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Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

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

As some of you may be aware, the Department of Defense released a statement earlier today regarding support to the Department of Homeland Security, which I'll reiterate here from the podium. 

At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Austin approved a temporary Department of Defense increase of an additional 1,500 military personnel to supplement U.S. Customs and Border Protection efforts on the U.S. southwest border. 
For 90 days, these 1,500 military personnel, who will be sourced from the active-duty component, will fill critical capability gaps such as ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry and warehouse support until CPB can address these needs through contracted support. Military personnel will not directly participate in law enforcement activities. 

It's important to note that the department is also evaluating options on how we might replace these deploying forces in stride with other sources, to include, potentially, forces from the Reserve component and contracted support. And while this request is for 90 days, I would point out that DOD has supported DHS on the southwest border for 18 of the last 22 years and every year since 2006.

Shifting gears, the Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command, remains committed to supporting the Department of State's efforts in Sudan. Over this past weekend, this support involved organizing and synchronizing transportation from Khartoum to Port Sudan and on to Saudi Arabia for U.S. citizens and others who wished to depart Sudan. 

Today, the USNS Brunswick, along with the USS Truxtun and USS Polar, remain in the vicinity of Port Sudan and are able to provide support to the evacuation mission as needed. Additionally, ISR assets continue 24/7 overwatch over potential land evacuation routes, and AFRICOM's deconfliction cell continues to distribute relevant information to the Department of State, our allies and partners, and international NGOs to help enable informed decision-making.

Looking ahead, Secretary Austin looks very forward to welcoming Philippines’ President Marcos to the Pentagon tomorrow. It's important to point out that we're standing at a transformational moment in the U.S.-Philippines alliance. We've made great strides recently in advancing our bilateral defense relationship, from announcing four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites to successfully completing the largest ever iteration of our annual bilateral exercise, Balikatan. 

Secretary Austin and President Marcos will discuss a wide range of security topics, including support for the Philippines defense modernization efforts and expanding operational cooperation in the South China Sea. 

Separately, the Department of Defense is joining with the U.S. Small Business Administration and our interagency partners in celebrating National Small Business Week, April 30 through May 6. As many of you know, small businesses play an absolutely vital role in securing our nation. In fact, more than 70% of the U.S. industrial base is made up of manufacturing companies with 20 or fewer employees. 

The department released a new Small Business Strategy in February of this year and has a range of programs to both the -- both assist and encourage small companies to do business with the DOD. More information on DOD's small business initiatives can be found on the DOD website.

Finally, the Department of Defense Outreach Office is proud to announce the premiere of "Chopped: Military Salute" on the Food Network, hosted by Tim* Allen. The five-part tournament features 16 active-duty chefs from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army competing with their service for a slot in the final joint service competition. "Chopped: Military Salute" premiered Tuesday, April 25, and we would encourage everyone to tune in every Tuesday from now until May 23rd to see these talented service members in action.

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

Q: Thanks, Pat. Can you say when you expect these troops to arrive at the border, even in a range of days, in the coming week, or presumably by May 11? Would that be accurate? Do you expect these will be active-duty troops or are you going to try to have to pull some from the Guard? 

And third -- sorry -- in the past, DOD requested that DHS provide quarterly reports updating as to when and how DHS was going to be able to take over these jobs on the border. Is DOD getting these quarterly updates? And is the department confident or concerned that DHS will or won't be able to meet this requirement by the end of the fiscal year?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Lita. So on -- on your first question, right now, I think we'll see -- you -- these troops arrive as early as May 10 and then in the coming weeks. Again, these will be active duty forces, although, as I mentioned at the top, we continue to explore other options so that we could return those active duty forces back to their home stations in stride with potentially Reserve component or contracted entities. Again, that's work that we'll -- we'll continue to do.

As far as quarterly reports, I'll have to take that question for you. I can tell you that, you know, as a matter of course, we do regularly communicate with DHS, and I think, again, we're -- we're in a situation here where DHS has requested assistance and the Department of Defense is assisting on this important issue. So thank you.

Q: Is it your -- I'm sorry -- is it -- are you saying, just for clarification, that within this 90 day period ... 

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: ... you would like to replace or you will look at replacing some of these active duty troops with National Guard or Reserve or potentially beyond that?

GEN. RYDER: Exactly, so within that 90 day period. Again, we're -- we are -- Secretary Austin has approved the deployment of 1,500 active duty troop -- troops, but again, we are looking and evaluating options, should we be able to replace those in stride. OK?

Jen and then we'll go to Will.

Q: Thank you, Gen. Ryder. So just which troop -- units will these troops be coming from? And will they be helping with drug enforcement? Because that's what the original executive order from the president said.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so in -- in terms of the types of work that they'll be doing, as I highlighted at the top, these will be very much focused on support tasks to CBP. So no -- and I -- I'll just leave it at that. I mean -- I mean what I said.

In terms of the specific units, these forces will come from the Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, but I'd refer you to the services to talk about specific units that will be tasked.

Q: And in 2018, just before the midterm elections, President Trump ordered 5,200 U.S. troops to fortify the border. At the time, Democrats and former military officials and officers came out against that, saying they were being used for political reasons. How is this different?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, you know, really, my focus here is on talking about what we've been asked to do and -- and what we're doing. Clearly, DHS felt that there was a need for the Department of Defense to assist so that they can continue to do their important work. Secretary Austin approved that request, and so that's what we're focused on.

Q: Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Yes, Will?

Q: Thank you. Two questions on the -- on the border situation. First, what -- what is the current number of troops who were there prior to the 1,500 being deployed? And what necessitated this additional deployment now? Is it -- was it the changes on May 11 that are coming up or was there any other reason regarding it?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, that's correct. So in light of the changes on May 11 and the anticipated surge, DHS did reach out and -- and request this support.

In terms of the number of U.S. military that are there now, there are approximately 2,500 U.S. military, who are National Guard forces. They are focused, again, on supporting CBP with detection and monitoring and aviation support.


Q: I have a couple non-border questions. Ukraine -- are there any PDAs or Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative contracts in the works that may be released in the next couple weeks to help the potential spring invasion -- spring offensive?

GEN. RYDER: So -- so first of all, I -- I don't have anything to announce today in regards to any upcoming security assistance packages, although broadly speaking, we will continue to support Ukraine with security assistance going forward and -- as we have been doing.

I'm not going to get into the specifics on timing, in terms of any potential counter-offensive, other than to say, from the very beginning, we've been working closely with Ukrainian leaders, with our allies and partners, to assess what Ukraine needs to defend their sovereignty and to take back their -- their sovereign territory.

Q: A different part of the world, South Korea -- last week, the White House announced a -- a nuclear -- you -- a nuclear-powered submarine would visit. Just to clarify that, roughly when might that happen? And will this be an Ohio-class that carries nuclear missiles or it will be one of those SSGNs that just carries Tomahawks?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so in terms of the timing, Tony, I'm not going to get ahead of or -- or announce any timing of a deployment. It will be a -- an Ohio-class SSBN model but that's about as specific as I can get.

Q: But it'll carry nuclear weapons though?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I'm not going to get into the specific payloads, other than the -- the type of submarine will be an SSBN.

Q: OK, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. OK. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you very much, General. A question from Syria -- the killing of the Daesh leader on Saturday in an operation by the Turkish Intelligence -- this was announced by the Turkish President -- does the United States have any comment on that -- confirmation, comment, or what do you know about this?

GEN. RYDER: Certainly. At this time, we can't corroborate those reports. Certainly, that would be welcome news if true. You know, broadly speaking, we do appreciate what Turkey has done to counter ISIS but -- but that's about as much as I have.

Q: Just a quick follow-up on that -- you know, you have times when the United States said that the Turkish military presence in the region is being -- hampering the fight against Daesh. So, like, looking at the overall, how would you assess your NATO allies' efforts against Daesh or tackling Daesh terrorism?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, well, certainly, as -- as you know, in the -- in the border regions there in -- in northern Syria, Turkish forces have engaged with ISIS in the past. And again, I think anything that -- that the international community can do to help with the enduring defeat of ISIS is very helpful. Thank you very much.

Let me go back to Fadi and then we'll come to Kasim.

Q: Thank you, General. So a question on -- on Sudan. You mentioned the -- the three Navy ships supporting the evacuation from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia. So I was wondering if you can give more details on the type of activities they were involved in throughout the -- the weekend and up until now in -- in this supporting role?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So to my knowledge, we had -- the Brunswick was able to assist with the evacuation of approximately 300 people from Port Sudan to Jeddah, where they were obviously met by U.S. consular affairs officials. Again, the Brunswick has returned to Port Sudan to be available to transport any additional citizens or others who may require transport out of Sudan.

Q: And the other two ships are just in the sea in case they were called upon to -- to be involved?

GEN. RYDER: Correct -- correct, just to -- to provide -- to provide us with options should we need that capability.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Kasim.

Q: Thank you, General. I have two questions actually, one follow-up. So have -- has there been any communications between Turkish and American militaries with respect to the killing of the ISIS leader?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have that -- I -- I don't know, Kasim. I would refer you to CENTCOM -- or, sorry, to EUCOM to ask them what -- what type of communication there may have been.

Q: OK. And, second question -- we have seen Russians have increased the barrage of missile strikes in Ukraine. Can you update us on the battlefield currently in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I mean, broadly speaking, we continue to see heavy fighting in Bakhmut. Again, it -- it's been tenuous for a while there now. As you highlight, we've seen Russia firing missiles into civilian infrastructure -- again, nothing new, unfortunately, for them -- but largely along the front lines, it continues to remain static. Thank you.

Let me go to Ryo and then go back here and then I'll come back to you, Jennifer.

Q: Thank you very much, General. Yesterday, the U.S. and the Philippines agreed to -- agreed to establish a framework of trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia respectively. So can you share a little bit more details, more -- a little bit more specifics on the -- what the Pentagon wants to do with this new trilateral format militarily moving forward?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure. Well, I don't -- I don't have anything specific to announce today, Ryo. I would tell you that the Philippines, Japan and Australia continue to remain very essential allies for us. We obviously share a common focus and common values when it comes to promoting peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region, and so we're going to continue to look at ways that we can work together to achieve that end. Thank you very much.

Go back here and then we'll go to Ryo over here.

Q: Hi. Caitlin Kenney with Defense One. Tomorrow is World Press Freedom Day, and it's been more than 10 years since reporter Austin Tice was captured in Syria. Can you provide an update on what the Pentagon's efforts are to help bring Tice home? And can you explain what may be hindering the government's effort to bring him back? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks very much. So first of all, I would just offer, again, our -- our thoughts and prayers to the Tice family. While I don't have an update to provide today from the Pentagon in terms of efforts to -- to recover or -- or find Austin, I would say that we do continue to recognize the important work that journalists like Austin or Evan Gershkovich and many others have done and continue to do around the world to report on important issues as part of a free and independent press. Thank you.


Q: Thank you, General. I have a follow-up question on the visit of Philippine President Marcos to the U.S. So yesterday, White House announced that two countries are adopting a new defense guideline. So through this new defense guideline, how can U.S. and Philippine prepare for the potential contingency in the region, including the invasion of Taiwan?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So we'll -- we'll obviously have much more to provide tomorrow after the president's visit to the Pentagon. 

To underscore your point, you've heard the White House talk about the fact that the United States and the Philippines will be adopting bilateral defense guidelines, and what these will do is help to institutionalize key bilateral priorities, mechanisms and processes that will help deepen our alliance. 

We're -- what we're looking to do here is look at enhanced bilateral planning, information sharing, accelerated defense capability development and collaboration on emerging security technology. So again, we'll have much more to provide in the -- in the days ahead. Thank you.

Jennifer? And then I'll go to Mike.

Q: Just a quick follow-up, Gen. Ryder, why are these active-duty troops being sent to the border and not National Guard? Is this just an effort to message to the tens of thousands of migrants on the other side of the border not to come across by using active duty troops? Because I seem to remember a few years back when the Trump administration wanted to send troops down there, that there was concern, by using active duty troops, that you would affect readiness.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so really this is about being responsive. DHS has asked us for this support. And so the ability to rapidly provide support from our active duty forces is -- is really the key here. Again, we are -- as I mentioned, we're evaluating options to look at potentially replacing some of those forces with Reserve or contracted support.

And as you know, calling up Reserve component forces involves some time associated with that. And so by tasking the active-duty forces, we're able to meet this request very urgently and -- and support DHS.

Q: And so it won't affect readiness?

GEN. RYDER: It will not affect readiness.


Q: Hey there. Just to -- wondering if you've now -- if the DOD assesses that it now knows the totality of the material leaked by Airman Teixeira and whether or not you've initiated or completed a damage assessment? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry, Phil, can you say that first part again?

Q: Yeah, whether or not the DOD now knows that -- assesses that it knows the totality of the material leaked by Airman Teixeira and whether or not you've initiated or completed a damage assessment? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so that work is ongoing. The -- as you know, the Secretary directed that we do a comprehensive review of -- of the impact of that leak, and so that work is ongoing, as is the criminal investigation into the Airman specifically.

Q: So then -- to be clear then, you're not quite sure yet -- it's not -- it's not clear yet whether or not you know the totality of the ... 

GEN. RYDER: We continue to -- we continue to evaluate just exactly what was leaked out -- leaked as part of this unauthorized disclosure.

Q: Thank you.


Yes, sir? Go here and then over to Mike.

Q: Thank you, sir. On Ukraine, in January and in November, Gen. Milley stated that there are well over 100,000 Russian casualties, and then yesterday, NSC's Kirby stated that there was, since December, about 100,000 Russian casualties, with 20,000 dead. So is it safe to assume that there are now well over 200,000 Russian casualties in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to have anything to add beyond what Mr. Kirby provided yesterday, other than to say this -- this conflict has been bloody from the beginning. Russia's -- Russia's invasion has caused the death of -- of thousands and thousands of people, and again, another reason why we would call on Russia to end this -- cease this needless and senseless war as quickly as possible, immediately. Thank you.

And last question, we'll go to Mike here.

Q: Change the subject a bit -- Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese sent out a letter a couple of days ago criticizing Secretary Austin's policy, saying that it mandates federal funding for abortion travel and compels military commanders to authorize such undertakings. He said the policy fails to incorporate basic conscience protection and creates First Amendment pitfalls for military commanders. I was wondering if the Pentagon has any thoughts on -- any comment upon the Archbishop's ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I -- I don't -- I don't have a comment to provide on the Archbishop's letter. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

[* Eds. Note: “Chopped” is hosted by Ted Allen.]