On growing Russian troop presence along the border with Ukraine: “… in general, we have continued to see this buildup increase and, again, that is concerning to us.” “We don’t believe that this buildup is conducive to security and stability along the border with Ukraine, and certainly not in occupied Crimea.” “So, again, we call on the Russians to cease their provocations and to contribute to better security and stability there. And they can start by being more transparent about what their intentions are and what they’re doing.”
On the Russian bounty on U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: I wasn’t trying to separate the Pentagon from the White House on this.” “We certainly agree with the way my colleague at the White House couched this and the way the intelligence community has spoken to it [happening] at a low to moderate degree of confidence….we believe it’s a serious enough issue that we would like more clarity from the Russians on this.
On U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: The president was clear. We are removing all U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan and we will remove them by the – you know, early September. All of them with the exception of what’s going to be required to protect the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. So I know of no discussions with government in Kabul about reinserting counterterrorism forces inside Afghanistan. As the secretary made clear in Brussels last week, we will maintain a sufficient counterterrorism capabilities in the region to deal with emanating threats from Afghanistan, threats to our homeland from terrorist groups, but the president’s direction was crystal clear. All U.S. military personnel with that exception are going to be leaving Afghanistan by the fall – by early fall.
On U.S. Commitment to Taiwan: Well, look, without speaking specifically to Taiwan, as I’ve said, we support the one China policy and nobody wants to see things come to blows over Taiwan. We remain committed, as we have for multiple administrations, to aiding Taiwan in its self-defense, to providing materiel for their — for them to defend themselves. So I’m not going to get into speculation about that.
On China possibly stepping into the vacuum in Afghanistan with a peacekeeping force: Well, we certainly wouldn’t speak for another nation and obviously we would call on all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to respect its sovereignty and to respect its territory integrity as well. And that if there — if there’s a legitimate terrorism threat that’s emanating from Afghanistan to work in accordance with international law and with the Afghan government to address that, but we want Afghan — Afghanistan’s sovereignty to be respected.
On DoD Personnel Covid deaths and Covid vaccinations: There have been 338 total deaths in the DoD from COVID, to include active duty military as well as reserves. It includes civilians, dependents, and contractors. DoD is on pace to provide initial doses to over 80 percent of its overseas personnel and their families by the end of May. 83% of vaccines received by DoD have been administered, exceeding the U.S. average of 78&, and more than 28% of the total force is now vaccinated. We’ve — so like just in raw numbers, more than three millions doses have been delivering to DOD. We’ve administered 2.5 million plus. So that — you know, 1.5 million have their initial dose, another 1 million have their second dose. And of the single-dose vaccines, something like 66,000 have had that.
On overcoming DoD Personnel vaccination refusals: Yes, so, you’ve seen reports that some local commanders are putting in place some local sort of incentives. We at DOD don’t believe that that’s our mandate to do that, and we know we have to be careful because it is — it is still under an emergency use authorization. Therefore, it’s still voluntary. And what we want is to provide enough information and education so people can make the right decisions and can talk to their doctors and their families about what’s right for them because it may not be right for everybody given whatever preexisting conditions they might have. So at our — at the DOD level, I think you’re going to see us continue to be very careful about not implementing or instituting incentives, artificial incentives to try to do this. Again, the secretary believes that the best incentive is to make the best decision for you and your family and to think about your teammates. And if — and if the vaccine makes sense from — for you from a medical perspective, that should be incentive enough to get it so that you’re helping out your teammates and your family and your friends.
The full DoD transcript is here…https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2578099/pentagon-press-secretary-conducts-a-press-briefing/