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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Well, thanks. Thanks very much for joining us on this background briefing regarding Ukraine. I'll be your briefer today. So, for attribution, please refer to me as a senior military official, provide you with a brief overview of what we're seeing on the ground in Ukraine, and then we'll open it up to your questions. 

So, the most significant development over the weekend was the Russian military's withdrawal from Kherson City and the west bank of the Dnieper River. And while we continue to monitor, we do assess that Russian forces have relocated on to the eastern side of the river to reestablish their defensive lines, thus ceding a significant amount of territory to the Ukrainians to include Kherson … (while) forces are continuing to consolidate their gains, clearing obstacles and mines left behind by the Russians, and assessing the damage done by Russian occupiers before they left. Of course, the Ukrainians are in a better position to address but initial indications are that the Russians did significant damage to civilian infrastructure to include water and utility systems. Since the Russians don't appear inclined to depart, the rest have occupied Ukraine, there's undoubtedly still tough fighting ahead. But the liberation of Kherson City is a significant accomplishment and a testament to the grit, determination and tenacity of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces as they fight to defend their nation. Further north and the Kharkiv region, we assess that Ukrainian and Russian forces are engaged in heavy fighting near the towns of Svatove, and Kamina, as Ukraine conducts its counter offensive operations there, in the vicinity of Bakhmut remains heavy fighting as Russia continues to conduct offensive operations, with Ukraine continuing to hold the line. 

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll go ahead and start with AP, Lolita Baldor.

Q:  Thank you. Just a question on sort of where things stand. Right now, the President said today that he expected he expected things to slow down somewhat because of the winter months. Do you expect that U.S. provision of weapons et cetera, will also slow down the pace of the contributions will slow down a bit as the winter sets in? Or that it'll stay kind of as its bent to help with whatever the Ukrainians need? And do you also see Russian troops trying to make any advances across the river at all? Or are they just basically dug in? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks very much. So, as you highlighted, President Biden said earlier today that this is a significant victory for Ukraine. So, in terms of the strategic or operational significance, I would say it's very significant. But as I highlighted in my opening comments, hard fighting does remain for Ukraine as they seek to liberate occupied territory. And so, we will continue to work with them, alongside our international allies and our partners to ensure that they have what they need to succeed on the battlefield. And we're prepared to do that for as long as it takes. In terms of your last question, were you asking you about the Russians or the Ukrainians? I'm sorry, Lita.

Q:  Sorry, yeah, the Russians. I'm wondering if you're seeing any efforts by the Russians to move back across the river at all. Or are they just simply digging in on -- on their side?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, what we see right now is that the -- they have withdrawn to the eastern side of the river. They are strengthening their defensive lines on that side of the river. And so, you know, we'll continue to monitor and assess the situation there. But it is our assessment right now that their intent would be to try to hold on to that territory. All right. Let me go to the next question. Mike Glenn, Washington Times.

Q:  Yeah, thanks. Thanks for question about Turkey. Yes, you hear me? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yep. I can hear you. 

Q:  You hear me? Good. Thanks. A question about Turkey. Thank you. Question about Turkey, Turkish officials have accused us of being complicit in this attack in Istanbul over the weekend, and Turkey is still dragging its feet on allowing Sweden and Finland into NATO.  At this point … is Turkey more trouble than it's worth as a NATO member and as an ally?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Mike. So, I want to keep the focus of this briefing on Ukraine, I will say that Turkey remains a very important ally. But we're happy to get with you offline and -- and address your questions beyond the Ukraine situation. Thank you. OK. Let me go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q:  Hey, thanks. I appreciate it. So, I have two operational questions. One is does the Pentagon assess that the Ukrainian forces have captured the Crimean Peninsula? And the other question I have is, does the Pentagon assess that Ukrainian forces have crossed the Dnipro to the east bank in the town of Alaska, which is just south Kakhovka dam.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yet, thanks, Howard. So, I'd refer you to the Ukrainians to get to that level of granularity in terms of where their forces are, again, we assess that the territory on the western side of the New River that had been previously held by Russia, Russia has withdrawn to the eastern shore of the river, where, again, they're -- they're shoring up their defensive lines on that side. And the meantime, again, from an operational standpoint, we see the Ukrainians consolidating the gains the territory that they have taken back and doing the mining operations, clearing obstacles, and taking a deliberate approach to securing that territory.

Q:  What can you say that the Ukrainians have crossed the river to the east bank at all?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I'm not aware of any operations at this stage of the Ukrainians crossing the river. Thank you. Alright, let's go to Pat Tucker, Defense One.

Q:  Hey, thanks for doing this. So, the new territory now occupied by Ukraine, Kherson, that puts them in closer range to different logistics and other entities on the Crimean Peninsula, which they can now target using the gambler's missiles that they already have and no longer need longer range missiles to strike at Russia and supply routes and things on Crimea. For the of course, Russian officials have made a lot of statements. It's kind of a big escalatory, red line for them. Is the Pentagon prepared to continue to support Ukraine if there are increased operations, targeting forces and Crimea, and maybe you could give us just a little look into what that dialogue is? Is that a concern that's rising, or is that not so much a concern right now?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks. So, -- so first of all, again, I'm not going to speak for the Ukrainians in terms of what their potential future operations are going to be. I think we've been very clear and saying that we're going to support Ukraine, and their fight to defend their country and take back their sovereign territory. And so that's really our focus is on making sure that they have what they need on the battlefield to continue conducting those counter offensive operations. But I don't want to at this stage get into potential hypotheticals about where or when they may target. Thank you.

Q:  OK, real quick, can you just briefly describe whether or not the drone strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, as continued at about the same pace a little more, a little less? Just how do you characterize drone strikes and Ukrainian energy?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Right, yeah. So, broadly speaking, what I would say is missile strikes, writ large to missile strikes, and drone strikes have slowed down a bit since the end of October, however, we do continue to see the Russians strike civilian infrastructure, doing damage  -- Not surprisingly, again, what we've seen things like the electrical grid, as Ukraine headed into the winter. But again, it's -- it's air defense continues to be a priority for the Ukrainians. And so again, this continues for us to be an area of discussion in terms of how the United States and the international community can continue to support them when it comes to their air defense needs. Thank you. Thank you. Let's go to Idrees from Reuters.

Q:  Just a quick question on the troops, Russian troops that left the western side of the knee Pro, have all of them gone to the eastern side and are shoring up the defenses there? And what's the range of troops now on the on the eastern bank? I think General Milley has said he estimates they're 20 to 30,000 careers on softball 20 to 30,000 Not now just sort of gone to the eastern side, or have they moved further back?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yep, thanks. So, I'm not going to get into specific numbers per se. Certainly a sizable number of Russian forces departed here Sun City, you know well into the 1000s as you highlight. So, overall, we assess that it was a relatively orderly withdrawal. We do have some reports of damaged and destroyed Russian equipment being left behind on the western side? And so, to answer your question, it is possible that there's a small number of Russian forces that remain on the western side of the river. We've seen some open press reports to that effect, Ukraine is in a better position to address that. And as I've mentioned, they're deliberately consolidating their gains and shoring up their lines. But on the eastern side, you know, clearly tens of thousands of Russian forces in the other side on the eastern side of the river. OK, let's go to Jeff from (inaudible).

Q:  Thank you. And now that the U.S. troops have been in Europe, the extra U.S. troops have been in Europe for quite some time. Are there opportunities for reporters to embed with U.S. troops who are training Ukrainian forces on weapon systems or to see what U.S. troops have been doing? And just talk to the soldiers on the ground about -- about the mission?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Jeff. That is something that we continue to look at what opportunities might exist, we certainly recognize that there's an interest, understandably, on the part of the press and the American public. And so that's something that we'll continue to look at. And definitely will keep you informed on that front.

Q:  So, we've gone from no to maybe.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I'm trying to think is something witty, but yes, maybe. 

Q:  Maybe. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, absolutely. All joking aside. I mean, it is. It's a legitimate request. We understand that. And, and it's something that we'll continue to look at what opportunities exist to ensure that that we're getting information out on that as quickly as we can. So, thank you. Right, let me go to Jared from Hall Monitor.

Q:  Hi, sir, thank you for doing this. You mentioned there's been a reduction and missile and drone strikes by the Russians on civilian infrastructure since late October, just wondering if you could say anything about, you know, if the department assesses if there's any reason for that. And secondly, just wondering if the department is any indication on for the coordination between Russia and Iran on the potential further provision of Iranian weapons for Russia's war.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so on your -- on your latter question, no new updates, right. Other than again, we do remain concerned about Russian and Iranian discussions to provide additional weapons to Russia for their fight in Ukraine. And so, something that we will continue to keep an eye on in terms of the reason for the slightly decreased number of air attacks. You know, again, I don't have any specific insight to provide other than it's something that we've observed. We do know, as we've mentioned before, that that Russia's munition stockpiles are challenged, particularly when it comes to precision guided munitions. And so, but all that to say, anytime there's a missile strike on civilian target, you know, causes terrible damage and has significant impact on civilians within Ukraine. So, it's something that we'll continue to take very seriously. We have no reason to think that Russia is going to let up on its attacks anytime soon, as evidenced by their continued actions. So, thank you. Right, let's go to Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi, sir, thank -- thank you for taking the call. I have questions and casualties KIA and wounded. General Milley on November 9, up in New York at the economics club, said about 100,000 Russians have been either killed or wounded i.e., casualties. Colin -- Colin Kahl said back in August that 80,000 was the figure. Can you put some caveats on these numbers? When you hear these, what should reporters, civilians, and analysts, what questions should they be answering and asking? And what's the confidence level you at your level have in any of these numbers?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yep, thanks for the question, Tony. So, I'm not going to have anything to say in regards to the chairman's comments, you know, they stand on for themselves. I will say, when it comes to the term casualties, what we're talking about here are dead and wounded. Correct. So, that's a combination of the two and this conflict clearly has been an extremely intense and dangerous conflict with 1000s of people killed both military and civilian. And so, I'm not prepared today to talk to any specifics beyond what the Chairman has already provided. It just demonstrates the cost that Russia has imposed, not only on itself, but on the people of Ukraine. And so again, we would call on them to end this needless war and destruction as quickly as possible.

Q:  May I ask, what is the ratio basically, though, when you say casualties, what's the military's calculus for killed versus wounded in terms of a percent rough percentage?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, but I'm afraid that's just not something I can get into, Tony, thank you. 

Q:  All right. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Let's go to David Martin, CBS. 

Q:  I'm fine. I don't have a question. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK. Thank you, sir. Joe Gould Defense News.

Q:  Thanks for doing this. Just to kind of bounce off of Pat's question earlier about the Ukrainians being able to range into Crimea? No, we -- we heard a couple of weeks back that there are Iranians helping the helping the Russians operate drones in Crimea. Are those Iranians considered fair game as the U.S. communicated a position to Ukraine about whether or not it's advisable to strike the Iranians in Crimea? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for the question. So, -- so what I would say is, you know, our focus is on supporting the Ukrainians, and getting them the security assistance they need, they're going to make the decisions on how to prosecute their operations, how most effectively to upper prosecute those operations. So, I don't want to I don't want to get into hypotheticals about where their targeting, other than to say that it's very clear that they're going to continue to press their counter offensive, move forward to take back territory, and target enemy targets. So, our focus again, though, will continue to be on -- on the security assistance piece. Thanks, you. Right, and we got one final question. Mallory from USNI.

Q:  Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to know if the if you have anything on the Russian Navy allowing non-Russians ships through the, the strait and what the status is, is over there?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I really don't. You know, again, our focus has been on the operational picture within Ukraine and the security assistance that we're providing. So, I'm afraid I don't have any updates to provide on that front. 

OK, thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate you taking the time today. That's all we got out here.