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Press Briefing by Rear Admiral Kirby on Secretary Hagel's Middle East Trip and U.S. Response to Kidnappings in Nigeria

Speaker: John Kirby
Published May 9, 2014

On May 09, 2014, Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby previewed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's travel to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. Rear Admiral Kirby also provided details on U.S. participation in a coordination cell in Nigeria, to help Nigerian authorities analyze intelligence regarding Boko Haram's kidnapping of school girls.

Q: Admiral, what, can you give us the latest rundown on what the U.S. is doing to help Nigeria in terms of moving people there, assets...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I can. Again, I want to stress at the outset that our participation in this coordination cell, it is a -- it is an interdisciplinary cell that will be comprised of people in law enforcement, FBI, intelligence community, and of course, the U.S. military. Our cadre that will be in addition to the 10 or so U.S. military troops that are already working at the embassy will consist of about eight personnel. Six of them are already there in Nigeria, in the capital. The other two should be arriving in the next few days.

These are subject matter experts. They're troops that are trained in intelligence, communications, and -- and mostly coordination functions, logistical kind of things.

But they, again, the great majority of the additional assets, additional personnel are there on the ground. We expect the other two will get there shortly.

Q: People who work just out of the embassy, what, on telephones? What are they doing exactly?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they will work out of the embassy. We're not talking about U.S. military operations in Nigeria to go find these girls. That's not the focus here. The focus is sending subject matter experts that can help advise and assist the Nigerian authorities in their search for these girls.

Look, it's a tragic incident. The president was clear he wants to help in any way we can. This is the help that the Nigeria has accepted and we believe it's the appropriate step right now.

Q: Things like photo interpretation, or what -- what kind of expertise?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, they are trained in communications, intelligence collection and analysis and some logistical issues.

So I think we going to be trying to do what we can to help them in their search, to help them collect and analyze information that they obtain, and to do what we can to help them, you know, to help them find these girls.

That answer?

Q: A bit of a follow-on, it's been three weeks since they went missing or since they were kidnapped. Do you feel that time has been lost?

And why not put boots on the ground, like, for instance, the special operators in Uganda to find Kony?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: So, let me unpack that a little bit. Look, in any hostage situation, time is of -- is at a premium. And there's no question that we're racing against the clock here. They've been gone for a long time. I know that. Everybody knows that.

We had made repeated offers of assistance, and it was only just this week when the Nigerians accepted the offer of this coordination. So on that -- you know, within 48 hours, people were moving to get there.

So we've responded as quickly as we could, once the offer had been accepted. And I would -- you know, the effort right now is on trying to help them find these girls.

And to your other question about Kony and Uganda, I mean, we have had a longstanding and emerging military relationship with the Nigerian armed forces over the last couple of years, helping them -- routinely helping them improve their counterterrorism operations.

And that work continues. It will continue.

The Kony mission, it's important to remember that that was, you know, at the request of Ugandan authorities. And it was a presidential decision to approve that request.

The discussions we're having with Nigeria right now are principally around the search for these young girls and trying to meet their needs for the advice and assistance that they require to after -- does that answer your question?

Yeah, Dan?

Q: When the secretary goes to the Middle East, will he be taking a new view from the U.S. when it comes to helping the rebels in Syria?

And, now that the chemical weapons are mostly out of Syria, is the U.S. now looking more at providing more training and more -- and actual weapons to the rebels, and a bigger role for DOD...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The secretary fully supports the president's approach here, that -- which is that we support the development and advancement of a moderate Syrian opposition. But we're not gonna get into the details of exactly how that support is rendered. And I just wouldn't get beyond that at this point.

On the chemical weapons side, the Cape Ray remains in Rota, the crew is prepared and ready to carry out the mission once the remainder of the material is out. There is a very small percentage of the material that has not been taken out of the country.

And -- but OPCW and the Syrian authorities are working to try to make that happen as soon as possible. There is some violence in and around the facilities where the material is being kept that's preventing it from being moved right now.

Q: Is that a factor in the calculation on helping the Syrian rebels, that if the chemical weapons aren't basically gone, does that, then, open up more possibilities?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I mean, that's a political question that I'm not prepared to get into here today.

I mean, our expectation is and has been that they will remove all their chemical weapons material from the country. That process has been going on for some weeks now.

Again, we're very near the end, and there's some violence that's preventing the last bit of it. Our expectation is it will come out.

But as for a linkage, I mean, I think, I don't want to conflate the two. There is an expectation by the international community that the materials will be moved out.

And likewise, this administration has made it clear that the position is that we will support a moderate Syrian opposition, and we're not gonna detail all the, you know, all the ways in which we're gonna offer that support.

Q: Back to Nigeria?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah?

Q: What else did the U.S. offer that the government in Nigeria rejected? And what is the status of any offer for the use of drones? Was that offered and they rejected that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would refer you to State for more specific details on the offers. As I understand it, the principal offer was this coordination cell and it was accepted and that's what we're participating in. It is, again, not just a military cell. It's an interagency, interdisciplinary cell that we're participating in.

And as far as I know, there was no specific offer beyond that.

Q: But as we understood it, any -- any use of U.S. drones, they would have been military drones. So what can you tell us about any offer to provide surveillance with U.S. military forces?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any offer to provide surveillance with respect to this search. I think one of the things that we need to remember is that, at least from the military side of this, the folks that we're sending down, their principal job is advise and assess.

So one of the things they're going to be doing is assessing what we -- they're going to be doing what we call "gap analysis." So they're going to go down there and they're going to take a look at what the capabilities are, what capabilities the Nigerians are applying to the effort, and what gaps they may need and additional help and/or resources they may need. And then they'll come back and they'll report that up through the interagency process.

I don't want to presuppose at this stage what those gaps are and what additional resources may be required. Let's let them get on the ground. They just got there today. Let them do their work. Again, it's an interagency effort, and float those ideas up.

And then we'll take a look at it from right there. But right now, there's no active discussion about the use of unmanned systems in the search. We've got a team just arriving. They're going to make that assessment. They're going to look at whatever the gaps are and capabilities and then we'll have that discussion later on.

Does that answer your questions?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Is it not accurate that you or the United States is discussing ISR, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets with the Nigerians? Is that not correct?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't want to pre-judge discussions that may or may not be happening outside the building. I can tell you that the president's made it clear we're going to do what we can to help. The first step in this help is getting the coordination cell on the ground, having them do a gap analysis, assess what capabilities are there that can be applied, and what, if any, other capabilities might assist, and then we'll move on from there.

Q: Okay. So you also said that time is of the essence. You're fighting the clock. Boko Haram now knows the United States and other countries are going to come after them. And you have said you believe the girls have already been moved.

So how many days is all of this analysis going to take, that you described it as floating up ideas? How long do you do this before you come to some understanding of what you're going to offer to the Nigerians and talk to them about it and get decisions? How long does this go on?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it's not about floating ideas up. And it's not that we don't share a sense of urgency here. As I said, time is definitely working against everybody here.

This is about what we can do to help them in their efforts to find and rescue these young girls. They have armed forces in Nigeria, armed forces that we have been helping train and develop over the last couple of years in counterterror. And we're not going to do anything additional that isn't acceptable to the Nigerian government. And we urge them to use all the resources at their disposal, and they have resources at their disposal to go after -- to go after these girls and rescue them.

Q: I'm asking what is the U.S. timeline of this coordination cell to finish its assessment and have something to report, something to offer to the Nigerians? What is the timeline for them finishing their work?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There is not a deadline. Look, I can't speak for the other agencies that are participating in it. Our first six just got on the ground this morning. Everybody has -- everybody shares the same sense of urgency here. We know that time is not on our side. The girls have been gone a long time.

We all know that geography is not on the side of the Nigerians in trying to find them. So they're going to work as quickly and efficiently as they can. Everybody shares the same sense of urgency here, but there hasn't been a deadline given to them, a date certain where they have to come back with a list of recommendations.

It's not like we sent them down there to do a report. But one of the things, not all, but one of the things, as I said, they're going to do is assess the situation. They're also going to start advising right away. I mean, it's not like they're just going to go down there and work on a report and then do nothing else. They're going to advise and assist, but they're also going to be doing what we want them to do, which is assess whatever gaps in capabilities there may be.

Q: Just one very quick. You said at the very beginning the Nigerians rejected the initial U.S. offer to provide some assistance and advice. Did they give you any reason why they rejected your offer?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I didn't say they rejected it. I said there were -- I said that we had been making offers of assistance. They said that we had been making offers of assistance. They just accepted, just this week, they just accepted the offer of a coordination cell.

Q: Have they asked for assistance?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of, other than accepting our offer of a coordination cell. Not aware of any other requests, no.

Q: Admiral Kirby, when was this U.S. military assistance to the coordination cell first offered to the Nigerians?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: You've got to ask the State Department. Again, this is not a military-led operation. We're part of an interdisciplinary team, and I'd refer you to the State Department on that.

Yep?

Q: Is the U.S. team going to work with the other teams from Great Britain and France? Do you know what they will be doing?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the State Department. I mean, again, this is a State-led initiative. My guess is that there will be some communication and coordination between the efforts of various other countries down there. I mean, again, everybody shares the same sense of urgency here. Everybody's decrying this, as we should. This is a tragic thing. And we all want to help to the degree we can.

So, I would expect there'll be some level of coordination and communication, but the details of that, I'd refer you to state.

Q: Are these offer to help in the borders, to track these girls...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's a great question for the Nigerian government. You know, our role right now is on advising, assisting, and assessing the situation through a small team of U.S. -- whole government, but U.S. experts that are being sent down there.

And again folks, I mean, they just got there on the ground today. So, you know, we need to let them do their work, and they -- they all, again, they'll move as quickly and efficiently as they can.

Yeah?

Q: Given the U.S. relationship already with the Nigerian military, specifically on counter-terrorism, are you surprised about how Nigeria has handled that, and does that help speed up the process of figuring out what to go next and how to advise the Nigerians?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The work on advising and assisting them in counter-terror continues and it's -- it's not a relationship that we've been working at for an exceedingly long period of time. And I'm not -- you know, I think the Boko Haram, serious terrorist organization. Absolutely brutal. And the Nigerians are very aware of the threat Boko Haram poses to them and to their national security. I think that's obvious to all of us, that they certainly understand the threat posed by this, and this is a tough problem to get at.

And it's not just in Nigeria. I mean, counter-terrorism is tough in many places around the world, and that's why we're putting such a premium on these partner-building, partner capacity building efforts, which as I said at the outset, will continue with Nigeria.

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