Rear Admiral John Kirby discusses growing threat from ISIS

Pentagon Press Secretary on airstrikes in Syria


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 26, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I am not claiming that, by airstrikes alone, we can roll back this problem.

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: No one is under any illusions, under any illusions, that airstrikes alone will destroy ISIL.


NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, so, if on both sides of the pond, experts are convinced that airstrikes alone won`t do it, what will?

To Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral, very good to have you. Thank you.


CAVUTO: How do you think this progresses, then? If the Brits have already prepared through their defense secretary that this is going to take another two or three years, and yet it will only involve airstrikes, even though the belief is that airstrikes alone won`t do it, and we have said much the same, then what is going to happen next?

KIRBY: Well, you need three things here, right?

In addition to airstrikes, you have got to have willing, capable partners on the ground. There does need to be ground forces, but they need be indigenous ground forces. The Iraqi security forces, the Kurds, and then in Syria, a competent, capable Syrian moderate opposition that can take the fight inside Syria to them.

Number two, you need pressure outside the military sphere. So, military components are only piece of a larger strategy. You have to put pressure on them economically as well. And I know the Department of Treasury is working on some options for that kind of thing.

You have got to put pressure on them internationally, too, not just from an economic perspective. And, number three -- and this one is the hard one -- you need good governance. You have to provide alternatives to people that -- so they`re not drawn to this radical, barbarous ideology.

And that is going to come through good governance, responsive governance in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, we have got a unity government that is standing up. The vector are going in the positive -- in a positive direction. And we think that things are off to a good start there.

In Syria, we still have the Assad regime that continues to brutalize its own people and is itself a reason why ISIL has been able to grow and strengthen inside Syria.

CAVUTO: What type of measures then are being taken, Admiral, to make sure that Assad doesn`t take advantage of this airstrike vacuum and seize those very spots that you have been trying to clear out?

KIRBY: Well, he has lost all legitimacy to govern.

And he`s particularly lost the ability to govern Eastern Syria, where much of ISIL growth and development has occurred. You saw that, just yesterday, day before yesterday, we hit some oil refineries in the eastern part of the country which they were using. They took them over and were using them to finance some of their operations.

He doesn`t have control over that part of the country.

CAVUTO: Who does? Who does?

KIRBY: Well, right now, ISIL has control over certain parts of it, wide swathes of it, which is why...

CAVUTO: But when we incapacitate those oil areas, sir, then who is the interim oil person in charge?

KIRBY: Right.

Well, look, we`re not -- we`re not moving on the ground inside Syria right now. The strikes that we`re taking inside Syria are really designed to strategically get at this organization`s ability to sustain itself. So we`re hitting those refineries. We`re hitting command-and-control nodes.

We`re trying to take spare away from them. It`s going to be a while before the moderate opposition is in a position to move forward against them into certainly of those areas, those ungoverned spaces. We`re committed to training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition. It`s going to take some time, though.

CAVUTO: This faith in indigenous local-to-the-area troops, to boots on the ground, to that point, helping out and stabilizing things, I mean, the record is a little murky on that in the past.

Now, maybe you`re going to have better success, but almost every top expert I talked to said that this is not the time they`re up to snuff to handle that. When do you think they will be?

KIRBY: They are -- first of all, indigenous forces are usually the best counterweight to extremist threats inside their country. They know the ground. They know the culture. They know the territory. They know the politics.


CAVUTO: Well, they might know it, but they don`t seem to be good at the fighting, so they might get to be, but John McCain and others have expressed doubt about that.

KIRBY: Well, look at Afghanistan, though, Neil.

We have been in Afghanistan since 2001. And now we`re going to get ready to change the mission from one of combat to one of advise and assist and support. And we`re leaving -- we`re not leaving, but the ANSF, the Afghan National Security Forces are quite capable. They secured not just one, but two elections this year. They have really developed themselves into a capable fighting force.

We`re going to stay with them going into `15 to try to help them.

CAVUTO: I got you.

KIRBY: So, we -- it`s not like we don`t know how to do this and we haven`t been successful. We actually have.

CAVUTO: Well, you have proven a lot of skeptics wrong. You have got quite a coalition together. And of course you just added Britain to that today.


CAVUTO: And I guess my -- the thing I noticed with Britain, Admiral, was that it is not going to have a role in Syria. It`s mainly in Iraq. Will that remain the case? If you really need the Brits to help conduct sorties, could they, would they? What?

KIRBY: Well, we are very grateful for all the support that we get out of the U.K. And you know it`s -- we have no closer ally and friend, obviously.

They have to decide for themselves, in the dictates to the British people, how far they`re willing to go and what they`re willing to do. We are grateful for the vote today. We`re grateful for the assistance that they will start providing from an airstrike perspective inside Iraq. That`s helpful to everybody, because they are so good at what they do.

But anything they would do beyond that obviously is up to them to decide. And I will take one other point. When we talk about this being a coalition of the willing, it isn`t really a coalition of the willing if we, the United States, aren`t willing ourselves to allow nations to contribute in ways that meaningful to them, that are politically and economically feasible to them.

CAVUTO: Are we willing to ever put boots on the grounds ourselves?

KIRBY: The commander in chief has been very clear. There will be no return of U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role.

And, frankly, we believe that the ground forces that are going to be the most important here, the ones that will matter the most are Iraqi ground forces.

CAVUTO: Admiral, I don`t want to just throw this at you, but this just came into our newsroom. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that U.S.-led attacks on ISIS are mostly just for show.

What do you say?

KIRBY: Well, I think -- I think we would completely dispute that finding altogether.

You have seen just this week we have hit what we`re aiming at. We hit valuable targets to ISIL. We did the damage that we wanted to cause. And we`re going to keep the pressure on them. And I think -- and all you would have to do is ask some of those ISIL fighters that have been hit repeatedly in Iraq over the last several weeks and those that were hit this week in Syria, just ask them how serious we are about this and how intense it really is.

CAVUTO: Admiral Kirby, very good having you. Thank you very much.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me, Neil.

CAVUTO: We will have more after this.

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