Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, briefed reporters about the capture of alleged terrorist Ahmed Abu Khatallah for civilian prosecution over the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Khattalah is now being held at a secure location outside of Libya and will be prosecuted in Washington, D.C. Kirby avoided providing details about the capture, or how the suspect is currently being handled, although he did admit to a two-day delay in announcing the capture. He also covered other subjects, such as Iraq, Pakistan and the return of a U.S. POW from Afghanistan.
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Presenter: Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
June 17, 2014
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Sunday night, on orders from the commander in chief, the United States military conducted an operation to capture Ahmed Abu Khattalah. Khattalah has been charged for his role in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. No U.S. personnel or civilians were injured in this operation, which was carried out in close coordination with law enforcement personnel.
The United States has taken Khattalah to a secure location outside Libya. He will be brought to the United States to stand trial in a court of law. Secretary Hagel is proud of everyone who meticulously planned and executed this operation. They took great personal risk to fulfill our pledge that the United States will do whatever it takes to ensure justice comes to those who harm American citizens.
It is also an important reminder to the American people as well as to our partners and our adversaries alike that the U.S. military works every single day to be ready to carry out the orders of the commander in chief and to defend this nation.
Just a quick note on scheduling, as you may know, Secretary Hagel will testify on our budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense tomorrow. And on Thursday, he will host the German minister of defense for her first visit to the Pentagon since taking office earlier this year.
With that, I’ll take your questions. Lita?
Q: John, can you say whether he will be coming back here to D.C. area for trial? Is that the plan?
And he was living out in the open in Libya for some time. I mean, he was interviewed by reporters, press last — last year. Can you address why this took so long and whether or not there was any either notification or coordination with the Libyans at all, anyone?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, there’s a lot there.
On where he’s coming back to stand trial, I’d refer you to the Justice Department. I just — I can’t speak to that.
What I can tell you is that certainly the — we have long maintained — on the consultations with Libya, we’ve long made it clear that we were going to hold accountable the perpetrators of — of Benghazi. This is — this should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all the Libyan government. And — and I can tell you that they were — they were notified — they were notified about the — about this capture operation.
On the — I’m sorry, your other one was — oh, about — about living in — well, look, terrorists go to great lengths to evade capture and it can be — it can be a complicated process trying to get at them. And you don’t ever want to execute a mission like this, a complicated mission like this that — you know, without — without having the proper information and resources all in place.
And so, what matters is not that — not that it — that it took a matter of time to get him, but that we got him. And I can’t speak for his living habits. But let’s just say for argument’s sake he was living in plain sight. He’s not anymore.
Q: Just for clarification, the Libyans were notified prior to the
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the…
Q: … after?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not gonna get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions. I can tell you the Libyan government was notified.
Q: Admiral, on the raid itself, were any shots fired? Were any combatants killed? How long were they on the ground doing this raid? And where exactly did it take place?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said in the outset, there were no casualties, civilian or otherwise as a result of this.
I’m not gonna get into the details of how the operation was actually executed.
And, I’m sorry, you had another one.
Q: How long were they on the ground? How long did it take to get this whole thing done? And where?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, yeah, again, I’m not gonna get into specifics on the actual execution of the operation. I can tell you that the capture took place near Benghazi.
Q: Where is — where is he being held now? And will the U.S. military transport him back to the U.S. for his eventual trial?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He is in a secure location outside of Libya. That’s as far — that’s as much detail as I’m gonna offer on that.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And he’s in U.S. custody.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside Libya. And that’s as far as I’m gonna go.
And I — I don’t have visibility into the precise, you know, transportation arrangements. The point is, that he’s going to be brought back here to the United States to stand trial.
Q: And who — who specifically was the U.S. military force that went in to get him? What was the service?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not gonna identify specific units.
Q: And has he been read his rights?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m — he — he’s in U.S. custody in a secure location. I’m not gonna get into — I’m not — I’m not gonna get into those kinds of details.
And again, that’s a question better put to the Justice Department, not to the military.
Q: Why can’t you get into those details? If he’s charged in federal court…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Mm-hmm.
Q: … and you said he’s coming back here. Why is — why the — why can’t the government say who’s holding him, where he’s being held, and whether his rights have been read?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is a — this isn’t just about a successful capture. This is about a legal process. And I think it’s important to preserve the integrity of that process. And on the — on the operational details, as you know, we don’t routinely talk about many of the operations we conduct for good reason.
Q: But in the legal process in the United States, if someone’s arrested, the government has to say where they’re being held, you know, who arrested them, under what conditions. Why is this different?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’re perfectly willing to consult the Justice Department for — for questions about the legal process. I’m no lawyer. What I’m telling you is, speaking for the military, we’re not gonna get into the details of either the operation or his location.
Q: So, is he under interrogation now, U.S. military interrogation? Someone is interrogating him…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not gonna speak to the legal process here.
Q: And while you won’t get into the details of the capture, was he captured — when he was captured, was it a — was he taken into custody without any violence? I mean, I’m not asking for details. I’m asking for…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, that’s a detail.
Q: Characterize the nature of the capture.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I mean successful.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Obviously successful. And I’m just not — I’m not gonna get in — I’m not gonna get into — into a tick-tock here. I just don’t think that that’s — that’s appropriate right now.
The important thing is, and I think the important thing for everybody to remember is, he’s no longer on the streets. And he will be held accountable. He will be tried in a court of law here in the United States. I think that’s the most important thing to remember. And you know, not every little tick-tock detail about how it came to be.
Q: Do you think the capture of Abu Khattalah could lead to the arrest of other leaders among the Ansar al-Sharia in Libya?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: As I said, I think to Lita’s question, we made no secret of the fact that — that we’re gonna continue to pursue those who do Americans harm, including those who were involved in the attacks in Benghazi.
But, counterterrorism is an ongoing mission of the United States military all over the world. So it — it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we’re going to continue to pursue these guys.
Q: After his capture have you taken any extra security measures to secure the embassy in Tripoli?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to the State Department to talk about security at their embassies. Typically, we don’t talk about specific force protection measures. We do what we need to do to protect our people.
And part of being able to — part of being able to do that is to not openly talk about force protection measures and to be able to change them from time to time. So I certainly wouldn’t comment for that.
Q: Admiral, on Iraq, there’s been some reports that ISIS controls some air defense systems, including potentially American-made Stinger missiles.
As this department prepares options that you’ve talked about for the president on Iraq potentially, can you confirm that and can you talk at all about what their anti-air system position might be right now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is — you’re talking about the ISIL?
Q: In Iraq.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. I can’t confirm; as I said yesterday, I can’t confirm specifics about what equipment or systems they possess. Clearly, we know that, as they have moved and taken over places and some bases, that they have — they have captured some equipment.
We don’t have a perfect inventory of that. The Iraqi government is investigating all that. I would remind you then that this is their property, not ours. But we don’t have a perfect — we don’t have perfect visibility.
And on Stingers, I have — I’ve seen no firm indications that they’re in possession of that particular system.
Q: Yesterday you announced that there was going to be some flight support going into Iraq. I’m wondering is that going to be at Baghdad International? Is there, addition to service members at the embassy compound, is there also going to be a contingent or a small footprint of troops out at the –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You say announced flights?
Q: Flight support units –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, flight support. Well, look, I mean, as you saw the president advised — notified Congress under the War Powers Act that a number of up to approximately 275. So I can break that down a little bit for you.
And we’ve talked about this over the weekend. There was some static security personnel that were — that were sent to augment security in Baghdad, particularly at the embassy. And it’s a — it’s a mix but it’s of forces, but it’s roughly about 160 or so that are there, providing what we would call static security, to assist there.
And there is another 100 or so that will be forward stationed — that are forward stationed outside Iraq — to be ready in case there’s a need for them. And one of the things that this group does and is proficient at is airport management and security, that kind of thing. But they are outside Iraq. And they’re available if needed.
Q: (INAUDIBLE) outside Iraq? So this –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re available if needed. They’re outside Iraq right now.
Q: Of those 100 –
Q: — do those include contingency response airmen to help set up –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to detail the eaches of every unit. I’ve gone about as far on the detail that I intend to go. There’s about 100; they’re outside Iraq. And part of their mission is to provide airport management services and support.
You had a question?
Q: They’re available to go into Iraq or they’re available for this — a larger mission where they would continue to serve the mission?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think without getting into hypotheticals, they’re available for a wide range of missions inside their skill set. And not all of those missions have to be inside Iraq.
Q: (INAUDIBLE) –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Q: No, that’s OK, because you’re not going to answer it. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, no, the 275 — if they’re included in the 275, which is –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not — I’m not — we typically don’t talk about hypothetical future operations. They’re there; they are prepared and trained and ready should they be needed to go inside Iraq. They aren’t right now. And I’m — I just, you know, I don’t know how I can better answer a mission or a request that hasn’t — that hasn’t happened.
Q: Right. But you were making it sound before like they were going to support from outside Iraq. That’s all I was trying to clear up is the president said 275 in the War Powers Act, there’s a hundred or I don’t know how many more. The number changes every three hours, it seems like. Last night it was 170. Now you’re saying it’s closer to 160.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The War Powers notification said up to, OK. It didn’t — it didn’t say absolute ceiling. So that’s one thing.
And number two — and if I was unclear, I’ll — I’ll state it again. They are outside of Iraq. They are not in the country but they are ready if they’re needed to be called on. And because of that, because they had to be forward deployed and to be prepared, it required notification.
Did that get any closer?
Q: No. But that’s fine.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK. Nancy.
Q: I’d like to go back to Libya if I could, please.
You said earlier that the Libyan government had been notified. But Libya’s — Tripoli’s hold on Eastern Libya’s tenuous at best.
Can you give us anymore detail in terms of who in the Libyan government was notified?
And also, I’d like to know how much General Khalifa Haftar’s operations in Eastern Libya had an effect, if any, on this operation.
And finally, to go back to Lita’s question about — that he was able to move freely in Libya for — for two years, were there any previous attempts to try to capture him? If you could give us anymore clarity as to why it took more than — more than two years to go after someone who was — who was operating openly in Benghazi?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK. Let me see if I can remember them.
Q: Who in the government…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Who in the government, I won’t talk about the details of diplomatic discussions.
I’m not going to talk about the specifics of the operation so on your second question about Haftar, I’m — I’m — I’m simply not going to go there.
Now on your third one, I mean, you know, there’s this — the presumption in the question is that — is that, you know, he was going to McDonald’s for milkshakes every Friday night and we could have just picked him up in a taxicab.
I mean, these — these people deliberately try to evade capture and — and putting yourself in a position where you can properly I.D. and — and move against them takes a lot of planning. And I don’t think anybody’s going to apologize for the effort over such a long period of time that eventually led to his capture.
I mean, again, let’s not miss the major point here, is he’s — he’s captured. He’s not on the streets of Benghazi.
Q: But the question was just — was simply whether you’ve tried once before.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have — I don’t have any information on that. And frankly I don’t know how it’s relevant to the fact that we got him today.
Q: Well, could I — on the second question, can you just say whether Libyan forces at all were involved?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: This was a unilateral United States mission.
Let me get to Phil, and I’ll come to you.
Q: I mean, on that point, I know you can’t get into the details of the operation but can you give us at least a sense of timing? Was this in the night time, overnight? What time on Sunday?
And why did it — why would it take, you know — I know that there’s some operational security issues when they’re getting him out of the country. But why two days to announce that this operation…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The operation took place over the course of the weekend. The actual physical capture was Sunday afternoon, our time.
I’m sorry, your other one was — oh, why did it take two days to — well, look, as I said, to — I think it was Craig, this isn’t just a military operation. This was very much an interagency effort.
And there — there is a — there is a legal component to this, a judicial component to this and we have to respect the integrity of that process. And so — so it just — it just — that process required taking a little bit of time before — before we could talk about it.
Plus we had to be — we had to also make sure that — that those involved, that their security and safety was — was looked after as well.
Q: Admiral Kirby, can you clarify? You’ve said a couple of times a judicial — judicial component prevented you, the military, from acknowledging this and it prevents you from talking about it in detail.
Can you tell us specifically what that judicial component is? What is it in the law that prevents you…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn’t say — if I — I didn’t mean to convey that there was some legal prohibition.
What I said was there’s a process. There’s a — there’s a judicial process here. I’m not an expert on it. I mean, I’m — but…
Q: What have they told you that prevents you from speaking about this?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re speaking about it now.
Q: Admiral Kirby, you’ve declined several times to offer details on the basis of the judicial process and judicial component.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And — and also good ground on operational security.
Q: It’s over now though so what…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There are lots of operations that are concluded that we don’t ever talk about.
Q: But what is the judicial — you have referenced judicial component and judicial process. I’m simply asking what is the judicial process or component…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There’s an integrity to the process by which an individual is taken to trial. We’re gonna respect that process. As part of that process we’re gonna protect certain information. And part of that information that we’re gonna protect is the details of this operation.
Q: What legally is the basis — what — what have they told you why you can’t talk about it legally?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I will refer you to the Department of Justice for that answer.
Q: In his recent statement the attorney general has said — he said that we have conducted a thorough unrelenting investigation across continents. And now, once they have conducted the investigation, why are they still holding back on the — we are talking as if we have just picked him up without any investigation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not sure I understand your question.
Q: My question is that…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You want more information?
Q: … is giving a statement and that they have, if I’m quoting him, “a thorough, unrelenting investigation across continents.” And so, if the investigation by Department of Justice has been done, why are we not getting more details about this person?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it’s a Justice Department investigation, so I’d refer you to them to speak to that.
Our role — well, wait a second now — our role was participating in this operation, which we did. Which we did successfully, without anybody getting hurt. And a real bad guy is no longer walking around Benghazi. And I think we just need to focus on that.
And I don’t — and I’m simply not gonna get into the operational details at this time. I’m just not gonna do it. And it doesn’t — it doesn’t matter if this Justice Department investigation is complete or not. That’s not for me to speak to.
Q: So then, are you continuing your — I mean, we will have more arrests in the coming days, weeks?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna get ahead of — – of operations that haven’t happened yet. I said at the outset, where we’ve — never lost a focus on those that wish us harm. We’ve never lost a focus on the perpetrators of Benghazi. We’ve never lost our focus on counterterrorism, not in the past 13 years. Spence?
Q: You said the capture operation itself is unilateral, but did any Libyan force or militia play any role in facilitating it, whether it had to do with information coming out of Libya?
And, on Iraq, do any of the options you’re preparing for the president get complicated or foreclosed upon by the length of time it’s taken to make a decision?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, to your second question. And no to your first question. It was a unilateral military operation. That was the easiest two I’ve had all day.
Q: Admiral Kirby, going back to Iraq, have any additional transport or strike aircraft been moved into the region to get the president more flexibility and more options?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q: On Iraq, we have seen today a media report saying that despite the U.S. has the capability to strike Iraq in few hours, as of now, the U.S. military doesn’t know what — exactly what are the targets to strike.
Do you agree with that? Or if not, do you — could you confirm that the U.S. military knows exactly what to — who — where to strike in,..
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the question presumes that the president’s already made a decision to conduct air strikes, and — and he hasn’t.
So, look, I’ve said it before, our job is to provide options, viable, credible options to the president of the United States, the commander in chief. He makes those decisions. And — and whatever decisions he makes — and, by the way, you know, we’re also all assuming that military options are the only options available to him, and that’s not the case either.
And — but should the president decide to use the military tool in whatever way that he decides to do it, we’ll execute. We’ll execute smartly, effectively and efficiently.
But I’m not gonna go beyond that.
Let’s pick somebody else.
Q: OK, let’s say the president does choose to use the military tool.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Oh, good, another hypothetical. I love it.
Q: … break the momentum of ISIS, what quantifies as a successful operation at this point in time? And, if it’s not — you know, if you can’t disperse some of the violence going on, what’s the backup plan?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you just jumped two or three steps here, didn’t you?
Look, I — the — where we are right now in the process is that the national security team continues to meet and to discuss and to review options available to the commander in chief, to the president. Not all of those options are military. Some of them are.
The president hasn’t made final decisions right now. And we have to preserve that space for him to do that. And so, I — while it’s an interesting hypothetical exercise, and the questions you pose, you know, again, interesting questions, but I — we’re not — we’re not at that stage where we can answer those.
Our job thus far has been to provide him viable options; we’re doing that, we’ve done that. The discussions are ongoing and then, you know, when there’s something to announce, I’m sure the president will do that.
Q: A lot of the public’s going to be listening to you saying, ‘well ISIS or ISIL is about 30 or 40 miles outside of Baghdad right now and yet you’re still mulling options.’
Question is this, does this building now feel that the — these Iraqi security forces have stiffened their resistance and they’re breaking the momentum on ISIS? is the momentum on their own? Or does the — do the people you consult with, are they concerned that this group is going to penetrate Baghdad fairly soon?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re watching events unfold; we’re watching it as closely as we can. You are right that there are elements of ISIL not very far from Baghdad.
We also have reason to believe — certainly indications — that the Iraqi security forces are stiffening their resistance and their defense and are coalescing, particularly in and around Baghdad, and that’s encouraging.
And so I mean I — it’s hard for me to speak for the intent of ISIL. But it does appear as if — as if those Iraqi security forces and Shia militia members that are assisting are stiffening their defense of Baghdad and the — and the surrounding area.
Q: And is this giving the White House and the national security apparatus some breathing room to consider options more?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think — I think I would just say like — that everybody on the national security team understands the sense of urgency there in Iraq and the seriousness of the threat, and they’re having the discussions in that context, you know, understanding fully that, you know, this is a very serious threat.
And it’s an — and it’s a — and it’s a — and I know where you’re going, I mean, this isn’t about breathing space. It’s about making measured, deliberate decisions that make the most sense. And it’s a complicated issue.
Everybody understands the seriousness of the threat. Everybody — believe me, everybody has noticed the speed with which ISIL has moved inside Iraq. But that doesn’t mean that you rush to a decision. And again, that’s — that space belongs to the commander in chief, not to the Pentagon. Our job is to give him options.
Q: You’re seeing some resistance, the Iraqi forces are fighting back. This is not like — it’s not like the last night of the Alamo, where Baghdad’s going to fall. You’re seeing some stiffening resistance.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I said that. I said that. I said we’re seeing indications certainly that Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad are stiffening themselves, they’re being assisted by Shia militia members. And it certainly appears as if they have the will to defend the capital.
Q: One question on the raid.
Was it a conventional force or a special operations force that went in and did it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, I’m not going to get into the details.
Q: Why can’t you do that?
Q: (Inaudible) at West Point said the Pentagon would be more transparent about counterterrorism operations, this is one example.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have to tell you, I — you know, I don’t think you’re going to find a federal agency that is more transparent and open than the military, than the Pentagon. I know you don’t like that, and I know you don’t agree with it. But I can tell you it’s true. I mean, we’re as transparent as we can be.
But part of our job is to defend the United States and the American people and sometimes that means not talking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
Q: Special forces — special operations forces or conventional. I mean the Post is saying it was Delta Force, I don’t know what they’re getting that, but I’m not asking you to acknowledge that. But were they special mission units or conventional U.S. military?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I am not going to talk about the specifics of the operation or the units involved.
Q: John, you talked about the militia, the Shia militia playing a role, can you quantify that in some way in terms we’re talking about scores, hundreds of fighters?
And are these militia that are — have been in Iraq or are they some of the militia that have been recalled…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, I don’t have — I don’t have perfect visibility on these guys. I mean we just have indications that they are — that they are engaging, and I would be loath to put a number on it, Eric. I mean this isn’t — it’s not like we get nose counts of these guys.
But clearly we have indications that they are — that they are — that they are finding common cause with the Iraqi security forces in this regard. But again I wouldn’t be able to speak with any specificity about that.
Q: Do you have any indication whether General Suleimani is directing any of these militias and what role he is playing as head of the Qods force?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I have nothing on that. I have nothing on that.
Q: I want to try once again on the numbers, please. Under War Powers, the president said up to 275.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: The hundred special operators, are they included in the 275 or are they in addition to?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I did not say they were special operators.
And I guess — let me — let me try — let me try — I mean — I mean, clearly I have not done a good job of explaining this so let me try it again.
Over the weekend, we flowed into Iraq and it took — you know, it — it took the weekend to get everybody in. But roughly about 160 troops. These are security assistance troops, mixed services — and I’m not going to break it down by service or by unit — to provide security assistance to the embassy and associated facilities.
As they, the embassy, reevaluated security there and as they, the embassy, relocated mostly with inside Iraq, as I understand it, some personnel. We did not transport those personnel. We did not ferry those personnel. These troops were sent to provide additional security assistance.
Now because of their job, they had to be armed. And because they were armed, there was a requirement to notify Congress.
In addition to that 160 or so, there is another 100 troops that have been staged outside of Iraq. They can conduct lots of different missions. One of them is airport management but another one is security.
They are there as a contingency force. They are there to be ready if they’re needed to go inside Iraq if required.
That doesn’t mean that they will. But because they too are armed to defend themselves, they were included in the War Powers notification to Congress, bringing the total to of about 270. The document said up to approximately 275.
So that’s the math. Did that — did that do a better job of it? Court, is that better?
Q: Yeah, that’s 260, the math.
Q: Your statement yesterday said 170. Today, you’re saying 160.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: 160, 100, 260, 270. I mean, it’s — it’s — it’s about 160 to 170, OK? I mean, I don’t have the exact nose count. But it is in keeping with the notification that went to Congress.
Q: And a hundred are in Kuwait?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about their specific location. They’re outside Iraq.
Q: And one more numbers question. How many ISIL do you estimate are operating in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ve said it before, we don’t have a perfect number but I think it’s in the thousands. It’s in the thousands.
Q: It’s pretty broad but…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. It is pretty broad.
Q: (inaudible) 4,000, 5,000…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s in the thousands, Justin. Yeah.
Q: Can I ask you a Kuwait question?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: You have a robust Army presence in Kuwait. You have a brigade there. You have an aviation brigade.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Has there been any consideration of using them as part of the options that you’re contemplating potentially for Iraq? I mean, given that it’s such a ready force.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The Army routinely deploys, as you know, a rotational brigade in and out of Kuwait. That rotational presence continues. They’re available for a range of contingencies across Central Command region. They’re there.
Q: Does that include potentially evacuation assistance?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They’re available for a range of missions, Luis. And there’s been no request by the State Department to conduct evacuations.
And I would remind you that you know, even when, you know — when the State Department does decide to do evacuations, wherever it is in the world, they don’t turn immediately and first to the military instrument of power to help assist with that.
Yeah, go ahead. In the back.
Q: Is there a concern about the — the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and is doing U.S. something to provide some relief to the displaced people?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I am not going to get ahead of decisions the president hasn’t made.
Again, we’re watching the situation in Iraq very, very closely. The military has provided options to the president to consider. We need to let that process go.
Q: I understand about half a million is moving in the Kurdish area. Do you have any assessment on this is impacting the…
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I do not. I do not. No.
I can take a couple more.
Q: Beyond — President Obama’s ruled out putting troops on the ground in Iraq for combat roles. But under the OSCI — OSCI operation, are there any limits to what the U.S. military could do in Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The OSCI mission, Office of Security Cooperation — the key being cooperation, and that’s a — that’s a small group; they’ve been — less than 200 have been in Iraq since the end of the combat mission in 2011. They continue to be there. Their job is to help train, advise and assist the Iraqi security forces. That’s a job that we believe is still relevant, and they’re still doing that.
Q: Are there any limits to what they can do in Iraq? I mean, they (inaudible) that would be –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they have — they have a clearly defined role, which is to help train, advise and assist; that’s what they do. And that’s the scope of their mission. That’s the scope of their mission.
The president was very clear. He’s not considering a new combat mission for American troops inside Iraq. That’s been very clear.
Q: Admiral Kirby, back to Benghazi, Republican members of Congress, of course, set up a special committee to look into the whole affair.
In one of their main criticisms, you know, forever, has been that the perpetrators of this, the original attack, were still walking around — this touches on Lita’s question, on Nancy’s question; were still walking around Benghazi, in Libya, out in the open.
Now that Khattalah has been captured, do you think this should take or would you hope that this should take some of the steam out of their investigation, the special committee work, and so forth?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That he’s been captured that it would take steam out of the…
Q: Yes, one of the — again, one of their main criticisms has been that the perps have not — were not brought to justice, that they were wandering around out in the open, where everybody could see them; they were talking with reporters.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think — look, I — I’m not going to get into a political debate here. The message that this sends is pretty strong.
As I said at the outset to the American people, to our friends and partners, but also to our adversaries that we take these threats seriously, and we’re going to hold you — we’re going to hold you accountable.
And I think the capture over the weekend — and I’d like us not to forget the larger issue here, the successful capture of this individual, sends that signal in the — in the strongest possible sense. I mean, if you need a tangible demonstration of our commitment, ask Abu Khattalah.
Q: Is he in military custody then?
Q: On Pakistan, Admiral, you’ve been pressing Pakistan for so long to root out the safe havens.
Now that operation has begun, how would you rate success in terms of U.S. interests?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the operation, as you said, just began and I’m — we’re not going to certainly rush to judgment here on how it proceeds. I think it’s a testament to the degree to which Pakistan and the United States and Afghanistan have a shared threat and a shared challenge to deal with.
And we obviously hope that the operation that the Pakistani military is conducting is successful because it does, you know, it does represent a common enemy. And, again, I said it before but it’s worth reminding, I mean that we recognize that the Pakistani military has taken casualties in this fight for many years. This isn’t the first time that they’ve conducted operations there.
And the recent attacks in Karachi at the airport I think are a very stark reminder of how the threat affects the Pakistani people. So again we wish them well and, you know, we’re — we look forward to seeing them succeed.
Q: Do you expect the (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You’d have to talk to the Pakistani military about their intent and objectives. I’m not going to speak for another military.
I’ll take one more.
Q: Are you coordinating with them on ensuring that the militants who might be fleeing from Pakistan into Afghanistan are –
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is daily constant communication between the ISAF forces under General Dunford and Pakistani counterparts on various levels. And I won’t — I won’t get into details about the specifics on this particular operation. But communication with the Pakistani military continues, and must continue.
Phil, this will be my last one.
Q: Last question, sir, the Pakistani Army’s joint chief of staff. He’s here in Washington.
Has he asked for any help in the operation or in dealing with the aftermath of the operations?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q: Admiral, the Army has identified the officer that’s going to look into Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance a couple of years ago and we got as part of that announcement that he will talk with Sergeant Bergdahl once his reintegration process is finished and he’s prepared to be debriefed and have those discussions.
Do you know if that — is when that investigation will begin or is he going to start now and then get to Bergdahl at some point down the line once he’s ready to talk?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I tell you, I’d really point you to the Army on that. I don’t want to speak for their investigative process, but as you rightly said, they did name an officer to do this. And I think they’ve made it clear that they want him to be as thorough as he needs to be and take as long as he needs to take to get it done.
Obviously a key part of that will be talking to Sergeant Bergdahl at the appropriate time. I mean, let’s not — again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. He’s just now in phase three of reintegration; he’s got a — he’s got a long road ahead of him still. And I think Secretary Hagel has made it clear that our first priority is his health and well-being. And that the investigative process, we’ll get to there at the appropriate time. And he’ll get to tell his story.
Thanks everybody, appreciate it.