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June 5 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - June 5, 2012

            CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY:  Afternoon, everybody.

            First, as you -- just a couple of thoughts here.  First, as you know, Secretary Panetta continues his trip to the Asia-Pacific region this week.  Today he arrived in New Delhi, and he paid calls on both Prime Minister Singh and National Security Advisor Menon.  We provided you all a readout of those meetings, both of which the secretary appreciated.  And he continues to believe these meetings are valuable to helping us continue to improve the military relationship that we enjoy with India.

            You may also have seen that we reached agreement today with India to resume activities related to the recovery of remains of U.S. airmen lost in World War II.  We believe there's about 400 unaccounted-for service members from some 90 wartime crashes in northeastern India, and we have information on about 16 of known crash sites and continue to develop information about others.  As the secretary noted, the return of our fallen heroes remains a top priority for the department.  This agreement reached with India today is a critical first step to providing some comfort to the families of those American airmen, and we are grateful for the government -- to the government of India for their cooperation and understanding.

            With that, Bob.

            Q:  John, what can you say about the U.S. government's degree of confidence in having killed al-Libi in the airstrike yesterday?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Yeah, as you know, Bob, we don't talk about the specific of the counterterrorism operations, so I'm not going to be able to confirm those press reports.  But this is a very dangerous individual, and for him to no longer be walking the earth would be a good thing for everybody.  I think the leadership development program of al-Qaida is -- has some health risks and hazards that we think are good.

            Q:  (Off mic) -- drone attacks took place?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  No, as I said, we don't discuss the specifics of counterterrorism operations.  So I'm not going -- I'm not going to speak to specifics of operations.

            Q:  But can -- could you say if al-Libi, the al-Qaida number two in Pakistan, is one of the United States' targets?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Senior leaders of al-Qaida period, no matter where they are, by virtue of what they choose to do for a living, are threats to our security, the security of the American people, and the security of our friends and allies around the world.  They remain threats, and the president, the secretary of defense have made it very clear that we're going to deal with those threats wherever they are.

            Q:  So not responding specifically to this operation yesterday or anything that happened in the incidents yesterday, do you have any indication Abu Yahya al-Libi (ph) is less alive today than he was -- (inaudible)?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I have nothing for you on that today.

            Spence.

            Q:  On India, the secretary asked the Indians to step up their involvement in Afghanistan.  How is that not potentially provocative to the Pakistanis at a time when the department is trying to get greater Pakistani cooperation on a range of Afghanistan-related issues?  And to what degree do the benefits of that deeper Indian cooperation outweigh those potential costs? 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I think the reports have been slightly exaggerated; I don't believe the secretary asked them to impress them to do more rather than expressed how much he appreciated the work they were doing to help provide support in Afghanistan and some of the things that they were -- that they have expressed interest in continuing to do in Afghanistan, but also in the region.  And so I think it was really more a statement of appreciation for everything they've done and the hope that they'll continue to stay involved as a leader in the region. 

            And they're -- you know, this is a -- it's a vital part of the world, and our engagement in the region is not about bilateral relations only with any one particular country.  We've long said that security in Afghanistan is a -- is tied very closely to our relationship with Pakistan, as it is also with our relationship with other countries in the region, including India.  India is a global power, and they are meeting their responsibilities and we welcome that.

            Q:  So to clarify, did the secretary or did the secretary not ask the Indians for a deeper involvement in training the Afghan army and police?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  I think he expressed gratitude for what they have done and -- that his fervent hope that they'll continue to stay engaged in the region and in particular in helping Afghanistan as it moves forward.

            Tony.

            Q:  I'm going to shift gears to the F-22.  On May 15th, you and George Little came up here and announced the flight limitation.  Fast-forward three and half weeks later, where does that -- is there any new information you can impart about how close the Air Force is to divining a cause for the oxygen issue?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Well, I know that -- I don't have anything new to announce today, but I do know that their work continues.  They're working on this very, very hard.  We expect that they will be briefing the secretary, giving him an update, in the very near future.  But I wouldn't want to get ahead of that.  And I certainly would refer you to Air Force on any specifics.  Right now I don't have anything new to announce but -- other than to tell you that we do know that there has been a lot of work in the intervening weeks.  And again, they're preparing to update the secretary soon.

            Q:  What's the -- what's OSD's position on grounding the fleet if at some point a cause is not determined and it's still hanging out there -- as in an engineering problem that needs to be solved, using your words?

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Right.  And I think the secretary -- the secretary takes this issue very, very seriously.  It's a safety-of-flight issue.  He understands that.  And he's not taking any options off the table with respect to the future of the aircraft. 

            Right now he doesn't believe that grounding the fleet is the prudent course.  And he endorsed the way forward that the Air Force is pursuing, and also, as we announced, imposed some flight restrictions.  I think he wants to see how that's going and he wants to get updated from Air Force leadership, find out what they've learned before we take any more decisions moving forward.

            But no options with respect to this program are off the table right now.  Again, it's a safety-of-flight issue that he takes very, very seriously. 

            Q:  (Inaudible) -- national weapons program in case -- if it is forced into combat would these limitations -- not cripple, but curtail its combat effectiveness?

            CAPT. KIRBY: Well, it's on an operational deployment, as you know, in the Middle East region right now, and we haven't discerned any operational impact as a result of the flight limitations that have been placed on it.  So right now the aircraft is performing very well in an operational setting, and again, we're just going to continue to watch this as we move forward.

            Yes, sir.

            Q:  Japan has a new defense minister.  Has the secretary spoken to him on the phone?

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