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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right, well, good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. (inaudible) here. I will be your briefer today. As a reminder, today's briefing will be on background. You may attribute it to "a senior military official." A few items to cover up top, and then I'll provide an overview of the battlefield in Ukraine.

So as you're aware, Secretary Austin spoke to Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu on Friday and on Sunday. Friday's call was initiated by Secretary Austin, whereas Sunday's call was requested by Minister Shoigu as a follow-up to Friday's discussion. And I'm not going to have any more details to provide regarding these calls beyond what was in the readouts that we published on defense.gov, and I appreciate your understanding on that front.

He also spoke to Ukraine's Ministry of Defense on Friday; has another call scheduled for later today. We'll be sure to provide a readout on that. And you can expect to see -- see a series of phone calls with allies and partners in the days ahead as well, and again, we'll be sure to provide readouts as they become available.

Separate, but related, we've seen the reports of Russian allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb in Ukraine. These allegations are false, and as my NSC colleagues have said, the world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation. Notably, however, while I'm not going to discuss specific intelligence, we still have seen nothing to indicate that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons. We'll, of course, continue to monitor it closely and keep the lines of communication open between allies, partners, the Ukrainians and the Russians.

In the meantime, our focus remains on continuing to work with the international community to provide Ukraine with the security assistance and support they need to defend their country.

Turning to the situation on the ground in Ukraine, we continue to see Russian strikes across Ukraine with many appearing to target Ukraine's power grid. These strikes have employed various missiles and drones, to include Iranian-provided UAVs. In the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian forces continue to consolidate their lines in support of their counteroffensive, with both sides trading artillery fire. We do assess that the Ukrainians have liberated some villages in the region and continue to make advances as they pressure toward the east. Russian forces in this area are largely focused on reinforcing their defensive lines.

Near Bakhmut fighting remains heavy and dynamic, with Russian forces attempting to take the city but being contested by Ukrainian forces. And in the Kherson region, Ukrainian forces continue to make deliberate and calibrated operations in support of their counteroffensive along three main axes. We assess that Russian forces are largely digging in to strengthen their defensive lines in this sector.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions. We'll go first to A.P., Tara Copp.

Q: Good morning. Thanks for doing this.

I wanted to talk about the Shoigu/Austin call. As you're likely aware, Shoigu has also said that the -- he's also spoken again this morning to the U.K. defense minister. I'm wondering if there's another scheduled call for Austin and Shoigu. And with the, I guess, increased number of these calls, how concerned is the Pentagon that this is all being used for a pretext for attack?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I don't have anything to announce right now in terms of potential future calls. As always, Secretary Austin believes that it's important to have mechanisms in place for engaging both allies and adversaries alike to address and work through potential misperceptions in order to manage escalation and prevent miscalculation.

In terms of your second question, I'm not going to speculate. Again, the Ukrainians are not building a dirty bomb, but we also have no indications that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons. So we'll continue to monitor it closely. We'll keep the lines of communication open with allies, partners, the Ukrainians and the Russians, and as I mentioned at the top, our focus will continue to be on working with our allies, partners and the Ukrainians to provide the Ukrainians with the support that they need to defend their country.

Thanks.

Q: To the -- to the extent that you can describe it, is the line of communication open with Russia now? Will it be easier for the secretary to reach out to his counterpart because of these two calls?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Again, the line of communication is open and certainly the Secretary is willing to take as many calls as necessary, not only to the Russians but -- but with all of our partners. And so we'll continue to -- to keep those lines open.

Thank you.

All right, let me go to Will Dunlop, AFP. Will, are you there? Okay, nothing heard. Let me go to Howard Altman.

Q: Thanks.

A couple of questions, one about the Minister of Defense. The Russian Defense Ministry has warned troops to be able to operate in nuclear-contaminated areas. Is that something that concerns you? And then I have some operational questions after that.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah. Thanks, Howard.

I don't have anything to provide on that. Again, we have seen no information to indicate that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons. And so, again, our focus is continuing to work with our allies and partners to support Ukraine in their fight, and that will continue to be our focus.

Q: And then an operational -- can you give a sense of whether you're seeing Russia reinforcing Kherson City?

And then there are reports that Iranians were killed -- Iranian drone technicians were killed in Crimea. Can you comment about that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, so on the latter, I've seen those press reports. I don't have any information to corroborate that.

In terms of Kherson, again, writ large around that region, we do see Russian forces aiming to essentially, like I said, dig in and strengthen their defensive lines.

Thank you.

All right, let me go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q: Yeah, again on Kherson, there's reports that some Russian troops are leaving, crossing the Dnipro, others are coming in. Can you give us a sense of what you're seeing, a ballpark on numbers? And are they crossing over a single bridge, a barge? How's that working out?

And also, you know, this great need for generators in Ukraine because of the Russian attacks on the power infrastructure, is there a sense that the U.S. and NATO will send more generators in?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Tom.

So in terms of Russian movements in Kherson, we do have indications that some Russian units are essentially relocating, you know, in terms of the -- and repositioning -- but in terms of the numbers and specifically how they're doing that, I'm not going to get into that level of detail.

Largely speaking, though, the Russian forces that are in the vicinity of Kherson City and throughout that sector, we see them looking to shore up their defensive lines, you know, essentially to -- to counter the -- the Russian -- or the Ukrainian, rather, counter-offensive.

So as far as generators go, I don't -- I don't have anything to provide on that, other than to say, you know, broadly speaking, when it comes to support for Ukraine, I think you've seen the U.S. allies, partners working to stay in close communication with the Ukrainians, in terms of what their needs are, particularly going into the winter.

So I don't have anything to announce today but certainly I expect that it will be a continued area of conversation, how best we can support Ukraine heading into the -- the --

Q: -- right. And you say "shoring up defenses." Can you get a little more specific? Are they digging trenches, hardening locations? What exactly does "shoring up" look like?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. In some cases, digging trenches, setting up defenses (in depth ?), in terms of being able to defend against Ukrainian counter-offensive. So that's about the level of detail that I'm able to go into right now.

Thank you.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Let me go to Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy.

Q: Thanks so much.

You just had a question on Russian corruption. I'm curious if the Pentagon has any assessment or the U.S. has an assessment of what impact corruption in the Russian defense industry has had on the overall effectiveness of Russia's war effort?

Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for the question, Jack.

So I -- I'm not -- I don't really have any information specifically to provide in terms of corruption writ large within the Russian defense industry.

I will say, in terms of Russian performance on the battlefield, you know, we have seen a significant challenge when it comes to logistics, sustainment, not only on the battlefield but also as you've seen from their mobilization.

So while I don't have any specifics to provide in terms of how the Russian MOD manages its resources, what we are seeing is the inability to sustain large scale combat operations in the Ukraine and to train, equip and then get these mobilized forces to the battlefield.

And so, in some ways, that speaks for itself but I'd refer you to the Russian MOD to talk about their own management.

Thank you.

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

Q: Thank you so much.

I was wondering if we can get a maritime update for the Black Sea, and particularly focused on what we think is going on with submarines for -- on Russia's side?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Heather.

So I'm not going to have any information to provide on Russian submarines.

In terms of an update on the on the Navy side, I don't have anything new to provide beyond what we've provided before. Clearly, it's something we continue to keep an eye on. We do (inaudible) that some Kalibr missiles have been employed, in terms of strikes against targets in the Ukraine, but beyond that, I don't have anything significant to update you on. 

Thank you.

All right, let me go to Idrees Ali with Reuters.

Q: Thank you.

You mentioned that you had not seen any indications that Russia -- the Russians had made a decision to employ nuclear weapons. Along that same line, have you seen any indications that Russia has made a decision to employ chemical or biological weapons? And then I have a separate question.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So no, no indication.

Q: Okay. And then just to follow-up, you mentioned the call between Secretary Austin and Minister Shoigu. The DOD readout was pretty short but the State Department readout after that had quite a few -- quite a bit of detail on that specific call between Austin and Shoigu.

Can you sort of talk about what the administration's calculus was with the State Department, talking about the DOD call? And is that going to be the norm going forward?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I’d have to refer you to the White House and the State Department to talk about their readouts. We obviously issued one, and as I mentioned at the top of the call, that's the extent of the information I'm going to be able to provide in regards to the call.

Thanks, Idrees.

Okay, let me go to Kasim Ileri from Anadolu News Agency. Kasim, are you there? Okay, nothing --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: -- hey, I'm here.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right.

Q: Yeah, sorry, I was trying to unmute myself. 

So I have two questions actually. We have seen -- do you have the readout mentioning escalation, they rejecting any projects to escalate. By the escalation do we mean conventional escalation or nuclear escalation? That escalation that's one.

And also do you know if Russians -- the second question. Do you know if Russians have dirty bombs in their arsenal other than it's tactically nuclear weapons? Are you concerned that Russians might use it a pretax or a pole slack?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Kasim.

So in regards to the read-out, I think it speaks for itself. I'll just leave it there. I don't have anything to provide beyond the read-out.

As I mentioned at the beginning, separately we have seen the allegations that Ukraine was planning to use a dirty bomb. And again, those allegations are false. So I don't have anything to provide beyond that.

In regards to Russian strategic forces, I don't have any additional information to provide. Certainly I would refer you to Russia to talk about what capabilities they have. What we do know is, again, that we've seen no indications that Russia has made a decision to employ nuclear weapons.

So thank you.

Okay. Let me go to Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q: Hi (inaudible). Excuse me. Hey, (inaudible).

Just a quick follow-up and then another question. Has Generally Milley spoken with General Gerasimov as the Russian Defense Ministry is saying?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thanks, Luis.

So my understanding is that General Milley has spoken to his Russian counterpart and I believe they'll be issuing a read-out shortly, so I would refer you to they joint staff, they should be able to provide you with a copy of that if they have not posted it already.

Q: And then my other question was a follow-up to Kasim's question actually. You're not saying it directly but you're kind of saying it indirectly by saying that you're describing a pretext for Russian escalation and then you next say that you have not seen the Russians make a decision for the use of nuclear weapons.

Is that what -- exactly what you are saying a pretext for escalation that the Russians are considering the use of nuclear weapons?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So again, we've seen the reports out there that there have been Russian allegations that Ukraine was building a dirty bomb. As I mentioned those allegations are false and I know my NSC counterpart has spoken on the record about this that the world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.

So again, I'm focused on the facts as we know them right now, which are that Ukraine is not building a dirty bomb to employ in Ukrainian territory and that we have no indications that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons.

So again, we'll continue to monitor the situation closely, we'll continue to keep the lines of communication open but in the meantime our focus continues to be working with Ukraine, our allies and our international partners to support them in their fight. 
Thanks, Luis.

Right, let me go to Carla Babb, VOA.

Q: Hey, thanks.

So just so I am clear on this when you say that the U.S. is seeing no information to indicate that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons, are you including employing dirty bombs. Are you lumping that in when you say nuclear weapons? That's question number one.

And then question number two, have the NASAMS arrived in Ukraine yet?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We’ve seen no information to indicate that they have made a decision to employ nuclear/chem/bio weapons on the battlefield.

Q: To include dirty bombs?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Okay, great. And then about the NASAMS that the U.S. are provided to the Ukrainians, have they arrived in country yet?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So we expect the NASAMS to be delivered within the next couple of weeks. Of course, we'll defer to our Ukrainian partners to make that announcement when they arrived and when they're operational. But as we've mentioned before, we'll continue to work hard to get those there as quickly as possible.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thank you.

All right, let me go to Mike Glenn, Washington Times.

Q: Thank you very much.

In light of all the dirty bomb talk, can you tell me -- tell us if the U.S. troops in the region there have been issued with NBC gear like MOPP suits, decon kits, atropine injectors, that sort of thing?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay, I'd have -- thanks for the question, Mike.

I'd have to refer you to the individual units in terms of what their specific deployment kit entails when they deploy. Obviously, that varies from unit to unit. Writ large again, though, you know, we have seen nothing to indicate that Russia intends to employ nuclear weapons at this time. So again, we will continue to monitor it closely. As I've mentioned, our focus is on supporting the Ukrainians and providing them with the security assistance they need.

Thank you.

Q: Okay.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right, let me go to Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you.

I wanted to know if you could clarify something you said earlier. You said that the call Sunday was a follow-up to the previous call. Was it always scheduled to happen, or was this something set -- scheduled subsequently between the first and second call?

And then secondly, I wondered if you could clarify something you said earlier. If I'm hearing you correctly, your stating that there's no indication from the U.S. side that Russia is intending to use a dirty bomb. Did you get any indication from the calls that there was any interest in engaging in talks?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Nancy.

So on the latter part, again, I'm not going to provide any details in terms of the calls beyond what we issued in the readouts. In terms of the nature of the calls, again, Secretary Austin initiated the call on Friday. It was an opportunity for him to connect with his Russian counterpart. It had been since May since they spoke. And then subsequently on Sunday, we received a request from Minister Shoigu requesting to follow-up the conversation and have a call with Secretary Austin which, of course, we accepted.

Okay, let me go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you.

You have said repeatedly the U.S. has no indications that the Russians are planning to use nuclear weapons. What about the possibility that the Russians are planning to stage a false-flag attack using a radiological weapon, and then blaming it on Ukraine? Are you seeing any indications of that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for the question, Jeff.

So again, I'm not going to speculate. Right now, I'll provide the facts as I know them, which are that the Ukrainians are not building a dirty bomb, nor do we have indications that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear/chem/bio, you know. So again, we'll monitor this closely, as I've mentioned. We'll keep the lines of communication open. But again, from a Department of Defense standpoint, our focus right now is going to be on continuing to support Ukraine in their fight. 

Thanks, Jeff.

All right, let me go to Anson Mersereau -- I apologize if I don't have your name correctly there -- from Asahi Shimbun.

Q: Yeah, no.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah.

Q: No, no, you said it very well. Thank you.

So a follow-up on the nuclear question. So early on in the war, Russia had made similar claims about the joint U.S.-Ukrainian chemical facilities that were around the country, unsubstantiated claims. In response or shortly thereafter, the U.S. then issued chemical equipment to the Ukrainians. But we haven't really seen that level of response after these claims for a dirty bomb. Is the U.S. going to possibly provide additional protective gear to Ukraine? And if so, what?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for the question.

As you highlight, we have provided CBRNE gear to the Ukrainians in the past. If you go back and you look on our fact sheet that's posted, that is something that we have given to them.

Again, when it comes to the security assistance requirements for Ukraine, we'll continue to consult with the Ukrainians and with our allies and partners in terms of what it is they may need on the battlefield to support them. So I don't have anything specific new to announce, other than, you know, we'll continue to have those conversations and make sure they have what they need.

Thank you.

Let me go to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this.

Just to follow-up on the previous line of questioning, I just wanted to ask what -- we've seen that Russia has activated counter-WMD forces, and Russian MOD announced that earlier today. Can you give us some more details on what exactly this means? I mean, are they doing checks on units? Are they preparing for that sort of attack? Can you just give us a few more details about what that means?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'm sorry, Lara. I misunderstood. I don't -- I couldn't clearly hear the first part of it. Russian MOD what?

Q: Yes, the Russian MOD has said that they've activated their counter-WMD forces, or put them on alert, and I'm just wondering, what is your assessment of what you've seen Russian forces doing to prepare for their -- as alleging the use of a dirty bomb?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I'd have to refer you to the Russian MOD to talk about their specific forces. Again, our focus right now has been on supporting Ukraine. But I don't have anything specific to provide in regards to Russian MOD forces.

Thank you.

All right, let me go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.

Q: Hi, sir. A couple quick questions.

When you say you talk about indication no indications, how confident is the Pentagon in its intelligence or its ability to define those indications, be the units' movement or communications?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thanks, Tony.

Obviously, something that we monitor very closely on a daily basis, 24/7, you know, and it's something that we'll continue to monitor closely. So again, I'm not going to get into specific intelligence -- 

Q: Sure.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: -- or indications and warning other than to say that at this time, we have no indication that the Russians have made a decision to employ, you know, nuclear capabilities, nuclear weapons, so --

Q: Okay.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thank you.

Q: One follow-up?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: I -- a Starlink question that doesn't involve the payment question. What is the military utility of Starlink to the Ukraine military? You were -- you said the Russians have obviously done a very bad job of combined operations. And to what extent has Starlink contributed to the Ukraine military's efforts at command and control and movement in their successful operations?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think more broadly speaking, the issue of -- or the capability of satellite communication is really what we're talking about here, and the ability to command and control forces on the ground unimpeded by potential adversary jamming of communications or influencing the ability of those communications to connect units.

I don't want to get into, you know, specific Ukrainian tactics, techniques and procedures. Broadly speaking again, as you've heard us say, we're committed to working with Ukraine on ensuring they have the satellite communication capability that they need. And so that is something that we continue to work with them on going forward.

So I don't have anything specific to announce today but it is obviously important.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right, let me go to Nick Schifrin, PBS.

Q: (Inaudible), thanks very much.

One definitional question that gets back to Carla's question, and then I've got a follow-up.

Does -- would the Department of Defense, would the United States government consider the employment or the use of a dirty bomb the use of a nuclear weapon?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, Nick, I'm not following. In what context are you talking about?

Q: The context is, you know, you -- Carla was asking kind of, "Okay, well, indications on the use of a dirty bomb" and I'm trying to distinguish or I'm trying to figure out whether there is a distinguishment between dirty bombs and nuclear weapons.

So, your point has been that no indications that Russia has decided to or is about to employ a nuclear weapon but dirty bombs are a lot harder to see that they're coming, to gather intelligence about, to prevent whatever.

So what I'm trying to get at is when you have been using the words "nuclear weapons," when the U.S. government thinks about nuclear weapons, is a dirty bomb considered a nuclear weapon?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, okay. No, I got it. So you raise a key point, right, which is that I'm really not going to get into speculating about a hypothetical munition or its potential characteristics, okay? Again, I'm going to focus on the facts as we know them right now, which is that Ukraine is not building a dirty bomb, a hypothetical dirty bomb that is an allegation at this point, right? So it's not true, they're not doing it.

Secondly, when it comes to indications of what we're seeing, we don't see that there's any indications that the Russians have made a decision to employ the kinds of capabilities that I have mentioned. So those are the facts as we know them, that's what we're going to stay focused on. We're going to keep the lines of communication open in order to ensure that, you know, we can discuss potential misperceptions, manage escalation, reduce miscalculation, but broadly speaking again, our focus right now is going to be on continuing to support Ukraine.

So hopefully that kind of lays it out, but again, I just don't want to get into speculating about a hypothetical munition that is a false allegation at this point.

Thank you.

Q: Fair enough.

And then just a different version of Tony's question -- can you engage at all with the idea of how confident the U.S. is in being able to determine, assess, monitor the deployment of a specifically a dirty bomb or the use of a dirty bomb as compared to Russia deploying its strategic weapons, and all of the things that would come with that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, again, I'm not going to talk about specific intelligence. You know, obviously, again, this is something that we will monitor very closely. I think that, you know, again, we will continue to keep lines of communication open, but beyond that, I'm not going to be able to provide any additional information, other than, again, this is something that we'll keep an eye on.

Thank you.

All right, and final question, we'll go to Liz Friden, Fox.

Q: Thanks for taking my question.

Can you answer -- has the Pentagon funded SpaceX's Starlink system at all yet?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So at this time, the DOD has not paid SpaceX for any Starlink services, as it relates to Ukraine. Again, we continue to have conversations with SpaceX and others in terms of how best to support Ukraine for their satellite communication needs.

So I don't have anything to announce today, Liz, but we'll certainly keep everyone updated on that front.

Q: Okay, thank you.

And just separately, does the U.S. have -- has the U.S. seen any indications that there's more Iranian drones on the way to Ukraine? I just saw Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia asked for 2,000 more.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So, you know, as I highlighted in the beginning, we do know that Iran has provided Russia with drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. While I don't have anything specific to provide in terms of potential future deliveries, it would not -- we would not be surprised were that the case. So that's something we'll continue to keep an eye on going forward.

Q: Thank you.

And -- and just one last quick one. Has the Pentagon been asked to support the Starlink system with any other countries?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I don't have any announcements on that front, Liz. 

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate your time today. Out here.