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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I was remiss last time in recognizing the fact that we have returned to full capacity here in the briefing room, so I'm glad that we were finally able to do that and welcome everyone back.  That said, we do have fair number of folks on the phones today, so I'll make sure to get out to them.

Before I take your questions, just a few things to pass along.  So yesterday, Secretary Austin announced the appointment of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Wade as the commander of the Joint Task Force Red Hill.  Upon taking command, Rear Admiral Wade's sole responsibility will be to ensure the department's safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill bulk fuse -- fuel storage facility in Oahu, Hawaii.

The Department of Defense and the United States Navy remain focused on the health and safety of our military families and the people of Hawaii, and the secretary is confident that Rear Admiral Wade will continue to do everything necessary to protect the local communities and the environment affected by Red Hill.  Ensuring clean, safe drinking water to our families and communities while addressing their continued health and safety concerns is among DOD's highest priorities.

As he carries out this important mission, Rear Admiral Wade will work closely with the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the local community to defuel the Red Hill facility while making environmentally-protective decisions.

Separately, the Department of Defense continues to monitor closely our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.  Department has activated the defense coordinating element for FEMA Region Two, and the govern -- governor of Puerto Rico has activated more than 450 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard to assist people in need after Fiona's heavy rains, high winds caused high -- widespread damage, flooding, mudslides and power outages.  Nearby, the Virgin Islands National Guard has activated personnel to monitor the situation as part of their joint operations center team.

Before the -- before the storm hit, the Puerto Rico National Guard pre-positioned soldiers and heavy equipment including vehicles with high ground clearance at 10 strategic points around the island to allow it to quickly respond to emergencies such as rescuing stranded or trapped people and clearing roads.

Notably, on Monday in Cayey, the Puerto Rico National Guard 65th infantry Regiment rescued 21 elderly and bedridden people from their care facility as landslides threatened the home structure and residents' safety.  Also Monday, Puerto Rico's 296th Infantry Regiment in Mayaguez rescued 59 people and 13 pets from a flooded community, while Guard -- Guard members with the 125th Military Police Battalion rescued a man in Ponce who got caught in a flash flood.  He was clinging to a concrete beam near Mercedita Airport in southern Puerto Rica -- Puerto Rico, where floodwaters were as high as six feet.  Guard personnel also rescued people in Salinas, Anasco, Toa Baja and other municipalities.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing generators for emergency power, and the Civil Air Patrol has been providing post-landfall imagery support and small unmanned aerial system support to FEMA urban search and rescue teams.  The department continues to stay in close contact with FEMA, the National Guard Bureau and U.S. Northern Command as response and recovery efforts unfold.

Later today, Secretary Austin will welcome Norwegian Minister for Defense Bjorn Gran -- Gram to the Pentagon.  The two senior leaders will discuss the strength of our U.S.-Norway bilateral defense relationship and ongoing work to support Ukraine, as well as our shared security interests in Europe, the Arctic and across the globe and bilateral and NATO efforts to advance those interests.

And then finally, on a separate note, we want to congratulate U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy, which is docked in Hawaii, on concluding a successful Pacific Partnership 2022.  This is the 17th year of this multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, and the largest effort of its kind in the Indo-Pacific region.  Mission stops during this year's Pacific Partnership included Vietnam, Palau, the Philippines and Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.  Events are coordinated with host nations and planned based on the requirements and requests which typically include medical care, exchanges, engineering projects and discussions on humanitarian and disaster relief.  It's another great example of allies, partners and nongovernmental organizations in the Indo-Pacific region working together to improve our ability to effectively respond to natural disasters, while also providing needed humanitarian assistance and support.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions.  We'll go first to AP.

We'll go right here to the room, anybody in the room.  Right.  John, we'll go with you.

Q:  Thanks, sir.  With -- one -- one quick Q:  I have two questions, but one on the -- the -- the hospital ship.

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.

Q:  You said Solomon Islands was one of the stops.  Did the Solomon Islands waive their current rule against military ships coming in, or do they consider the Mercy not a military ship?

GEN. RYDER:  I -- I would refer you -- refer you to the Navy in terms of the timing.  My understanding is that they were permitted to participate, and that they had been operating there before.  Solomon Islands had admitted (inaudible).

Q:  Thank you.  My -- my two questions.  One is from the -- from the podium this year, we've heard that when the U.S. provides Ukraine with weapons, it's no strings attached, no conditions.  We don't tell them how to use them, where to use them, where not to use them.  I'm wondering if that's -- carries over to the Claymore mines that we provided.  And the response to a question that you all sent us some notes saying the Claymore mines we provided them conform with the Ottawa Treaty.  I wanted to know if that provision, that we don't tell them how to use it, applies to the Claymore mines, as well.

GEN. RYDER:  So yes, I mean, we provide equipment to the Ukrainians, and they determine how they're going to use it, so...

Q:  There's no -- no, say, you can't put the trip wires on.  You have to make them...

GEN. RYDER:  So again, you know, just to clarify, too, I think sometimes the -- the term, you know, as I looked into this, admittedly, as an Air Force guy.  This is an antipersonnel device above ground, so mines in that sense is a little bit of a misnomer, but yeah.

Q:  Under the -- under the Ottawa Treaty, Claymore antipersonnel device is -- is not covered if it's detonated with a trip wire.  It's covered if it's remote.

GEN. RYDER:  OK, yeah.  The capabilities that we're providing are in compliance with the Ottawa Treaty.  Thanks, Tom.

Q:  (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  Let me go to Barb.  No, sorry.  Thank you.  Let me go to Barbara.

Q:  Yesterday, General Grynkewich, the head of the Air Force's -- U.S. Air Force's (inaudible) speaking here in Washington publicly said that Russian forces are getting, in his words, "more aggressive in Syria since the invasion." And he said that Russian armed aircraft have been flying over where U.S. troops are located in Syria.

I'm wondering if you can better describe this aggressive Russian activity and whether the flying of armed Russian aircraft over U.S. troops is a matter of concern?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Barb. Certainly I'd -- I'd defer to General Grynkewich to provide a more detailed description of what he's seeing as the Air Force's central commander.

From a DOD perspective, as you know, we maintain regular military-to-military contact with the Russian military, as it pertains to Syria, to de-conflict. You know, when you look at that area of the world, that airspace is particularly dynamic and crowded, as there are operations conducted there. We don't have any information to indicate any specific unsafe or unprofessional behavior at this stage, but certainly something that bears keeping an eye on.

Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Yeah, so briefly -- or just before the briefing, the Second Fleet announced that there was a Taiwan Strait transit with a Canadian frigate. I'm first curious, just to clarify, this is the second Taiwan Strait transit since Speaker of the House Pelosi went to Taiwan.

And then, also, has the DOD observed any unsafe or unprofessional behavior by Chinese navy air forces?

And then I have a follow-on question about Ukraine.

GEN. RYDER:  Sure, to answer the last part of your question first, I'm not aware at this time of any incidents or unsafe behavior in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait.

In terms of the transit, what I can tell you is that the guided missile destroyer, USS Higgins, in cooperation with Royal Canadian Navy Halifax Class Frigate HMCS Vancouver, did conduct a routine Taiwan Strait transit on September 20, through waters where high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.

They transited through a corridor in the strait that's beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state. And as always, we will continue to fly and sail and operate where international law allows.

Q:  And this was the second one since Pelosi's visit? Is that correct?

GEN. RYDER:  I would check with the Navy, but I believe that's correct.

Q:  And then, on Ukraine, there have been reports that Russia is now starting to use the drones that Iran had provided it. Can you confirm that?

And have their -- or how has DOD observed the use of these drones on the battlefield?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I don't -- I don't have any specific information to provide to you on how Russia is operating these particular drones. Again, as we've talked about before, we do know that Russia has requested and has received Iranian drones. We do know that they intend to use those in the Ukraine conflict. But beyond that, I don't have any additional information to provide.

Let me do a quick question from the phone here, and then I'll come back to the room.

Now let's go to Sylvie from AFP.

Q:  Thank you. I have two questions. Can you confirm that (inaudible) launched an internal investigation about the use of Twitter and Facebook by some military units to launch an operation of disinformation?

And also, the president said that he would troops to Taiwan if China invaded the island. Does it mean that the Pentagon has to change its posture in the region? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Sylvie.  In terms of your first question, what I would tell you is that our DOD policy team has requested a review of Department of Defense military information support activities, which is simply meant to be an opportunity for us to assess the current work that's being done in this arena, and really shouldn't be interpreted as anything beyond that. 

In terms of the -- your second question, I'm not going to speak for the president.  As he said, our policy -- our One China Policy remains, so beyond that I'd refer you back to the White House. 

OK, let me go to the room here. 

Fadi?   

Q:  Thank you, General. 

So it seems a number of referendums are being prepared for territories inside Ukraine that are being controlled by Russia or separatists that are supported by Russia.  And today Mr. Medvedev National Security Deputy Chairman in Russia basically warned that targeting these areas in the future will be a crime and that Russia will use bold forces of self-defense. 

So I'm just wondering if those referendums actually ended up resulting in Russia formally controlling these regions?  Will that change in any way the type of support the Pentagon is offering the Ukrainians?  And will these territories be off limit for Ukrainians when it comes to using U.S. and allies provided weapons? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Fadi. 

Well, you know, we've certainly been talking about the potential for these sham referenda for a while, and Russia's efforts to lay the groundwork to essentially annex Ukrainian territory.  It's part of their playbook, we saw them do this in 2014, and it goes a little something like this. 

First you're going to have proxy officials as what you're seeing reported in the press right now claim that they're going to conduct a referenda and then they will use that as the basis to try to claim legitimacy in terms of annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory. 

From my perspective this is simply an information operation that's meant to distract from the difficult state that the Russian military currently finds itself in right now.  But no one will view such sham referenda with any credibility, and the U.S. certainly will not recognize the outcome of any sham elections. 

And so, in terms of how that will affect U.S. and international support - it will not. We will continue to work with Ukraine and our international partners to provide them with the support they need to defend their territory. 

Thank you. 

Let's go back out to the phone. 

Heather with USNI? 

Q:  Thanks so much. 

Earlier today the British put out a statement about submarines being moved away from their area in the Black Sea, and I was wondering if you can comment on that?  I can -- if you give me a second, I will tell you exactly where.  They moved towards Krasnodar Krai in Southern Russia, away from Crimea? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks Heather. 

I have seen the press reports on that, but I'm afraid I don't have anything to provide from here. 

Thank you. 

Let me go to Phil Stewart from Reuters.

Q:  Hey, thank you.  Real quick, there is a - a - a report out saying that a Ku Klux Klan plaque is at the entrance of the West Point - at a - at the - at the entrance to the West Point's Science Center.  This report came out some time ago, I think two - two weeks ago or so.  I'm just wondering, has the DOD looked into these reports about a Ku Klux Klan plaque at the entrance of - of the Science Center there?  And is it taking any - any position on it?  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Phil.  So what - what you're referring to is the second report from the Naming Commission, which talked about a - a painting, as I understand it, that is at - at West Point that's - that's - has a - a - there's an aspect in there that includes some Ku Klux Klan imagery, that is - I - again, as I understand it, is part of a - a broader painting that was intended to indicate that these were one of the adversaries or foes that soldiers had fought previously.

All that's to say the - the Naming Commission report did highlight that as something for West Point to address.  So in terms of what Army leadership is doing to address that particular painting, I would refer you to the Army. 

We're confident that - that they're working through that process, as it - as are all the services, when it comes to the Naming Commission findings, to address those appropriately.  And so they may be able to provide you with a more detailed update on where that stands.  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Let me go back to the room... any questions here.  Sir?

Q:  Sir, with President Biden's rather explicit comment that the pandemic is over, does that mean the Pentagon, DOD is going to amend its vaccination policy or its inoculation policy regarding COVID-19?

GEN. RYDER:  So certainly, from a Department of Defense standpoint, we still have a requirement to vaccinate when it comes to COVID.  And so we'll continue to implement our measures.  And again, you know, at the end of the day, for us, this is about readiness - about warfighting readiness.

Q:  So was the President wrong when he said ...

GEN. RYDER:  I would refer you to the White House to - for any questions on the President.  Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q:  (Inaudible) Special Coordinator in Lebanon announced today that the - the United Nation is finalizing a plan to provide the U.S.-funded salaries to the Lebanese Armed Force - Forces.  Is this part of a previous DOD-authorized funding tool-up?  Can you confirm anything?  Do you have anything on this?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm afraid I don't have any updates immediately but we can certainly take that question and get back to you, OK?

Let me go back out to the phone here real quick.  Carla Babb, VoA?

Q:  Hi, General Ryder.  Thanks for taking my question, thanks for doing this.  Can I follow up really quickly on what Sylvie had asked?  So you said that the DOD policy team has requested a review of the military's information support activities but is the U.S. military responsible for - in charge of some or all of the more than 150 fake accounts that were deleted by Twitter and Meta/Facebook?

GEN. RYDER:  So what I would tell you is that Facebook - neither Facebook nor Twitter have provided us with that information.  So I - I can't answer that question, we don't know, but as - as mentioned, we're - we're taking this opportunity to go out to our organizations that do conduct military information support operations to do a review.

Q:  Thanks.  Can I follow up…

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  What is this review about?  Is it in fact a 30 day review?  What are you asking these organizations to provide?  And who are these organizations?  If it's information, is this regular public affairs people that interact with you - U.S. and the global media or are these people who do not do that?  Do they engage in deception?  Could we get some details?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So I'm not going to put a timeline on the review.  The review is, you know, part of a standard management process to make sure that - that our policy team has a - you know, the opportunity to take a look at what it is we're doing, again, as we see this press coverage, out of due diligence, just to make sure that we can take a look and be aware from a policy standpoint.

In terms of your question on, you know, what the DOD does, let's take a step aside.  In terms of military information support operations, which used to be known as psychological operations, that is a capability that the Department of Defense does maintain.  It's an aspect of warfare as old as warfare itself.  And we conduct those operations in support of national security priorities.

What I would highlight is that they must be undertaken in compliance with U.S. law and DOD policy, and we have safeguards in place and are committed to observing those safeguards.  These are not public affairs operations, these are military information support operations.

And so again, a capability that we maintain, a capability that we employ in operations overseas and in support of contingencies.

Q:  And it must - these operations and the information they communicate, must they be truthful?

GEN. RYDER:  So again, not - not to get into a - a prolonged conversation about, you know, doctrine, but when it comes to MISO, or psychological operations, generally speaking, when you talk to MISO operators, truth is always the preferred option, but when you start talking about military deception operations, I mean, not to go too far back, when you think of World War II and you think of the invasion of D-Day and - and airplanes that were out on a runway that were meant to deceive the adversary, you know, that is a capability in your toolkit that you will keep in order to enable your operations.

So to - to answer your question, there are opportunities in conducting operations against adversaries where you may want to use information in a way that is going to help them think a certain way.

Q:  So, not truthful?

GEN. RYDER:  Not truthful information.

Q:  Can I follow up on this?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.

Q:  So General, how does this differ from the behavior of Russia and - and China and all the accusations from the U.S. that they use such operations?

GEN. RYDER:  OK, well, again, let's take a step back because you're - you know, again, with - there is no - to my knowledge, we have not reviewed this information, so we can't make the assumption that this is DOD.  Again, we have safeguards in place, in terms of how we manage our operations.  And - and so I'll leave it at that, OK?

Luis?

Q:  Sir, the - with regards to this, was there a previous review that had been done prior to this new review that Secretary Kahl has called for?  Because when you read the Washington Post article, it talks about a draft of MISO operations that ended in August.  A month later now, here comes a new report that he ordered this review last week.  Can you provide some guidance as to what's actually going on here in terms of  you know…?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, certainly.  So what I would say is, again, you know, part of using this as an opportunity to go back, because again, we have not seen this information that's been reported on by Facebook and Twitter, to go back and take a look at our own operations.  And again, when we conduct these types of operations they're -- they're going to be done within the policies and the safeguards that we've put into place.

So you know, in terms of past and previous reviews, I don't have any information on that other than to say, you know, like any management function, you're going to constantly, you know, be asking those kinds of questions to make sure that you have a full picture of who's doing what and when to continue to ensure that things are being done within policy and the -- the regulations that we have in place.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (inaudible) concerns that you may have if they -- if these actions do not follow a policy.

GEN. RYDER:  I don't want to get into hypotheticals.  I mean, again, we have clear policy and guidance that's communicated to all of our military units on this, and -- and yeah, just leave it at that.

Q:  Can I have a clarification sir?  You said -- I got this part, no, not public affairs operations, but military support operations.  Does that mean it's conducted by elements of the Department of Defense, and not contracted out?

GEN. RYDER:  I mean, across the DOD, obviously, we employ contractors for a variety of things, to include in the areas of military information support operations, right, to provide a variety of support, from administrative to subject matter expertise.  I don't have any specifics to provide you, but I -- yeah.

Q:  I appreciate that response, and any -- anything that would be contracted out in terms of this issue, without going into specifics, would it be part of the review of DOD personnel before it goes out at some point?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I...

Q:  (inaudible) my question.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I -- I -- I think, again, we're going to take a look at organizations that conduct MISO, and you know, all aspects of it.

Yes, Barbara?

Q:  So...

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Let's just circle back again for those of us who are still confused.  What is -- can you help us understand, can you define what is MISO?  What is military information support operation?  For the general public, what is it?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  I mean, it can be a variety of things, right?  So for example, you know, typically, MISO is going to target adversary populations, adversary leaders in terms of, what is the information that needs to be communicated to them using, again, typically truthful information to try to push back on disinformation or misinformation?  And it is, you know -- it can also be things like if there are bad actors that are pushing out information that is, you know, that is incorrect or is targeting U.S. forces it help -- it helps to ensure that those adversaries or target populations get accurate information about what's happening.  But I'm not going to go into any specific TTPs or current operations from here for obvious reasons.

Q:  Well, just one -- two things.  Is it always reactive to push back, or can one of these operations be enacted on its own because you've -- have a requirement to do it, or is it always in response to something else?

GEN. RYDER:  Like all military operations, it can be part of the military planning cycle, right?  So when you are looking at what a -- what the objectives are for any particular campaign or operation, if there is a requirement, that is something that can be taken into account.  But again, I don't want to say that that's always the case.  It's going to be dependent on the mission.  It's going to be dependent on the area of the world that we're operating in, but...

Q:  (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  And this is the last question, Barb.  I need to move on to some other folks.

Q:  So you target adversary population and leadership, so...

GEN. RYDER:  And you know, the other thing I would tell you, if you get online and you take a look at the joint publications, there is doctrine on there that goes into military information support operations that will provide you with the doctrinal definitions and some additional information.

Q:  (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER:  Yup, OK.  All right, let me go to Kasim, Anadolu.

Q:  General, thank you very much for taking my question.  Last week, the United States government lifted the embargo on South Cyprus administration.  Isn't there concern this move could cause an arm race on the island?  And -- and what would you do to ensure -- to -- to ensure that this move doesn't end up in a escalatory arm race on the island?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm sorry, Kasim.  I missed the first part of your question.  Which -- which island?

Q:  Actually -- Cyprus, like South -- South Cyprus administration.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm -- I'm afraid I don't have anything on that.  I'd -- I'd refer you to the State Department on that one.  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  OK, let's go to John Ismay, New York Times.

Q:  Yes, hi, General.  A question about money.  I believe the last time we got a comment on the amount of money available for PDAs was back in July 22nd, when a senior defense official said about $6 billion remained under current authorizations.  I was wondering if you can say how much remains now.  And then separately, I was -- I was -- like to ask if it would be possible to get something hung up on the DOD's website that's a -- a running breakdown of all the individual announcements that make up the dollar figures the Pentagon uses when it says things like, "The U.S. has provided 'X' number billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine either beginning since the invasion or since the beginning of the Biden administration or since 2014.  I've been trying to make sense -- you know, get my math to match DOD's math and there's some gaps, and it would be really helpful if whatever dollar figures OSD uses, that we could just get a -- a point-by-point, you know, this date, this date, for PDAs, USAI, FMF and such so that we can all be on the same page -- you know, understand where these figures come from.

GEN. RYDER:  OK, thanks, John.  So we'll go back and take a look and to make sure it -- it addresses your question, but we do have a fact sheet posted to our website that lays out all of the -- the things that we've announced in terms of equipment with the dollar figures, not necessarily next to the pieces of equipment, obviously.  But we'll -- we'll take a look at that.  So I believe that information is out there.

In terms of how much money is left, what I would tell you right now is that $2.275 billion remains in PDA until September 30th, 2022, and for USAI, we've got $1.505 billion available through September 30th of 2023.  OK? 

All right. Any other questions in the room here?

Q:  Nice, look at those numbers, sir. Nice and slow, thanks.

(Laughter.)

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. RYDER:  I can go to you, and then I've got one more on the phone.

Q:  Yeah, just a quick question on the meeting today with the Norwegian minister of defense. Will there be any discussion on the abandoned Osprey that is still out there in the Norwegian wilderness?

GEN. RYDER:  So we'll issue a readout following the meeting. I don't want to speculate on the specifics of the conversation. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Secretary Austin is certainly excited and glad to be able to welcome the minister to the building today. But beyond that, I don't have any additional info.

OK? And the last question will go to Laura Seligman at Politico…

OK. Thanks very much, everybody. I appreciate it. Have a great day.