Secretary of Defense Holds Briefing



Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the news media at the Pentagon, November 17, 2021.

Transcript

Yeah. Mhm. Mhm. Yes, sir. Well, good afternoon everyone. It’s good to see everybody. You’ve heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating. We have the strongest fighting force in the world because we have the strongest team in the world and that includes not just our brave men and women in uniform but our outstanding military families as well. Unfortunately, the pandemic and tight housing markets across the country have made financial struggles even tougher with the holidays approaching. I know that this is on the minds of our military communities and it’s certainly top of mind for me. So today I’ve directed the department to take several steps to strengthen the economic security of our force. First, we’re providing some immediate relief. The Department of Defense has temporarily raised the basic allowance for housing in areas That have had a 10% increase in rental costs this year. And in places with housing shortages were extending temporary lodging, expense reimbursements so that families have more time to find a home that fits their needs and when when it comes to making sure our people have enough to eat. We’ve created a new toolkit that will help leaders identify service members who are struggling and connect service members and their families to resources and support programs and more have also directed the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness to develop a strategy and implementation roadmap within 90 days, to strengthen food security across the force. Now, the steps outlined in today’s memo won’t solve all the economic worries that our military families face, but they are important steps and we’re committed to getting this right. Our men and women in uniform and their families have enough to worry about basic necessities like food and housing shouldn’t be among them. This is a readiness issue. And that’s why I’m focused on making sure that our service members and their families have what they need to thrive so that they can focus on the hard work of defending our nation. Now, I’d like to say a few words about my trip to the Middle East. Starting later this week, I’m looking forward to being back in Bahrain where I’ll speak at the Manama dialogue, a major security forum that will be meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic began. It will be good to connect with partners and allies in the region and beyond. Let me _ two themes. Then I’ll discuss. First, the United States is deeply committed to the security of the Middle East and we continue to strengthen our partnerships here and second, we understand many of today’s most pressing security challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere transcend borders. So we must meet these shared threats with shared solutions in lockstep with their friends who also come to the table with formidable capabilities. You could see the strength of our network of partnerships on full display just a few months ago. As we wound down our 20 year military mission in Afghanistan, our partners in the Middle East stepped up to help Help us evacuate more than 124,000 people. And we couldn’t have done it without partners like the United Arab Emirates, which will be another stop on my trip. And I’m looking forward to discussing our two countries common defense priorities. Mm Now it’s not lost on me that this trip comes at a time when Iran is stoking tensions and undermining stability in the region. We remain deeply committed to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. And I’ve said before, no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear armed Iran. And that’s why we fully support the president’s efforts to achieve a new diplomatic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. But of course Iran presents serious security challenges that extend beyond that program. So I’m going to continue to be very clear. We will defend ourselves and our partners and our interests against threats from Iran or its proxies. Now, one last thing before I take your questions and this gets to the issue of civilian casualties which I know is on your mind. It’s on my mind as well. I can assure you As you know, we conducted an independent review and investigation into the August 29 Strike Airstrike in Kabul, an air strike that tragically killed 10 innocent civilians, including seven Children. I know that Lieutenant General. So he brief you on his findings. I also asked the commanders of U. S. Central Command and Special Operations Command to come back with me with their plans for how to implement general. So he’s findings and recommendations and they’ve done that. And I’m working my way through their recommendations. We’re also looking for rigorous outside thinking and I think you know that will soon be releasing a civilian harm study By ran that Congress ordered in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. And there’s another ranch study on civilian casualties in Syria that is working its way through a security review. I look forward to reading these two studies into benefiting from them as we conduct operations going forward. The American people deserve to know that we take this issue very seriously and that we are committed to protecting civilians and getting this right both in terms of how we execute missions on their behalf and how we talk about them afterwards. We have more work to do in that regard clearly and I recognize that and I’m committed to doing this in full partnership with our military leaders and for now I’m ready to take your questions. And I’ll start with bob Burns. Thank you sir. Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you a couple of things about Russia. Recent developments on Russia. One is the build up of Russian forces and military structures in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border. The other is the Russian anti satellite tests that they conducted recently um which which this administration condemned as reckless now on Ukraine. I’m wondering, you know as a career military officer, What do you make of what you’re seeing of the Russian activity near Ukraine? Do you, does it look to you like preparations for an invasion or some sort of other kind of incursion and on the anti satellite test? What is it? Would you say that so objectionable about what they did? Does it point toward conflict in space or weaponization of space? Well, overall bob. And thanks for those questions, We continue to see troubling behavior from Russia and you’ve highlighted too, two key issues there. 1st the troop build up near Ukraine in their recent anti satellite test and none of this, this activity is helpful to the security environment. And it causes us deep concern. And so we’ll continue to call on Russia to act responsibly and be more transparent on the build up of the forces around on the board of Ukraine. We’ve watched this very closely and I’m in regular and frequent contact with general Walters, the the Yukon commander. The truth is bob, we’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to, but these movements certainly have our attention and you know, I I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they’re up to and to take steps to live up to the Minsk agreements, our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains unwavering. You asked about the anti satellite test as well. And uh, what’s most troubling about that is the danger that it creates uh, for the international community. Um, it undermines strategic stability as you as you know, there’s a debris field there now that will be there for forever. And it it’s a it’s a safety concern. And so we would call upon Russia to act more responsibly going forward. I mean, they have the ability, they know exactly what kind of debris field they’re going to create. And so we wonder why they would move to do such a thing, suggest a step towards weaponization of space or conflict in space? Well, certainly, we are concerned about the weaponization of space, and we would certainly call upon Russia in all countries to act in a responsible manner in this regard. Let me call on Eric Schmidt, thank you. U. Shoes, two casualties. Military operators have used the justification for the strikes not only in Kabul on August 29, but also A strike on March 18, that we reported on Sunday. The New York Times did justification they used with self defense. My question is, how concerned are you that over all these years of military activity going up against organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda? How concerned are you that military operators are using self defense perhaps too casually, even deliberately as a way of of circumventing the steps around the measures that have put in place to mitigate civilian casualties. And then I have one follow up after that. So that’s three questions and one follow up there. Eric just kids at the outset? Eric, let me just highlight that we do work very hard to avoid causing harm to civilians. Every every civilian casualty is a tragedy. Uh but I would also say that I have no doubt that we can work harder and I’d go beyond that and said we must work harder. Uh I’m committed to adjusting our policies and our procedures to make sure that we improve. And I’ll beholding all our senior leaders responsible for putting those policies and procedures into effect as we go forward in terms of uh whether or not we are taking things casualty casually. Excuse me. Uh, We take every strike very serious uh ERIC and I think again, it’s incumbent upon us to to look at our procedures and our policies to make sure that we continue to refine them and where we see we’re, you know, we’re not doing things as well as we could. Uh we we should uh we should adjust and you’ll uh my goal is to make sure that uh we improve upon our performance going forward. You mentioned, this is my second question leads into that, that you said You’ve taken responsibility. The military has taken responsibility for the casualties. Again, both on August 29 as well as the ones in Syria and many others, but it’s very it’s very rare when the military actually holds anyone actually accountable or somebody, there’s administrative action or other, some kind of other disciplinary actions. To what extent are you personally committed to holding people accountable now for these kind of actions? Well, I believe that leaders in this department should be held to account for high standards of conduct and leadership in that’s who we are. And I believe that our troops understand that. And for my part as Secretary of Defense, I have every intent to uphold that standard. Again, when we have a civilian casualty. Uh, we investigate that by standard procedure. And again, we’ll look at our policies and procedures and make sure that we’re as tight as possible going forward here. Let me call on Jim Griffith, thank you sir. What in your opinion is the significance of the recent Chinese hypersonic weapon test? Some people in the pentagon have said it’s a Sputnik moment. General Heighten said it did not create the sense of urgency. It should. Was this a Sputnik moment? Well, those are terms that I wouldn’t use. I don’t personally use gen, you know, that uh, we have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to develop. I’ve highlighted the PRC is our pacing challenge and we continue to to do everything that we can, to develop the right capabilities and also, you know, the right concepts. Uh, we think it will be necessary and will be effective in any kind of contestant going forward that includes china Russia or any other uh country that we want to take us on. Uh we also have to maintain the capabilities to defend ourselves. You’ve heard me say a number of times that it’s my job to defend this nation and I take that very seriously. This department takes that very seriously. And so we’re working on as hard as we can to ensure that we can defend ourselves against a range of threats going forward. Just a follow up. Why have the Chinese been able to field a medium range hypersonic weapon? And the U. S. Has not? I don’t know if they fielded those weapons but they’re testing. I believe general heightened did say that in the interview with CBS. Okay, well you know we uh we continue to move as fast as we can to to develop capabilities. And again we look at our full range of capabilities and and not just one specific capability as we look at, you know, our our adversaries and I believe we have robust capability across the board. Let me go to WAFA job. I thank you sir for taking my question. We’ve seen lately a pattern of provocative actions from Iran against the U. S. Navy that ended safely so far. Is the US exercising self restraint to avoid any escalation or to make way for diplomacy And what are the red lines that for the U. S. Patients in that sense? Well I don’t think it’s helpful to talk about red lines but I want to be clear on a couple of points. Uh You mentioned Iran’s activity in the maritime domain. We can we continue to see unsafe and unprofessional actions uh as they operate as we operate in the gulf. And I think that kind of behavior affects everyone. And it’s very troubling. It certainly impacts freedom of navigation. Uh and you know, everyone loses by these dangerous and disruptive actions. And I know that we share those concerns with our allies and partners. Uh You heard me say at the at the top that we won’t hesitate to defend ourselves and our partners and we’re committed to that we have the capability for that. And so in terms of, you know, how we behave were always very prudent about what we do. But again, let no one mistake that we will defend ourselves our interests and our partners before I make a follow up. So our our understanding that your priority number one priority in the middle is to deter Iran. But still Iran continues its uh so called malign activities whether in Lebanon and Iraq and Syria and the gulf. So how do you evaluate your policy of deterrence and is around taking it seriously in that way? Well, you know, it’s not just us who are concerned about Iran’s behavior in the region. It’s all of our allies and partners in the region and all of our allies and partners quite frankly around the globe. You know, the the choke points and waterways that are in this region are very important to the international uh community, international commerce. Uh, and so we’re going to continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure that we communicate to Iran that this type of behavior won’t be, won’t be tolerated again. We are prepared to defend our interests and our partners going forward. Yeah. Other countries let me go to Megan Myers. So secretary, often the border mission is into its fourth year. Now, I understand you have ongoing discussions with the Homeland Security Secretary about their needs and your ability to meet them. Um, what is the goal that you guys are working toward? And is there a point at which you would decline their next request to bring more troops, uh, to continue to put troops down there? Well, thanks Megan. Uh, as you know, and as you’ve indicated, our troops are there in support of uh Department of Homeland Defense. So Homeland Security. So, um, we uh, we continue to work with the leadership to make sure that, you know, we’re doing what we can to enable their forces. I’ve talked with uh, with secretary on a number of occasions and we both agree that our goal is for them to develop the capability to to conduct operations on their own. And so over time you’ll see our presence diminish or and and and you’ll see homeland security take this over on their own. So are they meeting those are there? They are meeting that progress and they are they are making progress. And I don’t have a specific date to put a pin on at this point in time. But I would tell you that we’re moving in the right direction and one time for one last question there, I’ll go to Tony Cappuccio detectors. Sir. You started you started out talking about the measures, you’re doing two reliefs, financial strain on soldiers. You’re in the 12th year, 12th continuing resolution of the last 13 years, fiscal years. What’s been the damage to date over the first two months? And if as there’s talk on Capitol hill extending it for a whole year, what are your budget? People telling you will be the greatest areas of major impact? Well, Tony I think you heard me say many months ago as as we were rolling out our budget, that a long term continuing resolution is not helpful to anyone. It creates uncertainty and it limits our flexibility when we have a long, long term cr we can’t we can’t create any new starts so we can invest in in the cutting edge technologies and capabilities that we’re looking to bring on board. And uh and the reason for that obviously is we’re straddled with last year’s budget. Um also, you know, when you consider things like the fact that we’ve got a raise has been authorized a well deserved raise has been authorized for our troops. We’ll have to take that absorb that raise out of the out of the current budget. And so that that creates less flexibility for us to do other things. And for example, some of the things that you uh initiatives that you mentioned will be fine with the initiatives that we that have announced. But again, I don’t want to infringe upon our flexibility to do other things going forward. Are you lobbying the members of the GOP members who are holding up the bill and threatening a continuing resolution? Are you personally calling some of the members saying help us out? You know, I I continue to uh as you would expect Tony to communicate with our congressional leadership on a routine basis. And and quite frankly, I think that they get it as well. They understand uh the uh the concern, the severity of the impact. Uh and I really believe that uh they’re really working hard to help us in this regard for the uh and and we’ll continue to have those conversations. But I thought I heard you say lobbying when you were talking to Secretary Defense, is that it was a slip of the tongue, sir? Okay. All right. All right. Thanks everybody. Thank you. Yeah,

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