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

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Okay, good afternoon, everyone. I've got a couple things here at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.

The Defense Department continues its efforts in response to the fire that devastated the island of Maui. As of this morning, more than 700 DOD service members, including nearly 600 National Guard soldiers and airmen continue their search and recovery and support to local law enforcement efforts in the aftermath of the wildfires. Primary effort continues to be search and recovery, but service members are working alongside their federal, state and local partners on all nine approved FEMA mission taskings that we've read out to you from the podium over the past week or so. The DOD and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command will remain in close coordination with state officials, FEMA and other supporting agencies to support the people of Hawaii as the response to this terrible disaster continues.

Shifting to Florida, over the weekend, states that were impacted by Hurricane Idalia began to draw down their National Guard forces, and as of this morning, the North Carolina National Guard and South Carolina National Guard have concluded their missions, while approximately 775 Florida National Guardsmen remain on duty. Florida National Guard RED HORSE engineers completed their route-clearing mission over the weekend, clearing more than 850 miles of roadways. Joint Task Force Florida continues its liaison, search and rescue and transportation support efforts, but plans to continue to draw down its National Guard forces as mission requirements decrease.

On a separate note, later today, Secretary Austin will attend the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House in honor of retired Army Captain Larry L. Taylor. Tomorrow, Secretary Austin will also attend an induction ceremony of Captain Taylor in the Hall of Heroes here in the Pentagon.

And turning to operations, I'd like to take an opportunity to highlight a press release from Vandenberg Space Force Base that an operational test launch of an Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is scheduled for September 5, 2023, from 11:47 P.M. to September 6, 5:47 A.M. Pacific time from North Vandenberg Space Force Base. The purpose of the ICBM test launch program is to demonstrate the readiness of U.S. nuclear forces and provide confidence in the lethality and ineffectiveness of the nation's nuclear deterrent. This test is routine, and was scheduled years in advance. Consistent with previous test launches, this ICBM test launch will validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system. In accordance with standard procedures, the United States has transmitted a prelaunch notification pursuant to the Hague Code of Conduct and notified the Russian government in advance per our existing bilateral obligations. For more information, I would refer you to Vandenberg Space Force Base Public Affairs.

And finally, late last week in Indonesia, U.S. Army Pacific and Indonesian Armed Forces began Exercise Super Garuda Shield, one of our largest annual exercises. More than 2,000 Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel will participate alongside nearly 2,000 Indonesian service members, as well as Australia, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom. This year's events include a command-and-control exercise, subject matter expert exchange on humanitarian civic assistance project -- projects and field training exercises. Super Garuda Shield reinforces U.S. commitment to allies and regional partners, ensures joint readiness and bolsters interoperability to fight and win together. For more information, please reach out to INDOPACOM and U.S. Army Pacific.

And with that, be happy to take your questions. We'll go first to A.P., Tara Copp.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this.

Two topics for you; first one, the visit -- the visit between Russia and North Korea. How can concerned is the Pentagon that this could add to deadly munitions to Russia in its war against Ukraine? And have you to the -- to date been able to track how many weapons North Korea has been able to supply?

And then second topic on Niger. Several media outlets are reporting that the French government is in talks to possibly withdraw troops from Niger. Is the Pentagon also in similar talks with the Niger government on the same?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tara.

So in terms of the reports about a potential meeting between the North Korean leader and President Putin, I don't have anything specific to provide in terms of a potential meeting or -- nor am I going to speculate on when such a meeting could occur. You have heard the White House talk about the fact that Kim Jong-un is seeking to continue diplomatic engagement with Russia as a follow-on to the Russian defense minister's recent visit, where Russia is seeking to purchase artillery ammunition from the DPRK. As I highlighted last week, such a sale would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it would prolong the unnecessary suffering of Ukrainian civilians who are impacted by Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine. So again, from a U.S. government standpoint, we would call on North Korea to refrain from selling ammunition and arms to Russia to, again, unnecessarily -- which would unnecessarily prolong this conflict.

As far as Niger goes, I don't have any new announcements to make. Again, we remain focused on a diplomatic solution. There's been no change in U.S. force posture in Niger. But again, as updates become available, we'll certainly let you know.

Q: When you say no change in force posture, does that mean that U.S. forces have remained on base and are not venturing out, no training missions?

GEN. RYDER: They're currently -- again, training missions have been paused, and so again, nothing new to provide from the podium here.


Q: General Ryder, if the French pull out, will the U.S. pull out?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I don't want to get into hypotheticals or speculate. Broadly speaking, the U.S. government remains focused on a diplomatic solution right now.

Q: And what is the state of the Wagner forces in Africa and elsewhere post- Prigozhin? And what can you tell us about the recruiting efforts, the alleged recruiting efforts in Cuba? What are you seeing? What do you know? Have any of those Cuban recruits showed up in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jennifer.

I don't have any information to provide as it pertains to Cuba. I would say largely speaking, as you've heard us say before, Wagner has been im- -- significantly impacted negatively in terms of their broad organization, and -- and their efforts in Africa, while they do continue to maintain a presence in Africa, what the -- what they will be able to accomplish or how their operations will be affected over the long term is -- is something we're continuing to keep an eye on.

Q: And who's the head of Wagner now?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd have to refer you to Wagner to talk about their head.


Q: Just one follow on Niger. So how concerning is it to the Pentagon that the French are in talks on pulling out? And can you just explain to us how much the French contribute to the counter-terror war that the U.S. is also a part of in West Africa?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so when it comes to France, I'd refer you to the French really to talk about their role and their mission. As you know, the French have been an important partner in Africa, as it -- when it comes to counter-terrorism, and we certainly maintain a great relationship with the French, but I'm not going to speak about their operations or what they may or may not be considering.

From a United States standpoint, again, broadly speaking, across the U.S. government, we remain engaged with a variety of partners, to include the French, ECOWAS, and others to assess this situation as it continues to evolve, but the primary focus for us is on attempting to resolve this diplomatically while recognizing that we do have an important counter-terror -- counter-terrorism mission in the region.

Q: And then just separately, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Chinese nationals posing as tourists have access to U.S. military bases. That's according to U.S. officials. Can you confirm that at all and talk a little bit about have any of these led to arrests?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So a few things, Carla. So I'll just say up front that the security of our installations remains a top priority and that physical security standards for our bases takes into account a wide variety of potential threats, to include attempted spying by our adversaries.

For security reasons, I'm not going to comment on specific incidents, I'm not going to talk about protocol changes that we may make at our gates, nor am I going to talk about specific individual partner contributions, but I will say that we, as always, work with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, we work with the Intelligence Community and our foreign partners to protect our bases against -- at both home and abroad.

In terms of additional background, I can tell you that the department has conducted several base security reviews since 2018, some of which included support by our interagency partners, and a recent review focused on the physical security conditions of our gates, among other aspects of base security. And the results of those reviews have and will continue to inform changes to protective measures at our bases.

To answer your question in terms of the kinds of things we've seen, I would note that every day DOD conducts more than 10,000 controlled turnarounds of individuals who arrive at one of our 1,400 gates around the world. These individuals are people who are not authorized access and depart the installations without having gained an authorized access.

A very small number of these controlled turnarounds warrant additional check and even a smaller number warrant investigation, and I would say that these incidents are generally low level, and so far, none of them indicate espionage.

A smaller number of incidents occur in which an individual's able to obtain unauthorized installation access, often by speeding through security checkpoints. These individuals are often cited criminally, barred from future installation access, and escorted off base. And as with controlled turnarounds, a very small number warrant investigation.

Q: And just one quick follow -- when you say "attempted spying," does this include from China? Cause I didn't hear you mention China --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, I'm not going to get into specific incidents.

Thank you.


Q: On Tuberville, we saw the op-ed written this morning by the -- wrote by three of the service secretaries about the holds. Does the Secretary have any plans to speak with Tuberville about this issue in the coming days or weeks as the Senate comes back?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question.

I don't have anything to announce right now, in terms of future calls. Of course, the Secretary has talked about this both publicly and privately, as recently as the Chief of Naval Operations relinquishment of responsibility, about the impact that these holds have on our readiness and on our security. And of course, the department continues to call for the lifting of these holds.

Q: Are there any next steps here? I mean, what is the -- what -- what is going to happen now, do you think, that the Senate is back? I mean, it seems like obviously we're still at such a standstill. What is the -- what's the solution here? What's the next step?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Well, I would refer you to the Senate, to the Congress to answer that question. You know, I've been asked before to try to put this into context, in terms of why does this matter.

And, you know, with football season starting, I would say imagine going into the football season with a bunch of acting coaches for each of our teams, with a regulation that limits any of those acting coaches from presuming that he or she was actually going to officially lead the team, and those acting coaches who come up through the organization are now responsible for not only being the offensive and defensive coordinators but also acting as the head coach.

And so in the short-term, they're likely going to make things happen because that's what good leaders do, but what happens when performance on the field becomes impacted? Over time, how are you going to deal with the uncertainty of -- within the coaching staff and the locker room, in terms of who's in charge, how are we going to affect performance, and then who are the fans going to hold accountable?

And so the longer that these blanket holds are in place and the more that future leaders are kept in limbo, the more uncertainty and friction it will create within the ranks, not to mention the impact on the families of those who serve.

And ultimately, as I mentioned, this is an issue for Congress to address. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on how they should go about it. But I can tell you that our military leaders simply want to do the job that our nation expects of them -- to lead our military, to protect and defend our nation, and if necessarily (sic), overwhelmingly defeat our enemies in battle.

So again, we'd ask that the Senate work to lift these holds and enable the confirmation of our general and flag officers.

Q: Just one quick follow on Tuberville -- so is the Pentagon concerned that the rationale that Tuberville's using seems to be shifting? Because originally, obviously it was about abortion policy, it was about reproductive -- reproductive health policies, now it seems like he's going on the offensive against the nominees themselves. So is the Pentagon concerned that perhaps some of those nominees will have to be -- (hold or changed ?)?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, I mean, that's a question that only the Senate and Senator Tuberville can address. Our focus remains on defending the nation and ensuring that we have the leadership in place to do what our nation expects us to do, which is to defend this country and be ready to go to war if we need to do that.

Let me go to Fadi here.

Q: Thank you, General.

So I want to talk a little bit about the situation in -- in Deir ez-Zor. (Inaudible) the U.S. forcing the -- any -- any support to the SDF (inaudible) with Arab tribes? And were you (escorted ?) -- notified about the operation that led to the detention of the leader of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council by SDF last month?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Fadi.

So we continue to closely monitor the events in northeast Syria. CJTF-OIR remains focused on working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to ensure the defeat of ISIS and support of regional and security and stability, and that remains our only focus. As you heard me say last week, distractions from this critical work does create instability and increases the risk of an ISIS resurgence.

So again, we'll stay focused on the defeat ISIS mission going forward, but again, would call on all parties to focused on the task.

Q: So still no support for the SDF in -- in the current clashes?

GEN. RYDER: Our work with the SDF is focused only on the defeat ISIS mission.

Q: (inaudible) the SDF coordinate or tell you about their intention to detain Abu Khawla, who is the leader of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don't have anything on that. I'd refer you to CJTF-OIR. But, again, our single and only focus in Syria is on the defeat ISIS mission.

Q: Just one more follow-up.

GEN. RYDER: One more.

Q: Are you -- are you trying to kind of seek a solution to this situation since it's distracting from the anti-ISIS operation? Are you in touch with the Arab tribes and the SDF on this issue? Are you trying to mitigate or try to get to some kind of political solution since the SDF is backed by the U.S. forces (inaudible) Arabs (inaudible) have so many grievances against them, especially their expansion into Deir ez-Zor and other issues?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Fadi.

So, again, I'd refer you CJTF-OIR for any specifics in terms of the communications that they're having. Again, you've heard us call for all parties to cease fighting and to stay focused on the mission because, again, the only winner here is ISIS. And so I'll just leave it at that.

Thanks very much.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you very much, General.

I'd like to take a look from (a northern ?) perspective because you said that it's a distraction from the fight against ISIS. And you're absolutely right. But the SDF have long been (inaudible) (rapid change ?), forceful conscription of children, and also human rights violations. And now there's uprising against the SDF (inaudible). And quickly they've lost some ground. They've regained some ground. But it is what it is. It's a distraction from the fight against ISIS. But looking at it in the long term, do you know, is there a concern within (inaudible) that the SDF is not -- may not be the best partner on the ground because there's always some resistance against them?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, certainly, you know, we -- we've had this conversation before and the critical role that the SDF has played, and continue to play when it comes thing to the defeat ISIS mission. One only need look at their efforts as a relates to a halt al-Hawl and the detainee population there. So, again, we'll continue to work with the SDF and other regional partners and the international community on the -- on the defeat ISIS mission.

Q: Just one quick follow-up. If these resistance movements continue to rise up against the SDF, doesn't that also put American soldiers' lives at risk? This growing, you know, anger (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don't want to get in hypotheticals. Again, our focus in Syria is on the defeat ISIS mission. As I mentioned last week, we recognize that there is -- that this region has been characterized by instability and violence. We're going to stay -- you know, continue to work with local and regional partners to focus on the defeat ISIS mission. And I'll just leave it there.

Okay. Let me go over here, Lara. And then we'll go to the phone.

Q: (inaudible) I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the impact of Minister Reznikov leaving and his new replacement coming in, has Secretary Austin spoken with his replacement? And how is this going to impact the Ukraine defense objectives going forward?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks very much, Lara.

So what I would tell you right now is -- you know, as it relates to the Ukrainians' decision to replace Minister Reznikov, that's really an internal matter for them to discuss. Again, when it comes to the confirmation of a new defense leader by the parliament, I obviously don't have any information on that and would refer you to them.

What I will say is that Secretary Austin and the department look forward to continuing to work closely with Ukrainian defense leaders. We will continue to support Ukraine with security assistance in their -- to enable them on the battlefield. And so I don't have anything to announce right now in terms of potential future meetings or calls, but certainly, one can assume that we will work closely with Ukrainian defense leaders.

Q: So they haven't spoken yet?

GEN. RYDER: They have not because again, there needs to be a confirmed minister of defense.

Q: Just if I could follow up on a different question on this supplying artillery ammunition and other materials to Russia by North Korea. I -- John Kirby last week mentioned materials to boost their industrial base, the defense industrial base. I was wondering if you could put any meat on the bone, so -- and say what that means exactly.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I really can't, again, beyond the broad generalization that NSC provided.

Thank you.


Q: Thanks, General.

GEN. RYDER: And then, I'll go to the phone. Sorry.

Q: Yeah, thank you, General.

There was a report -- Russians report on Friday about depleted uranium (inaudible) going to Ukraine from the U.S. Do you have anything on that?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to announce today, Tom. So again, as we've done, if and when we have announcements to make regarding security assistance, we'll be sure to do that.

Thank you.

Q: (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: All right, let me go to the phone here. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Well, thank you so much.

I just wanted to follow up on Syria. The SDF is not only fighting these Arab tribes, but an SDF spokesman claims that the Turks are using the SNA to incite clashes with them. So I wanted to know, other than -- besides urging calm, what is the U.S. military doing to prevent the anti-ISIS alliance in Syria from fracturing? And I already have reached out to the SDF and Inherent Resolve in case I would be referred there.

Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, Jeff.

So hey, look, when it comes to our operations in Syria, you know, I'll say it again: Our focus is going to be on the Defeat ISIS mission. We certainly recognize that there are multiple actors in the region, and that at times, there will be different perspectives, different views, and to include some of the types of interactions that -- that you highlighted. We're going to work with our partners to help everyone stay focused on the mission, but a -- again, I'm not going to speak for the SDF. Let me just, again, leave it at that.


Q: (inaudible) I want to get back to the Tuberville hold. Can you give a couple examples, tangible examples of what an acting chief, chairman or general of a service, what they can and cannot do?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, Tony, so a -- again, you know, the individual services can provide you with a perspective in terms of their specific rules and regulations. Broadly speaking, again, what you -- what you will see are senior leaders that are required to carry out the duties not only of their current role -- so for example, if you're the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps pending confirmation as the commandant of the Marine Corps, you're going to have to do both of those jobs. But there may be things that you're not able to do by virtue of the fact that you cannot presume that you are going to be in that leadership role because again, a key aspect of confirmation is to not presume that you will be confirmed. That's inherently the job of the Senate to make that determination.

Q: Do you have a breakdown by service of the 200 or 300 people on hold right now? Do you have that (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm -- thanks for the question.

Tony, I'm not going to go through the 301 pending confirmations, but you know, certainly, each of the services are impacted.

Q: (inaudible) the Army, Navy, Air Force and Space Force? Do you have --

GEN. RYDER: We can get you those numbers.

Q: Okay. One final thing -- how many roughly are INDOPACOM-related of the nominees?

GEN. RYDER: We can get you those numbers as well.

Q: (Fair enough ?).

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much.

(Chris ?)?

Q: Thanks, Pat.

On the Tuberville hold, you highlighted that this is an issue for the Senate as a body to resolve. So has Secretary Austin or anyone else at OSD engaged with other senators, other leaders -- the Minority Leader -- Leader, the Majority Leader, committee leaders -- to try to explain the impact and work through this, that might influence Senator Tuberville?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, (Chris ?).

So the department does remain engaged with the Congress, in -- in terms of answering questions, communicating our position clearly. As I mentioned, we've been public on this.

I'm not going to read out individual conversations that have been had with various legislators, other than to say again we have publicly and privately communicated the impacts.

Q: -- has had -- the Secretary has had conversations with legislators about the --

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: -- other than Senator Tuberville?

GEN. RYDER: Correct. Thanks.


Q: Thanks, Pat.

Two questions please. One, to follow-up -- last week, you mentioned how the lessons learned from the Afghanistan withdrawal and (other places ?) matriculate down to war colleges and -- and the academies. How fast of a process does that occur? Is it, like, now, two years later, would the lessons be learned or is it -- how fast does that happen?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so what I would tell you -- I'd -- first of all, if you want the specifics, I'd refer you to each of the services. They can connect you with their war college. I will tell you anecdotally that, you know, having gone to a war college -- Eisenhower School, go Tigers -- the -- you know, the process in terms of curriculum development is something that is iterated on every year, right, and also by virtue of bringing in leaders or officials or people who have gone through those experiences to be able to talk to various classes. And so you're being able to get information pretty quickly.

Q: My second question is also with the Tuberville issue. And you've often said from the podium that the Pentagon is, among other things, a planning organization. What did the planning -- how did the planning take into consideration your analogy that this is like a football game and there's coaches, given the fact that Tuberville was a football coach?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, look, I -- I think I've said what I -- what I needed to say, what I've had to pass along, in terms of the holds.

Thanks, Tom.

All right, let me go back out to the phone here. Let's go to Heather from USNI News.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much.

I was wondering if the Pentagon has any comments on the ports being attacked in Ukraine over the weekend, as well as talks between Turkey and Russia to possibly reestablish the grain deal?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Heather.

I -- I don't have anything specific in terms of the attacks that you're highlighting. Again, broadly speaking, as it relates to the grain deal, what we see is Russia using food as a weapon against people who need it most -- you know, again, as far away as Africa.

I -- I'd refer you to State Department to talk about the specifics from a diplomacy standpoint -- other than, again, we see a -- another impact of this war of aggression by Russia impacting innocent people.

Thank you.

All right, time for a couple more. Ryo, and then we'll go --

Q: Thank you, General.

Two questions. With regards to the North Korean support to Russia, could you give us a sense of the Pentagon's assessment on whether North Korea has large enough stockpile or ammunitions to be able to have a significant impact on the battlefield in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo.

So I -- so I'm not going to get into intelligence, nor do I have anything to provide in terms of specifics as far as, you know, beyond artillery ammunition, what we see North Korea potentially providing to Russia. If and when we have an announcement or update on that, I can pass it along.

Q: -- on China, the -- China published new territorial map last week which sparked a protest from countries in the region. Do you assess that this new map indicates China will be more aggressive to advance their territorial claims across the region?

GEN. RYDER: I think it's a continuation of what we've seen from China, in terms of obfuscation of -- of international sovereignty, their attempts to try to create a new normal, in terms of resetting boundaries, and then expecting other nations to comply with that, which is again why you see the United States working very closely with our allies and our partners in the region to assist them, in terms of their ability to defend their own sovereignty, but importantly, to maintain adherence to the international rules-based order that has preserved regional security and stability for 70-plus years.

Thank you.

All right, last question. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General.

(Inaudible) President says that corruption in Ukraine slows down weapons supply to Kyiv. So do you agree with him in this case? And how do you see the -- President Zelenskyy's steps to fight corruption in his country?

Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question.

So again, I'd refer you to Ukraine to talk about its own internal domestic matters. From a United States standpoint, you've heard us talk about the end use monitoring processes and procedures that we've put into place. We feel very confident in the steps that we've taken to be able to track the equipment that we're providing to Ukraine, and the Ukrainians themselves have continued to -- to abide by the agreements that -- that we've put into place.

So again, from a U.S. security assistance standpoint, that's something that we'll continue to maintain a close eye on, but to date, we've been very confident and are confident in our ability to monitor the equipment that we're required to monitor.

Thank you.

Q: I have to ask you one more on Tuberville. He sent you a sent the Secretary a letter on July 28th with a series of questions. As of today, he says the letter hasn't been answered yet. Can you check into that or at least give a comment (inaudible) why not?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony.

So, you know, as always when we receive congressional correspondence, we will respond appropriately, but I don't have any updates to provide in terms of individual congressional correspondence, so.

Q: Well, you should check into this because this has roiled the waters even more with the hold.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

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