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Press Gaggle With Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary Aug 14, 2023

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  So first of all, I'm sure you all continue to see the imagery coming out of Maui and the terrible situation there.  Again, on behalf of the department, we want to extend our condolences and our thoughts and prayers to everyone that's been impacted.

As of this morning, the Hawaii National Guard has activated approximately 250 National Guard and International Guard personnel to assist with the wildfire response and recovery.  This includes liaison support to the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency.  They're supporting local law enforcement, and as we previous — previously mentioned, we've got two Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters that are supporting the wildfire response operations and the search-and-recovery teams.

Army National Guard crews have dropped more than 189,000 gallons of water so far in support of firefighting efforts, plus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer has — Engineers has sent debris removal personnel and temporary power experts to Maui.  And then also, the Army Reserve is supporting the American Red Cross by providing space at the Reserve Center on Maui for supply distribution.  And then our DHS colleagues, the U.S. Coast Guard, they've been conducting underwater sur — surveys in the Lahaina Harbor using sonar technology to identify any structural damage.

So we're going to continue to lean very far forward to assist the state of Hawaii, assist FEMA, other supporting agencies to do everything we can to support the state and the people of Hawaii as we respond to this.

And other news: As you probably saw this morning, Secretary Austin was in Annapolis to deliver remarks at the Chief of Naval Operations Relinquishment of Responsibility Ceremony.  That video, the video of that event will be available on, so I would encourage you to check that out.

Also, just a little bit ago, we announced an additional security assistance package to meet Ukraine's security and defense needs.  This is our 44th tranche of equipment that's being provided from DOD inventories for Ukraine since August of 2021.  And as you'll see in the press release, it includes air defense munitions, artillery, and tank ammunition, antiarmor weapons and other equipment to help them continue to defend their country and take back sovereign territory.  The package — the capabilities in the package are valued at up to $200 million.

And then finally, on Niger, no — no significant updates to provide on that front.  We're still obviously closely monitoring the situation, but at this time, there's been no change to — to U.S. force posture in the country.

And so with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  Yes, Tara?  Good morning.

Q:  Good morning.  Going back to Hawaii, I've got a question on whether or not the secretary can now just order additional units, or does the president have to request this?  Does Secretary Austin have the authority now to just send additional forces, or does the White House have to direct it?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not aware of any requirement for the White House to — to direct anything.  As I mentioned, we are leaning forward.  We're in close contact with the state, with — with all of the agencies involved.  As you probably saw on Friday, the secretary spoke to Senator Schatz and Hirono to, again, offer his condolences and relay our support.  Indo-Pacific Command, of course, is standing by to provide whatever support is requested.  So as we have new announcements to make on that front, we certainly will.

Q:  But so far, unless I heard wrong, it's National Guard, it's — you say it's DHS.  Are there active-duty military units also being sent to help?

GEN. RYDER:  So far, none have been requested.  But again, part of this comes down to, what are — what are the requirements, right?  So as things evolve and the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency says, "Hey, here's the kinds of capabilities we need," then we're — we'll certainly be responsive to that effort.

But what you don't want to do in a disaster situation is just rush in and create more logistics problems and more challenges when you're already dealing with a difficult situation.  And so obviously, you know, FEMA has a lot of experience in these types of situations.  We're going to work closely.

Q:  And just one last: Do we have a rough number of military personnel Guardsmen besides the 250 — the total part, that's helping right now?

GEN. RYDER:  We can get that for you.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  Okay.

Yeah, Jim?

Q:  General Ryder, I — I know I asked you this question last week about the Iraq-Syria border.  Again, many reports are — in the region are showing that the U.S. has moved/deployed additional reinforcement to some points in eastern Syria, if you could to confirm that or not.  And also, is there any plan for the U.S. military to seal off the border, some points of — of entry along the border?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so Jim, we looked into your question.  The bottom line is those reports are inaccurate.  I'm not sure what's driving those.  We — we are not conducting any type of border security on the Iraq-Syria border.  That's the realm of the Iraqi government to take care of that, and I'm not aware of any additional deployment of U.S. forces into the region.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  Sir?

Q:  The Russians fired warning shots at a vessel in the Black Sea.  Has there been any — any requests by any commercial vessels for U.S. military help?  And where is the closest U.S. Navy ship?  Is there — is there any in the Black Sea right now?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, we — we don't currently have any U.S. Navy vessels in the Black Sea, and I'm not aware of any request for — for maritime security.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you.  The Taiwanese vice president is stopping over in New York this weekend, and he will also stop — stop by San Francisco later this week.  Have you seen any concerning movement by the Chinese military around Taiwan?  Or have you seen indications that the Chinese military is planning major exercises around Taiwan?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Ryo.  So I — I would say broadly speaking, you know, we have — we're obviously continuing to keep an eye on the situation.  We've not seen anything that I would characterize as overly-concerning at this point.  And I'll just leave it at that.  Thank you.


Q:  Two questions.  First on — on Travis King, I was just wondering if there was update, any sort of communications update, outreach update.  Have you heard anything more or heard anything back?

And then the second question — and I apologize.  I was — I was not here last week.  As the situation in Niger continues, has the U.S. military conducted any military operations or missions in or out of Niger, or does that remain on restricted and everyone remains on base there?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, on your first question, I don't have any updates to provide.  We obviously will continue to — to be following this very closely, and our primary concern, as we've mentioned before, is the humane treatment and safety of Private King.  But — but no significant updates to provide on that.

In terms of Niger, again, right now, the focus of our forces is, again, ensuring appropriate force protection.  We've — as you heard the State Department say last week, you know, we've put a pause on some training.  But right now, you know, largely just monitoring the situation, but I don't — I don't have anything to provide in terms of any operations.  Thank you.

Yes, Lara?

Q:  Thanks.  I just wanted, again, update on the situation with the F-16s to Ukraine.  Has there been any update on starting a training program?  When is that going to happen?  And do you have any ETAs or when that will kick off?  And then when —

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.

Q:  — jets might get delivered?

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't — I don't have any timelines to provide, Lara, other than to say, as we have been from the beginning when this program is announced, we're working closely with Denmark and the Netherlands, who have the lead for the training.  We are committed to working with them to provide that training as quickly as possible.

I will underscore though that when we announced this program back in May, that it would be happening, the training would be happening, we were — we were clear at the time that this is part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine and that this training was not intended for, you know, the current counter-offensive, so to speak.

So again, we understand how important this is and we'll work very closely with our European allies to provide whatever support we can.

Q:  And then just slightly different topic, are we still continuing to provide the cluster munitions to Ukraine or are we providing the — are we going to start providing the 155s soon, now that the ramp-up is —

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't have any announcements to make in terms of additional tranches regarding the — the DPICMs.  As you know, we — we have been providing those to them, they've been using those on the battlefield, but certainly as we have new security assistance packages to announce, if there's something related to that, we'll be sure to let you know.

Q:  Just following up on the F-16s, do you have any updates on the — on the Abrams for Ukraine or anything on timeline or how the — how the training's going, anything like that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so from a — from an operational security standpoint, I don't want to get into specific timelines, other than we're — we're confident that we can provide those tanks when we said we would, which would be before the end of this year.  And by all accounts, the training has gone well for those tank crews, but certainly at the appropriate time, we'll — we'll provide updates, in terms of delivery.  But again, I just — not — I'm not going to get ahead of that for obvious reasons.

Q:  Thanks.  Just one quick follow to Lara.  Were there cluster munitions in this PDA 44?  Was —


Q:  No?  Okay, just making sure.


Q:  And then about the Tauruses that Germany is considering, how does the department view that exchange?  Does that make this department more likely or less likely to provide ATACMS —


GEN. RYDER:  — which —

Q:  The Taurus long-range missiles that Germany is considering providing Ukraine, following UK and France.  Would — would the U.S. plan to provide similar munitions, should Germany do so?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I — you know, I appreciate the question.  I — I — I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.  You know, when it comes to ATACMS, I just don't have anything to announce on that.  Thank you.

We'll take a few more.  Ma'am?

Q:  Yeah, thanks, General.  I have a question on upcoming U.S.-Japan-ROK Summit.  And first, do you expect the U.S. will ask ROK and Japan to provide more military aid to Ukraine this week?  And secondly, some Japanese media reported that the U.S. and Japan will agree to jointly develop interceptor missile to combat hypersonics.  I understand a 2+2 is generally U.S. and Japan agreed to start these discussions of joint development but do you have anything to comment on this?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Ryo.  So I'm going to ask for your patience on this because I — I don't want to get ahead of the White House Summit.  Certainly, we'll have — the White House will have some type of readout, in terms of what's discussed.

Obviously, from a — a — from a U.S. standpoint, we're — we're very happy that we'll be able to have this important meeting, but again, I'd refer you to the White House for any comments on the summit and its anticipated outcomes.  Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Can you provide an update on Senator Tuberville's hold?  And how has — now that there are three service branches without a confirmed leader, how is that impacting the readiness, if at all?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, sure.  So as you know, we have approximately 300 nominations on hold at the moment.  I — I would refer you to the Secretary's comment today at the — at the relinquishment of responsibility ceremony.

You — you know, from a readiness standpoint, again, given all of that — the national security challenges that we're confronting around the world, any time we introduce uncertainty into the chain of command or add additional burdens, whether they be administratively or from a leadership standpoint, with some of these leaders now having to perform two roles, it — it does present a challenge, and obviously we hope that we'll be able to — to have those holds lifted as soon as possible, so.

Q:  Has there been any progress on the two sides coming together for some sort of mutual agreement?

GEN. RYDER:  I mean, we certainly have — have made our position clear.  I — I'm not going to speak for the Senator.

Okay, last two questions.  Yes, sir?

Q:  Well, thank you for calling me "sir."  Appreciate that.

GEN. RYDER:  Oh, is — I was talking to Moshe.


Q:  Darn it, man.

Q:  That's our President. 


Q:  There was — last night, the Governor of Hawaii streamed a video statement, and one of the things he talked about is an increased DOD role in the response there, and he — he cited a General Logan who was going to be coordinating the active duty response.  Who is he referencing to — and — who was he referencing?  And what is he referencing?  I know you took a question earlier about active duty but specifically the Governor did mention this General Logan.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, Luis, we will — we'll — we'll look into that.  I don't have an answer to that now.

Q:  May I ask another question?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.

Q:  Our people on the ground are saying that Hawaii has such a huge U.S. military active duty presence, they're saying where are they?  Is this because FEMA is the coordinator and you have to now wait for them to task you?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, you know, there — it is — we are going to support the state of Hawaii with whatever it has asked for in order to assist on the ground there, but again, what — what you don't want to do in these situations is add insult to injury with everyone rushing things forward when you're also now creating additional potential logistics challenges, communication challenges, et cetera.

So, you know, FEMA and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, as they put together their response in — in terms of what's needed, INDOPACOM is on a hair trigger to be able to support as necessary.  And so we're — we're going to do that.

So there — there should be no question about our commitment to supporting the state of Hawaii at — at any level, and again, as new information comes in, as we have updates to provide on what that looks like, certainly we're — we're going to do that.

I mean — yeah, we're — we're all watching those images and it's — everyone fully understands the — the pain that — that people are experiencing right now and we want to do everything we can to help but we also don't want to contribute to the problem by sending unnecessary capabilities that — that would hinder any type of emergency response, so.


Q:  You said the Coast Guard is doing some surveys of the waters off of Hawaii.  How much — how much is — is there being done by the Department of Defense for surveying — surveying infrastructure issues to see if there are infrastructure problems that need to be overcome to be able to deliver some of this aid?  Are you looking at port facilities, airfields, et cetera?  What's the DOD's role in that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so the Hawaii National Guard, of course working with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, will be overseeing, again, whatever — whatever type of support on that front is required, but as I mentioned, right now, in the near-term, we've got Corps of Engineers, debris removal experts, as well as temporary power experts that are going to be on the ground there to help with some of those initial requirements.  But as more information comes in, we'll be sure to — to let you know.

Q:  And — and you said that the, you know, forces — you don't want to rush — rush in — rush in supplies or whatever if they can't be handled, but in — for the Department of Defense's opinion on this, are things moving fast enough to take advantage of DOD resources?

GEN. RYDER:  I — I'm sorry —

Q:  So you don't want to send stuff in cause it could mess up the —

GEN. RYDER:  We don't want to send stuff in in an uncoordinated way, right?

Q:  — do you — from — from the Department of Defense's perspective, are you all — are you all being hindered in sending things —

GEN. RYDER:  Not at all — not at all.  No, I mean, the — the channels of communication are open.  As I mentioned, you know, the — the Secretary spoke to the — the two senators on Friday, again offered whatever support we could provide.  Admiral Aquilino is actively engaged in terms of making sure INDOPACOM is in close coordination with state — the state and the emergency response folks.

So again, we're — we're going to stay very tightly linked up and try — and try to help however we can.

All right, Chris, you get the last question.

Q:  Thank you so much, Pat.  NORAD detected a Russian aircraft in the Alaskan airspace late yesterday and into early this morning.  Does the Pentagon have any indication that would be linked to recent Russian and Chinese naval activity near Alaska?

GEN. RYDER:  I — you know, I know that NORTHCOM, NORAD put out a statement on their — I'd refer you to that statement.  No — no indication that I'm aware of that it's linked to any exercise activity.  These — that said, these types of flights are not that uncommon but they do happen and it's NORTHCOM's policy just to make that — you know, make people aware that they occurred, so.


Q:  Can we do just one for — request for taken on the authorities?  Can we just make sure clearly does Hawaii have to ask DOD or does the President have to tell the Secretary?  Just to make sure that we know what the authorities are.

GEN. RYDER:  Okay, yep, we'll take that question.  You've got it.

All right, thanks very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.