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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an Off-camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, well, good afternoon, everybody. And thank you very much for being here today. It's good to be back at OSD Public Affairs. And I do look forward to working with all of you again in this new role as the DOD press secretary. My intent will be to conduct regular press briefings and press gaggles from the podium and here in the briefing room. So, I'll certainly keep you updated on that front. I do have a few items to update you on and then we'll be happy to take your questions.

First, today, the Department of Defense released its action plan on civilian harm mitigation and response. in a January 27th memo to senior DOD and military department leaders, Secretary Austin made clear that the protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests, and that our efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are a direct reflection of U.S. values, as well as a strategic and moral imperative. Toward that end, the Secretary directed the Department to develop a civilian harm mitigation and response action plan to outline the steps DOD will take and the resources that will be required to implement appropriate recommendations from recently completed studies of civilian harm sponsored by the DOD, DOD Office of the Inspector General evaluations and independent reviews.

A working group comprised of subject matter experts from across the DOD worked extensively to develop this action plan, which was approved by Secretary Austin this week. In developing the plan, the team consulted with a variety of interagency partners, and a range of outside experts, including federally funded research and development centers, nongovernmental organizations, and academic organizations. Some of the key aspects of the action plan include the establishment of a civilian protection center of excellence, to serve as the hub and facilitator for DOD wide analysis, learning and training related to civilian harm mitigation and response, the development of more standardized civilian harm operational reporting, and data management processes to include development of a centralized enterprise wide data management platform, which will improve how DOD collects, shares, and learns from data related to civilian harm and the incorporation of guidance for addressing civilian harm across the full spectrum of armed conflict into doctrine and operational plans so that we're prepared to mitigate and respond to civilian harm in any future fight. Ultimately, this plan improves DOD's approach to mitigating and responding to civilian harm by creating a reinforcing framework of processes and institutions, specifically designed to improve strategic outcomes and optimize military operations.

To provide executive leadership and oversight for civilian harm mitigation and responses, Secretary Austin has established a senior level Steering Committee, which will convene regularly to review progress, provide guidance and resolve friction points throughout the implementation of the action plan. The Secretary has also designated the Secretary of the Army, as DOD's joint proponent for CHMRP and thus has directed the army secretary to immediately start taking steps to establish the Civilian Protection Center of Excellence, which should be dedicated to advancing DOD's ability to mitigate and respond to civilian harm, and also to serve as the institutional hub and facilitator for continuous learning. The action plan anticipates that the Center of Excellence will achieve full operational capability by fiscal year 2025. Implementation of this plan will also add personnel across existing DOD components dedicated to civilian harm mitigation and response functions, with additional staffing requirements to be identified through a manpower study. As Secretary Austin has said, the protection of innocent civilians and the conduct of our operations remains vital to the ultimate success of our operations and as a significant strategic and moral imperative. As a department, we're grateful to the team that developed this plan which will enable DOD to move forward on this important initiative.

Separately, as you may be aware of U.S. Central Command issued statements last night and today regarding their self-defense response to a rocket attack yesterday and an additional threat last night against U.S. forces in Syria. To highlight a few key points here over the past 24 hours, CENTCOM forces struck at Iran affiliated militants in the area with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 gunships and M-777 artillery, which resulted in four militants killed and 10 of their rocket launchers destroyed. Again, this was in response to yesterday's rocket attacks against Mission Support Site Conoco and Mission Support Site Green Village in northeast Syria. As U.S. Central Command Commander General Kurilla has highlighted, the U.S. military will respond appropriately and proportionately to any attacks on our service members, and we'll continue to take all necessary measures to defend our people.

Looking into early next week, Secretary Austin will travel to U.S. Special Operations Command on Tuesday to attend the change of command ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. And finally, I'm told that today is Abraham Mahshie’s last day as Air Force Magazine’s Pentagon press corps reporter, and that he'll be departing for State Department to attend Foreign Service officer training. Congratulations, Abraham. We'll certainly miss having you around. So, best of luck in your new assignment.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. All right. I don't see AP here, so. Lita, are you on the phone?

Q:  I am. I am on the phone. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? Hello. Hello.

GEN. RYDER:  OK. We'll come back to Lita. Idrees?

Q:  Just a couple of clarifying questions. In reference to the last 24 hours, is that separate from the three that were announced killed yesterday from the strike?

GEN. RYDER:  This is cumulative. Right? So, let me just kind of lay out sort of a timeline of events. So, over the last 24 hours, as I mentioned, there have been multiple self-defense engagements. Right? So, the first, which was reflected in CENTCOM's statement last night consisted of U.S. forces responding to rocket attacks. In that situation, there were two to three enemy combatants killed, as we highlighted.

There were follow on self-defense engagements, which targeted Iran affiliated militants, who were attempting to target U.S. forces with emplaced rockets. So, prior to them being able to initiate their attack, U.S. forces engaged them with aviation and artillery assets. And so, we assessed that there was one additional militant killed for a total of four, although we'll continue to assess the situation. Correct.

Q:  Are you gonna give an update on how many wounded U.S. and whether there were TBI and the status of them?

GEN. RYDER:  So, I'm not going to go into the specific injuries other than to say again, that they were that two or three total injuries, so far, none in the additional follow-on engagement. And again, for privacy reasons, I'm not going to go into their specific injuries other than say that the overall minor injuries.

Q:  In the past half hour there were some reports of more explosions. Are you aware of more attacks?

GEN. RYDER:  I am not aware of any additional attacks. And certainly, we can look into that.

Q:  All right.

Q:  Thanks. Thanks for doing this. Just follow up on that I wanted to ask about the timing of the strikes. In particular, the initial precision strikes, first of all, of all the attacks that we've seen in this recent period, why was it the August 15 attack that he chose to respond to? And then can you also speak to the specific timing of this strike coming as it does during this tense time for JCPOA negotiations?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. I think Dr. Kahl addressed that yesterday in terms of you know, “Why now?” But in terms of assessing the threat and the message that these militants were evidently attempting to send in terms of or testing U.S. forces, the determination was made that that it was important to send a message that we will protect our personnel, and that this is an effort to deter future attacks. And so, and as Dr. Kahl highlighted, separate from the JCPOA, we will defend our people no matter where they're attacked or when they're attacked. And so, the two really are not interrelated in that regard. Our forces were threatened, we took appropriate and proportional response. And we'll do so anywhere and anytime that we perceive that threat.

Q:  I was just noticing there’s this 10-day lag time, August 15 vs. yesterday, so why then did it take so long to respond?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm not going to talk about this specific operational planning. You know, that's behind a timeline other than to say, again, the decision was made, that it was important to send a message to these Iranian backed groups in Syria. That the kind of behavior we had seen will not be tolerated. And I think we've got Lita back on the line. So, let me go to her. Lita?

Q:  Hi, can you hear me now?

GEN. RYDER:  I can hear you now.

Q:  OK, great. Also on the serious strike. I want to just more broadly, does the Pentagon assess that this indicates some greater need or want by the Iranian backed militias to go after U.S. forces? Does this represent sort of a longer-term uptick in the violence in Syria? Or is this sort of a one-off? Can you just kind of look at this more broadly, what does this represent an increase in the threat there? And then just real quick on Taiwan, I think the fourth round of U.S. officials is going into Taiwan. Does the U.S. -- does the Pentagon see any need to either beef up security moreso in the Pacific region as these CODELs continue and increase? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  So, on the first question, in terms of Syria, and what we're seeing. So, you know, certainly, time will tell, however, what I would say in this particular instance. You know, it's our assessment that, again, these groups are testing, attempting to see how we might respond. And I think, based on the strikes that we have taken, we've sent a very loud and clear message, and a proportional message, that any threat against our forces who are operating in Syria or anywhere, will not be tolerated. So, at this stage of the game, I think it would be premature to say that this is any indication of an escalating situation in Syria. And my hope would be that these groups would have received the message loud and clear, and that we will not see similar behavior in the future.

As far as Taiwan goes, you know, certainly, again, we will maintain our posture in the region, and operate in the region, anywhere that international law allows us to do that. As far as congressional delegations, again, as has been said from this podium in the past, it is certainly the prerogative of congressional delegations to travel wherever they want, where they need to go in carrying out their duties. And certainly, the DOD will be here to provide assistance as appropriate and as necessary, but I don't have any additional information or comments to provide about anything beyond that.

Q:  First, I want to ask you a question about social media. It is the Pentagon responsible for or did DOD have anything to do with these accounts that were covertly seeking to influence users in the Middle East and Asia with pro-Western perspectives?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Carla. I've seen the press reports on that. Again, we'll take a look at any information that Facebook or Twitter provide, but I don't have anything to provide beyond that.

Q:  You’re unaware of any DOD sponsored or accounts or any accounts that DOD was responsible for that have been shut down?

GEN. RYDER:  As it relates to the press reports, again, you know, we're happy to take a look at information that Facebook or Twitter may have. More broadly speaking, the United States military, you know, as a matter of policy and operations, we do conduct military information support to operations around the world. Obviously, I'm not going to talk about ongoing operations or particular tactics, techniques and procedures, other than to say that we operate within prescribed policy.

Q:  And then, in light of the recent Iranian backed attacks, excuse me, in light of these attacks, is the Pentagon at all concerned that Iran could use money made available to them through JCPOA in the coming days or weeks to target American service members?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I would take a step back here and say that, you know, our focus right now has been on protecting our forces in Syria. I would not necessarily connect the two to ongoing discussions regarding JCPOA. Certainly, we know that Iran presents a broader threat to the region. And I think, as a military, we've been very clear about what that threat is, and I'll just leave it at that. But let me go to Courtney.

Q:  Our colleagues of the Wall Street Journal are reporting that in the coming weeks, the Biden administration plans to name the military mission supporting Ukraine and appoint a general officer to lead the training and assistance effort. Can you confirm that and tell us what the name is? And who the general officer is?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah. Thanks, Courtney. I cannot confirm that. I'm not aware of any plans to establish a named operation in support of Ukraine security assistance. Certainly, something we'll take a look at. And when we have, if we have something to announce, definitely get that to you. But I'm not I'm not aware of anything at this time

Q:  Is that a EUCOM decision or a Pentagon decision? Or is it actually an administration decision to -- to name it? Because I know it's not just naming it. It's like, there's like, bureaucracy and stuff that goes with it.

GEN. RYDER:  So, so we can get you a more detailed answer. What I would tell you, in general, from my experience. Because a named operation typically entails funding, you know, from the departmental level. Typically, depending on the size and the scope of that operation, there would be some type of coordination collaboration with the DOD and Joint Staff on something like that. But again, without knowing, you know, specifically what we're talking about, and I'm speculating here in terms of a joint task force, or a theater wide effort or a global effort, it just depends on the situation.

Q:  So, getting back to the Syria strike, you may have to take this question, is this the first time Green Village has been hit? I think in the past, maybe there have been shots around Green Village or maybe in the village but no damage of any kind.

GEN. RYDER:  Tom, we will have to take that one. Because, you know, as I'm sure you can appreciate that the challenge. I have conceptual in my mind is just given the amount of time we've been operating in Syria. I'm not, I'm not sure. And it depends on you know who we're talking about. So, yeah, let us get back to you on that one.

Let's go to the State Department, future Foreign Service officer here.

Q:  Yesterday, Dr. Kahl talked about how there were 11 sites identified but only nine of them were struck. So, I have a sort of a two-part question. One, could you elaborate on so the Air Force over the horizon role and how over the horizon has developed to make that strike? And then secondly, it almost sounded like Dr. Kahl was -- was sort of referencing this this new action plan right and limiting civilian casualties. At what point is DOD making the evaluation not to make a strike on an area where there might be militants who could cost U.S. service members harm, as it appeared yesterday that making those strikes? Yeah, sure.

GEN. RYDER:  So, on the on the first part of your, question, in terms of the calculus, you know, in terms of striking nine versus 11. You know, I think, CENTCOM and both Dr. Kahl, talk to the fact that in terms of our objectives, and the message that we were trying to send, which was a proportional response to the rocket attacks against U.S. forces, none of our forces were killed. And so, again, the decision was made, and he highlighted this from the podium as well. That doesn't mean we couldn't have but we made the concerted decision not to, again, to provide a proportional response here, from a deterrent standpoint.

And so, that is nothing in and of itself that is new. Certainly you know, you can go back in time and look at previous engagements in Syria, one that comes to mind, going way back with some of the initial days with a counter ISIS campaign, when you may recall, coalition air forces targeted fuel trucks, and made a very concerted effort to let those drivers know that we were coming to minimize or to avoid, or mitigate civilian harm in that case. So, that is nothing in and of itself that's new, depending on the operational objectives. And then remind me what your second question was?

Q:  Over the horizon and what Air Force assets were used for that strike.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of what actual aircraft were used. But certainly, in conducting strike operations, there is an ISR component to that, right? And so, the ability to look at the target area both before, during, and after an operation in order to make sure that we've achieved the effect that we've decided to achieve. And as has been demonstrated, we can be very precise, and we can also be very current with the information that we're receiving and conducting those operations.

Q:  It sounds like the DOD made a determined effort not to hit militants, so this civilian harm extends to potential militants as well.

GEN. RYDER:  So, it's a great point. So, in this context? No, I wouldn't conflate the two, right? This was a concerted decision not to strike individuals who, you know, suspected militants, because again, we were aiming to do a proportional strike. I think the thing about, you know, a key point about the civilian harm mitigation and response plan. And what we're trying to do here is when you are conducting operations in hostile areas, or areas where we have to do very precise targeting, it's taking into account what are the second and third order effects of potential harm to civilians, not only civilians themselves, but civilian infrastructure, right, things like water, you know, power, etc. So, that is a feature of the modern battlefield that we have to take into account, especially, you know, when you consider the post operations phase. So, again, not really what you asked, but that's kind of what we're looking at, but two separate things in this case. OK. Let me go over here. Yes, sir.

Q:  So, yesterday, we heard about a rather large package for Ukraine. I want to say we have a Ukrainian contact group meeting coming up. Should we expect allies to also make announcements about providing for Ukraine's long-term needs and the way that we saw the U.S. doing? And should we expect another major package given that there's been several large military aid packages in the last couple days?

GEN. RYDER:  So, I really don't want to speculate about what our partners and allies may or may not announce. And I'm also not going to speculate about what additional support that we may not may announce in the future, other than to say, you know, Dr. Kahl, yesterday made it very clear that this is certainly not the last security assistance package that we provide, and that we are in it for the long haul, that we're here to support -- along with our allies and partners -- support Ukraine in its fight to maintain its sovereignty and maintain their democracy. So, while I have nothing to announce today, I can assure you that there will be future assistance provided, I'm certain of that.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Hi. Thank you, sir. Matt Seyler with ABC.

I also want to talk about proportionality and deterrence and Syria. I'm wondering in terms of proportionality, it would seem like the events of August 15 and beyond seems like the Iranian backed militants were trying to injure or kill U.S. troops. Is it truly proportional in that context, when the U.S. then deliberately avoids killing those militants? It seems like we're attempting to different things. And then in terms of deterrence, it seems like in fact, deterrence failed in that case, at least, because within some hours, they were lobbing missiles at U.S. troops again.

GEN. RYDER:  So, you know, so certainly, I would say first of all, they didn't kill anybody. Right. So, it was a proportional response. And as evidenced again today by the rollout of the civilian harm mitigation response plan, the law of armed conflict is something that the United States military takes very seriously. The other thing I would tell you is ultimately from a from a military operations and a strategic standpoint is what is the effect that you're trying to achieve in the battlespace so, to speak, right? And so, certainly, as evidenced by our, you know, strikes that I've outlined for you today, we have a wide range of capability. And we can take this up a notch. But what we're trying to do here is, again, send a message that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated. Now, in terms of what discipline those militants have, I can't speak to that. But certainly, if I were in their shoes, I think I would have gotten the message loud and clear that hey, maybe it's time to go back and reevaluate our operational planning, because it's probably not going to end well for you.

Q:  Was it more aggressive, like, were those lower? Was that surprising, a surprising response?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, I think it's premature to try to say that this is, you know, evidence of wider escalation. Again, I can't speak to this particular group, other than to say they took some action. I think they were trying to test us and, again, hopefully they got the message loud and clear. And this will be an episode versus a continuation.

Q:  General, just to drill down a little bit more on that last point. Do you assess that based on your actions so far and in the strikes carried out so far that you have reestablished deterrence and this is effectively over? Or do you assess that this might continue here? And If either way, what leads you to believe that at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, I am not going to speculate. I would hope that deterrence has been reestablished and that the message has been received loud and clear.

Meghann?

Q:  On the topic of Ukraine response, regardless of whether it becomes a named operation, what is the outlook for troops who have been activated there, some who've been there for months, some who are now rotating out and being backfilled, what is the outlook for how long they're going to be doing this? And are they going to be moving around or reducing or plussing up? What does that look like?

GEN. RYDER:  You're talking about U.S. forces specifically? Let us get back to you in terms of the specifics. I would say conceptually big picture, you know, we have increased our force presence in the EUCOM AOR, up to 100,000. And I, you know, my sense is that that will, will remain at that level for the time being. Because again, part of this is a not only providing that capability but sending an important message to Russia, but also to our allies and our partners in the region about our commitment to supporting Ukraine, and probably the most important audience is the Ukrainians themselves demonstrating our commitment as a country and as a military to supporting them in their fight. Thanks.

Sylvie, you've been patient. Yes, Ma'am?

Q:  To go back to Taiwan, I understand you cannot tell us a comment to visit that has not started yet. But can you tell us what military deployment is in the zone right now? What are the ships around Taiwan or in the in the South China Sea?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have that level of detail in front of me. Certainly, we'll get back to you know what we can provide.

Tony?

Q:  Different regions here on the six-month anniversary of the Russian invasion, Colin Kahl said a couple of weeks ago said the Pentagon estimated between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian casualties. Two weeks later, is that roughly the estimate or closer to 80,000?

GEN. RYDER:  That's my understanding 70 to 80,000. It's still at this point, I don't I don't have any additional updated numbers to provide. But I would say based on the information that I've received, that that is still a good approximation.

Q:  I'm gonna go back to the beginning of the civilian harm mitigation. Part of the policy here, the philosophy is compensation to the victims, and the survivors and victims of mistaken attacks. The ACLU attorney representing the families of survivors of the Kabul Strike last year that killed 10 people says the Pentagon hasn’t paid compensation yet. Can you confirm that and roughly why a year later has no compensation been paid realizing the difficulties of dealing with people in Afghanistan?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. Yeah. Thanks, Tony. Let me get back to you on that one. We'll take that question. I don't have the details in terms of that particular family and what the status is of any payments. So, let me take that. OK, great. Thanks. Sure.

Q:  The Israeli Defense Minister is arriving to DC and he's supposed to be holding talks here in the Pentagon tomorrow to discuss the Iran deal and assurances regarding the Iran deal. What assurances does the Pentagon have to provide the Israelis? Additionally, many of the Israeli media look at the strikes on Syria as a message not just to the military, but to the Israelis to their commitment. Is that a message to the Israelis, too?

GEN. RYDER:  So, on your first question, certainly will be happy to provide a readout after that meeting. So, I don't I don't want to get ahead of that discussion. So, more to follow on that. In terms of the strikes in Syria, again, at what I would say is our focus was on sending a message loud and clear to these Iran backed militants in terms of what is not acceptable behavior, and that's threatening U.S. forces. So, OK, I can take one or two more. Yes, ma'am.

Q:  Hi, Liz Friden with Fox News. Does the Pentagon have an assessment for how many Ukrainians has been killed or wounded since Russia's invasion six months ago.

GEN. RYDER:  We do not have that information. Surely we can look into that, but I don't have that information.

And actually, you know what, I apologize. New guy here. Let me go out to the phone lines real quick. Jeff Schogol. Jeff?

Q:  Thank you very much. Can you say how many AC-130s and Apaches were used in this response in Syria? And does the fact that AC-130s were called in indicate that the level of violence is escalating?

GEN. RYDER:  So, I'm not gonna go into specific aircraft numbers. And I think that no, that does not necessarily indicate that things are escalating. As you know, Jeff, we maintain a variety of platforms in the region to provide whatever types of support we may need. And of course, the AC-130 gunship is one of those capabilities.

Thank you. All right. Let me go to I just take a couple more here and I'll come back to you, sir.

We've got Wafaa Jibai from Al Hurra.

Q:  General, my question was answered. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: 

Yes, sir?

Q:  About the civilian harm mitigation plan. It's one thing when it says sort of a higher rarified level, but how will this thing end up being sort of operationalized down at the end user level, is there going to be some sort of civilian harm staffer at the battalion level? And would they be able to veto a plan? Or, you know...

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. No. So, really, the way to think about this, and I touched on this briefly in my comments, but it's essentially building a framework, right? And so, one of the things about that, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But one of the things about the military as an organization that you know, a learning organization, so to speak, continuously improving, is looking at how we can do things better. And so, the idea here is, to your question, eventually inculcating within the combatant commands at the operational levels, people who are trained to have an understanding of the aspects of civilian harm mitigation and operational planning. It doesn't have to necessarily just be military, you know, operators, so to speak, infantry or pilots, it could be urban planners, it could be civil engineers, it could be people that understand how affecting civilians or civilian infrastructure could potentially impact the operational outcomes of your engagement or your campaign. So, the Center of Excellence will be sort of the hub that will provide expertise at a centralized location, but then that will be dispersed throughout the Department of Defense at the COCOM level at the component level. And we estimate, you know, in total, this will be approximately 150+ individuals that will have special training and understand this, the other piece of this will be incorporating it into doctrine, into instructions, into operational planning as a factor. So, that eventually will inculcate itself into the force down to the from the lowest echelon up to the highest level here at the Pentagon.

Q:  Will they also incorporate -- incorporate into weaponeering, so they use weapons, that will have a minimal collateral effect.

GEN. RYDER:  To a certain degree, I think that's an application, Tony, I mean, certainly, when you're putting together a target folder, you're taking into account, what is the effect that you're trying to achieve? And, you know, as has been evidenced in past operations, you've seen we have a variety of capabilities when it comes to the type of munition we're going to use, and the impact that we want to have. So, again, that would be an aspect. But what it does, you know, really, again, especially at the combatant command level, is it provides someone who's trained who understands who can advise at a level that has not always been consistent across the department. And it's not that we haven't taken civilian harm or mitigation into account in the past. It's just trying to apply a consistent approach across the department so that this becomes a matter of how we do business, systemically vice episodically.

Let me just go to the phone here again. Heather Mongilio from USNI?

Q:  Thanks so much for taking my question. I was wondering if you could comment about the shipping lanes coming out of Ukraine right now. And what has been done to make sure that the ships are not hitting any of the mines placed by the Ukrainians. And then I was also wondering if you could confirm that this is the largest naval buildup in Europe, with ships both in the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea right now?

GEN. RYDER:  Yep. Thanks, Heather. I'm going to be incredibly disappointing and say I don't have answers to either of those questions. But we will take those and get back to you.

All right. Let me go to Nick Schifrin, and then I'll come back here in the room.

Q:  Hey, Pat, thanks so much. You might have to take these but let me just try. So, there were some questions earlier and you talked about how you believed, or you hoped that deterrence was reestablished in Syria and that this would be kind of an end for the tit for tat. To your awareness, has the U.S. sent the message to Iran, that this is, from the U.S. perspective, the end of this tit for tat.

GEN. RYDER:  Well, we've certainly sent that message in Syria. So, again, we will, we will hope that that message has been received loud and clear. But in terms of any type of bilateral communication, Nick, I'd have to refer you to the State Department on that.

OK...

Q:  How closely does the United States monitor what's going on in Zaporizhzhia? Yeah, and like, is there any efforts from the United States to secure that location?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah. So, obviously, monitoring the situation very closely. And as has been said, by many, you know, we urge everyone involved there to continue to, you know, take the situation seriously and act responsibly. As far as United States presence in the region. Obviously, we do not have any presence in the region at the moment.

So,. OK, I'll take one more, and then I'm done. Yes, Ma'am?

Q:  Thanks. Just to follow up on that. President Macron today had a conversation and a meeting with the Director General of the IAEA today about possibly sending a team to make sure that Zaporizhzhia is safe and everything. Would the U.S. support the IAEA doing a mission like that?

GEN. RYDER:  So, from a Department of Defense standpoint, you know, again, I'd have to refer you to State Department or White House. Certainly, again, we do support the power plant being operated in a safe manner. It's certainly again, a challenging situation there and something that we're going to keep a close eye on. But from a diplomatic standpoint, I don't really see that it's my place to comment on it, so.

All right, well, thank you all very much. Appreciate it. And we will see you next week. I'll be around. Thank you.