Brian Williams Fires Back When State Dept. Spox Uses Belgium to Claim ISIS Is Losing

During the 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour of MSNBC’s live coverage concerning the terror attacks in Belgium, breaking news anchor and former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams shot back at State Department spokesman John Kirby when Kirby claimed that the attacks in Brussels illustrate why Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS are on the run.

Kirby prefaced this bizarre spin from the Obama administration by ruling that the U.S. and allies should take threats from ISIS “very seriously” seeing as how “they have threatened western targets now for a long, long time and it's a threat that we are all too familiar with sadly.”

He then pivoted to talking up the administration’s ISIS policy by ruling that it’s “important to remember” that ISIS has been “under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria, and we are seeing them resort to more traditional terrorist tactics, like suicide bombings and car bombs and those kinds of things because they aren’t able to hold and grab the territory they once were because they are suffering a lot of hits to their resources.”

Talking up the belief that “[t]hey’re having trouble recruiting, they're losing lots of defectors in ways they weren't before” to the point where they’re recruiting child soldiers, Kirby ended his thought by proclaiming that ISIS “is not operating at all the way it used to and we think that one of the reasons why you're starting to see more of these kinds of attacks, even in Baghdad, is because this group is under some pressure.”

Immediately, Williams made it clear that this was no time to downplay terrorism in light of a horrible situation (no matter when it happens):

Yes, but it's terrorism....We have — we have NYPD with automatic weapons outside this building in New York City and outside subway stations and train stations and airports and city upon city across the county, because it's terrorism. So they may be on the run. They may hiring child warriors, but it is a gruesomely effective line of work. 

Seeing as how Williams bluntly made his point, Kirby admitted that he was “not dismissing all the violence that these people are capable of or the danger that they represent, not just in the region but to our allies and partners in Europe and frankly, even here at home.”

The transcript of Kirby’s appearance on MSNBC from the 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour of March 22 can be found below.

MSNBC Live
March 22, 2016
5:24 p.m. Eastern

BRIAN WILLIAMS: We want to bring in next the spokesman for the U.S. State Department, John Kirby and, I want to start asking you if you agree with that statement that this a strategic campaign to destabilize Europe by ISIS. 

STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (Ret.): Well, we certainly have again, without knowing exactly who is responsible, we've seen the claims that Daesh is responsible. I think the investigators are still working their way through that. That said, clearly groups like this are — have capabilities that we have to take very seriously and they have threatened western targets now for a long, long time and it's a threat that we are all too familiar with sadly and trying to better prepare ourselves for. I will tell you, though, that one thing I think is important to remember is that this group, Daesh, again, not saying that they are responsible for this, but they are under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria, and we are seeing them resort to more traditional terrorist tactics, like suicide bombings and car bombs and those kinds of things because they aren’t able to hold and grab the territory they once were because they are suffering a lot of hits to their resources. They're having trouble recruiting, they're losing lots of defectors in ways they weren't before. They're even higher now child soldiers to into the field with their, you know, adult male fighters. So this is a group that is not operating at all the way it used to and we think that one of the reasons why you're starting to see more of these kinds of attacks, even in Baghdad, is because this group is under some pressure. 

WILLIAMS: Yes, but it's terrorism. 

KIRBY: Right. 

WILLIAMS: We have — we have NYPD with automatic weapons outside this building in New York City and outside subway stations and train stations and airports and city upon city across the county, because it's terrorism. So they may be on the run. They may hiring child warriors, but it is a gruesomely effective line of work. 

KIRBY: Oh, there's no do argument with that, Brian and we're not dismissing all the violence that these people are capable of or the danger that they represent, not just in the region but to our allies and partners in Europe and frankly, even here at home. We take it very, very seriously and one of the things that we started talking about, way back when the fight against Daesh began in the summer of '14 was this very real concerted challenge of foreign fighters. People going and getting radicalized, whether it's self-radicalization or they’re being mentored and taught and then going back to their home countries to carry out attacks. This is something we’ve be watching for a long, long time. 

WILLIAMS: And Daesh is the pejorative for the same organization which we just go by ISIS for simplicity. While we've been talking, by the way, has shown up, looking for all the world like a sequence out of Batman. The local police use their sun gun spotlight to search through neighborhoods tonight, as they're going house to house, they’ve found at least one unexploded bomb, some chemicals, some nails, an ISIS flag. Just some housekeeping on injuries and hopefully not deaths. Are all the Americans who were wounded account for? And is it still true we have suffered no known American fatalities today? 

KIRBY: It is still true you and I speak, Brian, we're not — we don't — we're not possessing any information or confirm that there are any U.S. Citizens that were killed, but we're watching this very, closely and we have not completed a full accounting and we’re trying very hard to do that, to include government personnel so our mission our there — our post, our embassy is doing all they can to try to do a proper accounting, not only of the government personnel that they're responsible for, but for other citizens, as well. It can be difficult because not every U.S. citizen registers with us and lets us know that they're there, but we're working on this very, very hard. 

WILLIAMS: John Kirby, who had the same job at the Pentagon is these days the spokesman State Department, thank you very much, after a busy day, for coming on with us. 

KIRBY: Thank you. Good to be here. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is the Managing Editor of NewsBusters for the Media Research Center