Department Of Defense Press Briefing By Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White And Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. In The Pentagon Briefing Room
DANA WHITE: Good afternoon, everyone. I regret the delay for us to start today. We had some scheduling conflicts. So as usual, I appreciate your flexibility and your patience.
First, I want to extend our deepest sympathies and prayers to the families and friends of the four Marines who died in that helicopter crash in — in Southern California earlier this week. I also want to extend our condolences to the family of the Air Force Thunderbird pilot who died yesterday in a training exercise.
Their loss is a tragic reminder of the tremendous risk our men and women undertake to serve our nation at home and abroad.
I have a couple more announcements to share, and then I will turn to border security. The first is a personnel announcement.
One of the secretary’s priorities is reforming the way we do business. In order to do that, we need top-notch talent.
I’m pleased to announce that Mr. Dana Deasy — who I already like — will serve as the Department of Defense chief information officer. He is joining us from JP Morgan.
In his position, he will be responsible for how we manage and use information, communications and cyber-security. This is particularly important as we adopt cloud technology to make more informed and timely decisions on the battlefield.
He will also bring greater accountability to the department’s information security posture. Mr. Deasy’s extensive enterprise-level experience and leadership will ensure the department drives a culture of performance and maximizes the value of every taxpayer dollar entrusted to us. We expect him to join us in mid- — in early May.
On the National Defense Strategy, since its release, the secretary has been focused on implementing the NDS and driving the department to align our resources to the strategy. The NDS informs how the department will prioritize its funding through F.Y. 2020.
The secretary is committed to ensuring the good stewardship of our resources, but we cannot do that alone. Industry plays a critical role, ensuring the strength of our force and the health of the industrial base.
This afternoon, the secretary will meet with senior executives from a range of companies to discuss the NDS, exchange ideas, and promote the long-term viability and competitiveness of the nation’s industrial base. This is a part of a series of conversations senior leaders will have with industry, academia and local communities about the NDS and how the department is aligning our resources with our priorities.
The NDS is our strategy, (inaudible) — but to successfully implement it, we must adopt a competitive mindset. With this mindset, we can optimize our relationships with industry and cultivate a culture of performance.
Switching gears, I know you have questions about border security.
First and foremost, Secretary Mattis agrees with Secretary Nielsen that border security is national security. Secretary Mattis and Secretary Nielsen are working closely together to meet the president’s goal to enhance border security.
It’s important to note that DOD already supports the DHS border security mission, with significant efforts from SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM, PACOM, the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers.
For example, in fiscal year 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $341 million from Customs and Border Protection to repair, replace and construct the border fence, including 40 miles of fence in San Diego, El Centro and El Paso Sectors.
NORTHCOM and Joint Task Force North assisted in the seizure of eight tons of marijuana. And Joint Interagency Task Force South assisted in preventing more than 280 tons of cocaine from illegally entering the United States.
Additionally, the National Guard in-state status provides counter-drug activities and executes training in the four southwest border states in support of U.S. Border Patrol deterrence operations.
Our support to DHS also includes the use of DOD equipment and facilities, as well as training.
As the White House announced yesterday, the president has called on us to expand our existing support to the DHS border security mission now.
The president has authorized National Guard, with the affected governors’ approval, to enhance its support to CBP along the border. The National Guards efforts will include aviation, engineering, surveillance, communications, vehicle maintenance and logistical support.
These National Guard members will act in support of Border Patrol agents who are performing law enforcement duties. We will focus on supporting CBP’s priorities, which will determine the time frame and number of military personnel employed.
Effective immediately, we are establishing a new border security support cell led by Ken Rapuano, assistant secretary for defense for homeland defense and global security. This is a 24/7 cell comprised of several DOD representatives who will serve as the single conduit for information and coordination between DOD and DHS.
This is not business as usual. The cell will last for the foreseeable future, to ensure we surge our capacity to meet the president’s enhanced border security goals.
Between the existing border security support we provide to DHS and the expanded support I just outlined, DOD will continue to have an important role in securing our nation’s border. We look forward to continuing our partnership with DHS to ensure the defense of our nation and the security of the American people.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q: Dana, on that same topic, Secretary Nielsen said yesterday that one of the — one part of the plan was for the Defense Department to build a wall on Defense Department land along the border. Can you tell us what that is, where that is?
And also can you shed more light on the number of National Guard troops — (inaudible) — ballpark figure are likely to be involved?
MS. WHITE: We are looking at places where DOD owns land to see where we can fortify along the border, where that makes sense. So there are — there are — there’s at least one installation that we’re looking at. But we will continue to look at other opportunities where we can fortify, whether it’s — in support of the Border Patrol.
And then, your second?
MS. WHITE: Along the Goldwater — that line, for the —
Reporter: Goldwater Range
MS. WHITE: Yes, thanks. That is where we’re sort of looking, because that is right on the border.
Q: It’s right on the border?
MS. WHITE: It is.
And the second part about the number of National Guard members who are likely to be involved in this overall expanded operation?
MS. WHITE: So, that will all be determined by the requirements that are given to us. And that’s why the cell is being stood up, so that we can quickly respond to that. And it will be determined by, ultimately, the requirements that are asked.
Q: There’s not even an estimate?
MS. WHITE: So, again, we have to — we — we’re working; that’s what the cell is about. We’re going to coordinate. They will provide us with the requirements, and then, from that, we’ll determine how many, and what’s the mission, and how many we’ll deploy.
Q: You — you mentioned some broad categories where you’d be providing support: aviation and vehicle. But can you give us any specific examples of what — like, for instance, in the realm of aviation, what might these troops be doing that would support the Border Patrol specifically? Can you give us an example?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: Sure.
I will tell you right now, as Secretary Nielsen said yesterday in her statement, she’s talking to the — to the governors of those states. We’ll get a much better sense of what we’re going to be able to do based on that conversation, which we expect to be concluded very quickly, and we’ll be able to move on it.
But I — I don’t have any specific details of what support we could provide beyond that which Dana’s already outlined, except to tell you that it will be guided by what — what the requirements are that’re identified the governors in consultation with DHS.
Q: And then just one quick follow up on the Barry Goldwater Range. Isn’t there already fencing around the — I mean, that’s the bombing range and training facility; isn’t it already fenced off along the border?
MS. WHITE: There is — there is already some fencing there, but it has been identified as a possibility to reinforce it. So that’s what we’re looking at.
I also wanted just to say, in terms of where we’re going, it’s important that the cell will be the single point of information, and we will provide you details as — as we are meeting commitments to show what we’re doing, to just keep everyone abreast of how — how that activity is going.
Q: (inaudible) — so will you be suggesting activities to the governors? Or will you be receiving their requests for what they think they need to fill in the gaps?
MS. WHITE: Well, first, the Department of Homeland Security is coordinating with the governors. We will — we will see requests that come from the Department of Homeland Security, and we are in support of that.
So that — that’s a single conduit in which we can support their efforts. And they will discuss with the governors what — how to move forward.
MS. WHITE: David, go ahead.
Q: Do you envision the troops that are involved in this being armed, or at least some of them, on some of these missions? And what kind of ROEs will they be under?
And — and, more broadly, will they — will there be any sort of joint patrols with the — with the Border Patrol, or will it be, you know, strictly, kind of, back — back-from-the-border operation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So those are exactly the questions that we’re answering now. I don’t have — I don’t have answers for you on any of those.
Those are all good questions. We will answer each of those questions in great detail.
As we deploy, it’ll be depending on the situation, it will be dependent — possibly unique from state to state. I don’t want to pre-judge that.
Those are good questions, we just don’t have those answers now. But those are the questions we’re working to — those are the questions we’re working to resolve right now.
Q: Even the — whether they’ll be armed, and — you don’t have a general sense of whether soldiers will be allowed to defend themselves —
GEN. MCKENZIE: Our advice is always that soldiers are able to defend themselves, and they have the right of self-defense. However, we’re going to be guided by the dialogue that’s going on now between DHS and the governors, and then we’ll work that here internally.
MS. WHITE: Jennifer?
Q: Dana, in the past, presidents have pulled from O&M accounts — operations and maintenance accounts — to provide these National Guard to the border. In fact, when President Bush sent 6,000 troops down there, it cost $415 million, and that came from Air Force and Navy. Can — do you know where the money is coming from? And can you assure us that it will not be coming from operations and maintenance?
MS. WHITE: The border — the security support center is going to figure out all of those things. And so we still need to see the requirements. We need to see what’s already happening and how do we enhance that. So, we will have more details about cost, but we literally have just stood this up, and that will provide some more details.
Q: And Congressman Thornberry was very concerned that, given the rising number of crashes — military aircraft crashes, that, with the new money that’s been provided to the Pentagon — that it might get stripped. And he said, “Don’t rob that account in order to secure the border.” Can you assure him that that money won’t be taken from O&M?
MS. WHITE: Our goal is to — one border security is national security, and we are leaning forward to support the president and his intent and his goals. But readiness remains our top priority.
The secretary believes that this needs to be the most lethal force in the world, and much of his testimony on the Hill — so, yes, I can assure you that our resources will still be dedicated to ensuring that our warfighters get what they need when they need it. Barbara?
Q: So, just to make sure I understand, the money you pay for this — a couple of questions — is not coming — not coming out of operations and maintenance, but the National Guard will be paid by federal money?
MS. WHITE: I want — I want to be clear. That is what the support cell is going to determine. Remember, we have several — we have existing activities that are going on. So we have to look at what’s already going on, that’s a part of what we’ve done for years, as well as what enhanced or what other requirements there will be, and then we’ll determine how those are funded.
Q: I’m confused. I apologize. Are you saying, in answer to Jennifer’s question, that O&M money — operations and maintenance money will not be used to pay for this National Guard mission? Is that correct?
MS. WHITE: I am saying that the border security support cell will determine how we — we —
Q: (Off mic)
MS. WHITE: — I am saying that we haven’t made those determinations and that’s what the support cell will take it.
Q: (Off mic) wherever the money comes from, my second question is, since it — since you cannot assure people that O&M will not pay for this — it is a possibility — are the salary, the costs for the National Guard in this mission — are they going to be paid by the federal government or the governors?
And, if they are paid by the federal government, I don’t understand how you couldn’t have a decision about arming, because it will be your money. You will be able to decide whether they’re armed or not. So is this federal money?
MS. WHITE: Number one, we still — one, we’re working with DHS. DHS is in the lead. DHS is working with the governors. So, determining the authorities, we will have to work through the support cell.
Second, there are existing activities that DOD is already doing. So we need to determine, are those — are those activities enhanced? Are there new activities? We just don’t have all of those answers.
But I am happy to come back to you. We will report on this — this is going to be a 24/7 cell — and we’ll provide those details when we have more of them.
Q: I going to hope that the person who runs this cell can come down and talk to the news media on camera and explain it themselves. I will hold you to (Off mic).
MS. WHITE: I will — we will definitely — I will definitely make our experts available to talk through this as we set this up.
Q: Hi. Hi, Dana. I have a — another border question for you, and then a Syria question for you, General.
So have — has the administration got agreement in principle from the governors, the affected governors yet? And should we be looking at days or weeks until we see the deployment of the National Guard?
And, general, I just wanted to ask you about Syria, in light of the announcement this week from the White House. How — because the — the policy or the decision, as I understand it, is to have U.S. troops exit once ISIS is defeated, how will you gauge when that has occurred, in practice? What about stabilization activities?
And are you concerned that once U.S. troops depart, that there’ll be a resurgence of ISIS there, either in an ISIS 2.0 scenario or some sort of incarnation of that same activity?
MS. WHITE: I’ll take your first question. So Secretary Nielsen is leading those conversations with the governors. She is in consistent contact with Secretary Mattis, and we — and through this cell and through their conversations, that will determine how we move forward with the governors. But DH — but the secretary, Nielsen, is fully engaged in those conversations.
Q: I’m sorry, but — and also the timeline? Should we — is it going to be days, weeks before we see the National Guard?
MS. WHITE: Again, we are working out those details. Those conversations with the governors are going on. We also have to see the requirements and the missions, and then that will better determine how we move forward, and how quickly we move forward.
GEN. MCKENZIE: One — one thing I’d just add to Dana’s first response. Once we know the requirement, we’ll move very quickly. This department will move very quickly to answer those requirements, once they’re known in scope.
So, Missy, about Syria. So a lot of great work’s been done in Syria, very close to — to reaching an end state against the caliphate. We think as we go forward, one of the — one of the things that we haven’t been given is a timeline, and that’s actually very effective. And that might have been problem that we saw before in Afghanistan, where we operated against a timeline that was known to the enemy. The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that’s a tool that we can use to — to our effect as we move forward.
Now I would tell you that looking — looking in the long term, obviously, entities in the region, nations in the region have to have as much interest in the problem in Syria as we do, and probably more, since they’re the ones that are going to be most affected by it.
So as you look to long-term stabilization, we should actually look to partners and allies in the region that are going to be able to do many of those things.
Q: Can I just clarify then, what did the announcement this week change, if anything? Because I thought that the policy always was that the U.S. military wants — it wasn’t going to stay in Syria forever. So once ISIS defeated, we would leave in some sort of medium-term scenario. So if you’re saying there isn’t a timeline for leaving, what’s the difference?
GEN. MCKENZIE: We’ve always thought that as we reach — as we — as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria, we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there. So in that sense, nothing actually has changed.
MS. WHITE: And remember, we also — we are supporting the U.N.’s Geneva process. And so we have to ensure that the conditions are such, and that our allies are participating so that Geneva can succeed.
Right here in the middle.
Q: The question about the crashes. It certainly seems like there’s been an uptick. We understand data, correlation, causation, but it certainly seems like it’s trending in a very bad direction. Can the Pentagon say at this point whether or not we’re in some kind of a historic uptick in these tragic accidents? And is the Pentagon studying anything to see whether or not it’s a systemic problem, whether or not they’ve treating them like isolated incidents?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So we look very closely at any aviation mishap. We look at the mishap on its own merits. And as you know, we have well-established procedures to — to take a look at it. Each one is a tragedy unique and unto itself.
We also look at causality between the two. I don’t have anything on — for you right now, that should say those are necessarily linked. But — But we — we always look at linkages. We always look at multiple causalities. We always look at that very hard.
Q: Can you say whether or not this is a trend that’s going up as opposed to where we’ve been historically?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I don’t have that information for you right now. I would tell you, for — for the Marine Corps for example, I’d go to aviation in the Marine Corps. They would be able to give you some detailed information.
And, as you know, all the services keep it. I just — I don’t have joint information, as we talk right now, but I’m sure we could get you something.
Q: (Off mic) follow up on that?
Q: Appreciate it.
MS. WHITE: Okay, (inaudible), go ahead.
Q: Can you explain this wave of crashes this very week? Does the U.S. military have a crisis when it comes to U.S. military aviation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So I would reject “wave” and “crisis.” Those are mishaps that occurred. We’re going to look at each one in turn. Each one is tragic. We regret each one. We’ll look at them carefully. I’m certainly not prepared to say that it’s a wave of mishaps or some form of crisis. No, I’m not prepared to say that.
Q: Can you explain it then? If it’s not a wave and it’s not a crisis, how do you explain it, General?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I’d say mishaps happen in military aviation any time you’re flying complicated machines in — in situations where you’ve got less than total visibility and doing things that are difficult to do.
Mishaps are inevitably going to occur. We don’t want any mishaps to occur. One mishap is too many. But I’m not prepared to say right now that this is some kind of crisis.
MS. WHITE: Janie?
Q: Hi, thank you, Dana.
On North Korea, North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility is popularly reconstruction — under reconstruction right now. How are the North Koreans’ actions affecting the USA-North Korea summit for the denuclearization?
MS. WHITE: So, as you know, the State Department and the White House are in the lead on those discussions. The alliance between the U.S. and the ROK could not be stronger. But I’m going to let our diplomats lead that discussion, because they are the ones at the forefront, and I will let them talk to the way ahead.
Q: Hi. I’m just confused about — there’s — seems like there’s a lack of planning before the announcement about the border wall. Is there some type of miscommunication between the White House and the Department of Defense about using troops at the border?
If there’s still all this planning to go along with it.
MS. WHITE: The communication between the White House and the Defense Department is very clear. We are leaning forward. We have already — as I’ve said, we’ve already done a great deal with respect to border security. But this is a priority, and the secretary considers it a priority. Border security is national security, and that’s how we see it.
And so, by standing up this 24/7 cell, we are going to ensure that the requirements that are sent to us, as the general said, are met very quickly. We want to ensure that there is a streamlined process so that we understand what is needed and that we can allocate those resources quickly.
Q: — other national security issue is Syria. It seems there’s a back and forth of whether we’re withdrawing troops or we’re not withdrawing troops. Is — again, is there a miscommunication between the Department of Defense and the White House about that strategy?
MS. WHITE: I’ve heard rumors of people talking about withdrawal. I know the president said “very soon,” because we have been very successful with defeating ISIS. But it’s not over, and we are committed to ensuring the defeat of ISIS.
We have always said that our mission in Syria is the defeat of ISIS. That is nearly here, but it’s not done. And the activities in northern Syria have distracted the SDF from this fight.
But we continue to be focused on the defeat of ISIS, and ISIS remains a trans-regional threat, and the 71-nation coalition that’s fighting ISIS is committed to ensuring that we combat violent extremism wherever it is.
Q: Just a few clarifications.
Firstly, will the U.S. military assist the State Department in stabilization efforts in Syria?
MS. WHITE: We will — our mission is a military mission, but we will always support and provide the conditions necessary for our diplomats to be successful.
Q: So is it fair to say that the U.S. military will assist in stabilization efforts?
MS. WHITE: We are going to continue the fight, because the fight against ISIS is not over.
Q: And also, this — the U.S. government’s position is, too, that Assad must go from power?
MS. WHITE: Our position in Syria has been to defeat ISIS. That mission has not changed.
MS. WHITE: Tom? Tom? Tom? Tom?
Q: Thank you.
What does the defeat of ISIS actually look like? Would you continue to follow them into Assad-held areas? And why should the Kurds continue to fight ISIS when the White House has signaled a willingness to basically abandon Syria?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So, when we think about ISIS, we shouldn’t just think about the Euphrates River Valley. We need to think that ISIS is a global problem. So we deal with ISIS globally, of which the physical — the remnants of the physical caliphate are simply a single manifestation.
So I think it’s too simple to think about just reaching end state in Syria. I would — but I would go on to say that our definition of success against ISIS would be they are unable to generate successful attacks against the homeland of the United States or against our allies, and they are able to be kept at a — kept below the noise level by a combination of local police and security elements, wherever those localities are globally, not just in the Euphrates River Valley.
Q: And the Kurds? Why should they keep fighting ISIS?
Q: Follow-up? Follow-up?
MS. WHITE: Okay, Joe. Joe. Joe in the back. Joe?
Q: Thank you, Dana.
MS. WHITE: I’ll take a few more (Off mic).
Q: (Off mic) to — for both of you. Back in the days when — back during the counterinsurgency in Iraq, we used to hear from this building, the counterinsurgency doctrine was — (inaudible) was about “clear, hold and build.”
How much we can use this formula in countering ISIS right now in Syria?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think our position would be — the ideal solution would be for local elements, as well as allies and partners in the region, to assume much of the hold and build responsibilities after the defeat of ISIS is enabled.
Q: Where are — where are we right now? Are we still in the clearing phase?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think we’re — I’d prefer not to use that — that lexicon. I would tell you that we’re very close to completing the final end of the caliphate — the physical caliphate in Syria.
MS. WHITE: Jeff? Jeff?
Q: Thank you.
General, getting back to the crashes, without using judgment words like “wave” and et cetera, you have 14 people dead in three weeks in six separate crashes. Are you saying this is normal?
GEN. MCKENZIE: No. It’s never normal when servicemen and women lose their lives. And I think that’s a tremendous tragedy. So, certainly, that’s not normal. And our response to it is never normal. We look very hard, through a well-established procedure of examining each mishap. So, no, it’s not normal. We look hard at it.
We look for causality. Was it a single incident? Was it — was it systemic? Is it related to something we’re doing across the entire fleet, either — be it the entire fleet of that type, model, series aircraft, or something in the training of the aviators that are flying the platforms? Or is it a maintenance issue?
We work very hard to uncover all those things, to look both individually at each accident, each mishap, as well as the — as linkages between the two.
Q: And, if I could just follow up, last year, there was an even deadlier spate when you had the KC-130 crash, and then the MV-22. Is it — is there some kind of underlying issue that is causing military aircraft to keep crashing?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Not that I’m aware of, but we will look at it very closely. And each one of those accidents — each one of those mishaps is being investigated.
So, no, I’m not — I wouldn’t say that. I think that, any time manned flight occurs, eventually, there are going to be mishaps that — that are associated with it. Any loss is one too many. And I’m — and I — and I take that point. But I’m not prepared to say anything more on that.
MS. WHITE: Kristina?
Q: Thank you.
A few questions: Is there a cost estimate on DOD support for DHS for border security yet?
MS. WHITE: We don’t have a cost estimate. That’s a lot of the work that the support cell will do.
Q: Who else is manning — will man the 24/7 border cell?
MS. WHITE: So there will be Rapuano, it will be policy as well as the members of the joint staff. But we are still working through all of those individuals.
Q: And last question. Can — you mentioned the cloud. There are some groups — industry groups who believe that the sole-source cloud contract that is set to be awarded in May is being geared towards Amazon. What would you say in response to that?
MS. WHITE: First, I would say it’s not a sole-source contract. It’s a single award.
And I’m excited that people are excited about this cloud because we are, and because we want to get the best deal for the American people, and we want to get the best technology for our warfighters.
This is a full and open competition. We want people to be as creative as possible. This is important. This is not business as usual. The secretary’s been very clear that we need to be good stewards of the American people’s money. So nothing is taken for granted. Nothing is presumed. And we will get a full, open and transparent competition.
And this is the first of many competitions with respect to the cloud.
Q: (Off mic)
MS. WHITE: Oh. Corey? back — back in the back.
Q: We just got word a little while ago about Alligator Dagger being canceled. Did the Djiboutian government ask the U.S. to cancel that exercise? And what impact on readiness in that region and operations out of Djibouti, you know, primarily into Yemen and that kind of area will that have?
MS. WHITE: So —
GEN. MCKENZIE: So we and the Djiboutians reached an agreement to cease flight operations. Separately, the commander decided to cancel the rest of the exercise.
I don’t know the details of that beyond — beyond the — beyond those two facts, but it is — it’s not unusual — and I’ve actually been a MEU commander in Djibouti and flown these airplanes there. You want to step back, take a look and make sure, for reasons that have been amply brought out in the back-and-forth here, that you’re not doing something wrong as your — as your aircraft fly.
So that’s just a reasonable precaution by the commander on the ground, to make sure that — that we’re not doing something that we can fix.
MS. WHITE: Tom? I’ll take one more. Tom?
Q: General, I want to be clear about — (inaudible) — about the governors providing advice to you all. Is it possible that you could have four different — you said sometimes they may be armed, sometimes they may not be armed depending on what the governors’ request?
Is that meaning a united policy for all four states, or could we see four different operations going on?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Yeah, I wouldn’t — I — if I inferred that —
GEN. MCKENZIE: — if I inferred that the governors were — were going to — you might see four different policies in four different states, I don’t think so. But that’s actually what we’re scoping out right now.
What I expect we’ll have in the next — very soon is the aggregated list of asks from the governors filtered through DHS. Then we’ll examine it, we’ll look at what our posture’s going to be as a result of that.
Thank you for clarifying.
MS. WHITE: Thank you. Thank you all.