An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. A few things at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions. 

The Department of Defense continues to work closely with FEMA and the state of Hawaii to support the ongoing federal and state response to the Maui wildfires. Nearly 700 DOD personnel and 157 Coast Guardsmen are currently engaged, and the U.S. Army Pacific Command and Joint Task Force 5-0 are actively conducting the eight approved mission assignments they've received from FEMA. In the past 24 hours, search and recovery operations continue with Hawaii National Guard teams, the FBI, and anthropologists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division's Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck fuelers began fuel distribution operations yesterday, providing approximately 1,500 gallons of fuel daily in support of eighteen U.S. Army Corps of Engineer generators operating along the West Coast of Maui. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Pacific Fleet has deployed a three-person mobile diving salvage unit which is scheduled to arrive later today. Also, our Coast Guard partners continue their work minimizing maritime environmental impacts. Coast Guardsmen recently partnered with Maui fire dive teams in Lahaina Harbor, and that operation is scheduled to resume today.

Separately, I also want to take a moment to highlight last Friday's announcements following President Biden's meeting at Camp David with Prime Minister Kishida of Japan and President Yoon of the Republic of Korea. As you all saw, our three nations committed to several important agreements that will strengthen peace -- peace and security for our people, the Indo-Pacific region, and the world.

On exercises, our leaders committed to a multiyear trilateral framework that includes annual multi-domain trilateral exercises, and this follows recent successful trilateral ballistic missile defense and antisubmarine warfare exercises among our three militaries. On ballistic missile defense, our three countries will activate by the end of this year a data-sharing mechanism to exchange real-time missile warning data that will improve mutual dis- -- detection and assessment of DPRK missile launches. This follows the commitments that our leaders made together in November of last year, as well as an important meeting by Secretary Austin with his Japanese and ROK counterparts in Singapore in July -- this July -- or excuse me, this June. 

On enhanced information sharing, our three countries will leverage existing secure lines of communications, and we continue building and institutionalizing our respective communication channels. This will enhance our trilateral security cooperation in the region in the face of North Korean provocations and improve information sharing and policy coordination in the future. 

All of these agreements underscore that our relationships with Japan and the ROK are stronger than ever. That's why Secretary Austin issued a statement last week celebrating what he called a, quote, "historic day for the United States and two of our closest allies", and it's why the department is looking forward to continue to work closely with our Japanese and ROK counterparts as we keep delivering results together.

Finally, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command concluded Exercise Malabar 2023 yesterday, which ran 10 through 21 August. This annual exercise is a surface, air and subsurface multilateral exercise with the Royal Australian Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy. This year's exercise was comprised of a harbor phase and a sea phase encompassing a wide variety of mission sets to develop the participants' capabilities in integrated air and missile defense, combined undersea warfare, antisubmarine warfare, combined strike maritime interdiction operations, visit, board, search and seizure and combined live fire. Since 1992, Exercise Malabar has provided participating nations the opportunity to enhance and demonstrate interoperability while furthering peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. If you have more questions on that or for more information, please reach out to U.S. INDOPACOM Public Affairs.

With that, happy to take your questions. We'll start with Associated Press on the line, Tara Copp.

Q: Hi, General Ryder. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering if you could give us an update on the status of fighting in Ukraine's counteroffensive. We haven't heard much about that recently. Are there any concerns that there hasn't been a lot of progress, or much -- enough progress, especially as the administration has now put in a request for another $24 billion in that aid to Ukraine?

And then on a separate topic, on Maui, if you could give us any details on what the DPAA team is doing on the ground, whether they're helping with collection or how they're helping with identification. Thanks a lot.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tara. On -- on the first question, in terms of operations in Ukraine, I'd -- I'd refer you to the Ukrainians, really, to go into more details on their specific operations. Largely speaking, we continue to see fighting all along the forward line of troops, with the Ukrainians making some forward movement. And again, our focus is going to be on continuing to communicate closely with them and our allies and partners to ensure that they have what they need to continue to be able to defend their country and take back sovereign territory.

As it relates to Maui, as you probably heard on Friday, we had the -- the Joint Task Force 5-0 commander provide a briefing in terms of what DPAA is being asked to provide. As I understand it, they are sending subject matter experts to assist the -- the civilian authorities there in terms of recovery ops and identification, but I'd refer you to them for -- for more details on that.

All right, let's go to the room here. Sir?

Q: Hi. Pat Tucker, Defense One.

GEN. RYDER: Hi, Pat. I didn't recognize you there with the...

Q: I know, I know, it’s really very hard. New profile out in The New Yorker on Elon Musk corroborates what the Wall Street Journal's reported over the summer. Basically, a lot of people around him suggest that his growing erratic behavior can be attributed to Ketamine abuse. Is there going to be a review of Elon Musk's security clearance?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Pat. So a couple things. First of all, we're -- for privacy reasons, you know, per policy, we don't discuss particular individual's security clearances. I'd refer you to -- to Mr. Musk's company to -- to talk about that. 

Broadly speaking, kind of behind your question is will the Department of Defense continue to work with companies like SpaceX? I -- what I would tell you is that we work with a wide variety of companies. We have well-developed processes and procedures to look at things like contracts and services that our person-independent -- personality-independent. So again, we'll continue to conduct business with a wide variety of partners in industry, and I'll just leave it at that. Thank you very much.


Q: Thank you. North Korea is planning a military satellite launch at (inaudible) this week. So what is the lev- -- what is the level of Pentagon concerns -- of concerns about this launch?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo. So certainly seen those reports. I'm not going to get into specifics in terms of intelligence on -- on what we may or may not be tracking. I will say that as always, we will stand with our Japanese and our ROK allies in the face of North Korea's continued provocations, to include their claimed space program. So we're going to take all necessary measures to ensure that the security of our homeland and the defense of our allies continues, and we will continue working closely with Japan and ROK to promote peace, security, and stability in the region.

Q: So are you preparing a strong response to that launch, including the additional assets to the region?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get ahead of any particular potential response, other than to say again we, as always, will remain in close contact with our Japanese and ROK allies. Thank you very much.

OK, now I'll go to the other Ryo. All right.

Q: This is a follow-up. So in June, Pentagon said North Korea satellite launch is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution. So can I ask your response on potential North Korea's satellite launch?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I -- I just answered that question. Again, I'm not -- I'm not going to get into hypotheticals at this point, other than to say again, aware of those reports, we'll continue to remain in close contact and communication with our allies in the region. Thank you very much.


Q: Thank you, General. I have two questions. I mean, previously, when -- when Ukrainians were able to push Russians away from Kyiv, the Pentagon was very keen on sharing information and perspective from this building on how successful the counter -- the defense of Kyiv was. Now, you always refer us to the Ukrainians. However, the U.S. -- American tax -- taxpayers putting big money to help Ukrainians in this fight. What is your assessment of the counter-offensive so far? Have you seen any breakthrough? And is it succeeding in achieving its goals? That's the first question.

The second question is on Niger. Is there any contingency planning in the Pentagon for maybe future decision to pull out troops? And is there any talks with partners in -- in -- on the continent in Africa to find other alternatives in the counter-terrorism operation?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Fadi. So a couple of things there. So first of all, when it comes to Ukraine -- and -- and I mean this with all due respect -- I'm a U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson, so I'm not going to provide an operational update from this podium on Ukrainian combat operations, other than to say again we are committed to supporting them in their fight. 

We've said from the very beginning that this is going to be a very tough and difficult operation and a difficult fight for them. And -- and I know you've heard me say this before but Secretary Austin has highlighted the fact that this is a marathon and it's not a sprint. So there should be no illusions about that -- that fact. 

I will also say that -- that this is a Ukrainian operation. They are leading it. Our -- our focus is on supporting them, in terms of what they need to be successful, because the implications if Ukraine is not successful transcend just Ukraine. It has implications for Europe and the world, when it comes to Russia's unprovoked invasion.

The last thing I'll say on this -- and -- and, you know, I think it's very important to understand -- and I know that you know this, having watched and -- and observed and reported on combat operations around the world -- is that combat by its very nature is very dynamic, it's very fluid, and it's unpredictable, and any student of history would know that the battle's not over until it's over. 

And so our focus is going to continue to be, as I've said, on helping them have the training and the equipment and the resources they need to be able to be victorious on the battlefield, to defend their country and take back sovereign territory.

So I'm not going to get into providing scores in the middle of their fight. Again, that would be inappropriate. What we're going to do is we're going to keep supporting them for as long as it takes.

On Niger, you know, look, we are a planning organization. I'm not going to get into specifics of any potential -- actual -- or speculate on any future plan, other than to say that's -- that's what we do. We are an organization that plans and prepares for a wide variety of contingencies.

As of right now, the number of U.S. forces that we have in Niger remain the same. There's been no change in our force posture. Broadly speaking, the U.S. government remains focused on diplomacy, and that will continue to be our -- our focus. And -- and if we have any updates to provide on the DOD front, we'll certainly do that. Thank you very much.

Let me go to Oren and then I'll go to the phone.

Q: I just wanted an update on -- on Travis King. First, has there been any additional communication with the North Koreans, either through the U.S. or through UN Command, about Travis King? And as of the last check his status was AWOL, but if you're AWOL for more than 30 days, you're a deserter and you're dropped from the rolls. Has that happened? And has there been a decision made on whether to designate King a POW?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So the -- the Army can certainly provide you more detail and -- in terms of his status. I will tell you there's been no change in status for Private King right now. And, you know, though -- those regulations that you refer to are regulations that pertain to your normal situation. This is not a normal situation clearly. 

So from a DOD, from a U.S. government standpoint, our focus remains on the safety and security of Private King and trying to get him home, but, you know, again, I'd refer you to the Army to talk about his specifics from a personnel status going forward.

We have not -- I don't have any updates to provide in terms of any communication, nothing -- nothing new to report on that front, but again, we will continue to do everything we can to -- to learn about his status and bring him home safely.

Q: And is there a decision whether to designate him a POW or not?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd refer you to the Army, but right now, his status has not changed. OK?

All right, let me go to the phone here real quick and then I'll come to Tony. Wait, Mike, you're in the room here. It says you're on the phone, so ... 


OK, wow. All right. Well then, let me go to Carla Babb then, who's on the phone, VOA.

Q: Hey, thanks, Pat. So the Pentagon this week had said that it would consider training Ukrainian pilots stateside on F-16s if the training capacity is reached in Europe. Can you tell us what locations are being considered for training F-16 pilots here? And can video journalists have access to this training?

And then I have one more question also. Can the Pentagon confirm that Russian military deaths in the war against Ukraine are now as many as 120,000 troops and that the Ukrainian figures are closer to 70,000 deaths on the Ukrainian side? That's what the New York Times is reporting from U.S. officials. Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Carla. On -- on your second question, as it pertains to casualties, I -- I don't have any numbers to provide. Clearly, this -- this war has resulted in significant casualties on both sides but I -- I just don't have any numbers to pass along.

As it relates to Ukrainian pilot F-16 training in the U.S., we are prepared to support a training effort here in the continental United States if capacity is reached in Europe. I don't have any specifics to provide right now in terms of which bases that training could occur at, but certainly if the decision is made to do that and we move forward, we'll be sure to provide you with updates on that.

OK, let me go to Nancy.

Q: I wanted to follow up on a couple things you've said earlier. You mentioned that there were eight specific missions in Maui. Can you -- can we get a list of those?

GEN. RYDER: Absolutely. Yeah, there -- there's quite a few. Well, let me just go ahead and -- and read them out for you here right now.

So we've got establishing a defense coordinating element office, inter-island air/sea transportation, providing Schofield Barracks in Oahu to assist with federal responders -- so things like billeting, life support, hygiene, strategic transportation, aerial fire suppression capabilities, FEMA incident support base at USARC Wailuku, fuel distro operations in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and then mortuary affairs support.

Q: And then can you tell us how -- how many times Secretary Austin or top civilian leaders here have spoken to the Governor of Hawaii about supporting their rescue efforts?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So shortly after the President declared it a federal emergency shortly after the wildfires, the Secretary spoke with both of the senators, and then last week, the Deputy Secretary spoke to the Governor.

Q: OK. And lastly, I want to come back to Pat's question about Elon Musk. You said that any review of his classification is private, but it's not classified whether he has security clearance, so I wondered if you would take the question to just answer whether he has security clearance and what level, given how extensive SpaceX contracts are with the U.S. government.

GEN. RYDER: I will take the question.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much. 

All right, let me go back to the -- well, let me go back to the phone room here. Mike, Washington Examiner? Did you have a question?

Q: I’m Washington Times, not the Washington Examiner. Is that Mike Brest? 

GEN. RYDER: I apologize.

Q: I do have a question, though.


Q: I mean, can you just -- what does the administration think the long-term implication of the F-16s delivery to Ukraine is going to be? What -- what's the ultimate long-term goal that the Pentagon wants out of this?

GEN. RYDER: In terms of for Ukraine?

Q: Yeah.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so when -- when the decision was announced in May, in terms of providing Ukraine with the F-16, we highlighted that this is part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine's security and defense. And so, I mean, we -- we have clearly a focus on the near-term, the battlefield situation, which is what our PDAs and USAI have really been focused on. The F-16 is really intended to be part of that longer-term commitment. OK?

Now let me go to Mike Brest, Washington Examiner. And I -- I apologize, Mike.

Q: Not a problem. Not the first time it's happened. I'm hoping to get an update on Russia's attempts to build Iranian drones in Russian territory. We've heard that the -- it could be operational -- fully operational by early next year. Has DOD seen them already begin to produce drones?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the -- the question, Mike. I'm going to -- I -- I don't want to give you some bad data here, so let me -- let me take that question and we'll come back to you on that. We do know, as we've spoken about before, that Iran and Russia clearly have a relationship when it comes to -- to drones. We've seen the Iranian drones being used on the battlefield. But let me -- let me come back to you with that.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

OK, Janne, and then we'll go back here.

Q: Thank you -- excuse me. On North Korea, regarding the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's reaction to the Camp David trilateral summit talks, North Korean Kim Jong Un mentions the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, saying that specific discussions for provoking nuclear war had taken place at Camp David trilateral summit. What do you think about the -- North Korea's preemptive of nuclear weapons?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, our -- our focus is on security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, ensuring that -- that we can work together for our mutual defense. And so any exercises, any summits are predicated towards those efforts.

The -- the provocative language coming out of North Korea is of course dangerous, and as you've heard this building and others, to include the White House, say, we certainly would be willing to engage in dialogue with North Korea with no preconditions. And so we'll continue to -- to maintain that stance, but to this point, they have not agreed to do that.

Q: And North Korea warned that it will take a physical response if the U.S. reconnaissance aircraft crosses the economic zones. How (inaudible) ... 

GEN. RYDER: Again, the -- the U.S. will continue to fly, operate, and sail in international airspace and waters wherever international law allows.

So let me go ahead and move on. Yes, ma'am? And then I'll come back to you.

Q: So another North Korea question here. North Korea has threatened they are going to launch an ICBM this week, but during last week's trilateral, there was -- or they say there is a hotline that is going to be set up. 

The first one is has the hotline already been set up since this -- North Korea has already stated that they were threatening to launch a missile? And number two, how would it work in a scenario like this? What are ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, we'll -- we'll clearly -- you know, as it relates to the -- the items that I read out at the top, we'll -- we'll have more details to follow on those in the days ahead. How does it work right now? We have multiple means of communication with the Republic of Korea and Japan and our other allies in the region. 

And so maintaining those -- and -- and many of those are longstanding -- but as you heard me say, you know, the -- the intent here is to ensure that we can increase and expedite any communication in the -- in the event that there is potential crisis situation, most notably from a trilateral standpoint, which I think is -- is significant.

So again, we'll have more details in the days ahead. Thank you very much.

Yes, sir?

Q: Returning to the F-16s, I know a lot of the work that's taking place right now is going on in Europe, so I just wanted to step back and ask what the administration's role right now is in that process?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So a couple of things. First of all, we are very grateful to our European allies, Denmark and the Netherlands in particular, for leading this effort. And so because this is a U.S. system, there are certain laws and -- and regulations in place, in terms of how that equipment can be used by third parties. And so as you recently saw State Department publicly announce our intent to support any requests, so that's part of the process.

Again, we'll have much more details to provide in the future as Denmark and the Netherlands kick off this program and we'll -- we'll be able to illuminate some of our additional support on that front. Thank you.

OK, time for a few more. Yes, sir?

Q: Yeah, I was just curious -- you said that the Coast Guard's working to mitigate environmental impacts. What exactly are they doing? And what impacts is DOD concerned about, in terms of the environment in Hawaii?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'd -- I'd refer you to the Coast Guard to speak about their efforts. Broadly speaking, as I understand it, given the -- the scope of the disaster and -- and how that impacted the harbor there. You know, clearly you had some vessels that were -- were damaged. 

And -- and again, I don't want to speculate and just make things up from the podium here but they're going to be looking at that from an environmental safety, from a human safety standpoint, which, as I'm sure you can appreciate, would be significant, given the importance of any harbor. So -- but I'd refer you to them.

Let me go to Tony.

Q: I've got a couple questions on Persian Gulf escort issue. What's the status of U.S. OSD policy review, in terms of whether the Secretary's going to sign off on allowing Marines and sailors to go on commercial vessels if requested?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. So I don't -- I don't have anything to announce today, in terms of any changes to our force posture in the Middle East, nor do I want to get into or speculate about potential areas that are under consideration or -- or that are pre-decisional.

Q: Could -- could you commit to announce -- if in fact the Secretary signs off on such an -- a policy, to announce that publicly?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I think if there's anything significant from a force posture standpoint, you know, it -- within the bounds of operations security, we will certainly look to keep the public informed.

Q: On the New Yorker article -- I don't want to hype it up too much here -- but buried in there is a discussion Colin -- Colin Kahl had with Musk about the need to -- to get SpaceX on contract to provide Starlink for Ukraine so that he just couldn't pull out, you know, summarily. The -- the contract was announced in June. You guys have not announced any details of even the cost of it, the -- the award of it. Can you give some kind of detail in terms of, you know, bound -- the -- the dollars at least involved?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. I -- I do appreciate the question, and -- and in this particular case, for operations security reasons, we're just really not able to go into details about this particular contract. As -- as you know, satellite communication is an important aspect of the fight that's occurring in Ukraine right now and we are working with Starlink and others of course on that front, but I just -- I'm not going to be able to provide any -- any details ... 

Q: I’ve got to ask you one -- there was one quote in -- in this article by -- Ronan Farrow that, if it's true, it's somewhat outrageous and I need you to react to this. He said "one Pentagon spokesman said that he was keeping Musk apprised of my inquiries about his role in Ukraine and would grant an interview with an official about the matter, only with Musk's permission."

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well ... 

Q: (Inaudible) any idea who might have said that?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, as a -- as a DOD spokesperson, I think that's ludicrous. The anonymous spokesperson is not speaking on behalf of the Department of Defense. That's not the way we do business. We make our own determinations, in terms of the release of information to the public. And so that -- that is patently false.

Q: You think this statement is false then, he's making -- this is not true?

GEN. RYDER: That -- that is not the policy of the Department of Defense. You all work with us here on a -- on a daily basis and know that's not the way we operate. And -- and I -- an individual that you're referencing is not going to make a determination on whether we do or do not answer questions.

Q: All right, fair enough.

GEN. RYDER: Does that -- does that answer it?

Q: ... I mean, he says it. This guy is an award-winning journalist and is ... 

GEN. RYDER: I -- I can't speak to his sources, I'm just ... 

Q: ... I'm telling you that.


Q: And the New Yorker fact checks the living daylights out of their -- their -- their reporters. That's good for them. So when I saw this, this is fairly outrageous if it's true, and I'm asking if you -- did you canvass your guys, your people, saying "did anybody say this to him?"

GEN. RYDER: I did not canvass my guys but I can tell you, as the Pentagon spokesperson, that that is not our policy and that person is not speaking on behalf of the Department of Defense. There's a -- a lot of people in the DOD. I don't know who it is. I don't know if it's real. I'm not going to question the -- this particular reporter. You know, I -- but I will tell you right here from this podium that that is not our policy and that person's not speaking for the DOD, whoever that is.

Q: Fair enough.

GEN. RYDER: OK? And you had a -- you -- you ... 

Q: Just on the point about U.S. troops going on -- on civilian ships in the Persian Gulf, you said that there is significant movement on that. It strikes me that any U.S. personnel on a civilian ship would be significant, so I just wanted to make a plea for any release if that happens, however small the number of actual ... 


GEN. RYDER: ... appreciate that. Thank you.

All right, we'll do one more here. Heather from USNI?

Q: I also wanted to ask about the -- the Marines out there. Can you tell us, you know, if they're not going on the ships right now, are they -- is their presence alone being any kind of a deterrent? Do you have any information about what is going on with those Marines or anything that you can say as to update on us -- on the force posture right now?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Heather. So, you -- you know, we -- we recently announced the arrival of the Amphibious Readiness Group and the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which you're tracking, but for any further details in terms of the individual dispositions of those units, I -- I'd refer you to NAVCENT. They should be able to give you an update.

OK, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.