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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, everyone.

All right, just a few things, and we'll get to your questions.

Tomorrow Secretary Austin will depart for Germany, where he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, will host and convene another session of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Airbase. And as I highlighted earlier, the contact group has been instrumental in identifying, synchronizing and ensuring delivery of the military capabilities the Ukrainians need to defend their homeland against Russian aggression. The secretary and the chairman look forward to meeting with defense leaders from the approximately 50 nations that comprise this important group dedicated to Ukraine self-defense. Prior to his arrival at Ramstein, Secretary Austin will travel to Berlin to meet with the incoming German minister of defense, Boris Pistorius.

Separately, more than 600 National Guardsmen, soldiers, Marines and airmen are making their way to northern Michigan this week to take part in the winter portion of Exercise Northern Strike 23. The Michigan Army National Guard will host the exercise January 20 through 29 at the Northern Michigan All-Domain Warfighting Center.

Now in its 10th year, Northern Strike allows active-duty, Reserve and Guard units to challenge themselves in near Arctic conditions while training to meet the objectives of the DOD's Arctic strategy. Participants will battle wind, snow and sub-zero temperatures while utilizing skis, snowmobiles and snowshoes to meet their training objectives.

As the National Defense Strategy makes clear, the changing climate is creating new corridors of potential future interaction in the Arctic region, so exercises like Northern Strike help ensure our service members are ready to meet those future challenges head-on.

Also, I know there has already been some press reporting on this, so I can confirm that, in the coming weeks, Secretary Austin will travel to the Republic of Korea and the Philippines to meet with senior government and military leaders in both countries, as the United States and these two critical allies continue to bolster our defense partnerships.

This upcoming trip is a reaffirmation of our deep commitment to working in concert with allies and partners to chart our shared vision to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And with that, I will take your questions.

We'll start with AP, Tara?

Q: Hi, Pat. I want to ask about the Ukrainians getting trained at Fort Sill. Have all the Ukrainians arrived? Has training begun?

And just putting in a request for all of our media organizations, can we get some access, some video, to be able to show what's happening there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tara. On the latter point, we are certainly aware of the requests for media access and are in communication with the Army on that front. So we'll keep you updated.

Training has begun. As we've talked about before, that training will last for several months and train upwards of 90 to 100 Ukrainians on use of the Patriot missile system. And so those troops have arrived at Fort Sill and have begun their training. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir. I have two questions. South Korea and the United States have agreed to conduct an extended deterrence exercise next month to counter a possible North Korean nuclear attack. Is this actually a plan -- I mean, joint planning, joint execution, using the United States nuclear assets?

GEN. RYDER: So, in terms of exercises, I don't having anything to announce. I'd encourage you to talk to USFK. They could provide you any details. As you know, we don't typically announce certain exercises well in advance. And when we do those exercises, of course we do that in close consultation with our partners, in this case, Republic of Korea.

We've also talked about the fact that the United States does provide an extended deterrence capability for our allies like the Republic of Korea and Japan and others in the region. And we will continue to focus on training and making sure that we can be interoperable when it comes to working together.

Q: Yes, does it include the TPX like tabletop exercises?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd refer you to USFK on the details.

Q: Okay, one more. Last weekend the United Nations commander released the photos of B-29 bombers bombing (North Korea, Pyongyang), 72 years ago. At this point, does this circumvent the United States -- I mean, its extended deterrence strategy?

GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry, Janne. I don't understand the question. Can you ask that again?

Q: Because last weekend the U.N. commander released the photos of B-29 bombers bombing North Korea's Pyongyang, I mean, 72 years ago, Korean War. At this point, why they released this at this time? It kind of, does it circumvent the U.S. extended deterrence strategy?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't have anything on that. I'd have to refer you to the U.N. on that. Sorry. Thank you.


Q: Thanks. AP is reporting that the prime minister of the Netherlands has said that they are going to send a Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine. He's here in Washington. Can the Pentagon confirm that that's happening?

And then I have one other follow-up?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I cannot. I'd have to refer you to the Netherlands to talk about that.

Q: Okay, thank you. And then, separately, on Afghanistan, there's been an Afghan commando that's been detained at the border, Special Forces, fought alongside, not directly with U.S. troops, but alongside U.S. troops. Is the Pentagon concerned that he could potentially be deported back to Afghanistan?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not able to talk about individual cases as it relates to the border and any type of Customs and Border Patrol activity. I'd refer you to DHS on that. Certainly, we've talked about, in the past, when it comes to our Afghan allies and those that we fought alongside, the department is supportive of any efforts that we can make to ensure that we're taking appropriate care of those people.

Q: Is the Pentagon intervening in this case in any instance of this--

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any information on that. Again, on a border case, I'd refer you to DHS, and they can provide you the latest. Thank you.

Let me go to Lara.

Q: Just back to the Patriot training, I'm wondering, since there will be at least one more Patriot battery coming from Germany, is there going to be another tranche of 90 to 100 Ukrainian forces training at Fort Sill? Is that going to be part of another tranche in a couple months once this is finished, or are there going to be more forces coming to train at the same time?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So as of today, this is the only tranche, but of course, we'll continue to keep that dialogue open. And certainly, Fort Sill has the capability and the capacity to train many different nations, obviously, on Patriots, so that's something that we'll continue to take into account. But as of right now, this is the group that's coming through to train on the U.S. Patriot that we're providing.

Q: So if I could follow up then, how is that going to work when there are potentially two Patriots in Ukraine, but only 100 guys that can operate --?

GEN. RYDER: So you're talking about the German-provided Patriots.

Q: Yes.

GEN. RYDER: So really, the Germans, that's a question for them in terms of what their game plan is in terms of training on that system. Again, we will stay open in terms of talking with the Germans and others on how we can best provide support and training to the Ukrainians. But your question was whether or not there will be another group coming in through Fort Sill, and I'm telling you right now, I'm not aware at this time of another group coming through.

Q: Okay, thank you.


Q: Two questions, one, a quick follow-up to that. Will Secretary Austin bring that up with (inaudible) stories in the media in just a couple of days? Is that on the agenda? And second, is the Defense Department considering giving back-pay and/or reinstatement to service members separated for refusing the COVID vaccine? Is that something DOD is actively exploring?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so in terms of the secretary's conversations with his German counterpart, we will be sure to issue a readout, of course, afterwards. You know, without a doubt, I know that the secretary will communicate the United States' appreciation for the strong support that Germany has provided to Ukraine and the strong support that we expect that they will continue to do.

In terms of back-pay, you're talking specifically on COVID vaccination? What I would tell you is right now, we are not currently pursuing back-pay to service members who were dismissed for refusing to take the COVID vaccination. Thank you.


Q: Thank you, sir. There's been increasing reports lately about parts made by U.S. and Western companies being found inside Iranian drones, drones being used against Ukraine's military. Is there something Undersecretary for Policy Dr. Kahl and others discussed in meetings with the Ukrainian officials yesterday leading up to the contact group meeting? And is this going to be a topic of discussion during the meeting at the end of the week?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we did issue a readout of the meeting, which I think provides an overview of the discussion. Clearly, the main emphasis was on Ukraine security assistance needs and what we can do to continue to support them.

When it comes to technology transfer issues, this is really a whole-of-government effort of which the DOD does play some role, but I don't have any more specifics in terms of the substance of those conversations to provide.

Q: And you can't share what DOD's role in the Biden administration's new task force to address its products being resold? Is there anything you can share about what your role is there, and whether or not you'll be investing more resources or hiring more people to better track or monitor where your parts end up, if they are going to be in weapons then used against Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, let me take that question, and we'll get you a detailed response.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Hey, thanks. To follow up on Carla's question a little bit, so this case is specifically regarding Abdul Wasi Safi. He's a former Afghan commando. Is the defense secretary aware of this case?

GEN. RYDER: The secretary follows a lot of activities that are happening around the country. And so again, we've seen these press reports, but I don't have anything further on --

Q: So multiple lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for President Biden to pardon him. If the defense secretary's aware of the case, would he speak with President Biden about that?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into the privileged discussions between the president and the secretary. Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you. Does Secretary Austin feel that Afghan commandos trained by the U.S. should be able to seek asylum in the U.S.?

GEN. RYDER: I think we've been very clear that we're supportive of efforts by the U.S. government to ensure that those who fought alongside us are appropriately taken care of, and so will continue to work with the interagency on that effort. Thank you.

Ma'am? And then I'm going to go to the phone.

Q: Just following up on the back-pay for troops, that was a lawful order at the time, so is there a concern that back-pay or reinstatement could set a precedent?

GEN. RYDER: Well again, what I would say is right now, you know, we are not pursuing, as a matter of policy, back pay for those who refused the vaccine. At the time that that those orders were refused, it was a lawful order, and so I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Okay. Let me go to the phone real quick.


Q: So you are saying we are not currently pursuing back-pay.  Is this a final decision, or is there a possibility that this could be explored in the future?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not going to speculate about what the future might portend.

Q: Just last week, a spokesman told me that this was something that you were exploring. That was only a couple days ago.

GEN. RYDER: So I can tell you that right now, we're not currently pursuing back-pay. Thank you.

Let me go to the phones here real quick. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Q: Thank you. Last week, a spokesman was asked about back-pay and said, quote, "Regarding the back-pay, the department is still exploring this and will provide its views on legislation on this nature at the appropriate time and through the appropriate process." So what has changed since Friday?

GEN. RYDER: So thanks, Jeff. So again, today, as a matter of policy, we're not currently pursuing back-pay to service members who refused to take the COVID vaccine. If and when there are any updates to provide, we'll be sure to do that. Thank you.

Let me go to Kimberly, SIGNAL.

Q: Hi, sir. Thanks for your time today. I wanted to follow up on last week's bilateral meeting with the Japanese minister of defense, Hamada, and if the talks with the secretary addressed how the U.S. and Japan will collaborate further as far as immigration of command and control (C2), or even on a JADC2 level. Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Kimberly. So we'll certainly have more details to provide in the days ahead. The discussions were an opportunity for the two leaders to really look at how we can advance our relationship and modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance. And so our two staffs will work together to do exactly what you highlight, you know, talk about the specifics about how we can increase cooperation and bolster interoperability when it comes to things like command and control and interoperability. Thank you.

Now, let me do one more from the phone here. I'll come back in the room. JJ Green?

Q: Thank you, General, for taking this question. A number of sources and people that are observing Russia, Moscow, say that it appears as though Moscow is taking several defensive steps in and around the city. And there have been a number of think tanks and Western intelligence agencies talking for months about Russia possibly making this a wider war or a more conventional conflict. What has the Pentagon seen and noted, in terms of Russia's posture right now?

 GEN. RYDER: Thanks, JJ. And just to clarify, around which city did you say?

Q: Moscow.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't have any comments to provide in terms of Russian internal defense around Moscow. I think, as we look at the battlefield in Ukraine, we've seen, for the most part, Russia essentially dig in along the forward line of troops, with the exception of course being in the vicinity of Bakhmut and Soledar of course.

 I have seen press reports talking about Russian efforts to strengthen some of their air defenses, based on mysterious explosions that happened at air bases in their country, but I'm not going to have anything to provide on that. Thank you.

All right, let me go back to the room. Tom, and then we'll go to Nancy.

Q: Thanks, General. What information do you all have, if any, on the missile that struck over the weekend in Ukraine that killed 40 people? There have been some reports that it was a hypersonic missile. Can you shed any light on that please? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I don't have any detailed reporting on the specifics, other than to say again we do know that Russia launched a very heavy salvo of missiles from aircraft, from naval vessels, and from land against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and civilian targets over the weekend.

I think, again, it just highlights the nature of this conflict and the lack of civility on the part of Russian forces when it comes to targeting civilians.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Nancy?

Q: I want to follow up to your answer to Tara please on the training at Fort Sill and media coverage. You said that OSD had been in contact with the Army about allowing U.S. media to cover the training. I'd like to understand what precisely is the concern about the coverage around that training? And have there been any restrictions placed on the Army or DOD to allow reporters to cover that training?

GEN. RYDER: So again, we continue to talk with the Army about what options may exist, and again, we'll come back to you as quickly as we can. Some of the things that we need to take into account, in particular for the Ukrainians, is, one, recognizing that they're there to train. There are certain operations, security considerations that we need to make sure we take into account, recognizing that these individuals will go back to the battlefield and they certainly have a say on that as well.

But again, we will try to see what we can do and come back to you.

Q: I guess what I'm trying to understand is it a question then -- well, if I could -- actually, first, have there been any restrictions placed on DOD or the Army --

GEN. RYDER: I would say we're still in discussions, in terms of how we might be able to accommodate those requests.

Q: So right now, there's --

GEN. RYDER: Now, I will say that in the past, when there has been training, there have been restrictions placed in terms of visual imagery, right, things that could potentially identify these folks who have to go back to Ukraine, who have family members in Ukraine.

And so trying to be sensitive to those kinds of things certainly has been something that we've taken into account, just like we would for any significant operation.

Q: So is the discussion then around how to make this happen or whether to make this happen?

GEN. RYDER: This discussion is how to make it happen.

Q: So we can anticipate then that, at some point, we'll be able to see this and cover it?

GEN. RYDER: We'll keep you updated. Thank you.


Q: Thank you. Last week, the CSIS released a report on the result of the war games simulations on the Taiwan Strait contingency. The main conclusion is that the Chinese invasion would fail but would result in heavy casualty among the U.S. and allies' forces. I wonder if their conclusion is consistent with the Pentagon's war games, in general?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not going to comment on the CSI exercise. Certainly aware of it. More broadly speaking, we've been very clear as also been included in the National Defense Strategy -- on the challenge that conflict in the Indo-Pacific, as it relates to Taiwan, would be.

And so as the Defense Department, we recognize that China is the pacing challenge. We continue to do what we can to ensure that we can deter and prevent conflict, but if necessary, that we would fight and win. Thank you.


Q: Thanks. General, the former U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges tweeted recently in that the U.S. should now be providing Ukraine with ATACMS, Gray Eagles, small diameter bombs, to deny Russia the use of logistics hubs in Crimea and in Russia and Belarus.

The U.S. recently crossed a threshold in sending armored vehicles to help Ukraine take back territory. What's the Defense Secretary's view now on sending precision weapons with ranges of as much as 300 kilometers?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well, I think Secretary Austin's been very clear that we continue to maintain an active and ongoing dialogue with our Ukrainian partners, with the international community, on what are Ukraine's most urgent needs when it comes to the battlefield and the current situation there.

And so going into, for example, the contact group this week, he'll have the opportunity to have those discussions with his Ukrainian counterpart and with our other allies and partners around the table to do exactly that -- what are the kinds of things that Ukraine needs to be able to defend themselves and also take back their sovereign territory?

So as we have new announcements to make, we'll certainly be sure to pass those along.

Q: Has there been any movement on that conversation or has it been largely in the same place as it's been --

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think that's a matter of perspective, right? So, I mean if you look at this campaign in its totality, if you would ask that question one month into the campaign -- so it's relative, right? We're going to continue to adapt and evolve and tailor that assistance based on the situation on the ground and based on the capabilities that we can get there to them quickly. So thank you.


Q: Just a follow-up on the Patriots. How much of the training will be focused on maintenance? And will there be any external support provided, like additional maintenance support provided by the U.S., additional spares, or are the Ukrainians going to be responsible for keeping the system operational on the ground?

GEN. RYDER: So in terms of the maintenance, I'd refer you to the Army for more granular level of detail. I would tell you that maintenance will be an aspect -- operations and maintenance will be an aspect of the training.

And in terms of maintenance writ large, when it comes to the capabilities that we are providing on the battlefield, one of the -- one of the techniques that we've used, as you know, is essentially tele-maintenance, right, so remote maintenance capabilities.

So that will be something that we will continue to provide to the Ukrainians, not only on the Patriot system but on a variety of systems as they are employed in the battlefield. Thanks very much.

Q: I would just second Nancy's comments too -- I think it's an important image to get out there, this partnership between the U.S. and Ukrainians on this system, because there's been so much interest.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Nope, completely understand. Thank you.


Q: Yeah, a change the subject a little bit. Does the Pentagon have any concern that South Africa is hosting naval exercises next month with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I've seen the press reports. I mean South Africa of course is a sovereign country. They can choose to exercise with whom they want. So I don't have any particular comment on that other than to say, you know, we do appreciate our defense partnership with South Africa and we'll continue to seek opportunities to work alongside them and to further bolster that relationship.

Q: So there is no concern that if they're working with us, then they're working with Russia, that there might be some sort -- you know there might be some concern about, you know, sharing information or technology that we might share with them?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, I think two things there. One, to put this into context there are a lot of countries that maintain a security or defense relationship with Russia. Again, that's a sovereign decision for individual countries to make.

Many of those nations who have in the past purchased Russian-built or Soviet-era equipment. So it stands to reason that they may maintain some type of relationship. From a security cooperation stand point, certainly from the U.S. perspective, I think that the types of security assistance the United States provide to include capabilities is much more dependable and also maintained.

And something that we continue to discuss with various partners and allies around the world on would they -- should they choose to purchase those kinds of systems, we're certainly all ears. India being a great example. Thank you. Sir.

Q: Hi, Peter Martin from Bloomberg. My colleagues reported that depending on its struggling to reestablish mil-mil ties with China and I wondered if you had any comments on that?

GEN. RYDER: I think we're always open to maintaining those open lines of communication with China. We recognize the fact that China's going to continue to operate in that region for obvious reasons and we want to do everything we can to reduce potential miscalculation.

So from a United States standpoint, from a DOD standpoint we certainly will continue to be available to communicate with our Chinese counterparts at a multiple level -- (multiple echelons. Thank you.

Okay. Time for a few more. Kasim.

Q: General, the DSCA and State Department has sensed the decision for the sale of F-16s to (inaudible) at the Congress. Could you tell us how important this potential sale is for military relations that have strained over the course of the years for several issues?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Kasim. So recognizing the fact that that's before Congress for consideration, you know, I'd differ to the DSCA to talk about the current status of it. Certainly when it comes to the bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey, we've always said that Turkey is an important partner and important ally and so we'll continue to work closely with Turkey's leaders on how we can bolster that relationship and insure that our mutual defense needs are considered. Thank you very much.

All right, Joe. I haven't seen you in a while, Joe.

Q: Kasim's question. Is it fair to say that the deal that the F-16 deal with Turkey is kind of related to the F-35 deal with Greece? Do you see any length between both deals?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don't want to necessarily connect those two issues. I'd refer you to DSCA in terms on the current status of the deals. Certainly we have a relationship with Greece and a relationship with Turkey, both of which we value.

Q: As you might be aware that there is a strong opposition on the Hill vis-a-vis the F-16 deal to Turkey. Is there any message from the Pentagon to the Congress in regards to this matter?

GEN. RYDER: I and that's a congressional decision to make. I'm not going to stand at the podium and tell Congress what they should or should not do. Again, the United States and Turkey share an alliance and they're an important partner, not only in the region but around the world. And so I'll just leave it at that.


Q: Just a couple of quick follow-ons from earlier. I think when Liz from Fox asked about the Afghan service member who was detained at the border, she asked (specifically if Secretary Austin, and you said "we are aware of the..." So I just want to be clear, is Secretary Austin -- he's aware of this case? And it is it fair to say he's tracking it, he's following this specific case?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have an answer to that question.

Q: Okay.  On the COVID vaccine, you keep saying, DOD's not pursuing it. But does that mean that there's no review or anything that's ongoing about potentially paying back-pay, or are you saying that the issue --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so as a matter of policy, we're currently not pursuing back-pay.

Q: Okay. And then my last one is just -- I'm wondering if there's been some reporting on social media mainly about a delegation of Russian military officials who were in Syria, meeting with some of the Autonomous Administration and leadership, and I'm wondering if you -- if that's anything that you have a comment on, if you're aware if there's any U.S. military component to this meeting, anything you can share on it?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't --


Q: --I know I just mentioned two countries but I'm just curious if there's any Pentagon reaction to it?

GEN. RYDER: No, I continue to monitor but I don't have anything to provide on that. Okay, thank you.

Just a couple more. Let me go to a couple other folks in the room here. You and then you?

Q: Thank you, General. General, there is some recent media reports about Turkey are planning to do a new operation in -- north of Syria. Are you aware about that? And do you still think there is any concerns about any military operations in this country -- in the north of this country?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, we've been very clear that any type of ground offensive into northern Syria could further destabilize the region and negatively impact the defeat ISIS mission. And so we've communicated that to our Turkish allies, and I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.


Q: In your assessment -- thank you. In your assessment, how do the British tanks -- what impact will British tanks have on the ground in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Well, broadly speaking -- and again, I'll allow the UK to speak for itself, in terms of the capabilities that it may or may not provide. Broadly speaking, again, as an international community, any type of capability that we're able to provide to Ukraine to assist them in their efforts to defend their territory and be prepared to take back territory I think is a good thing.

Certainly, as we've talked about before, having armored-type of capabilities gives them another capability to employ on the ground in order to change the equation on the battlefield, especially as we've seen some of those lines become static.

But again, at the end of the day, it's up to Ukraine on how best to employ those capabilities. The only other thing I'd say on that is the capabilities they've been provided, they've employed to great effect. Thank you.

Q: And if I may, now that other allies are sending or considering sending tanks to Ukraine, how does this change the U.S. position on sending American tanks to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: So again, I don't have anything to announce. I think we've been very clear, when we do have something to announce, we'll be providing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as you know, which again is an armored capability. And so, you know, when and if we have something new to announce, we will.

Thank you all very much, everybody. Appreciate it.