Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby briefs the news media at the Pentagon, May 5, 2022.
How’s your how are you, how’s it going? All right. I’m so glad to know that you guys are this concerned about my well-being, it’s it’s heartwarming really, I appreciate that. That’s a lot green. I just noticed, look that there was a chill in the room if you will sort of a downbeat presents you guys just were you want your chipper cells and then you know, I can feel the energy up here. It bothered me. Is it you have a jacket on? You’re wearing a mask? You look snug to me. Should we get you a blanket? Would that make you feel better today? You give us some extra time to warm? Yeah. Alright, so let’s get to it. I know I’m late uh been one of those days. Um just a couple of things here uh this morning, Secretary Austin had a phone call with the South Korean Minister of National Defense to discuss the security environment of course on the peninsula. The two leaders strongly condemned yesterday’s ballistic missile launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which they noted threatens the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the indo pacific region. They committed to a close cooperation to enhance the US rok alliance deterrence and Defense posture. Secretary Austin reaffirmed that the ironclad U. S. Commitment to the defense of the rok leveraging the full range of U. S. Military capabilities to include extended deterrent capabilities. The Secretary also congratulated the Minister on his successful tenure as Minister of National Defense noting that the alliance had in fact been strengthened under PSAs leadership. Um On another note on the 20th of April I think you all were tracking Secretary Austin had a phone call with the PRC Minister of National Defense. We’ve received a few inquiries and I would just like to address a little bit of some some some inaccuracies out there in the in the information space. Specifically the PRC Ministry of National Defense published a readout of their own, Which erroneously claimed that the United States adheres to the one China principle. The Secretary did not say this. Rather, Secretary Austin made clear that the United States remains committed to our one china policy as enumerated in the Taiwan Relations Act, the three joint communiques and the six assurances. And then lastly, if I could just to address uh an issue which I know is on everyone’s mind today. And this is the issue of intelligence sharing with Ukraine. Um I just want to stress a couple of things. First, the United States provides battlefield intelligence to help Ukrainians defend their country. We talked about that quite a bit. We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military. The Ukrainians have quite frankly, a lot more information than we do. This is their country, their territory and they have capable intelligence collection abilities of their own Ukraine combines information that we and other partners provide with the intelligence that they themselves are gathering on the battlefield and then they make their own decisions and they take their own actions. And I think it’s important not to forget this is a war the Russians started and of course they can end it tomorrow. And with that we’ll take questions. I think Lita you are up first and you’re on the phone? Yes, Thanks john um, can you tell us whatever visibility you might have on the situation in Mariupol? Have you got any sense of how many of the um, Ukrainians are still there? And how many, even in broad numbers Russians are still fighting in that area. And then a second quick one. Have you seen any indication that the exercises by Belarus are concerning at all or any indication that Belarus is poised to get more active in the war or in any way, no indications that Belarus has intentions to to become active in the war in Ukraine and I’ll let them speak to their exercises. But, but we’re not, we’re not tracking indications that they’re planning to or intend to get involved directly in the war. In Ukraine on Mario opal. Uh, we still see Mario Puzo under siege from bombardment. Um, through airstrikes predominantly. Um, uh, we still assess that that Ukrainian, uh, soldiers are, are still, uh, are still at that plant. Uh, they’ve said it themselves and are still resisting. Um, so we, we again see the violence is being visited on Mario opal in the destruction that’s being caused there as a continued bombardment by by, by Russian airstrikes in Mario people. I don’t know if that answers your question or not. Do you have any sense of how many Russian troops, even in very broad terms, might still be around um, Mario pole, we have been told by others about Russian troops leaving that area. I was wondering if you had any sense how many remained? I want to be careful a little bit here and because our our knowledge of Russian force dispositions, you know, um, it isn’t perfect leader, I think in general, we would assess that the majority of Russian forces ground forces that were dedicated to Mario people have left and have moved to the north, the north away from from Mario opal and that a small number, roughly the equivalent of a couple of battalion tactical groups are still in and around Mario open at this time, predominantly the activity is largely through airstrikes in uh, in and around Mario Puzo and certainly at that um, at the apostol, as of stall plant. Um, that’s about the best I can do lead to uh, you know, given that, you know, we don’t have perfect visibility into every Russian unit. Address. Just a quick question firstly, the Russians have, have claimed for a couple of days that they have hit western and native weapons inside Ukraine any uh, targeting you’ve seen or any impact on the flow of weapons? And second question? Um, ahead of the May 9th victory day in Russia. Are you seeing any change in tactics on the ground by the Russians? Are they being more aggressive or is that not really something that’s having an impact on the tactical situation by the Russians? Uh, so on the second question, um, we’ve seen no, uh, let me back it up addresses. But in the Donbas region, we would still assess that the Ukrainians are putting up a very stiff resistance and that the Russians have not made the progress that we believe they expected to make by this point. Uh that’s not to say they haven’t made any progress. I think we would continue to assess it as incremental and uneven, but not, but not non existent. Um and again, we think that that’s partly a big part of it is the Ukrainian resistance, but also partly through their own um uneven efforts to fix the challenges that they had and north around Kiev. I can’t say that looking at the, looking at what we can see that we can say definitively that there is a change in behavior or aggressiveness or momentum based on the Coming Day of May nine and what they plan to do or say on Victory Day, that’s really up to them and I don’t think we have a perfect sense, but I can’t sit here honestly and tell you that we That that we’re seeing a correlation between the looming deadline of the 9th and the way they’re behaving in the Donbas? It’s still uneven plotting incremental. But they have made some small progress, particularly in the north part of the Donbas. Um So I think I’d leave it at that and as for the uh um shipments of of supplies and weapons and material going in that continues every day including today. And we’ve seen no indication that that that flow has been impeded. Does that answer? Yeah. Tara. So I recognize your statement earlier saying that the US is not providing intelligence directly targeting senior military officials. But can you provide examples of intelligence? The U. S. Has shared past intelligence. Um That has been helpful to the Ukrainians in this fight that hasn’t targeted a senior official. Yeah. As I’ve said consistently from the podium um I’m not gonna detail the intelligence that we’re providing to Ukraine. I won’t go any further than what I’ve said before. Certainly no further than I went today. We do provide them useful intelligence. Timely intelligence that against this invasion. And and I think the less said about that honestly the better. So I’m just gonna describe it’s about like their logistics or whether or anything like that. It’s not that I can’t I won’t. And secondly yesterday Admiral Richard reaffirmed its a U. S. Assessment that China intends to attack Taiwan by 2027. Is there any concern within the building here that all of the resources the US is putting in to help Ukraine um might make it more difficult in a defensive defensive Taiwan situation. So 2000 if I may one whatever Richard said. And also I think Chairman Milley said the same thing that that it’s that it’s that it’s President Xi’s intention to be able to have the capability By 2027, not the intent to do it by 2027. Um uh that’s an important distinction. And then as for our ability uh in the indo pacific. So first of all, I mean our our our focus with respect to Taiwan is as I put in my opening statement there when I was correcting the Chinese read out of the phone call that we’re still here to the one china policy. Um and uh the support that we provide Ukraine is in complete keeping with the communications and insurances, but just as critically, the Taiwan relations act. Um and that is the that is the provision uh and and sales of uh military systems to help Taiwan in its self defense. And that’s the focus. And as you’ve heard the secretary say, gosh a bunch of times, um there’s no reason for a cross strait tensions to become a conflict and there’s no reason for it to it shouldn’t it shouldn’t that we would uh we continue to not want to see the status quo militarily changed in a unilateral way. And we’re committed to that Taiwan relations act into providing capabilities. Now we’ve also heard the secretary say and it’s, he said it in budget testimony just this weekend. Certainly it’s in it’s in our national defense strategy. That china is the pacing challenge. And if you look at our budget, which is a big 1 $773 billion a record number of dollars dedicated to research and development of new kinds of capabilities that get at what the secretary calls integrated deterrence, which gets at our ability to defend our security interests in the indo pacific specifically, not just in the indo pacific but certainly as we’re talking about china right now related to that, um we have five of our seven treaty alliances or in that part of the world and we we take those commitments very, very seriously. So there’s an awful lot if you just unpack unpack that budget to see that we are investing not only in capabilities but in operational concepts to help us uh deter conflict with with any adversary. And certainly we would consider the PRC a challenge in that regard. Um in a way that would uh would I think be robust enough going forward in a better way. You know, you have any questions. Thank you. You know, you have the sales of military systems for Taiwan but you’ve also seen this ramp up for domestic production of systems, not only to help supply Ukraine but to backfill us stockpiles backfill NATO members. So is there a strain there can both be supplied Within not only the 2027 timeline, but the very near to again, let’s not get fixated on the 2027 timeline, but what we’re doing to support Ukraine. So first of all, the short answer to your question is we’re not concerned about that, that that a focus on Ukraine is somehow gonna take our focus our eye off the indo pacific or specifically our obligations on the Taiwan relations Act. The material that we are sending to Ukraine almost completely so far has been under drawdown authority. So it’s material that we have on our shelves and in our inventory and in our warehouses on our bases that we are providing to them because they’re in an active fight right now, the focus of that is long range fires and the artillery and all that because of the Donbas region. Um and that that support which we continue to provide does not affect in any way. Um our obligations under the Taiwan relations Act or the other ways in which we’re supporting Taiwan. Okay. Yeah. Um Russia Ministry of Defense just announced that they had participated in nuclear capable missile strikes, um launches practicing these nuclear capable missile launches in Kaliningrad, which is, you know, in Europe the US Baltic allies because of this is the pentagon considering, you know, ramping up its defenses on NATO’s eastern flank And and honestly, how concerning is this that he has done this? He’s had these actions? He’s done previous actions with nuclear capable launches and and and Putin is failing or has been delayed in Ukraine. Well again, again, we’ve decried the escalation in rhetoric by the Russians now numerous times when it comes to uh nuclear weapons. And um it’s uh it’s not the behavior of a responsible nuclear power to engage in that kind of rhetoric. And I would just tell you that, as I said many times before we monitor this every single day, we’re comfortable and confident that our strategic deterrent posture is well placed and robust enough to defend the homeland as well as our allies and partners. But it is uniformly unhelpful and irresponsible uh for the Russians uh to regard and speak to boast about uh their nuclear weaponry. There’s no reason to bring it to that level. I think we can all agree that the specter of a nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia is good for no one certainly not good for Russia. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for Ukraine or or or the region has that exercise? Or has this rhetoric resulted in us changing the footprint on NATO’s eastern flank? No, we’re still at just over 100,000 U. S. Troops in Europe. The extra since the the extra the additional 20,000 that we’ve put in place uh since February is uh rotational um and they are still there on those rotational orders. I don’t have any updates or changes to that. But there’s been no change to footprint, not just on the eastern flank, but anywhere in Europe as a result of these comments or these these exercises. Thank you. But if I may, you know, you keep saying rhetoric, it’s not just rhetoric, they are actually. And I said, I said in addition to these exercises, we’ve made no changes concerning. I thought I answered that before. It’s obviously concerning. I mean, as I said, this is this is not the behavior of a responsible nuclear power, particularly given what’s going on in Ukraine right now and the focus of the international community on what’s going on in Ukraine right now. Yeah, so just to go back to the intel, providing question for a second, the New York Times story states that the United States has focused on providing the location and other details about the Russian military’s mobile headquarters which relocate frequently. Are you saying that that is false? I am not going to talk about intelligence sharing from this podium. I think you can understand. Well, I am not going to do that. We share relevant and timely information and intelligence with the Ukrainians that that allow them to make decisions to defend themselves. As I said in my opening statement, it’s not just the United States either. Other partners share information and intelligence with them and they have robust intelligence collection capabilities of their own. I’m not gonna talk about intelligence sharing with any more detail than that. We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior leaders on the battlefield? I stand by my opening statement but I’m not going to get into the beaches of every little bit of information sharing that we do on Taiwan. Um, can you just clear up a little bit of the, I guess confusion out there about what exactly what artillery systems are being delivered or were offered to Taiwan? There was some reporting that um, an artillery system would be delayed because of a crowded production line. So what artillery system has the U. S. Offered to Taiwan? I think that’s a better question put to our State Department colleagues who handled the foreign military sales program. That’s not something that is for the effort the Defense Department to speak to. Yeah. Tom Thanks John II questions wanted to follow in Taiwan in regards to the, just a date of 2027 which was used twice this week. When you talk about the pacing challenge of china, does the pentagon look at certain Markers in its own way to keep up with the pacing of China. In other words, hearing hearing China talk about 2027 whether they can achieve their goal or not. I’m not asking that, But there’s the pentagon. See, well maybe we need to do X, Y and Z by 2027 ABC by 2030. In other words, in the pacing challenge that the pentagon is engaged in our their markers without you saying what they are, are their markers uh that the pentagon hopes to meet to keep up the pace, so to speak. We’re we are obviously focused on the pacing challenge of china tom. And um and again you can see that in our budget um it’s factored into to our national defense strategy. Um and uh we are moving as expeditiously as we can to make sure that we have all the relevant capabilities we need uh to deter conflict in the indo pacific region and should and should it come to it and there’s no reason for it to to be able to defend our national security interests and those of our allies. Um We’re not pegging those efforts. Uh two dates on a calendar that have been professed by president she or anybody else. We’re pegging those efforts to our own uh knowledge and understanding of the threat and our own knowledge and understanding of our capabilities to address those threats. Mindful tom that those threats change over time. So we also have to change our capabilities over time. And again, I think our budget that recently submitted really I think Hammers at home very well, you can look there’s lots of things in that budget that get right at this too, including the defensive Guam, the pacific deterrence initiative, the investments in five G Microelectronic ai unmanned. I mean it’s all in there and and there’s no question that that the pacing challenge of china was certainly informed the kinds of capabilities that were that we put in that budget. My other question is on Sweden uh today and yesterday the Swedish foreign minister is in Washington and she had an interview yesterday with Swedish television which I know you may not have seen. But during that interview, she said that the United States has promised security to Sweden. Should it apply to NATO? My question is, what is this, what what advice or shared information that the pentagon give to the State Department in advance of this in advance of this meeting that the pentagon could weigh in on this matter. Thank you. How did I do on that one, john yes, getting right at it, aren’t you? Um look, we strongly support NATO’s open door policy. I think you know that both Finland and Sweden are close in value defense partners. I think you know that too, our militaries have worked together now closely for many years um exercises and exchanges. Um, and we value that relationship and I think without getting into specific details of of what was discussed between Secretary Blinken and the Foreign Minister, which I will not talk about. Wait a minute. Let me finish my answer. Uh we are confident that we would be able to find ways to address any concerns uh that either swim in Sweden or Finland might have about the period of time between a NATO membership application and their potential accession into the alliance. Okay. Just to paraphrase President Lyndon Johnson. I didn’t ask you what you told the State Department. I asked if you did ask and you so you did contribute some. I’m not going to talk about internal interagency discussions, uh, and I’m not going to get ahead of the State Department here. This was their meeting and they should speak to it. What I’m telling you is that we’re confident, given the strong relationships that we have with Sweden and with Finland, uh, that we would be able to find ways to address any concerns that they might have in that interim between an application for membership and actual accession into NATO. Uh, Tony. It says that you’re here on the phone. So how do you want me to handle this? I mean, would you like to leave the room and call in or eye contact? Okay. At what point does does the pentagon assessed that Ukraine will be able to utilize all 90 of those M77s and artillery fights? I’m sorry. At what point does dut assess Ukraine will be ready to use all 90 of the M 77 howitzers the U. S. Has provided. I think only the Ukrainians can answer that Tony. I mean it’s these howitzers belong to them once they get inside the country and I can tell you as of this morning, more than 80 of them are actually in Ukraine of the of the 90. Um that’s almost complete and we do know that and you heard Secretary Austin say this the other day in in testimony that uh that we know some of them are being used in combat because they’ve told us. Um but but where, where they all are as you and I speak today and how they’re being engaged. I mean that’s really that’s really for the Ukrainians to speak to if they belong to them. Now gentlemen, question too. And that senator for pronouncing it correctly today, thank you for being such an eloquent teacher. Senators Roy blunt and Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut blunt of Missouri both claimed that the US has shipped a third of our javelin inventory to Ukraine. Is that roughly accurate or are they wildly inaccurate? Yeah. With all due respect to the, to the senators, I I’m going to refrain from talking about our inventory levels. Uh that that uh that gets into an operational security issue for us and I don’t think it’s useful to uh to speak to that with great specificity. I will just tell you two things, one of those systems have proven critical on the battlefield and are proving important now in the Donbas um and to uh we make a readiness assessment every single time we draw down from stocks to give to Ukraine and both the secretary and the chairman are confident and comfortable that we have not reached a point with current inventory, that our readiness uh in terms of our capability to uh to conduct anti armor operations. Should we need to do that is impacted. Yeah, heather from us and I thanks so much. I have two questions. The first is that um, ship spotters have thought of them as a Russian missile. Forget in the Mediterranean, has there been any interactions with any American ships in the med between the Russian ship and the American ships? And then also on a completely separate note, um, they’ve mentioned that our navy and other military leaders have mentioned that there’s been issues with recruiting, Is the military doing enough in terms of offering benefits to recruit Americans to the services. Um, so on your first question, I I am not aware of any altercations or incidents between Russian and U. S. Ships in the Mediterranean. Um, uh as far as I know, any, uh, any interactions thus far have been safe and professional. I’m not aware of any uh events or incidents to the contrary. And on your second question, um, I would just tell you, first of all, if you look at the budget we submitted, uh, you know, there’s, there’s some some extra special pays and benefits that are in that budget and we’re asking for a 4.6 percent pay raise for for our folks, both civilian and military. Um, but there are other incentives in their retention incentives. We want to make sure that are not just our recruiters, but our career counselors have, have tools at their disposal to, to get in and to keep the best talent that we can out out in America, but we’ve talked about recruiting in the last few days and um, all the services and the secretary included are mindful that the recruiting environment is growing tougher. The, there are, there are more than enough jobs out in the, in the, in the, in the American economy. Um, the propensity to serve is, uh, is not always as strong as we’d like it to be and quite frankly, um, you know, um, and uncomfortably, uh, large number of young Americans aren’t able to meet the entry requirements. Uh, so, and then add to that covid which impacted our recruiters ability to, to get face to face contact with with young men and women. All of that has combined to make it a challenging recruiting environment. But the secretary is focused on this. He has had discussions with senior service leaders about this. Um, he knows that, uh, and, and largely we are making essentially making the goals that we needed to make across the force. It’s uneven in each of the services and I’ll let them speak to that. But the secretary knows having been army Vice Chief of Staff a while ago, he knows, uh, that recruiting numbers, uh, can be lagging indicators and if you don’t stay ahead of them and, and make sure you’re focusing on it in the future that um that you could find yourself in a hole and you don’t want to do that. So so he’s focused on that very very strongly and I think that that will continue going forward. I got time for just a couple more. Yes ma’am. You’ve been patient. Um So I’m certainly okay these nuclear drills happened um Super close to Sweden, Super close to Finland. Um You mentioned that the US supports the NATO’s open door policy. What message does the US have to Sweden and Finland about you know what Russia is trying to do by kind of threatening them in this region. Um What’s you know the motivating message the U. S. Has to this country? Well okay first of all decisions to join NATO or not or sovereign decisions that these countries have to make their leaders have to make on behalf of their people and we certainly wouldn’t get in the way that are in the middle of that. Uh I think I’d go back to what I said before. I mean we have strong defense partnerships with both countries and um and healthy relationships that go back many years. Um And we’re confident and I can’t say it any more plainly than I just did that that that you know should they should they need assistance or um or uh that security well security assistance. I mean should they need should there be a requirement for that in the interim between applying for membership and a session into the alliance? I mean, we are confident that because of the close relationship we have with them we’d be able to work something out. And I think that’s the healthiest thing that we can say right now. Again, these are modern militaries, very capable militaries. And and we look forward regardless of what decision they make, we look forward to continuing a strong military military relationship with them. I think you’re gonna have to be the last one here. One is following up on that. Could you be more direct? Does the pentagon want or hope to see Finland and Sweden joined NATO? And if so what does it see that would bring to the alliance? And that is that is a decision for Sweden and Finland, not for the member of NATO would have a view the U. S. Has has to have a view on it. We’re not going to get ahead of the process here, Paul, these are sovereign decisions these countries have to make um and discussions that they have to get into the alliance and it would be inappropriate for the Defense Department of one NATO ally to make a qualitative assessment here judgment going forward. It’s really for them to decide they are modern competent uh militaries. And should they join NATO? Should they join NATO? They would be able to provide those advanced capabilities uh and and uh and abilities into the alliance. But that’s those are decisions they have to make a separate thing. Is there is Ukraine has conducted a series of cross border strikes into Russian territory and is believed to have carried out or supported or supporters of Ukraine carried out sabotage missions in in Russia. Does the US see that this is uh this is a good strategy or is it a risky strategy that might risky, risky actions? That actually might have risky strategic implications for Ukraine and its backers. I think Ukrainians should speak for the operations that they’re conducting or not. We’re not going to do that. Our focus is on helping them defend themselves against an illegal and unjust and quite brutally violent invasion in their country. And that’s what we’re focused on making sure that they have the tools and the abilities to defend themselves. But I have not since this began, nor am I going to start now uh talking about Ukrainian operations in the field. Okay, alright, sure. The pentagon believe that the Defense minister from the Republic of Korea will remain Defense minister when the new president and what’s my answer going to be to that? I think that is a decision for the South Koreans. Thanks appreciate it. Everybody