Pentagon Press Secretary Holds News Conference June 21, 2021

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby briefs the media at the Pentagon, June 21, 2021.


Mhm. Mhm. Yeah. Okay. Okay. I do have some things at the top since it’s been a while since we had a briefing, please Bear with me. I think as you know, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley hosted today, his counterpart in the Israeli Defense Forces, the uh Israeli, general chief of the Israeli General Staff. Lieutenant General Aviv cova coca cola Javi. Today at the pentagon, the two leaders discussed several issues of mutual concern, including the current security environment throughout the Middle East. General Milley reaffirmed of course the U. S. Commitment to its relationship with Israel. Uh Secretary Austin did attend part of the meeting uh as well, popped in for for part of it. And as you know, the U. S. And Israel enjoy a strong military to military relationship as key partners committed to peace and security in the region um on the department, support to the federal Response Against Covid. I can announce that the last federally supported community vaccination center, which was located in New Jersey, conducted its final day of operations yesterday. More than 50 100 active duty service members supported 48 federal sites across the country, including Guam northern Marianas and the Virgin Islands and provided nearly five million covid vaccines. The National Guard continues their support to state and local communities. And to date they have helped administer over 12 million vaccines to the American public. So combined, that’s over 17 million vaccines by service members. As we often see in times of crisis, our troops are marshaled to care for their fellow Americans and the secretary is very, very proud of the critical role that they played uh, throughout this pandemic and thanks them and their families for the sacrifices and the service that they rendered their fellow citizens. We have three exercises to highlight today In Southern Command’s area of responsibility. Representatives from the United States and 18 partner nations are participating in the 36th annual trade winds exercise in Guyana. Trade winds 21 is a Caribbean focused security exercise that’s designed to exchange knowledge and expertise to maintain regional security and prosperity throughout the Caribbean and the Caribbean basin. The exercise kicked off actually on the 13th and it will run through the 25th of this month. Friday also marked the conclusion of two exercises exercise African lion 2021 wrapped up. That’s Africa commands largest joint annual exercise. More than 7000 participants from nine nations and uh, and from and from NATO, trained together in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal with a focus on enhancing readiness across air, land, sea and cyber domains, congratulate them for the completion of that Friday. Also marked the conclusion of the 50th iteration of the premier maritime focused defensive exercise called ball tops. For the first time, our Navy and Marine Corps used unmanned aircraft systems to detect and map minds capability that frankly benefits all Mariners, regardless of the flag flown. This exercise included more than 40 ships, 60 aircraft and more than 4000 military members from 18 different nations. Moving on, staying on the Navy theme there. On Friday 18 June, the USS Gerald R. Ford successfully completed the first scheduled explosive event as part of its full ship shot trials. I think you probably have seen some of the video and the imagery out of that. The first in class aircraft carrier was designed using advanced computer modeling methods, testing and analysis to ensure that the ship is hardened to withstand battle conditions and the shock trials provide data that will be used in validating the shock hardness of the ship. The Navy is conducting the shock trial testing in accordance with uh up knave instruction. Uh 9 90 72 9072.2. And as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016. Uhh let’s see um onto uh covid uh conditions here at the pentagon. The pentagon reservation will reduce its health protection condition from bravo plus where we have been since November of 2022 hp con bravo and that’s effective at five a.m. Now this Wednesday the 23rd of June Under HB Con Bravo, the occupancy goal will be no more than 50% in workspaces. It’s up threats up from 40% right now where we are now supervisors will continue to provide maximum telework opportunities to eligible employees. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated should continue to follow D. O. D. Mask and social distancing guidelines. You see the signs all over the pentagon that talk about that Random COVID-19 entrance screening of the workforce will continue at about 10-20% levels and COVID-19 screening for visitors will continue at 100%. The pentagon reservation remains closed for public tours and the pentagon 9 11 memorial remains closed, gatherings on the pentagon reservation are limited to fewer than 50 people, currently fewer than 25. So that will go up a little bit for here in the briefing room. That means that uh we won’t be totally back to normal but uh starting Wednesday there will be some more seating here for in person attendance at the press briefings. And with that I’m done bob. Thank you. Um Question about Afghanistan. The Taliban apparently have made some significant gains in recent weeks and even as recently as past weekend, uh maybe especially in the north. His secretary Austin considering recommending either a slowdown in the withdrawal or some other changes that would perhaps be designed to minimize the chance of an early collapse of the afghan forces. I would say, without speaking specifically to the Taliban advances, you spoke to the as the secretary has said, the withdrawal is on pace. It is a dynamic situation. And we said that from the very beginning, which means that uh he and the chairman, General Mackenzie are constantly looking at the pace we’re going at and the capabilities we have and the capabilities that we’re gonna need throughout to complete the withdrawal. And so as we said from the very beginning, um uh while there is a schedule, we were mindful that that schedule could fluctuate and change as as conditions change too. So um I can’t speak to any specific recommendations he’s making uh about the Taliban advances. But I can tell you that he’s looking at the situation every day with a fresh set of eyes to see if you know the pace that we’re setting is the appropriate pace for the kinds of capabilities that we think we need to again conduct a safe and orderly retrograde as he looks as he looks at it now today, does he see something different than he saw few weeks ago?

In other words, that make him think something different has to be done every day?

It’s, you know, the situation in Afghanistan changes as the Taliban continued to um, to conduct these attacks, um, uh, and to to raid district centers as well as the violence, which is still too high. I mean, every day there’s a a fresh set of data to look at that that helps inform his discussions with military commanders and eventually whatever changes might come of. That. One last thing that has, he received recommendations from either General Mackenzie or General Miller to change the approach, I’m not going to speak to the specific discussions that he’s having with his operational commanders about the situation on the ground. But again bob and I understand where the questions coming from. I mean it is a dynamic situation and we said from the outset that we’re going to treat it as such uh in that uh that if there need to be changes made to the piece or to the scope and scale of the retrograde on any given day or in any given week and we want to maintain the flexibility to do that. What’s really critical here is that nothing has changed about two things. One, we will complete uh the withdrawal of all U. S. Forces out of Afghanistan, with the exception of those that will be left to protect the diplomatic presence and to that it will be done before early September as per the commander in chief’s orders. Those two things are constant and won’t change. Yeah. Let me go to the phone Stephen, Lucey. Thanks john uh I would like to ask about the D. O. D. S. Withdrawal of some assets including uh some anti some air defense anti-missile um assets. Can you talk a little bit more about what makes the pentagon confident that now is the right time to safely withdraw some of these anti-missile assets as well as some of the reportedly some of the fighter squadrons. Well look I think you’re talking about a Wall Street Journal report. I’m not going to speak to the details of that press reporting. I would just say this uh steven and that’s and you know this uh that uh a we have a very robust presence in the Middle East region, a lot of capabilities there uh tens of thousands of uh personnel um as well as systems and capabilities across the region at various facilities and bases. And the secretary believes that it’s important that that presence and those capabilities remain robust, number two, that um and it’s not uncommon uh in that or any other area of responsibility around the world. Uh We have to constantly take a look at the at the sustainment capability for those capabilities. I’m sorry. That’s that’s not worried. Well, let me take that again, we have to look at the ability to sustain those capabilities and systems in whatever region they’re deployed. Um And it’s not uncommon for us to move resources around sometimes within a theater, sometimes outside of theater and then two other theaters based on whatever the threats, challenges and risks that we that we’re that we’re facing as well as the need uh to maintain some of these systems. Uh some some of the places where these capabilities exist, that’s a pretty harsh environment. Uh And some of these systems and capabilities have been in these environments for a long time, um and we need to be able to to get them home, get them fixed, get them maintained so that they can be redeployed appropriately. So it’s again, it’s a dynamic situation where constantly making these sorts of decisions and the secretary takes seriously its responsibility to make sure that certainly in the area like the Middle East, that we can maintain and sustain the kinds of capabilities to back up our force presence and to uh to properly look after our security commitments to ourselves and to our partners. And he’s confident um that we’re doing exactly that. I mean, it’s not just the Wall Street Journal report. The SDP A this morning confirmed that there were some assets, including primarily air defense assets that were withdrawn. So what I want to like is, you know, is the pentagon confident that like these assets will not be needed to deter or perry any, um, uh, any, any potential action from nations such as Iran in the region. The secretary would, what does not and would not make decisions about redeploying assets or capabilities if he didn’t believe that in, in so doing wherever these are and wherever they’re going, uh, would put our, our security commitments at, uh, unnecessary and greater risk. Hey Brian. Yeah, Thank you. Thank you. John, is the secretary any closer to understanding the definition of over the horizon than on April 16th. And then I have a follow up question. I’m not sure I understand the question. There’s never been a confusion about the definition of what over the horizon means. I’m not sure what you mean. What I mean is are there based agreements in negotiation planning?

Is there anything more that can be said as to how the United States can be able to provide over the horizon support then?

Was known back in April when it was first brought up as a possibility. There is still active discussions going on inside the department and actually at the State Department to two to look at how we will actualize over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities. Um Certainly the secretary supports a diplomatic diplomatic effort that’s ongoing right now to see if there are basing solutions that could happen uh in and around the region. Um I’m not aware of any uh of any assurances that we received to date, but I know that the State Department’s hard at work on that. He’s also tasked General Mackenzie to look at uh what sorts of other over the horizon capabilities we have existing in the region. And how can we best exploit those?

The other thing I’d say, and I said this last week is that we tend to forget that we already do have over the horizon capability when it comes to the counter terrorism threat in Afghanistan. Is it robust enough?

Is it is it sustainable enough over the long term?

Well, that’s what we’re looking at. But you know, that Secretary uh extended the USs Eisenhower in the region, we’ve deployed uh bomber task force uh to the region, uh and there are other um facilities bases again in the in the Middle East, that can be of some service. So nobody’s discounting how difficult this is. Uh But as the secretary said, difficult does not mean impossible. And that we have the ability right now to reach any scrap of earth that we believe we need to uh should the you know should the risk warning. So no further progress has been made. I don’t have anything more to announce. But I do think it’s important to remember. It’s not like we’re starting from zero. We have a capability over the horizon right now as you and I speak and then the detailed planning for the support for the special immigrant visa applicants. Is there anything more on that?

I don’t have anything additional to add from what we’ve said before. Yeah. Uh Sang Min Lee Radio Free Asia. Oh yeah so the Mr. Eli Latner. No we need to be Assistant Secretary of in the past, speaks regularly a witness in Senate hearing last week in his written statement that if we confirm he will review the current status of the U. S. Bilateral and multilateral exercise to maintain readiness of forces in and around the Korean peninsula. So is it likely to consider the rejection of large scale U. S. South Korea joint military exercise in the near future?

Like august based on his remark?

Um I did not get all of that question. Would you mind repeating it?

I apologize. Okay. The Mr. Lai Latner, the nominee to be assistant of Secretary of in the pacific Security. Uh he witnessed in standard here in last week and he said in his written statement that if we confirm he will review the current status of US bilateral and multilateral exercise to maintain the readiness of forces in Korean opinions deliver. So based on his remarks, I want to know is it likely to consider the rejection of a large scale U. S. South Korea to it, the military exercise in the near future like this august well thanks for repeating it. Um I don’t have anything to announce today with respect to changes in uh training on the Korean peninsula. As I’ve said before. This is something that we constantly review and assess given the uh strategic environment. Um uh uh huh. Obviously should Dr Ratner get confirmed?

I’m sure he’ll um meat uh meat his promise of of taking a look at training and exercises there. But I don’t have anything additional to say today or any changes to the to the program except to say what we said. Uh we always say that we know we have to our forces have got to be ready to fight tonight and uh we were constantly looking at the training events are to make sure that they’re appropriate and they’re properly scaled. Um Did the threats and the challenges?

Sylvia. Can we go back to Afghanistan?

Could you speak about the contractors?

There are some reports about the possibility of keeping some contractors there, but they would be paid by the Afghan government instead of the U. S. Government is something that is discussed. I think there’s a range of options that we’re looking at for how to continue to provide contractual support for the Afghan forces, specifically the Afghan Air Forces. We’ve come to know final conclusions about what that’s going to look like. We’re very actively working our way through that right now. So you you are confirming it is, we’re looking at a range of options. I’m not at liberty to confirm any specific one right now. But again, our our support for the Afghan forces, once the retrograde is complete, will be largely financial. Uh and it will be uh in terms of contractual support designed to help them logistically and in a maintenance perspective with respect to their air forces. But it’ll be but it’ll be uh largely over the horizon as well, uh contractual support. I don’t I don’t know of any specific other options that are being considered. But again, I think we haven’t come to any final conclusions and we’re looking at a range of different alternatives. Okay. Yes. Uh I want to ask you about Taiwan that last week the general meeting said that before the Senate appropriations Committee that there is a low probability that China will take over Taiwan militarily in the near future. But on the other hand, the commander of the in the past week command Admiral agree. No. Set in March. Yeah, the encouragement could be much closer than most people think. So it seems there is uh the statement uh not consistent. Could you gratify uh the with the assessment of how urgent the Taiwan strait contingency contingency would be?

Thank you. Yeah. I don’t think uh put it this way. I think everybody is uh mindful of uh of tensions in that part of the world. And just as importantly everybody here in the department is mindful of our obligations to help Taiwan be able to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan relations Act three communiques, the six assurances, nothing’s changed about US policy with respect to to Taiwan. And I think everybody’s properly focused on making sure that we’re meeting our obligations. And I certainly wouldn’t From the podium speak to intelligence assessments one way or the other about Chinese intentions. Nobody wants to see the status quo changed unilaterally. And certainly no one wants to see it changed by force. Uh that’s in no one’s interest. Um And again U. S. Policy has been consistent and I think it will remain so just a quick program. So is it fair to say that there are still a wide variety of assessment on the urgency of the Taiwan strait contingency. What what uh wide variety of assessment. There are so many assessments. Different assessments. Oh no actually I don’t think that’s fair to say. And I’m certainly not going to talk about intelligence assessments here from the podium. I think what you’re hearing from leadership throughout the department including from the secretary is that we’re all mindful of growing tensions and we’re certainly, as I said before, very mindful of our obligations and everybody is focused on that, on how we can best meet our obligations. Nobody wants to see this uh evolve into a conflict. Nobody wants to see a unilateral change in the status quo. Yeah, you bet. Okay. Uh Mallory from us and I thanks john um the carl Vinson Strike Group, Carrier Strike Group is training near Hawaii ahead of its upcoming deployment instead of California is the intent to signal us presence in the indo pacific. Uh, We were constantly uh altering the locations of where we train and and how we train um to uh to best meet again our security commitments. I uh, I would caution you from thinking that there’s some sort of specific message here other than, I mean, obviously we are focused on the indo pacific um and uh, and you’ve heard the secretary talked about this quite a bit. Um so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that we would be uh training and taking advantage of um of training opportunities throughout the region. Is there any reason why it’s off Hawaii as opposed to where it would normally be off of California?

I would refer you to the pacific fleet for specifics about how they choose locations, but but again, uh whether it’s off California or it’s off Hawaii, it’s still in the end of pacific, it’s still in the pacific ocean and it’s still representative of our commitment to broader regional security there. Yeah. Over the weekend, Secretary Austin and Defense Minister a car had a phone call. Is there a deal on protecting the Kabul Airbase?

Well I think you heard the national security adviser on Sunday speak to the meeting between uh President Biden and President Erdogan where Turkey agreed to take the lead role in terms of security at the airport, there are still details to be worked out. Um uh There’s uh there’s a lot more work to be done. Uh, they have indicated that they uh, will need some support from the United States and international community and we’re working our way through that. And that phone call over the weekend was in line with those discussions. Is the United States ready to provide financial logistic support to this Again?

We’re still working our way through exactly what the support would look like. We don’t have final answers on that right now. Yeah, jay, thank you. I like to ask about the North Korea using an E. M. P. You know, electromagnetic weapons. The US congregational advisory group and the military expert recently reported that North Korea has completed on E. M. P. Weapons and they want of North Korea using on E. M. P. Weapons to attack United States military facilities. What counter metal do you have against these?

I’m not gonna get into this topic here from the podium, jenny. Uh, we’re certainly mindful of this technology, um, and the capability, but I am not going to get into the habit of speaking to the specifics of it here from this podium or what countermeasures we may or may not have in place or be pursuing. We take seriously our responsibility is to defend our interests and our national security in that or any other part of the world. And I can assure you that the departments focused on that. I will commend responsibilities. I’m not going to go further on this issue. This is very serious happened. Thank you. You’re welcome. David. Any update on Sexual assault task force isn’t their 90 day period?

That’s correct. Their 90 day period is up. Uh, they will be providing um the rest of their recommendations to the secretary this afternoon. He’ll take some time to review those recommendations and uh he’ll want to make sure that he gets as he had before on line of uh line of effort, one on accountability uh that he has given the military departments and the chairman time to provide their feedback as well. Yes ma’am, I have two questions. 1st 1. Can you please give us more details if you can of course on general uh hobbies meetings here at the pentagon and also the issues that were discussed. And the other question, if there’s like plan to um I mean secretary asked them to be part of the discussions or the meetings between the Afghani President and president Biden. So on your first question, as I stepped out here, the meeting was still ongoing and I’m given to understand that the Joint Staff Public Affairs Office will be issuing a readout since it was a meeting hosted by General Milley, that’s more appropriate for them to speak to that and I’ll let them do that and I’m sure that they’ll do that this afternoon. Um I don’t have any um scheduling announcements to make with respect to the Secretary and President Ghani’s visit on on Friday. And you know, if and when I do will certainly let you know. Yeah, Yeah. Um I like protected bob’s initial question about the Secretary was recommending um we’re discussing the pace of the withdrawal. Um does the mission to advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban still exist?

And is that something that the secretary has to consider as he follows through with the other mission that the President has given, as we said before. Louis. So long as we have the capability in Afghanistan will continue to provide assistance to Afghan forces. But as the retrograde gets closer to completion, those capabilities will will wane and will no longer be available um to be used in that way. As you and I speak, we are still providing a measure of of support in that regard. But again that will change over time and um uh as a withdrawal as we complete the withdrawal, the mission will be the mission assigned by the commander in chief, which is to provide an over the horizon counterterrorism capability to prevent attacks on the homeland and to continue to support the Afghan forces. But from again a largely financial perspective. So in this building there’s this term that we hear a lot an inflection point. Does that mean that there will be an inflection point where the U. S. Can no longer provide that mission and when are we at that point right now or we close to it?

Which may be a reason why the secretary may be considering. Certainly there will come a point where um uh those types of capabilities are simply no longer um uh available two General Miller should be able to provide. I would defer to him uh in terms of what that timing looks like. I’m so I’m in no position uh to guesstimate right now when that’s gonna happen. But certainly there’s going to be a time where we’ve reached that point. Again, it’s really for him to decide in consultation of course with General Mackenzie and and the Secretary. And as I tried to explain it, maybe I didn’t do it well enough with bob’s question. But I mean we’re constantly taking a look at this every single day. Uh What’s the situation on the ground?

What capabilities do we have?

What additional resources do we need to move out of Afghanistan?

and what pays?

And all of these decisions are literally being made in real time, the last one on this. So does that mean that um General Miller and then therefore Secretary Austin have to look at the whole approach in Afghanistan in terms of you’re looking at a daily looking at the situation, Does that mean that we have to look at this and determine how will this affect the pacing and how will it affect the stability of the government of inside Afghanistan after the US Department?

I think the best way I can answer the question unsatisfying though, it may be is that we take into account a whole range of factors as we continue to move through the retrograde. But again, Louis two things are not changing. We will get, we will be out of Afghanistan with the exception of whatever presence is required to protect our diplomatic mission there and that’s still being worked and we will be out of Afghanistan by early September. Those two things are not changing. Okay. Um Hansen hi thank you. Um I had one quick question on what was brought up last week by General military. Um and hearing you talk about improving the mil to mil relationship with China and specifically citing the need for clearer communication with car parks um in china, uh what is the what has there been any developments to enhance these relations are improving communication between U. S. Military and the P. L. A. I don’t know of any changes necessarily to the middle to middle communications and relations. Um I think it goes without saying that uh that the relationship with china is uh is tense right now. Um um and uh and I think General Milley what he was trying to express and I think he’s right is that you know, the more the more that there can be a sense of dialogue that is trustworthy, the less chances they’re they’re going to be for miscalculations that could that could lead to towards outcomes. So clearly we obviously uh don’t want to see that miscalculation, but I mean I don’t know there’s no uh I don’t have any changes to speak to with respect to the bilateral relationship with the L. A. Right now. Okay, looks like that’s it. Thank you, please.

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