The Defense Department has witnessed a lot of progress in the past week with 30 appointees arriving under the new Biden administration and 12 more expected next week, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said at a briefing today.
Kirby, who has previously served as the DOD press secretary, thanked Congress for expediting Senate confirmations for DOD and said he looks forward to a speedy confirmation for Kathleen Hicks, President Joe Biden’s pick for deputy defense secretary.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, who was confirmed and began work at the Pentagon last week, has made numerous calls to his counterparts around the world, Kirby said.
Answering a question from the news media, Kirby confirmed the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday requested DOD to assist with vaccine distribution and other COVID-19 functions; however, he said he could not go into detail.
“We’re going to contribute in as aggressive a manner as we can,” Kirby said, noting the secretary’s No. 1 DOD priority is battling and defeating the virus. He added that such a request by FEMA would likely be a joint effort involving all the branches of service and, perhaps, National Guard and reserve forces.
And it will take days — not weeks — to get the FEMA request sourced, Kirby said, adding that Austin has clearly stated DOD will lean in and lean forward to get a handle on COVID-19 and the vaccine availability.
In Austin’s call with Germany’s defense minister yesterday, the press secretary said the topic of troop levels came up, and the secretary made it clear he wants to look globally at the force in every region and measure it against requirements. “He asserted whatever decision we make, will do in collaboration” with Germany and other allies.
Kirby also talked about the attempt at a negotiated settlement between Afghanistan and the Taliban. He said the settlement would be driven by conditions and requirements there.
“We want an end to the war and want settlements … [and] the best decision for allies and partners, the United States and Afghanistan. We want to do it responsibly,” he said, but he added that the Taliban have not met their commitments and are not curbing terrorism on Afghans.
“There’s been no change to the commitments we made,” Kirby said. “We want an end to the war.” U.S. force presence in Afghanistan is now at 2,500 service members.
Following the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, the press secretary was asked about extremism in the military.
“I want to say at the outset, … the vast, vast majority of men and women in the United States military serve with honor with character and integrity and dignity,” Kirby said. “And they don’t espouse these sorts of dangerous beliefs. But that doesn’t mean that even small number, while it may be small, is insignificant, and that it doesn’t mean that we don’t think that there might be a problem. The problem is we don’t understand the full scope of it. So [Austin] and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark A. Milley] have talked about this.”
There has been an ongoing review by the personnel and readiness directorate at the department to look specifically at extremism and to look at the policies, laws, regulations, that govern the conduct driven by extremists, he said.
Austin will talk with military leaders going forward about what they think the scope of the problem is, Kirby said.