tv Pentagon Press Secretary Holds Briefing CSPAN August 13, 2021 7:21pm-8:02pm EDT
>> good afternoon. a couple things at the top. as we head into the weekend, i thought it would be helpful to give you a brief update about where things are with respect to the military supports of the state department in afghanistan. i want to say at the outset and should've said this yesterday, you guys know this is a planning organization. that is what we do. planning for these sorts of contingencies is not unusual.
it is quite common. and one of the reasons why we have been able to react as quickly as we did in the last day or so is we had plenty of contingency planning in the works and a lot of it complete because, as i said many times from the podium, we are watching consistently the security situation on the ground. so i can give you a brief update of a few additional details, since yesterday. now, as i do this, i think you can understand that i am not going to have every detail that you might want. there is operational security that will be a concern. we are going to observe that here, just as we had throughout the entire drawdown process. but i can tell you a couple of things. first, u.s. forces in afghanistan continue to provide security at the kabul airport and at the embassy. these are the existing security elements that were already in kabul. it is comprised of attack assets
and infantry and security personnel and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets that are already at the airport. they stay there and are still doing the job in terms of internal security there at the international airport. the troop movements we mentioned yesterday are happening as we speak. three battalions are preparing to move from the current locations in the central command area of responsibility to kabul. they consist of a marine battalion that was already pre-staged in the region. it has support capabilities. another marine infantry battalion from a marine expeditionary unit. and a u.s. army infantry battalion. some elements of one of the marine infantry battalions are already there in kabul. the leading element. they are there.
the rest of their forces will continue to flow over the next couple of days and i expect that , by the end of the weekend, the bulk of the 3000 that we talked about yesterday will be in place. probably not all, but the bulk. from the united states, the brigade combat team we mention from the second airborne division is prepared to go to kuwait as a ready reserve force. they are now preparing to deploy. i do not have information that suggests they are on the way right now. but i suspect, in very short order, they will start to deploy and to arrive. movement of some of the neighbors we talked about yesterday, designated to support the special immigrant visa processing in the region has also been done. these are primarily medical personnel. i think i told you yesterday it
is a mix of medical personnel and military police and electrical engineers. they are preparing to go. i do not have an indication that they have actually left. they are not going into afghanistan. they are originally going to be sent into the region for further use as needed to support the process. as far as aircraft are concerned, to support the movement of civilian personnel, transcom is working on their plans and sourcing solutions with air mobility command and working it out with central command, as well, to support this mission. forces and support requirements are going to be rapidly assessed by their planners. they are working on it. while we are not going to be able to give out a lot of detail today, again, the plans and sourcing for aircraft support and airlift are being worked out. we will have more to say about that when it is appropriate and when we can but i do want to stress airlift will not be a
limiting factor in this mission. airlift will not be a limiting factor. as i said yesterday, it is not all going to be military aircraft that are used. there are how many cars at an international airport is still open. commercial flights are going in and out still. i do not want to convey the sense that every lift of every individual is going to be done on a military aircraft, though they will be made available to support and, as i said, it will not be a limiting factor. finally, i just want to footstomp something i said yesterday. this is a specific, narrowly focused, tailored mission to help with the safe, secure movement of the reduction of civilian personnel. civilian personnel in kabul, as well as to help support the acceleration of the special immigrant visa process by the state department. that is what we are focused on and as we get more information and i am able to provide it, i
will with the understanding that there will be operational security concerns and i will not be able to provide every level of detail that i'm sure you want. we will be as transparent with you as we can. >> mentioning the bulk of the three battalions will be there probably by the end of the weekend. you said the end of sunday. do you anticipate the operation would begin the day? mr. kirby: the operation has begun, bob. the movement of forces to kabul has begun. that is the military side of it. i cannot speak to the timing of the state department with respect to their production. we wanted to make sure that we were in full support of them and that we were getting on station as quickly as possible and that is what we are focused on. as for when departures will occur and how many on a daily basis, that is my colleagues at the state department for them to speak to. >> as a follow-up, given the events of the last 24 hours with
three or four additional cities falling to the taliban, and the taliban apparently moving closer to kabul, i'm wondering -- how likely is it that you will be able to complete the drawdown of forces by august 31 as opposed to staying to ensure the security of the embassy afterward? mr. kirby: we will watch the security situation day by day, bob. and i cannot speak for what that is going to look like, you know, in days to come. i can tell you where we are today in the mission we have been assigned is to support the state department's reduction in personnel by the end of the month. that is what we are focused on. that is the timeline and if we need to adjust, either way, left or right, we will do that. but we are going to always be looking at the security conditions on the ground. >> thank you.
with the airlift planning going on, are you planning to make the airlift available for hundreds of people getting out of the country, thousands? there were thousands of people in the embassy and there were 18,000 interpreters we are looking to get out. can you give us an order of magnitude of the airlift mission? mr. kirby: i cannot tell you is how many on any given day. the capacity, as i said, will not be a problem. we will be able to move thousands per day. but that is just the airlift capacity. that does not necessarily mean that you're going to end up with that every day. it will depend on the processing and how that goes. so what we want to be able to do is to get there fast and get there capable and be able to provide as much capacity to the state department as we can and our intention is to be able to
move thousands per day. >> ok. separately, as we have seen the different provincial capitals fall, is the department of defense surprised at how quickly it seems the afghan national army has collapsed under taliban pressure? mr. kirby: we are certainly concerned by the speed with which the taliban has been moving. as we have said from the very beginning, and it still is, it is a moment for afghan national security and defense forces as well as our political leadership. no outcome is inevitable. i'm not going to speculate about surprise. we are obviously watching this just like you are watching this and seeing it happen in real-time and is deeply concerning. it is in fact -- the conditions are a factor -- a big factor -- in why the president has
approved this mission to help support the reduction of personnel there in kabul. we are adjusting as best we can given the conditions, and again, this is a moment for the afghans to unite. the leadership and the military. no outcome has to be inevitable here. >> one last. if the taliban continue across and take kabul, what happens to the continued support that you had been planning to do for the afghan national security forces such as like the contracted air support or the fuel that dod was committing to send? are you all starting to have conversations about at what point does that support have to be cut off to keep it from going to the taliban? mr. kirby: we're still supporting the defense forces and afghan government, the elected government. that is what we are going to be focused on doing. it would be easy to speculate about what the future of afghanistan looks like right now
but i think we want to focus on what we are doing. we are supporting the afghans in the field where we can. we are working on contract support for over the horizon. we are making sure we have robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region so that we cannot suffer a threat from afghanistan again. we are focused on the security situation as we see it now and what we've got to do, the missions we have been assigned by the commander-in-chief. i will let the political situation play out. that is not something that we are focused on right now. yeah. >> you are speaking about over the horizon. how does the u.s. conduct airstrikes regularly every day for the last few days and didn't stop the advances of the taliban? if you cannot stop the taliban from over the horizon, which you
are trying to do right now, how are you going to stop al qaeda from over the horizon? mr. kirby: so over the horizon counterterrorism strikes and capabilities still exist and will exist going forward. we have never said that airstrikes are a panacea. you said we were not able to stop the taliban. we have said from the moment we started drawing down that we are going to continue to support them where and when feasible with the understanding that it is not going to be feasible always. we have never argued that our airstrikes from the air were going to turn the tide on the ground. what we have said is the afghans have the capability to do that. we still believe that they could make a difference on the ground. we will do what we can from the air. but if they have the advantage,
they have greater numbers and an air force. they have modern weaponry. it is indigenous forces that can make the difference on the ground. our support to the afghans was really done in that vein. again, as for counterterrorism, you heard the secretary say himself there is not a scrap of the earth the united states military cannot hit if it is needed. when it comes to disrupting a counterterrorism threat that we know is emanating is serious enough, airstrikes can be effective. >> are the trips in kabul are going to get imminent danger? mr. kirby: i don't know. i can take the question but i don't know. >> thanks very much for doing this. you have said the u.s. is going to continued to conduct the airstrikes in support of the security forces where feasible. with the focus now on those
battalions heading into kabul for the embassy or the airport to get civilians out, how much is that going to lessen the availability of airstrikes for afghan security forces? also, following up on sylvia, given that u.s. airstrikes did not deter the taliban in other areas, how much concern is there that they will not be scared of potential u.s. airstrikes if they decide to move on kabul and u.s. assets or personnel? mr. kirby: i will not speculate about moving on kabul and i have never talked about future operations and will not start doing that today, jeff. to your other question, the kinds of support that we are providing and able to provide afghan national security and defense forces in the field, those authorities still exist and those capabilities still exist. john mckenzie can use those capabilities to the degree he
sees most fit. that is a separate and distinct set of missions than what we have been ordered to do in terms of helping with our state department colleagues reducing the size of their footprint in kabul. those are two separate sets of authorities and capabilities and i think that is about where i will leave it. >> you said a couple of times that you are concerned at the speed with which the taliban has moved. i think the question is not the concern about the speed but surprised. i have to ask, is the military or the pentagon or the administration surprised by how fast the taliban has been able to move through parts of the country? mr. kirby: we saw the taliban making advances even before the biden administration came into office. we saw the taliban making advances at the district level before the president made his decision. >> this is a different ballgame in the last week or so.
these specific games, taking the cities like kandahar, has that caught the military off guard, the speed they were able to do it? mr. kirby: we have watched this from a very early period, right after the president gave us the order to draw down. we have been watching what the taliban has been doing. we have noted with great concern the speed with which they have been moving and the lack of resistance they have faced. we have been nothing but honest about that. i will leave it there. >> what about the lack of resistance in kabul? is there a concern afghan military may not fight for kabul? mr. kirby: that is a question for afghan leadership to determine for themselves in afghanistan. as i've said from the beginning, we want to see the will and the political leadership, the military leadership, required in the field. we hope to see that and want to see that. whether it happens or not, that
is for the afghans to decide. >> you have said many times afghanistan cannot become a base for attacks against the u.s. homeland or its allies. does the speed of the advanced shake your confidence? mr. kirby: no. steve. >> thanks for doing this. are any additional air force squadrons or aircraft heading to the middle east for this? could you also speak to any of the rules of engagement troops on the ground will have? mr. kirby: i have nothing to announce or speak to with respect to additional air force assets. i've given you the laydown of exactly what we are sending to support this movement. that said, i also said in my opening statement that there will be airlifts. there will be an air force role with air lifts. with combat aircraft, i know of no such moves to do that and i have laid out for you twice what
the movements would be and will not speak about rules of engagement. we never do that from the podium. >> speculating on movements on kabul, but how would you describe the situation there? is kabul under threat? is kabul isolated? what is it? mr. kirby: right now, without getting into a battlefield assessment everyday, i don't want to do that, but kabul is not, right now, in an imminent threat environment. but clearly, david, if you just look at what the taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate kabul. what they want to do, if they achieve that isolation, i think only they can speak to. you can see a certain effort to isolate kabul. it is not unlike the way they have operated in other places of
the country, isolating provincial capitals and sometimes being able to force surrender without necessarily much bloodshed. again, i cannot speak for their intentions. what i can tell you is we are taking the situation seriously and that is one of the reasons why we move these forces. we are moving them into kabul to assist with this mission, because we know time is a precious commodity here. >> is it isolated now? mr. kirby: i don't want to get into a specific intelligence assessment on the battlefield. i don't want to do that. clearly, from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get kabul isolated. >> let me try it this way. the main arguments. going into kabul. mr. kirby: i will not get into a conditions on the ground
assessment every day about the communication except to say, it appears the taliban is trying to isolate the city and have, throughout the last few weeks, you've seen it for yourself, taken over border crossings, taken over highways and major intersections, to control lines of what we call communication and lines of revenue and those kinds of things. i cannot speak and i will not speak specifically to what the situation is in kabul right now. >> many times this week, you said afghans had the advantage. what proof can you offer that -- now that the taliban had taken over vast amounts of the country? mr. kirby: the taliban has moved with the speed with which they have and the resistance that they have faced has been insufficient to check the advances. it does not mean, lucas, the advantages are not still there. you have to use it. you have to be willing to apply it.
>> you're saying they have the advantages that they are getting crushed on the battlefield. it makes no sense to say they have the advantage. the taliban have the advantages right now. mr. kirby: lucas, i appreciate the effort, again. they have greater numbers. they have an air force. a capable air force, which is flying more airstrikes than us every day. they have modern equipment. they have organizational structure. they have the benefit of the training that we have provided them over 20 years. they have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages. it is time now to use those advantages. >> is the u.s. military prepared to evacuate all americans from kabul and close the embassy? mr. kirby: our mission is to help the state department reduce their personnel, civilian personnel, in kabul and to assist with their acceleration of the immigrant visa process, the special immigrant visa process.
that is what our focus is on right now. >> how close is the government to closing its empathy in kabul? mr. kirby: you would have to talk to my colleagues at the state department. they get to decide that. they have made it clear that as of today, they are reducing, not eliminate a -- eliminating, their diplomatic presence in kabul. we are simply helping them support that reduction. >> are these three thousand u.s. troops going to kabul, is this a combat deployment? mr. kirby: i didn't sleep on the question, lucas. i thought i answered it well yesterday. >> john, these soldiers and marines are fully kitted out, putting on nightvision goggles, and landing in kabul, taking position to the airport. mr. kirby: they're certainly going into harm's way, lucas. lucas. they will be armed and have the right to self-defense. i do not think i could've made it any more clear that if there is an attack upon our forces, our commanders have now and
always have had the right and responsibility to defend themselves and any attack on our forces in afghanistan will be met swiftly with a forceful and appropriate response. i know you want to get into the nomenclature. nobody is walking away from the fact that this is dangerous. in fact, i think one of things i said at the opening of the press conference is i will not provide a lot of operational detail because we know it is dangerous. we are all mindful of the perilous situation in afghanistan. and the security situation. i find it a little -- i find it frustrating that you are trying to pin me down on a nomenclature here. like we are afraid to say the word "combat" after 20 years of being in afghanistan. we understand what we are facing right now. we are taking the risks very seriously. our troops and their leaders will have all the rights and responsibilities they need to protect themselves and their
combat. >> does that defense secretary recommend this withdrawal of american troops from kabul? before this week? mr. kirby: i will not talk about the secretary's recommendations to the commander-in-chief. >> do you think it is important for history for the transcript for the people watching this briefing, did the defense secretary support the full military withdrawal from kabul? mr. kirby: lucas, i am not now and haven't and never will talk about the secretary's advice and counsel to the commander-in-chief. that is inappropriate. the president has made his decision and we are executing that decision. he has also made additional decisions such as helping the state department reduce personnel and we will support that. >> some veterans think the americans should pull everyone out of kabul. the u.s. government should pull all americans out of kabul and level the embassy. what you think about that? mr. kirby: one of the great things about this country is that people are free to express their opinions about anything
that they want. what i'm here to do, lucas, my job is to articulate the policies we are executing and the way we are executing them and that is my focus today, to tell you what we have been ordered to do and how we will execute those orders. >> it is time to pull all americans out? mr. kirby: we are focused on helping the state department reduce the footprint in kabul. that is what we are focused on and going to be doing. >> i would like to follow-up on lucas's fourth question. [laughter] you talked about how the troops there have the inherent right of self-defense. that was going to be my question. there is a practical purpose for sending troops there, which you have described in general terms. i know you don't want to get into specifics, but is there a secondary fact that you're having by sending these troops there into kabul, sending a message to the taliban that
these troops are here, don't attack us, we are here to carry out our mission, and at the same time, saying we are here to support the government of kabul. mr. kirby: are you suggesting there is a contradiction? >> no. i'm trying to ask, is there a messaging intention as well by sending these troops there as well? i understand the primary mission there is to do this, protect the forces and americans and afghans and interpreters and families as they leave, but is there a secondary effect you are gaining by sending these troops there, which is to message the taliban, don't attack us while we are doing this? mr. kirby: the main purpose for these troops is to conduct this particular mission and, as i said yesterday, the secretary made his decisions based on prudence and to make sure that you have what you need.
and that you have reserve if you need reserves. we do not know exactly how the situation is going to unfold. he did not choose these units or this approach to send a message. he chose these units and this approach to accomplish a mission and make sure he had enough capability and to pass to the to do it safely and in an orderly fashion. that said, and i have said this three or four times, if the forces are attacked and threatened, we have the ability, the right of self-defense and will respond in a forceful and appropriate way. >> a quick follow-up. we have talked about the 82nd airborne going into kuwait that could be on standby if needed. is their mission going to be, if needed, exactly like the ones from the 3000 arriving by the end of this weekend or would there be something different?
mr. kirby: say that again? >> the bct headed to kuwait. should they be called upon, are they going to be doing exactly what the 3000 battalions arriving in kabul by the end of the weekend? or is there something they might do else? mr. kirby: there reserves that we have available to us, should they be needed, for any number of security missions. again, i couldn't begin to speculate what they would look like, the missions, but they will have capabilities that are commensurate with the infantry battalions that are going to the international airport over the next few days. thank you. >> thank you. pakistan is blaming the u.s. for the crisis in afghanistan and also, the prime minister of
pakistan noted the taliban government in kabul. finally, if any country in the region, including india, asked the u.s. help in the mission of regulation. mr. kirby: i don't know of any other nations involved in this. i mean, these are sovereign decisions nationstates have to make. should we be asked to support any movement by our allies and partners, we can do that and will do that. i don't know of any such requests or such requirements. just broadly speaking, what we said before, any of afghanistan's neighboring nations -- any nations in the international community that believe they have or want to have a stake in the future of afghanistan, we simply would
urge them to act in ways that helps lead to those kinds of better outcomes for the afghan people and to help us continue to pursue a negotiated political settlement. >> thank you, john. you said yesterday that you thought this was the right time for this mission. lawmakers from both parties say the right time for the mission was back in may or june. can you square those things? why did you take so long? mr. kirby: we said for quite some time we have a moral obligation to help those who helped us and that we were ready, willing, and able to support efforts to move special immigrants, people applying for a special immigrant visa out of
the country. we have met that obligation. it is a process that, as you know, does not reside here at the defense department. it is a process that has requirements. what i can tell you is from a dod perspective, it is not something we ever lost sight of , it was not an obligation we all of a sudden forgot and came around to. as i said at the outset, we plan for a lot of contingencies. this was certainly one of them. tony. >> i had a couple questions. you said dod is a planning organization. has there been presented a contingency plan to reintroduce u.s. troops a la what we did in 2014 in iraq if the white house requested?
has that plan been crafted? mr. kirby: that we are planning organization is true. we do not talk about everything a plan on the books. our focus right now, tony, and the plans we are executing are to meet the president's drawdown requirement by the end of this month and to assist the drawdown of state department personnel, also, by the end of the month. i will not speculate about what things look like going forward. again, i would remind tony that this mission is narrowly focused, very specific, tailored mission to support the state department at this particular time. go ahead. >> second question. you have heard the narrative and questions from reporters and everybody else about, is this a repeat of the fall of saigon? you're not a historian but i know a number of you guys are thinking, how do you answer that question?
can you give a sense of where the analogy is at? what is going up now with the follow-up -- are now with the fall of saigon? mr. kirby: we are not focused on the history of the vietnam war. we are just not. we are focused on meeting the requirements that we have today. that is where our head space is. we have seen the punditry and the commentary. it is best to leave that to historians. what we are focused on is making sure that we meet our commitments to our state department colleagues and that we continue to meet our commitments, while we have the authorities and capabilities, to our afghan partners on the ground. >> what does it say for a 20 year war in afghanistan if it ends with the taliban rolling into kabul in u.s.-made humvees
that our allies gave them? mr. kirby: i cannot say the future but what i can tell you -- see the future but what i can tell you is our troops deployed to afghanistan after 9/11 did what they were sent there to do, which was to prevent afghanistan for being a safe haven for terrorist attacks upon our homeland and to severely degrade the capabilities of groups like al qaeda. in the process of that effort, a lot of progress was made in afghanistan. progress which we obviously do not want to see put at greater risk. going forward, we are going to do a couple of things. we are going to make sure a terrorist threat cannot emanate from afghanistan again by maintaining robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region. and we are going to continue to support our afghan partners, bilaterally, through maintenance support, financial support, and we are going to continue to want to see a stable and secure afghanistan. the other thing i would say is
we want to continue to see that there is a negotiated political settlement here for governance going forward. that is what our focus is on right now. >> do you think the taliban is interested in negotiating? they don't seem interested in that. do you really think they're a legitimate negotiate partner? mr. kirby: that is a question for taliban leaders to speak to. they have a team in doha. they have participated in the past in negotiations. whether they are still interested in that are not is for them to speak to. we are still interested in seeing that outcome. so should the rest of the international community. >> a follow-up on mike's question. on the weapons. will the u.s. allow -- does it look like that advanced aircraft we provided afghan forces over the years, will u.s. allow those aircraft to fall into taliban hands or are there plans underway to make sure it does not happen? mr. kirby: you can understand why i will not speculate about
that. there is an afghan air force in place. they are flying missions every day. we have made commitments to help improve their capabilities. those commitments remain in place, including refurbishing blackhawk helicopters, helping refinance mi 17's in terms of financial, contractual support. i will not speculate about the destruction of personnel -- the destruction of property going forward. we are going to continue to stay focused on making sure they have the capabilities to use in the field. >> would you say the u.s. would not allow those aircraft to fall into the taliban's hands? mr. kirby: we are always worried about u.s. equipment that could fall into an adversary's hands. that is something we have never lost focus on. what actions we might take to prevent that or to forestall it, i will not speculate about those.
paul from politico. ok. i guess paul is not there. jeff. >> thank you. i wanted to clarify something you said earlier. you said with the airlift, the military will be able to move thousands of people per day. were you speaking specifically about afghans? should i say, john kirby said the military will have the ability to move thousands of afghans and their families per day? mr. kirby: jeff, i think you can surmise that when i say thousands of people, that would include a population of afghans. of course, they are being processed through the special immigrant visa program, including their families. ok. that is about it for today. thank you very much. we are all set. we are all set.
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joint chief of staff john millie. then john kirby again on the situation in afghanistan. after that, rnc chairwoman mcdaniel speaking at the rnc summit meeting in nashville. later, mississippi governor tate reeves gives an update on the states response to the pandemic cash on the state's response -- on the state's response to the pandemic. announcer: other topics included the u.s. withdrawal from afghanistan, threats from china, russia, and iran, and the military's response to sexual assault allegations among service members. this is just over three hours. >> he's going on to do three more of these.