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DOD News Briefing with George Little and Capt. Kirby from the Pentagon
GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. The only announcement we have today is that tomorrow Secretary Panetta will welcome the Korean minister of national defense to the Pentagon for a meeting and dinner in advance of the two-plus-two meeting at the State Department on Thursday. There will be an honor cordon at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow.
Unless you have anything to add?
CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Nope.
MR. LITTLE: Then we'll go ahead and open up to questions.
Q: Hi, George. Thanks. Ask you about the statement that President Karzai made today about the use of air power against civilian compounds. Our translation of what he said was that no bombardment of civilian homes for any reason, even self-defense. And then ISAF put out a statement saying that General Allen had issued an order in accordance with the understanding with President Karzai, which said no aerial munitions to be delivered against civilian dwellings except in self-defense. Seems to be out of kilter with what the President Karzai said. I'm wondering if you could explain what the U.S. position is on that.
MR. LITTLE: Sure. Let's put this into some context. It's a good question, and thank you, Bob. The number of events directed against civilian compounds is a very small percentage of events in which air-delivered munitions are used. So that's point number one.
Point number two is that we do retain the right of self-defense in Afghanistan for force protection reasons. That's an inherent right, and we will retain that right.
There have been certain limits placed on air-delivered munitions. General Allen and ISAF announced those, and we're working closely with the Afghan government to ensure that we take appropriate steps to ensure that we avoid civilian casualties. We also take seriously the prospect of civilian casualties, and we try to limit those to the extent possible. And our track record in Afghanistan is very good on this point.
Let me make it clear that when it comes to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, we care about trying to avoid them. Our enemies don't. They, in fact, intentionally inflict harm upon the civilian populations inside Afghanistan, and they are responsible for the large majority of civilian casualties that occur in that country.
CAPT. KIRBY: Enough of that.
Q: Is General Allen taking additional steps in this announcement today then or was he reiterating what they said yesterday?
CAPT. KIRBY: I think -- I think the purpose was just to simply reiterate very clearly what his decision was. I think that's what this was.
Q: There seems to be a gap, though, remaining between what President Karzai said and what General Allen -- (inaudible).
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I haven't seen President Karzai's statement; I have seen the general's. And I can just tell you that I think both President Karzai and General Allen came to the same conclusions in their meeting over the weekend, that -- first of all, that this was a deeply regrettable incident, but also that there did -- there did need to be some limits applied to the use of air-dropped munitions against dwellings. And -- so I don't think -- it -- I don't think there's really a big gap between the expectations here. Again, I haven't seen the president's statements; but my understanding is that, coming out of that meeting at the palace over the weekend, that both men were in general agreement about the way forward and how we were going to do this.
Q: Well, except today Karzai is quoted as saying, airplanes are not to be used in civilian areas; it is completely banned, absolutely banned, absolutely. So there does appear to be some space.
CAPT. KIRBY: I've not seen those comments, Mik, but I will just tell you, coming out of the -- coming out of the discussions on Saturday, I think there was a general agreement about the way forward. And I think General Allen's been very, very --
Q: (Off mic) -- doesn't sound like Karzai agrees with --
CAPT. KIRBY: General Allen's been very, very clear about what the limits are going to be and how far we're going to go. But as George said, we never remove from our troops in the field the right of self-defense. We would never do that. And they still have the right of self-defense. And I think what you're going to see is a more serious effort to use other means. And there are other conventional means available to deal with insurgents that are using human shields inside dwellings.
Q: If I could quickly follow up.
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: There was a report out of Kabul today that the U.S. military, in an attempt to prove that they were under fire from enemy forces, showed the Afghan investigators a videotape which showed gunmen on top of a building. But the Afghans say that that video also showed women and children were also present in that building. So if the U.S. military is willing to show that video to the Afghans, can you release that video publicly?
CAPT. KIRBY: Right now it's an incident that's under investigation, and all the evidence that would apply to that investigation need to be made available to investigators. And I doubt very seriously that there's going to be any interest in making any of that evidence public right now. I would refer you to ISAF. You can certainly ask them that question. But my sense would be, no, that we're not going to make evidence in an ongoing investigation publicly available right now.
Q: Just one more quick follow-up. Secretary of State Clinton said just a short time ago that Russia is now supplying attack helicopters to the Syrians, and warns of a serious escalation in the fighting there. Can you provide any details as to what kind of helicopters, when were they delivered, how are they being delivered?
CAPT. KIRBY: I am not seeing reporting that indicates the -- that the Russians are providing attack helicopters to the Syrians. I've just not seen that.
What I can tell you is that we have been in consultations with our Russian partners for some time now about the way forward in Syria and about soliciting their support for the kinds of international and economic pressure that we believe needs to continue to be applied against the Assad regime. But I have not seen reports about specific helicopter airframes being provided to Syria.
Q: Well, what have you seen in regard to attack helicopters?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, we do --
Q: If the State Department is seeing it, clearly, you've seen it, right?
CAPT. KIRBY: We know that -- we know that the Assad regime is using helicopter gunships against their own people. I mean, I -- we do know that. I don't have, you know, the blow-by-blow of exactly what day and when and what type of aircraft they're using. Frankly, the type of airframe is immaterial. That they are using helicopter gunships against their own people is intolerable, unacceptable and just further evidence of the degree to which they're willing to kill their own people for twisted ends.
Q: And -- sorry -- the claim that Russia is supplying these helicopters, that would be immaterial?
CAPT. KIRBY: I didn't say that, Mick. I said I haven't seen reporting that indicates the Russians are supplying helicopters.
MR. LITTLE: Dan.
Q: On Syria, then, do you see that conflict now entering kind of a new stage where it's escalated to a new -- a new, more serious level?
MR. LITTLE: What we're seeing, I think, Dan, is a series of deplorable and disgusting attacks undertaken by the Assad regime against the civilian population of Syria. We believe this is a sign of increasing desperation on the part of the Assad regime. They're lashing out, and they're lashing out in a violent and brutal way. And that is absolutely unacceptable.
The international community has been clear that we need to apply all the pressure we can to stop the violence. And I would reiterate once again that it's time for President Assad to step aside and for Syria to return to a country of greater peace and stability and a place where the Syrian people can determine their own future.
Q: And then -- sorry, just last night the secretary -- (off mic) --
MR. LITTLE: We don't allow follow-ups. (Laughter.)
Q: The secretary last night talked about no silver bullet. Can you elaborate exactly what he means by that?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary, I think, has been very clear over the past several months in congressional testimony and in public commentary elsewhere that this is an extremely complex situation in Syria. We have a degree of violence that is intolerable, perpetrated by a relatively well-armed regime. We have an array of opposition groups that are trying to push back on the regime. We know that the circumstances here are very difficult, and I think that's getting at -- getting to what the secretary was alluding to.
Q: Thanks. So members of Congress -- Senator Cornyn sent a letter to the secretary yesterday criticizing the -- this department for continuing to buy Russian-made helicopters from a company that is providing arms to Syria. So you've just called what's happening in Syria intolerable and unacceptable. But is it hypocritical to continue to buy these helicopters or to buy -- to buy any Russian arms -- Russian-made arms when your position is so -- such the opposite of Russia on Syria?
MR. LITTLE: We will of course supply a response in a timely manner to Senator Cornyn on this very issue.
The Mi-17 helicopter, from our vantage point, is about Afghanistan. It's about equipping the Afghan air force with what they need to ensure that they have the capabilities from an air standpoint to defend themselves. This is part of their fleet which they have the skills and expertise to use and use effectively. It complements their rotary aircraft capabilities and, at this point, I believe this is the only legally available method to provide these helicopters.
We understand the concerns. We're not ignoring them. But I would make the point that, in the case of Afghanistan, the Mi-17 is about giving them what they need and what they can use effectively to take on their own -- (changes pronunciation) -- their own fights inside their own country.
Q: George, is this department planning for sequestration yet? I've been told repeatedly by a senior Defense Department source that this is a professional planning organization.
MR. LITTLE: (Laughs.) I think I would go on the record and say that this is in fact a professional planning organization. There's no doubt about it. But when it comes to sequestration, there's been no change. We are not planning, at this stage, for sequestration. We've not been directed to do so, Spencer.
Q: George, what would the Pakistanis need to do to have you send the team back to continue negotiating about opening the routes? What concrete things do they need to do?
MR. LITTLE: It's a good question. And you're right, the team that we had on the ground for some six weeks negotiating directly with the Pakistanis has mostly left Pakistan. It's important to note, though, that we do continue dialogue through ODRP [Office of Defense Representative Pakistan] in Islamabad. So it's not as if we have cut off discussions altogether. We continue to have dialogue on this issue. Yes, the negotiating team is coming home for what we hope is a short period of time. We hope that the GLOCs [Ground Line of Communications] are reopened soon, and we look forward to having our officials go back to Islamabad to seal the deal at some point in the near future.
Q: But what do they need -- what do the Pakistanis need to do for you to send them back?
MR. LITTLE: I think that -- without getting into specific negotiating positions or stances, I think that they are -- we've reached, in many respects, agreement across a range of technical issues. So we have a few more to work through, and we believe we can get to yes with the Pakistanis at the end of the day on the GLOCs. And we hope that day comes sooner rather than later.
Q: But if you're reached agreement, why did they pull out?
MR. LITTLE: Well, we haven't reached agreement, obviously, on every single issue. We've reached agreement, we believe, on many of the technicalities regarding reopening the ground supply routes. But we have a little bit more work to do.
Q: An agreement to pay per truck -- I mean, did your --
MR. LITTLE: Again, I wouldn't get into the specifics of the negotiations. But we believe that there is a window of opportunity to reopen the supply route.
CAPT. KIRBY: I would just add, I think, the teams themselves have taken it as far as they can right now. And now it's really in the hands of the political leadership of Pakistan to make some decisions about where they want to go strategically on this, and that's really where we are, Jennifer.
Q: Is the issue of an apology essentially the last sticking point here?
MR. LITTLE: Again, I wouldn't get into what the sticking points are. I don't want to negotiate in a public forum.
If you're asking about an apology connected to the border incident -- a very tragic incident that occurred in November of last year -- we, as you know, have expressed our deep regret and condolences on repeated occasion for that incident, and I would repeat that sense of deep regret today.
Q: But I don't -- I don't understand. I mean, the U.S. has never been willing to say the words "we apologize" or come close to that. I don't fully understand why not. General Allen apologized for killing -- for, you know, the allegations for civilians killed in Afghanistan. This is a case where you've accepted a certain amount of responsibility for mistakes that resulted in the death of these Pakistani soldiers. I don't understand why an apology is such a big issue for the United States.
MR. LITTLE: We have made it clear that we have taken responsibility for the mistakes we made with respect to the November 25, 26 border incident, and I would repeat that sense of regret that we have about this incident. It's time, we believe, to move forward in the relationship with Pakistan. We do have that opportunity. This relationship is not where it needs to be right now. We all understand that.
Q: But that's not my question, with all due respect. I mean, the Pakistanis have publicly insisted on an apology. And if, as you say, the technical aspects have been largely dealt with, it would seem that -- and if you're kicking it to the political leadership, that would seem to be the last remaining issue. Am I wrong about that? And again, what's the justification for not apologizing in some form?
MR. LITTLE: Well, again, this gets to the contours of the negotiation, and I wouldn't get into the specifics of what we're discussing or not discussing with the Pakistanis. Whether or not an apology is part of that mix is not something hing I'm going to discuss in a public forum.
Q: Let's go back to the helicopter question a second. Is the department looking at alternatives to continuing to buy choppers from Rosoboronexport? That was the gist of Senator Cornyn's letter to Panetta yesterday.
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, got the letter, and we will certainly respond to the senator's concerns. But right now this particular contract is the only method legally available to the department to provide those aircraft and, just as importantly, safe and reliable spare parts and equipment to support those aircraft for the Afghan military. That's the only legal method available to us right now, and that's -- so that's where we are right now. But --
Q: (Off mic.)
CAPT. KIRBY: No, we've seen the senator's letter and take it seriously, and we'll reply to him as promptly as we can. Yes, we understand the question he's asking, but right now the only legal way, the only method available to us is through this particular contract.
Q: But are you going to be exploring other ways to do it?
CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not going to respond to a member of Congress here at a press conference. We got his letter, we'll take it seriously and we'll respond to it.
Q: I mean, the department doesn't dispute the notion that Rosoboron is providing arms to the Syrian government that are being used to kill civilians over there. Is that -- you agree that that's a factual issue? That's factual? Mr. Miller, your head of policy, conceded that in March 30th to Cornyn in a letter. I just wanted to get you on the record. You know you're doing a deal with the devil, basically?
CAPT. KIRBY: He wants you on the record.
MR. LITTLE: You want to say it on the record? Yeah. (Laughter.)
Q: (Off mic) -- there's no -- (off mic) --
MR. LITTLE: I don't -- I don't -- I don't like to make deals with any devil here. We're not buying helicopters for the -- for the Syrian regime. We're buying helicopters in support of the Afghan Air Force.
Q: Can I follow up on this? Can you point to any single thing that this department is doing or planning to do that would express your displeasure with the state-run military complex -- industrial complex in Russia? Are you thinking of any chilling in any way, shape or form of your relationship? You say you have to sell these helicopters to Afghanistan, but is there any impact on the Russians of what they are doing that you can point to from the United States military, number one? And number two, I don't really understand. You board and inspect cargo ships all over the world legally for illicit cargo. Why are you not supporting boarding Russian cargo ships going into Syria?
CAPT. KIRBY: The second question -- really, that's an issue for the -- very high levels of national leadership to decide. That's not something that the Pentagon would have a position on supporting or not supporting. That's a -- that's a -- that kind of a decision is up to the president and other leaders of countries around the world to decide, Barbara.
Now, I want to get back on the -- on the Russian helo thing. I mean, I -- we understand that some of the aircraft that the Syrians fly are Russian-made and Russian-produced. There's no denying that. But you know, let's not forget that it's not just what you're flying or where it was made, it's what you're doing with it, right? And the helos that we're providing for the Afghan air force are developing a very important capability that that country's going to need when the ISAF mission ends at the end of 2014. They're going to need some air force capability. And the Mi-17 is the helo that they are used to flying, they've been flying a long time; they're comfortable with it. That's the reality we're living in.
And let's not also forget now what the Syrians are doing with their aircraft assets. They're killing their own people. So I got the connection to Russia. And again, we're going to take the senator's concerns very seriously. But let's not let the Assad regime off the hook here. It's less important what they're buying than it is what they're doing with what they've got.
Q: I don't really understand that. Is that -- I mean, that to me seems a statement of policy right there, with respect. Is it -- why is it not important, in the Pentagon's mind, that this -- that the Russians are doing that?
CAPT. KIRBY: Didn't say it wasn't important. We're going to take the senator's concerns very seriously. But what I'm saying -- what I'm saying is, the debate and the discussion over the Mi-17 contract, while important, can easily overlook the real issue, which is the Syrian regime killing their own people.
Q: I'm asking strictly in relationship to the Russians one more time. Separate from this -- the Mi-17 issue, are you doing anything to express your displeasure with the Russian state military complex selling this? Are you going to let them continue to appear and display their weapons at air shows that you also participate in, which there's a lot of controversy about right now?
Are any of your interactions with the Russian military being -- or the Russian government being impacted on this?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't --
Q: Is there anything you can point to?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't think it's for us here in this department to speak for consultations between the -- between our government and the Russian government. I would refer you to the State Department for that.
Q: (Inaudible) -- military to military --
CAPT. KIRBY: That said -- that said -- that said, it's safe to say that we are in constant consultation with the Russians about the way ahead in Syria. And we believe that the -- that the Russians believe and understand that the best outcome is a political transition in Syria which leads to a regime, a government that is -- that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people, not the Assad regime. But beyond that, I don't think we go from this podium.
MR. LITTLE: Dave.
Q: Is Russian resupply enabling the Syrian armed forces to continue their offensive against the opposition?
CAPT. KIRBY: We -- look, the -- we certainly understand that many of the Syrians' systems and programs are Russian-made and that they -- that they, as a nation-state would, seek to resupply and refurbish that -- those systems, those programs. But I'm not going to, you know, get into condemning the arms sales between two countries here from the podium. The issue is --
Q: (Off mic) -- a simple fact here. Is the Russian resupply of military equipment to the -- to Syria enabling the Syrian armed forces to continue their offensive?
CAPT. KIRBY: To the degree that the Syrian armed forces use that resupply to kill their own people, then yes.
MR. LITTLE: Mike.
Q: Why has the U.S. commander and U.S. forces in Korea asked for a number of combat aviation, other combat equipment, and why is he doing that now?
MR. LITTLE: I think General Thurman, first of all, is doing a fantastic job as commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Secondly, he is dedicated to ensuring that we and our South Korean allies have the capabilities that we need to ensure the defense of the Republic of Korea. And any recommendations or decisions that he's made with respect to the provision of new equipment, we believe, is part of a calculus that goes on all the time when you're in a theater like the Republic of Korea and you face a threat across the border. I'm not aware of any particular trigger that has prompted what you've seen in press reports. I think that, you know, he regularly takes prudent and logical steps to ensure that we have and the South Koreans have what they need to ensure the defense of the peninsula.
CAPT. KIRBY: I think -- I think he actually talked about this in congressional testimony earlier in the year. This isn't -- as I understand it, this isn't -- these aren't necessarily new things he's asking for based on some current event or incident now. This is -- these are, you know, long-standing capabilities that he's been interested in making sure he has available to him. In fact, some of them, I think, are intended just to replace or restore assets that deployed to Afghanistan from South Korea that he just simply wants to get -- to get back into his quiver.
Q: (Off mic) -- have to do with the Asia pivot at all or --
CAPT. KIRBY: No, I think --
MR. LITTLE: No.
CAPT. KIRBY: -- I think -- I mean, I'd let General Thurman speak for himself, but it's our understanding that, again, these are -- these are capabilities he's long wanted to have at his disposal and it just -- based on his own military judgment about our ability to continue defense of the peninsula for the alliance.
MR. LITTLE: We pivoted to the Republic of Korea about 60 years ago. (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: Pardon me?
Q: It is reported the commander of the United States forces in South Korea was replaced. Would you tell us why he was replaced?
MR. LITTLE: That's really something, if true, I -- for the Republic of Korea to address.
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: I'm sorry --
CAPT. KIRBY: Who? Oh, you're talking about General Tolley.
MR. LITTLE: Oh, General Tolley. I'm sorry, my -- (inaudible). That was a routine --
CAPT. KIRBY: General Tolley. Look, his tour was -- his tour was almost over. It was a two-year -- a two-year set of orders, and he was near the end of that. I think he was a year and 10 months into it when the announcement came. All routine. It was a --
MR. LITTLE: Routine transition.
CAPT. KIRBY: -- there was nothing more to that than a routine reassignment.
Q: (Off mic) -- mission to -- (inaudible) -- military facilities; he made a mistake or something?
CAPT. KIRBY: He made a mistake?
Q: About North Korean --
CAPT. KIRBY: Oh, when he was talking at that conference. They --
MR. LITTLE: He clarified his comments, but those comments have nothing to do with --
CAPT. KIRBY: No.
MR. LITTLE: -- the transition in his job assignment.
CAPT. KIRBY: This announcement of his change was coming anyway.
Q: How many ships -- Russian ships or airplanes are arriving each day in Syria with weapons, as far as you know?
MR. LITTLE: I don't know.
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't know.
MR. LITTLE: Jim.
Q: Can I just go back to the supply lines through Pakistan real quick?
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: Even if the supply lines don't open up through Pakistan, there is still not going to be a problem getting those 23,000 Americans and their equipment out by the deadline of the end of September?
MR. LITTLE: General Scaparrotti, I think, addressed some of this yesterday. The short answer is no, there won't be a problem.
Q: Yeah, well, he talked about personnel. He didn't talk about the equipment.
MR. LITTLE: The equipment -- yeah, the equipment we believe we can also retrograde effectively over time. It may not be at the same exact moment as personnel withdrawal. But you know, we do hope that the ground supply routes are reopened. It's important for any number of reasons, for logistics and for cost. It won't affect the drawdown.
Q: Could I just follow up on that? Doesn't that affect the equipping of the ANSF, that -- in fact, it's sort of slowed down -- this was identified in the last six-month report, that it has significantly slowed down the equipping of the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] because a lot of equipment that they were expected to receive is sort of sitting in Pakistan. Is that -- isn't that a problem?
CAPT. KIRBY: There is some --
MR. LITTLE: There's --
CAPT. KIRBY: Go ahead. That's all right.
MR. LITTLE: No, there -- when you have equipment sitting on the other side of the border and it's not getting to the ANSF, it's an issue. And we hope that we can push that equipment through in the near future. That being said, there is the Northern Distribution Network, and we believe that we can adequately supply the ANSF. It may not happen as quickly as we would like in some cases, but we believe that the ANSF have the capabilities and the equipment they need to effectively conduct their missions.
And they're doing an extremely good job right now, David. I think that the way they've responded to recent attacks, the way they've performed on partnered operations, the way they have upgunned their training, they are doing excellent work, and I don't see a serious impact to the ANSF based on the closure of the ground supply routes. Does it have some effect? Yes, I want to be clear with you. But I wouldn't put it in the category of a dramatic or significant effect.
CAPT. KIRBY: That's true.
MR. LITTLE: Chris.
Q: Yesterday when we were briefed from Afghanistan, General Scaparrotti said there would be no problem recovering the surge equipment, there'd be no problem supplying the troops, even though they aren't open. But at the same time, these talks and negotiations keep going on and you keep trying over and over and over again. It seems a bit of a disconnect; on one hand saying it doesn't matter, it's not that big of a deal, on the other hand trying desperately to get them to reopen. I mean, how much longer can you incur these higher costs before you start to blow the budget in Afghanistan?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not sure that there's been a disconnect in the statements of U.S. officials on these issues. We've been very clear that we're hopeful that the GLOCs are reopened. It's important logistically and it is important in terms of cost.
That being said, our troops are well supplied. We have stores. There's been an amazing amount of work done by the U.S. military to ensure that through other supply networks, we have what we need to prosecute the war effectively and to connect all the support that is required to sustain this kind of effort in Afghanistan.
The -- we can rely on the Northern Distribution Network, that's true. It is costlier. The GLOCs are less expensive. That being said, it really is a tribute to General Allen and the ISAF team that we've been able to work the art of military logistics to ensure that our folks and our partners have what they need to continue to conduct the war and to ensure that we'll have what we need in the future to effect an orderly drawdown of ISAF forces and to ensure that we can retrograde effectively.
CAPT. KIRBY: The real -- the real heroes here are the Transportation Command. I mean, they're the ones that have literally been moving mountains to make sure that troops have what they need and to get the stuff home that needs to get home.
Nobody said -- and Scaparrotti didn't say that it doesn't matter. What he said was we can -- we can continue to do what we need to do, both in terms of daily operations and retrograde. If we had to do it without the ground lines of communication, we could do it.
I mean, you've been covering the building long enough to know one of the things that we do well here is get the job done. And we'll find ways to get the job done. It would be easier with the ground gates open, and it would be cheaper. But until they open, we'll have to find other ways, and we will.
Q: And at no point would you alter the mission or the capabilities to fit the costs? Whatever it costs for as long as it costs -- is that the plan?
MR. LITTLE: No, no, no. The fundamental objectives of this mission remain sound. And the fact of the closure of the GLOCs in Pakistan will not in any way, shape or form alter our fundamental commitment to the transition of Afghanistan, to continuing the fight and to ensuring that our troops have what they need.
Q: OK. I would like to go back to Syria if it's possible.
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: Could you -- could you give us an idea about the status of what's going on inside Syria? Do you know if the Syrian army or the Syrian intelligence are still loyal to the regime? What would you say on that?
CAPT. KIRBY: We don't have -- we don't have perfect knowledge and intelligence of the inner workings of the Syrian regime or their military right now. Clearly there are elements of his national security establishment which remain loyal to him. There's no doubt about that. But how many and where the fissures are, I don't think we have that kind of information. I just don't think we have that level of fidelity.
Tom, you had your hand up.
Q: Thanks. I'm just wondering, to what extent is the increasing reliance on the Northern Distribution Network through Russia and Russia's support for that limiting of this building and this government from criticizing Russia's support to the murderous regime of Syria?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't think we're linking the two, Tom. I mean, we're dealing with issues as they are with all the nations we're dealing with in the Northern Distribution Network. And Russia has been extraordinarily helpful. And we're grateful for the assistance that they've offered with respect to logistics routes in and out of northern Afghanistan. But we're not linking the two.
As I said earlier, we are -- we remain in close consultation with our Russian partners. That dialogue principally occurs through the State Department. And we're trying to deal with each of the issues individually as they need to be dealt with and not necessarily linking.
Q: (Off mic) -- what Russia does, I mean, the dispute over missile defense has spilled over into a lot of different things. So you're saying that you're not concerned at all that if this government were to really criticize Russia for its actions in Syria that there's no fear that Russia might tighten the northern network?
CAPT. KIRBY: What our concern -- our concerns are that we're able to keep the Northern Distribution Network open and running and continue to -- and we're concerned about continuing to be able to have those kinds of dialogues with nations there and with Russia.
And certainly we remain concerned, as we've said before, about the violence ongoing in Syria. And the degree to which the Syrians are arming themselves or rearming themselves or resupplying themselves and using that material to kill their own people, absolutely, it remains a concern to us. But again, I would -- I'd -- the focus really needs to be more on what the Assad regime is doing to its own people than the -- than the cabinets and the closets to which they turn to pull stuff out. I mean, it's really about what they're doing with what they've got in their hand.
MR. LITTLE: And it's worth noting, too, that the Northern Distribution Network is really a crown jewel of modern military logistical complexity. And the routes go into and out of a number of countries in the region.
CAPT. KIRBY: I mean, I just -- I want to follow up -- just one -- and this is -- we have complex relationships with lots of countries, and there are lots of countries we deal with where we have disagreements over other issues. And sometimes there are larger strategic umbrella issues, whether it's human rights or things like that. But we try to find common cause. We try to look at the areas where we can agree and we do agree and work on those as well as we can.
Q: Right. But I don't want to be argumentative -- or maybe I do. But you know, routinely in the past, we have imposed arms embargoes on countries whose behavior fell far below acceptable norms -- former Yugoslavia, Libya, whatever. So Captain, with all due respect, it's a little hard for me to hear you say, it's not where they're getting the weapons from, it's what they're doing with them -- because there are any number of examples in the past where they got the weapons from was important.
CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not -- again, I'm not saying it's not important. I'm simply saying that let's not turn a blind eye to what they're actually doing with what they've got. That's really the issue at hand here. I'm not saying it's not important, not saying we're not going to take it seriously. But some of this is a matter for the interagency to deal with, not just the Pentagon. We don't -- it's not like we're ignoring it. I'm just saying we ought not to forget what the real crime is here. And the real crime is they're murdering their own people.
MR. LITTLE: Maybe a couple more questions and then we'll exit stage right.
Q: On the Northern Distribution Network, do you anticipate expanding that in negotiations with those governments to allow weapons and lethal material to move on those routes?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not aware of any move in that direction at this stage. If that changes, I'll let you know.
Q: Discussing with those governments?
CAPT. KIRBY: Expanding the use of the NDN? No.
MR. LITTLE: No, not that I'm aware of.
Q: One clarification -- Captain Kirby, when you were asked about Secretary Clinton's statement today that the Russians are now sending attack helicopters to Syria, did you say that you don't know that to be true or are you saying it's not true or --
CAPT. KIRBY: What I -- no, what I said was -- or what I thought I said was that we know that they are using helicopter gunships now to attack their own people -- the use of the helicopters, that's what I'm affirming.
Q: (Off mic) -- Russian helicopters?
CAPT. KIRBY: I believe that they do fly Russian helicopters, yes.
Q: (Off mic) -- and the question is there appears to be like a new shipment of helicopters -- (inaudible) -- by the Russians.
CAPT. KIRBY: I've not seen -- I have not seen -- if Secretary Clinton said that, I have not seen those remarks. So I'm not -- I did not mean to verify that there's been a new shipment of them. I don't know about that. What I do know is that they are using helicopters to kill their own people.
Q: Can you ask CIA to give us an unclassified assessment on that? What's their best thinking these days on whether the fact that Assad's regime has received helicopter gunships from Russian companies like Rosoboronexport? I mean, can you take that as a request?
CAPT. KIRBY: I will take the question. I don't know if I'm going to take it as in terms of getting you a background or a DIA, but I'll take the question. I got it. We'll take the question.
MR. LITTLE: All right. Maybe one or two.
Q: Earlier, when we were talking about the cost -- you know, how expensive it is to reroute because the GLOCs are closed. You both said it's expensive and costlier. I think several journalists have asked on repeated occasions for you to actually release the numbers that show that this is a costlier operation. Are you prepared to do that, and if so (sic), why not?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I think General Allen recently, in his press conference in this very room, indicated that the Northern Distribution Network is -- check me on this, but two to three times more expensive than the ground supply routes. I don't have the exact dollar figures for you today. We'll see if we can get those to you shortly.
Q: Just a follow-up on that. Didn't -- Senator McCaskill said about a million dollars a day. Would you dispute that?
MR. LITTLE: I am not disputing it; I just don't know if I can confirm it. I would need to get back to you. So let me -- let me see --
Q: Well, not that she said it, but that -- would that be the number?
MR. LITTLE: I need to follow up with you to see what the number -- OK? All right, thank you, everyone. Appreciate it.