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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Hi, everybody, (inaudible). Again, good to be back with you.  And I look forward to our conversation today, and hopefully some helpful conversation.

As mentioned the 142nd day of Russia's unprovoked large-scale invasion of Ukraine.  We assess that Russian forces are limited to incremental, if any, gains around the northern Donbas, held off by Ukrainian defenses.  Russian forces continue to deploy indiscrimate artillery bombardment, along with air missile strikes.  I'll give you a just kind of around the battlefield of what we're seeing on the ground.  Near Kharkiv, we assess that the Ukrainians are continuing to defeat Russian attempts to gain ground.  In the vicinity of Izium, and Slovyansk, it’s generally the same.

So you know, pretty strong defenses from the Ukrainians, and the Russians have stated publicly that they want to move on Slovyansk, but still have not been able to do so.  And then we certainly assess that they continue to employ artillery attacks around Seversk.  You -- a number of you have reported on that over last week.  We absolutely agree with that.  And then down in the south in Mykolaiv and Kherson, nothing really to update you with on the ground, as both sides are continuing to defend or really, no real progress there.

On the maritime domain, I think a number of you have reported that we did see the Vinnytsia missile attack yesterday came from what we believe, or has been reported and we believe there's no reason to suggest otherwise-- was submarine-launched missiles from the Russians.  What we know for a fact is that they hit and killed a number of civilians.  And I think all told over the week, again, through your reporting, I think we're looking at between 100, 150, somewhere in there, civilian casualties, civilian deaths, this week in Ukraine as a result of Russian strikes.

In terms of HIMARS, I know there's continuing to be a lot of interest about how the HIMARS are performing.  You know, needless to say, the Russians are really important in that information.  I like to make them work for it, honestly, and I -- but to be quite honest, I'll let the battlefield videos and the Ukrainian reports speak for themselves.  They are having an effect, and I think, again, you all have reported on that quite extensively.

And then we continue to train Ukrainians.  We continue to provide aid, as you know, with our continued flow.

And I will hold there pending any questions.  Thank you.

STAFF:  (inaudible) all right.  First is Lita Baldor from A.P.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks so much for doing this.  Two things.  Number one, can you just confirm at all the death of the British aid worker, Paul Urey?  And then second, just a little bit more on the cruise missile strike.  The Russians are claiming they hit a military facility, whereas other sort of Ukrainian reports are calling it a concert hall, et cetera.  Can you provide any clarity on what it was that they hit, and whether or not there were any military facilities either in the area or whatever that they could have been targeting?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, Lita, thanks.  Nice to talk to you again.

First of all, on the first one, I don't know.  I can't -- I just don't have any knowledge on that.

And then in terms of the missile strike, I mean, I saw the same videos that you all saw.  I didn't see anything there and -- you know, that looked anything close to military.  That looked like an apartment building.  So no, I have no indication that there was a military target anywhere near that.  Over.

STAFF:  David Martin from CBS?

QUESTION:  Can you describe for us any impact the use of HIMARS is having on the front lines?  The HIMARS is being used against targets in the rear, but you want it to have an impact on the front lines, and has it had an impact yet?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I think, you know, Dave, that's a good question.  I think there has been significant impact on what's going on on the front lines.  If you think about the fact that the Ukrainians have been talking about a number of the targets they're hitting, you know, they're spending a lot of time striking targets like ammunition supplies, other logistical supplies, command-and-control.  All those things have a direct impact on the ability to conduct operations on the front line.  So I would say yes, although they're not shooting the HIMARS at the front lines, they're having a very, very significant effect on that.

QUESTION:  But have you seen it have an effect?  I mean, obviously in theory, that's the whole purpose.  But have you seen it have an effect on the ability of the Russians to conduct front line operations?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I -- that's a great question too.  I don't know. And this will -- you know, I shouldn't speculate, right?  That's not what I'm supposed to do.  like you, I mean, we've all seen the Russians slow their movements and advances.

It's hard for me to believe that can't be somehow related to the loss of ammunition or the loss of somebody to tell them where to go.  You know, I am told where to go a lot, and when someone doesn't do it, I tend to just sit at my desk.  Honestly, I like that, but anyway.

STAFF:  All right.  Thanks, David.  Courtney Kube, NBC?

Q:  Thanks.  I just want to re-up the question that Lita asked cause I don't think we got an answer to it about whether you can confirm the death of the British aid worker.  And then I have a -- my own question.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, no, I answered her, Courtney.  I don't know -- I don't know anything about it.

And then I'll standby for your next question.

Q:  Sorry about that.  The -- then -- can you expand a little bit on the -- what you said -- there were between 100 to 150 Ukrainian civilian deaths this week as a result of Russian strikes.  So you're talking about more than just the strikes that were -- the missile strikes yesterday?  You're talking about across -- I don't know if you can provide any more visibility on that, cause we don't normally hear from these backgrounders about Ukrainian civilian deaths, numbers.  So I'm just -- how do you have numbers this week?  Where were those -- most of those deaths?  Were they mostly the submarine missile launches or anything more on that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I -- yeah, so that certainly was the largest one I've seen, but all -- all my numbers are coming from the things that you all are writing.  And that's -- that's over the last seven to 14 days, you know, since I was on here -- I don't know when it was -- I think last Friday.  But yeah, all open-source.

And again, that range depends on the open source we're looking at.  Somewhere between 100 and 150.

Q:  So that's -- it's not just this week, that you're saying that the 100 to 150 is over the last one to two weeks, you would say then?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, that's correct.

Q:  OK, thank you.

STAFF:  Thanks, Courtney.  Oren Liebermann, CNN?

Q:  You had mentioned hitting ammunition dumps, the using -- the Ukrainians using the HIMARS there.  I was wondering if you have any estimate on whether that's truly made a dent in Russian ammunition supplies, a percentage estimate, or just, you know -- we've seen them fire artillery almost without end.  Have you seen this truly make a dent in their supply of ammo?  And if so, is there a number estimate on that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't have a number estimate.  I mean, I would tell you, if you're the person that's supposed to get the ammunition, it's all of it.  If -- but, you know, as you know very well, I mean, Russia it's a well-stocked country, but I don't have a percentage.

Q:  OK.  Thank you, sir.

STAFF:  Thanks, Oren.  Liz Friden from Fox News?

Q:  Hey, thanks for taking my question.  I was wondering, is the U.S. -- does the U.S. plan on tracking weapons once in Ukraine or is the U.S. seeing any problems with the Ukrainians tracking their own weapons?  And this has to do with the rumors there are of smuggling the weapons out of Ukraine.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Sure.  We are not tracking weapons, Liz.  And quite honestly, I mean, we feel pretty good that the Ukrainians are using the weapons that we've provided to them and have not seen any indications that those weapons have gone anywhere else other than to fight against the Russians.

Q:  Oh, OK, great.  Thank you.

STAFF:  Thanks, Liz.  Dan, Washington Post?

Q:  Yes, thanks.  Good afternoon.  There has been reports of, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 or 40 settlements in the Kherson area that have apparently been retaken by Ukrainian forces.  One, do you have any assessment that's like that?

And two, if so, can you maybe flesh that out a bit in terms of, you know, how big these settlements are?  Are we talking neighborhoods, are we talking villages?  I guess just trying to get a sense for scope here.  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Dan.  I don't.  I do know that the Ukrainians have made small gains in pockets in the south.  I'd hesitate to put a number on that or to give you an idea of what they would consider a settlement but I know they've made some small gains in the south.

STAFF:  Thanks, Dan.  Eric, New York Times?

Q:  Hi, (inaudible).  The Russian strikes into Ukraine, do you have a rough ratio as to how many are coming from long-range artillery and how many are coming from the air?  And if so, has that ratio, that percentage changed over the last few weeks?  Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I -- Dan -- or Eric, I'm sorry -- I don't.  And I think, you know, I think it'd be tough -- we're not necessarily tracking by, you know, delivery methods.  And I don't know that that would tell me a lot, depending on what the Russians were thinking.

Anyways, I'm sorry, I don't.  I apologize.

Q:  And just to follow up, do you -- National Security Advisor Sullivan earlier this week talked about intelligence that indicated that Iran was preparing to send hundreds of UAVs to Russia to use in the battle.  Have you seen any indication that any of these UAVs are showing up, or soon will?  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I haven't seen any indication they are.  I mean, it says a lot that the Russians are leaning on Iran to get weapons.

STAFF:  Thank you, Eric.  Tom Bowman, NPR?

Q:  Yeah, I wonder if you could put a fuller picture on the incremental gains you've spoken about?  I mean, we've been hearing that for quite some time now.  Is this kind of where we are now?  Do the Russians just lack troops and supplies to do anything more to really have a -- you know, a full push into the Donetsk area?  Is it the HIMARS that's leading to this, or are we kind of heading into a stalemate now?  If you could just give us a sense of that.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, it's probably too early to make a determination like that.  I think, you know, again, in terms of where you are on the battlefield, I would -- I have to believe that the HIMARS have had an effect.  I don't know that that's -- you know, we didn't think that would be a silver bullet, certainly.

I think what you're seeing is -- you know, what you've got is kind of a matchup between bad morale and strong will.  You know, we've seen -- you know, over the past several weeks, as you know, in the east -- the far east there, from Severodonetsk over, we saw the Russians take a pounding -- I mean, literally -- take a pounding to gain what really, when you look at the scale of things, it was not a very large amount of ground.

Now, any ground going back and forth is pretty small, but you've got -- you all have reported on it very well -- the morale of the Russians is really dismal.  I think there was an article this morning talking about, you know, some of the ways that the Russians are trying to gain more soldiers.

And so if you couple that with the collective will of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, I think, you know, it's -- we've been saying this, right, for the past couple of weeks.  You can't necessarily gauge something just based on the size of the army.  There's like that phrase, right?  It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the -- isn't that what it is? Or the size of the fight in the dog…

Q:  Right.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Anyways.

Q:  Just give me a sense.  Do you think the Russians now are able to make a strong push anywhere in the east or are they just slowly becoming exhausted? Or is it too early to say?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  You know, I don't want to speak for the Russians here.  That's a good question for them, though.

Q:  Well from what you're seeing, any sense of that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I certainly think morale affects an army's ability to conduct operations.  We talked a little bit about that last week.  And so, if they are having morale issues, I would think that would affect them.

And I'll tell you, it'd be hard not to have morale issues at times when, again, you know, you're supposed to get supplies but those supplies were destroyed 40 kilometers behind your lines.  That's going to impact on them as well.  So anyway, I'll hold there.

Q:  OK, thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Tom.  Hey, Tony from Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi, sir.  Can you give us a sense of how many HIMARS and other NATO MLRS-type of systems are in the fight against Russia right now?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Well I can tell you what we've provided.  I'm not sure particularly how many of them they're using at what times, or where.  You know, we have provided them eight that we gave them and then another four here recently.

I think there are other systems in place.  I'm going to let the other countries speak for the numbers of systems that they've passed on, but ours have been eight until recently we added the other four.

Q:  OK, can I -- can you give us a sense of how the combination of U.S. and Ally-provided ISR, Pumas, Phoenix Ghosts, the Turkish Bayraktar drones, are helping queue the MLRS and other NATO systems?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, I don't know how they're employing that.  I did see an amazing report on CNN about a month and a half, two months ago where they were talking about the Ukrainians and their -- you know, they had a number of drone platoons, and they were using, you know, those little handheld tiny little quadcopters, so I've got to believe that they have figured out how to employ UAS technology pretty well.

Q:  Well can I ask you one quickie, too?  These Russian strikes in civilian facilities, like the submarine strike, are those potentially in retaliation for the use of HIMARS over there?  It's their way of tit for tat, albeit cowardly?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, I'd hate to speculate on that.  I mean, yes.  I'd hate to speculate on that.

Q:  OK.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Tony.  Hey, Bill from Washington Times.

Q:  Yes.  Hi.  I'm following up on a report yesterday that there was an unsafe and unprofessional intercept of a U.S. C-130 by a Chinese jet over the South China Sea.  Can you comment on that, and are you concerned that something like that could lead to a major miscalculation?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Hey, Bill.  This is (inaudible).  We're not here to discuss that.  Feel free to call my desk officer who handles the Pacific account.  Do you have any other questions?

Q:  No.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK.  Let's see.  Laura from POLITICO?

Q:  Hey, (inaudible).  Thanks for doing this.  A couple of questions.  First of all, sir, you said that you are not tracking the weapons that we’re given to the Ukrainians, but then you also said that you've not seen any indications that those weapons have been used to do anything other than what they said they were going to do, but how -- can you just clarify that?  How do you know?  How do you know that latter if you're not tracking these weapons?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Well not tracking and not knowing where those weapons go I think are probably different things, and what I mean by that is, we're not tracking, you know, the Ukrainians' use of our particular weapons, but we also aren't seeing any indication anywhere else that these weapons have been provided to anybody other than the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Q:  Do you have any plans to put any of our people on the ground or closer to monitor this more closely as the battle continues?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes.  I don't make any of those decisions, Laura.  Those decisions are made across the river.

Q:  And then my second question is can you give us a timeline on when those Excalibur munitions are going to arrive or have they arrived already?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, I don't know that I could tell you that either.  I know we provided some additional 155 millimeter rounds last week that have some decent precision, but I don't have anything else on that one.

Q:  OK.  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Laura.  Jeff, Voice of America.

Q:  Yes, thanks very much for doing this.  First, just want to confirm you said there are now 12 HIMARS actively being used by Ukraine in this fight, the 12 that the U.S. said they would give?  And then I have one more.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, Jeff, we -- I know that they're using the first eight.  I don't know, you know, what they're doing with the last four.  We've transferred those to the Ukrainians.  I don't know if they're in Ukraine or not.

Q:  Got you.  Thank you.  And then late last month, the Director of National Intelligence was saying that it was entirely plausible that depending on how the next few weeks, months, play out that Putin could be convinced -- it's in his interest to sign a deal -- to at least pause the war.  Does the Pentagon agree with that, especially given the fact that despite everything going on Russia continues to seem to be making slow and sometimes very slow but still steady progress in the Donbass?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes.  I'll leave that to the intelligence folks, but man, I would tell you that the Russians can come to the table any day they want to.  I think, you know, that'd be a positive step, and they can certainly turn around and go back anytime they want to.

Q:  If I could, there's also been some reporting that China's finding ways to help Russia behind the scenes.  Is any of that playing out in terms of any sort of military aid or military assistance to the Russians at this point?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't have any knowledge on that or indications.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you, Jeff.  Howard, The Warzone.

Q:  Thanks.  I have a couple of questions.  First, can you give an assessment of what kind of intelligence that U.S. might be providing to Ukraine to targeting the HIMARS and the ammo dumps?  And then I have some other -- another question.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes.  We -- so as you know, we're helping the Ukrainians.  I'm not going to provide particulars as to how that works, but we've been able to give them information and they've been able to use that information the way they choose to do so.

Q:  Can you say whether you're providing information that they're using in the HIMAR strikes?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  We've provided information that they're using across the battlefield.

Q:  I have another question.  Can you -- are you tracking the level of Russia fires that are coming as Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant?  And what's your level of concern about the militarization of that plant?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I'm not tracking the fires, Howard.  I think we're all concerned about Russians being responsible about anything nuclear.  And so, in this case, certainly we want them to be responsible as it relates to Zaporizhzhia.

Q:  So when you say...

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  We've got time for one more question.  Howard, I'm sorry.  We've got time for one more question.  That's your fourth.  I'm sorry.  Heather from USNI?

Q:  Thanks so much.  I was just wondering if you have seen other submarine in the -- action in the Black Sea besides this strike that most recently happened, and if there is a more expanded maritime update on what we're seeing in the Black Sea right now? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Heather, would you -- I'm sorry, I either blinked out there or we got cut off just for a second.  Could you repeat the beginning of your question?

Q:  Sure.  I was just wondering if you can say if there's been other submarine action in the Black Sea besides what -- the strike that we just saw?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I haven't -- I don't have any reporting on that right now.  Sorry, Heather.

Q:  And then did you hear the second part?  Just a updated maritime -- a scope of what's going on in the Black Sea?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Hey, you know, let me get back to you on that.  We'll provide you some additional information.  I just don't have that with me.

STAFF:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.  We'll try to do these on a fairly regular cadence.  Have a great weekend.