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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

March 3, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good morning, everybody. Senior defense official here.

Not a whole lot of specific changes to speak to today. Continue to see the general movement by Russian forces along those three lines of axes. We now assess that Mr. Putin has put in 90 percent of his pre-staged combat power across the border into Ukraine. Consistent with what you guys are all seeing in open-source press reporting, we also see and are observing heavy bombardment in the cities to the north and to the east, so that's Kyiv, Chernihiv and Kharkiv.

In general, we still assess that Russian forces are largely stalled across the north. That doesn't mean that they aren't making any progress, but in general they still appear to be largely stalled, is how we would characterize it.

In Kyiv, the Russian forces remain north and northwest of the city. And again, as you guys have all noted, there is increasing bombardment. In Kharkiv, we would assess that the Russian forces now appear to be just outside the city, very near the ring road. And again, as you guys are all observing, increasing bombardment there. In Chernihiv, we assess that they remain stalled to the north and to the northeast of Chernihiv, and again, bombardment is happening there.

In the south, we've seen reporting that Kherson is under Russian control, but we're not in a position to independently verify that. In the southeast, we observe, our assessment is that Mariupol is still under Ukrainian control, although we have seen and observe Russian forces advancing on Mariupol with, as I said yesterday, the apparent intention to isolate the city. And of course, as you guys have all seen, we've seen increasing bombardment. We still assess that they also are -- are trying to move and advance on Mariupol from the north, as well as from the coastline northeast of Berdyans’k. So they are still moving on Mariupol, but we assess that it is under Ukrainian control.

Nothing to speak you in the maritime environment. I know everybody's very fixated on Odessa. We don't have any naval activity to speak to or any moves by the Russians with respect to Odessa at this time. Obviously, we're watching as closely as we can, but we just haven't seen any appreciable activity.

Airspace over Ukraine remains contested, as yesterday. We assess that Ukrainian air and missile defense systems remain intact, and they remain effective. They continue to be able to fly their airplanes and to employ air defense assets. And as of this morning, we've now counted more than 480 Russian missile launches, again, of all sizes and strengths.

Now, I look, I know there's a lots of questions about other stuff, so let me just see if I can rip the Band-Aid off on some of these.

We cannot confirm reports of the use of cluster munitions. We cannot confirm reports of the presence or use of thermobaric weapons. We still assess that the convoy is that everybody's been focused on is stalled, and that we have no reason to doubt Ukrainian claims that they have contributed to it being stalled by attacking it. I have seen reports out there attributed to various U.S. officials about Stinger missiles. I can only say that we continue to provide Ukraine the systems that they need to defend themselves, and that includes best systems and weapons that they can use to deal with threats on the ground, as well as airborne threats, and that is as far as I'm going to go. I will not be confirming the reporting that I've seen out there.

With that, we'll start taking questions. Lita, it looks like you're up.

Q: Hi. Thanks. Just, you said nothing on Odessa, but I think Ukrainian military has said they've seen Russian amphibious landing vessels headed towards it. So you absolutely, you aren't seeing that, correct?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We cannot independently confirm those reports. That doesn't mean that it's not happening. I'm not challenging Ukrainian assessments. I'm just telling you what we can see and what we assess.

Q: And then, do you know, can you give sort of any further description of what's going on in Kyiv? Can you confirm that Ukrainians have actually used their air defenses to shoot down incoming Russian missiles? We’ve seen reports from there of that. Have you independently seen that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't independently confirm that level of tactical detail. I would just go back to what I said before. Our assessment is that their air and missile defense capabilities are still viable, still active, and that they still have a majority of their air and missile defense capabilities available to them. But I can't confirm individual reports of things they've shot down.

Q: Okay, then just one last thing. Are you seeing any evidence of the suggestions that Russia plans to use, like, public executions or other violence to suppress resistance?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have anything on that one. Sorry.

Q: Okay. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup.

Tara Copp?

Q: Good morning. I was wondering, with the 480 launches, if you could get kind of lay down for us where you're seeing the majority of these launches come from. How many, I think, you know, percentage-wise, are from the Black Sea from ships? How many are coming from inside Russia? Just to get a sense of where a lot of this firepower is coming from. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup. We don't have perfect precision on this, Tara. I don't think we've seen anything come from ships at sea in the last couple of days. Hang on just a second.

Okay, yeah, nothing recent from the Black Sea, but I can tell you just in general here, the majority are coming from inside Ukraine. More than 230 of them are coming from inside Ukraine. They have mobile systems. They're moving them inside, so that makes a certain sense.

The next biggest chunk are coming from Russia, you know, more than 160 from Russia, more than 70 are coming from Belarus, and then a very small number, less than 10, that we've observed coming from the Black Sea. That's total, that's not over the last 24, obviously, but that gets you to roughly the more than 480 that we've seen.

Does that help?

Q: Yes, thank you. That's very helpful.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All right.

Karun?

Q: Hi. So two things.

Just, the Ukrainian Armed Forces put out a statement earlier today, where they were saying, you know, "we're now moving from the defense mode to counter-offensive mode." Could you give any sense as what that means in terms of strategic change there, if there's anything you've observed?

And also, I was wondering if you could confirm Ukrainians are also claiming that they killed Russian Major General Sukhovitsky. Like, can you confirm that that actually is the case? Cause that would seem like a fairly significant casualty.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I cannot confirm that report.

And as for their moving from defensive to counter-offensive, I think, look, I don't want to ascribe U.S. military doctrine to another military and what that means for them. They are in a much better position to describe to you what that means.

But in general, the way we would look at this, and again, that's the way we would look at it is you move from defending key terrain and defending key infrastructure and defending resources to being more on the offense against and trying to, you know, basically go from defense to offense.

So you're going from what is usually very deliberate and careful protection to changing your focus to be more aggressively going after an enemy's resources actively. Rather than responding to the enemy, you are pushing the fight to the enemy.

That is kind of what we look at it in our doctrine. I can't speak for the Ukrainians and what that's going to entail for them. All I would tell you is that we continue to see them resist and fight and defend their territory and their resources quite effectively.

David Martin?

Q: So first, the question on whether or not the Russians are starting to bring reinforcements from the interior?

And then are the Russians making any progress in sorting out the difficulties that have stalled them? Maxar yesterday, the last satellite photos they've put out, said that there had been a complete cloud cover over Ukraine for the past two days, and so they were putting out old satellite photos with new interpretations. Has the weather inhibited your ability to track things?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The short answer to that question is yes, we're subject to weather impacts on our ability to see things as well. As you know, we don't have aircraft flying in Ukrainian airspace, we do not have boots on the ground. We have lots of different ways of getting information. Some of it overhead imagery, and that is affected by the weather.

I can't, again, I don't have any more updates on this convoy than what I gave you. In general, as I said, to the north and northeast and in that part of Ukraine, we assess overall in general that the Russians are still largely stalled.

That said, as I said in my opening comments, we do assess that they are basically now on the outskirts of Kharkiv. So they have certainly been able to make some progress in terms of getting closer to Kharkiv. And we've also, again, said that they continue to make progress in the south.

So I don't know if that scratched the itch but I think you had another question.

Q: The reinforcements from the reinforcements from the interior.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we've not seen any indications that they are tapping into additional military resources outside of the battalion tactical groups that they've assembled in the west and around Ukraine over the course of the last few months. We have not seen that.

Q: Does that lead anybody to conclusions about the level of Russian confidence that they can, once they get this sorted out, they can handle it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't think we're driving that kind of assumption from this, David. I mean, we don't have perfect visibility into the Russian mindset. I think it's important to remember, over the course of the last few months, starting in late fall or, sorry, early fall, they started building up power, to the point where they eventually got to more than 120 battalion tactical groups and north of 150,000 troops, as I've said many times, in a combined arms sort of a set of capabilities.

That is what we believe they assessed that they would need. They are still drawing on that combat power. Now, every day, they draw more on it, but just because they're drawing more on it every day, you should not take away from that that their combat power is being diminished to such a point inside Ukraine that they feel like they're running out of juice here.

We still assess that they have available to them, in and outside Ukraine, the vast, vast majority of their total combat power. They still have an awful lot of capability left to them. So just because they're throwing in now 90 percent, we shouldn't take away from that that this is some sort of overreaction or that they are diminished to the point where, you know, they feel like they've got to commit reserves. These are not reserves. This is the combat power that they had assembled to execute this plan.

Eric Schmitt?

Q: Can we talk a little bit more about the airspace and whether you assess that it remains contested largely because of the, because of the Ukrainians' capability that's maybe a little bit better than people thought or there's some other problems with the Russian military? Their pilots aren't quite as confident as we thought they might have been, they didn't bring enough precision-guided munitions, you know, something that speaks into their capabilities as opposed to the Ukrainian?

And then just a quick follow: Have you seen any use of IEDs by Ukrainian forces in trying to stop the advancement of Russian forces? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Any use of Russian, I'm sorry, any use of IEDs, is that what you said?

Q: Have the Ukrainians used IEDs against the Russian advancing Russian columns, yeah.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, I got you. I have not. I have seen no indications of IEDs. Nothing that we could independently verify.

They continue to resist in many different ways, on the ground, with weapons systems that allow them to target vehicles. They certainly are capable of targeting things from the air, both in terms of manned aircraft, as well as missile systems.

They're being very creative, and they're using the suite of their capabilities.

On the Russian aviation side, on the airspace, I think it's a combination, Eric. I think it's certainly due in no small measure to the Ukrainians' very careful but calculated marshaling of their air and missile defense resources and how they're employing it.

And as I said yesterday, I mean, we have seen and continue to see some indications of Russian misapplication of their resources and, in some cases, risk adversity, I should say, and not the level of integration of air and ground elements that I think was expected. So I think I'd just leave it at that.

Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy?

Q: Sorry, I just had to unmute there.

So you're not assessing in the South of the country that the Russians are experiencing, sort of, some of the similar logistical problems they've had in the north?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We do not assess that they have had similar challenges as they've had in the north. That is right. That doesn't mean that it's all perfect, that they aren't still, you know, trying to manage logistics and sustainment. They are. But we don't think that they're having quite the same problems down there as they do up in the north.

But if you look just look at a map, Jack, I mean, they launched these offenses in the south out of Crimea, where they have been occupying for eight years. So they have infrastructure there. They already had a not insignificant force presence in Crimea to draw from, as well as infrastructure and sustainment capability down there.

So using Crimea as the base of operations geographically, A) it's been more refined than the expeditionary kind of sustainment they had to put in place in the north over the last couple of months. They were already well-established in Crimea.

Number two, just geographically, the lines of interior communications, as we say in the military, are shorter down there.

Now, as they get farther and further away, could they experience other lines of communication difficulties? That's certainly possible, but, again, I wouldn't be able to speculate.

Q: Got it. Thanks.

And just one on the weapons piece. I know National Security Adviser Sullivan and some others in the administration insisted that the U.S. would send weapons that were above and beyond the pale of what the U.S. had sent before, if there was a Russian invasion. I know you said you didn't want to talk about Stinger, or potential of Stinger, but I guess anything, any plans that you know of in the works to send things beyond Stinger, or Javelin, at this point, to reinforce the Ukrainians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I have nothing more to add to what and how I've been able to characterize what they're getting. I really can't go beyond that, Jack.

Demetri?

Q: Morning. On the nuclear issue, again, aside from postponing the Minuteman test, has the U.S. done anything else in the nuclear realm following Putin's order?

Have you seen Russia do anything else this week?

And, finally, have you made any progress understanding what Putin meant when he talked about elevating his military to a, quote/unquote, "special service regime?"

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, it's still not completely clear to us what that direction meant. I would tell you, I have nothing other than the delayed test that we talked about, I have nothing else to talk about in terms of our own posture.

And I would just tell you we continue to watch this very, very closely, as you might imagine. And we're comfortable that we have the appropriate deterrent posture in place.

Q: Can I just follow up?

There have been reports that the U.S. has been flying, or increased the tempo of E-6 flights. If that's true, did they start before or after Putin gave that order last weekend?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have nothing to say on that, Demetri.

Nancy Youssef?

Q: Thank you. I wanted to follow up on Kherson. You said that the U.S. wasn't able to independently confirm the report that we've heard from the mayor and others. But you haven’t been able to give us an assessment in terms of how close Russian forces are to other Ukrainian cities. Can you give us any fidelity in terms of where Russian forces are in that city?

Would you call it contested?

Can you provide any more details on your read of the security situation there?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll do the best I can, Nancy, which is to say not a whole lot.

I mean, we cannot independently confirm reports that the city has fallen. Our best information, and again, I want to stress the caveat that there's a lot that we don't always know as fast as sometimes you guys seem to see, is that -- is that there's still fighting there. But we're not, we're not ready to call it one way or another.

And, I don't know, did that answer the question?

Q: Yes, I guess what I'm curious is do you see Russian forces taking over the city center? Do you see them giving orders? Do you see Russian flags flying in the city? Any -- any kind of details you could provide on that would great.

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'm afraid I don't have any more context than that. Again, this gets right to the heart of the limit of our ability to see everything in real time. All we can tell you is what we assess now and what we are not ready to assess that the city has fallen.

Obviously, we watched them, as we talked about over the last few days, watched them move on Kherson. We knew that they wanted it. But we're just not in a position that we can say definitively that they have achieved it.

It is of a piece of their continued strategy of trying to take population centers so that they can move on additional population centers. So we do assess that one possible, and I want to stress possible, outcome here for the Russians would be to move past Kherson to a town called and I'm going to butcher the pronunciation, but I think it's Mykolaiv, M-Y-K-O-L-A-I-V. It's possible that they could, that what they may want to do is move on that so that they can then position themselves to the northeast of Odessa, in case, in fact, they want to -- they want to move on Odessa, not just from the sea but from the ground.

Again, we have not seen anything in the maritime environment that tells us that they're moving on Odessa anytime soon. And we don't even assess that we can say with certainty that they've achieved Kherson. So I'm just saying that that's a possible outcome here.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Mike Brest?

Q: Good morning. How long as it been since the Pentagon observed Russian forces making meaningful movement towards Kyiv?

And you said yesterday that the Pentagon believes to some extent they're regrouping. So when was the last time the Pentagon observed Russian forces at least trying to make additional headway towards Kyiv? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Mike, I would tell you that we think they're trying every single day. But, you know, they have been flummoxed and they have been frustrated. And we believe that to some degree they are regrouping on their own.

As for the last time we saw them make appreciable. I think it's, you know, probably been two to three days before the last time we thought that they made up any major geographic distance towards Kyiv.

Just in general, and again, guys, this is just generally speaking, we still assess that the advanced columns that they that they started moving on Kyiv, they still are roughly about 25 kilometers north of the city, which is where they were about two to three days ago when we talked.

Barbara Starr?

Q: I realize you just said that they're 25 kilometers north roughly, but given the other approaches towards Kyiv from other directions, do you have any assessment on how soon you think the capital could be effectively encircled and people not able to get out?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm afraid I can't give you an estimate on that, Barb. We don't assess that there's any other elements closer than that. But as I've said before, we certainly believe it is their intent to encircle the city from multiple directions.

Right now, the closest that they are is from the north. And I gave you how far we assess that they are right now. And I'm simply not going to, I'm just not going to speculate about timeline here. I think that's just not something that we'd be comfortable doing.

Heather from USNI.

Q: Thank you so much. I was wondering if you could talk if you're seeing any other types of maritime movement around Mariupol or areas that we've already seen them approach. I know that everyone's focused on Odessa, but I wasn't sure if they are still continuing to bring in people through the areas around Mariupol.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, as I said in my opening statement, again, we look at this every day to try to provide you the context, both ground, air, and maritime domain.

We just don't have anything to speak to in the maritime domain, nothing that merits mentioning that we're aware of, that we're assessing again, full knowledge that we don't have perfect visibility on everything. But we don't have anything specifically to speak to in the maritime environment.

Wafaa from Al-Hurra.

Q: Hi. In the last 24 hours, did the Pentagon have any communication with the Ukrainian's military leaders?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, the secretary did speak with Minister Reznikov and Milley also, they read out that he spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart yesterday. So outside of those two conversations, which we've read out, no.

Q: And do you have concerns over the security or the safety of President Zelensky? In other words, according to your assessment, do you think it's still safe for him to stay in Kyiv?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Obviously, we remain concerned about his safety. Of course we do, and we are in touch with him, and I think it's incredibly noteworthy that he has stayed there in Kyiv and continues to, as we assess, continues to have command and control over his forces, and we commend his bravery.

Courtney Kube?

Q: And do you think --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Go ahead.

Q: Do you have means to help him if he needs help to get out of the city? Do you think he's able to do it if he wants to do?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have nothing for you on that.

Courtney?

Q: Hi. The chairman of House Armed Services, Adam Smith, said this morning that the U.S. is not providing real-time targeting intelligence to Ukraine because that steps over the line to making us participating in the war. And I'm wondering if you can say anything about that. Is that, is he right? He's not the first lawmaker to make that assertion, but there's been pretty strong pushback on it, so can you update us on that? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All I can tell you, Court, is that we continue to provide information and intelligence to Ukraine as we assess would be most helpful. That continues.

I would also tell you, reports that that information is somehow being held up by lawyers is not accurate. And the second thing, and I've said this before, but bears repeating -- we do not have aircraft flying in Ukrainian airspace, period. We do not have boots on the ground, period. So our ability to glean intelligence is not as robust as it once was, number one.

Number two, the Ukrainians are on the ground. The Ukrainians are in the fight, and in many cases and in many ways, they simply have more contextual information than what we could give them.

Matt Seyler?

Q: Can I just ask one thing? You said that the reports of it being held up by lawyers is not accurate. That's what Adam Smith, if I understand it correctly, what he said -- he's not saying that the lawyers are holding it up; it's that they have made a decision that it cannot be shared. So I just want to make sure that that's not a semantic difference with what you're saying, that there has been no decision made that the U.S. can't share intel and he's and also, I should point out, like, this is he seems to be specifically talking about military intelligence here, like, real-time tactical information. So I just want to be clear. You're saying that there has not been any decision that real-time tactical information can't be shared because it would make the U.S. a party to the conflict. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I won't. We don't talk about intelligence, specifically, the specifics of how and what we share, Court. What I can tell you is we continue to provide intelligence and information to the Ukrainians, and that's ongoing, and we do it in we share with them what we believe can be helpful to them. That’s continuing. I'm not going to talk about the vehicles. I'm not going to talk about the parameters of that. We do continue to provide Ukraine with intelligence and information.

Matt Seyler?

Q: Hey, Thanks. We saw yesterday four Russian aircraft invade Swedish airspace. I wanted to ask, is the U.S. looking to see if Russia is maybe staging any other sort of distractions or if there's any movement in Kaliningrad, or any borders that aren't Ukraine, but that could serve as some sort of distraction or feint or anything like that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, Matt, I don't have anything to that I can speak to there that we would have that we could assess in that regard.

Carla Babb?

Q: Hey, thanks. Again, just want to get an update on Belarus. Have you seen any indications at this point that Belarus has been sending in a unit or two, or is it planning to get involved in this fight and enter Ukraine, as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.

Tom from Fox News?

Q: It's actually Jennifer here from Fox.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh. Well, my note says "Tom.”

Q: Well, okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Happy to take.

Q: Thanks. A couple of questions. Are you seeing evidence that flat tires and mud north of the city where the convoy is one of the reasons for the convoy being stalled? And also, can you confirm that the Chinese government asked Putin to delay the invasion? Is that accurate as far as you know? And lastly, in terms of the puppet government that Russia would like to place in Kyiv, is it true that Viktor Yanukovych's name is one of the or is the person that they would like to put in power there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Can't confirm the reports about Mr. Yanukovych.

We've seen the same imagery that you guys have seen about vehicles being stuck in the mud. Certainly, it's pretty obvious that that's happening. On what scale and what scope and what impact that's had on slowing them down, it's difficult for us to say. It is certainly possible that while they have tried to advance on paved highways and roads, that they may have decided to go off of those paved roads to try to continue to make progress, and then got bogged down. I mean, we've seen the same imagery. Certainly can't dispute what you can see with your plain eyes, but what effect that has had, what's the size of numbers of vehicles stuck in the mud, we don't know that. Again, we believe that that their movement has stalled for many purposes for many reasons, I'm sorry, including Ukrainian resistance, their own logistics and sustainment challenges that they've had, as well as, you know, certainly could be possible that the weather is not cooperating. And then, you know, lastly, because we think to some degree they are doing some reassessment of their own.

On China, I can't confirm the reports out there about the Chinese asking them to stall until after the Olympics. I have no information independently to verify that.

I would note that, you didn't ask about this, but you know, China continues to send mixed messages out here about their concerns over what's going on in Ukraine.

What we have not seen them do is being willing to sanction Russia, like so much of the rest of the international community, to condemn what the Russians are doing inside Ukraine. And for all their bluster about wanting to see a peaceful outcome here, they've done nothing to propose or suggest or show an interest in becoming involved in any kind of diplomatic solution here.

Okay, Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hey, a couple questions. One on this convoy that everybody's fixated on. How do you answer the question of why doesn't the, why don't the Ukraine -- Ukraine -- Ukrainians, even with a limited air capability, try to attack the convoy?

So, question one. Question two, are you seeing extensive or even limited use of drones by the Russians and the Ukrainians, either for surveillance or for attacks, like the Houthis against the Saudis?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tony, I'll try this one again. I can't; we have seen, we don't have any reason to doubt Ukrainian claims that they have attacked this convoy in places and helped slow it down. No reason to doubt that.

How they've done that, I think they can speak to and they should speak to that.

I think you can understand that we're not going to want to put a whole lot of information out there in the information space that makes it harder for the Ukrainians to defend their country. So I'm not going to talk about use of drones by either side.

It's clear to us that both sides possess drones, but the degree to which they're using them and to what effect, I'd let them speak to that. I just don't think it would be helpful for the Pentagon to be out there talking about that kind of stuff.

Q: One other quickie, too, night operations, you know, the United States fights at night. What observations is the Joint Staff in the Pentagon observing about Russia's capability to fight at night, in terms of tactical operations versus missile attacks?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We don't have any indications that they're incapable of fighting at night. There’s assessments all over the map about how effective they are and in what domain we're talking about.

Clearly, we've seen a lot of these missile strikes happen in periods of darkness. So they clearly are using cover of night to do that. But I think I'm going to reserve judgment about their overall night fighting capability at this time.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tom Bowman?

Q: I wonder if you could focus a little bit on Russian targeting. Of course, early on, you were saying they're going exclusively after military targets, barracks, ammo depots, airfields. And now, with the TV tower, it seems to be a bit of a shift?

And, also, a lot of civilian infrastructure, residential areas are being hit. Do you guys assess that's due to the military targets are near those areas, or is this a shift toward some sort of a way to break the will of the Ukrainian people by hitting civilian targets, actually targeting them?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, our assessment today is the same as it was yesterday. Clearly, they've shown a willingness to hit civilian infrastructure on purpose. And that's as you see in the example of media, you know, towers and media facilities.

Obviously, they are hitting residential areas. There's no doubt about that. The degree to which that is intentional, and intentionally precise in that regard, is difficult for us to assess. But clearly it's happening. There's no doubt about that. But it's hard for us to be able to assess with great specificity the degree to which that is deliberate.

One of the things that we certainly have seen them do in places like Kyiv and Kharkiv is hitting government infrastructure, with increasing bombardments. And so, you know, as we watch over the last couple of days, as they've gotten somewhat geographically closer to some of these large population centers, the bombardments have increased. You guys have seen that for yourself. And it's clear they are trying to weaken the governing structures that are resident in these population centers.

Q: Okay, got it. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Phil Stewart?

Q: Hey there. Real quick, I want to go back to the beginning of the briefing. And you had talked about the U.S. hadn't seen evidence of thermobaric weapons and cluster munitions. And yesterday, at the U.N., I thought I heard a different message from the ambassador.

Just wondering, could you give us a sense of where there might be a difference there? Is it just in what you can actually see versus perhaps what the ambassador was able to talk about?

And then secondly on the targeting issue, why haven't, or do you have any explanation about, you know, why the Russians may be still allowing, you know, military communications? They're not jamming, as far as anyone can tell, Ukrainian military communications. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, difficult for us to get into the Russian mind, Phil. You know, we do assess that Mr. Zelensky still has command and control and the ability to communicate with his commanders in the field, and that that is contributing, helping contribute to their stiff resistance.

And as for the gap you talk about, I think the USUN office offered some clarifications yesterday. I'm just going to stay with what I said at the very outset. And that's what we're comfortable with and that's as far as we can go right now.

Q: So your assessment is that you can see their launchers but not the munitions and stocks, right?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We know that they have the launching systems available to them in Ukraine that could be used for rockets that have a thermobaric warhead on them, but we cannot confirm that those weapons are in Ukraine and we cannot confirm any examples of use.

Let's see, Kasim from Anadolu.

Q: Yes. Hi, thank you. You have been saying that you guys are watching this war closely. Could you say what lesson has the Pentagon learned up to date form the 8-day war/Russian invasion? What does it tell you about war planning for the future?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It’s too soon, Kasim, for us to be doing some sort of lessons learned, particularly on an operation that isn't ours. We're watching it and we're monitoring it as best we can. There are limits to our knowledge and there will be limits to our knowledge going forward.

Our focus is on two things. One, making sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself against this unprovoked invasion. And two, that we continue to do what we need to do to bolster the defense of NATO's eastern flank, and make it very clear to our allies and to Mr. Putin alike that we take Article 5 very seriously. And it think that's where I'd leave it.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay? Thanks, everybody --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There won't be a Pentagon briefing today. So we'll -- we'll probably resume and do this again tomorrow. Out here.