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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder 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.

So first, I would like to underscore Secretary Austin's appreciation and thanks to our service members for their extraordinary work in close coordination with the State Department to help safely evacuate U.S. government personnel out of Sudan over the weekend. As he highlighted in his statement regarding the operation, U.S. forces carried out this mission with precision and professionalism. Secretary Austin also expressed his thanks to our allies and partners, to include Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, who were critical to the success of this operation.

In terms of next steps, U.S. Africa Command and the Department of Defense continue to work closely with State Department, which has the lead for helping American citizens wishing to depart Sudan. Those efforts include providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to observe potential land routes out of Sudan and detect threats and positioning naval assets off the coast of Sudan, should they be needed. In addition, Africa Command has established a deconfliction cell at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, which helps to enable good communication among our allies and partners.

Secretary Austin continues to convene daily meetings with AFRICOM, Joint Staff and other key DOD officials on the situation in Sudan, and has committed the department to fully support State Department's ongoing efforts.

Turning to other updates, the department continues to actively conduct the secretary of defense-directed comprehensive review of DOD security programs, policies and procedures in the wake of recent unauthorized disclosure of documents. Toward that end, the DOD chief information officer issued a memo today that provides implementing guidance to the DOD components on validating their compliance with cyber-security controls in all systems and networks, focusing on access control, auditing capabilities and user activity monitoring. We will post a copy of the memo to later today. And as we've made very clear, Secretary Austin and the DOD are taking this unauthorized disclosure of documents very seriously and will continue to do so.

Separately, the secretary concluded a very successful trip last week to Sweden, where he met with his counterpart to discuss security-related topics shared by our two nations. During the visit, he emphasized U.S. support for Sweden's bid to join NATO and that we look forward to them soon becoming the 32nd member of the alliance.

From there, the secretary and General Milley hosted the 11th Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, which continues to be an essential forum for identifying, synchronizing and ensuring the delivery of military capabilities the Ukrainians need to defend their homeland against Russian aggression.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll go ahead and go first to Reuters.

Q: You mentioned naval assets near Sudan. How many naval assets are there? And -- and what is the expectation that they would do? Would they go into port and help assist people coming out, or -- or what's the plan for that? And then I have a separate follow-up.

GEN. RYDER: Sure, thanks, Idrees. So right now, we've got the USS Truxtun, which is off the coast of Sudan near Port Sudan. It will stay there awaiting further orders, should it be needed to support. Also enroute is the USS Puller. So again, those capabilities will be there should we -- should we need to use them in support of State Department's efforts.

Q: And -- and on the evacuation, does the secretary believe that the State Department requested an evacuation in a timely manner, or does he believe that if a request was made sooner, potentially more Americans could have been moved out?

GEN. RYDER: So Idrees, the secretary has been following this situation very closely ever since violence broke out in Sudan. I can tell you that he has been engaged on this daily with the State Department and the interagency. And so again, we moved very quickly, professionally and precisely when called upon to do so. Thank you.


Q: Two questions related to Sudan. First on the ISR capabilities, is that supposed to be 24/7 monitoring? Is that only during the daytime? And -- and how long do you anticipate keeping up those capabilities? And then on the deconfliction cell you've set up in Stuttgart, is that in touch with either of the warring parties, either the Sudanese Armed Forces or the RSF, as well as partners and allies?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. On the ISR, it is 24/7 capability, and that, again, is enabling us to support State Department efforts in terms of keeping it -- maintaining an understanding of the situation on the ground in order to, for example, look at potential land routes out of Sudan.

And then in terms of the deconfliction cell, I would tell you largely speaking, USAFRICOM has been in contact with the generals, as have other senior DOD officials, for example, to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in terms of keeping lines of communication open. And so I -- I would imagine that AFRICOM will continue to do that as part of their efforts to obtain information and share information. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. Can you explain why the airfield where some of the other international military airlift planes are landing and -- and lifting off -- we got a report that the French had taken about 400 people out from this airfield -- why is the U.S. not sending in planes there to get Americans out?

GEN. RYDER: Okay, so taking a step back and looking at the operation that we conducted, again, we believe that, in our planning, we executed the operation in the safest, most effective way possible, in terms of evacuating U.S. government personnel.

You've heard State Department and the White House talk to the situation with Americans who may still be in Sudan who wish to leave. We're coordinating -- the State Department, I know -- and I'd -- I'd refer you to them for further details -- is making itself available to communicate with those Americans wishing to leave to find the best way possible for them to -- to get out of the country.

Again, from a DOD standpoint, we are a planning organization, we're going to continue to look at a variety of means and methods, should State Department call on us for support, and we'll continue to do that.

Q: But are you helping the other nations that are sending war planes in to lift their citizens out? Are you helping with that deconfliction? Are you helping them so that there aren't any...

GEN. RYDER: So our coordination cell out of AFRICOM is coordinating closely with allies and partners, in terms of sharing information and maintaining those open lines of communication as it relates to not only their own operations but also keeping them updated in terms of what the U.S. government is doing. Thank you.

Go to Tony.

Q: I had one Sudan and one Ukraine question.

The -- the extraction force from Saturday night, was that part of the standing organization that the Pentagon sent up after Benghazi, this quick reaction forces for the region to prevent what happened in 2012?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I don't want to get into the specific units, other than to say they were Special Operations Forces. As you know, we did move some military capabilities into the region last week to be ready should the order be given, which it was. And so I'll just leave it at that.

Q: Was that -- it was basically they were set -- they weren't part of the standing force that was in -- in place in Rota, Spain and then deployed to the region?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I would say we have capabilities already in the region that -- that obviously assisted with this effort but we did deploy additional capabilities from outside that area of responsibility to be able to be available for these operations.

Q: ... tanks? The Secretary on Friday said the first of the M1 tanks for training purposes is getting over to Ukraine fairly soon. Was that -- one of those tanks off of the Lima production line, one of the refurbished hulls? And when roughly may the rest of the tanks get over there? Has that timeline been accelerated?

GEN. RYDER: So -- so these tanks will be for training purposes only. These will not be the refurbished tanks that eventually go to Ukraine, and that is because those refurbished tanks are being produced to Ukraine's specifications and -- and they will be used in actual combat.

By providing these training tanks, which are not coming from the active Army stocks -- these are coming from other sources within the inventory -- to -- that -- that will enable us to do the training concurrent with the production of the tanks, which, again -- a refurbishment of the tanks, which, again, allows us to expedite the timeline so that they can be training on operations, on maintenance, on sustainment. Then, the two -- the -- the personnel will marry up with the tanks obviously before the end of the year for delivery to Ukraine.

Q: Could I ask one quick one on training? Will they be using distributed simulation from Fort Benning at the Army Armor School there, in terms of, you know, long-distance simulated training via VTC or -- to help -- help that along or is it basically on the ground training with drivers right there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so -- Tony, so I -- I -- I don't have an answer to that question right now. Certainly, in the days ahead, we'll -- we'll have more information. The training will take place at Grafenwoehr in Germany, and as you know, they use a variety of means to conduct that training.

The -- the training that they will be doing in Germany will be actually on the tanks. There'll be 31 of them -- 31 training tanks provided to Ukrainian personnel so that they can, again, train like they're going to fight. So thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. Just back on the naval capabilities, can you say -- I -- I -- you said the USS Truxtun and then I didn't catch the second one...

GEN. RYDER: ... USS Puller, P-U-L-L-E-R.

Q: ... and can you -- can you say what capabilities those will bring? Are they -- what types of fish -- of ships are they? Excuse me -- and then I will have a follow-up.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, the -- the Truxtun is a Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Again -- and the -- the idea here is to have these capabilities off-shore, available, should we need, for example, to transport citizens to another location, should we need to provide medical care, those kinds of things.

So again, positioning assets to be ready if asked and if needed. And so, you know, as we move forward, certainly if we are in a position to have to employ that capability, we'll keep you updated.

Q: And just as a follow-up, my understanding is the nearest amphibious ships are -- are pretty far away, there's none in the immediate vicinity. So are you going to be using destroyers in a humanitarian mission? And what kind of signal will that...

GEN. RYDER: I would look at it less as a destroyer and more as a floating ship -- you know, as a ship, a capability that comes with it a variety of -- of capabilities, to include transport, right? So again, right now, to our knowledge, we're not talking large numbers of Americans looking to come out of Sudan, but again, in the days ahead, we'll stay closely coordinated with the State Department -- they're in the lead -- and we'll be prepared to support them. Thank you.

Let me go to the back to Kasim here.

Q: General, two questions on Sudan.

Secretary Blinken today said the United States is going to facilitate American citizens to take part in the convoys traveling from Khartoum to -- to Port Sudan. Will the DOD in any way provide any kind of cover to the convoy? Because Blinken mentioned also some robberies and looting some of the convoys...

GEN. RYDER: Are you talking about the UN convoy?

Q: Yeah, UN convoys that -- which have...

GEN. RYDER: ... so to my knowledge, the UN convoy made it to Port Sudan. My understanding -- again, I'd refer you to the UN, but my understanding is they largely made it there without incident. We did provide ISR overwatch of that and -- so that's the extent of the support that we've provided.

Q: And also, at -- today at the State Department, during the press conference with Secretary Blinken, the Kenyan Foreign Minister mentioned some Middle -- Middle Eastern allies, partners, and also Russia specifically siding with parties to the war in Sudan. Did you have any visibility on what the Russians are doing in the war? Are they actively supporting any side in the war? And do you have any visibility into that?

GEN. RYDER: I really don't, so I'd have to refer you to the MOD. I have seen press reports about Wagner Group potentially reaching out to one -- to the RSF, but again, just press reports at this point. You've heard our State Department, you've heard our White House talk about the fact that we vehemently oppose any outside influences perpetuating the conflict, but again, I'd have to refer you to...

Q: ... a quick follow-up to -- to the other partner countries asking help from the DOD -- did any of the countries -- partner countries ask specifically U.S. military lift to -- to evacuate their -- their diplomats or their employees?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, when it -- when it comes to the evacuation of citizens from Sudan, I'd -- I'd refer you to State Department for that. Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q: Hi, sir. Just wanted to check, these -- I think both the secretary and the president thanked Saudi Arabia for their support in the operation, saying it was critical to the success of the evacuation. Just wondering if you can tell us what Saudi Arabia contributed?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, as I mentioned in -- an at the top, several countries were essential. I'm not going to speak for those countries, other than to say that the support that they provided was unique for each one, but, again, we're very grateful for the assistance that they provided. Thank you very much.

Let me go over to Chris. And then I'll go to Ryo.

This -- this Chris right here. There you go.

Q: Thanks...


GEN. RYDER: And then we'll get back to you.

Q: If I could follow up on you mentioned the ISR Overwatch. Were these manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft that you had up?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so these are unmanned aerial vehicles. I'm not going to get into the specifics of the type of platform other than say we're providing unmanned aerial vehicle overwatch.


GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: And supporting the operation presumably wasn't just the -- the hundred SOF forces, did you have any aircraft over the country then?

GEN. RYDER: Again, in terms -- you talking about in terms of the evacuation?

Q: In the -- during the evacuation, Saturday. 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I'm -- I'm not going to get into the specific force package. Clearly any time we conduct an operation like this we are going to take the capabilities we need to ensure that our forces are protected. But I'll just leave it at that for operation security risks. Thank you.

All right. Let me go to Ryo. And then Matt.

Q: Thank you very much. I want to ask you about Australia. Australia rolled out a new defense strategic review following Japan's release of national security documents in December. So is it fair to say the arms race in the past week region has become intensified as China continues to increase the military buildup? Is that the Pentagon's concern?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I'm sorry, Ryo, there is little bit of side noise there. Can you -- can you repeat that?

Q: Yes. Australia wrote out a new -- new defense -- defense strategic review.

GEN. RYDER: Mm-hmm.

Q: And Japan also wrote out national security document in December. So I wonder if the arms race is happening in the -- in the Pacific region, arms race has become intensified as China continues to increase their military build-up.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Well, I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth or, you know, answer a potentially leading question, let's just say if we step back and look at the situation in the Indo-Pacific, and the actions that China has taken in terms of military build-up, coercion, provocative behavior, I think what you are seeing are nations in the region, recognizing that that poses a challenge.

You have also heard us talk about the fact that our focus in terms of working with allies and partners is to preserve peace, stability, and freedom of navigation, freedom of maneuver in the region. And so that will continue to be our focus. I don't want to speak for other nations other than to say I think they also are recognizing the challenges that China is posing.

But for our part we'll continue to work closely with our allies and partners to again promote peace, stability, and freedom to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. Thank you. 

Let me go to Matt.

Q: Thanks, General. Just also wanted to follow up on the strategic review and the strategy. Is there anything in that review, if implemented, would change the way America operates in the Pacific? And also can I ask, one of the actions that the government of Australia will take is fast-tracking its own missile productions, and given America has its own bottlenecks and constraint -- supply chain constraints with missile production, would the Pentagon look favorably on Australia doing that?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much. So in terms of the -- the review itself, Matt, I'd -- I'd refer you to Australia to talk about its review and -- and what it can and can't do.

As far as the Department of Defense goes, you saw the statement that the secretary issued today -- very supportive of the -- the strategic review and so I'll -- I -- I think that speaks for itself.

In terms of your -- your second question, I'll have to take that and we'll -- we'll come back to you on that one. Thank you very much.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. Is the DOD in contact with either of these leaders in Sudan of this faction that are fighting? And if there is a contact with them, does that contact talking about the -- any evacuation may be in coming operations -- evacuations, or about the de-escalating in Sudan? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. So as I -- as I mentioned, yes, there has been DOD contact with both the -- the generals leading the Sudanese Armed Forces, as well as the RSF. I'm not going to get into the specifics of what those conversations entailed other than, again, to communicate our intent to evacuate our personnel, and also ensuring that we're -- ensuring situational awareness as we look to support State Department's efforts going forward. Again, it's not just the Department of Defense. You know, State Department has also reached out, so I'd recommend you talk to them, as well. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Hi, General. Kimberly Underwood from SIGNAL Magazine. I wanted to ask about Mr. Sherman's memo. Could you enumerate, if possible, the secretary's, I guess, input or guidance as far as the cybersecurity controls that he -- were his -- were a priority for him that he kind of wanted to see, and also, any first steps? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Thanks for -- much for the question. I -- I would point you to the memo that Secretary Austen issued recently in terms of the direction of the DOD review of security, cybersecurity, which really lays out his priorities on this front. And so again, when we have Mr. Sherman's memo available, we'll get that to you and that -- that will also help further explain what it is specifically they're -- they're looking to do. Thank you.


Q: Thank you, General. My question is about ROK and extended deterrence. Earlier this month at the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue, the readout said both sides discussed various ways to enhance U.S. extended deterrence, and also this week, ROK President Yoon will visit the U.S., and extended deterrence will be the -- one of the major topics, as there are growing concerns about extended deterrence in ROK. Could you please elaborate on how the U.S. can enhance its extended deterrence to ROK? And also, are you confident that the U.S. can reassure ROK on extended deterrence?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, no, we are very confident, and we'll continue to work closely with our allies in South Korea in terms of extended deterrence and how we can best work together to ensure, again, safety, stability and security in the region.

As you highlight, President Yoon will be in Washington, D.C. this week. He will visit the Pentagon on Thursday. Secretary Austin looks forward to hosting him, and we'll certainly have much more to say after that visit. But again, you've heard us talk about the continuation of exercises, working very closely in terms of strategic assets, visiting the region, deploying to the region to ensure that we are ext -- demonstrating unity and resolve in terms of deterring potential aggression, and we'll continue to do that. Thank you.

OK, time for one -- one more question. Jen?

Q: Just a quick follow-up, Pat. Were the surveillance drones that were flying above that convoy route armed?

GEN. RYDER: I don't want to get into -- again, to the specifics of the ISR. Again, we'll -- we have capabilities available to us in terms of ISR capabilities, but that's about as specific as I can be. Thank you.

Thanks very much, everybody.