May 27th, 2014

Rear Adm. Kirby on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: “it’s not a hard out”

CNN’s Jake Tapper spoke with Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby about President Obama’s announcement regarding U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  The full interview aired on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, 4-5 p.m. E.T.

A full transcript is available after the jump.

Transcript from Full Interview:

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

JAKE TAPPER, CNN:  Let’s bring in Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, thanks for joining us.

Senators McCain, Graham, Ayotte are calling this — quote — “a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy.”

Now, yes, it’s clear ending this war will be popular with the American public.  The big question, of course, are the Afghans really ready to go it alone?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY:  Well, Jake, I think they are getting — they more ready every single month.

And that’s a big part of the component of going forward here, the mission going forward.  Now, the combat mission ends at the end of this year, but assuming we get a bilateral security agreement and we can stay in Afghan in the next year, a major mission for our troops there is going to be to advise, train, and assist to help continue to develop their capacity and their capability.

But they are getting better and they have been getting better month by month.  A good friend of mine took command there in the east just a few months ago, and shortly after he arrived on stage — and he hadn’t been in Afghanistan for maybe a year or so — and he told me it was night and day, the difference that he saw in the Afghan troops just from the time that he had been away.  And they continue to improve.

TAPPER:  But, Admiral Kirby, as you know, the last time I was in Afghanistan, commanders on the ground, majors, lieutenant colonels, not the generals, they told me that their big concern was not so much the Afghan security forces.  They thought that they would be up to task.

But, rather, they were worried about the support for the security.  This is the not-sexy part in a military that nobody likes to talk about, but the resupply, the ammunition, the food.  When I was embedded with a medevac unit, we sat on an Afghan tarmac for half-an-hour with a wounded Afghan border guard just waiting for the ambulance to get to us.

KIRBY:  Sure.

TAPPER:  Are the Afghans going to be able to do that part of the job?

KIRBY:  Well, that’s another thing that we’re going to be working with them on, Jake, to be honest with you.

These are called — those are called enablers, enabling functions, the kind of things in the background that you don’t always see supporting the troops that are actually out in the field.  These are capabilities we know that they continue to need help with.  And we’re committed to doing that.

TAPPER:  What is to keep al Qaeda from just biding their time?  We fought for 12 years there.  What is a wait of two more years for them?

KIRBY:  Well, look, I’ll tell you.

If — first of all, al Qaeda leadership, core leadership in that part of the world has been severely degraded.  But let’s take your hypothetical out for a spin.  If they show up in January, February of next year, they are still going to see a significant U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.  But, more importantly, Jake, they are going to be more capable, more competent and frankly more skilled Afghan national security forces that don’t want them in their country either.

TAPPER:  What about counterterrorism in Pakistan?  As you know, there are a lot of drones that the U.S. operates out of Afghanistan that go into Pakistan, obviously, the operation to get bin Laden out of FOB Fenty in Jalalabad, out of Afghanistan into Pakistan.  Where are U.S. counterterrorism forces going to be located to go into that country, where many argue the real enemy is?

KIRBY:  Well, look, we’re taking a regional approach here.

We have taken a regional approach.  It isn’t just about the threat inside Afghanistan.  You’re right about that.  And I won’t detail the specifics in terms of exactly how counterterrorism operations are going to work going forward.  But, as the president made clear, that is certainly another one of the tracks, the missions that our troops are going to be doing, is assisting the Afghan national security forces with counterterrorism as well.

And we’re going to stay at that challenge.  We know it’s a persistent challenge, and nobody is going to turn their back on that.

TAPPER:  If things spiral into chaos, the way they have in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal there, would this timeline be reconsidered or is this a hard out, 2016, out?

KIRBY:  Well, a couple of things.

The president was pretty clear about the timeline that we’re going to follow.  We execute those orders.  But it’s not a hard out.  It’s not, as you put it in the lead-in, sort of poof and they’re gone.  We have always said that we want to keep a strong military-to-military relationship with Afghanistan, that our relationship with Afghanistan is going to be beyond just military as well, to diplomatic and economic.

And as you rightly said at the lead-in, we’re going to have some troops in the embassy to help continue advising and assisting the Afghans moving forward.  So, we’re not turning our back on Afghanistan from a security perspective.  We’re going to keep this relationship as strong, but more normal as possible going forward.

TAPPER:  Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much for your time.  We appreciate it.

KIRBY:  Thanks, Jake.  Appreciate it.