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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK RYDER:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for being here today.  I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend.  I have a few items to pass along, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

As you know, the Department of Defense released its Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military last week.  On his first day in office as the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Austin made clear that countering the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military was a top priority for him and the department's leadership, and that's still very true today.

As the statistics from the report indicate, we have much more work to do to ensure that all members of the U.S. military and the Department of Defense are treated with dignity and respect, and that they can do their important work for our nation without fear of violence or harassment.  Department of Defense leaders will continue to remain sharply focused on eliminating sexual assault, and as a department, we're committed to preventing this scourge from happening in the first place, assisting sexual assault survivors with recovery and resilience when it does happen, holding offenders accountable and rebuilding trust and confidence among our warfighters that DOD leaders are taking this matter seriously.

In addition to the annual report, Secretary Austin issued a memo on Thursday to senior Pentagon leadership and senior field commanders detailing the specific multiple actions DOD is taking to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment, which is available on the Defense.gov website under the publications tab.

Sexual assault in the military is a national defense issue, and addressing it is something this department considers absolutely vital to the health and readiness of our forces.  In the memo's closing, Secretary Austin makes his views very clear on this subject to U.S. military leaders: Sexual violence will not be tolerated within our ranks.  This is a leadership issue, and we will lead.

Separately, I want to highlight a few operations and administrative items for your awareness.  There will be an operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile early tomorrow morning, September 7, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.  This launch is a routine test which was scheduled far in advance, and consistent with previous tests, this ICBM launch will validate and verify effectiveness and readiness of the system.  In accordance with standard procedures, the United States has transmitted a prelaunch notification pursuant to the Hague Code of Conduct, and notified the Russian government in advance pursuant to treaty obligations.

The purpose of the ICBM Test Launch Program is to demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the security and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear deterrent.  As you may recall, the last test launch was August 4th, which had been delayed.  So for those wondering about timing, the two launches moved closer together due to the delays from the August date sliding to the right.  And again, tomorrow's launch was scheduled far in advance.

And then finally, as a reminder, Secretary Austin and General Milley will host an in-person meeting Thursday of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and will be joined by ministers of defense and senior military officials at Ramstein Air Base from 50-plus nations around the world to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

The Secretary and the Chairman look forward to these important discussions, which demonstrate the strong international unity, resolve and support for the Ukrainian people as they continue to fight and defend their country against Russian aggressions.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.  Let me start with A.P.

Q:  Hi, Pat.  Thank you.

Q:  Yup.  Can you hear me?  Pat?  Can you hear me?

GEN. RYDER:  I can hear you, yes.

Q:  So I have a question on the latest intelligence suggesting that Russia's hoping to buy some millions of dollars of rockets and artillery from North Korea.  Has the Pentagon seen any indication that is ongoing already, or preparation for that?  And then just a quick one on the secretary's trip this week.  Do you expect that there will be more aid announced, or any other changes in U.S. troop posture in Europe as part of this coming meeting?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks for the question, Lita.  So let me take your second question first and say that I don't have any announcements to make right now.  Certainly, the Secretary looks forward to the conversations as part of the Ukraine Contact Group, and we'll be sure to keep you updated on that front in terms of any outcomes.

As far as your first question, yes, we do have indications that Russia has approached North Korea to request ammunition.  I'm not able to provide any more detail than that at this point in time, but it does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine.  Certainly, as has been said, we assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia, so the fact that they're reaching out to North Korea is a sign that they're having some challenges on the sustainment front.  Thank you.

Q:  Just a quick follow then.  You talked about they're in a process getting these weapons.  Does that mean they have, like, sent the money over?  They're waiting for the shipment?  Have they not sent money over?  What part of the process are they in?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so the information we have is that they have approached North Korea, but beyond that, I don't have any further details to provide.

Q:  There's been no transfer of money necessarily.

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any other details to provide.

Q:  And just to follow up, why declassify this information now?  Is it because you received it now, or because the process of declassification took awhile?  I guess why now?

GEN. RYDER:  So what I would say, Idris, is that as this campaign has unfolded, we've tried to make an effort to ensure that the public and the international community understand the situation that Russia finds itself as they, again, continue to wage their campaign in Ukraine.  This information is relevant to the fight in the sense that, again, it's indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in and shows the fact that they are trying to reach out to international actors like Iran and North Korea that don't have the best record when it comes to international stability.

Q:  And then one last question real quick.  Is this the first time the Russians have reached out to the North Koreans for these types of weapons?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have an answer to that. Okay, Lara?

Q:  Yeah, thanks.  Can you give us an update -- two questions.  First of all, can you give us an update on what you're seeing from the drones that Russia has received from Iran?  Are you seeing indications of additional failures like we saw last week?  What's the status there?

And then I also wanted to ask -- we're seeing these reports that Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive now in the Kharkiv Oblast. Can you provide any update on what the Ukrainian armed forces are doing there?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. On your first question, I don't have any updates to provide. In terms of what we're seeing in Ukraine, what I would tell you is that in general what we've see in the Kherson region, first, is some -- or continued offensive operations by the Ukrainians. They continue to make some forward movement. We are aware that they have retaken some villages.

In terms of that, you know, further detail beyond that, I'd refer you to the Ukrainians. But that's probably about as much information as I'm going to be able to provide in terms of an operational update from the podium. I'll have to get back to you on that.

Q:  If I could just follow up, have you seen any movement of Russian forces from the east to resupply the south?

GEN. RYDER:  So in terms of Russian forces, what I would tell you is that we have seen some offensive Russian activity up in -- near Bakhmut. And in that situation, the Ukrainians continue to hold the line. As far as Russian reinforcement, I don't have any details to provide on that. Jim?

Q:  General, obviously, the Secretary and the Chairman will be discussing training for Ukrainian forces outside of Ukraine by allied or partnered countries. Can you, sort of, say what's the level of training right now, before this meeting that's coming up?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. You know, talking in broad terms, primarily consisting of training on various weapons systems that we're providing to the Ukrainians, providing training on maintenance and logistics type of support. We can certainly work with you to get you more details, more granularity on that. But, generally speaking, that's the kind of training that we're providing.

And again, this is not something new, necessarily, although certainly, since the invasion, there has been a continued increased focus on supporting the Ukrainians. But, as you well know, this is something that we've been doing since 2014.

Q:  Sort of, along with that, one of the comments that you hear most often from the Ukrainian military is the role that NCOs play in small units, especially. But that was also a part of the training that the Ukrainian military received from the U.S. forces.

Is that still continuing? Are they still doing that? Or has the exigencies of war, sort of, wiped that out?

GEN. RYDER:  So we'll get back to you in terms of the specifics on that aspect of the training. What I would say is, yes, broadly speaking, that highlighting and working with the Ukrainians, in terms of NCO leadership, has -- is something that we have done.

You know, this is a strategic advantage in a lot of ways, of the U.S. military and many Western militaries, is the noncommissioned officer corps, in terms of what they bring to the battlefield and enabling modern militaries. So I do know that that is an area that is of continued importance. But let us get back to you in terms of specific training on that front. Thanks, Jim.

All right. Let's go back to the phone lines here. Do we have Fox News?

Q:  Hey, yes, Liz Friden with Fox News. Thanks for taking my question.

As far as the Iranian capturing the sea drones last week, there were two different incidents in the Middle East. Does the U.S. make anything of this happening suddenly, as the Iran negotiations are ongoing with the nuclear deal?

And is this part of a greater trend?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks for the question, Liz.

So we do not see the two as connected.  Again, as you're aware, in the case of the saildrones, we did recover the drones and it's just another example of Iranian activity in this region that is unprofessional and problematic.

And so certainly we'll continue to keep an eye on that front, but again, to answer your question, we do not see those two as connected.

Q:  Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the Pentagon created a new task force to expedite the arms sales to U.S. allies and partners last month.  First, could you confirm the report?  And secondly, is there a concern in the Pentagon that the U.S. will not be able to sufficiently arm Taiwan by 2027, when the U.S. military assesses that China will have the capabilities to invade Taiwan?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so in terms of the Foreign Military Sales tiger team, yes, we did recently initiate an internal FMS tiger team process in exploring a wide range of immediate and systemic areas for reform of Department of Defense processes, platforms and regional perspectives to improve our ability to work with allies and partners.

And it's important to highlight the fact that this endeavor is not focused on a particular region, it's rather designed to intensively explore and look at internal processes throughout the department.  And so this is largely focused on efficiency.

And I'm sorry, can you ask your second question again?

Q:  So is there any particular concern in the Pentagon that the U.S. will not provide sufficient number of weapons systems to Taiwan by 2027, when the U.S. military says that China could have capabilities to invade Taiwan?

GEN. RYDER:  So what I would tell you is that we'll continue to work closely with our international partners and allies.  I'm the -- I don't have any specific remarks or comments to make today in regard to Taiwan or -- or potential or future military sales, other than to say that, you know, we'll continue to work very closely on stability in the region and work closely with our partners in the region to ensure that stays the case.  Thank you.

Fadi? And then we'll go to the phone.

Q:  Thank you, General.  So just to follow up on the question on the Saildrone incident, specifically the second one -- Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the cameras on both drones were missing.

First of all, are you able to confirm that report and whether Iran took the cameras or do you have an idea where they are now?

GEN. RYDER:  So I can confirm that the cameras were missing.  These are unclassified, unsensitive, off-the-shelf technology.  In terms of what specifically happened to them, I don't have that information, so no, I can't confirm that Iran took them.

Because these are commercial, off-the-shelf systems, you know, certainly I'd refer you to NAVCENT, in terms of, you know, the efforts to repair these, but no particular concerns in regards to the fact that, again, this was not sensitive equipment.

Q:  Is there an effort to communicate with the Iranians, to ask if they actually have the cameras?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any information into that.  Again, what I would say is that we call on the Iranians to exercise good seamanship and observe the international rules and norms when it comes to operating in this area.  Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q:  General, in the last week, we have seen Greeks using their S-300s locked on Turkish jets conducting NATO mission.  Is it an acceptable behavior for the United States, particularly when you think the mission was a NATO mission?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks for the question, Qasim.  What I would tell you is I'm aware of those reports but I don't have any information to provide from here.

Q:  -- policy -- for example, United States military is also conducting a lot of missions like this, you know, over the partner skies, in partner skies.  Do you think that, like, something like this happened to the United States, would that be acceptable?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I don't want to get into hypotheticals, right?  What I would tell you is that Secretary Austin has talked in the past with both his Turkish and his Greek counterparts and emphasized the need for continued efforts to reduce tensions in the Aegean through a constructive dialogue.  So I'd leave it at that.  Thank you.

Let me go ahead and go to the phone here.  Tony Capaccio from Bloomberg?

Q:  Hi, sir.  I had a quick question on the Ukraine -- on the Afghanistan after action report.  You mentioned last week that a classified version has been prepared.  What organization has prepared it?  Was that the National Defense University?  And what are your plans for releasing fairly quickly the executive summary, at least?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Tony.  So yes, National Defense University was responsible for compiling the report.  And I'm not going to put a timeline on when the Secretary's review will be complete, nor when we will have an unclassified aspect of that report available for release.

Q:  So will you at least commit to an expedited review of the classification of the report so that, you know, the public can see this and it's just not leaked it?

GEN. RYDER:  Certainly, Tony, I'll commit to taking your question and taking a look at that, and -- and when we have something available, we will be sure to provide that.  Thank you though.

Okay, let's do one more from the phone here.  Joe Gould, Defense News?

Q:  Hi, General.  Thanks for taking my question.  I have a two-parter also, in light of the Ukraine aid request from the administration.  First part is what's the current number of U.S. troops mobilized in Europe to bolster NATO since the invasion?  Is that still about 10,000?

And then also, is it correct that there is about $2.8 billion in presidential drawdown authority that's gone unused and will be allowed to expire at the end of the fiscal year?

GEN. RYDER:  Okay, so in terms of U.S. troop presence in Europe, yes, the numbers have remained the same.  We're at about 100,000 U.S. forces in the AOR, in addition to the troops that we deployed to provide additional support.

In terms of the aid for Ukraine, certainly, you know, I don't want to speculate about future funding, other than to say that we are committed to using the aid that we have to support Ukraine and we'll continue to work very closely with the interagency and with Congress to ensure that we're spending that aid as expeditiously as possible, to support them in their fight.

(UNKNOWN):  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, ma'am?

Q:  Felicia Schwartz, Financial Times.  On the training, in the past, we've gotten numbers of how many Ukrainians have gone through, I mean, unspecific systems, like the HIMARS or for drones in some instances.  Do you have any, like, updated numbers or even ballpark figures about how many Ukrainians have been through training at this point?

RYDER:  I don't have that right in front of me.  But let me take that question and we'll see what we can provide you.

Back to the phone line here.  Heather from USNI.

Q:  Thanks so much.  I was just wondering if we can get a maritime update what's going on out in Ukraine in the Black Sea.

RYDER:  Sure.  I can talk in broad terms, Heather.  You know, we continue to see the grain shipments departing Odesa, which is a positive thing.  We continue to stay focused on that.  In terms of operational updates, you know, clearly that I don't want to get into intelligence from the podium here other than to say that we keep a close eye on that region as the conflict continues to unfold.  Thank you.

All right.  Yes, sir.

Q:  -- Newsmax.  Just a quick question for you about Taiwan again.  What is the Pentagon's assessment of the conflict between China and Taiwan right now in Taiwan Strait?

RYDER: An assessment of the conflict in what sense?

Q:  Latest of what's going on right now in the last couple of days?

RYDER:  Well, you know, in terms of specifics on the ground activity, I'd refer you to Taiwan.  Obviously from a U.S. military standpoint we continue to operate in the region, most recently on 28 August, of course, with our Taiwan Strait transit.  You know, it's one of those regions that we will continue to keep a close eye on with our partners and our allies in the region.  Certainly there is tension there.  But we would call on China to continue to ensure the stability of the region.  And I'll just leave it at that.  Thank you.

We'll go to Lara, and then one more on the phone here.

Q:  Just to follow up on that, we heard from Colin Kahl a couple of weeks ago that there were no new assessments that China was going to invade Taiwan any sooner than we've previously thought.  Is that now that a couple of weeks have passed since these exercises happened and we've seen China, you know, continuing to violate Taiwan's airspace, is there any new assessments going on about the prospect of this happening in the next five, 10 years?

RYDER:  Yes, I'm not aware of any new assessments.

Luis.

Q:  Can we go back to the questions about North Korea.  What are some of the capabilities that North Korea could actually offer Russia in its fight in Ukraine?

RYDER:  Well, the information that we have is that Russia has specifically asked for ammunition.  But in terms of the capabilities, I don't want to speculate on what Russia may or may not need beyond that or what they could offer.

Q:  Are we seeing any indications that Russia is making similar reach-out efforts to friendly nations around the world.  I mean, we've seen the Iran drone deal, now this information which you've declassified.  Are they making other contacts around the world to do pretty much the same thing which is reach out for ammunition and other --

(CROSSTALK)

RYDER:  So based on the information that I have, I would say at this point time we've seen North Korea and Iran as the countries that they've reached out to.  So, thank you.

Okay.  Let's go to Jeff Seldin, VOA.

Q:  General, thanks very much for doing this.  One question on Russia, one on Iran.

Just generally what is the latest that the Pentagon has in terms of any changes to Russia's nuclear posture, especially with the Ukrainian counteroffensive seeming to make some steps?

And also on Iran, can you explain, what does the Pentagon make of Iran's increased aggressiveness both in term -- you know, we saw it last week with the attempts to capture the Saildrones.  But are you seeing that matched by the IRGC or Iran's proxy forces, whether in the Middle East or beyond in terms of Iran's aggressive posture?

RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Jeff.  No changes in terms of your first question, no changes in terms of the posture.  Again, that is an area that we'll just continue to keep a very close eye on.

As far as the motivations behind Iran, again, I'd refer you to them for any, you know, discussion of their motivations.  In terms of -- if you look at the behavior of Iran over the long term in this region of the world, these types of incidents unfortunately are not that uncommon.  Again, it's an area that we continue to monitor, but the kind of unprofessional, inappropriate behavior when it comes to these type of harassing actions are not helpful in the region when it comes to preserving peace and stability and international waterways.  Thanks, Jeff.

All right, let me go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you.  The Defense Department will stop issuing the National Defense Service Medal as of December 31st.  Would it be accurate to say the department is acknowledging the global war on terrorism has ended?

RYDER:  Well, certainly, we want to recognize those who have supported and engaged in this operation.  Certainly, over the last 20 years, a lot of men and women in the U.S. military have worked very hard to counter terrorism, but in terms of the actual medal, Jeff, let me get back to you on that and its current status.  Thank you.

All right, any others in the room here?  Yes, sir?

Q:  Sir, in light of President Biden's recent speech in Philadelphia, does the Pentagon have a position on the use of serving military forces in photo ops like that?

RYDER:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  I think the White House addressed that question the other day, so I'd refer you back to the White House.

All right, let me go to Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.

Q:  Asked and answered, thank you.

RYDER:  Nancy from Wall Street Journal?

Q:  Thank you.  I'd like to go back to an announcement you made last week about a review of Afghanistan for purposes of a presidential unit citation.  Can we please get a list of all open reports related to -- or, excuse me -- all open reviews related to Afghanistan?

And also, I'd like to revisit something that Tony was asking earlier.  Secretary Austin, when he announced the after-action report, said that it was important that we are able to learn a lesson, that he'd do so, and that that review would be happening in the days ahead.  That was more than a year ago.  I would ask that you please take the question of when that report will be declassified, or some version of it.  I don't think it's fair to the American public that has been promised some public accounting of what happened in those final days of Afghanistan, an open-ended promise of maybe declassifying such an essential report.  Thank you.

RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Nancy.

Yes, again, and certainly, I'll commit to taking that question.  And you know, as part of this process, obviously, and as a organization that for obvious reasons was very actively involved in Afghanistan, we want to make sure that we're capturing those lessons learned, and that we're able to apply those lessons not only to today, but future operations.

Certainly understand the interest in this topic, both as a service member and as an American.  So again, I'll take that question and we'll get back to you as soon as we can, in terms of what we'll be able to provide on an unclassified note.

And then I'm sorry, you had another part to your question --

Q:  I'm sorry, I -- I --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- just a list of what --

RYDER:  Oh on the unit citations.  So again, part of that direction was for the services to do the expedited review, as far as which units they recommend for the presidential unit citation.  And so the services, in and of themselves, should have information on their own efforts.

Certainly, this is not the only recognition that's being provided or has been provided for operations related to Afghanistan, but we'll take your question and provide what we can.  Thank you.

Okay, let me go to Paul Hanley, AFP.

Q:  Hi, can you hear me?  Hello?  Can you hear me?

RYDER:  I can hear you.

Q:  Oh, okay, sorry.  Look, going back to the Saildrones, can you say on what basis these were recovered, what demands did you -- did the U.S. Navy make to the Iranians, and was there a threat leveled, was there a kinetic force considered?

And stepping back more broadly, can you say how many of these have you deployed in the Gulf and are they only there or is the Navy using them in such a large number elsewhere in the world?

RYDER:  Sure.  To answer your first question -- so as I understand it, the Iranian Navy held these Saildrones on their deck of their ship overnight and returned them the next morning.  In terms of how long they've been operating in the vicinity or in this area, these drones are operated as part of 5th Fleet's Task Force 59.

They've been operating in the region since the beginning of the year, so January of 2022.  And they are a way that we are able to provide information to NAVCENT quickly, as far as safely transiting the area, providing information in terms of potential issues or threats in the area, but bottom line is that, again, there was no situation in which forces were, as you put it, hostile.  They took them and then the two U.S. Navy guided missile destroyers that were operating in the vicinity responded, moved into the area, but then shortly after, like I said, overnight, the Iranians released them.  Thank you.


RYDER:  We'll go to Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense.

Q:  Thank you, I appreciate it.  Last week, DOT&E Nickolas Guertin was tapped for a job to be an ASD with the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, and those are two very different jobs, right?  One's an unbiased evaluator of weapons programs and the other one is an advocate for weapons programs.

Is Mr. Guertin going to stay on as DOT&E while he pursues confirmation in -- in the Navy job?  And then how does the department adjust to potential conflict of interest that this might cause?

RYDER:  Yeah, thanks very much for the question, Tony.  Let me take that one and get back to you.  I just don't have the insight to provide on that, so let me get back to you on that one.

Q:  All right.  Thank you.

RYDER:  Barbara Starr, CNN?

Q:  I wanted to follow up on a couple of things.

On Afghanistan, because military public affairs does have the job of communicating information to the public as long as it doesn't violate national security, can you get us at least an answer on who, what office might be advocating in front of the Secretary for some kind of declassification of this report?  Who is putting the case to him, if anyone, that it's a good idea to offer some level of public knowledge on this?

My second question is I'm still not hearing you use the word "counter-offensive" in regards to the Ukrainian moves in Kherson and around there, and I'm curious why you're still -- the Pentagon is still not comfortable saying "counter-offensive"?

And very quickly, my third question -- can you give us any indication, do you have concerns that Russia might be reaching out to China for munitions or that the Chinese may be offering munitions to Russia?  Does that concern you?  Thank you.

RYDER:  So on your first question, I mean, certainly public affairs does play a role in providing advice and counsel when it comes to the public release of information of interest to the public and to members of the Department of Defense, and so we are and will be a part of those conversations.  And again, I take the point, it's well taken, in terms of the importance of this information, not only to our service members but to the American public.

In regards to Ukrainian operations, this is a Ukrainian military operation.  I'll leave it to the Ukrainians -- we'll leave it to the Ukrainians to characterize or define their operations in terms of where they are in their campaign.  And so again, it's not appropriate for me, as a Department of Defense spokesperson, to characterize it for them.

And then finally, in regards to China and Russia, certainly as evidenced by Russia's most recent exercises and other activities, there is a relationship between China and Russia.

In terms of what Russia may be asking of China or not, I don't have any information to provide from the podium on that, other than to say that in an era of strategic competition, we'll continue to keep a very close eye on Russia and China and the threats that they pose to international stability and the international rules and norms that have largely kept the world safe for the last 70-plus years, since World War II.  Thanks, Barbara.

Okay, thank you very much, everybody.  I appreciate your time today.

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