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Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: All right. Let me just get settled here. Sorry. 

OK, good afternoon, everyone. I just have a few items to pass along at the top and then I'd be happy to take your questions.

So first, I just want to say that our heartfelt condolences go out to the people of Hawaii and the community there. As of this morning, U.S. Army Pacific, as the theater Joint Force Land Component Command, the organization designated by the Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, as the headquarters to -- to oversee all defense support to civilian authorities in the Pacific, is executing six approved mission assignments from FEMA.

These assignments include inter-island air and sea transportation for the movement of cargo, personnel, supplies, and equipment, setting up a Defense Coordinating Element Office, including liaison officers, use of Schofield Barracks to support facilities for billeting, life support, and hygiene facilities for federal emergency responders, standby for aerial fire suppression, strategic transportation of personnel and/or cargo, and setting up additional staging areas on Maui and Oahu.

Additionally, Secretary Austin has designated Army National Guard Brigadier General Stephen Logan as the dual status commander of the Joint Task Force-50. Joint Task Force-50 will synchronize all DOD support to operations.

United States Army Pacific has deployed a deputy dual-status commander forward to embed with the JTF-50, with the Hawaii National Guard on Maui. The Hawaii National Guard has activated approximately 258 Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel on state active duty. This includes liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, command and control elements, and support to local law enforcement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently managing two operational FEMA mission assignments for debris removal and temporary power. The Corps currently has 27 personnel deployed, a mix of both active duty and civilians, as well as 14 personnel providing virtual reach-back support from off-site locations. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers has 41 contractor personnel deployed to the scene.

Our Coast Guard partners have shifted their focus of their response to minimizing maritime environmental impacts while remaining ready to respond to any new reports of individuals in the water. Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu and the Coast Guard National Strike Force have established a safety zone extending one nautical mile seaward from the shoreline and deployed pollution response teams and equipment to affected locations, to include a 100-foot-boom placed at the mouth of Lahaina Harbor to contain any potentially hazardous contaminants and material. In total, approximately 140 Coast Guard men and women are currently assisting with response efforts in Maui.

And of course, moving forward, the department and the JTF-50 will continue to work closely with state officials, FEMA, and other supporting agencies to support the people of Hawaii in response to this incredibly terrible disaster.

Separately, as an update to our response following the volcano eruption in Papua New Guinea, the amphibious assault ship USS America and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have supported U.S. government efforts for foreign disaster relief in Bougainville, at the request of the government of Papua New Guinea, in consultation with the Autonomous Bougainville government.

Over the course of the 10-day humanitarian assistance operation, Sailors and Marines sailed to the Solomon Sea and provided transport via CH-53 and MV-22 aircraft of 118 pallets, almost 35 tons of disaster relief and supplies to remote aid centers.

The team also provided Sailors -- sorry -- the team also provided Sailors and Marines to assist in loading and unloading supplies, demonstrating their commitment to serving as a crisis response team to the people of Bougainville. 

And with that, I'd be happy to take some questions. I know we don't have AP in the room so I can go ahead and get started with anyone else who wants to ask. 

OK, Dan -- I'll go to Dan, then I'll come to Janne. 


Q: I know you just put out some numbers and -- and some facts. 


Q: But just to be clear, how many active-duty troops are currently engaged in the effort in Maui? And are there -- are there plans -- additional plans to send a more active-duty personnel? 

MS. SINGH: I don't have an exact count for you right now of how many active-duty are currently assisting with operations in Maui. Right now the focus is, of course, on search and rescue. So our active-duty teams will -- or active-duty personnel will be -- the command-and-control will be through the Joint Task Force-50. But I just don't have specific numbers for you yet. I just have what the National Guard is providing. 

Q: And then, are there any plans being considered to airdrop supplies, or has that already happened (inaudible)? 

MS. SINGH: Well, the good thing about some of the search and recovery efforts and also efforts to get help to the community is that FEMA did have a lot of pre-positioned assets. So we haven't had to airdrop or airlift anything yet in terms of supplies. I believe in a 48-hour period there were about 180,000 -- 189,000 gallons dropped by Army National Guard aircrews to help with firefighting efforts. 

But we will -- I mean, as I mentioned at the top, we will be conducting one of our -- one of the assignments that -- approved assignments that we are doing with FEMA is conducting inter-island air and sea transportation. So for the movement of cargo, if there needs to be, you know, more bottled water brought in, additional personnel and supplies and equipment, we'll be providing that. 


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. I have two questions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un recently visited their military (inaudible) offensive war preparations. What is the U.S. reaction to this? 

MS. SINGH: So, we've been very clear about the threat posed by North Korea. And we've been very clear in our defense to South Korea and Japan, and our commitment to the region in order to ensure stability. We're going to continue to work with South Korea and Japan to address the threats posed by DPRK. But I just don't have anything more additional to provide on -- on that specific visit that you mentioned. 

We don't harbor any hostile or ill will towards the DPRK. But we do support inter-Korean dialogue and support an engagement as we continue to work through with our partners. 

Q: And the Russian defense minister said military cooperation between North Korea and Russia did not pose a threat to other countries. How can you comment on this? 

MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, and who -- who did you cite saying that? 

Q: The Russian defense minister. 

MS. SINGH: So I -- I mean, I wouldn't be able to speak on behalf of Russia, but from our standpoint, of course any aid that North Korea or any country gives to Russia is continuing an unjust and unprovoked war within Ukraine. So we have been very clear about our position. We have made concerns to other countries that want to provide support to Russia that, you know, we certainly discourage that. 

I think what's important is that we are going to continue our support for Ukraine, as you've heard the president say, for as long as it takes. And I'll just leave it at that. Great. 

Hey, Brandi. 

Q: Hey, Sabrina. Can you share an assessment so far of the impacts the wildfires have had on DOD's Maui High Performance Computing Center and the associated powerful supercomputing assets there? What's the status operationally of that resource?

MS. SINGH: I don't have a status update. I'd direct you to the Air Force for more details on that. I just don't -- I don't have that. Right now, our efforts, as I mentioned at the top, are really focused on search-and-rescue and working within the community to -- whether it's flowing in supplies or getting -- I mean, knitting closely together with FEMA to make sure that they have everything that they need when they're conducting these search and rescue operations. That's really our focus right now.

Q: A follow-up on that and then a separate question, or maybe take the question from me because the Air Force doesn't run that supercomputing center, it's the Defense Supercomputing Resource Center in Maui. It's associated with the Air Force but that's a question for OSD.

And then separately, when did OSD last update its account for all of its personnel or employees that are currently based in Maui or based in Maui before the fires? Do you have an update on if there were any -- anything that happened to the -- the personnel?

MS. SINGH: In terms of personnel, I -- I don't have an update, in terms of anything to read out in terms of if someone was injured or -- or lost due to the fires. That's something that I would direct you more to Indo-Pacific Command to address, but I don't have any specific numbers on personnel impacted.

And I would again direct -- direct you to the Air Force on that one. That's not an OSD question. I would still direct you there and I'm not going to take it.

Oren, did you have a question?

Q: Yeah. Yesterday in Niger, the military council that toppled President Bazoum said he could face the death penalty if found guilty of treason. Is it still your position that this isn't a coup?

MS. SINGH: So as you know, we continue to assess the ongoing situation in Niger. We are hoping that this can be resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means. I -- we've come very close to say, again, that this is an attempted coup. I think, by all means, from State Department, from DOD, from other levels of government, we are trying to work through this in a peaceful manner.

As you know, Niger is quite a critical partner to us in the region. And so we are hopeful that we can resolve this in a diplomatic way.

Q: But why does it seem like you're almost bending over backwards not to call it a coup when we've seen France, the EU, and ECOWAS just come out and call it what it appears to be?

MS. SINGH: Well again, I mean, I think we've been very clear that it's -- it's -- certainly looks like an attempted coup here. We have assets and interests in the region, and our main priority is protecting those interests and protecting those of our allies.

So, a designation like -- like what you're suggesting certainly changes what we'd be able to do in the region and how we'd be able to partner with Nigerian military. As you are well aware, we've conducted training with the Nigerian military, we conduct counter -- or CT operations from there. 

We have -- we continue to press and we continue to push for a diplomatic resolve. ECOWAS has also said that they don't want to see this end militarily, they don't want to see this -- an escalation in violence, they want to see this end in a diplomatic way. So we -- we are supportive of those measures.

Yeah, Lara? And then I'll go to the phones.

Q: To follow-up on that ... 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: ... if -- if it is designated a coup, what is -- what is the backup plan sort of in the meantime and going forward for CT in the region? And I understand that there's no -- no operations out of the -- out of the base right now. I assume that is (inaudible) the counter-terrorism operations in the region. What -- what's the plan?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, so I -- I mean, great question. I think, as you know, we won't engage in hypotheticals right now. We're certainly a planning organization, so while we plan for different scenarios and different outcomes, I'm not going to preview those right now from here. What we are hopeful of, and we continue to push for, is the diplomatic resolution for -- for this to end. 

In terms of how we conduct our -- our counter-terrorism operations, I mean, we still maintain over-the-horizon capabilities, not just from Niger but just from other places around the world. And so we will still be able to have capabilities within the region, but Niger is a partner and we don't want to see that partnership go. We've invested, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars into bases there, trained with the military there. So we really want to see a peaceful resolution to Niger's hard-earned democracy, and we're hopeful that we can come to that.

Q: Can you be more specific though? What are those over-the-horizon options? Because my understanding is Niger is the over-the-horizon option ... 


MS. SINGH: Yeah, that's certainly -- that's certainly true, but again, if we do need to adjust or shift for a different scenario, that would change, right? And I'm not going to preview that from here, on what exactly that would look like. But as you saw when we withdrew from Afghanistan, we still maintain over-horizon capabilities there. And so I just, again, don't want to get too far ahead of something that hasn't happened, so I'll just leave it at that.

Q: Respectfully, it's not a hypothetical though. If those operations are not happening from the drone base and they haven't for several weeks, that -- you know, what are we doing in the meantime?

MS. SINGH: Right now, all I can say is that our activity is constrained to the base. We're just going to -- I'm just going to leave it at that.

Great. I'm going to go to the phones here. I'm sorry, I do have a phone list. Just give me one sec. Meredith Roaten, Janes?

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. I just wanted to ask, can you say any more about the types of tactical vehicles that were sent in the aid package yesterday, and if they were all the same type of tactical vehicle?

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks for the question. I would direct you -- I'm sorry, I just don't have the full breakdown in front of me in terms of the PDA package that went out. I would direct you to our website for more -- for more specifics on that. You can find it on or happy to circle off with you off -- offline, but I just don't have that in front of me right now.

Great. Heather, USNI?

Q: Hi. Also a question on aid package. They mentioned that there were water trailers being sent to Ukraine. Can you say what water trailers are and what the expected use is going to be for them?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't go beyond what we have specified online, in -- but I can -- I'm sure I could probably get you more information just on -- on -- I think you said water trailers. I'm sorry, I am happy to get you more information on that. So I'll take that question and -- and have to circle back with you.

OK, great. Konstantin, yeah?

Q: Sabrina, following up on Hawaii, you mentioned that you don't have specific active duty numbers. Can you say that active-duty troops are participating in the response efforts though?

MS. SINGH: Yes, they are, and they were from the beginning. I think the White House actually put out a -- a pretty extensive fact sheet but it detailed some of the Navy assets that were used at the very beginning, some of the Army assets. 

So active duty was involved at the beginning, but as with a crisis or a disaster like this, the coordinating agency is FEMA. And so everything that needs to be surged into Maui for help within the community or fire suppression is going to be coordinated through FEMA. So that's why now you have the JTF-50 that's going to help with those coordination efforts.

But yes, active duty's going to be part of that and active duty has been part of that.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: And just to follow up real quick, I have -- I know you don't have specific numbers. Can you give a -- a rough sense of how many active duty service members have been involved?

MS. SINGH: I don't want to give a rough sense just yet cause I don't want to misspeak. And, you know, we do have a big presence on the island. This is our -- this is one of our biggest military installations, a -- a home to -- to many in Hawaii. 

And so I just don't want to get ahead of any numbers cause -- and they're going to ebb and flow as FEMA, you know, continues to request service and support or does not. As, you know, the fires mitigate, as there's a need for less infrastructure, whatever it is that the community needs, it's going to ebb and flow.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah, Liz?

Q: On Senator Tommy Tuberville's holds, will the Pentagon -- is there any possibility the Pentagon could change its policy in any way to compromise with Tuberville?


Q: OK. A follow-up.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Sorry, I don't mean to be flippant, but just to -- just to be more -- I guess a little bit more helpful to your question, no, we're not going to change our policy on ensuring that every single service member has equitable access to -- to reproductive healthcare. 

If you are a service member stationed in a state that has rolled back or restricted healthcare access, you are often stationed there because you were assigned there. It is not that you chose to go there. And so a service member in Alabama deserves to have the same access to healthcare as a service member in California, as a service member stationed in Korea. 

And so that's what that policy does. It's not -- it's not a -- it's not a abortion policy. The department does not have an abortion policy. We have -- we have a healthcare policy and we have a travel policy that allows for our service members to take advantage of healthcare that should be accessible to them.

Q: So my follow-up is then how -- how does this end?

MS. SINGH: I think you should ask Senator Tuberville. We've certainly asked him how this ends. The Secretary has had, I think, three calls with him this year. 

Early on, when the Department was going through how we were going to address the Dobbs decision, one of the things that we did was brief members of the SAS Committee. Our team went up there, was very clear about how and why we needed to ensure that our service members all across the board have access to healthcare, and we were very clear with Senator Tuberville's staff about how -- how we could do that, how we could achieve that end goal.

And so we were very clear from the beginning. A few weeks ago, like mid-July, our policy experts went up there and also briefed the SASC members again to give them more information on the policy. So we've been very clear we don't have anything to negotiate with here. 

We continue to urge the Senate to confirm our outstanding nominees. These are nominees that have enjoyed bipartisan support in -- in multiple Administrations. So I'd really pose that question to the Senator. You know, right there in his home state, we have the Defense Missile Agency that, right now, is being dutifully commanded by a one star general but it -- he is filling the role of a three star. So right in Senator Tuberville's backyard. 

He really has the -- the power and -- and I would say, you know, his party has the power to end these holds, and we would urge him to do that.

Great. Ryo, yeah?

Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia. Earlier this week, the defense agreement between Japan and Australia, known as the Reciprocal Access Agreement, came into force. The agreement is intending to facilitate the combined training and joint exercises in the two countries. 

I wonder how helpful such bilateral defense arrangements will be for the U.S. to advance a trilateral defense cooperation the Secretary is working on now?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, thanks for the question. I mean, in terms of the agreement between Japan and Australia, I would refer you to those countries to -- to speak more to their own agreement, but this agreement certainly shows us, as the department, the desire for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and it's clearly one that's shared by our allies and -- and partners. 

So agreements like this will help us enforce the international rule-based order and will continue to provide security and prosperity to the region. So we welcome it, but for more details, I would direct you to those two countries to speak to.

Yeah, I'll go to Tom and then over to you.

Q: Hi, Sabrina. Thank you.


Q: Could you share with us some of the -- some of the criteria the Pentagon has to designate a coup, when it moves from attempted coup to an actual coup? What -- what is the criteria the Pentagon uses to differentiate between an -- an attempted coup and when it becomes a coup? I ask that because they -- Niger has had coups in '74, '96, '99, 2010, 2021 a coup attempt, and now this.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: And so at some point in the past, the Pentagon has designated them coups and now it -- so what's some of the criteria please? Thanks.

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I actually would direct you to State Department more for that cause they would be the ones to …

Q: ... (inaudible). 

MS. SINGH: Can I just actually finish, Tom, really quick? I would direct you to State Department because we don't -- we -- this is an interagency effort, we're coordinating with our State Department colleagues, with the White House on this as well, but the State Department would actually be the one, I think, to officially change a -- a country's status or the U.S. relationship with that country, and therefore that would kick in to effect the DOD's relationship.

Q: OK. I hear what you say. However, the State Department has never used the language "attempted coup" in regards to the current situation as -- as the Department of Defense has and as you have personally. So therefore, it's incumbent upon you, who's using the term, to describe how you move it from attempted coup to coup, not the State Department, which has not uttered the word "coup" in any form or fashion.

MS. SINGH: Appreciate the comment. Was that a question -- was there a question?

Q: ... (inaudible).
MS. SINGH: So again, I think I've answered that. I'm not going to go into more details. I would -- again, not going to get ahead of any decisions that this department, that the State Department, or the White House makes. Right now, I can tell you that our force posture has not changed in Niger. We are certainly hopeful that this is resolved in a diplomatic way. 

And while I appreciate your frustration, I hopefully -- I -- I hope you understand that we are hoping for a peaceful and a diplomatic outcome here, and if that doesn't happen, we -- I will -- one of us will be back at this podium and would be happy to take your questions, but I'm going to go ahead and move on.


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. 

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: There are reports -- said that U.S. now is in talks with Turkey and Ukraine and other partner to increase the use of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain. So do you confirm that? And with your assessment, does the Black Sea now become, like, a battleground? And how much your concerns have about that?

MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, I just have not seen those reports, so I just can't really comment on -- on any more specifics on that. I'm -- I'm sorry.

Q: I’m talking about the Black Sea?

MS. SINGH: Well, the Black Sea -- in -- in terms of -- in terms of what's happening in the Black Sea, I -- you know, there's no U.S. assets there operating. We have certainly urged Russia, both, I mean, pretty publicly but also through different agencies, to return to the grain deal. The -- the risk that Russia is taking is -- is starving other countries out of -- of needed grain that -- that they depend on Ukraine for.

So, we've urged Russia to return to the grain deal, to honor its commitment to ensure safe passage of grain out of Ukraine and into the countries that need it the most. But we don't have any U.S. assets within the Black Sea, so I -- I just don't have more to share on that. Yeah, of course. 


Q: This is kind of related ... 


In -- in the Gulf, the U.S. has deployed, as you described, additional assets, troops, to ensure the safety of commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. So, so far, have you seen a decline in -- in kind of hostile acts or threats to commercial shipping in that region or ... 

MS. SINGH: Since ... 

Q: ... weeks?

MS. SINGH: ... since, like -- since the last incident or, like, since we last positioned Marines there?

Q: Over the past several weeks.

MS. SINGH: I don't have specific updates on, like, any interactions or unsafe, unprofessional behavior, but I think the fact that we did surge in -- I think it was 30,000 Sailors and Marines, I think that helped serve as a deterrent. But I don't have anything to read out in terms of any actions that have been taken.

Q: So would -- would something similar be considered for the Black Sea? Isn't -- isn't the -- a -- a blockade on -- or -- or disruption in grain shipments really a threat to international commerce in the same way that Iranian actions in the Strait of Hormuz would be?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I don't have any decision or announcement to make on that. It's something that we continue to monitor. You know, we're not -- we -- we are -- we've been very clear we don't seek war with Russia and that this is, you know, a fight that we are helping support Ukraine in. But at this moment, I don't have any announcements to make when it comes to the Black Sea or -- or any secure of helping shipments move out.

Q: Sorry, one follow-up on that.

MS. SINGH: OK, Dan, and then I'm going to go to one last question. OK.

Q: A different angle on Niger. So ... 

MS. SINGH: Take it.

Q: ... what about U.S. Defense Department consultations with the West African countries in ECOWAS? Because even though all sides are saying they want a peaceful solution, as you know... 

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: ... those governments have also held out the possibility of military intervention. Is the U.S. in consultation with those countries? And have they made requests for any kind of U.S. military assistance, secondary or logistical support in any way?

MS. SINGH: I'm not aware of any requests for U.S. military support, but the countries that are part of the ECOWAS have -- have all said that military intervention is a last resort, they don't want to see that happen. So we're supportive of that stance. We -- we also don't want to see this end in military intervention. We want to see a peaceful resolution to -- to this ending, and we certainly have not closed any doors to diplomacy. I think, you know, the State Department had a representative in the country, I want to say it was a week or two ago. 

So we're continuing to explore avenues of diplomacy but, you know, we're -- and we're going to continue to explore all options that we can.

Great. I'll take one last question and then we'll wrap it up.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. It's been two years since the Taliban returned to power and the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan. So I wanted to ask if you can provide any update on the seven -- the $7 billion dollars’ worth of U.S. weapons and equipment left in Afghanistan? And can you share where we have seen these weapons in the region as well?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any update on any specifics from the region. It's a pretty somber and solemn day and -- and month, of course, as we remember the two-year anniversary. I think it's something that -- you know, of course we -- we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and not just in the time that we were conducting an evacuation but also throughout the 20-year war.

And so we -- you know, we want to honor those service members and we want to also honor the fact that our service members performed an evacuation like no other military in the world could, because we were able to use our partners and allies.

I don't have more specifics beyond that. You -- we submitted, you know, our After Action Review that was classified, but we did give that to Congress, and I -- I -- you know, I think -- I think we've been pretty outspoken about our efforts in Afghanistan, and I'll just leave it at that.

OK, great. Thanks all.