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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hey, well, thanks very much for joining us today for this background update on Ukraine.

I'm (inaudible). I will be your briefer today. For attribution, please refer to me as "a senior military official." I'll provide you with a brief overview of what we're seeing on the ground in Ukraine. I'll discuss last week's Ukraine Defense Contact Group briefly, and then we'll open it up to your questions.

So the situation along the front lines in Ukraine continues to remain largely static, with the exceptions being Ukraine's counteroffensive operations efforts near Kreminna, and Russia's continued efforts to try to take territory near Bakhmut. In both areas, the situation remains fluid with a lot of back-and-forth. It is important to note, however, that Ukrainian forces continue to successfully hold and defend Bakhmut.

Separate, but related, Secretary Austin and General Milley hosted the eighth Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, which featured very productive discussions among senior defense leaders from nearly 50 different allied and partner nations. Notably, the contributions announced by several cover -- countries stemming from last week's meeting represent the largest tally of donations since the inception of the Contact Group last April, a tangible demonstration of the continued unity and resolve among the U.S. and international community to support Ukraine's defense from Russian aggression.

In addition to the large security assistance package announced last week by the Department of Defense with significant additional air defense and armor capabilities for Ukraine, multiple nations announced similar significant support, to include Germany and Netherlands' contributions of Patriot missile air defense capabilities, Canada's procurement of a NASAM system, U.K. -- U.K.'s -- the United Kingdom's donation of Challenger 2 tanks, Germany's contribution of Marder infantry fighting vehicles, France's donation of AMX light tanks, Sweden's donation of CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers, Denmark's and Estonia's donation of howitzers, Latvia's donation of machine guns and unmanned aerial systems and Lithuania's donation of Mi-8 helicopters, just to name a few.

In addition, as Secretary Austin highlighted, many European countries have also announced their own training initiatives as part of the E.U.'s military assistance mission to Ukraine.

Security assistance donations constitute a variety of lethal capabilities from a multitude of countries which, again, underscores the international community's continued support for Ukraine's immediate needs on the battlefield. The security assistance can be binned into several categories, from anti-air capabilities, to artillery, to aviation assets, maneuver and infantry small arms weapons. Combined with the training the Ukrainians are receiving, this will provide them with additional combined-arms maneuver capabilities that will enable them to change the equation on the battlefield by choosing the time, location and manner in which to execute the counteroffensive operations as they defend their country and attempt to take back sovereign territory from their Russian occupiers.

Secretary Austin said in his opening remarks at the Contact Group, Russia is attempting to regroup, recruit and re-equip, so this is not a moment to slow down when it comes to supporting Ukraine and their defense. And as evidenced by the continued support of the U.S. and international community demonstrated by the Contact Group, we won't let up and will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Go ahead and start with Heather from USNI.

Q: Great, thank you so much. I was wondering if we can get a maritime update. I understand that it -- there is belief that the Russians are moving their ships away from their naval bases, so I was wondering if we can get a -- an idea of where their ships are. And then if there's been any discussion about the -- the -- the Kalibr cruise ships and what can be done to kind of defend against some of the strikes that they've been dealing with.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yup, thanks, Heather. So no significant maritime updates to provide. I -- I think as you've heard us talk about previously, there was some activity with some Russian ships leaving port and then returning to port. They have employed, as you highlight, Kalibr missiles from those ships as part of their aerial assaults against Ukrainian targets which, again, going back to the importance of air defense capabilities, you know, they have -- the Ukrainians have, in -- in many cases, successfully been able to thwart some of those attacks. But again, this is a -- an area where an integrated air defense capability will continue to play a very important role. But beyond that, I -- I don't have any further detailed information to provide, or intelligence regarding Russian naval operations at this time. Thanks.

Let's go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q: Yeah, could you talk a little bit more about what we're seeing in the east with regard to Russians sending more troops and other Wagner group or regular Russian troops? And also, are you seeing much armor coming with them? Are these more lightly armed troops?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Tom. So -- so what we've seen is Russia sending in replacements for units that have been, particularly in the Bakhmut area that have been -- had heavy casualties, but really, across the line attempting to send in some of those mobilized forces to help strengthen some of their defensive positions. Don't have anything to provide on the armor front. Again, a key aspect is despite these increased numbers in terms of replacements, reinforcements, not a significant enhancement in terms of the training of those forces. So again, ill-equipped, ill-trained, rushed to the battlefield, and something we'll obviously continue to keep an eye on. Thank you.

Q: But also replacements?


Q: Were you talking hundreds, thousands? Can you give us a ballpark?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I would say across -- across the -- the forward line of troops, we're seeing thousands.

Q: Okay. And you can't characterize that in any way? More than five, fewer than 10, or anything?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I would say -- yeah, I would say, again, across the totality of the battlefield, probably tens of thousands at this point.

Q: Tens of --

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Again, not -- tens of thousands across the --

Q: Ten --

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Tens of thousands across the forward -- across the forward line of troops, and not coming in necessarily as organized units but -- but filling in the gaps where -- where replacements and reinforcements are needed.

Q: Got it, thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay. Let's go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). A couple of questions. First, can you drill down a little bit more about the status in Kreminna? And then larger picture, does the U.S. share the German intelligence assessment that the Ukrainians are losing, you know, triple digits every day in Bakhmut? And then, you know, larger picture, should the Ukrainians lose the Donbas writ large, how or if would that affect their larger strategic objectives in this war?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Howard. On your last two questions, I'm going to be exceedingly disappointing, unfortunately, and then I'm not going to -- I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals about, you know, what could happen in the -- in those kinds of scenarios, nor am I going to talk about Ukrainian casualty figures.

And then in terms of Kreminna, what we're seeing is Ukrainian counter-offensive operations, again, largely fluid in that area, in terms of back and forth, making some incremental gains near Kreminna but, you know, that's about as detailed as I'm -- I'm able to get.

Again, stepping back, bigger picture, this is just one example of the Ukrainians looking to exploit opportunities along the -- the Russian defensive lines and our focus is on trying to get them the security assistance they need to be able to take advantage and exploit those kinds of opportunities. Thank you.

Let me go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.

Q: Hey, good morning. Thanks. I have one question and one follow-up please. It occurs to me we haven't seen much of late of kind of those wave attacks of Iranian drones that we had seen for a while that was -- pretty obvious on its face. Do you have the sense that they -- they may have run through that supply? Are we kind of in a gap period as a result?

And then on -- on the casualty side, you -- you mentioned the Ukrainian figures. A Norwegian Army Chief said in an interview, I believe yesterday, that the Russian number of dead and wounded exceeded 180,000. Would you walk us off that figure? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Dan. So as specific as I can get, you know, I'd refer you to the Chairman's comments during the -- the press briefing on Friday, where he said, you know, well over 100,000 in terms of Russian casualties. That's about as specific as -- as I'm going to be able to get.

I would say on the Ukrainian side, again, without getting into numbers, clearly, you know, Ukraine has also experienced a high number of casualties, it's been a very tough fight, but for operation and security reasons, I'm -- I'm not going to get more specific than that.

And then on the Iranian drones, you know, I'm -- I'm not going to talk specific intelligence, other than to say that we -- that we know that this is a capability that the Iranians have provided to the Russians. Can't really talk to, you know, their decision-making process, in terms of when they are or are not going to employ them, but we do know that it is a capability that they continue to seek more of from the (Iranians).

So I think we can expect to continue and -- to see those employed on the battlefield, but in terms of when and how they -- they will employ them, that's just not something that I'm -- that I'm able to go into.

All right, thank you. Let me go to Jeff Seldin with VOA.

Q: Hey, thanks very much for doing this. Two questions. One, we've -- we've been told repeatedly that Russian forces are -- have been suffering from poor morale but to what extent is that poor morale actually impacting their ability to fight or -- or the overall support for Putin within Russia?

I remember a former Director of National Intelligence once said that the Russians have a great capacity to endure pain and suffering, and it seems like despite the poor morale, they keep throwing wave after wave of -- of poorly trained troops in -- troops in there.

Second question -- with the support for Ukraine, a lot of the focus has been on the provision of Western military equipment from the U.S., Germany, Poland, others, but how much could Ukraine still benefit from Russian-made equipment and -- and how much of that stuff still might be out there? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. On the question of morale, just talking at the -- the macro level, you know, it -- it really comes down to combat effectiveness, readiness, and ability to achieve your tactical, operational, and strategic objectives, right?

So, you know, if -- if you think of any type of high performing team, when there's high morale, when there's -- properly equipped and properly led, you are going to accomplish what you've set out to accomplish. So morale can play a significant factor in terms of your ability to achieve your objectives.

And so in the case of Russian forces, this could manifest itself in -- in terms of what we've seen, which is instead of effective offensive operations, primarily defensive operations, trying to stem the tide and hold territory versus take territory, which clearly works to Ukraine's advantage. So I'll just kind of leave it -- leave it at that.

In terms of the -- and I'm sorry, what was your second question?

Q: Second question was on whether or not the Ukrainian military could still benefit from getting Russian-made equipment, if it's -- and -- and -- and to what extent any of that equipment -- you know, tanks, weapons systems, ammo -- is -- is still out there and -- and potentially available?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure. And so, you know, to your point, they are -- they are getting -- some of the security assistance does include Russian equipment, right? So you've got -- Slovakia has provided S-300s, Slovenia has (provided P-55 tanks. Of course, we've talked about the -- the effort by the U.S. the Netherlands, to work with Czech Republic to provide Ukraine with T-72 tanks. Poland has also provided T-72 tanks. So the -- and then I -- you know, and I also mentioned the Mi-8 helicopters in -- in our opening discussions.

So they are getting some of that equipment, as well as spare parts from some of those countries, to enable them to continue to operate those equipment.

Thanks. All right, let's go to Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy.

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). I just wanted to ask about General Gerasimov taking command. There's been reports that he's tried to fix unit discipline by trying to clamp down on regulation uniforms, haircuts, banning mobile phones.

It -- it seems like there's just been some fighting within the Russian military about these so I'm just wondering if there's any assessment on your side of -- of whether his taking over has had -- had any impact on morale?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Jack. So I've seen the -- seen the press reports that -- that you highlight. I don't have anything to corroborate, you know, whether that's accurate or not. You know, we clearly see that there are some leadership challenges, as evidenced by these frequent changes in senior level leadership, and it's something that we're continuing to -- to keep an eye on.

And in terms of the impact that General Gerasimov may or may not have on the battlefield, I don't have anything to provide right now, but it's obviously something we're keeping an eye on. Thank you.

Go to Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q: Hi. Good morning. Just a quick question and then another question about operations. Do you have a response to Congressman McCaul's statement yesterday on one of the Sunday morning shows that it just makes sense to send one tank, one Abrams tank to the Ukrainians so that will uncouple, you know, whatever linkage that is -- does is or doesn't exist with sending over German Leopards? Do you just have a quick response to that? And then I'll ask another question, please.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. Thanks, Luis. So I won't, you know, respond specifically to the Congressman's comments. Obviously, you know, refer you to him for that.

I would say from a DOD standpoint, you know, our focus has been on trying to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that they need right now to be effective on the battlefield, you know, particularly as we go into the springtime. And as I highlighted at the top of the discussion as we see Russia attempting to refit, recruit, and, you know, reinitiate operations.

So we've got to be sure that the capabilities that we're giving them enable them to do combined arms sooner rather than later. So that's really been our focus.

Q: And so, my follow on question actually has to do with combined arms. Does it make sense for the Ukrainians to hold off on an offensive prior to the conclusion of any of that combined arms training that's taking place in Grafenwoehr, or does it make more sense for them to just wait on a counteroffensive until it completed enough of that combined arms training that will give them more of a punch?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. So that's really a question for the Ukrainians to answer. I mean, obviously they're the ones that are conducting the planning and execution of their operations. We're doing everything that we can to train them and equip them as quickly as possible. And so, we'll continue to do that.

I mean, I will say, though, that as, again, highlighted by Kreminna, the Ukrainians aren't waiting, right? They are conducting counteroffensive operations in that particular area, but in the meantime, you know, training has begun at Grafenwoehr. The combined arms training has begun. And so, we're going to try to make sure they get that training as quickly as possible and back to the frontline, but ultimately they will decide on when and how they'll conduct their counteroffensive ops. Thanks.

Let me go to Lara Seligman, Foreign Policy.

Q: Hey. It's Lara Seligman of Politico.



That's my bad.

Q: No problem. I --

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Congratulations, Lara.


Q: It's been awhile, but thank you. Two questions. One, just following up on what you said about the counteroffensive in Kreminna. Can you just give us a little bit more information about the scope of how we should sort of look at this? I mean, it doesn't sound like this is a major counteroffensive that Ukraine is launching right now but more like incremental gains. So can you give us a little bit more information about that? And then I have a follow up.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well, we're -- you know, we're, again, not going to talk about future ops per say but largely from a strategic operational standpoint as I mentioned largely around the frontline right now it's static, right? So -- but that doesn't mean that there's nothing happening.

You've got Russia, again, trying to push near Bakhmut. You've got Ukraine pushing near Kreminna, but the capabilities that we're providing that I highlighted at the top, these types of armored and maneuver capabilities as well as the artillery capabilities, the fires capabilities are designed to be able to change the equation on the battlefield and give Ukraine the capability that they need -- when I say capability, that's equipment plus training -- that they need to be able to not only defend their territory but also conduct their counteroffensive to take back territory that has been occupied by Russia.

So again, they'll make the decision in terms of when they will start those large-scale operations to do that. And our focus is on enabling them and getting them ready to succeed when they do.

Q: So then, have the Bradleys actually arrived that -- arrived yet? And then just quickly on the Abrams as well, the DOD officials keep sort of saying how these are not the right weapons for the European battlefield right now, but I guess the kind of obvious follow up then is why are they in the U.S. arsenal? So can you maybe give like a defense I suppose of the counterargument to what you've been saying about Abrams?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. So on the Bradleys, no. They have not arrived yet. Again, we won't pre-announce, you know, when they specifically get there. We'll let the Ukrainians do that. You know, we're talking weeks, not months, so you know, in the relatively near future.

On the Abrams, again, our focus has been on providing capabilities to the Ukrainians that they can use right now, right, that are going to have a -- that are going to have an impact. The M1 is an extremely capable and effective fighting system, but it's also a very complex system that requires a lot of maintenance, requires a lot of logistic support.

And so, again, when you look at the kinds of armored and fires capabilities that are in the PDA that we just announced and the one prior to that, these are all things that can be employed immediately on the battlefield to help change that equation.

When it comes to the capabilities that the M1 provides to the United States military, again, we're kind of comparing two different things here, right? The Ukrainian Armed Forces are highly effective, but it's not the United States military that has global commitments and multiple countries and obviously larger.

So in the same way that we had advanced air capabilities like the F-35 or advanced sea capabilities, the M1 is an advanced armor capability employed by U.S. forces to meet our global national security commitments. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: All right. Let's go to -- I'm sorry, Tara. I should have called you at the very beginning. AP.

Q: Oh, no. You're good. No worries. I had a question on the reports that Morocco is sending T-72 tanks. Did the U.S. do any outreach to Morocco on this? And what other countries I guess have you been reaching out to, to see if T-72s could be an alternative for Ukraine?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. Thanks, Tara. I don't have anything to provide on Morocco specifically. I would say, you know, largely, as -- as, you know, we discussed and as -- as was highlighted at the Contact Group, we -- we are -- are and have and will continue to reach out to numerous countries to see what they may be able to provide to help support Ukraine. And so I -- I highlighted a few other countries that were providing tanks, Russian-made tanks, but again, broadly speaking, that's something that we'll continue to do. But yeah, I don't have anything on Morocco specifically.

Q: But is it the Pentagon's thinking that the T-72 would just be a better fit, and to have one type of tank on the battlefield?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So you raised a great point, which is that this is not about, you know, focusing on a single type of platform or a single type of equipment, right; that -- that different pieces of equipment can contribute in different ways. You have to look at this from a big-picture standpoint in terms of how you integrate all of these capabilities into a combined-arms approach to achieve the effects that you want in support of the operation and operations that you're conducting.

And so an advantage to the Russian-made tanks is that this is -- these are systems that the Ukrainians already have. They know how to operate them. They know how to maintain them. And so it's, again, back to my earlier comment about giving them capabilities they can employ right now to make a difference, because the adversary gets a vote too, and they're not waiting around. So you've got to get them something that they can employ immediately, because time is not, you know, time is not going to be your friend in this situation. So that's -- that's just a -- another example of why those kinds of capabilities can be helpful in addition to the others that -- that we're providing. Thank you.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We go to Mike, Washington Examiner.

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I just wanted to follow up on, I believe, Dan's question about Iranians drones. We've heard last month that there was the possibility of a joint production line being set up, but has there been any intelligence to suggest that that's actually ongoing now? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Mike. I -- I don't have anything to provide on that, unfortunately. Do you have any follow-ups?

Q: No, thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks. Let me go to Oren, CNN.

Q: I had a very quick question. The secretary, during his press conference with Chairman Milley, said the Netherlands would be providing missiles and training on the Patriot. I was just wondering if you could clarify that. First, are the -- are -- is the Netherlands providing an entire system or just missiles? And second, is the Netherlands part of training on the Patriot missile system? Because we've wondered what Germany's solution is there, and if -- and if Netherlands needs to train on its own.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So my understanding is that the Netherlands will provide missiles, launchers and training on the Patriot, and that Germany will be providing a -- a Patriot battery. But I'd have to refer you -- refer you to them for more specifics in terms of, you know, the -- the training piece of that.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks very much, everybody. I appreciate it. Have a great day. Out here.