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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing on Ukraine

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: As a reminder, the briefing will be on background attributable to a senior military official. And I know you just had an update on Friday. So, my plan today will be to provide you with a quick update – an overview of the battlefield since then, and I'll be prepared to take your questions. 

So, first, Russian forces continue to conduct indiscriminate strikes across Ukraine, employing various missiles and Iranian attack drones. We assess that Russia has deliberately struck civilian infrastructure and nonmilitary targets, with the purpose of needlessly harming civilians and attempting to instill terror among the Ukrainian population elsewhere on the battlefield, starting in the north and the Kharkiv region. In the counteroffensive we assess, while it remains a dynamic fight, there have been no major shifts in territory over the past day or so. Ukrainian and Russian forces continue to conduct artillery strikes against one another along the frontlines, with Ukraine consolidating its previous gains, or their south near Bakhmut. Russian forces continue to conduct offensive operations against Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, with some minimal games. 

But the Ukrainians largely continuing to hold the line. On the Kherson counter offensive front, we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians to move forward but have no major updates to provide in terms of territory taken back, we do assess that Russian forces continued to reinforce their defensive lines against Ukrainian forces. Across the battlefield, we've seen indications and anecdotal reports of mobilized Russian soldiers showing up for duty in Ukraine, but no indications of large troop movements at this time.

OK. So, with that, I am happy to take your questions, and go to Tara Copp, from Associated Press.

Q:  Hi, thank you for doing this. So, last week, when Secretary Austin was in Brussels, in one of the press briefings, he answered by saying that a lot of the NATO member countries needed to dig deep to continue supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needed. And I was wondering if that meant that the Secretary doesn't, like thinks that those countries can do more? And is he concerned at all that some of them may be running to the end of their stockpiles? And then I have a follow up. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Tara. So, the Secretary, first of all, very much appreciated the incredible participation by the nearly 50 nations that were at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group last week. And then, of course, followed by the NATO Defense Ministerial. And as he highlighted in his press briefings, they were very productive sessions. And he was very happy to see the high level of participation and energy to support Ukraine in their fight. And so, as we continue to see Russia, conduct attacks, like we've seen in the last week, these missile strikes and continue to double down on its efforts to try to stake out Ukrainian territory. I think what the Secretary was saying was that we're going to be in this for as long as it takes to support Ukraine and their efforts to defend their sovereign territory. In terms of the readiness of individual countries, certainly, I'll refer you to them to talk about their own readiness. We've said many times, that we have systems in place to look at readiness as a factor when it comes to being able to contribute. And so, certainly that won't change. But we're confident that we have what we need, and that we'll continue to maintain our readiness going forward so that we can support Ukraine.

Q:  Just as a quick follow up, is there a concern that as this war stretches into its eighth month and beyond, that some of the member nations may not be able to provide more may not be able to continue to sustain this fight?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't think so, writ large Tara because when you stop and you take a step back and look at the level of international involvement. This is what makes it such a powerful effort in the sense that Ukraine is not by itself, it's essentially got the world behind it – nearly 50 nations supporting it working together, everybody's providing some type of support, giving what they can. Also, you know, recently you had the National Armaments Directors meeting in Belgium to talk about, not only how can they continue to sustain their own readiness and their own stockpiles, but also how can we continue to employ our defense industrial bases and our own know-how to be able to sustain this fight for the long term. This is a strategic advantage, that NATO, that the U.S. and that the international partners enjoy is that it is a global network working together to support Ukraine, as they work to fight their territory, as opposed to what you're seeing playout on the battlefield with Russia, largely isolated, having significant logistics and sustainment challenges. So, we're confident that we can continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. 

Q:  OK, thank you. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK. Thank you. 

Let me go to Alexandra Rego, Fox.

Q:  Thank you. I had a couple as well. I'll go ahead and start with the NATO exercises that we're seeing today with a B-52. Bombers. I was just wondering if you could have any more information on that as well as if we're expecting to see any retaliation or countermeasures from Russia. I know they're also have pre planned nuclear testing going on at the same time.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yep. Thanks for question, Alexandra. So, as was highlighted during the Defense Ministerial is, and I believe our colleagues at NSC have also highlighted this. As you highlight, the U.S. is participating in NATO's annual nuclear exercise known as Steadfast Noon. And this is an exercise that's been conducted regularly around this time of year for more than a decade. And as others have emphasized, and I will as well: it is a routine exercise, it's planned well in advance. It's not linked to current world events. In terms of U.S. involvement, as you highlight, we will have B-52 bombers participating, as well as other capabilities. And so, the other point that you made is that we are aware that Russia is planning a strategic exercise, known as Grom. We expect that to happen in the relatively near future. And, again, this is another regularly scheduled exercise by Russia that is considered routine, typically involves large scale maneuvers, strategic nuclear forces, including live missile launches, so we will continue to monitor that closely. But hopefully that helps.

Q:  Yeah. And my second question is a bit of a pivot. I was also wondering if we could touch base on the Elon Musk deal, and Starlink. Are we to expect the Pentagon to help pay to keep Starlink on? Or is Elon Musk getting anything out of this?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Well, first of all, as we briefed on Friday, the DOD has been in communication with SpaceX regarding Starlink. We're continuing to work through details. I don't have any announcements to make today. But again, I want to emphasize that from a Department of Defense standpoint, we'll continue to work with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, to support them with their need for satellite communication capability to ensure that their forces have stable communications. But in terms of SpaceX, and any plans going forward, I don't have anything to announce at the moment. 

Q:  Thank you. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you. 

Alright, let's go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q:  Thanks, appreciate it. So, operational question. And then a couple of periphery questions. The operational question is, there's been previous assessments that Ukraine could actually move it to Kherson City this week. Is that something that the Pentagon sees? And then I have a couple other questions.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah. Thanks, Howard. So, again, we're not going to get into potential future operations, or, you know, operational timelines for the Ukrainians. I'd refer you to them. For those kinds of questions. I just don't want to put out information as it can potentially compromise operation security, but thanks.

Q:  And then there's a couple of things taking place in the periphery up in Belarus. There are about 9,000 Russian troops heading there. Does the Pentagon have any concern about an attack from Belarus either by Russian troops or some joint attack by Belarusians in Russia and also Russians and move nuclear capable aircraft to base near Finland? Does the Pentagon have any concern about that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Howard. So, in regards to Belarus, it's something we're certainly keeping an eye on. At this time, we don't have any indications that would cause us to, you know, change our perspectives on the battlefield as it stands right now. And in regards to the movement of particular Russian aircraft or systems within Russia, you know, again, we haven't seen anything that would cause us to change our overall strategic posture or our posture in Europe. 

All right, let me go to Heather, USNI News.

Q:  Thank you so much. So, last week, we found out that George H.W. Bush is going under NATO command, making it the third aircraft or third carrier strike group to go under NATO command. This year, I was wondering what kind of message the U.S. was trying to send to Russia by doing this?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Well, I think, you know, writ large again, it just shows the power of the Alliance, the NATO Alliance in the sense that we continue to stand side-by-side with our NATO allies, and that we will defend every square inch of NATO territory. And that was a message that came out very loud and clear from this week's Defense Ministerial and will be a message that will continue to send going into the future. Thank you. 

Let me go to Barbara Starr, CNN.

Q:  A couple of questions, if I may. So, the State Department says that Iran supplying these drones to Russia is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. To make sure I'm not being hypothetical. My question then is if it's in violation of UN resolutions, has the Pentagon taken off the table trying to stop Iran from supplying these drones? And then I have a follow up.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  That thanks, Barb. So, our focus has been on providing Ukraine with the support that they need to defend their country. In terms of actions against Iran, again, I'd refer you to State Department and NSC on that. With all that said, you know, certainly they have highlighted in the past in terms of the potential for sanctions on the Russians and the Iranians when it comes to illicit arms sales and things like that. So, again, they would be in a better position to talk about that aspect of it. We have, of course, as we've said, in the past, seen the Russians employing these Iranian drones on the battlefield in Ukraine against a variety of targets to include nonmilitary targets. And, and as I highlighted at the top, that continues to be an area of significant concern.

Q:  May I just also follow up briefly with a SpaceX question. Bottom line, do you consider given everything that has been communicated from SpaceX and Elon Musk in the last several days, do you consider Elon Musk a reliable supplier to the Pentagon?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, I'm not going to comment on any individual. 

Q:  OK, so you consider SpaceX a reliable supplier.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, the Department of Defense has a very productive working relationship with SpaceX, certainly, you know, coming from my service background, as you know, we work very closely with that company and many others in the space sector, to provide a variety of communication and other types of capabilities that are that emanate from space. So, again, without focusing on any specific individual company, will continue to work with SpaceX and others to discuss satellite communication needs. And when we have something to announce we certainly will. Thank you, Ma'am. 

All right. Let me go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Hey, thanks. Just a couple of follow up first, on the on the opening remarks we you talked about how the Russians were attempting to instill terror. Seeing if you could kind of elaborate a little bit on that. I mean, what is it that you've learned that draws you to that conclusion, as opposed to perhaps another conclusion? And if so, are you accusing them of terrorism? And then secondly, on the issue of the nuclear drills; was the Pentagon notified under or was the U.S. government notified under existing treaties that the Russians are going to carry out these drills? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks very much, Bill. So, on the first question, I think the targets that the Russians are selecting, speak for themselves, in the sense that as they conduct their invasion as they conduct their attack against Ukraine, targeting nonmilitary targets, innocent civilians, with no military value, literally, it's to instill terror, and try to create panic/fear, with the idea that somehow this is going to decrease the resolve of the Ukrainian people. I will tell you, if you look back in history at airpower campaigns, conducting these types of campaigns trying to strike at the psychological aspect of trying to power people down, it doesn't work. And if anything, you've seen that with the Ukrainians, it has increased their result. Certainly, from a U.S. standpoint, we're going to continue to stand by the Ukrainians and provide them with the support that they need, as they try to push these Russian forces back into and they defend their sovereign territory. 

On your second question, no, we have not received any type of official notification. But again, going back through history, and looking at the fact that this is an annual exercise, we obviously do a lot of forward thinking and planning within the Department of Defense, and want to ensure that folks understand that this is something that is likely going to happen. And so, that there to prevent a miscommunication, or prevent a potential fear of escalation. We've put this information out there to help mitigate this issue, if that makes sense. Thank you. 

All right. Let me go to Felicia Schwartz, Financial Times.

Q:  Thanks so much. Um, one more on Starlink. Sorry, can you say whether any of the congressional funds, I guess it would probably be from USAI have gone to support Starlink at this point, is it or is it all from USAID? And then just separately, can you confirm the Washington Post report that Russia is going to receive Iranian Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Felicia. So, on your first question. The Department of Defense has not paid SpaceX any funds in support of Starlink for Ukraine at this time. So, again, it's something that we're discussing with SpaceX in terms of what potential support could be provided, but at this point the DOD has not paid for SpaceX services as it relates to Starlink and Ukraine. 

In terms of your second question, I've seen the media reports on that. But I don't have anything to provide at this time in terms of whether or not that is accurate at this point. Thank you. 

All right. Let's go to Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q:  Hi, there. I just want to follow up on the answer you gave to Felicia’s question and then also something else. Did you just say that with regards to USAI that it is something that we are discussing with SpaceX in terms of potential support? So, are you saying that it's possible that USAI may be under consideration as a way to fund Starlink?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks Luis. So to clarify, what I said was that we continue to discuss with SpaceX, their communication regarding Starlink. What I said was that the DOD has not paid SpaceX for Starlink services in support of Ukraine at this time.

Q:  Is it possible that there is consideration being given to use USAI as a means of funding Starlink as part of these discussions?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, I don't have anything to announce today. Again, we continue to remain in discussions about how best to support Ukraine and their satellite communication needs. But I'm not going to speculate or talk about potential future announcements.

Q:  Thank you. Thanks. And the other question that I had, the other topic was about the Shaheds, officials that said back in late August, when these drones first started arriving, that maybe there were hundreds that were being shipped to the Iranians, do you have an estimate of how many have actually been sent or provided to the Russians by Iran?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, we assess that the Iranians have provided them with hundreds. That's about as specific as I can get at this point. Thank you. 

Alright, let me go to Alex Horton, The Washington Post.

Q:  Hey, thanks for that. Sticking with the drones here, lots several days, you guys have mentioned, trying to expedite the NASAMS for air defense, particularly when it comes to missiles. Are you looking to expedite anything that's cheaper, lighter and more plentiful for the drone threat?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, yeah, thanks for the question. So, you know, as you look at what we have provided already, we've provided a significant amount of counter UAS capability to Ukraine. You know, we've also provided more than 1,400, Stinger, anti-air systems to Ukraine as well. You know, you mentioned the NASAMS, you're right, we're looking to try to get the first into Ukraine within the next several weeks. And, you know, certainly will allow the Ukrainians to go ahead, and now it's when those systems arrive, and they're operational. But this, you know, as Secretary Austin highlighted earlier this week, this is an area of significant interest right now. In addition to the U.S., you have multiple other countries that are aiming to provide Ukraine with air defense systems, and counter UAS systems. So, that'll continue to be an area of emphasis. And, you know, we'll certainly keep you posted if there's anything new to announce.

Q:  Alright, well, just a follow up. And to clarify, is there any needle moving forward, as we saw with trying to get the NASAMS a little quicker than you originally intended, is what happened today. Specifically pushing anyone to provide on the U.S. side with more counter drone capability.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, again, I'm not gonna get into specific systems, Alex, other than to say, I think the fact that, you know, we are on PDA announcement number 23, you know, over the last year and a half, demonstrates how quickly we continue to work to try to provide Ukraine with what they need in their fight across the board. Right. So, in addition to counter UAS, to providing them with cold weather gear to providing them with the communication equipment, so we're committed to working with Ukraine, working with our international allies and partners to getting them what they need as quickly as we can. Thank you. 

Alright, let me go to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q:  Hey, thanks. I wanted to ask you about North Korea, actually, can you give us just a status update about what's going on in the Pacific right now? Where is the Ronald Reagan strike group? And have you seen any additional concerning signs that North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah. Thanks, Lara. So, because this particular briefing is focused on Ukraine, certainly happy to get with you afterwards to address your questions, but I'm going to keep today's discussion focused on Ukraine. Thank you. All right. Did you have a Ukraine question?

Q:  No, my question’s been asked. Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK, thanks. OK. Let me go to Nick Schifrin, PBS. Nick, are you there? 

OK, let me go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q:  Hi, quick follow on. I just want to be clear, so you are saying that the drones that we've seen striking primarily in Kyiv today that you believe those were provided by the Iranians, and then back on the Starlink thing, the Lithuanian foreign minister said in an interview with Politico today in Politico Europe that a number of EU countries are trying to figure out a way to contribute funding for Starlink. And I'm wondering if the U.S. is a part of that discussion. If it's something that is like, come over and can you say, can you say who, from the Department of Defense is engaged in these discussions with not necessarily even just the ones on the EU, but who's engaged with these discussions with SpaceX, specifically about Starlink over Ukraine?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Courtney. So, in terms of specific individual strikes in Kyiv, I don't have any details to provide you right now. It's something we're taking a look at. As far as Starlink and the EU goes. My knowledge, you know, I'm not aware of any specific DoD conversations with the EU on that front at the moment. Again, I can tell you that the Department of Defense, you know, in essence, our policy team is engaged with SpaceX and other companies, but to discuss satellite communication support for Ukraine. But that's about all I can provide at this stage.

Q:  But you can't say who on the policy team is doing that? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I cannot. 

Q:  OK. And then just quickly, not specifically on the strikes in Kyiv, but I'm asking about what's being used these drones. I'm wondering if -- if -- if the U.S. defense official or military official, whatever we are, can say specifically that -- that the drones were that are being used by the Russians and the strikes today were provided by you by Iran? Are you saying that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah. So, you know, we've, again, seen extensive proof of their use by Russia against both military and civilian targets. We've seen the reports of what appear to be Iranian drones. But I can't definitively state that at this point. So, again, it's something that we're looking at. And, you know, when we have any updates will certainly provide you with that. Thank you. 

All right. Let me go to Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense. 

Q:  Thanks. Got a quick process question now that the National Security Strategy is out the unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy is supposed to follow that. Is that on the ways that coming days, weeks?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Tony. What I can tell you is, it's -- it's coming very soon. That's about as explicit as I can be at this point, but again, we'll certainly keep you updated. As I'm sure you saw, Secretary Austin issued a statement shortly after the NSS was put out there. And it highlights in there that we hope to have that out very soon. So, we'll keep you updated. 

Let me go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you very much. Many of my questions about the Shahed drones have been asked. But I would like to try this. Apparently the target struck today in Kyiv were civilian -- and this is part of a wider plan by Russia to attack critical infrastructure before winter sets in. Is Russia committing war crimes with these attacks?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so I would point you back to the chairman's comments during his press briefing in Brussels, where he highlights that Russia is striking indiscriminately and deliberately civilian nonmilitary targets in violation of the international laws of war. And those are war crimes. Thank you. 

Let me go to a couple more. Mike Glenn, Washington Times. 

Q:  Actually, my question was asked, you can go ahead. You can ask somebody else.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK. Thank you, Mike. 

All right. Final question. We'll go to Jared from Al-Monitor.

Q:  Hey, sir, thank you for doing this. Just wondering if you could clarify a little further on potential counter UAS options. If any other systems are being considered. I know these Iranian drones have posed a particular problem to U.S. partners and allies in the Gulf region as well. I'm just wondering if you'd give us anything further on that. Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks. Sure. I really, at this point, don't have anything to provide in terms of potential future announcements. Again, if you look on our fact sheet online, you can see that we have provided Ukraine with a variety of counter UAS systems. And so, again, we'll continue to maintain a very robust dialogue with Ukraine with our allies with our partners in terms of what are the needs of the Ukrainians on the battlefield to support them in their fight, so, certainly, we'll be sure to highlight that when and if there's anything new to announce on that front. Thank you. 

OK, well, thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate your time today. We'll look forward to talking to you again soon. Take care.