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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, then we'll get right to your questions.

Earlier today, Secretary Austin issued his annual Message to the Force, which emphasized his three priorities as Secretary of defense: defending the nation, taking care of our people and succeeding through teamwork.  As a department, these priorities continue to guide and shape all that we do in support of our nation's security and the National Defense Strategy.  You can find a complete copy of the memo on, and in this message to the force, Secretary Austin highlights how the 2022 National Defense Strategy articulates how we will achieve DOD's goals through integrated deterrence, campaigning and building enduring advantages.

Implementing the strategy means tackling the pacing challenge from the People's Republic of China, while also confronting the acute threat of Russian aggression and managing the risk of escalation as President Putin — Putin's cruel war against Ukraine enters a second year.  We must also defend against and deter threats from Iran, North Korea and global terrorist organizations, even while we grapple with 21st-century transnational challenges such as climate change.

Finally, the Department of Defense will continue to modernize the Joint Force and out-innovate our competitors.  Secretary Austin concludes the message by expressing his thanks and appreciation to all members of the Department of Defense for what they do every day to meet our sacred obligation to defend the American people.

Separately, as announced earlier this week, Secretary Austin will depart this weekend on a planned multi-day visit to the Middle East region with locations that include Jordan, Egypt and Israel.  The Secretary is looking forward to his discussions with leaders in the region which are intended to support and strengthen our partnerships and enhance cooperation.

In other news, the Secretary will attend the Medal of Honor ceremony tomorrow for retired Army Colonel Paris Davis for his acts of bravery as a commander during the Vietnam War.  President Biden will present the award to Colonel Davis during a ceremony at the White House.

Colonel Davis commanded American Special Forces, as well as an inexperienced South Vietnamese company against a large North Vietnamese force June 17 — June 17th through 18th, 1965.  The Medal of Honor event will take place at 11:30 A.M. at the White House, and the Army will subsequently conduct a Hall of Heroes induction ceremony on March 6th at 10:00 A.M. in the Pentagon auditorium with remarks by the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Army.

Finally, Army leadership will unveil the Army's brand-new — the new brand campaign, rather, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 8 from 9:00 to 9:45 A.M. Eastern time in support of service recruiting and retention efforts.  Afterwards, Army senior leaders will participate in an on-camera media event from 9:45 to 10:15 A.M.  The event will feature soldiers from the campaign, the celebrity narrator of the brand campaign films and other Army staff central to the new brand, all of whom will be available for interviews.  Transportation to the event will be provided to members of the Pentagon Press Corps departing from the River Entrance at 8:00 A.M., and will return immediately following the event, and a bus will be available for all Pentagon Press Corps.  Please contact Army Media Relations for additional information.

And with that, we'll get to your questions.  We'll start with Lita, A.P.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Does the U.S. believe that Ukraine is responsible for any of the recent over-border-into-Russia skirmishes, including in the Bryansk region, as well as some of the drone attacks last week?  And if not, who does the U.S. believe is responsible for these attacks?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so seen the press reports.  In terms of Ukrainian operations, I'd — I'd refer you to them to talk about their operations.

Q:  Does the U.S. believe that anyone other than Ukraine is doing them?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'd refer you to Ukraine to talk about their operations.

Q:  Have you...

GEN. RYDER:  I can't — I cannot corroborate those reports in terms of — of what we see in the press, but yeah.

Q:  Have you seen any indications that Russia is doing it themselves?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I — I don't have any information to corroborate either way on that.  Thank you.

Go over here.  (inaudible)?

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Last — thank you.  Last week, the independent commission on suicide released its recommendations, and part of those recommendations were strict — more restrictions on the purchase and the storage of firearms on base.  Does the Secretary plan on implementing those recommendations?

GEN. RYDER:  So we're reviewing all of the recommendations that were provided.  I don't have anything to announce today in terms of what specific steps we may take.  But again, one — once we do get to the point of announcing those, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop.

Q:  Can you give us any sense of the timeline for a decision, or maybe an announcement?

GEN. RYDER:  I can't at this point.  Thank you.

Go to Janne, and then (inaudible).

Q:  Thank you, General.  I have two questions.  Do United States is discussing with South Korea to purchase additional ammunition from South Korea.  Are there any other weapons purchases beside ammunitions?

GEN. RYDER:  So Janne, I — I don't have anything new to announce beyond what we've talked about previously.  As you know, the United States has been discussing with South Korea the — the possibility of purchasing ammunition from industry, from South Korean industry, but beyond that, I don't have anything new to — to provide.

Q:  On North Korea, you have probably seen this report too, that the North Korea has announced it is ready to target USFK bases in major city in South Korea.  What is the — Secretary Austin's reaction on this?

GEN. RYDER:  Let me just make sure I understand your question.  You're saying that North Korea has said they're going to target USFK bases?

Q:  Yes.

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I — you know, I have not seen that — those reports.  We've been very clear that we will continue to work closely with the Republic of Korea and our partners and allies in the region to safeguard not only the — South Korea, but our — our own forces, as well as allies and our — and our partners in the region.

You know, I think we've been very clear that any type of provocative reaction or action will be dealt with appropriately and we'll stay in close consultation, again, with our allies and partners on that.

Q:  Because recently, North Korea launched the Hwasong ICBM and also another very — the — dangerous rockets launched (inaudible).  After that, they announced that the — they — they will target the — four different U.S. bases (targets ?).  So I'll hope you...

GEN. RYDER:  Again, the — that type of rhetoric is irresponsible, destabilizing, but again, our focus is on preserving a peaceful, secure and stable Indo-Pacific region and we'll continue to work closely with our allies and partners toward that end.

Let me go to Fadi.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you, General.  Thanks.  I have two separate questions.  The — so the first one on the trip to — specifically the — by the Secretary to — to Israel, he's considering the — the current tension, security situation, calls by Israeli Cabinet member to wipe out Palestinian village, the — increasing in raids in different occupied Palestinian areas.  How does the Secretary feel about the situation and does he have a specific message to deliver to your Israeli allies?

And then on the — the previous questions on — on the Ukrainian attacks across the border, especially in Belarus, I mean, tracking the weapons shipments to Ukraine is — is an issue here in the U.S.  Are you able to say whether or not U.S.-made drones or U.S.-provided drones were used in the reported attack inside of Belarus?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Fadi.  So — so on your first question, a couple of things.  As you know, Secretary Austin spoke to his Israeli counterpart on — recently, February 24th, and during that discussion underscored not only our steadfast commitment to Israel's security and its right to defend itself from terrorism but also the importance and encouragement of the deescalation of tensions in — in the West Bank.

And so really, from a U.S. standpoint, that is our focus right now, is continuing to work with Israel, the Palestinians, and regional partners to deescalate those tensions and restore calm in the region.  After our visit, I'm — I'm sure we'll have a readout to provide with more details.

In terms of your — your questions about Ukraine and the, you know, alleged or reported drone strikes, a couple of things.  I have seen some press reporting from Russian officials, first of all, alleging that the U.S. was somehow providing information to enable these types of attacks.  What I would tell you first of all is, again, I don't have any information in regards to whether or not the Ukrainians have conducted these type of operations.  I'd refer you to them.

I can say definitively that the notion of the U.S. providing intelligence or information to the Ukrainians to target locations inside Russia is nonsense.  We are not at war with Russia, nor do we seek war with Russia.  Our focus is purely on supporting Ukraine to defend itself.  And so that's what we'll continue to do.

As you've heard us say before, we are regularly consulting with the Ukrainians on the appropriate use of the equipment that we provide to them, and all indications are that they continue to stay very focused on defending their homeland and fighting within Ukraine.  So I'll just leave it at that.

OK, Chris?

Q:  Thank you, (General ?).  Earlier this week, two commanders and four others at Minot Air Force Base were relieved of — of their duties due to concerns about their ability to complete their task of safely securing the nation's nuclear arsenal.  Is the Secretary aware of this?  And does the department plan to conduct any broader review of the nation's nuclear forces to ensure that there are no other issues across the force?

GEN. RYDER:  So certainly the Secretary monitors all matters as it relates to the strategic forces of the United States.  You know, in — in terms of that particular situation, I — I'd refer you back to the Air Force to talk to the administrative reasons behind those actions.

Broadly speaking, the Secretary remains absolutely, 100 percent confident in our nuclear forces and capabilities.  And so I'll just leave it there.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Kasim?

Q:  General, on the strikes inside Belarus — so in — from the podium, we have heard you saying several times that you are giving the arms to Ukraine to — to defend it — Ukrainian territories, and apparently, this is in — out (of ?) the Ukrainian territories.  Is there any investigation by the United States to see if those capabilities used in Belarus are, you know, U.S. or not?

GEN. RYDER:  Kasim, so we've talked about our end use monitoring.  Again, we're very confident in the procedures and processes that we've put in place to track and manage those things.  Again, I'm not going to talk about investigations about alleged activities that may or may not have happened in Belarus or other locations.  Again, our focus is on giving Ukraine the capabilities that they need to fight inside Ukraine to defend their sovereign territory.  Thank you.

Q:  And also, on — there — there is a IAA report about Iran that Iran has enriched uranium up to 83.7 percent of purity.  We — we see that the talks have stalled in Vienna.  Is there — is there — are there any military options on table currently as Iran continues to — to enrich uranium?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I don't — I don't have anything to talk to specifically.  As you know, we are a planning organization.  We take into account a — a wide variety of situations.  But I think right now, what — what you're seeing is a — a — more of an emphasis on the diplomatic side of things.

Of course, our presence in the region, our continuing to work with — with our partners and our allies in the region to deter aggression will continue, but again, I don't have any specific military actions or options that I would speculate on or talk about.  So thank you.

Let me go to Ryo.

Q:  Thank you very much for taking my question.  I want to ask you about the South China Sea.  There is a (reporting ?) that the U.S., Philippines, Japan, and Australia are planning a joint patrol in the South China Sea.  So is this something the Pentagon is planning with allies in the region?  And is this a response to China recently directing military-grade laser at the Philippine vessel?

GEN. RYDER:  I'll come back to your second question cause I want to make sure I — I fully understand.

On — on your first question in regards to joint patrols, I don't have any specific joint patrols to announce.  I — I will say that we are heartened by the discussions that Manila is having with two of our closest allies in the region — Australia and Japan — on — on the topic of combined operational activities in the maritime domain.

And so we're committed to expanding cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with — with allies, to include the Philippines, Australia and Japan, that share our — our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And then on your second question, I'm sorry?

Q:  My second question was whether or not this potential joint patrol is a response to China recently directing a military-grade laser at — at a Philippine vessel?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, nothing to announce on that.  I would say broadly speaking, Ryo, our activities in the region contribute to what we've talked about many times before, which is ensuring the security, stability, peace throughout the region and working with our allies and partners to ensure that countries can continue to sail the international seas, fly the international airways and operate anywhere that international law allows.  Thank you.

All right, let me go back here and then we'll come back over here.

Q:  Thank you so much.  My question is about China's invasion of Taiwan.  On Tuesday at the House Service Committee hearing, Under Secretary Colin Kahl said he doesn't believe China will be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027.  Is that a shared view in the Pentagon?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I think Dr. Kahl's comments, as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, speak for themselves.  So, I won't have anything to add beyond what he provided.

Q:  And (inaudible) today Senator Don Sullivan after (inaudible), he said many of the Biden administration officials, including Secretary Austin, agreed that there is an imminent threat that China might invade Taiwan by 2027.  That's INDOPACOM Commander Davidson said two years ago.  Do you have a response to that?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm sorry, I couldn't hear.  Are you saying that Secretary Austin thinks that there's an imminent threat of an invasion of Taiwan?

Q:  Yes, so Senator said so, but I understand Secretary Austin didn't say so, but do you have...

GEN. RYDER:  Right.  He did not say.  He's been on the record, just very recently saying, again, he does not see an imminent threat of invasion by China of Taiwan.  But again, we're going to stay focused on supporting our allies and our partners in the region to deter aggression and preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific and peace and security and stability in the region.  Thank you.

OK, let me go back over here.

Q:  Thank you, General.  I would like — I have two questions.  One of them I follow with my colleagues.  Chinese officials today said that they oppose the recent U.S. approval of $619 million in military aids to Taiwan, saying that it violates the self-ruled island on the rising tensions in the region.  How do you respond on that?  And do you have any concerns about any military escalation could be happening in the area?

GEN. RYDER:  Well so, first of all, the United States' support to Taiwan in self-defense capabilities contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.  And, of course, this is all in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.  And as you highlight, this week the Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered Congressional notification on the possible sales of F-16 munitions and related equipment to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative office, but I'd refer you to State Department for further details on that.

Q:  My second question, today there is a meeting held between Secretary Blinken with his Russian counterpart.  Is there any planning in the near future that maybe Secretary Austin held the same meeting with his Russian counterpart?  Is there any planning for that?  And how much do you believe these kinds of meetings or communications are necessary, especially in this time?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so I don't — I don't have anything to announce in regards to any types of meetings or phone calls at this time.  Secretary Austin has been very clear that he is always open to communication and believes it's extremely important, particularly for nuclear-armed nations to be able to maintain open lines of communication to reduce the risk of miscalculation.  Thank you.

Let me go to Jim and then we'll go back to Peter.

Q:  Thanks for doing this, General.  Just going back to Ryo's question, if I might — or both Ryo's question, actually.  The incidents with that China is doing these unsafe activities, are they becoming more brazen, more dangerous?  And are they happening more often?  What's the trend?  What do you see in that?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Jim.  There has been an uptick in terms of particularly when it comes to air of these types of activities.  Secretary Austin personally spoke to his counterpart back in November, when we were in Cambodia, on this topic.  But again, what you're seeing here is a broader pattern of activities that represent not only unprofessional behavior but also encroachment, coersion and a lack of transparency that's problematic.

And so, again, we're not seeking any type of conflict with China.  But we do want to ensure that, as I highlighted before, that nations can continue to have faith in their sovereign borders, that they can sail in international waters, fly in international skies and operate wherever international law allows.  Thank you.

Go back to Peter.

Q:  Hey, thanks very much.   Can you give us just an update of the battlefield situation in Ukraine, particularly morale on both sides, territorial gains and losses?  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Peter.  So, I'm not going to provide an operational update, per se, from the podium here.  What I can say, broadly speaking, is we continue to see intense fighting near Bakhmut.  Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries continue to press their attacks around Bakhmut.  And Ukrainian forces continue to hold the line there.  It remains a very fluid situation, so we're continuing to monitor that very closely.  Thank you.

All right, over here and then over here.

Q:  Yes, I have a question about China.  So, Blinken has stated that they have probably sent non-lethal aid over there, which for dual use of some of it.  Does non-lethal dual use also mean drones that you could buy off the Internet, such as the DJ1, I believe that China has?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so in terms of Secretary Blinken's comments, I'd have to refer you back to him for further clarification on that.

Q:  Do you believe that they've sent already non-lethal aid over there?

GEN. RYDER:  You said that Secretary Blinken said that they...

Q:  Well, I'm asking you.  Do you think that they've already sent non-lethal?

GEN. RYDER:  We do know that China and Russia share an economic relationship.  So again, I don't have any specifics to provide in terms of the types of trade activity that they may or may not be participating in.  Our focus, as we talked about earlier this week, is on preventing lethal aid from being delivered to Russia that could be used in the — in the fight in Ukraine to kill Ukrainians.

Q:  And so, does dual use can that also mean non-lethal drones that we can purchase off the Internet?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to speculate about what it — what it may or may not mean.  Thank you.

I'll go back over here.

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  This is about Ukraine.  The Ukrainians have been asking for class (three ?) munition, but the use of such munitions would be very controversial.  Is it something that DOD or U.S. would consider seriously?  Or do you rule out immediately to provide...

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so in terms of munitions, again, I'm not going to speculate about what we may or may not provide.  We work very closely with the Ukrainians and our allies and partners to assess — to get Ukraine's feedback on what it is they need and then go through a very rigorous process in terms of ensuring that we're able to provide what — what we can as quickly as we can but I — I don't have anything to announce regarding the potential use of cluster munitions.

Thank you. All right, we got time for one more question. Let me get back here.

Q:  Thank you, (senior ?). Let me just ask one follow up on — about the remarks by the UnderSecretary Kahl. After last year, several U.S. military leaderships warned more urgent risks of Chinese invasion to Taiwan. But what caused this recent change in the statement of the seniors of DOD?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm just — let me make sure I understand your — you said that who changed?

Q:  No, is there any change of the like assessment or the analysis about the potential risk of the, you know, Chinese invasion to Taiwan recently?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, from a Department of Defense standpoint I think we've been very consistent. Obviously it's something that we take very seriously, as I highlighted in — in my opening comments, the Secretary's message to the force and the national defense strategy make it clear that China remains our pacing challenge.

Again, right now we don't believe that an invasion is imminent of Taiwan. But again, we're going to continue to work very closely with our allies and our partners in the region to deter potential aggression. And — and where we are vested in the status quo to preserve the peace that's been there for — for a very long time.

Thank you. OK. Ladies and gentlemen, that's all the time we've got. Appreciate it. Thank you very much.