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Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official Hold a Background Briefing

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hello, good afternoon.  Just a few things from me today to -- to kick things off.

The bottom line, as we look at the battlefield, is that Russia is failing in its strategic objective.  On September 1st, you might recall President Putin called for the entirety of Donetsk province to be under Russian control by September 15th, but Putin's forces clearly have failed to deliver.

We're seeing the Kremlin increasingly straining to find new recruits to fill out their thin ranks, and the Russians are performing so poorly that the news from Kharkiv province has inspired many Russian volunteers to refuse combat.

Now, many of you have likely seen the video circulating on social media of the private military contractor, Wagner's leader Prigozhin, trying to recruit Russian prisoners as well as Tajik -- Tajiks, Belarusians, and Armenians to join the fight in Ukraine.
We believe this is part of Wagner's campaign to recruit over 1,500 convicted felons but many are refusing.  Our information indicates that Wagner has been suffering high losses in Ukraine, especially and unsurprisingly among young and inexperienced fighters.

Meanwhile, from the Ukrainians, we continue to see their high morale as they continue to push forward in a very deliberate fashion.  In eastern Ukraine, Ukraine now controls all its territory west of the Oskil River and is -- has liberated over 300 settlements in Kharkiv province.  If you look at the geography, this is more than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, in U.S. terms.

But we all know that this fight is far from over.  Now we're seeing the Russians retaliating for Ukrainian gains, they're targeting critical and civilian infrastructure.  So we here at the Department of Defense will continue -- we will continue to provide Ukraine with what they need for their current fight, when they need it.

I know that last week, you heard (inaudible) detail the most recent security assistance package provided for Ukraine's critical needs.  It was a $600 million package and the 21st presidential drawdown package.  And we will continue to also work on Ukraine's mid and long term needs, even as we support their fight today.

And that's it from me for now.  Look forward to your questions.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you, ma'am.  Ladies and gentlemen, just a -- a few things to add to that.

In terms of -- just a -- a quick walk around the battlefield -- and again, for tactical level detail, I'd refer you to the Ukrainians -- but in the vicinity of Kharkiv, we assess that the Ukrainians continue to make efforts to consolidate their gains and are holding the border to the southeast.  We've observed fighting in the vicinity to the east of Kupiansk.  In the meantime, the Russians continue to attempt to shore up their -- their defensive lines and -- and solidify their position.

In the vicinity of Lyman, east of Izyum, we do see continued fighting, to include artillery.  Meanwhile, in the Donbas region, near Bakhmut, the Ukrainians have continued to effectively defend against continued Russian attacks, although we have seen Russian forces make some minor gains, in terms of territory, but we're talking a few hundred meters, nothing considerably substantial at this stage.

In the vicinity of Kherson, we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians and we have observed Ukrainians continuing to liberate villages in this area.

On the air side, we have -- we do assess that Russians continue to conduct airstrikes that are impacting civilian infrastructure -- for example, most recently striking a dam near Kryvyi Rih and a power plant -- near a power plant in Mykolaiv -- and this disturbing pattern, which includes strikes that hit power stations last week, continues to show Russian forces' disregard for civilian life.

With that, we'll be happy to take your questions.  Let me first go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Hi, Senior Military Official.  I -- I appreciate this is about Ukraine but I just was hoping -- can you add anything to President Biden's recent comments about how the United States would send troops to Taiwan if there was a -- a -- an attack by China?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for the question, Jeff.  Today, we're going to focus on Ukraine.  So happy to address that at a -- at a different time.  Thank you.

Let's go to Heather, USNI.

QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  I was wondering also, if we could get a maritime update on Ukraine?  And then, I know this is about Ukraine but also if you can take a question about whether or not we'll be sending any maritime assets to help out with Puerto Rico?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So in terms of maritime updates, don't have much to provide.  You know, again, we continue to assess that the Russians have about a half-dozen ships underway in the Black Sea, which are caliber capable ships.  As has been mentioned before, those ships have contributed to strikes in Ukraine.  But beyond that I don't have any additional points to provide.

And again, happy to get with you separately on any non-Ukraine questions, thanks.  OK.  Let's go to Jim Garamone DOD News.

QUESTION:  I didn't bring my dog this time.  I'm just curious, is there a danger of the Ukrainians out running their supply lines in -- in the offensive.  And what -- what is the significance?  There are news reports and I guess the Ukrainians have said that they've crossed the Oskil River.  What's the significance of that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK.  Thanks, Jim.  So in terms of the Ukrainians again, they'd -- they'd be in the best position to talk about their overall deployment of forces.  I -- I would talk in the past tense in the sense that we've seen them, again, conduct very effective operations across the entire battlefield in terms of employing the capabilities that they have and doing it in a combined arms approach to great effect.

And so we'll continue to remain focused on supporting them and their fight but really they'd be the ones to talk about their overall logistics and sustainment.  Thank you.

OK, let's go to Kasim, Anadolou Agency

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you very much.  I have two questions.  There was a strike near by a nuclear power plant today in Ukraine.  Do you have anything on that?  And my second question to the senior defense official, we talked about mid and long-term needs.  How close are we, to these concentrations and can you just detail up what are we talking about mid and long-range and long-term needs.  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK.  Thanks, Kasim.  I'll take the first question and then I'll turn it over to the senior defense official.  So the -- we assessed that the strike hit a sub power station near the power plant but did not directly strike the power plant.  So again, causing some damage there but something we'll continue to keep an eye on.  But let me turn it over to the senior defense official for your second question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So in the long-term we foresee Ukraine as having enduring security needs for a strong Ukrainian armed forces.  We certainly recognize that we are providing Ukraine with capabilities that they're using in the fight today.  Some of these capabilities will be depleted by the current fight and they'll need to be replaced.

Some of the capabilities that Ukraine is using today are soviet type weapons that will be hard to replace with -- with, you know, Russian -- originally Russian manufactured type weapons and we’ll want to help Ukraine to transition some of their force structure to capabilities that are compatible with NATO.

So in all of these areas we're looking to make sure that we're making investments today so that through the long-term procurement process, Ukraine will have the capability -- capabilities it needs down the road, not just days or months, but also years.

QUESTION:  Close -- how close are we to this (inaudible) in this building?  Are we discussing -- are you guys discussing it right now or -- to what extent are the conversations --


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  But this is part -- sorry about that.  Yes.  So this is part of an ongoing conversation and you've seen the United States already start to invest in Ukraine's long -- longer term security needs.

An example of this is under our Ukraine security assistance initiative we had a $3 billion -- roughly $3 billion package in August that included the NASAMS air defense capability.  This is a capability that will -- that will be used by the Ukrainians, again, not just on the battlefield of today but in the future.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much. Let's go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

QUESTION:  Yes, this is for the senior defense official.  You mentioned that you're providing Ukraine with what they need, when they need it.  Now there were three Ukrainian parliament members in town last week meeting with members of Congress.  They're pushing for tanks.  And they say there's some support on the Hill.

Is that something under consideration by either DOD or the administration?  Could you address that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So we agreed that armor is a really important capability area for the Ukrainians.  Now they've largely been relying on Soviet type tanks and we've spent a good deal of effort in encouraging countries largely in Europe who have some of these, you know, formally Russian made tanks to provide them to Ukraine to supplement Ukraine's existing tank inventory.

But as I said before, when we look at Ukraine's longer term needs, we recognize that there will be a day when they may want to transition and may need to transition to, you know, NATO compatible models.  We're always very cognizant though with any new equipment that we provide to Ukraine or that our allies, our partners provide that there is substantial training, maintenance and sustainment -- and sustainment consideration.

So we want to make sure that when we provide capabilities that all of these are taken into account.

QUESTION:  Well, again, are you at least considering tanks as they are requesting or is that a non starter?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Tanks are absolutely on the table along with other areas.  We're looking at the entirety of the Ukrainian armed forces and considering for the future what -- what capabilities they will need and how the U.S. and our allies will be able to support Ukraine in building out those capabilities.

QUESTION:  OK.  So again, for the future but not for the current fight in the coming months, correct?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  In -- in terms of the immediate fight the -- the tanks that are available that could be provided very quickly with little to no training are soviet type tanks but we're certainly open to other options provided that the training, maintenance and sustainment can be taken care of.

QUESTION:  OK.  Great.  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Let's go to Barbara Starr, CNN.

QUESTION:  Hey, this is Oren with Barbara here.  I was wondering if we could get an update on Russia's use of Iranian drones in Ukraine.  The administration had downgraded intelligence that they were -- Russia was negotiating with those drones and then they purchased those drones.  And there were some reports that they had been used.  Do you have an estimate on how many, have they been used extensively, where and -- and in what timeframe have you seen them used?  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Oren.  What I can tell you is that we have seen the -- the press reporting on this certainly.  We continue to monitor information coming from the battlefield and we do know that Russia intends to employ this capability in Ukraine.

But in terms of anything beyond that at this time, I don't have any -- I don't have any information to provide in regards to actual battlefield employment.  Thank you.

OK, let's go to Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q:  Hi.  A question for the Senior Defense Official -- you talked about long range weapons needs by the Ukrainians.  Does that still include any kind of a rocket or a missile that has a longer range than the GMLRS that you're currently giving them?

And I think it's our understanding that the Ukrainians continue to press for longer range systems beyond the GMLR.  What's the rationale for that?  Is that also on the table?  Any comment on that?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Right now, our focus is really on the capabilities that we see as most useful in the current fight, and it is the -- the GMLR that -- that -- the HIMARS are able to employ that we've seen be so incredibly effective in the Ukrainian offensive near Kharkiv, as well as in -- in the south.  We see Ukraine making very effective use of the GMLRS.  So that is the focus of our security assistance packages right now.

Q:  Right, that's right now, but you said that there are other programs that are on the table for longer-term.  Are there any longer range systems that are on the table for the long-term?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I would say that our -- our -- our longer term look at the Ukrainian future force is -- is exploring a wide range of options, but I don't have any -- any options for that longer term to convey today.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  And then let me just go back here to -- did AP come up on the net?  Nothing heard. All right, and then finally, I'm just going to go back to Jeff Schogol and see if you had a Ukraine-related question.  If not, that will conclude our briefing today.  OK.

(CROSS-TALK)  Oh, yeah, go ahead.  Sorry, Idrees.

Q:  Can I just ask a quick follow up to -- to the Senior Defense Official?  Do you have a sense of how many Wagner Group mercenaries have actually taken part in the Ukraine war so far?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I do not have a figure on that.  I'll -- I'll see if there's anything that I -- I can find for you but I -- I haven't seen anything lately.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK.  Thank you very much for joining us today, ladies and gentlemen.  Again, this briefing was on background.  Hope you have a great day.  Out here.