his general belief that this is a capability they want to acquire and that they very well could have the miniaturization capability.
But even the general said, “I can’t say it with 100 percent certainty. I don’t have the facts and evidence to back it up.” It was his belief that they do.
And furthermore, he said they don’t — they haven’t tested or developed it.
So even if his belief were to prove true, they are still a ways away from a nuclear capable ICBM. And again, I would say the Pentagon shares the general’s concerns and his general views in that regard.
Q: But Admiral Kirby, the question I actually asked General Scaparrotti was whether or not — at what point the Koreans have the ability to marry up three essential components — a rogue-mobile launcher, an intercontinental ballistic missile and a miniaturized warhead — and I believe he said — I may not have the words precisely — as a commander, he had to assume that they did have that capability and specifically the capability to miniaturize a warhead.
And he thought that they had some capability on road-mobile launchers, which, of course, is a major concern, because satellites can’t…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s a combatant commander’s job to think worst-case and to — and to assume worst-case, particularly with a potential enemy like — that could be there in North Korea. That’s his job to assume worst-case and — and — and to be — and to think about and plan for those contingencies. And again, I think, you know — I think the secretary would want him thinking that.
But he also said — he also said very clearly, Barb, that he doesn’t have firm evidence or facts to — to back up those assertions.
Q: Is there any part of General Scaparrotti’s assessment this morning that Secretary Hagel or the Pentagon disagrees with?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not aware of anything in particular that — that — that we would disagree with in terms of his assessments.
Q: (OFF-MIC) about Iraq. Thanks.
Do you believe that ISIS is using chlorine in Iraq as a weapon.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports, can’t confirm the reports.
Obviously, any use of chlorine in a weaponized capacity is of deep concern and a violation all in itself, but I don’t — we can’t confirm it.
Q: One of the AP reports says it’s not the first time they’ve done it, that they used it during their blitz earlier this year.
Have you seen any evidence that it’s been used earlier in the year by ISIS?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: No? OK. Thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Joe.
Q: Admiral Kirby, on Egypt, do you know if the Pentagon is concerned about the rise of extremist attacks against the Egyptian military and lately — lastly what happened today, two attacks in Sinai. More than 30 were killed and many were injured.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m sorry, Joe. I don’t have anything on those particular reports. I just haven’t seen them myself.
I mean, obviously, we’re watching that area as closely as we can, but I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q: Just to close a loop on the chlorine. The Iraqis say they believe it was used.
Are you guys working with them to determine whether or not? You said you can’t confirm. Are you…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s not an active investigation here on this from a DOD perspective.
I think, Tom, it’s important to remember what our role and our mission there is. We’ve got advising teams there, at higher headquarters level. We are flying airstrikes.
But we’re not in present in Iraq in any numbers, and this wouldn’t be something that we would take on as an investigative matter.
We — we obviously — it’s OPCW’s role to investigate those allegations. We certainly — and we’ve been very clear that all credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons, we want to have investigated, and I know that there are agencies that are looking into this particular allegation.
Q: A wider question on Operation Inherent Resolve, a new report came out today from CSIS, and the question the report asked, by Tony Cordesman, is is this strategy imploding?
You know, he cites, as others have, limited airstrikes. You’re training — plan to train 5,000 moderate Syrians. He says, “Clearly, that’s not enough. He mentions that ISIS is still on the move, particularly in Anbar province. This echoes what others have said. Retired General Deptula says these are too few airstrikes.
There’s a sense among these people that this is really more containment than a military operation. What would you say to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I haven’t seen this report, so I’m loath to try to take it on point by point. What I can tell you is that we believe the strategy is working; that the policy is sound, the coalition continues to gain both momentum and strength. And we know we’re having a direct effect on ISIL inside Iraq and inside Syria.
I find it very interesting that we’ve only been flying airstrikes since August 8th. It is now October 24th. So it’s less than three months after the beginning of kinetic airstrikes. And at which time, by the way, when we started doing it, we said this was going to be a year’s long effort; that it was going to be long and complicated and tough and hard.
Here we are not three months into it, and there are critics saying it’s falling apart, it’s failing, the strategy is not sound. You cannot adequately gain a sense of the strength of a strategy over the course of three months. It’s just not possible. And it would be imprudent to do that.
What we know for sure is that we are having an effect on these guys. They — they’re losing sources of revenue through hits on refineries and now crude collection points inside Syria. They’ve lost command and control facilities. They’ve lost finance centers. They’ve lost training camps. They’ve lost countless vehicles and artillery pieces and other firing positions that they’ve tried to maintain around. You pick the city or town.
They’ve lost hundreds of fighters. They certainly we believe have lost the ability to move about as freely as they once could. And when they do, they are typically hit. So they’ve had to change their tactics to adapt to the pressure that we and our partners on the ground have applied to them.
That doesn’t mean they’re defeated. Secretary Hagel has said that. Austin has said that. The chairman has said that. They are still going to try to attempt to gain ground. And we need to all be prepared for the fact that there will be times when they’re successful at doing that. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve won, either.
You’ve been covering these wars a long time, Tom. You know that it’s a see-saw. It goes back and forth. And every day is different. We believe that the strategy is sound. We also believe that it is showing effect. And thirdly, we believe and we’ve said it before that it’s really important for people to have a sense of patience here as we work it through.
Q: But, Deptula and others who have been down this road before, he, you know, ran the air campaign for the first Gulf War. He says there are a lot more targets you can hit. He calls this a drizzle rather than a thunderstorm. I mean, this guy — he’s done this before. And he and others say there are more targets you guys could hit; many more airstrikes.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are hitting the targets that we believe need to be hit when they need to be hit. I won’t get into — I — I would lose an argument with a general like him on the uses of air power. I understand that. But I’d also ask for the critics of the strategy who aren’t involved in it every day, who aren’t down in Tampa, who aren’t helping General Austin work his way through targeting decisions, which are very difficult, meaningful decisions he has to make — he and his staff — to give him a little room to make those decisions.
Because General Austin has to apply a sense of balance to his decisions that I don’t think everybody fully appreciates. We have to be discriminate about what we hit where and when. ISIL doesn’t. And we have to be mindful of the fact that every decision we make or don’t make not only has an effect on ISIL, it has an effect on potentially innocent civilians.
So, we’re confident that, again, the strategy is working. We’re confident that the targeting and the decisions that are being made from a kinetic perspective are being made with sound analysis to the best that we can. And again, I think a sense of strategic patience is called for here. It’s not even 90 days into this.
Q: Admiral, just a quick follow up on Tom’s question. Is CENTCOM deliberately spacing out its use of air power so that ground forces in Iraq and Syria can catch up when they are able to, even though it’s going to take a lot longer than clearly the U.S. has the ability to deliver ordnance? In other words, are they not destroying the targets they could because destroying them all up front would create a gap that Syrian forces on the ground and Iraqi forces on the ground couldn’t exploit because they’re just not ready to do so yet?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know that I have enough information to answer that specific question. But I think what I can tell you with certainty is that the decisions that they make from the — from an airstrike perspective are — are done with a higher sense of utility.
So you don’t want to — you — in Iraq specifically, we’re very much flying missions that are in support of Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces on the ground.
So you want those strikes to be meaningful to them so that — so that they’re either coming to their aid and assistance and making it easier for them to do their job or helping clear the way so they can further advance.
So they are tied very much to the ground efforts by the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds. And that — so that — that automatically forces you to be — to be self-limiting in terms of what you’re hitting and when and how.
I think there’s this, you know — this notion that, you know, we’re just — that, you know, we’re just flying over Iraq, you know, hour by hour and just hitting at every pickup truck we see, and it’s just not the case.
You want these strikes to hit meaningful targets, you want to degrade and destroy their capabilities, and sometimes that means working very much in concert with the capabilities of your partners on the ground and how fast they can go and how far they can go on any given day.
On the ground, it’s — there — it’s a mixed picture. We’ve talked about that.
Q: On the chlorine attacks in Iraq, can you tell us which agency or which government will be responsible for finally confirming whether or not they were used to be able to trigger a response by the U.S. military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: My — my understanding is this is — this is a responsibility of OPCW.
Q: So then they’ll — if and when they get to that point, you — will you respond accordingly? Will you specifically target the areas where you believe these weapons are being stored or used?
I mean, does it become a priority for CENTCOM planners once you’ve finally checked all the boxes and you confirm these weapons are in use over there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you know, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical about potential future operations. I just won’t do that.
Obviously, the use of any kind of chemical agent in a — in a weaponized capacity is — is a violation, it’s an abomination, and obviously, we’re going to do all that we can to try to limit ISIL’s ability to visit violence on the people of Iraq and — and in Syria.
I won’t get into speculating about exactly what future targets may or may not be.
Q: Can I just follow up on that very briefly?
If — does — does use of chlorine, if proven — not hypothetical but if proven — does that change anything for U.S. troops in Iraq? Does that — for either your advisers or the people you have at the airport that you speak about, anything — does it change anything on the ground for protection or the deployment of the U.S. troops that are there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would just tell you, Barb, that we always take force protection for troops very, very seriously. It’s always a top priority. We don’t ever discuss the specifics of that.
We’re always mindful and try to be as mindful as we can about the threats that they face on the ground, whether it’s in Iraq or whether it’s in Liberia right now with the threat of Ebola. We — we take their personal protection very, very seriously and will do what we have to do to make sure that they are safe and secure as possible.
Q: Yesterday, you — you issued a statement of a conversation between Secretary Hagel and his Iraqi counterpart about the way forward to helping equip and train Iraqi forces from future offenses against ISIL.
What types of equipment do Iraqi conventional forces need before they can do sustained combined-arms operations?
Do they need these tank rounds that are in — in play with Congress? Do they need Apaches? Do they need more Hellfires?
What kind of equipment do they need before they can actually start launching — or do they really have what they need physically, but they need to be better trained and know — in planning and logistics?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Great question, Tony, and — and it’s — the answer’s fairly mixed.
They clearly — for them to do — to mount a counter offensive, they — they — they have to have resources — people, equipment, arms, ammunition. There’s no question about that.
And we have a very robust defense trade relationship with Iraq. You know that.
I mean, Hellfire missiles and other — a couple, 200 to 300 are going to get there in November of — of an additional 800 total that we’re sending there.
There — there is — as you know, there’s a potential sale here for Apache helicopters. The F-16s were on the way. Now they had to be, obviously, waylaid because of the security situation there.
So yeah, there’s a hardware component to this, but there’s also a competence component to this, and that’s why we have advisers at various headquarters outfits to try to help them get a better sense of intelligence, what’s going on on the ground and help them organize themselves to retake territory.
The third component to this, frankly, is the enemy, and the enemy gets a vote in this kind of struggle.
And just take a look at what’s going on around Baiji. The Iraqi security forces that are advancing on Baiji have been slowed significantly in the last few days, some because of weather but — but by and large, more because of this defense in depth that ISIL has put around Baiji in terms of IEDs. They’ve cleared, you know, upwards of 50 or more IEDs just trying to get to the town. So it’s slowed them down.
So there’s a — so there’s a competence thing, an organizational piece of it. There is a hardware piece of it. And, frankly, there is, you know, the reality of a very fluid situation on the ground.
So, I can’ give you an easy answer to this. There’s many needs that need to — that have to be met for them to mount an adequate counter offensive.
We believe that we’re working with them to help meet some of those needs from a hardware perspective and from a competence perspective, and the intelligence, as well, to help them deal with the threat that ISIL poses.
And it’s just gonna take some time.
And while I know, you know, I know what was briefed down in Tampa yesterday is that they’re — that they’re not ready for a major counteroffensive right now, and we would agree with that here in the Pentagon.
That said, they are attempting to take back territory, as we speak. And they are going on the offense against ISIL in pockets of areas, both in Anbar and to the north.
So, again, it’s a mixed picture, but they are on the move.
Q: They’re on the move. And should the public expect then — and this is gonna take a number of months before they can mount a major Mosul Dam-like offensive?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know that — well, it’s gonna be awhile before — before you see a major offensive back in Mosul. I think it’s — General Austin talked about that. That is — that will be, if effected, a decisive moment against ISIL in Iraq. They are not ready for that moment right now, and I don’t think anybody here is willing to put a date certain on when they would be, but it’s quite a ways off.
The effort right now is in Anbar and throughout that province and then, again, into areas in the north.
Q: I just want to go back to North Korea for a second, if you wouldn’t mind.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Secretary Hagel is endorsing the general’s view, even though there’s no facts or evidence to support his conclusion about North Korea’s capabilities.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me try this again. The secretary shares the same concerns that General Scaparrotti shared with you about the capabilities they are trying to pursue. And he has no reason to doubt the general’s belief that they are advancing towards that capability.
Q: Even though there’s no facts or evidence to support it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He has no reason to doubt the general’s concerns about the capability. But he also agrees with the general that there aren’t — that we don’t have a smoking gun piece of evidence that would indicate that they are at that stage.
I mean, I don’t know how more simply I can — I can put it.
The general was very honest about a concern that he has with you. It’s a concern that he’s shared with the secretary and leadership here in the Pentagon and I think the leadership here shares his general concerns about that.
Q: If I could follow up, please? You said that Hagel has no doubt of the general’s belief. Does Hagel believe that they now have the capability to miniaturize and launch a nuclear missile at the U.S.?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I’ve answered that question.
Q: No, you haven’t. You’re parsing words here.
He has no doubt that Scaparrotti believes it, but it sounds as if he doesn’t believe in it, the secretary.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary shares the same concerns that General Scaparrotti has about the capabilities that the North Korean regime are trying to pursue in the nuclear arena.
Q: Two questions, quickly.
One, are you (inaudible) this department concern, are you asking India or Pakistan or any other nation in South Asia to join this fight against ISIL, because they have also now threatened India among other countries, that their next mission will be India?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would leave questions of the coalition building process to General Allen and the State Department. That’s not a role here for the Defense Department.
We obviously continue to want to build the coalition out. We encourage other nations who are likewise threatened by this group to join in the effort. And with the very real understanding that not everybody who’s a member has to join it from a military perspective. There’s lots of way to contribute to this effort against ISIL.
And, again, I would point to General Allen and his good work in terms of building the coalition for answer to that.
Q: Second, is anybody monitoring any situation as far Ebola so that — between India and Pakistan, because a lot of concern going on there. And also shopping lists. And since Pakistan’s defense minister was here and he had a big list also as far as defense and same thing with India now.
What I’m asking you is, anybody in touch and if — what’s going on between U.S. and India as far as military-to-military relations or with Pakistan?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We enjoyed a great visit to India, as you know, recently, and met with Prime Minister Modi when he was here — Secretary Hagel did — a terrific discussion.
Mr. Kendall is taking the lead for the defense trade and technology initiative here in the Pentagon. Talks are resuming and going well. I don’t have anything to announce on it today. But clearly, we want to have a very strong defense trade relationship with India. India is an important partner in the region.
And obviously, the relations between India and Pakistan are for India and Pakistan to speak to, not the United States. We obviously want both countries to resolve whatever differences they have through peaceful diplomatic means and to contribute in their own ways, because they’re both strong nations, in their own ways to security in Central and South Asia.
Q: So can you just quickly say about Pakistan defense minister’s visit, if he had mentioned about this border dispute with India? Or any defense list that he might have?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything to announce for that today. Sorry.
Q: Thank you, Admiral.
Two questions about ISIS, the first one being on the chemical weapons. Without saying that we can confirm the reports, is the U.S. military aware, because there’s been speculation that some chemical stockpiles came from Saddam’s regime or from Syria. Is the U.S. military aware that ISIS does have chemical weapons?
Then I have a followup.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We don’t have — again, we’ve seen these reports. We don’t have any indication that they’re true in terms of usage and in terms of possession. And that is not something that we would be investigating. It’s for the OPCW to do that.
But obviously, we take it very, very seriously. And to Barb’s question, you know, should these allegations prove true, obviously that has — that deepens the concern on our part for the safety of our troops, of course. But I don’t have anything firm to indicate — I don’t have any indications here as we speak today that those reports are accurate. They are definitely concerning to the secretary. There’s no question about that. But I can’t confirm their accuracy here today.
Q: And my last question is about south of Baghdad. There’s been reports that about 100 ISIS fighters surrendered to the Iraqi military. Are we doing anything south of Baghdad? Are we helping? How are we coordinating with ISF forces?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven’t seen reports that they — that there was a surrender. Again, important to remember — to remind you that we don’t have U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role in Iraq. What we have done to the south and to the southwest of Baghdad is conduct airstrikes and we’ve doing that for several weeks, as appropriate, to get at what we call dynamic targets there. Because ISIL continues to want to threaten the capital city. And one of the avenues through which they’ve tried to do that is the south.
So we’ve been focused on that for many weeks now. And you’ve seen, if you go back and look at Central Command’s press releases, you’ll see that we continue to take strikes there. So, we have been doing dynamic targeting there to relieve the pressure on the Iraqi security forces south of the city, but that’s the extent of it.
And that plus, you know, we’ve got seven advising teams in and around Baghdad at various headquarters levels. I don’t know if any of those headquarters levels are in — the headquarters are in charge of troops in the south. But we do have advising teams there in and around Baghdad. Yeah, Gopal.
Q: So, you said, back to a question on ISIS, so you said the enemy gets a vote. So 90 days into this fight, is there any attempt to sort of look at what are the lessons learned and do any kind of course correction from the point where the United States started bombing ISIS forces on the ground?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think tactically Gopal, we do that every day. And that’s part of our DNA in the military is to take a look at how well we’re doing on any given day and what we can do better. I can assure you that CENTCOM planners and the operational folks out there at the CAOC are doing this every single day, looking at what we’re hitting, what we’re not hitting, whether it’s — whether those are, you know, we need to adjust going forward. It’s happening every day.
If you’re asking me strategically are we somehow taking a look at course corrections in the strategy, no. The secretary said this yesterday when he got asked right up here, that the strategy is sound and it’s working and there’s no plan to deviate it from right now.
I would remind you again, 90 days in, of what we believe from a military perspective will be a year’s long effort. So I think a little bit of patience is required here. And I also think it’s important to remember that while, yes, ISIL still holds ground and while they still pose a significant threat, none of which should come as a surprise to anybody, we have had positive effects on their ability to move around, to communicate, to operate, to finance themselves, to sustain themselves, to train recruits, and to move forward.
And I also think there’s — there is a real shelf-life on their physical sustainability. Because as I said before, it’s not like they’ve got teams of auto mechanics and weapons experts that are back there helping them fix the stuff that’s getting blown up.
So when it’s gone, it’s gone for them. They’re not like a traditional that has ability to sustain itself logistically over a long period of time. There’s going to be a shelf life on it.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I don’t, and I think it would imprudent to try to offer an exact time assessment on that.
But we know that every time we hit them successfully, we’re eating away at their capability over a longer period of time, not just that day but over a longer period of time, because they don’t have the same ability that a traditional army does to resupply themselves and to sustain themselves over the long haul.
So there’s going to be an effect here, a strategic effect, but it’s going to take time, I think, to see it.
Q: Yesterday, the briefers of CENTCOM seemed increasingly confident that Kobani was going to hold. They didn’t predict it, but they just seemed more confident.
Is there any sign yet that ISIS has given up its attempt to take that city?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: Withdrawing in any way?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We — we — they have withdrawn from some areas of the — of Kobani, and we — we still assess today that the Kurdish militia maintain possession of the vast majority of the town.
That does not mean that the threat has been removed, that they — we still continue to see them want to advance into Kobani, and we certainly believe they — they have every intent of wanting to take that town, still.
So nobody’s doing a touchdown dance right now.
Q: On the same topic, a few days ago, I did ask you about the Sinjar Mountain. Could you give us an update? What’s the situation there?
And could you confirm if ISIS really re-took villages in — in that mountain?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I can’t — I can’t confirm about three villages.
But what I can say, since the last time we’ve talked, we have continued to watch the situation at Mount Sinjar, and I told you we would, and we have.
What I can tell you in this setting is that we do see ISIL threatening some settlements around Mount Sinjar, and we’re watching that very, very closely. But that’s about as far as I can go right now.
Q: What kind of settlements?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Towns, villages, you know, population centers.
We believe that they — that they do pose a threat to some of them around Mount Sinjar, and we’re watching.
Q: But we can say that they are surrounding…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not — I didn’t go that far, Joe. No, I wouldn’t say that we think they’re surrounding the mountain.
But since the last time we talked, we have watched it. We’ve been monitoring it. We do believe that they pose a potential threat to some settlements around Mount Sinjar, and we’re watching that closely.
Q: At this point, do you have a clearer picture of the timeline for when the not only vetting but also recruitment of the moderate Syrian forces will take place?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s — we have an interagency task force that’s been stood up to work with the Saudis and other coalition members that are willing to participate in the train and equip program. It — that’s been stood up in just the last week or so.
That said, I mean, Central Command has had planners over there working with the Saudis for weeks now, but we’ve now stood up this task force.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s still the long pole in the tent. It’s still going to take some time, but we are trying to put together a regimen now to begin to recruit and vet the appropriate members of the opposition to come in and get this training done.
And there’s — again, we welcome the decision by the Turks to want — to be willing to host some of this as well in Turkey. The more facilities you have, the more throughput you can achieve and the faster you get trained opposition members, you know, back into Syria and into the fight.
Q: And are you confident that you can identify enough to, you know, get 5,000 a year through the pipeline?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That’s certainly the hope, Jim. I don’t know that I’d be willing to say today, as this process is just now beginning, that we know we can do that.
That’s certainly the — the hope and the expectation, and we’ll keep you guys updated as soon as, you know, we have more information.
But right now, we don’t even have opposition members recruited and vetted to even begin yet.
So we’re still a ways away. I think General Dempsey said it was going to take three to five months, you know, to get through just the recruiting and vetting process, much less begin training. It’s going to take — it’s going to take a while.
Q: Can you tell us who’s on the task force in terms of agencies you talked about and who’s running it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ll have to get that — that back to you, Phil. I don’t have that level of detail today.
Q: Is a person running it. Is — is there a military officer …
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me get back to you. Let me take it for the record, Phil, and I’ll get back to you with more detail on that.
Q: Admiral, any thought to sending the new medical response team to New York?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s been no plans, no discussion about sending the 30-person team that the secretary ordered — stood up to send them to New York at this point.
I would remind you that they just started training this week, two days ago, and that training will take them about a week. After which, they’ll be on this 30-days sort of tether to be ready to deploy. But they’re still going through training right now at Fort Sam Houston and it hasn’t ended yet.
Maggie, you had your hand up?
Q: Yes. During the first week of airstrikes in Syria, coalition forces destroyed the majority of the oil refineries the Islamic State — that the Islamic State held. And it’s my understanding now that the Defense Department and its allies are going after the oil reserves.
Can you tell me how many oil reserves there are? Because you were able to give us a rough figure for the refineries.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. These aren’t oil reserves. I think you’ve seen a couple of strikes on what we call crude collection points. So these are areas where they literally truck in the crude before it then is distributed to refineries to be refined.
Those collection points are vulnerabilities for them. We think that they contribute overall, not just the collection points, but their oil revenues, you know, contribute to potentially $1 million a day, something like that.
I know that they’ve — CENTCOM has taken some strikes on them. I don’t know the exact number. I haven’t kept count of it. And I don’t have a hard number for you in terms of exactly how many we think they’re using. These are not — you know, they’re not fixed building facilities. They’re simply places in the desert where they collect the trucks. They just bring them in. So it’s not — it’s a very ephemeral position. It can move and change. So it’s not like they possess a certain number.
I — I know that — and I really don’t want to get into future targeting — but I know there are at least several that CENTCOM is watching. And I don’t think I’d go beyond that in terms of characterizing the number.
Q: And, really quick on Ebola, on the jet — on the Air Force jet that took the Ebola sample from New York City down to Atlanta. What day was that on? Because I don’t think that’s a detail that we got. What day was that on? And where…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It was yesterday, is that right? Yesterday. Last night.
Q: And where is the jet now? Has the jet returned to Joint Base Andrews or…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: My understanding is it’s back at Andrews.
Q: OK. So how did this work? Did it check into quarantine after that? Or is it good to go?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The blood samples were treated appropriately, like the hazardous material that they — that they are. All precautions were taken. At no time was the crew of the aircraft at any risk or the aircraft itself. There was certainly no — there was no issue with the actual transportation of the samples; no indication at all that anything leaked or was not appropriately contained within the packaging — the appropriate packaging.
So, there’s no need to quarantine the aircraft.
We’ve got time for just a couple more.
Q: You mentioned that — you mentioned that around Mount Sinjar you’re watching ISIL. Are you not striking them because you can’t develop viable targets at this point? Or is it — the decision made that it’s better to wait until they do something?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You know Chris, I’m not going to talk about future operations and what we may or may not do. I answered it about as completely as I can. We’re watching the activity. We’re aware of their interest and the threat that they pose up in that area.
As we — we’re watching and as much as we can wherever we can, but I won’t talk about strikes that haven’t been planned or haven’t happened yet. You’ll know it when they happen because we’ll put a press release out about it and we’ll let you know, but we’re watching them very, very closely.
Last question? Justin?
Q: Thank you.
So, hopefully it’s not a throwaway, but yesterday, CENTOM…
Q: I’m going to do my best here.
Yesterday, the CENTCOM briefer says one of the things ISIS does best, one of their most effective tools, is their information campaign. That in fact they have the ability to replenish losses quickly through this information campaign. They’re reaching a lot of people.
Can you — and, of course, the Pentagon over the past few years has talked a big game about its Cyber Command. So, can you assure us that Cyber Command at least has some role in this war?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the “talk a big game” comment.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We — there’s no question that they have a propaganda capability. And you’ve seen that. You’ve seen it yourself just like we have. I can — there’s a lot that goes into countering propaganda that doesn’t necessarily always use cyber tools. What I can tell you is, without getting into specifics about this particular realm of warfare, the — the Department of Defense is very much involved and engaged in an interagency effort to counter their ability to message through propaganda, the way they have been. That’s a multifaceted approach. Some of it does involve the use of cyber technology and some of it doesn’t. But we’re all mindful of this capability that they have and I’m trying to defeat it.
And I said this from the very beginning to a question that Tony asked me weeks ago about their center of gravity. And I said the center of gravity, from a military perspective, in our view, was their ideology. And I know that’s a quizzical thing to say, but it is actually true. That is their source of strength, is this warped, barbaric ideology that is attractive to these young men — men without — well, whatever reason they joined, for whatever fanaticism that draws them to it.
But — and so, we’re taking that to heart. And while we all get fixated on the air strikes and this many targets and this many fighters killed, I can — I can promise you that nobody’s lost sight of the larger, longer issue here, which is getting at that ideology. And what you’re talking about is very much a part of that.
So, yes, we are engaged.
Q: So, it sounds like you’re saying there’s the counter ideology, counter messaging, and also some kinetic component to what cyber is doing.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I’m just going to leave the answer the way I left it.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.