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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK RYDER: All right. Thank you for your patience. Well, good afternoon, everyone. I have a fair amount to pass along to you before we kick things off, so thank you in advance for your patience here.

First of all, as you're aware, DOD announced last evening the 21st presidential drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $600 million to meet Ukraine's critical security and defense needs. Notable capabilities include additional HIMARS ammunition, precision-guided 155 millimeter artillery rounds, counter-unmanned aerial systems, mine-clearing equipment, night vision devices, and cold weather gear for use as winter approaches.

In total, the United States has committed approximately $15.1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24th and approximately $17.9 billion since 2014.

To meet Ukraine's evolving battlefield requirements, we'll continue to work closely with our allies and partners around the world to support Ukraine as they defend their country against Russian occupation, and on that note, I'd flag that, in coordination with NATO, the U.S. will host a special session under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group with senior national armaments directors on September 28th in Brussels. They'll discuss how our mutual defense industrial bases can best equip Ukraine's future forces with the capabilities that they need to defend their country.

I know that Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Dr. LaPlante, touched on this a bit during his briefing last week but we'll be sure to keep you updated as we have more information to provide on this important international effort.

Separate but related, earlier this week, I was asked about the status of NASAMS deliveries to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI. Since then, I've received an update that I wanted to pass along. We're tracking that two NASAMS are expected to be delivered within the next two months or so. These defensive systems will further contribute to protecting Ukrainians from enemy air threats, to include aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.

Before I conclude and take your questions, I do have a few other items to provide.

Today, the U.S. and Republic of Korea are conducting the bilateral Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group meeting at the State Department. The DOD delegation is led by Dr. Colin Kahl, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and this is the first EDSCG meeting since 2018. The consultation group provides an opportunity for our two governments to discuss peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific.

Also this morning, Secretary Austin hosted our annual POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes. More than 80,000 American service personnel are missing from previous conflicts and 38,000 are estimated to be recoverable.

The Defense POW/MIA Agency remains relentless in its mission to provide the fullest possible accounting to their families and the nation until they can be brought home. It is important to Secretary Austin that we took the time today to recognize and honor the sacrifices of our service members and their families.

I also want to highlight that this month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Secretary Austin and Veteran Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough met virtually yesterday with military and veteran service organizations to reaffirm both departments' commitment to providing mental health and other support resources to our service members and their families.

As Secretary Austin has said many times, mental health is health and we always encourage service members and veterans to reach out for help and seek the care they need. Confidential support is available 24/7 by dialing 988 and pressing 1 or visiting veteranscrisisline.net.

And finally, as we head into the weekend, we want to wish the U.S. Air Force and the Department of the Air Force a Happy Birthday as the service celebrates its 75th anniversary on Sunday. For 75 years, American airmen have excelled as they execute the U.S. Air Force mission to fly, fight, and win and deliver airpower anytime, anywhere in defense of our nation.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions. We'll start with A.P.

Q: Hi,and good afternoon.

GEN. RYDER: Hey.

Q: I'm Nomaan Merchant with the A.P. Let me ask you two questions, if you don't mind, the first being about some of the reports of a mass grave site at Izyum. President Zelenskyy said to day that there were -- there was evidence that people had been tortured, shot or killed by shelling at -- and buried at Izyum. Can the Pentagon address some of those allegations, and particularly whether Russian forces were involved in wartime atrocities or setting up this mass gravesite at Izyum that's been discovered?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks for the question. So we've seen the reports and certainly heard the comments by President Zelenskyy on this issue. We are tracking that the U.N. intends to send a team to investigate, so I don't have any specific information to provide other than these kinds of reports are indicative of the suffering that we've seen civilians experience and people in Ukraine experience since Russia's invasion.

Q: And I'll ask you another one quickly, if you don't mind, about, there are some report of tracking -- flight-tracking software of some of these flights that the government of Florida operated taking migrants from the San Antonio area to Martha's Vineyard. There are some fight -- flight-tracking sites that showed that the planes originally took off from Kelly Field at Joint Base Lackland, and I'm wondering if the Pentagon is investigating whether Kelly Field was used to fly migrants, and if there is anything that's being done to look into future uses of Kelly Field or other Defense Department installations in some of these state actions in immigration.

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any information to provide on Kelly Field. I am aware of the migrants that have been brought to Massachusetts, as you highlight. My understanding is that the Massachusetts governor has activated approximately 100 Guardsmen to help with that effort there. But in terms of the role of Kelly Field, I don't have any information on that. Thanks.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you, General. On the EDSCG meeting.

GEN. RYDER: Say that again.

Q: Yes.

GEN. RYDER: All right.

Q: The U.S. and South Korea extended the (inaudible) started in confrontation (inaudible) we have seen conducted today, as you said. And how can you assess this 2+2 meeting that has been suspended for four years and eight months?

GEN. RYDER: How do I assess why it's been suspended?

Q: Yes.

GEN. RYDER: Well, thanks for the question. I don't have any specifics I could speculate from here, but I'm not going to do that. Certainly, the relationship that we share with the Republic of Korea, regardless of how frequent those meetings have been, remains ironclad, and it's an extremely important alliance between our two countries, and so today will be another opportunity to further strengthen the relationship, the security cooperation relationship that we have.

Q: So now it's going to a later time if they were going to have a scheduled meeting with you.

GEN. RYDER: My understanding is that we will continue to have these meetings on a regular basis, and we'll be sure to keep you updated on that front. Let me go to --

Q: Yes, but --

GEN. RYDER: Let me go to Sylvie here. I'll come back to you. Let me go to Sylvie here. Thanks.

Q: Thank you. I would like to go back to the -- the Lackland Air Force Base. Are you saying that because it was the National Guard activated by the governor, it's the regular -- it's the normal procedure that the -- an Air Force base is used for a political reason?

GEN. RYDER: No, I didn't say that, and I don't mean to insinuate that. We'll look into what exactly the situation was at Kelly. I do know -- and again, I'm speculating here -- there could be a variety of factors in terms of air bases -- are they dual uses or a civilian component to it -- just because -- and again, this is a broad generalization -- just because aircraft are taking off from a location does not necessarily mean that there's DOD involvement. But again, we'll look into that and come back to you.

Q: Okay.

GEN. RYDER: Lara?

Q: Yeah, thank you. I just have a follow-up on the Claymore mines in -- in this latest package. I -- I know that -- that President Biden banned most landmine use except for in Korea, I believe. So can you just explain why those Claymore mines are -- are in there, and whether that falls under the policy?

GEN. RYDER: We'll check on the policy, but obviously, all of this equipment is intended to assist the Ukrainians in their offensive operations against Russia and to help them take back their territory.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, thank you. My audience is in Ukraine, and to -- you may imagine how sensitive they are to any articles or rumors that U.S. possibly might not provide enough military equipment. And it has an article published yesterday in Foreign Affairs, and you know, shared by the propaganda that telling people -- I'm quoting, "U.S. officials warned that extraordinary levels of military support the United States has sent to Ukraine over the past six months will be impossible to sustain as U.S. military stocks begin to dwindle." And they're quoting the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Can you comment on this?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I think all along, we've highlighted the fact that this is an international effort. There's not any one country, to include the U.S., that's supporting Ukraine. And so as evidenced by things like the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that was held recently at Ramstein and future opportunities, we'll continue to examine what type of capabilities we can mutually provide to Ukraine, while at the same time for our own U.S. military, we have systems in place and processes in place that take a very close look at, as we draw down our own stocks, what do we need to do to ensure that we continue to replenish? The bottom line is that U.S. readiness, U.S. military readiness is not in jeopardy or close to being in jeopardy, and we're confident that we can continue to support Ukraine in their fight going ahead. Thank you.

Sir?

Q: Thank you very much. I want to ask you about the secretary's meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Hamada this week.

GEN. RYDER: Okay.

Q: After that meeting, Minister Hamada said Secretary Austin strongly supported Japan having a new long-range-strike capability. Did the secretary believe such new long-range-strike capability would reinforce significantly U.S.-Japan quality of -- quality of deterrence against China?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think first of all, Secretary Austin very much enjoyed his time with the minister this week and having the chance to talk. The relationship that we have with Japan is one of our strongest in the world, and in the region in particular. And so anything that Japan or our allies in the region can do to help strengthen the deterrent and enable security and stability in the region is very welcome. Thank you.

All right, now I'll go back to you.

Q: Thank you. To follow up the meeting. Yesterday, the B-52 strategic bomber was shown to South Korean to EDSCG groups. Showing this came at the Andrews Air Force Base. What symbolic significance does this give?

GEN. RYDER: I don't want to read into or try to speculate about that, other than to say that it is the U.S. Air Force's 75th anniversary. There is a variety of aircraft that we have out at Joint Base Andrews this weekend as part of that celebration.

The B-52 certainly provides unparalleled capability, in terms of global strike and deterrence, and so I'm glad that they were able to go see that. It obviously has played a critical role in U.S. military airpower history and continues to play an important role in supporting our alliances worldwide. Thank you.

Let me do a couple on the phone here, and we'll come back in the room, I'll go to Barbara. Let me go to Howard Altman first.

Q: Hey, thanks, Pat. A couple of questions, the first one a -- a two-parter.

Can you confirm the Ukrainian Army's claim that they've fully captured Kupiansk? And then give us a little bit of a operational update.

And then the second question is do you -- does the Pentagon assess there's any connection between the Russia struggles in Ukraine and then the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and now Tajikistan and Kurdistan? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, thanks. I think the first part of your question was you were asking about Kupiansk, is that correct?

Q: That is correct. The Ukrainian Army says that they've fully captured that. And just give us a operational update if you could.

GEN. RYDER: Okay. Well, you know, at the end of the day, in terms of, you know, granular details, Howard, I'd say we'll let the Ukrainians talk to the specifics of their operation. Generally speaking, you know, as I mentioned earlier, we have seen them make some advancements in the north, in the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainians continue to conduct their counter-offensive operations, which are, again, primarily up in the north, in Kharkiv, and then in the south, in the Kherson region.

In the north, what we assess is that the Ukrainians are consolidating their gains after taking back significant territory and that the Russians are attempting to shore up their defensive lines after having been pushed back.

In the south, the Ukrainians continue to make what we would assess is deliberate, calculated forward movements as the Russians continue to try to hold that line.

As always, our focus continues to remain on providing them the support that they need in their fight, as evidenced by our announcement last night on the PDA.

In terms of Armenia, you know, we are aware of the reports. My understanding, just based on press reports, is that there is a truce. Certainly, we would echo what the State Department has said, is that there is no military solution to conflict and we would call for an immediate and full cessation of hostilities.

Thank you. Let me go to Barbara.

Q: General Ryder, you said that -- and I'm quoting you -- "we'll look into exactly what the situation was at Kelly." Can we get a little more precision on a couple of key points?

When you say that, you know, is that the Pentagon that's going to look into it, is it the Air Force? Who's looking into it? What do they need to know? What do they need to find out? Can you tell us if it is a joint U.S. base? Would you -- would the -- would that -- would those flights have had to have been cleared by any military AT, Air Traffic, control element, same thing in Massachusetts?

And given the fact that this is happening and involving dual use, state-activated National Guard, what is the directive from the Pentagon on these operations? Are -- is it clear that active duty military is not to be involved in these operations? In other words, the Secretary, having already rejected D.C.'s request twice, is he now saying even if there's no request, don't get involved? I -- as much precision as you can --

GEN. RYDER: Sure.

Q: -- this entire thing.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Let -- let me start with the second part first. As I understand it, both missions are conducted in state active duty status under their respective governors. So for Massachusetts, I'd refer you to the Massachusetts Governor Office to talk about those National Guard troops.

Q: -- the federal government, the Pentagon is not paying for the activation of these forces?

GEN. RYDER: That is my understanding.

Okay, in terms of Kelly and what's happening there, to your point, we'll get with the Air Force and either we'll come back to you or we'll have the Air Force come back to you on what exactly, if anything, transpired there, but I don't want to make it up from here.

Q: And has the Secretary said, either to the Air Force, federal National Guard elements, who -- Army, whoever it may be, "no, you are not to be involved in operations where governors send migrants to other states or any of their flights or transportation arrangements?"

GEN. RYDER: I think, in this case, the Massachusetts Governor activated the National Guard troops. And so that's where it stands right now.

Q: -- the Secretary issued any directive guidance? Has he got any requests from --

GEN. RYDER: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Not that I'm aware of.

Courtney?

Q: -- the -- whenever the Air Force gets back to that, it goes to all of us too, not just --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: And then I wanted to ask about a -- a RAND study that came out this week about women's reproductive health. It was -- the -- the Pentagon requested it several years ago -- but it -- it found that there's as many as 7,400 women -- active duty women and DOD civilians may be impacted by the Dobbs decision going forward.

So what I'm wondering is -- is does -- does the -- what -- where can you update us on where things stand with that in the -- in the military, in the Pentagon? Have there been cases where women have -- where DOD has supported -- as the Austin memo said after the decision was made public, where DOD has supported moving women to other places so that they can get care? Have there been any physicians at military treatment facilities that have been subject to state laws and maybe prosecuted, DOD's had to provide counsel and other things that Secretary Austin or -- I'm sorry, it wasn't Austin's memo, it was personnel -- another thing that that memo laid out. I guess if you could just update us on where that stands? And do you expect any new -- any changes or any additional guidance on abortion care and reproductive care for women going forward? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Courtney. So first of all, there is nothing more important to the Secretary and the Department of Defense than the health and wellbeing of our service members.

In terms of policies related to Dobbs, for now, our current policy of providing covered abortions remains in effect, in accordance with federal law. I don't have any specific individual cases to talk to you about but we continue to discuss the impact of Dobbs on personnel policies, and certainly, we'll keep you updated on that front.

Q: So, I mean, is anyone tracking that? Because I know that there's been -- there -- there's obviously a lot of interest in it in the military community women. And it's not just active duty, there's also dependents and -- and --

GEN. RYDER: Absolutely.

Q: -- I mean, is anyone at the DOD level tracking whether this is actually having an impact on --

GEN. RYDER: I would say yes. I mean, this continues not only within the Department of Defense, but all the services to be an active conversation in terms of what do we need to do to ensure that we are taking care of our members and their families, and looking at those policies.

So again, when we have more details to provide, we'll make sure we keep not only you updated, but the members of our force.

Q: So just to be clear, so it's -- at this point there have been -- you're not aware, or the Pentagon isn't tracking any cases where women have been denied care, or there have been issues with providing women with abortion services --

GEN. RYDER: From this podium I'm not currently tracking any cases, that doesn't mean there aren't, but I'm not tracking those. So again, we'll be sure to keep you updated.

Okay, let me go back out to the phone. Tara Copp from Defense One.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just a follow-on on the migrants and Guard. Could you also look specifically into the use of Guard aircraft and whether there's an overarching Air Force policy, DOD policy on the use of the -- on any sort of aircraft?

And then secondly, on the drawdown and just the fact that first one could be taken for everybody. Secondly on the drawdown, the cold weather gear, could you describe what type of cold weather gear is being sent, and is this kind of the first of a lot of cold weather gear that might be sent for a long winter fight?

Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tara. So copy all on your first point there. Again, we'll take that. In terms of the cold weather gear, we're talking things like parkas, gloves -- you know, the kinds of things that you would use for conducting operations in cold weather.

And in terms of the future, again, we continue to work very closely with our Ukraine partners and the international community to look at what their needs are, and so we'll be sure to keep you updated if there are future announcements related to cold weather gear that we need to make.

Okay, let me go to Matt White from Coffee or Die.

Q: Yes, thank you for the briefing, sir.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense -- can you hear me? Can you hear me?

GEN. RYDER: I can hear you.

Q: Great. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense put out a release today describing that they have reports of Russian soldiers retreating across the Dnipro River using stolen motorboats from residents locally. I'm wondering if you can -- if you have any reports of that? And also, a little bit beyond that, if there are other reports that you're getting that might speak to sort of if the retreat in that area has been particularly disordered?

Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I don't have any comments or information to provide on that level of detail. Again, I'd refer you to the Ukrainians to get those kinds of updates.

In terms of characterizing the Russian retreat, again beyond what we've already talked about in terms of as the Ukrainians conducted their counteroffensive in the north in the Kharkiv region, as mentioned we saw the Russians fleeing over the border in some locations, and of course the reports of low morale, logistics issues, sustainment challenges -- beyond that, I don't have any other details to provide.

Okay, I can take one or two more.

Sure.

Q: On the topic of POW/MIA Day, there are at least two Americans that are being held captive in Ukraine at the moment, I think a few others have gone missing. Do you have any updates on the Americans that are currently being held captive by Russian separatist forces?

GEN. RYDER: I do not have any updates. Thank you.

Q: Is there any new message to the veterans that are currently fighting in the country?

GEN. RYDER: To U.S. veterans fighting in the country? I don't have a message to pass along. Thank you.

Okay, I'm sorry. Last question.

Q: Back to Ukraine, a senior State Department official said yesterday -- or expected yesterday heavy fighting in Ukraine during the fall as both sides try to reposition themselves in preparation for the winter. Also, he said despite progress made by the Ukrainians recently, the war is far from its end. Do you share -- do you agree with this assessment?

GEN. RYDER: So I'm, again, not going to try to speculate and put a timeline on this conflict, other than to say again we believe that this will continue to be a tough fight. You know, certainly, we've seen the Ukrainians have some success and we'll continue -- you know, our focus will continue to be on supporting them in their fight.

But we do anticipate that this will continue to be a very tough fight and the only thing that could shorten it would be is if the Russians decided to do the right thing and withdraw their occupying forces from Ukraine.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate it.

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