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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your patience. I have a few things to pass along at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.

Secretary Austin returned to Washington, D.C. yesterday, following a successful week-long visit to the Indo-Pacific region, with productive stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia. This was the secretary's eighth visit to the region since becoming secretary of defense. And while in Papua New Guinea, the secretary and PNG leaders discussed the recently signed U.S.-Papua New Guinea defense cooperation agreement and agreed on the importance of continuing to deepen U.S. and Papua New Guinea defense ties to advance or bilateral cooperation and advance our shared goals in the Indo-Pacific region.

During his visit to Australia, the secretary had the chance to meet with Australian leaders and participate in the 33rd Australia-U.S. ministerial consultations, or AUSMIN. And I'm proud to say that the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Australia has never been stronger.

Coming out of the AUSMIN discussions, our two nations committed to advance several key lines of shared efforts, to include enhanced force posture cooperation, capability development and defense industrial base cooperation, and regional security integration. We have posted a fact sheet on the specific outcomes of the AUSMIN on the DOD website and we look forward to hosting the next AUSMIN in 2024.

While in Australia as well, Secretary also visited some of the nearly 30,000 troops from 13 nations participating in Talisman Sabre '23, which is a biannual exercise designed to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening partnerships and interoperability among key allies.

He greatly appreciated the opportunity to speak to some of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians, and DOD civilians who are supporting the exercise, as well as troops representing international allies and partners.

Staying in the Indo-Pacific region, on July 31, in the wake of Typhoon Egay, U.S. Marines and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing joined their Philippine counterparts to deliver nearly 12,000 pounds of food and water provided by the government of the Philippines to a remote Philippine island in need.

U.S. Marines are providing relief and life-saving capabilities to remote regions at the request of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in response to the destructive typhoon. Our regular cooperation and communication with our Philippine allies, including through military exercises and access under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, enabled the U.S. forces to respond quickly to this disaster and requests for assistance. For more updates on the response, I encourage you to contact Marine Corps Public Affairs.

And finally, tomorrow, Secretary Austin will participate in a fireside chat here in the Pentagon to discuss a forthcoming History Channel documentary about the 761st Tank Battalion. Known as the Black Panthers, the 761st was the first black tank unit to serve in combat during World War II.

The discussion will explore the battles of the 761st, both in the war overseas against Nazi Germany as well as the battle back home in the United States against racism, segregation, and inequality. The fireside chat will feature Secretary Austin and Morgan Freeman, who is the executive producer of the documentary, and will be followed by a panel discussion with several people who worked on the film, as well as the U.S. Army historian. The fireside chat and panel discussion will both be live-streamed on

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. We'll go to Lita Baldor, AP.

Q: Thanks, Pat. On Niger, can you say whether or not there are any efforts right now for the U.S. to either evacuate its forces or to use the troops there to help in any way any of the ongoing evacuations by other nations, including France?

And secondly, can you say whether or not U.S. forces are continuing to do counter-terror missions or has all of that been stopped?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much. So in terms of evacuation operations from Niger, I'm not aware at this time of any U.S. forces participating in that. Obviously, we're a planning organization, we're always going to plan for various contingencies, but we continue to keep a close eye on the situation there.

All indications right now that there's no, you know, imminent threat against any U.S. personnel or American citizens, but again, we continue to encourage American citizens who are in the country to stay in close contact with our embassy there.

As far as security cooperation, those efforts right now are suspended in light of the situation but certainly we maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country as the situation continues to unfold.

Q: So at this point, none of the U.S. forces have been pulled out at all, right? They're all --

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: they're all still there?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Let's go to the next question. Janne?

Q: Thank you very much. I have two questions. First question, there is reported by the Financial Times that Ukraine has acquired and used the North Korean rockets. Do you have anything on that? 

GEN. RYDER: I've seen the press reports, Janne. I don't have anything. I'd have to refer you to the Ukrainians.

Q: And how are you do -- I mean, U.S. concerned about arms trading between North Korea and Russia? Are you concerned about that?

GEN. RYDER: How concerned are we about it? I mean, as you know, Russia maintains a relationship with North Korea. Certainly, we've seen in the past Russia looking to try to obtain munitions from countries like North Korea. I don't have any updates to provide beyond what we said previously on this topic, but again, it highlights the dire straits that Russia finds itself in, when it comes to resupplying and refreshing its munitions capabilities.

Q: North Korean Defense Minister recently delivers a message to the United States that (inaudible) went and -- who will start a nuclear war first. How would the United States respond to the -- North Korea's possibility of preemptive nuclear use?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, I appreciate the question, Janne, but I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but thank you for asking.


Q: On the issue of Senator Tuberville and abortion, just a couple of questions. Firstly, do you know how many female service members have taken advantage of the DOD policy on abortion?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't, thanks, Idrees, I don't have those numbers in front of me.

Q: All right. Can we get that, you think?

GEN. RYDER: We'll take a look and see what we can provide.

Q: And secondly, when did Secretary Austin last speak with Senator Tuberville?

GEN. RYDER: I believe the last phone call he had; I have to get back to you on the exact date; but it was prior to the Indo-Pacific trip, which I think we highlighted publicly.

Q: And then, last question, is the Secretary open to compromise with Senator Tuberville on the issue to get the hold released for so many service members?

GEN. RYDER: So you know, I don't want to get into the legislative process, other than to say that we have a very clear policy that is in support of our service members. And at issue here is equitable healthcare for all of our service members, no matter where they're stationed, and that's frankly something that we have always supported and we'll continue to support. Thank you.


Q: Has the Pentagon been in contact with Niger's military leadership since they seized power? And if so, can you read out anything on what those discussions entailed?

GEN. RYDER: So as you know, the Joint Staff did put a readout out about the Chairman's contact with the Chief of Defense for Niger. We're closely monitoring the situation there. It continues to remain very fluid. Too soon to characterize the nature of ongoing developments, but as you've heard us say publicly, you know, we continue to support the democratically elected President of Niger. Okay? Thank you.


Q: Hi. Good afternoon. A follow-up on Tuberville -- recently, 5,000 veterans in support of his hold on Pentagon promotions wrote a letter to lawmakers, saying, quote -- and this is a quote from these 5,000 veterans -- "the mission of the United States military is to defend and protect all American lives, not subsidize the practice of destroying innocent and vulnerable American children via abortion with taxpayer dollars." Your response to those 5,000 veterans, sir?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so the mission of the United States military is to fight and win our wars. 100 percent agree on that. It's also our responsibility to ensure that our service members have access to healthcare, no matter which state you're stationed in.

And in this case, we're talking about reproductive healthcare, whether it's in vitro or if it's an abortion, but again, service members don't have the right to choose which state they get deployed to or stationed in, and so this policy is intended to ensure that there is equitable treatment of all service members.

Q: A follow-up -- critics contend that this is a violation of the Hyde Amendment. The Pentagon's response?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, that's patently false. It is not a violation of the Hyde Amendment. As you know, the DOJ did an opinion, which they've posted to their website on this, saying that this policy is legal. And again, the DOD does not have an abortion policy. We are not paying for abortions. We are ensuring that our service members have equitable treatment to reproductive healthcare.

Let me go to the next question. Chris?

Q: If I could clarify, when you said "security cooperation is suspended with Niger," does that mean no U.S. drones are flying, DOD or otherwise?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not going to get into intelligence operations and discuss the specifics of that. Again, we do have -- we continue to stay in contact with the Niger military, but in terms of training, for example, those types of things, that's been suspended.

Q: So unilateral U.S. operations could --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm not going to -- again, I'm not going to -- when you -- when you're talking to ISR, you're talking about intelligence. I'm just not going to talk about intel operations. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. On Niger, you said it's too soon to, you know, put a name to what's happening in Niger. The United States so far hasn't referred to it as a coup. Does the military, does the United States have a working definition of the criteria for what a coup would be? And also, is there a policy for when a coup is declared in a country where U.S. troops are working with local forces, where, do those troops cease operations? Do they leave the country generally? Can you speak to that at all?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple of things. So I appreciate the discussion that's happening on this, you know, in the public space. Our focus right now is on making sure that our troops continue to stay safe, that we continue to assess the situation.

As I mentioned earlier, we continue to support the democratically elected President of Niger and the situation does remain fluid. And so we think that it's just too soon to characterize the nature of ongoing developments. You had the Chairman talking to his counterpart in Niger.

So I think you can see, the situation there, that we're not going to get into labels, other than to say that we will comply with U.S. law and that we are going to continue to be focused on using diplomatic tools to try to preserve Niger's hard-earned democracy.

Q: Okay. And on North Korea, do you have any updates? Has the DPRK responded either to the U.S. or to the United Nation Command about Private King? And if so, what is his status?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I don't have any updates on Private King's status. What I will tell you is, as you've heard us say previously, United Nations Command did communicate or provide some communication via well-established communication channels through the Joint Security Agency. I can confirm that the DPRK has responded to United Nations Command but I don't have any substantial progress to read out. And so I'd refer you to the UN Command for any further details.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, thanks very much.


Q: General, regarding to Poland, Poland announced that they are deploying additional troops along the border with Belarus. Poland's Defense Ministry said that two Belarus helicopters violated airspace. So do you have concerns about the security of the Eastern Flank of the NATO? And are you planning to add more troops there? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question. So nothing to announce right now, in terms of any additional force posture changes in NATO. You know, when it comes to Polish defense, I'd refer you to the Polish Ministry of Defense, other than to say that, again, we will continue to take NATO's security very seriously and we will continue to work together with our NATO allies to ensure that every square inch of NATO remains safe.

Yeah, sure.

Q: -- I had another question. Thank you. Saudi Arabia is planning to host a -- peace talks, and including Ukraine, western nations and select major developing countries in the coming days. So will the DOD officials attend that meeting? Do you have any knowledge about that? And how much do you think these kinds of meetings are important to bring peace to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. I'll have to get back to you, in terms of any type of DOD representation. I don't have an answer to that question.

You know, look, when it comes to peace, we all want peace in Ukraine. I don't have to tell you, you know -- and I won't provide a history lesson from the podium here -- but Russia invaded Ukraine illegally and they could end this war tomorrow.

So at the end of the day though, it's going to be up to Ukraine to determine when they are ready to begin peace negotiations. In the meantime, our focus is going to be to continue to support them and their requests for security assistance so that they can defend their nation and take back their sovereign territory.

I've been remiss for the phones. Let me go out to the phones here. Let me go to Lara Seligman with Politico.

Q: Hi, Pat. Thanks so much for doing this. I wanted to ask you about the Ukraine counter-offensive. I wanted to know if you could give us an update on the situation on the ground? And is it fair -- would it be fair to say that Ukraine has not made significant progress so far since -- especially since the new push that was reported last week, and that we are not seeing some kind of breakaway, the kind that -- of the kind that we saw in Kharkiv last year?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Lara. So I'll let the Ukrainians provide an operational update. I will say, broadly speaking, that we see -- continue to see their counter-offensive move forward. It has and will continue to be a tough fight for them. And so again, our focus is going to be on communicating with them, communicating with our allies and partners to ensure that, as they have needs on the battlefield, that we're able to support them.

Again, I'd highlight Secretary Austin's comments at the last Ukraine Defense Contact Group -- or the Defense Ministerials rather, where he highlighted that this will be a marathon and not a sprint. But again, we're going to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Q: On Ukraine, can you tell us, is it your estimate that the bulk of the combat power that Ukraine has has not been introduced yet in its counter-offensive? Is it -- would that be an accurate --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Dan. So I don't want to get into highlighting where they are or not applying their capabilities and what their, you know, status of the reserve is, other than to say they have significant combat capability, and we're confident that, you know, they will continue to be able to have the means by which to prosecute this campaign.

Q: And then on Niger, just going back, to what degree are you concerned about the overall fallout on the whole security operation there and the counterterrorism campaign that's going on for years? This was supposed to be a model and a hub for the whole effort.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I mean, certainly a situation that is concerning, any time there is an attempt to seize power in a country that has a democratically-elected leader. And so, again, it's something that we're keeping a very close eye on. And, as you heard me say, we're going to continue to try to focus on using diplomatic tools to preserve Niger's hard-earned democracy. But, yes, definitely something that we're going to keep an eye on.

Q: And what about the role of Russia or the Wagner Group in the whole situation, there has been analysis that the Wagner Group tried to kind of foment --


Q: -- the atmosphere, sort of foment an (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so based on the information that I have, we see no indication that Wagner played a role in this particular action. Thanks.

All right, let me go back up to the phone here. We've got Paul from U.S. News and World Report.

Q: Yes, hi. Hi, General Ryder. Three questions about the recent drone strikes that have been reported in Russia. Do strikes appear to be having any effect on Russia's ability to wage war in Ukraine, particularly with regard to its logistics? Does the Pentagon see the -- for example, the Russian Ministry of Defense building as a legitimate military target? And then lastly, has any member of the DOD discussed the drone strikes with the government of Ukraine? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Paul. When it comes to those types of activities, I'm just not going to have any specifics to provide from an operational standpoint. Certainly we have seen the reports, you know, about whether or not these are Ukrainian strikes. I'd refer you to them.

Our focus is on providing security assistance to Ukraine to enable them to defend their country inside Ukraine, within their sovereign borders. And that will continue to be our focus.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you, Pat. Can you please tell us a little bit more about the assets, technologies, and platforms that were in the new military aid package to Taiwan last Friday? And specifically, what were the intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities that were included?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks very much. So, you know, again, you saw the release that we put out on the Taiwan PDA. That is the extent to which we're going to be able to provide information on this. I'm just not going to be able to go into details in terms of what those specific capabilities are.

Q: Can you confirm whether or not drones were included and why is the Pentagon being a little bit less transparent about that?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, again, I'm not going to be able to go into details into the specific capabilities in the PDA. And the reason why we are being more circumspect on this is due to operation security on the part of the Taiwanese as well as sensitivity to the diplomatic situation. So, thank you.


Q: Thanks. If I can get back to what you said on Wagner, you'd said they're -- (inaudible) that Wagner played a role in Niger. Is that, just to clarify, that it's based on lack of evidence or is based on evidence that points to the contrary?

GEN. RYDER: So it's based on a variety of factors. I'll just leave it at that.


Q: Another question, if you would, what's the status of the bases -- the U.S. bases in Niger right now? Are they business as usual? Are they -- are troops on high alert right now?

GEN. RYDER: You know, I would say that clearly a not-normal situation. As I mentioned earlier, no indication right now of any type of imminent threat against U.S. forces in Niger. Largely speaking, our forces are doing due diligence when it comes to force protection and remaining on those bases, although when necessary, environment permitting, they are still engaging and going off-base to engage with our Nigerian counterparts as necessary.

And so I'll just leave it at that.

Okay, let me go back to the phone here. Laura from PBS?

Q: Hi, Pat. Thank you. I wanted to ask about the recent executive order that the President signed regarding the changes to the military code on sexual assault. It was just published in the Federal Register and the annexes state that a commander still has the authority to direct the release of a confinee, that any commander of a confinee can do that. The White House is saying that the commanders don't have that authority any more for these covered offenses, despite the fact that the EO language says otherwise. So since the JSC and other DOD advisors helped craft this EO, can you -- can you explain that disconnect? And then I have a -- one quick second question.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Lara. So I want to make sure we get you an accurate answer. And so I will take that question and come back to you.

Q: Okay. And -- thank you. And then on the -- the second part -- I -- are there enough lawyers spread out throughout DOD bases where they can have these special trial counsels throughout?

GEN. RYDER: So, you know, again, let me take a look at that and come back to you. I'm confident, however, that we are going to do what's necessary to ensure that our service members have the representation that they need to address this challenge.

And so we are going to -- you know, when it comes to the executive order and the Office of Special Trial Counsels, we're going to carry out these justice reforms with the urgency and with the care that it deserves. So thank you, Laura.

Okay, time for a few more. Yes, ma'am?

Q: Hi, Pat. I wanted to follow back up on Senator Tuberville's hold. We heard a lot about the trickle down of, you know, some of the colonels, incoming generals and sort of the fallout, but now you have the Marine Corps, for a couple of weeks, an empty spot at the helm, filling in, like, a dual-hatted acting. General McConville is the next one Friday, followed by the CNO. Could you sort of give us a picture of what this means for day-to-day operations inside the Pentagon?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. You know -- so again, kind of going back to your colleague's earlier comment, our focus is on fighting and winning our nation's wars. Right now, we have approximately 300 general officer, flag officers and policy officials being held up, in terms of their ability to have their nominations go through the Senate, and that impacts our ability to conduct our mission, in the sense of it introduces uncertainty into the chain of command at a time when we need to be focused on our mission, which is, again, defending this nation.

We're going to get the job done because that's what we do, but as you see more and more of these holds increase, it's going to start to impact not only the folks that were intended to fleet up into those positions but the folks behind them and their family members, in terms of are you going to be moving this summer, are you going to be able to enroll your children into school?

And so in the midst of trying to do the things that we need to do as a U.S. military, this just adds another element of uncertainty and friction into the system that's not helpful.

Q: Are you able to paint any color of what it does at the very top, you know, when the Joint Chiefs meet and you don't have those confirmed appointments weighing in?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, again, at the most macro level, in any senior leader position, often times, there are policies that require, for example, authorities that can only be held by certain individuals, certain positions, certain ranks. And so as we move forward, that becomes harder.

And again, I don't have any specific ones to hand you, you know, pass along right now, but I know from my own experiences in the past, when it's -- when we've not been able to have an officer serve in an authorized rank, a lot of times, that work has to get passed further up the chain of command, which starts to, over time, create an administrative burden but also puts friction on the unit because, as they're trying to do their business, they can't get quick permission to do things. They have to send it up the chain. And so obviously the higher up the chain it goes, the more friction it introduces.


Q: Has the Secretary reached out to the Senate Democrats to ask them to vote on these -- the particular -- the most critical plots at all? Cause, you know, it is possible, you know, for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Chief of Naval Operations, that sort of thing. Has he reached out at all to see if that's kind of a stop gap measure?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I don't have anything to read out for you, Mike, other than to say that the Secretary and the department, specifically our Legislative Affairs Department, does continue to actively engage with the Hill to express our concern. So thank you.

Time for a few more. Let me get a couple more here. Lita, sir, and then Ryo.

Q: Thanks, Pat. Earlier in the week, the New York Times reported that Elon Musk had denied access -- denied Ukrainians access to Starlink in certain situations, which had impacts on the battlefield. Is the Pentagon concerned about this behavior from Starlink? And have you guys reached out to Starlink or Elon Musk to discuss this?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, on that particular issue, I just don't have anything. You know, if you take a step back, broadly speaking, we've talked in the past about the importance of satellite communication for the Ukrainians, and that's something that we continue to communicate with the Ukrainians about, and we'll continue to ensure that they have the support that they need, but as it pertains to the relationship between Mr. Musk and Ukraine, I'd have to refer you to him. Okay? Thank you.


Q: Thank you General. My question is about the upcoming U.S.-Japan-ROK Summit. So recently, Financial Times reported that U.S. is planning to issue a state -- joint statement which states that each country has a duty to consult with each other on the occasion of attack, and -- I'm wondering how such kind of cooperation would be possible because Japan and ROK doesn't have a defense treaty. And what's your expectation for the upcoming summit to increase deterrence in the region?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So as it pertains to the summit, you know, I don't want to get ahead of the White House as they get ready to host that. Certainly, much more to say. Broadly speaking, as you know, the relationship between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea is very, very strong -- two of our staunchest allies in the region -- and we're going to continue to work closely with those two countries to do everything we can do to help facilitate communication as it pertains to our mutual efforts to ensure regional peace and stability. But again, more to follow down the road.

Let me just do a couple more here. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. Some Alabama lawmakers, including Senator Tuberville, have alleged that the choice to keep the Space Force headquarters in Colorado was politically motivated. Do you have a response to that? And can you provide insight as to why Colorado Springs was chosen?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure.

So I will tell you politics played no role in this decision. As we've talked about for some time, the Department of the Air Force did a very -- or has been doing a very thorough analysis and assessment for some time.

And so as you look back at this, it was a very thorough, deliberate process that was backed up by data and analysis and in compliance with federal law and DOD policy. And so ultimately, a decision had to be made, recommendations were provided and the President made a decision, and that decision came down to operational readiness.

U.S. Space Command will be fully operational capability this month. So FOC in DOD speak. And so they'll be ready to operate now and keeping the headquarters in Colorado Springs minimizes impact on operations and on the personnel transitions during a period in our country's history that's critical when it comes to space and the capabilities that are provided to our country and our national security from space.

So our focus is going to be now on expeditiously carrying out this decision, and we're going to do it in a professional manner. Thank you.

Lita, did you have one more?

Q: Yes, I just had one quick clarification. I just wanted to make sure -- you mentioned a response from DPRK. You were referring to the early ones a number of days ago when they did -- picked up the phone but provided no information or are you saying there was an additional response since then?

GEN. RYDER: So as I understand it, there was the initial passing of the information and this was essentially an acknowledgment from the DPRK government that, "yes, we have received your request for information," as I understand it.

Q: Right, so there's only been one, not two --

GEN. RYDER: I think the first time, it was a -- we've communicated, and now we have received a communication back, an acknowledgment.

Q: (Inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: I don't. Thank you.

All right, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.