BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everybody. Just a few things to pass along here and then we'll get right to your questions.
Today, Secretary Austin is directing multiple immediate actions following the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee's recommendations and establishing a Suicide Prevention Implementation Working Group. The department continues to recognize the importance of addressing and preventing suicide within the military ranks.
Immediate action is to be taken stemming from the committee's recommendations focused on improving access to mental healthcare through initiatives such as expediting hiring for behavioral health professionals, expanding opportunities to treat common mental health conditions and primary care, and improve utilization of behavioral health technicians.
These actions aim to strengthen the wellbeing and support available to our service members worldwide. Notably, Secretary Austin has also directed the working group to give full consideration to all of the other recommendations provided by the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, and the implementation Working Group will provide him with their own subsequent recommendations on the feasibility and impact of each one of the implementation -- in an implementation plan, excuse me, due to the Secretary by June 2nd.
While we recognize that suicide has no single cause and that no single preventative action, treatment or cure will eliminate suicide altogether, we will exhaust every effort to promote the wellness, health and morale of our total force, be there for one another and save lives.
Additional information about DOD's Suicide Prevention Implementation Working Group and Secretary Austin's direction is now available on defense.gov.
Switching to the National Guard, Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Daniel Hokanson visited CENTCOM this week to formalize the Arizona National Guard's state partnership program relationship with the Sultanate of Oman.
General Hokanson was joined by Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, U.S. Ambassador Leslie Tsou, Arizona National Guard Adjutant General Major General Kerry Muehlenbeck, and a delegation of Arizona Guardsmen for a formal signing ceremony in Muscat, Oman.
The National Guard state partnership program, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer, has grown to 88 partnerships with 100 nations. Engagements between states and their international partners improve readiness and interoperability and contribute to security and stability around the world.
For more information about this new partnership or this state partnership program, I would encourage you to reach out to the National Guard Bureau.
Separately, in order to meet U.S. Army in Europe and Africa mission requirements, improved command and control capabilities and manage foreign, forward operating sites within the Republic of Poland, the U.S. Army will establish the U.S. Army Garrison Poland in March 2023.
Garrison is one of the enduring improvements to the DOD posture in Europe based on assessments from the 2021 Global Posture Review and consultations with NATO allies and announced by President Biden in June of 2022.
Joining the existing seven Installation Management Command Europe Garrisons, U.S. Army Garrison Poland will deliver quality base operations support, infrastructure and services to soldiers and civilians to enable U.S. Army in Europe and Africa Command readiness. The unit will be comprised of approximately 13 military personnel and 140 civilian personnel.
Installation Management Command Europe and U.S. Army Garrison Poland look forward to the continued strengthening of the bond between our military community and the host nation communities of Poland at the local, regional and national levels of the alliance.
For additional questions, I would refer you to the U.S. Army.
And finally, yesterday, Secretary Austin and General Milley hosted the 10th session of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, where 50 nations of goodwill participated from all over the world. This showed the continued commitment that is indicative of the strong unity and resolve of the international community to support Ukraine in their fight to defend themselves and their sovereignty from Russian aggression. As Secretary Austin and other U.S. leaders have said, we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.
And with that, I will take your questions. We'll go first to AP, Tara Copp.
Q: Hi, thank you for doing this. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about why the Pentagon decided to declassify the video of the drone and whether or not releasing it, you know, increased the risk of Russia framing this conflict instead of being a conflict between Russia and Ukraine but be -- be -- being between Russia and the West?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tara. So first of all, it's not unusual for us to release imagery of unsafe, unprofessional incidents. We've done that in other situations. And so particularly in this case, given the reckless and dangerous behavior and to demonstrate publicly what type of actions the Russians had taken, we felt that it was important to provide this imagery.
Certainly, there are certain considerations that we have to take into account when dealing with imagery, to include the classification, to ensure that we're not inadvertently putting out sensitive information, but in this case, we were able to -- to work through that and provide that.
As far as, you know, Russian perceptions, again, I think it's important to take a step back and look at the big picture here. The United States focus in the region, the focus with Ukraine, is solely on providing Ukraine with the support that it needs to defend itself. You've heard us say before that Ukraine has a right to defend itself and we have a right to help them alongside the international community to do that.
So -- so the United States does not seek conflict with Russia, we do not seek escalation with Russia, and so we're going to continue to stay focused on our primary mission in the Ukraine area, which is supporting Ukraine in its fight.
Q: And did declassifying the video and releasing it -- you know, Russia has suggested that it didn't show the actual contact. How does this really just counter that narrative and show that this happened the way that the Pentagon has said it has?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well, I -- I think that our words and our actions speak for themselves, and similarly, Russia's inaccurate information, false information, obfuscation, grasping at straws, changing narratives also speaks for itself.
So, we're going to stay focused on the facts and we're going to stay focused on our mission.
Let me go to the next question. Liz?
Q: Thank you, Pat. I have two questions. The first part of my questions are did the U.S. ask for an apology from Russia on taking down the drone? And did Russia offer an apology?
GEN. RYDER: No, we did not ask for an apology. Again, our focus was on highlighting the fact, as we've made very clear publicly and privately, that the United States will continue to fly and operate in international airspace, in accordance with international law.
Q: Thank you. And my second part is it's come out that Russian officials ordered the pilots to be aggressive towards the drone, and today, the CENTCOM Commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he's seen increased Russian aggression in the Middle East. Is this something that the U.S. is concerned about? Does the U.S. have any promises that Russia will decrease its -- its aggression?
GEN. RYDER: So, Liz, what I would tell you is that, again, our focus is on conducting our operations in support of our national security interests, our -- our allies and our partners around the world. Ultimately, the Russian military and the Russian government is responsible for its own behavior, and when that behavior's unsafe and unprofessional, we're going to call it out, as we've done in this case.
And so that will continue to be our focus. You've heard Secretary Austin, you've heard General Hecker in Europe, and others call on the Russians to be safe and professional in conducting their operations, and that would be the expectation going forward. Thank you.
Q: So, Secretary Austin has said that the U.S. will continue to operate -- to fly wherever international law allows them. In light of that, has the U.S. operated MQ-9s over the Black Sea since -- since the collision and -- and crash?
GEN. RYDER: So, I'm not going to get into talking about specific missions, routes, timelines of operations. I think Secretary Austin was pretty clear that we're going to continue to fly and operate in international airspace where international law allows, and that includes the Black Sea region. Thank you.
Q: Thanks, Pat. I had a couple questions about the Suicide Working Group. I think I heard you say that the secretary is immediately implementing some of the recommendations, but the working group is going to be looking at the other recommendations. I just wanted to confirm whether the recommendation for new restrictions on the purchase and storage of personal firearms on base is included in the first tranche, or if the working group is still considering that.
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Travis. That'll be something that the working group will examine in further detail and come back to the secretary with -- with their assessment and their recommendation.
Q: And if I could just follow up, on the recommendations that the secretary did decide to implement, why did he choose those specific recommendations?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So those -- those recommendations are -- are primarily focused on behavioral and mental health. There are areas where the department already has the authorities necessary to take immediate action, and -- and so that was the primary driver, was of those recommendations, what are the things that we can move on right now that will make a difference for our servicemembers? Thank you.
Let me go over here to Ryo, and then I'll come over here to Chris.
Q: Thank you, General. Two questions. First, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida met with South Korean President Yoon today in Tokyo and agreed to normalize the bilateral relations. How much do you expect the improvement over the bilateral relations will benefit to the Pentagon to address challenges posed by China and North Korea?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well, thanks for the question, Ryo. What I would tell you is that we certainly welcome the discussions. Anything that is going to help strengthen our alliance -- as you know, Japan and South Korea are two of our strongest allies, and so we welcome any opportunity for us to strengthen our unity and to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Q: Secondly, there is a growing number of North -- North Korea missile launches, including the one that including ICBM that they launched yesterday. Are you concerned that this high frequency of -- of their missile launches will be a new normal that we have to live with for a while?
GEN. RYDER: Well again, I think the -- the overarching important aspect of all of this is that the United States, along with South Korea, Japan and our other allies and partners in the region will continue to work together to ensure stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region, to include addressing the destabilizing activities of North Korea. And so we're going to continue to keep a close eye on that. I think at the end of the day, we -- we all want to see a region that is stable, that is secure, that is safe, and that will be our focus. North Korea clearly is concerning in that regard, but it's something that we're going to continue to work on together and to deter potential aggression. Thank you.
Let me go to Chris, and then we'll come back here.
Q: Thanks, Pat. Yesterday, Chairman Milley said the U.S. was confident no sensitive material was compromised in the drone incident. What does that mean? Was the drone remotely wiped? Was there a self-destruct mechanism? Was it crashed in such a way that it would obliterate any material that could be recovered?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. So -- so a couple things. So, first of all, we do have indications that -- and -- and I think you've seen some reporting on this. We do have indications that Russia's likely making an effort to try to recover MQ-9 debris. As you point out and as General Milley highlighted, however, we assess it's very unlikely that they would be able to recover anything useful, given a couple of factors: One, the fact -- and I -- and I'm not going to go into details, but that we took steps to protect information aboard that aircraft; and two, the fact that it crashed in extremely deep water. And so, you know, I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Does the U.S. view the -- an MQ-9 as a particularly sensitive platform, or is...?
GEN. RYDER: Well, the -- the key point here is, is this is U.S. property and it's an intelligence surveillance reconnaissance asset. And so again, we have capabilities and means at our disposal to protect and safeguard information, of which we have taken. But I'll just -- I have to leave it there, so...
Let me go here, and then I'll come back there, and then to (Kasim ?). To the middle, yes. Yes, ma'am. Yeah, right in front of you there, if you could hand her the microphone. There you go. Thank you. We're about a month and a half out, I think, from the -- the new briefing room, or getting back, so...
Q: Ok, so yesterday, General Milley stated Russia is increasingly relying on other countries such as Iran and North Korea. Is North Korea still supplying munitions to Russia? Have we seen anything?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thank you for that. So, I don't have any updates to provide other than we do know, as you highlight, that Russia continues to -- to seek munitions from countries like North Korea, but I don't have any new updates to provide in terms of any specific transactions.
Q: So, is they seek, just look for, or are they actually supplying?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I think we've talked about before we had evidence of Wagner Group obtaining some munitions from North Korea. We know that Russia is seeking additional ammunition from North Korea and Iran. But again, I don't have any details to provide today.
Q: And then my second one, is China getting closer to sending lethal aid to Russia? Have you seen any final decisions, evidence of actual shipments?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so at this time, we have not seen the transfer yet of any lethal assistance from China to Russia for use on the battlefield. It's something that we're keeping a very close eye on. I know there's some press reports out there talking about some trade deals. That in and of itself is not unusual. China and Russia share a trade relationship, but the key point being, is that as of right now, we've not seen any lethal assistance transferring from China to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Q: Are they still sending, like, imagery, things that can help the Wagner Group or Russia?
GEN. RYDER: I don't -- I don't have anything on that. Thanks.
All right, let me -- I was going to go back to the middle there. This gentleman, he's been very patient, and then to Kasim.
Q: Thank you, Pat. Today, the Senate votes to proceed with the repeal of the authorization for the using force against Iraq. To what extent do you agree would this Congress members that are supporting to end this act? And how this act affects your capability to face and respond the threats that comes from ISIS, and also, the other terrorist groups in the future to your forces in Iraq, and also your partners in Iraq?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thank you. So what I -- what I would say right now is I -- I don't want to get into -- into a discussion about or comment on pending, potential legislation other than to say that as always, we'll work very closely with the Congress to ensure that we continue to conduct our operations in accordance with law. Thank you.
Q: There are some concerns that if they -- if this act will end it in the Congress or amend it, there are some members of the Congress says that this will affect the U.S. capability to face the threats that comes from Iran. That's why they are not supporting to ending this act for now.
GEN. RYDER: Yes. No, and I appreciate the question. But, you know, we'll allow, obviously, the Congress to do its work. It just would be inappropriate for me to engage in the legislative debate. Of course, the department will stay in close contact with the Congress, as one would expect. And, you know, we'll continue to be a part of those discussions. Thank you.
Let me go to …
Q: Thanks, General. I have a follow-up and then I have a separate topic. On the drone issue, you said Russians are making efforts to recover the MQ-9. So, Russians initially aggressively moved over to a U.S. capability and downed it and are now making efforts to recover it. And then what we hear from this department is quite a soft expression of concern. I -- we even -- we haven't heard you condemning the Russians and just saying that's it's unsafe, unprofessional. What are we missing there?
GEN. RYDER: Kasim, I'm not sure what your -- your question is. I think we were pretty vocal that the conduct of the pilots was unsafe and unprofessional. It was reckless. It was dangerous. Secretary Austin spoke to his counterpart, General Milley spoke to his counterpart. Again, I highlighted at the top that our focus is on conducting our missions in the region in international airspace. We're focused on protecting and defending the NATO alliance and also on supporting Ukraine in its -
GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to -- I'll let you put words to it, Kasim. Of course, we have highlighted that it is an unacceptable act. But if you -- if you're looking for a hyperbole, I will leave that to you. OK.
Q: And -
GEN. RYDER: Yes, (inaudible)?
Q: A separate question. Sorry, General. Today a helicopter, a mysterious helicopter was crashed -- crashed in Northern Iraq and it came out that it was carrying PKK elements. My question is, does the United States provide helicopter piloting training to SDF partners in Syria or not?
GEN. RYDER: I -- not to my knowledge. No. We do not. Thank you. Fadi?
Q: Thank you, General. Just want to follow up on the drone issue incident. So, first question, yesterday the last assessment we heard is it's not clear whether this collision was intentional or not.
Do you have an update on the -- on this assessment, whether the Russians did this on purpose? And the second question is, the indications that the Russian might be trying to recover some of the debris, you talked about deep water in the Black Sea. But are you ruling out maybe the Russians being able to use some technology or divers to be able to recover the debris? Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thank you. So, on the latter part of your question, I don't want to speculate, again, this is U.S. property, but it's our assessment, again, that it is very highly unlikely that even if they were to recover it that there would be anything useful in that regard.
In terms of was this intentional, I'll tell you what we know and what we don't know. We do know that this aggressive behavior was intentional by -- on the part of the pilots. Whether or not they hit the drone on purpose we don't know. But it clearly demonstrates either poor airmanship or reckless behavior, because just from an airman standpoint, why would you hit another aircraft with your aircraft in the sky.
And so, again, reckless, dangerous, unsafe, unprofessional behavior, which is why, again, we have called on the Russians to conduct their operations safely and professionally. Thank you.
Come back here.
Hi. Let me go here. Sorry, Joe. We'll go here and then we'll go here.
Q: Thanks, General. I have two questions. First questions, Senator Mitt Romney on the (inaudible), have they introduced their bipartisan legislation that would direct the administration to develop a strategy toward the Black Sea region. So, do you believe, General, that the recent strategy need to be developed or more be specific?
GEN. RYDER: Thank you for the question. So, we would -- we would need to take a look at that. I don't have that in front of us. You know, clearly, we have a force presence around the world and take into account under the National Defense Strategy why we're operating, where we're operating.
I can tell you that when it comes to the Black Sea, it is a critical international seaway that supports many of our NATO allies. And so, we're going to continue to operate over that area for the reasons that I highlighted, in support of our NATO alliance and also as we conduct ISR operations in there as part of our national security interest. Thank you.
Q: And, military officials are saying that they see Russia increasing its marine presence in the Black Sea. What will be your reaction? Is it need to be there and a higher up tempo as well? Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: I really don't have a comment on that. It's not surprising that Russia maintains a presence in the Black Sea. They have for some time. But I don't have any specific comment to provide on Ukraine's assessment.
Let me go to Joe.
Q: Hi, thanks so much. At the risk of splitting hairs on the AUMF question, could I ask, what is the secretary's position (technical difficulty) on Capitol Hill? What's his position on repeal?
GEN. RYDER: Again, without getting into the pending legislation, the secretary is certainly supportive of any discussions that Congress would have on the AUMF. Thank you.
I'll go to Ryo. Yes?
Q: Thank you so much, General. I have follow-up question on North Korea. Why U.S. and ROK conduct military exercise, North Korea react harshly and launched an ICBM yesterday. How do you think U.S. ROK bilateral cooperation and U.S ROK Japan's trilateral security cooperation can work to deter North Korea's further provocation?
GEN. RYDER: OK. Let just make sure I understand. So, you're asking, in light of North Korea's provocations, how can a Japan, South Korea, U.S. alliance exercises work? Is that -- is that what you're -
Q: Yes. So, North Korea reacts to the U.S. ROK's military exercise. So, how is that kind of security cooperation can ROK do to deter North Korea?
GEN. RYDER: Right. So, I think again, it's important to just kind of take a step back here and the exercises that the United States conducts with Japan and with South Korea are defensive in nature and meant to bolster our interoperability and meant to deter potential aggression in the region. And so, that's first and foremost.
And so, in terms of North Korea's reactions to these types of exercises, as you heard me say before, not only is it inappropriate, it's destabilizing and concerning, clearly, to those in the region. But I think what's important for people to understand is, one, deterrence continues to work despite launching missiles into the ocean, North Korea is not attacking and nor should they -- and that the United States, Japan, South Korea and other allies and partners in the region will continue to work together to extend that deterrence and to keep our countries safe, again, with the ultimate objective here being a secure, safe, prosperous, free and open Indo-Pacific region. Thank you.
Q: Thanks. Back to the MQ-9, is there any indication that the Russians have already picked up debris from the area?
GEN. RYDER: I've seen some press reports to that effect but I can't corroborate any information, whether they have or have not.
Q: And then separately, have the -- have allies offered to send units to help with the recovery efforts?
GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to announce, Mosheh, I'd -- I'd allow our allies to -- to speak for themselves in that regard. In terms of U.S. recovery operations, as -- as you've heard us say, we're assessing options but I don't have anything further on that right at the moment.
Q: And then one more really quick -- has the U.S. requested to transfer through the Bosphorus Strait?
GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge. Yep.
Matt? Time for a few more here.
Q: Thank you, Pat. On that wreckage, has the U.S. or will the U.S. make any requests of the Russians that if they're able to salvage any significant portions of the MQ-9 that it be returned as a matter of good faith? And has there been any discussions of recompense, given that this is a quite expensive piece of equipment?
GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge.
Q: OK. Secondly, General Milley yesterday talked about this incident as part of a wider pattern of behavior by Russia. Is there any indication that you see that this incident and others like it are coming from a standing order or being encouraged in any way from high levels of the Russian government?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Matt. So -- so the short answer is I -- I don't know. You know, clearly, as -- as General Milley highlighted, we've seen an uptick in this type of aggressive behavior but whether or not this is a coordinated effort, I -- I couldn't tell you.
What I can tell you is that it's wholly inappropriate, it's unsafe and it's unprofessional. The stakes are high. This is why it's important to keep the lines of communication open, to prevent potential miscalculation, and we'll certainly do our part in that regard to continue to fly, sail and operate safely and professionally around the world. Thank you.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: All right. OK, last question -- two more? Let -- yep, go ahead, sir.
Q: Thank you, General. I'm Taro from Nippon TV.
So yesterday, North Korea launched intercontinental ballistic missiles and each flew higher than 6,000 meter for about 70 minutes. So does DOD think any evolution of this kind of technology?
GEN. RYDER: Again, it's something that -- that we obviously observe. Every time North Korea conducts a launch, we closely observe it, monitor it, but I'm not going to get into the specifics on -- on their capabilities or talk about our assessment of those capabilities. Thank you.
And last question? Yes, ma'am?
Q: Thank you. In recent weeks, Republican Congress members have stepped up criticism, if you will, at the Pentagon about -- about wokeness and pressed senior DOD officials over things like pronoun training, saying a hyper-political culture has invaded the military. Does the Secretary of Defense have -- have a response to this? And are there any plans to address these concerns?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so -- so I'm not going to get into what individual political members, members of Congress, those running for office are -- are saying. I'll just give you the perspective of the department, and the -- and the perspective of the department is that today's military is the most combat-credible, capable force that has ever existed on the planet.
Every single day, we have thousands of our military members around the world conducting operations, very important operations in very dangerous places doing incredibly important work, which speaks for itself. And so as a 30 year member of the military, I can tell you that we are very proud of what we do and how we present ourselves and how we defend this nation, and I -- and I think I speak for a lot of others in that regard.
Thank you very much, everybody, appreciate it.