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Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds a Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.

Okay, this weekend Secretary Austin will depart on a planned multi-day visit to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. We'll have additional details to provide in the coming days on visit locations, which will afford the secretary the opportunity to meet with leaders in several key partner nations, reaffirm the enduring U.S. commitment to the Middle East region, and provide the chance to visit and talk with some of the more than 30,000 military members currently deployed or stationed there.

As always, the U.S. will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to bolster interoperability, increase regional security and stability, and deter potential threats. And again, we'll have more to provide on this trip in the very near future.

Separately, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, chief of the National Guard Bureau General Dan Hokanson, AFRICOM Commander General Michael Langley and more than 40 African chiefs of defense are attending the 2023 African Chiefs of Defense Conference in Rome, Italy, this week, where they're discussing shared challenges and opportunities to overcome them together.

The National Guard Bureau began its partnership with African nations in 2003 and currently has 16 active partnerships through the National Guard State Partnership Program. Over the next week strategic partnerships will be deepened through open dialogue, the opportunity to provide assessments of current capabilities and potential gaps and by further building engagement opportunities between U.S. and African partners.

Toward this end, key strategic goals for the conference include building partnerships and partner capacity, as well as recognizing the intersection of stability and security in Africa with U.S. and global stability. For more information, I'd refer you to AFRICOM public affairs or the National Guard. 

And with that, we'll go ahead and jump to your questions. We'll start with AP, Tara?

Q:  Thank you. Today at HASC, OSD's Dr. Kahl said that the U.S. is actively trying to deter China from providing lethal aid to Russia. Can you elaborate, a little bit, on what the U.S. is doing, what the Pentagon is doing to convince China to not send lethal aid to Russia in its fight against Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Tara. Well, I think, broadly speaking, you've seen us engage both publicly and privately in this regard. You've had senior leaders, to include Dr. Kahl, Secretary Blinken, the president, Secretary Austin, have all talked to the potential ramifications of China providing lethal aid. We have not seen that they've done that at this point. But, again, it's something that we'll continue to closely monitor.

Q:  I guess, to follow up on that, what's spurring those conversations? If you haven't seen anything yet, are there indications that China intends to provide this aid, and that is why there's this outreach now?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I think I addressed this a little on Friday. And you've heard the White House talk a little bit, about this, that there are indications that they are contemplating that. Again, I'm not going to have any further information in that regard or any additional intelligence to talk about beyond the fact that they haven't taken it off the table. And so, we want to be crystal-clear that that would be a poor decision, should they decide to do that.

Q:  Okay, just one quick follow-up. Both two hearings today and then one later this afternoon have really focused on the watchdog efforts to track weapons being provided to Ukraine. Is there a DOD role in this besides the I.G.?

What sort of things is the department doing to make sure that there's accountability for these major weapon systems moving in?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so we take accountability of U.S. assistance to Ukraine very seriously. We have an active and proactive whole-of-government system, as you've highlighted, to prevent the illicit diversion of weapons into Eastern Europe. And so, Secretary Austin and DOD leaders have repeatedly discussed the importance of protecting our contributions with our Ukrainian counterparts. As you know, we also have a small team within the U.S. embassy that works closely with the Ukrainians to conduct end use monitoring.

And to this date we have not seen any evidence of any type of widespread diversion of any of the assistance that we've provided. And we do need to get on some other reporters here shortly.

Q:  But just, can you provide any, like, examples of what DOD does to track these big systems? Do you go see them actually in operation? Do you -- I mean, do you have any sort of visibility on the chain of custody of them?

GEN. RYDER:  We -- we do. We have a very robust program in terms of, as aid comes to Ukraine, of course it's tracked as it goes across the border. Once it's in Ukraine, depending on the particular system and on the requirements of monitoring that system, our personnel at the embassy, again, work closely with the Ukrainians, understanding the fact that it is an active war zone. So, you do not have Americans going into the war zone. They're -- they're further back, but again, working closely with them, both in terms of physical inspections and, in some cases, working with the Ukrainians to conduct virtual types of inspections or monitoring. Thank you.

Let me go to Lara and then we'll go to Jennifer.

Q:  Thank you. There was a report in Chinese media today, I believe the Global Times, that the U.S. military has carried out close reconnaissance operations in the South China Sea over 600 times, including using balloons and spy planes. Could you respond to those allegations please?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, and I think this came up during the hearing today, and -- and if I'm not mistaken, Global Times is a Chinese propaganda outlet, so I think that speaks for itself.


Q:  General Ryder, can you respond to the latest SIGAR report that talks about how the Taliban are using fingerprints and gun records to track down Afghans who assisted the U.S.? What is the Pentagon reaction to that?

And also, the SIGAR concluded that, you know, a good deal of corruption was the result that -- of -- was one of the reasons that the Afghan military collapsed. How is Afghanistan -- how are the lessons of Afghanistan being applied to Ukraine, with regards to corruption?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, again, we'll judge each of these conflicts on its own merit, Jennifer. And so certainly as we conduct -- provide support to Ukraine and as we observe the operations there, we will continue to learn from those and we'll continue to apply lessons that we've learned in other conflicts.

As it relates to the SIGAR report, I don't have the report in front of me so I'm not going to, you know, refer folks to the report. DOD, as you know, did provide input into that report and we'll continue to support SIGAR in its efforts.

But in terms of the specifics of the report, I'm -- again, I don't have it here in front of me so I'm not going to be able to comment on it. Thank you.


Q:  (Inaudible) Korea (inaudible) conducted (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure. So I -- I don't have any information to provide about future exercises right now. Certainly, when there's something to announce -- that -- we will. As you do -- as you highlighted, we did conduct a successful discussion in regard to various approaches on the alliance deterrence posture and response posture in the face of the DPRK's evolving nuclear and missile capabilities.

But -- coming out of that tabletop exercise, both sides concurred on the need to continue to strengthen extended deterrence, including through robust consultative mechanisms and crisis communication, as well as information sharing and joint planning and execution.

So again, don't have anything new to announce as far as future meetings go but we'll -- we'll be sure to keep you updated.

Q:  U.S. (inaudible) USS Springfield arrived in Busan, South Korea last week. So do we expect more strategic assets to come to the South Korea in the near future?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm sorry, I couldn't -- couldn't hear the last part of your question.

Q:  Do we expect more strategic asset, like U.S. (inaudible), come to the South Korea in the near future?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I don't have anything to announce. You've heard our senior leadership, to include Secretary Austin, highlight the fact that we will be on a rotational basis, deploying strategic assets into the region and to South Korea, in support of extended deterrence, but I don't have any specifics to provide.

Let me go to Kasim and then we'll come over here to Brandi.

Q:  General, on -- on deterring China, sending arms to Ukraine -- referring to Dr. Kahl's remarks, is there a role for the Defense Department? We know that the State Department and White House has made clear that there will be implications, and they are referring to economic sanctions, designations, but is there a specific role for the DOD to play into this deterrent effort -- efforts against China?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, and I'm going to try to repeat your question just to make sure I could hear it. So what I -- what I think you're asking, Kasim, is is there a role to play for the Department of Defense in terms of deterring China from providing lethal aid to Russia.

And -- and so again, at -- at this stage, what we're focused on primarily is supporting Ukraine in its fight. That's the DOD's role. As -- as you're well aware, State Department is actively engaging on the diplomatic front. From a DOD standpoint, again, we are highlighting the fact that while we have not seen China provide lethal aid, they haven't taken it off the table.

And again, it's something that we're going to closely monitor because, again, let's not forget about what the consequences are if they do. It will extend this conflict needlessly, it will result in more innocent lives lost as -- as Russia continues to wage its campaign against Ukrainian citizens.

And so I'll -- I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  Also, Dr. Kahl, with respect to the New START agreement, he said -- he made reference to the Russians suspending it rather than terminating it, and he said that he doesn't have a leverage on us because Russia is already -- defense -- Russian defense industrial base have -- has already crippled and it will not affect the Russian efforts to -- to violate, to go beyond the New START lines too far.

And do you -- do you -- do -- is this -- is this only -- do you think that it's only a rhetorical effort by the Russian government or -- or is it -- does it have any further implications for the DOD?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks. So -- so I don't want to speak for the Russians, other than to say, as you highlight, they announced that they were suspending their participation in New START, although, in -- in -- as Dr. Kahl highlighted, in some ways, it is rhetorical because they had already ceased enabling inspections.

And so, it's unfortunate, particularly given the tensions that exist in the world right now, to be making those kinds of comments. The U.S., in -- in the meantime, continues to abide by the treaty, and I'll just leave it there.

Let me go to Tom and then we'll come back across the room here. I'm -- I'm sorry -- and then we'll come back to you. Yeah, let's go ahead and go to Brandi first here.

Q:  Thanks, Pat. So the DOD Chief Information Office and Joint Force-DODIN are conducting a review of security measures for cloud service providers after a tip from a non-government source this month that service members' email and data were being exposed online.

Can you confirm that the commercial server where that was exposed is Microsoft? What is the status of that review? And have the service members whose data and email have been exposed online been alerted at this point or will they be?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks very much. So as -- as a matter of policy, we're not going to discuss the specifics, to include where that server -- you know, the -- the cloud provider emanated from -- hold on one sec -- it's giving me flashbacks of being on the flight line, so -- all right. So -- so the -- so no, I'm -- I'm not going to be able to provide you any information on that.

The review does continue and the affected parties are being or have been notified, and we'll continue to look into that incident. Thanks.

Q:  And then this is a -- a follow-up referred by the White House but also because my email and Twitter messages have been inundated with this question, which is does the DOD have any plans to release any further media or images of the high altitude things that you shot down and what does that timeline look like? And for the vein of transparency, if not, why not?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes. So I don't have anything to announce today in terms of new imagery. Certainly if there is new imagery to put out there we'll be sure to let you know that it's been posted and made available. Thank you.

Let me go to Tom and then back over to here.

Q:  Thanks, General. I just wanted to follow-up what you said and what Dr. Kahl said earlier regarding -- and sort of follow-up to Tara's question. You said there's no widespread evidence, no indication between that U.S. supplied weapons are being misused. How much does -- is that possibility? And I'm not asking you to speculate but is that part of the calculation you used as to what type of weapons are provided to Ukraine.

In other words, at the change that for some reason, not because of the Ukrainians or anyone, falls into Russian hands. How much of that is part of the calculation on what goes to Ukraine? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  I mean we've talked about this before in terms of there's a wide variety of considerations that are taken into account when it comes to providing aid to Ukraine to include the potential for technology transfer right on the battlefield.

But again, we have not seen any evidence of -- of that, you know, diversion of assistance being provided to the Ukrainians. In fact, as evidenced by the progress that's been made in the battle so far, they continue to use the capabilities that they've been provided to great effect.

And so, again, we're confident that we have the systems and the procedures in place right now that we'll continue to keep safeguard of that. Thank you. Let me go over here -- let me go here and then here.

Q:  Thank you. If I could follow-up on Afghanistan, you mentioned the Department provided your input into the SIGAR report. But the Department has, of course, reviewed this issue internally. Do you plan to release any after action report publicly to the American people to get your side, the Department side, on -- on what may have gone wrong with the withdrawal and led to the collapse of the Afghan government?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, as you know, we did conduct an internal classified lessons learned report. Again, that report remains classified, and I don't have any updates right now in terms of potential releasability.

Q:  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you, General. Three quick questions as a follow-up on the China part, why the U.S. is so worried about China providing lethal aid to the shore in Ukraine? Do you think that be doing so the war in Ukraine will heavily tilt with -- in favor of Russia in Ukraine if Ukraine is not be able to defend their territory if China does so.

And during your conversation with China on the lethal aid Russia has -- have they put in some conditions of not giving any lethal aid to Russia for that purpose?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes. And on your latter question, I don't have any details to provide in terms of the interaction between State Department and -- and China. As you know, Secretary Blinken of course discussed this issue with his counterpart in Munich recently.

But in terms of the potential implications, again, I would just ask you to go back a year ago when Russia invaded Ukraine and -- and with the stated objective of eliminating Ukraine as a country. And so, the implications of China providing lethal aid to Russia, which by the way, again, is experiencing significant issues with ammunition.

If Russia were -- or China were to provide aid, lethal aid, to Russia it would significantly or has the potential to significantly extend this conflict and again, support Russia's aim of eliminating Ukraine as a country. Thank you. We can go to -- yes, one more.

Q:  On the general's visit to the CENTCOM area, would that also include a visit to Pakistan?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, we'll have more details here in the coming days. Thank you. Carla?

Q:  Can you give us an update on the training at Fort Sill? And then I have a follow-up.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so the training continues. No significant updates to provide other than things are going according to plan and anticipating your follow-on question here, yes. We are looking at opportunities for media access and we'll keep you updated on that front.

Q:  Do you know when we will find this out because they've been training for quite a while now and we've heard nothing about it?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I'll -- I don't have a date to announce from the podium but, again, it's something that we continue to work. Thank you.

Q:  And then what about training of Ukrainians in Germany? We've -- we've asked for access to that as well. Is that something you're look at as well?

GEN. RYDER:  Same -- same -- we're working that request as well for you.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you. Yes, sir.

Q:  Thank you, General. Today there is some reports that says that China was providing satellite images to Wagner Group. Did you hear about these reports? Did you confirm that that's happened? Does that mean that some consequences will be -- China will face in the future?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I've seen the press reports but I don't have anything to provide on that.

Q:  Okay. My last -- second question. What would Russia victory or defeat mean for China?

GEN. RYDER:  What would Russia's victory or defeat?

Q:  In Ukraine.

GEN. RYDER:  You know I'm not going to get into a potential think piece here from the podium other than to say our focus is on supporting Ukraine to enable them to defend their country and take back their sovereignty. And so that's really where -- where our heads are right now and that's what we're focused on. Thank you. Yes, sir. All the way in the back there.

Q:  Thank you. I have a question about Transnistria. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry yesterday said that it has concentrated it's armed forces along the entire border with Transnistria in Ukraine. What do we make of it? I -- should Transnistria be alarmed with this development and I only have one more?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I don't have any information to provide on that. Again, we continue to monitor the region closely but.

Q:  Sure. Are you aware of Ukrainian armed forces lining up across?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not going to get into a discussion on where Ukraine may or may not have forces aligned. Obviously right now along the forward line of troops they remain very active in terms of defending against Russian forces.

Q:  I have one more question. Dr. Kahl today declined to outright deny the presence of CIA operators in Ukraine. Are you able to give a definite no here?

GEN. RYDER:  Denied the what?

Q:  The presence of CIA operators in Ukraine.

GEN. RYDER:  I'm a DOD spokesperson so I'd refer you to the CIA to talk about the CIA. Thank you. We've got time for just a couple more. Sir.

Q:  You've seen the talk of Chinese lethal aid -- potential Chinese lethal aid intensifying, especially in the past 7 to 10 days. And we've heard from the State Department and also from the White House that there's going to be severe consequences, real costs but those aren't just sanctions -- potential sanctions that would be imposed on China. Does the Department of Defense believe that just sanctions are going to be able to deter China from providing lethal aid. Because if you're determined that they might actually provide those assistances and they haven't taken it off the table, do you think it's enough to deter them from doing so?

Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so I'm not going to get into the specifics of what those types of actions could be, other than, I think, we've been very clear that of the potential implications in terms of extending this war and inflicting further death and destruction on the Ukrainian people. So again, we have not seen China at this stage provide lethal aid to Russia, but we'll continue to monitor because, again, they have not taken it off the table.

Q:  What I'm trying to understand is that I can see that the implications would be huge for the United States. The conflict would be extended, in your words. So, that's what I'm asking, do you feel confident that, you know, those warnings are going to be sufficient enough for China to actually change their mind if they put on the table the United States, say, we might impose sanctions and then there are severe consequences, they're going to be like, oh so maybe just change their mind?

GEN. RYDER:  So ultimately that's a decision for China to make. I think for the duration of this conflict you've seen the range of tools and capabilities that the United States has available at its disposal, alongside the international community, as you highlighted, things like sanctions and other types of activities.

But the question, again, is does China as a nation want to put itself in the camp of those countries that are looking to eliminate Ukraine as a nation and kill innocent people or do they want to do what they say they are all about, which is respecting the sovereignty of all countries. So, thank you.

All right, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.