QUESTION: Let’s take this straight to the Secretary of State, John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. We just heard from Edward Snowden right there. He says he was a spy, not a hacker. And last year, you said that people may die because of his disclosures. Do you have any evidence that people have, in fact, died because of his revelations?
SECRETARY KERRY: We have evidence that people are in additional danger because operational security has been breached, because terrorists have learned firsthand about methods and mechanisms by which the United States collects intelligence, and so our operations have been compromised. It’s plain and simple.
QUESTION: And let me move now to Afghanistan, because the President announced yesterday that all U.S. troops would be home by the end of 2016, and that has drawn a pretty harsh response from some of your former Republican colleagues in the Senate. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte call it a monumental mistake. They say it’s a triumph of politics over strategy that will embolden our enemies. Your response?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I just flatly disagree. There seems to be an industry of automatic opposition to anything, but the fact is that everything that has been accomplished in Afghanistan in the last five years has been accomplished with a deadline.
When President Obama came in, there was no policy. The President increased the troops, put a policy in place, and set a deadline for the Afghans to be able to take over security. Guess what? They met the deadline.
The fact is, George, if you tell the Afghans we’re going to be there as long as it takes, believe me, they will take as long as they want. It is only by setting a target that you can ultimately shift responsibility.
QUESTION: After 2016, that force will be below 1,000 soldiers and other officials, I believe. What happens if violence flares up, al-Qaida returns in force? Is the President prepared to stop the withdrawal, send troops back in?
SECRETARY KERRY: The United States will do – and this President will do and has proven it – whatever is necessary to protect the United States of America, our forces, and our citizens.
QUESTION: This has been America’s longest war. Is it ending in victory?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s ending, and the best thing you can do, which is give the Afghans the opportunity to decide their own future. This is their country, George. They have to want to fight for it. They have to be prepared to fight for it. And right now, they are.
QUESTION: Finally, sir, I want to ask you about those Nigerian schoolgirls. Yesterday, the Nigerian defense chief said he knows where they are, where they’re being held. Does the U.S. know where they are, and does our government agree with the Nigerian decision not to mount a rescue operation right now?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into the operational component of this, George. I will tell you that we do not yet have confirmation, but we have the people on the ground and we’re working very, very closely with the Nigerian Government. And obviously, we’re hopeful that those girls can be returned to their homes. If there’s any indication where they are, I can assure you we’ll know it very, very quickly.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for your time this morning.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.