WASHINGTON: Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby has said that US condemned today’s attack on Kandahar Airfield, home to several hundred U.S. and coalition personnel. While the attack resulted in no casualties or damage, the Taliban’s decision to provoke even more violence in Afghanistan remains disruptive to the opportunity for peace presented by ongoing negotiations.
He said that we always have the right of self-defense for — for our troops, but our focus right now is on supporting a diplomatic process here to try to bring this war to a negotiated end with an enduring and sustainable peace, a political settlement— goal right now, as well as, of course, the current mission is in effect, which is to continue to advise and assist Afghan National Security Forces as they improve their capabilities to — to defend their own citizens.
“I think, it’s hard for me to get in — it’s hard for us to get inside the head of the Taliban and exactly what their goal and intent was here. And this just happened today, so I can’t deliver a — a comprehensive analysis of what we believe they were trying to achieve or what message we — you know, they — they were trying to send” he said.
He further said that we believe that this decision to provoke — provoke even more violence remains disruptive to what we believe is an opportunity for peace that’s presented by these ongoing negotiations. And — and I’m not prepared to, again, today, offer an assessment here of exactly what this means to the agreement or to the peace process going forward.
Kirby added that and then your question about why not respond? I mean, this just happened today. I think we need to do a fuller assessment of — of ourselves of what happened and why before any potential operational decision is made one way or the other.
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby on Thursday said that we were delighted to have the first lady, Dr. Biden, visit the facilities of Military OneSource, the call center in Arlington and she announced today the return of Joining Forces, and her visit recognized the important role of the Military OneSource Call Center as the department’s flagship program for comprehensive resources in support of well-being and readiness.
Earlier today, the first lady also officially announced the return of Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling on all Americans to mobilize around service members, veterans and their families to support them through wellness, education and employment opportunities.
Also this morning, some of you may have noticed this — the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency conducted a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Mi-17 tragedy here in the POW/MIA Corridor at the Pentagon. The event honored 16 U.S. and Vietnamese personnel who lost their lives in — in an April 7th, 2001 helicopter crash in Vietnam. For those connected to the Department of Defense mission.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley attended, as well as Mr. Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency; also, the ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United States attended as well, and delivered remarks.
Pentagon Press secretary Kirby said that Secretary Austin spoke by phone today with his Finnish counterpart, Minister of Defense Antti Kaikkonen. The secretary also reaffirmed that the U.S. seeks to be the partner of choice for Finland’s defense modernization needs.
And with that, we’ll go to questions. Bob?
While answering to a question regarding the U.S.-Iraqi strategic dialogue, he said that the joint statement says that what we — what the two sides have agree to is to — some additional technical talks on the eventual redeployment. And I think we all realized when we were invited in by the government of Iraq that this mission was aligned against ISIS and that there was no expectation that — that it was going to be a permanent, enduring mission or footprint.
He said that staying of U.S. military in Iraq is a mutual decision by the Iraqi government and the United States government; we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And the mission is singly focused on going after ISIS.
He added that the 2,500 U.S. personnel in Iraq are there to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces. That and I don’t — so they’re in the communique, it reflects that communique reflects the environment as — as it has been for quite some time in Iraq, in terms of U.S. posture.
And — and there — there’s — there’s never been a central database of that here at — at the department. That is something that is done at local level — local command levels and — and usually on a regional basis, not something that — that would be looked at here.
Mr Kirby further said that the Secretary’s expectation is that all of the services, including the National Guard, will have completed their stand downs over the course of two months. That’s why he gave them 60 days to do that. We’ll — we’ll know — learn more and know more when he gets a chance to speak to the chiefs later on this week.
Regarding the U.S. Navy Freedom of Navigation Operation in the Strait of Taiwan, Mr Kirby said that We don’t conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send — to respond to some specific event or the specific action of another country. We conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send a message about how strongly we believe in international law and in the freedom that all nations have to sail, operate and fly in accordance with that international law.
Pentagon press secretary said on the Ukraine demand for membership into NATO, “I think you saw my counterpart at the White House make clear that the President is — is certainly willing to — to have conversations, but this is an issue for NATO”.
“I don’t have an operational laydown for you. We have been routinely operating inside the Black Sea. I can’t tell you at this point whether I know we have ships there or not. But you guys have been tracking this and following it, it’s routine for us to — to operate — again, Freedom of Navigation — inside the Black Sea, but I don’t know what’s there now” he further said.
He added that the Biden administration is conducting a review of North Korean policy. I’m not going to get ahead of that. As we talked about before, the — the goal here is the denuclearization of North Korea.
“ I think you heard the Secretary say when we were out there in — in Seoul, that we’re going to — that we’re going to — whatever we, as an administration, decide is the — a proper course, it’s going to be done in close consultation and coordination with our Korean allies”, he said.
While answering to a question regarding base in Japan, he said that I think you heard Secretary Austin when we were in Tokyo just a couple of weeks ago thanked the government of Japan for their continued coordination on this. We still support the relocation. I don’t have an update for you on the construction delays. I think we’re going to have to take that and get back to you because I just don’t have that information with me.
But obviously we appreciate the government’s role here and support. And again, as you saw us say when we were in Tokyo not long ago, I mean this is an alliance that’s iron clad and we take our security commitments very, very seriously to the government and the people of Japan.