Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Look, before I get started, I know we're all monitoring the news today of the death of Kayla Mueller, and I know you probably saw the secretary's statement about that. Let me just reiterate that on behalf of every man and woman in the United States military, the Defense Department, we are -- we extend our deepest condolences to the Mueller family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this very, very difficult time. I can't imagine the grief that they're going through today, and so our thoughts are squarely with them as they -- as they cope with this news.
I also know that there's lots of chatter out there about the embassy in Yemen. I have nothing to announce on the status of our embassy in Yemen. That is for the State Department to speak to. What I can tell you is that nothing's more important to us than the safety and security of U.S. personnel anywhere around the world: certainly in Yemen right now. We're always evaluating the security situation on the ground and we're taking steps to mitigate those risks.
As you know, the State Department has been reducing some staff in Yemen over the past few weeks, but that's really for something for them to speak to. So, I don't have anything new to say or announce on the embassy in Yemen.
And then finally, last week, I did inform you that on the 31st of January, in a strike south of Mogadishu, using unmanned aerial aircraft and Hellfire missiles, we struck at an al-Shabaab network and terrorist group target by the name of Yusuf Dheeq. What I can confirm today is that we know we killed him and an associate in that strike. We do not assess, as I said last week, that there was any civilian or bystander casualties as a result of that.
Additionally, yesterday U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted a precision strike in Helmand province, resulting in the death of eight individuals, to include Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander. And again, these are both reminders that we're going to continue to use all the tools at our disposal, financial, diplomatic, certainly military, to dismantle al-Shabaab and other groups, networks that threaten U.S. interests as well as the interests of our allies and partner nations.
With that, Lita?
Q: A quick -- just follow up on Kayla Mueller, is there anything that the U.S. has seen as a result of the proof that the Islamic State allegedly provided to the family that indicates when or how she died and whether or not there's any relation to the Jordanian strike?
And then I've got another question.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The short answer is no. And I wouldn't get into the specifics of -- of evidence itself. But we know that she's dead. ISIL is responsible for that death.
But we're not in a position to confirm the circumstances specifically, either to timing or to cause of death.
Q: And then on Abdul Rauf, what is the understanding or at this point of the military of the strength, the size, the activity of the Islamic State in Afghanistan? Can you just --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.-
Q: -- sort of assess how broad that may be and how dangerous?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would -- so let's put this in perspective, and we've talked about this in the past, that this is a group that does want to grow and expand its influence. And you've heard from General Rodriguez, you've heard from General Campbell that they certainly are looking very sharply to see if they're expanding in other areas outside Iraq and Syria, and we know they have those designs.
The way I would describe ISIL in Afghanistan is nascent at best. In fact, I would say more aspirational than anything else at this point. This guy Khadim, we assess that he decided to swear allegiance to ISIL probably no more than a couple weeks ago. And he didn't have a whole lot of depth to any network resources or manpower when he did it.
I'm not diminishing or trying to dismiss at all the threat that ISIL poses, wants to pose, but what I'm telling you is here in this case, it's nascent and aspirational, and that would be -- that would be an aggressive characterization right now.
So does that help?
Q: Was he targeted specifically?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He and his associates were targeted, because we had information that they were planning operations against U.S. and Afghan personnel there in Afghanistan.
So yeah. He was.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I didn't say that; I said he and his associates were targeted, because we knew they were planning attacks.
And as I've said before up here, Dion -- you know, we got into this whole rhetorical debate about the Taliban and -- and whether or not we're going to continue to go after them, given that we're in a new mission, and told you then, and this is proof of it today.
If they're going to threaten our interest, our allies, our partners in Afghanistan, they're fair game, and they're fair game.
Q: He was a former Guantanamo detainee, correct?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: He was.
Q: And when he was released, he was released on -- based on what?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I -- I don't have --
Q: Why he was released?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Joe, I don't have the records on this guy from -- from Guantanamo Bay.
Yes, he was a detainee. He was released in 2007. He was released to Kabul.
The other thing that we've said -- and this is another great example, because we had a long, you know, discussion not too long ago about the -- the recidivism and particularly the issue of this -- this one individual who reengaged there in Qatar, and we said that they return to the battlefield and to the fight at their own peril. Mr. Kadim is proof of that.
Q: After seeing such example, like former Guantanamo detainee who was released and went back to the -- to work with the Taliban, is the Pentagon still convinced that Guantanamo should be closed?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. The Pentagon's position is that the detainee facility should be closed. Secretary Hagel has made that clear on any number of occasions. There's no change to that.
Q: White House press secretary Josh Earnest said from the podium today on the record that the Friday strike near Raqqa was coordinated with the U.S. military and that U.S. intelligence had no evidence that there were any civilians at the location of this weapons storage facility that was struck by Jordanian F-16s.
How confident are you in that pre-strike intelligence?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, Jamie, I would writ large -- let me back up a little bit. Nobody exercises more care or caution or deliberate, precise planning than the United States military when it -- certainly when it comes to airstrikes.
And so I can tell you without question that these particularly strikes that we're talking about a few days were executed, planned, coordinated with the exact same care, caution and deliberate planning method that any other airstrike we've conducted in Iraq or Syria.
Q: But when the U.S. government says that they have -- they had information that there were no civilians at this location and -- and go on to say, as Josh Earnest did, that this casts doubt on the claim of ISIL that Kayla Mueller died in an airstrike.
My question to you is how confident are you that you actually know what was at that site?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What we have said, Jamie, is that we -- we see no indication -- we have no indication that there were civilian casualties as a result of those strikes or collateral damage.
We've also said -- so that's one -- two, we've also said that this was a legitimate target, a known weapons storage facility that ISIL had been using. We had hit it before, at least twice before that I know of. Not uncommon for us to go back and hit another target, because sometimes they go back and use targets that have been hit in the false assumption that, "Well, once hit, we're safe, we can go back there, and we can use it." So not uncommon for us to hit a target multiple times.
We -- we do not know the circumstances surrounding her death. I've said -- I said that to Lita. What I can tell you is that we still continue to see no evidence, no indication that civilian casualties were the result.
Q: Admiral, in Yemen, other than protecting U.S. facilities, on what basis are U.S. military forces still in Yemen?
As you know, the Houthis have taken over the government. Have they given the indication to the United States that they'd be willing for U.S. military forces to stay in Yemen doing the kind of missions they were doing before, or they asked them to leave, or -- what's the status of that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not privy to or aware of any communications with -- between the U.S. military and the Houthis. I don't believe there has been any direct communications with the Houthis from the military perspective.
But let me get to a broader -- I think a broader way of answering your question, and that is that we still have special operations forces in Yemen, we continue to conduct counterterrorism training with Yemeni security forces, and we are still capable inside Yemen of conducting counterterrorism operations.
Q: So who are they training if the Houthis are now in charge?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just told you, Yemeni security forces.
Q: Can you elaborate, I mean, who these --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The same Yemeni security forces that we've been training. Absolutely.
Q: (off mic) continuing on despite the chaos --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead.
Q: Is the Pentagon concerned about Iranian arm shipments to the Houthis?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware -- first of all, I'd refer you to Tehran for stuff like that.
We know that there is a relationship between the Houthis and Tehran, and we've been very clear on multiple occasions about our concerns about the tentacles that Iran has throughout the region, specifically with support to groups and organizations that aren't doing anything to increase stability in the region.
So I don't know. I don't have any direct knowledge of the specifics of that relationship, but we know there is a relationship there.
Q: Overall, is the Pentagon concerned about Iranian arm shipments to, let's say, Lebanon, Gaza, Africa?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely, and we've talked about that many, many times. We're concerned about any destabilizing activity there in the Middle East, particularly destabilizing activities by Tehran.
I was going to go back to Gordon.
Q: Can you speak to President Assad's claim that he's in the loop on the counter-ISIS fight in Syria? What does that mean? What's he talking about? If true, who's telling him, and what does this mean for U.S.-Assad dynamic?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me try to be real clear here. We are not communicating or coordinating our military operations with the Assad regime. We're not doing it directly, and we're not doing it indirectly.
Q: Excuse me. Just if I could follow up, is there a third party, as Assad himself claims, that is doing it directly, a third party that the U.S. works with, such as Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are -- I'll say -- and I'm happy to say it again -- we're not communicating directly or indirectly. We aren't using – no, no, no, Mick -- this isn't a nudge-nudge, wink-wink -- I'm trying to parse words here --
Q: And I'm not nudge-nudging, wink-winking either.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We are not communicating directly or indirectly with the Assad regime on military matters. And I can only speak for the United States military, the Pentagon, the Defense Department. I'm telling you, we are not communicating directly or indirectly with the Assad regime on military operations inside Syria.
Q: Is it possible that Iraq is communicating with the Assad regime?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That would be a great question to ask the folks in Baghdad.
Q: So you're not discounting that possibility?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm telling you what we -- what I can account for, and what I can account for is our communications coordination.
Q: Because isn't that the way the U.S. indirectly or directly communicates with Iranian military inside Iraq?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. No.
Q: I mean, the Iraqi government doesn't share information with the Iranians and --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That'd be a great question to ask the folks in Baghdad, Mick. I don't know. I'm telling you, we're not doing it. We're not talking to Tehran --
Q: (off mic)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I know, but you're implying that we have some sort --
Q: (off mic) implying that you're doing it directly, but --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: -- some sort of indirect relationship or sort of allowing it to happen.
We are not communicating directly either with Tehran or the Assad regime. We're not doing it indirectly, and we're not -- we're not trying to facilitate or encourage some sort of indirect communication either.
Q: Is there an effort to make sure a third party is not doing that on its own for whatever reason?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We do the very best we can everywhere we operator to protect information as best we can.
Q: I'd like to follow up on Jamie's question about the claim that Josh Earnest made that there's no evidence indicating that there were civilians on the ground before the strike on February 6th, in which ISIS says Kayla Mueller was killed.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't think Josh said there was no evidence of civilians on the ground; he said there's no evidence -- we have no indication that there were civilian casualties as a result or collateral damage.
Q: Can you give us a better sense how you're able to assess whether there're civilians there, given that you don't have ground troops? Can you give some idea -- again, coming back to Jamie's question --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: -- given that you don't have ground troops?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. There's this -- there's this idea that without boots on the ground, you have no visibility, that you have no situation awareness.
Now, I would argue that certainly having reliable partners on the ground helps. There's no question about that. But they don't have to be U.S. boots on the ground.
And I think you can understand, Nancy, why I wouldn't get into issues of intelligence here from the podium on how we come to make these assessments before we launch an airstrike. What I can tell you, back to my answer to Jamie, is we work at this very, very hard. And nobody's more deliberate about the planning process than we are.
And it's not just the United States. I mean there's -- the air operation center is a coalition operation center. But everybody's making a strong effort here. So I can't get into ways and means of intelligence gathering. What I can tell you is that we're as confident as we can be and we work it very, very hard.
Q: Can I follow up to that?
In the past, when there have been claims of civilian casualties in this fight against the Islamic State, CENTCOM has opened investigations into whether those allegations are true. Is such an investigation going on, given this claim by the Islamic State?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, if you remember, the rubric here is that we investigate all credible allegations and we don't deem the ISIL claim to be a credible allegation.
Q: Can I try just another one?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: Is there any doubt, any question in your mind who was responsible for the death of Kayla Mueller?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No. No doubt. ISIL.
Q: Quick follow up to that?
Other than this recent case, do we know if ISIL is keeping prisoners in weapons facilities in an effort to deter coalition airstrikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Do we know if they're keeping hostages --
Q: That's right, hostages in weapons facilities in an effort to deter the coalition airstrikes?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I wouldn't get into matters of intelligence from the podium. I just won't do that.
Q: I'm sorry Admiral, could you just clarify? There is no investigation going on from CENTCOM into this allegation --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is not a -- there is not a civilian casualty investigation going on as a result of this strike -- the strike that they claim resulted in Ms. Mueller's death.
Q: Admiral, according to press reports, we expect the White House to send Congress a request for a new authorization of military force for the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Can you please tell us what role this department played in the formulation of that request, what it asks to be able to do, and what it could start to do if in fact Congress passes one?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I mean --
Q: Let me ask another way. What material changes could the department make in its operations if in fact, Congress agrees?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes, well look. I'm not going to get ahead of process, here. What I will tell you is that Secretary Hagel testified to this, that this department certainly supports a new authorization for military force. We believe it's appropriate and should be updated to reflect the kind of military operation -- kinds of military operations that we're conducting right now, particularly against a group like ISIL.
So, we're fully in support of a new authorization of military force.
Point two is we're absolutely fully support that this needs to be worked by and through the Congress.
And again, Secretary Hagel's been very clear about his support for that part of the process. That process is still ongoing. And here from this podium, I just won't get ahead of it. I won't be able to get into any, any details at this time.
Q: Ukraine question, you know there's an increased fervor to arm the Ukrainian military with defensive weapons. Has the Pentagon been -- or EUCOM been tasked by the State Department, White House, or any other entity to kind of do an assessment of the art of the possible in terms of what weapons could be made available fairly quickly, if in fact the White House decided?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, point of order, it's the secretary of defense that tasks the combatant commanders, and only the secretary of defense. And number two, I would just say that -- and we've said this from the very beginning, Tony, that while the focus remains on non-lethal assistance, and we continue to provide non-lethal assistance to Ukraine's security forces, we have taken no options off the table. And discussions have continued now and have occurred on potential other types of assistance to include some lethal items.
So, I mean, that discussion is ongoing.
Q: There's been no sharpening of the discussion in terms of you doing an inventory on what's available in the region to get over to Ukraine really quickly if it's needed?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know what you mean by sharpening, but I can, again, I just want to make it very clear that the discussions and deliberations and consultations with General Breedlove and his staff have remained in effect and have occurred for months now about how best to meet Ukraine's security needs.
And so I just, again, I -- it's an ongoing process, it's an ongoing discussion. It continues.
Q: Can you give the public some examples of defensive weapons that possibly -- that would be available if the -- if the president decided to go along with --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the best way I would describe defensive lethal assistance are those items, those weapons that allow them -- that are defensive in nature, that they are not designed for, would not be overly effective in conducting offensive operations against an armed foe.
Q: TOW missile? Stinger missile?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get into the laundry list, Tony. I mean, but again, this discussion continues. We're committed to working closely with our NATO allies and partners and to reassure them we've got a lot going on in Europe and we're committed to assisting Ukraine as best we can to get their territorial integrity respected once again, which it hasn't been.
Q: Thank you.
The UAE has restarted airstrikes against I.S. in Syria. Can you tell us how significant that is for the coalition, and will you tell us if they have put in more personnel than they had before, less personnel, less equipment, just give us a little of the details?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Any, any contribution specifically on the kinetic side to the coalition is welcome and significant in and of itself. Everybody in this coalition contributes what they can, and we're grateful for all of that.
So, yes, the UAE is back up in the air and we're glad to have them up there.
I'm sorry, your second question was?
Q: About their contribution?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I would -- I'm sorry, I would leave it to them to characterize the scope of that. I mean, one of the things I try not to do here is speak for another country, so I'd let them characterize it, but yes, they're back up flying. We're glad to have them.
Q: Can I ask when did they stop flying?
There's been different versions of events. Was it late December, or like two weeks ago? Can you give a feel for that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Tony, my best understanding is late December, but again, I'd have to refer you to CENTCOM for, you know, the exact date. I just don't know. It was very shortly after the incident in which the Jordanian pilot went down.
So, it'd be late December, but as to the exact date, I couldn't tell you.
Q: Admiral Kirby, can you give us an update on the Syria train and equip mission? Has active vetting and recruiting begun, and are any of these sites up and running?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I've already talked about the fact that General Nagata has reached out, we've identified some groups that we may potentially want to work with. So, there is, you know, active recruiting in terms of bringing people in, that hasn't happened yet. But he's still -- you know, he and his staff are still working their way through this, and I just don't have a more specific update for you.
But yeah, I mean, they're focused on this very, very hard.
Q: My question is that there’s a military base -- that we hear the reports there will be a military base in Erbil used by the international coalitions. The reports say that it's going to be used for the emergency cases. Other than that, what are you going to use it, this military base?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We don't have a military base in Erbil. There are some Combat Search and Rescue assets that we have up in Erbil, should they be needed, and we're grateful for the space that they're able to occupy up there.
Q: Was the Iraqi government concerned about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Concerned about that? Every -- everything we're doing, every move we're making there, we're doing it in consultation and coordination with the Iraqi government.
Q: That means they had nothing --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd let them speak for themselves. I'm telling you, we coordinate and consult with them before we make any major decisions inside their country. It is their country.
Q: The review of whether the quarantine is required for people coming back from Liberia, that was due like 10 days ago. What -- can you give us -- tell us what the status of that is?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: You're right, it was due on the 31st of January, and it was turned in by Chairman Dempsey, and it's up at the secretary's office now being reviewed.
Yeah? Yeah. Go ahead.
Q: General Allen has said there would be a major counter-offensive in the coming weeks to recapture Mosul. Can we take that as U.S. assessment that Iraqi forces will be ready to retake the city in a matter of weeks?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, you know, I've been pretty firm about not forecasting military operations here. I'm not going to start today. What I'll tell you is the same thing I've been saying. We're not going to go any faster than the Iraqis are ready to go.
Q: Then how should we interpret General Allen's word that the Iraqi forces will --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We work real hard -- we're working real hard to build their combat power up, and their capability. We've got four training sites that are up and running right now. And we believe so far that the training is going quite well. Our goal is to help them get to the level where they are ready to continue and to ultimately win this fight against ISIL on the ground.
I'm not going to forecast. I know we're all focused on Mosul. I'm not going to forecast, you know, the date and time and week when it's going to happen. We're working -- our focus right now is on building up their combat power. That's going well.
We're not going to go any faster than they're ready to go and they're capable of going.
Q: You're training three Kurdish units as well. Are they going to be -- are they going to participate in the fight for Mosul as well?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think -- I don't know. I wouldn't speak for the Kurdish forces and what units they're going to apply in upcoming operations. But I think it's -- I think we're getting all too fixated on Mosul.
Yes, it's important terrain. Yes, it's going to have to be retaken. Everybody recognizes that.
But the purpose of the train, advise, and assist program is not just to get them ready for some campaign in Mosul, and that's where everybody seems to be wanting to take this.
We said long ago that this was a mission that was worth doing because the Maliki government had ignored his military for so long, for three years. And so there's competency that needs to be built up, and that's what this program is about. It's about getting them better, more capable.
And does that mean getting them perhaps ready for Mosul? Yeah. But not just Mosul. To better defend their own citizens, their own territory.
Q: Will the Kurds be part of this -- part of the operation to take Mosul?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I -- I am -- I have no -- I don't have any visibility in the order of battle here. You guys are wanting to -- you know, you're wanting to kick this thing off like tomorrow. And it just isn't going to happen.
Q: On South Korea, on deployment of a THAAD missile to South Korea, does the U.S. have any consultation with South Korea on THAAD missile defense?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we all recognize the importance of the capability. There's constant discussions and certainly with our South Korean allies about that. But I have no detail to provide, and certainly no announcements to make with respect to that.
It's important capability. It's one that we talk to them about. That's really as far as I can go today.
Q: I guess I don't understand why there isn't going to be an investigation into the building, the strike that allegedly Ms. Mueller was killed in. I mean --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well Bill, the way I'd put it to you is the way put it -- we've said from -- if we get a credible allegation of a civilian casualty, and it stuns me that -- that some of you seem to think that an ISIL claim would characterize as a credible allegation, but let's put that aside for a minute. If we get a credible allegation that there was a civilian casualty, whether it was Ms. Mueller or anybody else, in that or any other strike, CENTCOM will do the requisite work and start an investigation and try to determine how that happened. We don't have a credible allegation right now. We have no indication that there were any civilian casualties as a result of the strike.
And let's not forget in whose hands this woman died. And let's not forget who's ultimately responsible for it: ISIL.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Could you give us a sense of what a credible allegation in this case would look like? I mean, if this was an ISIL-held facility, presumably there would be nobody else there to make an allegation that there were civilians in the building.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not necessarily, no I mean, not necessarily. I mean, when we've been talking about this again for weeks. There are some groups, non-profit groups, certain private organizations that when they bring forward to Central Command evidence, or certainly evidence which is compelling enough for us to consider, we consider it, and they launch an investigation.
Q: If it came from ISIS, it's not credible. It'd have to come from some other organization?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We do not consider ISIL a credible organization, David.
Q: So, the fact that they are saying it does -- does not by itself merit an investigation.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think that's what I said, yes.
Q: Admiral, just one quick follow up please to the -- one of the announcements you made off the top. You said that this Afghan commander who was killed, Khadim, illustrates this danger for Gitmo alumni to take up the fight against --
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I didn't say it that way.
Q: Well, his -- his case shows that if these people who are released become a danger to the U.S. or its allies, they're in peril from a attack like this.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I've said, and we've said this regarding the five detainees that were sent to Qatar as a result of the transfer with Bowe Bergdahl, what we said was, first of all there's assurances in place, and we're comfortable that we can mitigate any threat to the United States as a result of those assurances.
We've also said that should they return to the battlefield, to Afghanistan, and take up arms, and threaten U.S. personnel or allies or partners or interests there, they're fair game.
Q: Do you know if there are other examples of this happening before, or is he the first one?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know, Phil. You'd have to let me take that one for the record. I've got time for one more.
Q: There's reportedly been a buildup of Jordanian military forces along the border with Syria. Is that in coordination with the coalition? What is the purpose of that? And going back to this Afghan airstrike, is this the first one of its type since January 1st? And if not, why are you making mention of it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know if it's the first one. I'm making mention of it because there was a lot of, you know, there was press coverage of it, and I knew you were going to ask me about it, so I figured I might as well just tell you what happened.
Your first question was -- the Jordanians. Look, I won't speak for the Jordan government. I mean, they -- they have a very capable military that they deploy inside their country and inside their borders for any number of reasons. And I would let them speak to troop movements and, you know, what they're about.
Q: Quick follow-up, Admiral.
It's been reported the Jordanians conducted 56 strikes over a number of days. And I was wondering, after the thousands of coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, how there was enough suitable targets that would elicit a response for over two dozen adjoining aircraft.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think there's a couple of things to remember that I think their count of 56 isn't exactly the way we would count, so I don't want to get into quibbling over the numbers. But -- but by our count, it was -- it wasn't 56. It was one strike. You know, that's how -- the way we count it, which is, you know, could be multiple aircraft, multiple munitions on a single target. Again, let's not quibble about the math.
There are still, you see the press releases every day. There are still valid targets in Syria and in Iraq, and as I said at the outset, I think to Jamie's question, it's not uncommon for us to hit the same target more than once if we deem that ISIL continued to use that facility, which they do. I mean, you know, there's a logic there that they think, well if it gets hit once or twice, then maybe will get left alone. And if there's enough still standing they could use that facility.
So, it's not uncommon for us to have multiple strikes on a single location.
Got one more.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. Just circling back to Yemen real quickly, you mentioned that the counter-terrorism operations still continue in Yemen. I'm just curious, since Yemen is the base of a terrorist organization, AQAP, which has stated goals and has tried to hit U.S. targets in the past, is the United States still confident, even in the face of a lack of a government partner to still be able to disrupt imminent threats to U.S. security?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: They way I'd answer that, it's a great question. I'd say there's no question as a result of the political instability in Yemen that our counter-terrorism capabilities have been -- have been effected. I couldn't stand up here and tell you that they haven't been. Of course they have been.
And I've said before that obviously doing counter-terrorism in a foreign country, it's always better to do it when you have an effective, reliable partner. Right now, that partner, the country, that -- the Yemeni security forces and the government to which they report is very much in flux right now.
So we understand that. And I wouldn't get up here and say that there's been no adjustments made. We certainly, as I stand here today, we continue to conduct some training, and we continue to have the capability, unilaterally if need be, of conducting counter-terrorism operations inside Yemen.
We would like to see that capability continue, obviously. But we're watching the situation very closely, and we're monitoring it every single day, if not every single hour. And if we have to continue to make adjustments, we will. Obviously, we want to be able to continue to have an effective partner there in Yemen and continue to be able to conduct counter-terrorism operations there.
Q: And then just to follow up quickly, I know you said the State Department has the lead on this. Is the United States military ready, if asked, to help effect an evacuation if needed of remaining U.S. personnel?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.