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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, well, good afternoon, everyone.  Got quite a bit to cover at the top here, so appreciate you hanging in there with me.  

First up, I'd like to highlight that the Department of Defense continues to work closely with FEMA, the state of Hawaii and other federal agencies in support of the coordinated response to the Maui wildfires.  This includes U.S. Army Pacific Command's overall leadership of nine approved mission assignments from FEMA.  And as part of those efforts, Joint Task Force 50 continues search-and-recovery activities with Hawaii National Guard teams, FBI and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, while the Hawaii National Guard also continues providing 24-hour support to local law enforcement.

Trucks, water tanks and specialists from the 25th Infantry Division are on the ground in Maui now in support of the water distribution mission, with support from Pacific Fleet's Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit Six.  Of note, Major General Kenneth Hara, the adjutant general for the state of Hawaii, Lahaina wildfire incident commander and the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management aba- -- Agency will hold a press briefing today via Zoom from Hawaii at 5:00 P.M. Eastern time with updates on DOD's ongoing response to the Maui wildfires.  So for further details on that briefing, I'd refer you to our media advisory, but as we move forward, the Department of Defense will continue to support the people of Hawaii during this very challenging time.

Separately, as you know, Hurricane Idalia made landfall yesterday in the Big Bend area of the Florida Panhandle as a category three hurricane.  With maximum sustained winds of 125 miles an hour and record-breaking storm surges, it was the strongest hurricane to strike Florida's Big Bend region in more than 125 years.  Florida National Guard has been fully activated, and the Joint Task Force Florida is at full operational capacity under the direction of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  Joint Task Force Florida has positioned 5,344 Guardsmen, 2,400 high-water vehicles, 14 Army Guard helicopters, 23 watercraft and RED HORSE heavy construction teams around the state to provide responsive, sustained support to reduce suffering and assist in the restoration of critical services.  

Additionally, the North Carolina National Guard has activated 128 Guardsmen, prepositioning them in 51 high-water vehicles and other resources at armories in Kinston, Elizabethtown and Rockingham.  The South Carolina National Guard also has nearly 100 Guardsmen on duty supporting -- supporting hurricane recovery operations in that state.  The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, is providing FEMA a federal staging area at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and NORTHCOM has deployed a defense coordinating officer element charged with coordinating with FEMA in Tallahassee, Florida.  The DOD will remain in close coordination with FEMA, state officials and other supporting agencies as the cleanup and recovery operations continue to develop.

Shifting gears, Secretary Austin will meet with the director of the Defense Innovation Unit, Mr. Doug Beck, today to receive an update on how the organization is charting a new strategic model focused on building a national force for innovation.  In accordance with its mission, DIU works to accelerate the adoption of commercial technologies that solve key operational problems identified in the National Defense Strategy.  The secretary and the deputy secretary will continue to work closely with DIU in support of a whole-of-department approach to both innovate and quickly field technology to enable enduring impact today and into the future.

In other news, the department is launching a website on the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office to provide the public with information concerning AARO and its efforts to understand and resolve unidentified anomalous phenomena.  This website will provide information, including videos and photos, on resolved UAP cases as they're declassified and approved for public release.  The website's other content includes reporting trends and frequently-asked-questions section, as well as links to official reports, transcripts, press releases and other resources that the public may find useful.  

The department is committed to transparency with the American people on AARO's work on UAPs.  The website will serve as a one-stop shop for all publicly in- -- publicly-available information related to AARO and UAP, and AARO will regularly update the website with its most recent activities and findings as new information is cleared for public release.  You can see AARO's new website at

On the personnel front, the department would like to bid a fond farewell to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros, Jr., who's been in his position since August '21 -- August of 2021.  The under secretary's last day with the department is September 8th.  

Along with his many significant accomplishments during his tenure, Under Secretary Cisneros reduced prices at commissaries, directly benefiting our servicemembers.  He promoted the safety, health and well-being of the force during the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a strategy for the secretary of defense that reduced health risks while continuing operations and maintaining DOD readiness.  Under Secretary Cisneros spearheaded initiatives to ensure access to reproductive healthcare and contraceptives, and as the chief diversity and inclusion officer, he championed the department's goals of fostering a workforce that's both representative and inclusive, while overseeing the development and implementation of several policies and initiatives to build a climate of dignity and respect, while also investing in prevention and education programs to eliminate sexual assault, sexual harassment and suicide.

On behalf of the secretary of defense and the entire department, we want to thank Under Secretary Cisneros for his service, and we wish him the best.  

Additionally, we're also bidding a fond farewell to Mr. Michael Donnelly, the Pentagon's director of administration and management. During his tenure, Mr. Donley efficiently oversaw, managed, and integrated the work of two large distinct but complementary Department of Defense operations with more than 2,300 employees, 2,000 contractors, and nearly $1.5 billion in operating budgets.  

Throughout his 27 months in this position, he successfully orchestrated departmental efforts to stand up the performance improvement officer functions to meet the White House Office of Management and Budget Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 requirements, and Mr. Donley's deft management ensured the department's strategic management plan fully aligned to the National Defense Strategy and set actionable measurements to affect change.

Again, on behalf of the Secretary of Defense and the entire department, we want to thank Mr. Donley for his service and wish him well.

Finally, let me conclude by highlighting that today marks two years since the end of the war in Afghanistan.  As you may have seen, Secretary Austin released a statement earlier today in which he highlighted the valor, patriotism, and selflessness of the American service members and civilians who fought and served in Afghanistan over the - over the course of 20 years.

The Secretary underscored the service and sacrifice of those we lost, stating, quote, "we bow our heads today in memory of the 2,461 U.S. service members who never made it home, including the 13 courageous troops taken from us in the attack at Abbey Gate in the final hours of the war.  We also remember the hundreds of service members from allied and partner countries who lost their lives during this 20 year war," end quote.

In closing, Secretary Austin emphasizes that the war in Afghanistan is over but our gratitude to the Americans who fought there is unending.  The full statement can be found on the DOD website.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  We'll go ahead and start in the room here with Idrees.

Q:  Just thinking about Afghanistan, Congressman Mills introduced articles of impeachment against the Defense Secretary because of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and what he says were, you know, some intel that was ignored.  Has the Secretary spoken with the Congressman since the articles of impeachment were introduced?  And is he concerned that he could be impeached?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Idrees.  So they have not spoken.  And - and in terms of those articles, I'm not going to discuss any proposed or - or pending legislative actions.  What I would say though is that there is no one who cares more deeply for the wellbeing of service members and their families, whether it's serving today or whether it was serving in Afghanistan, than Secretary Austin.

Q:  Is there a reason he hasn't tried to reach out to him?  Does he believe the - the, I guess, articles are - don't have merit or - or it's ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to comment on any proposed or pending legislative actions.


Q:  Hey, thank you.  You - staying on Afghanistan, I did read this statement by the Secretary.  Are there any - you know, today was - is obviously a significant anniversary.  Are there any ongoing kind of lessons learned or, you know, reflections on what happened in the last 20 years?  Like, what's the - what's the ongoing process for the Pentagon in terms of what they learned from those 20 years of conflict?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, sure.  Well, from a Department of Defense standpoint, inherently we are an organization that learns from all of our operations, to include those in Afghanistan.  And you see that reflected in the multitude of ways, whether it's at our war colleges, in terms of the lessons that we've learned, whether it's in our exercises and how we inculcate that, or whether it's from personal experience.

You know, in my - my own experience, having served in Iraq, having served in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, every time you engage in those type of operations, you're going to learn things which you subsequently apply in - in other lessons.

And so across the board, the department has learned not only from our experience in Afghanistan but from all of our operations, and we continue to apply those on the day-to-day basis.  You know, ultimately this is a learning organization, and so as a result, what you see is a U.S. military that comes out of 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan that truly makes this the most combat capable, most credible military the world has ever known for that very reason, because you have so many combat veterans in our - in our ranks.  Thank you.


Q:  I have just a very quick follow-up.  Will you ever declassify or release an unclassified version of the DOD After Action Review that was passed to Congress in April, I believe?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I don't have any updates on that front, Oren.  That - again, that was a internal report, classified report.  We did provide it to the Hill, but right now, I don't have any announcements to make in terms of a - a declassification.

Q:  And then if I may go over my question limit, I have a few questions coming out of the Gold Star families hearing earlier this week that I want to follow up on.  

First, Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews has testified that Marine snipers at Abbey Gate spotted someone who they said matched the description of the - of a suicide bomber but were denied permission from their superiors to engage the threat.  Do you know why?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I don't have any personal insight into that information.  Again, I do know that U.S. Central Command conducted a - a very comprehensive, exhaustive investigation into the Abbey Gate incident, of course, which is all available on their website, in their Freedom of Information Act Reading Room, but - but again, you know, we recognize that it was a - a very challenging situation.  

Military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan made the best decisions and provided their best military advice based on what was known at the time and - and leaders took appropriate action in response to reported threat streams.

And - and since you again brought up Abbey Gate and the families, as - as you've seen, the Secretary did put out a statement over the weekend on that but we, again, just want to express our deepest condolences to the Gold Star families who lost loved ones in that tragic bombing.  And again, we are - as I've highlighted, we are forever grateful for the service and sacrifice of their loved ones and their families.  Thank you.

Q:  And then it was - again, from this roundtable, it was said military officials were denied permission two days before the Abbey Gate attack to conduct an airstrike against an ISIS-K cell in Afghanistan.  To your knowledge, was that true?  And why were they denied, if so?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I - Oren, I would point back to the Central Command investigation.  I don't have any additional insight to provide, other than, again, at the time, over 100 people were interviewed through CENTCOM's investigation.  

At the tactical level, the assessment was that the Abbey Gate attack was not preventable without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees and that the leaders on the ground followed proper measures and procedures.

Q:  Was the ... 

GEN. RYDER:  And then it's your last question.

Q:  Last question.  Chairman McCaul says the U.S. intel predicted the exact date and time of the suicide bombing.  Is that accurate?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, Oren, I'd - I'd point you back to the investigation.  Thank you.

Let me go to Liz here.

Q:  On the UAP website that was released and announced today, how can you ensure that the reported sightings are legitimate and real?  How will that be investigated?  Can you talk about that process to make sure, you know, people don't put in jokes?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  Well, broadly speaking, it's important to understand that - that, first of all, as I highlighted right now, the - the posting of the website is the next step in the - in this process, in terms of ensuring that the public has information and insight into UAPs.  

And so what you see today is what has been declassified to date.  

As we move ahead into the future, there will be a subsequent update to that site that will allow DoD service members or civilians to provide reports via a private and secure means.  And, again, that's a critical aspect of this is ensuring that information can be received in a way in which it will be properly handled to ensure, again, privacy, both from a statutory and a regulatory standpoint, but then also to ensure that that website and the information there is secure.  

So this will be something that we'll continue to keep the public updated on.  You know, AARO is focused on the facts, taking in information, reviewing the facts, and then when possible, you know, declassifying that information, making it available.  

OK.  Thank you.  

Go to Janne, then we'll come over here.  

Q:  Thank you, General.  I have two questions, one on North Korea, one on Russia.  In North Korea, Kim Jong-un announced that he was carrying out military commander training and tactical nuclear strike exercises to occupy entire South Korean territory.  What is your reaction on that?  

GEN. RYDER:  Sure, thanks, Janne.  

So, you know, again, we would call on North Korea to refrain from any type of provocative rhetoric or behavior.  Again, our focus in working in the region is to work closely with the Republic of Korea and our allies in the region to ensure peace and stability and security.  I'll just leave it at that.  

Q:  Do you not worry about a surprise, provocations (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, you know, between the United States, RoK, Japan, and our other allies in the region, we will continue to be focused on deterrence, to deter aggression.  We will continue to stay in close communication with one another to ensure the safety and security of our nations.  And, you know, I'll just -- again, leave it right three.  

So let me -- let me move on.  Yes, sir.  

Q:  I just wanted to follow up on a response to a taken question from earlier this week that said DoD won't be tracking how many people use the non-covered reproductive health care policies, and what specifically they're used for.  Do service members who want to use these policies have to disclose the procedures they're seeking to their chain of command?  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks for the question, (Will ?).  

So we'll come back to you with some more specifics but it's important understand that the Department of Defense sets the broad policy and then the services will provide the -- the specific instructions on how to implement those policies.  A lot of this will come down in terms of being respectful of individuals' privacy in terms of how they plan to go about requesting, you know, whether it's personal leave versus requesting reimbursement from the department.  

And so ensuring that there is processes and procedures in place, one, to protect the individual member's privacy, but also at the same time ensuring that we can account for readiness and personnel accountability.  And so, again, we'll have more to provide on that.  

I'll -- I'll take that question for you.  

Q:  I guess the -- the broader issue I was getting at here is, is there no way anonymously collect this data?  It's pretty key data points, how many people are -- are using the policy and what they're using them for.  So if there's any way to -- to release that, that would be -- that would...


GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so and to -- to your question, I think we did answer that in the -- the taken question that we provided.  So from a policy standpoint, the department will track the number of days used by service member, we'll track the aggregate total dollar amount used by service members, the aggregate total dollar amount used by all authorized travelers, whether it's service members, dependents, non-medical attendants, and accompanying dependents. 

Because, again, individual -- individual cases may vary.  And -- and so, yes, I'll just leave it there.  

OK.  Go to Tony and then go to the phone.  

Q:  On the - on the website, I just want to be clear - civilians can access it but then it - it can't post their UFO/UAP photos or video on its site?  Is that right?

GEN. RYDER:  That's correct.

Q:  More - more topical, the Pentagon is preparing for a CR like the rest of Washington.  Can you give a sense of some of the preparations going on?  OMB today sent up a list of anomalies, must fund stuff, that includes the Columbia-class submarine and extending personal protection to former officials.  

Are those the major planning - planning actions at this point or are there more contingency planning - plans in the works?  And what impact will a CR have, either six month or a - one year, on Ukraine spending?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.  So at this point, Tony, I - I don't want to get into hypotheticals, per se, when it comes to potential actions by Congress.  We are of course hopeful that Congress can reach a funding agreement before the end of the year.  

As you've heard us say many times before, we do need predictable, adequate, and sustained and timely funding.  And so the best way that Congress can support the department is to pass a full year appropriation on time.

Again, as it relates to Ukraine, right now we feel confident that we'll be able to continue to support Ukraine with the capabilities that it needs but, you know, in the event we do hit a CR, we'll of course have more to say then.

Q:  On the - on the website, I just want to be clear - this is not something the public can voluntarily post what they think are UAP episodes, this is DOD - it's like a repository of what you already disclosed ... 

GEN. RYDER:  So this - so there - you're right, a couple - a couple of phases here.  So what - what you have today is information from AARO that has been declassified as it relates to looking into UAP reportings.  The next step will be, in the relatively near future, enabling service members and - and civilians - DOD civilians who have reports to make regarding UAPs to be able to submit those for consideration and review by AARO.

As it - as it relates to the public being able to provide inputs, that is something that we will look to do in the future, but I don't have an estimate right now in terms of when the public will be able to submit reports, in terms of private citizens for example.

Q:  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks very much.


Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  And then I am really going to go to the phone.

Q:  On the - on the AARO question, it's also under - our understanding that the program itself is now going to be under the purview of Deputy Secretary Hicks.  Just wondering what that changes operationally about AARO and about the way it functions?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, you know, operationally, it - it doesn't change the way that AARO functions, other than, again, it highlights the importance of the program to the department and the fact that it has the Deputy Secretary's full attention, to ensure that she's able to advocate and fight for the resources that they need in - in order to conduct their mission.

Q:  And - and Congress mandated that you all share what is unclassified on - on that website.  There was a amendment to the NDAA sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that would have the National Archives declassify its UAP or UFO records.  Is AARO going to be doing that as well, looking to declassify some of the information that - that it has?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, let me take that question cause I don't - I don't know the answer to that, and we'll come back.  

Q:  I - I have one more ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.  Third one.  All right.

Q:  ... (inaudible) whistleblower who came forward, former Air Force intel officer David Grusch, the claims that he made in - in Congress in that congressional hearing were based on interviews he said he had done with 40 people as he was working - reporting to AARO as well.  Are any of those reports going to be published on this website, those interviews, or would any of those people who he allegedly interviewed be made available to Congress?

GEN. RYDER:  It - just to clarify, the interviews that he himself conducted?

Q:  He - he said that information that he had was based on interviews that he had done or - or spoken to people - 40 people or more.  I'm just wondering if any of those ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so again, as I understand it, AARO is - is very willing to take any inputs or information and to investigate into claims of UAP.  And so if that information is made available to the department, certainly we'll take a look at it.  

In this particular individual's case, I do not know whether he has provided it to AARO to review or not, but again, broadly speaking, this office, for obvious reasons, is going to take this mission seriously, they are taking it seriously.  And so would be willing to look at - at anything that - that's provided.  So thank you very much.

All right, let me go to the phone, then I'll come back to Brandi here.  Chris Gordon, Air & Space?

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Two questions, one on China and one on Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense said, quote, "military-to-military communication between China and the United States has not stopped."  Additionally, China's Defense Ministry said there was, quote, "effective," un-quote, communication.  Is that correct?  At what level?  And what type of communication is in - occurring?  China says high-level talks cannot occur because of sanctions.  The U.S. says that's not an issue.  So how does that situation get back on track?  

And then on Afghanistan, does the U.S. believe it can still conduct over-the-horizon strikes or was that level of capability perhaps wishful thinking?  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Chris.  I kind of had a little bit of difficulty hearing your - the first part of your question, so I'll - I'll answer, and if I don't give you what you need, let me know.  

As it relates to communication with the PRC, again, as you highlight, from a United States standpoint, there is nothing preventing the PRC Minister of Defense from communicating with Secretary Austin.  And again, that is - we will continue to seek open lines of communication.

I will highlight that Admiral Aquilino, the INDOPACOM Commander, recently met with PRC officials at the 2023 Chiefs of Defense Conference in mid-August in Fiji.  That conference was co-hosted by the Commander of the Republic of Fiji military forces and brings together military leaders from throughout that region.  

I'd refer you to INDOPACOM for details on that, but again, the broader point here being - is that we are going to continue to do everything we can do on our part to maintain open lines of communication to reduce the potential for miscalculation and ensure that, you know, we recognize that we have a - a relationship characterized by competition, but we do not want a - a - a relationship that results in conflict.

And then on Afghanistan, just - the short answer to your question is yes, we do maintain over-the-horizon capability and we'll take appropriate measures as necessary when it comes to safeguarding our homeland and protecting our - our national interests.  Thank you.

All right, come back to the room here.  I'll go to Brandi and then we'll come over here.  Yes?

Q:  Thank you, Pat.

GEN. RYDER:  Hey, Brandi.

Q:  Back to AARO, two more questions.  Is Dr. Kirkpatrick and his team set to deliver their next mandated report to appropriate congressional committees with updates on their ongoing cases of UAP investigations?  And if so, when?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm not going to provide a - a date from the podium here, Brandi, but I will say that we expect that report to be delivered relatively soon.  And so of course when we do, we'll - we'll let you know.

Q:  And then, just given the momentum, I feel, around UAP transparency, would Deputy Secretary Hicks or the department commit to regularly briefing us on AARO's updates?  

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Brandy.

So we will -- you know, by -- by evidence of this website, we will do everything we can to ensure that the public has information as it relates UAP that's releasable, that's factual.  And so, you know, we will commit to providing timely, accurate information on this topic again as it becomes available.


Q:  ... available to the press?  

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to do scheduling here or action officer work here from the podium.  But, again, we will continue to keep the public informed on this important topic.  Thank you very much. 


Q:  Yes, has the secretary spoken with Grant Shapps, the U.K.'s new defense secretary?  If so, what are they talking -- what do they talk about?  And does he have any comment about the tenure of -- of Ben Wallace's tenure in office?  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Mike.  

They have not spoken yet at this point.  The secretary certainly does look forward to talking to the -- the new minister as soon as their schedules align.  And -- and that's something that we can put together.  Obviously, the -- the United Kingdom is one of our closest, if not closest allies in the world.  And so we look forward to a fantastic -- continuing a fantastic working relationship that we have.  Thank you.


Q:  On the presidential unit commendations that were announced today, can you say whether the National Guard unit, specifically the National Guard units from Minnesota and Vermont are also being awarded the presidential unit commendations?  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so in the statement that we put out today, it -- it highlighted the units that have currently been awarded that recognition.  I'd refer to the services right now for -- for their current statuses.  That's not to say there won't be others, but that's just where we're at right now at this point in time.  

Q:  So, it'd be -- the list that was announced is an ongoing effort?  

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.  Correct.  


Q:  The GAO came out with a pair of reports this week on section (333 ?), train and equip, and it was sort of mixed bag.  It was 75 percent of -- of projects over the past couple of years have been delayed and some of the equipment has been showing up in the countries as faulty.  What steps has DoD taken to sort of address some of the problems that the GAO has found?  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Ashley.  

I'm going to take that question because I don't want to pass along some -- any bad info.  I -- I will say it -- well, let me just take the question, because I don't to want to speculate here from the podium. 

Q:  (inaudible) could you also add in some information about how potentially DoD and State are working to sort of enhance their operational projects as well?  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, absolutely, thank you.  


Q:  General, OIR, in a statement, reaffirmed commitment to supporting Syrian Defense Forces in the enduring defeat of Daesh.  Of course, what's meant here is Syrian Democratic Forces, right?  

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.  

Q:  And also, my question is, what's your assessment, what's the department assessment of the situation in Syria in light of the recent violence in northeast Syria?  And did you notice any change in the movement of Daesh there?  And also if there is any change in the U.S., too, posture in Syria?  

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So -- so, broadly speaking, for -- for a more granular level of understanding of -- of the situation on the ground, I'd refer you to CJTF-OIR.  As you know, our focus there continues to be on the enduring defeat of ISIS.  No -- you know, no force posture changes to my knowledge at this point in time in terms of the focus on that mission there.  

And - and as - as you highlight some of the - the violence sort of separate from the defeat ISIS mission, again, I don't - I don't have any specific comments on that, other than to say our sole reason to be in Syria right now is, again, focused on the defeat ISIS mission.  Thank you very much.

Tom?  We'll go here.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Two - two follow-up questions on the new package  to Ukraine.  Where is the cost of transporting materials found?  Is that part of the, in this case, the $250 billion or is that a separate cost that appears elsewhere?

And my - my second question ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, that's part of - part of the presidential drawdown authority.

Q:  ... the 250, that would cover the cost of - OK.

My second one - I can't put on an Air Force hat like you do.  Where will the Sidewinders be used, on what kind of aircraft?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, Tom, I'm not going to get into how the Ukrainians specifically are going to put - yeah ... 

Q:  ... I'm asking about, like, what kind of planes are they adaptable to?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, I - I'm just not going to get into how the Ukrainians are using particular types of munitions.  I'd refer you to them.  I'm just - leave it at that.  Thanks very much.


Q:  If I could follow up on the D-ISIS question, is the department concerned this unrest in eastern Syria, these - this local resistance directed towards the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces - does the department have any concerns that this could be exploited by other actors in the Syrian conflict, such as Iran-backed groups?

GEN. RYDER:  You - you know, any time there is a distraction from the defeat ISIS mission, obviously that's a challenge, but again, I think we're confident right now that we will be able to continue to work with a - the international coalition to stay focused on the - the defeat ISIS mission.

Certainly it's a dangerous part of the world, it's - it's been a dangerous part of the world for a very long time, but again, we - we will stay focused on the mission at hand.

Q:  If U.S. forces are attacked, would - does the department - will the department respond?

GEN. RYDER:  You - you know, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, other than to say that, as always, we reserve the right to self-defense and we'll take appropriate actions to safeguard and - a - ensure that our forces are protected.  So thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q:  So in 2022, it was reported that there was a transfer of munitions between North Korea and Russia.  Have those munitions already been used up or have we seen them on the battlefield?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks.  So - so my understanding is that what you're referring to is some rockets and missiles that the DPRK had provided to Wagner Group towards the end of last year.  Obviously, you heard the White House talk yesterday about the fact that - that Russia continues to negotiate to seek additional arms from the DPRK.  You know, without going into specifics, essentially artillery ammunition, but beyond that at this point, don't have anything else.

Q:  One more - so what is the difference between these negotiations and the past, when ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I mean ... 

Q:  ... more worried about these?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so - so first of all, any arms deal between the DPRK and Russia directly violates numerous UN Security Resolutions.  Oh, by the way, those arms contribute to the killing of innocent Ukrainians and perpetuates Russia's illegal war in Ukraine.

What you see here, I think the difference here is Wagner Group is a mercenary commercial company working under the auspices of the Russian government versus the Minister of Defense actual traveling to the DPRK to negotiate for arms - so to the highest levels of the Russian military establishment.

So again, we are going to continue to urge the DPRK to not negotiate with Russia and not to provide these arms to, again, perpetuate this illegal invasion and occupation of Ukraine.  Thank you very much.

Only one question.

Q:  Thank you.  I will.  I (inaudible) the Russia issues that - since Russian President Putin and North Korean Kim Jong-un directed the - with a arms deal - so do you think the arms deal between Wagner Group and the - North Korea is over - to - to - is that over ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I think the bigger issue is Wagner Group - Wagner Group is essentially over, so I think it's pretty safe to say there's not a lot of negotiating going on there.  But again, the broader issue here is the Russian government, which Wagner was working for, in - in support of operations in Ukraine.  

And at one point in time, Wagner Group were the most effective combat forces Russia had on the ground in Ukraine and they have essentially been removed from the battlefield as anything even remotely being significant, in terms of combat capability.

So the broader issue here is Russia seeking out rogue regimes, to include Iran, attempting to try to obtain additional ammunition or weapons.  And so again, we - we call on North Korea to not negotiate with Russia or provide any type of ammunition which could kill innocent civilians in Ukraine.

Let me go to Goyal here and then I'm going to go to the phone.

Q:  Two questions please.  One, next week, G20 will take place in New Delhi, India, and President Biden and 23 - 22 other global leaders will be there, and President Putin will not attend the meeting in New Delhi.  My question is now this war between - or Russia's war against Ukraine or between (inaudible) continues - is - will continue.  Are we having a bigger war or do you think the G20 and - now is the time to end to this war?  Because millions and millions of people are affected or affecting every day from this war in one way or another way.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Goyal.  I certainly agree with you, it is time to end the war.  And - and really, what that would take is for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine and - and return their sovereign lands back to the Ukrainian people, but we know that's not going to happen.  And so we're going to continue to stay focused on supporting Ukraine, working with our allies and partners to ensure they have what they need to defend their country.

From a United States standpoint, we are not at war with Russia, we are focused on supporting Ukraine to - so that they can defend themselves and their sovereignty.  

But let me ... 

Q:  ... make out of this (inaudible) President Putin will not be among these 22 leaders for this important G20 meetings?

GEN. RYDER:  I think that's a - that's a question for - for Russia.  Yeah, Goyal, I've got to move on.

Let me go to James.

Q:  Today, in Secretary Austin's statement about Afghanistan, he - he mentioned Afghan - Operation Afghan - Allies Refuge, where, you know, we evacuated 144,000, and I think 78,000 of those were Afghans who entered the U.S. under humanitarian parole but that status was only for two years.  

And a lot of those Afghans that they rescued, which we lost 13 Americans for, are now under looming threat of being deported back to Afghanistan, which seems to run counter to what that mission was intended to do.

And so I'm wondering if the Pentagon supports some of these proposals?  They call (it ?) the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would - you know, which - you know, there's precedence for passing this type of legislation after the Gulf War, after Vietnam, which would alleviate that looming threat of being deported.  I wonder if - if the Pentagon supports those kind of acts?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, as - as you highlight, I mean, we - we do want to recognize the Herculean effort that was taken to evacuate over 124,000 people from Afghanistan and - and the gratitude to the Afghan - our Afghan allies who fought alongside us during that time.

You know, I - again, I'm not going to get into - and - and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any type of pending legislation, but I would say from a Pentagon standpoint we understand the commitment that we made to our Afghan allies and we understand the importance of taking care of these individuals and their families that have come to our country.  And I - and I know that that is a sentiment that's shared across the United States government.

So when it comes to specific programs and visas and things like that, certainly I'd - I'd refer you to the State Department to talk about that, but again, broadly speaking, the Department of Defense appreciates what our - our allies did alongside us in Afghanistan, the sacrifice and the burden that they shared as we fought together, and we do - we are supportive of ensuring that we take appropriate care of these individuals.  Thank you very much.

Let me go to the phone here, I'll come back to the room.  Heather from USNI?

Q:  Great.  I was wondering if there's any damage estimates right now for any of the bases that were affected by the hurricane in Florida and Georgia?

GEN. RYDER:  ... time, we're not aware of any significant impacts of the hurricane on any of our DOD facilities, to include ships and aircraft, that would hinder our operational capabilities.  I would encourage you to stay in contact with the services.  They do their post-storm analysis - analyses, but again, right now, we're not - I'm not aware of any significant impacts.  Thank you.

We've got time for a couple more.  I'll go to Ryo.

Q:  I have a question on U.S. construction in Japan.  So last year, Japan decided to establish a Permanent JSDF Joint Headquarters, and in the U.S. side last December, NDAA for 2023 recommended the - the establishment of Joint Forces Headquarters in the area of - of INDOPACOM.  So my question is what do you think about the possibility of changing the U.S. command structure in Japan?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  I - at this moment in time, I'm not aware of any changes to the U.S. command structure.  Certainly, if we have any updates to announce, we will, but yeah, that's where we're at.

OK, got time for a couple more.  You and then you.

Q:  So continuing on the - the hurricane in Florida - on social media, the Florida State Guard, the Florida State Defense Force, which is separate from the - the Florida National Guard, said they're helping respond to the aftermath of the hurricane as well.  Do you have any details on if and how they're integrating with the Florida National Guard or dividing - dividing and conquering the response?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I really don't.  I'd - I'd have to refer you to the state of Florida for any questions on that.

And then I'm sorry, I - I know I pointed at both of you.  Yes, sir?

Q:  Thank you - thank you, General.  On the coup in Gabon real quickly, do you have any updates regarding the situation on the ground and the safety of President Bongo and his family?

GEN. RYDER:  I - I don't have any updates to provide beyond, you know, what you've heard the White House and - and State Department say.  Obviously, we're continuing to follow the - the developments there - there closely.  We'll - all of our DOD personnel assigned to the embassy are accounted for and safe.  Yeah, so as we have significant updates to provide, we certainly will.

And then the last question will go to Tony.

Q:  Just on - on the (inaudible) with the PRC official, did DOD - do you read any particular significance into that, given that you've had a lot of difficulty communicating with the PRC on a lot of issues, including Secretary Austin?  Might this be the beginning of more ongoing dialogue or too early to tell?  What's your take?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, I - I would certainly hope so because, as we've said from the very start, I mean, we are - we are always going to keep the lines of communication open.  Communication is important, particularly when you have two large militaries operating in the same area.  And - and it's important that we have those channels of communication to prevent potential miscalculation.

And so in - in terms of reading into this, again, I'm - I'm glad to see that - that the PRC is willing to engage from a communications standpoint so that we can keep those channels open.

Q:  This is the first time though in a number of months or years that any kind of dialogue's occurred between the U.S. and PRC?

GEN. RYDER:  No, that - that - I wouldn't say that that's accurate.  As you know, Dr. Ratner recently did a - a bilateral discussion and there's been communication at lower levels, but certainly we welcome that higher-level communication between the Commander of INDOPACOM and - and PRC officials, again, to keep the channels of communication open.  Thanks.  

Hey, before we conclude, I - I would like to just take a quick moment to recognize one of our long-time defense correspondents, Paul Shinkman at U.S. News & World Report, who is taking a hiatus from journalism to pursue a new opportunity in government.  

Paul had been with U.S. News since 2012, covering the U.S. military and national security issues around the world, to include in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So on behalf of DOD, we want to wish Paul all the best in his next chapter and express our thanks for his efforts to report on and inform the public about the activities and the operations of America's military and our Department of Defense.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.