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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right, good afternoon, everybody. So thank you very much for being here today. I have several items to provide at the top, and then I will be happy to take your questions.

First, as you're aware, Secretary Austin and General Milley participated in the fifth Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting at Ramstein Air Base last week, along with senior defense leaders from nearly 50 countries from around the world. As Secretary Austin highlighted, these international leaders came into the meeting with a lot of momentum and concluded the session even more united and resolved to keep up the shared support for Ukraine's right to defend itself.

During the meeting, Secretary Austin also announced the authorization of a presidential drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $675 million to meet Ukraine's critical security and defense needs, bringing the total amount of U.S. security assistance to $17.2 billion since 2014. And as we've seen this week, Ukraine continues to use this aid and that provided by other international partners to great effect on the battlefield in their fight to defend their country.

Separately, I want to highlight a couple of operations-related items. The Department of Defense is in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development's efforts to provide assistance to Pakistan in the wake of massive flooding and the humanitarian assistance crisis there, and our condolences certainly go out to those who've been impacted by this terrible natural disaster. To date, the DOD has supported the U.S. government's USAID-led response by providing critical airlift and staging support. U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 aircraft assigned to U.S. Air Forces Central Command have so far flown 10 missions into Pakistan, delivering over one million pounds of critical humanitarian supplies and equipment to aid the Pakistani people, and we expect this pace to continue over the next several days. Humanitarian relief supplies being transported include emergency food, drinking water, sanitation supplies and equipment, portable shelters, bedding, hygiene supplies and kitchen sets.

Also, on the DOD operations and exercise front, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command are conducting Operation Noble Defender this week from September 12th through the 14th over Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territories. This iteration of Noble Defender is a long-planned Arctic operation that will demonstrate the ability of Canadian and U.S. forces to integrate with defense and security partners for a holistic 360-degree defense of North America. This exercise has been conducted quarterly since 2019.

During the operation, NORAD aircraft, in part -- excuse me -- in partnership with U.S. Strategic Command, will conduct defensive maneuvers to demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy military assets and conduct operations in defense of North America's northern and western approaches.

In addition, UNITAS LXIII began last week in Rio de Janeiro. UNITAS is the world's longest-running maritime exercises, which highlights our focus on strengthening our existing regional partnerships and encouraging the establishment of new relationships through the exchange of maritime mission-focused knowledge and expertise. More than 5,500 military personnel from 20 partner nations kicked off the exercise during an opening ceremony September 8th, which was hosted by Brazil. This year's exercise includes 19 warships, vessels, one submarine and 21 aircraft, and is scheduled to run through September 22nd.

Also, here in Washington, D.C. this Thursday, as part of the U.S. Air Force and Department of the Air Force 75th Anniversary Commemoration, the U.S. Air Force will host a 75th Anniversary Tattoo at Audi Field which will include a scheduled flyover of current and historical aircraft representative of our nation's air power advantage over time. Flyovers are scheduled between 6:45 and 6:55 P.M. Eastern time, and will include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and a variety of fifth- and fourth-generation aircraft, plus several historic planes, to include a B-17, B-25 and P-51.

And then finally, earlier this morning, Secretary Austin visited the British Embassy here in Washington, D.C. to sign a condolence book following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As the secretary said in his statement last week, our thoughts are with Queen Elizabeth's family, King Charles III, all those who loved her and with our stalwart British allies during this difficult time.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll start with Lita.

Q: Thanks, Pat. Two things, one -- on the NASAMS, can you -- my understanding was that none had been delivered yet to Ukraine. Is that still accurate? And do you have any sort of ETA on how long it will take before they get their first one?

And then second: This question has come up sort of intermittently over time. The Russian battalion tactical groups that are in Ukraine, we've heard over time, they've got up to over 100 that were in Ukraine. And I'm wondering, even if you can't give us a very specific total, can you give us a sense of the number of Russian battalion groups or whatever the -- the U.S. believes are still in Ukraine, considering the reports that obviously some have left, gone back into Russia?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Your first question on the NASAMS, I don't have a delivery time, you know, as part of the USAI process working with industry to have them manufacture that capability and provide it to Ukraine, so certainly, we'll keep you updated on that front.

In terms of the number of Russian battalions and forces in Ukraine, I'm not going to have a -- a high-level of granularity to provide here from the podium other than to say obviously, Russian forces do exist en masse in Ukraine. Certainly this week, we've seen a number of Russian forces especially in the northeast, in the Kharkiv region cross over the border back into Russia as they've retreated from the Ukrainian counteroffensive. But in terms of specific numbers, I'm not going to be able to provide that.

Q: Well, [inaudible] says, "Do you have a sense that, is this three years down the road, or is it maybe sometime -- " -- even a general idea?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't -- I don't want to put a timeline on it. I know that it is certainly a priority, but I don't want to put a timeline on it. Thank you.

Idrees?

Q: Do you have any evidence that Russia has now used Iranian drones in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: We've seen the press reporting, and certainly seen comments by Ukrainian officials, but I don't have any information with me right now to corroborate those reports.

Q: And the counteroffensive, would you describe sort of the pace of the counteroffensive as something the department found surprising and unexpected, or is this the timeline you expected it would sort of play out on?

GEN. RYDER: Well certainly, since the beginning of Russia's invasion into Ukraine, we've seen the Ukrainians demonstrate a remarkable adaptability in their ability to use their warfighting capabilities to great effect, so it's not surprising to us that they have pushed as quickly as they have. They've also, again, shown a remarkable ability to take advantages of opportunities that present themselves on the battlefield, and the current counteroffensive in Kharkiv is no exception to that. I think if anyone was surprised, just based on the reports that we've seen in terms of the -- the Russian military's response, it was probably the Russians.

Ma'am?

Q: The Navy has opened an investigation into the Navy SEALs BUD/S Training, and the New York Times reported on it this last -- this last Friday. Can you speak to Navy SEALs training, if there's any sort of culture problem you've seen or heard about, and if there's any evidence of performance-enhancing drugs being used?

GEN. RYDER: So in terms of the -- the Navy and the SEALs, I'd refer you to them. I know they've opened an investigation and are looking into that. To -- to address your last question, you know, more broadly speaking, if -- if you're asking whether there's indications that this is a broader problem, I would say across the Department of Defense, no. Secretary Austin certainly believes that the health and welfare of our military members is a top priority, and has confidence that our commanders will also have that same approach. But in terms of that particular issue, again, I'd have to refer to the Navy on that.

Q: There is an increased number of reported deaths associated with the training. Are you confident in the investigation into it, that it'll be solved?

GEN. RYDER: We're confident that Navy leaders are taking it seriously and -- and looking into it. Thank you.

Ma'am?

Q: Does the Ukrainians' ongoing offensive make the case to step up the speed and scale of the ongoing weapons deliveries from the U.S., but also from its partners?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think from the very beginning, you know, as highlighted in my opening remarks, we have been working very closely with Ukraine and the international community to get aid to Ukraine as quickly as we can. And so I do not anticipate that we will let up on the throttle.

Sylvie?

Q: The Lithuanian Foreign Minister tweeted some harsh critics to -- toward the U.S. recently. He said that Ukraine could have thrown Russia out months ago if they had been provided the right equipment right away. And he said that now, U.S. and the West in general should send them, as fast as possible, all their -- their stockpiles of ATACMS and fighter jets. Do you agree with that assessment?

GEN. RYDER: Sylvie, I don't -- I don't have anything to say in regards to the -- the Minister's particular comments. I will say that Secretary Austin and other U.S. government leaders continue to regularly engage with our Ukrainian counterparts.

I think last week's meeting at -- at Ramstein is a good example of how seriously we're taking this and that we are constantly engaged in a dialogue to determine what are the needs of our Ukrainian partners, based on the conditions on the ground.

And as we've seen and as it -- as evidenced by this counter-offensive, they are using the equipment they have to great effect to change the dynamics on the battlefield.

Q: They also ask for ATACMS.

GEN. RYDER: And we'll continue to have those conversations with them to look at what they need immediately and into the long term.

Yeah, go ahead, Jim.

Q: To follow up on that a little bit. So it's been six months since these weapons shipments have come on -- been going in and the Ukrainians seem to be getting far better at the use and in like the combined use of that. Is that the feeling you got when you were in -- in Ramstein?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, since the beginning -- I mean, if you go back in time and you look at the situation that the Ukrainians found themselves in February and you look at the situation that they find themselves in today, it is just that remarkable adaptability on the battlefield to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, to use not only equipment that they've already had in their inventory but the equipment that has been provided to them by the U.S. and other international partners.

And so it is very evident that they continue to figure out ways to -- to fight and to do it well. Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q: So it's been reported that the Ukrainians see -- seized several thousand square kilometers of territory previously held by the Russians. Is the DOD, however, concerned that if there is not a decisive victory by the Ukrainians in this counter-offensive that Russia might seek to escalate the conflict, namely by, say, declaring a war and mobilizing its forces fully?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I don't want to speculate on what Russia might do next. Clearly, they've demonstrated their intent to keep fighting in -- in Ukraine and to prolong their illegal occupation. We obviously, on our end, will continue to monitor the situation and -- and our focus will continue to be on working with the Ukrainians and the international community to provide them with the support that they need.

But I will highlight that it is -- you know, that President Putin could deescalate the situation tomorrow by withdrawing Russian forces, but as long as that doesn't happen, we'll continue to stand behind Ukraine.

Q: I just want to follow up on the -- the aid shipment that was discussed. So specifically on those longer range munitions, has the successes that Ukraine has seen in this counter-offensive changed any perspectives within this building on what Ukraine might need for the successive offenses.

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think it's -- it's an ongoing dialogue, right? And, you know, a couple of weeks ago, we had Dr. Kahl in here, who -- he talked to the fact that part of those discussions are looking at the medium and long term for the -- for the needs that the Ukrainians will have in order to defend their territory and their sovereignty long term.

And so -- so that will be an area that we'll just continue having that dialogue, in terms of what does that include and how best can we support them.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you, General. On North Korea -- excuse me -- North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un adopted the nuclear force decree and he also declared that he would never give up their nuclear weapons and that he could use preemptive nuclear strike against the United States and its allies.

Do you think the United States and its ally, South Korea, prepared for the preemptive nuclear strike against the North Korea in case of a (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Certainly seen the -- the reports on that and it's just indicative of the unhelpful and destabilizing comments that we've seen come from North Korea in the past. Certainly, when it comes to nuclear deterrence, we have a -- a tried and true policy and process, which includes working very closely with our international allies. And so I'll -- I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.

Q: North Korea is -- is strengthening its strategic nuclear weapons test and North Korea's seventh nuclear test is showing signs of imminence. Can you predict that their strategic nuclear weapons test is also possible in these seventh nuclear tests?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm not -- I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals or speculate, but again, we're -- we'll continue to closely monitor and work with our partners and allies in the region. Thank you.

And let me go ahead and go to the phone here. Tony from Bloomberg?

Q: Hi, there. I had a non-Ukraine question, sir. The Pentagon, in its list to the OMB for the upcoming continuing resolution, requested an extension to three years for -- for protection provided former DOD officials. Can you give a rationale for why the protection needs to be extended? Does it have anything to do with the Justice Department's claims that Iran tried to harm National Security Advisor Bolton?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. What I would tell you is that we're constantly evaluating our security policies, in light of current intelligence and the security situation, but as I'm sure you can appreciate, we're not going to comment on the specifics of what those intelligence assessments or security assessments might be. Thank you.

    And let me do one more from the phone here. Jeff Seldin, VOA.
 
Q: Hi, thank you very much. Two questions, one on -- on Ukraine and one on -- on Afghanistan.

On Ukraine, we've heard from a number of -- of senior Ukrainian officials warning Russia's likely to launch a new wave of cyber-attacks, again going after Ukraine's energy sector, financial sector, and that Russia is preparing some new cyber weapons that could be used beyond Ukraine. I'm wondering what the U.S. has seen on this front and -- and -- and what the Pentagon is doing to support both Ukraine and other allies who might become targets?

On Afghanistan, CENTCOM earlier put out a release about Exercise Eager Lion 22, noted participation of troops from Kazakhstan. I'm wondering, have there been any developments in -- in the negotiations we heard about so long ago with Central Asian nations for possible basing agreements or permissions to help the U.S. counter-terrorism mission now that troops are no longer in Afghanistan?

GEN. RYDER: Jeff, on your second question, I'll come back to it because I was having a hard time hearing specifically what you were asking about.

On your first question, in terms of Russian tactics in Ukraine, beyond what we've already seen both in Ukraine and elsewhere certainly cyber is a capability that Russia maintains. I don't have any specifics to provide from the podium in terms of what exactly we're seeing on the battlefield in Ukraine other than to say they have -- that it is a TTP that they've employed, as you well know.

And then, I'm sorry, your second question about Afghanistan. What was the specific question?

Q: I was just wondering, we heard a lot a while ago, prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops about negotiations and talks with Central Asian countries for basing options so that the U.S. could continue its counterterrorism mission after the withdrawal. I notice that Kazakhstan's participating in an exercise with CENTCOM. Wondering if that means that there's been any progress or if there is otherwise any progress on that front?

GEN. RYDER: OK. So I don't have anything to announce today. Clearly we maintain a counterterrorism capability in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. In terms of our partnerships with individual countries, again I don't have any new announcements to make other than to say that it is a -- it is a robust series of partnerships and we have capabilities throughout the region to be able to provide a counterterrorism response should we need to.

Thank you. Let me go back to the room here. Sir.

Q: Thanks. Travis Tritten with Military.com. The Anti-Defamation League recently came out with an analysis of a data dump from the Oath Keepers group, which is an extremist militia. So leaders were charges for seditious conspiracy in January 6th.

And they found that about 128 members or people who were involved in the group appears to be in the U.S. military. I'm wondering if membership in the Oath Keepers would be considered extremist activity by the military? And would be troops -- are troops prohibited from joining the Oath Keepers or a group like the Oath Keepers?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So I don't -- I don't have any specifics on the particular incident that you're describing other than to say, DOD policy is clear, you cannot be an active member of an extremist group. And certainly where there are indications of that, the services, as appropriate, will investigate those.

And so in regards to those particular members I'd refer you to the services to see what if any status is on those individuals.

Q: Is there a consensus on which groups are considered extremist groups? Or like, for example, is the Oath Keepers considered an extremist group by the Department of Defense?

GEN. RYDER: I think DOD policy is pretty clear on what constitutes an extremist group. And so any group that meets that definition would fall within those boundaries.

Q: Does Oath Keepers fall into that category? I think that is a fair question.

GEN. RYDER: Let me go back to you and look on that one specifically. We'll take that question. Thank you. Laura.

Q: Thank you. First, can you give us sense of the Ukrainian casualties and how much equipment they've lost? I know we've heard some reports about how many have casualties the Russians have had. But which really interested in the Ukrainian side in this phase of the conflict?

GEN. RYDER: Sure.

Q: And then -- and then also, my second question is can you comment on reports that Ukraine has captured several Russian generals?

GEN. RYDER: So on your first question, no, I'm not going to be able to provide details on Ukrainian casualty numbers nor lost equipment, especially while they're engaged in -- in active combat, nor -- you know, as I'm sure you can appreciate, I -- I don't want to provide an intelligence assessment from here.

We have seen the reports, you know, in -- in social media, on -- in media about captured Russian generals. I don't have anything to provide, again, to corroborate that information from here. Thank you.

Let me go to Tom and then back out to the phone.

Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions. One is a follow up on a briefing yesterday. Lara asked a question regarding Pentagon, Defense Department, U.S. support of Ukraine if they would go into Crimea and the response was "we support" -- I'm paraphrasing slightly -- "we support any areas the sovereignty of Ukraine." I just want to make sure that Ukraine -- I'm sorry -- if it's -- Crimea is considered sovereign Ukraine.

GEN. RYDER: Well, again -- yeah, so, I mean, Crimea was part of the -- part of Ukraine that was invaded by Russia back in 2014, so certainly Crimea is part of Ukraine.

Q: I thought so. I just wanted to make sure cause that's what had been said before, so thanks for that clarification.

My -- my primary question is -- is also off Ukraine. What's the level of concern or flummoxing or whatever word you'd like among defense officials as to how Prime Minister Modi of India seems to be trending to become the “Erdogan” of South Asia?

GEN. RYDER: I don't -- I don't have a comment on that, Tom.

Q: (Inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: You know, we have a very close partnership and relationship -- defense relationship with India. We obviously will continue to work with India and further develop that relationship but...

Q: They have participated in games -- war games with Russia and China, which seems a little bit troubling to some people.

GEN. RYDER: Again, India's a sovereign nation, they can make their own decisions in terms of who they're going to conduct exercises with. Certainly, we have appreciated our partnership with India in the region. They're an important partner, as you know. And we'll continue to work closely with them. Thanks, Tom.

All right, we've got time for a couple more. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. The -- the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced that the Japanese Defense Minister Hamada will meet with Secretary Austin at the Pentagon tomorrow. So could you tell us a little bit about the agenda of the meeting? Will they discuss a response to a potential contingency in the Taiwan Strait?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. The Secretary looks forward to welcoming the Minister to the Pentagon tomorrow. We look forward to a very fruitful discussion and we'll provide a readout afterwards, but I -- I don't have any previews to provide from here.

Let me do two more. Let me go to Oren and then to Tara.

Q: Over the course of the past six months, we've seen, on occasion, a reshuffling of -- of Russian military leadership in Ukraine. For example, General Aleksandr Dvornikov was made the Theater Commander a couple of months ago, give or take. I was wondering, first, is he still the Theater Commander? And second, have you seen continued or more reshuffling of leadership as Russia tries to figure it out or -- or improve its battlefield success or tactics?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Oren. So as I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm -- I'm not going to discuss the chain of command of Ukraine here. I think that's really more appropriate for -- I'm sorry -- for Russia, same thing. I'd -- I'd refer you to Russia to talk about their military and their staff and how they choose to organize. But thank you.

OK, Tara?

Q: Thank you. If Ukraine maintains this kind of shift in momentum and stays on the offensive, does that change the equation as to what types of weapons the U.S. might offer in future rounds? And what types of weapons would that maybe expand to?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so, you know, I'm not going to speculate, but certainly we will continue to have that open dialogue with Ukraine, in terms of what their needs are. And so certainly, I -- I think -- I don't think it's unreasonable to think that as the situation on the ground changes -- and -- and, you know, on that point, Ukraine has made some progress but there's still a very tough fight and -- a tough fight ahead. So I think we also need to keep that in mind.

But to answer your question, I think it is reasonable over time to continue, as we have that dialogue, to -- to hear what their needs are, to work with the International Community -- because, again, it's not just the U.S. that's providing assistance -- to make sure that they have what they need, not only in the immediate term but also the -- the middle and the -- the long term. So...

Q: Could you give us a sense of what types of weapons that might include? Is that, you know, possibly tanks or -- what other types of weapons?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I don't want to do that from the podium right now, other than to say that will be an area for continued dialogue. And as we have updates, we'll make sure to -- to provide those.

So -- OK, I'll -- you know what, it's -- let me take a few more. All right. OK, let me go to Luis and then we'll go to the back of the room here. Luis?

Q: Thank you, sir. Can you confirm that the United States held tabletop exercises with the Ukrainian military about this counter -- counteroffensive over the summer and provide us some input about what would work, what would not work?

And also, with regards to the current situation there on the ground, is it the -- the assessment that the Ukrainians would need a larger force in order to retain the -- the gains that they've made territorially up in the northeast?

GEN. RYDER: So on the first question, what I would tell you, Luis, is that we do engage with the Ukrainians, you know, at a -- at a variety of levels on the military side. As we've said previously, we do provide time-sensitive information to enable them to conduct operations and defend their -- their homeland. I'm not going to get into the specifics of -- of what that might look like.

In terms of the Ukrainians and their ability to hold the territory that they've taken, you know, certainly that is a question for the Ukrainians. I will say that the battlefield -- as always, any battlefield, is a dynamic and fluid place.

We'll continue to -- to monitor from our end and continue to keep our focus on supporting them, in terms of the equipment and the resources that they need, but really, they should be the ones to talk about what their game plan is to secure and hold the territory that they've gained.

OK. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions. One, there is a debate going on as far as who is a winner and who is a -- a -- who is a loser in Ukraine. But my question is that always innocent people, whether they are military or civilians, are the losers always and there are -- they pay the price, like here. Thousands have been killed and millions are now homeless. So what do we learn as -- for in the future if a superpower like Russia invades a smaller, tiny nation? So where do -- where do we go or what we learn? What is the message, sir?

GEN. RYDER: Well, certainly, as it -- in the case of Ukraine, as has been said by many, this invasion was unprovoked, illegal, and to your point, many innocent people have died, and -- and that's a tragedy. And so, again, from a Department of Defense standpoint, we'll continue to do our part to work with our international partners and our allies to support Ukraine in their fight to defend their country.

And as I mentioned before, President Putin has the ability to end this conflict tomorrow by withdrawing his forces, but if he chooses not to, then we'll continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

OK, last one.

Q: As far as -- thank you -- as far as our own tragedy or terrible tragedy 21 years ago, 9/11, what did we learn and what's the message because still terrorists are still moving around in the region? And what is the message that you have to give our secretary?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think, you know, 9/11 demonstrated -- you know, first of all, it was a very terrible day, I mean, on a personal level. I was -- I was not physically in the Pentagon that day but I was assigned to the Pentagon. And, you know, not to necessarily drag this out with personal stories, but it was a tough time for -- for many of us. So it's a very real thing. And I think the last 20 years demonstrated that the U.S. military and the U.S. government and in fact the world, international coalition can address effectively the issue of terrorism.

To your point, we still have a lot of work to do. You know, history tells you that -- that terrorism isn't going to go away. But I do think that over that time as someone who grew up in the U.S. military during that time, we've developed a counter-terrorism capability that is second to none. And if there is a threat against the U.S. people or our partners or our Allies, we will find you and we will eliminate you. So we will continue to take counter-terrorism very seriously.

OK. Thank you very much, everybody. On that note I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day.

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