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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  All right, so good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few items to pass along at the top here, and then I'd be happy to take your questions.

So first on Hawaii, consistent with our previous updates, the department continues to support the island of Maui.  As of this morning, approximately 674 DOD personnel, including 567 National Guardsmen, are actively engaged in the coordinated response to the Western Maui wildfire.  U.S. Army Pacific is executing eight approved mission assignments and forces remain postured to support additional mission assignments, if requested.  Since our last update, fuel distribution operations and the Schofield Barrack Support Facility missions have concluded.  The JTF 50 continues to focus on search-and-recovery activities with Hawaii National Guard, the FBI, anthropologistsp from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and Mortuary Affairs technicians.  Hawaii National Guard continues 24-hour traffic control and area security support to local law enforcement.

Since August 25th, potable water teams have distributed over 4,000 gallons of water within the area.  Additionally, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer advanced teams on Maui right now preparing to establish a long-term forward command and control center for their future debris removal mission.  The County of Maui is the lead on this mission, and they are targeting a November 1st start date for the debris removal effort.  U.S. Army Corps of Engineer teams are also working with local officials on design plans for the establishment of a temporary school site for local children, and our Coast Guard partners are maintaining their focus and response on minimizing maritime environmental impacts.

Moving on to today, earlier today, the secretary held a trilateral call with Japan Minister of Defense [Yasukazu Hamada] and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup.  The secretary affirmed the ironclad U.S. extended deterrence commitment to Japan and the Republic of Korea.  The leaders also discussed and strongly condemned North Korea's August 24th attempted space launch using ballistic missile technology as a violation of multiple U.N. security resolutions.

Also today, the department announced a new security assistance package through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to support Ukraine's battlefield needs.  This $600 million package includes equipment to augment Ukraine's air defenses, artillery munitions and other capabilities.  For more information, you can visit to see the complete details of the package.

Today, Lieutenant General Marc Sasseville, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, is in Madison, Wisconsin, for the F-35 mission arrival ceremony at the 115th Fighter Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard.  Today's ceremony coincides with the 75th anniversary of the 115th Fighter Wing and marks the second Air National Guard wing in the nation to receive the F-35.

And finally, as of Monday, there are now 319 nominations that are impacted because of Senator Tuberville's hold on our general and flag officers.  For the first time in history, three of our military branches, the Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps, have no Senate-confirmed service chief in place.  Instead, these jobs and other jobs across the department and the force are being performed by acting officials.  As this list of nominees continues to grow, we are continuing to see the impacts on our readiness, our national security and our military families.  As we continue to do so, we urge Senator Tuberville to lift these holds and confirm these qualified leaders who have served their country proudly and selflessly for decades.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.  And welcome back, Lita.

Q:  Thank you! Sabrina, on the uranium rounds that were announced...

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  ... the Kremlin criticized -- has now criticized it as a bad move, discussing the cancer-causing nature of -- of the product, a criticism that others have brought up, obviously, in the past.  What is your response to people who are greatly concerned about that aspect of this weapon?

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  And secondly, can you address what the U.S. thinks is the benefit that these rounds will bring?  And how soon will they be on the battlefield?

MS. SINGH:  Sure.  So on the first question, in terms of the health impacts of the depleted uranium rounds, I would push back on the assertion from Russian officials.  Here, the CDC has stated that there is no evidence that the depleted uranium rounds cause cancer.  The World Health Organization reports that there has been no increase of leukemia or other cancers and -- that have been established following any exposure to uranium or D.U.  And even the IAEA has stated unequivocally that there is no proven link between D.U. exposure and increases in cancers or significant health or environmental impacts, so I would push back on that. In terms of your second question, these are anti-tank rounds.  They're meant to pierce tanks, and they're meant to be used -- they will be used very effectively on the battlefield.  These are standard issued rounds.  These are what these Abrams tanks will use, and many militaries across the world use depleted uranium in their tanks.  So we feel that these will be the most effective rounds to counter Russian tanks, and will help continue -- will help the Ukrainians to defend their -- the battlefield -- to defend their territory.

Q:  And how soon?

MS. SINGH:  So I can't -- I would let the Ukrainians announce when these -- when the rounds will arrive.  We've said pretty publicly that we expect the tanks to be arriving in Ukraine sometime in the fall, but I just don't have more specifics to offer.  I'd refer you to the Ukrainians to -- to announce when they actually arrive.

Q:  But the goal is to have the rounds there specifically in time for when the tanks arrive.  Is that accurate?

MS. SINGH:  That's the goal, yes. Yeah, hey, Matt.

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  So on Niger, we've heard from officials that U.S. troops will be moved, repositioned within the country, and that some number of troops will be removed.  Can you speak to that?  And is there any threat perceived for U.S. troops at this time?

MS. SINGH:  Sure.  So in terms of Niger, there's -- there is no perceived threat in terms of any threat to U.S. troops, and no threat of violence on the ground.  This is simply a precautionary measure.  So what we're doing right now is the department is repositioning some of our personnel and some of our assets from Air Base 101 in Niamey to Air Base 201 in Agadez, but that's just - it's simply precautionary.  Our force posture hasn't changed in Niger.  Our position remains the same, that we hope that the situation on the ground gets resolved diplomatically, but would just reemphasize that there's no immediate threat to U.S. personnel or - or violence on the ground.

Q:  OK.  Is the U.S. conducting counter-terror missions out of the country at this point?

MS. SINGH:  Out of the - at this time, we're still really confined to the bases.  We are, again, moving personnel and assets but we're not conducting joint operations or training with the Nigerian military at this time.

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, Oren?

Q:  A - a follow on Niger and then another question.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  So - so why do this?  What - what changed that the U.S. decided to move personnel and equipment?  If there's no perceived threat or no threat to U.S. troops, what - what prompted, six weeks after the democratically elected government was overthrown, the U.S. to move - to make this decision?

MS. SINGH:  It was, again, just out of an abundance of caution.  We felt that - because our - our force posture is not changing within the country, but we felt that it - just out of an abundance of caution for our personnel and for our assets in the area, that rather than keeping them close in Niamey, that it would be safer to move them out to Air Base 201 in Agadez.  And so that's exactly why we took, I would say, prudent military planning to safeguard our U.S. assets and just to protect our U.S. personnel.

Q:  Is - is this tied to the resistance the French are seeing to their forces being there?

MS. SINGH:  There is no tie to this.  I would - again, I - this is out of a complete abundance of caution.  There is no tie to what the French military is doing right now.  We are - we are confident that - or we are hopeful that diplomatic talks will continue and that the situation in Niger will be resolved diplomatically, but right now, out of an abundance of caution, we are just moving our - some of our personnel and our assets to Air Base 201.

Q:  And then just another topic ...

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  ... a - a Florida man attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a human hamster wheel, was brought in by the Coast Guard after five days, and it's his fourth time attempting this.  I know you don't speak for the Coast Guard but will there be imagery?  And how frequently has the Coast Guard or the Navy intercepted human hamster wheels off the coast of the U.S.?

MS. SINGH:  You know ...


... really didn't have that on my bingo card today.  I would refer you to the Coast Guard and thank you for the question.


I'm going to go to the phones on that note.  Lara Seligman, Politico?  Or did Oren's - Oren's question just, you know, kick you off the phone?  How about Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg?

Q:  Hi, I - I have a non-Coast Guard question.  DOD last night issued a statement on a canceled key test of the Army's long-range hypersonic weapons, Sabrina.  The Army was hoping to clear the - to declare the weapon operational on September 30th.  It was also supposed to be the U.S.' first operational hypersonic missile to counter Russia and China. What's the view of the DOD's research and development leadership, right?  How big a setback was this non-test to meeting the September 30th operational date?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Tony, for the question.  As you mentioned, the department planned to conduct a flight test in Florida to just inform the department's hypersonic technology development, but as a result of pre-flight checks, the test did not occur. The department was able to successfully collect data on the performance of the ground hardware and software that will inform the continued progress toward fielding offensive hypersonic weapons, but for further details on, you know, why this didn't happen or why it failed, I would refer you to the Army.

MS. SINGH:  ... on the phone.  Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Q:  Thank you.  On Niger, are any U.S. personnel leaving the country?  Reuters have reported that personnel deemed non-essential will soon leave Niger.

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Jeff, for the question.  Yes, some non-essential personnel and contractors did leave the country, I want to say around July.  So we are - we have about 1,100 people in Niger right now.  Again, our force posture has not changed.  We are continuing to have a - have a presence at the Air Base 101 and Air Base 201, but the only thing that's happening right now is that we have personnel moving from 101 to 201 along with our - some of our assets... I'll come back in the room.  Yeah, hi.

Q:  Hello.  Has Secretary Austin spoken to his newly confirmed counterpart - Ukrainian counterpart yet?

MS. SINGH:  Not yet.  There has not been a call set up but we just saw that the Ukrainian Parliament did confirm him, so I'm sure they will be speaking very soon.  I just don't have a call to preview just yet.  And of course, we - we do have the Ukraine Defense Contact Group coming up later this month, so I'm sure they'll also be meeting there.

Q:  Then one on - on Ukraine.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  There are reports that Russia is amassing troops near Kupyansk and Kharkiv region to, like, launch an attack.  Do you observe any movements of the Russian troops in that area?

MS. SINGH:  Well, look, I'd let Ukraine speak to more of what's happening on - on the battlefield.  We just announced another USAI package today, we announced a PDA package earlier this week.  So our focus right now is making sure that Ukraine has what it needs on the battlefield, and that's flowing security assistance in when we can and as much as we can. And so again, this - this last package that we rolled out, I think it was our 46th package.  The Ukrainians are - are incredibly effective on the battlefield.  We're seeing some progress already being made in their counter-offensive.  And so I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  And how do you assess the effectiveness of the cluster munitions that Ukraine is using now?

MS. SINGH:  We feel that the Ukrainians are using them effectively.  They are - they're certainly - you know, in terms of tracking how they're using the cluster munitions and - and locations, we feel that there are - they're using them effectively and responsibly. Yeah, in the back?

Q:  Hi, I'm (inaudible) with German Bild.

MS. SINGH:  That's great.

Q:  A follow-up to that, because on September 19th, there's the next Ukraine Contact Group meeting in Ramstein.  Will there be the question of long-range missiles on the agenda?  I'm asking because today, there was reports that Secretary Blinken talked about that with Kuleba, of providing Ukraine with long-range missile.

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything to preview today and I wouldn't get ahead of the Contact Group certainly.  The Ukrainians already have long-range missiles with the Storm Shadows that they've been using effectively as well, but I just don't have anything today to - to preview. Yeah, hey.

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  You mentioned the nominations that have been put on hold and some of the impact that that's having.  Is that putting at risk any modernization initiatives or is it more of a concern just about general readiness and some of the hardships on personnel that are related to that?

MS. SINGH:  I think it's both.  When you don't have a confirmed leader in that position that would oversee a modernization effort, you're talking about someone that's going to set the vision for that command or for that department.  When you have someone on hold or in a limbo state, of course that's going to impact the mission. But absolutely, it's having an impact on our readiness, it has an impact when we engage with allies and partners around the world.  And as you probably saw recently, three of our secretaries wrote in an op-ed just about some of the impacts that they're seeing on each of their services, and one of the things is - the message that is being sent to allies and partners but also to our adversaries - we know our adversaries are watching this right now, and at a time when we have a war raging in Ukraine, at a time when we have the rising challenge of China growing in the East, we need our Senate-confirmed military leaders in place to - to meet those - those threats and challenges all around the world. Great.  Yeah, hey, Will.

Q:  Do you have any - can you provide any - any figures on the number of troop - or forces that were repositioned or - or the non-essential personnel that left – even rough?

MS. SINGH:  I - I don't have exact numbers for you.  I can just tell you that there are about 1,100 folks remaining in Niger right now.  I don't have the exact numbers of when folks were leaving but it was non-essential personnel and contractors.  So I - yeah, I would - I would direct you to AFRICOM for - for more information on that one. Yeah?

Q:  ... I'm - hold on, a follow-up on that.  You said just a few minutes ago that you want to say - I - I want to say around July, that was when the non essential personnel and contractors left, yet we have been told repeatedly, including this past Tuesday, throughout August by both General Ryder and yourself, that there have been no change to force posture or presence within Niger.  Why are you now telling us that forces came out in July and we've been told repeatedly that there have been no changes?

MS. SINGH:  There have been no changes to our force posture.  There has been no changes ...

Q:  ... If nothing has changed in terms of our force posture or presence within Niger.  Clearly, if you're pulling personnel and contractors, there has been a change that we should have been told about when we were asking.

MS. SINGH:  Well, I guess maybe I should have been a little bit more clear when some of these changes were being made, but again, it was non-essential personnel and contractors that were - OK, I'm just going to leave that - that were leaving Niger.  Some folks I know left earlier in the - I believe in July for medical reasons. So again, we're talking about non-essential personnel and contractors that left Niger at a time when, again, we still have an incredible presence within the country, with over 1,100 folks - or about - approximately 1,100 folks still there.  We're not pulling people out right now, we're just moving U.S. personnel and assets to Air Base 201.  So our force posture still remains intact.  And I - you know, I would just leave it at that.

Q:  But if personnel left the country, regardless of whether they were U.S. military or not, they're part of the U.S. presence there ...

MS. SINGH:  Sure, but again, it's non-essential personnel ...

Q:  ... those were changes.

MS. SINGH:  Again, non-essential personnel and contractors.  Next time, I think if there - when there are departures, we will be more cognizant of letting you know, but right now, like, there - there - whenever there's - whenever we have troops, there are - are levels that change at a period of time.  That does not mean our force posture has changes.  Just like on the Eastern Flank in Europe, in - in Poland, we have troops that come back and forth, and sometimes that posture could be around 80,000, sometimes it could be around 78,000.  That doesn't mean our force posture has changed.  There's a movement of folks going back and forth. So I just want to leave it at that.  And, you know, next time we can be a little bit more specific, but again, nothing, in terms of our force posture, has changed in Niger. Ryo, yeah?

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  I want to - I want to follow up about the Secretary's call with Japanese and South Korean counterparts.  The - the three ministers discussed a military exercise plan in the call.  So what domains are you going to focus on with Japanese and South Koreans moving forward?  And what is the timeline to draft such a military plan?

MS. SINGH:  Sure.  Well, I won't get ahead of anything that was discussed.  Right now, we're still building that multi-exercise plan.  And we don't have a timeline of when that's going to happen or when exercises are going to take place but that's something that certainly was discussed.  And they did highlight the effort to fully operationalize early warning missile data information sharing this year, but that's a - that's as far as I'm going to go on that. Yeah?  Hi, Erin?

Q:  Hi.  So as you were telling Oren, that it says we have troops that come back and forth and sometimes postures could change ...

MS. SINGH:  Well, our posture hasn't changed, but levels could change, yeah.

Q:  Where are they going back and forth?  Is it just back and forth from base to base?  Where are they going from ...

MS. SINGH:  For the folks that left?

Q:  So there's ...

MS. SINGH:  Like non-essential personnel or contractors?  Is that what you're referring to?

Q:  Yeah, just any number that is there, are they coming back in the country?  Where ...

MS. SINGH:  Right now, they're just moving out of the country.  I don't have specifics of where they're going.  Contractors obviously working under contract would go back to their company, but I just don't have more specifics of where folks are moving.

Q:  I'm still lost of - the number change.  So even if they're personnel ...

MS. SINGH:  I think we shouldn't focus so much on the numbers fluctuating but more on the posture itself.  Our force posture - hold on one sec, let me just answer - our force posture within Niger hasn't changed.  Yes, we are moving assets and personnel to a different air base further outside of Niamey, in Agadez, but in terms of our - our mission there right now, of course some things are put on pause right now, but overall, our force posture hasn't changed. We did have some people leave in July.  I believe that was before there was the military takeover.  So some folks did leave in July for medical reasons.  I think we had some contractors that had left.  But in terms of, like, where other personnel are going and leaving, I - I don't have more information for you on that. Our essential personnel are still in the country right now, in Niger.  That's 1,100 people.  And so they're still and I'll just leave it at that. I can go back to Lita and then - yeah.

Q:  ... Can you just take the questions, Sabrina, because I think ...

MS. SINGH:  On which one?

Q:  On the total number of contractors and non-essential personnel who left.  And was it before - was it before, after, during?  Was it as a result of the impending or - coup?  Can you just give us that?  I think - I - what has been mentioned in the past was that some troops did - a - a very small number of troops left due to health and other issues ... that's been out there, we knew that, but I think what people didn't - hadn't known was the non-essential personnel and contractors.  If you could give us a number on those and - I think just because it's late in the day for AFRICOM, you all must have it, if you can just give us ...

MS. SINGH:  I can - I can ...

Q:  ... give us that.

MS. SINGH:  I can definitely take - I'm happy to take the question, but again, I just want to reemphasize here that it is - it is not a - with some folks leaving in and out, our mission, our force posture still hasn't changed.  So I'm happy to take on - the question on, like, how many folks have left - sure.

Q:  ... because clearly ... what you're saying, I - if I'm not confusing this, is the number of active duty troops has remained largely the same.  Is that accurate?

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  All right.

MS. SINGH:  That is correct.  And again, we're talking about ...

Q:  ... if you'd give us those other numbers.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.  We're talking about non-essential personnel and contractors.  Active duty essentially remains intact. I'm going to go to the phones real quick and then I can come back in the room for just two more.  Heather, USNI?

Q:  Hi, thanks so much.  I was just wondering if you have any update on the situation with Iran, and if you're continuing to see the forces out there deter any tanker seizures or if there's any plans for Marines to start going on to commercial vessels?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Heather.  There's no - there's no plan right now for Marines to go on commercial vessels.  I don't have an update on anything in regards to Iran, nothing - no major updates since we last briefed.  But yeah, thanks for the question. I will - yeah, coming back in the room.  Yeah, sure.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up ...

MS. SINGH:  OK, and then I'll go to Missy.

Q:  ... the move from - from Niamey, is that -- is that ongoing now?  Has it been completed or?

MS. SINGH:  It's ongoing right now, yes. Missy?

Q:  Yes, just quick, also maybe add a clarification on...nonessential personnel is non-military personnel, non-uniformed personnel when you're saying -- you say the non-military personnel and contractors that the non-essential personnel are uniformed or not uniformed?

MS. SINGH:  I mean, I think nonessential personnel is nonessential to the mission itself, and -- and security and protection of our troops.  I think it can encompass many things, including uniform or civilian.  So I wouldn't lump it as just, it's not non-uniform or not -- you know, only uniform personnel.

Q:  Yes, that was...

MS. SINGH:  I can get clarification on that, yes, sure, no problem.  OK, I'll take -- yes, right here.  And then I'll come back around.

Q:  Thanks.  With regard to the new Ukraine security assistance package...

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  ... are you able to provide any more details about the electronic warfare and counter-electronic warfare systems that are included in that?  Are these new capabilities or?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have more details to provide.  Again, I would just direct you to the website and our fact sheet we've provided online.  But I just don't have more specifics to add to that.  Yes.

Q:  Sabrina...

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  ... after these developments in the countries in West Africa, like Niger, then Gabon, before that Mali, how is these developments' effect on the U.S. operations against the terrorist groups and organizations in this area?  And does the U.S. -- or did they -- or do they keep the same numbers of these operations or it's getting decreased because of these developments in these countries?

MS. SINGH:  Well, it's certainly something that is concerning.  The United States and this administration continues to advocate for democracy and peacefully elected leaders.  And so that's why you are seeing a commitment in Niger right now and the hope that the situation there gets resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means. And not sound like a broken record here, but that's why you have not seen a change to our force posture.  You are seeing a movement to -- out of an abundance of caution to move some personnel and -- and some of our assets into a different area.  But we're hopeful.  We're hopeful that there can be some diplomatic way to resolve what's happening.  We're certainly not support because of -- of military takeovers of a democratically elected leader or government.  Yes.

Q:  Are you concerned about maybe this developments may impact the -- these operations against these terrorist groups?

MS. SINGH:  We still maintain the ability to protect and -- protect our interests here at home and our partners and allies in the region. Yes, I'll take this as a last one.  Yes?

Q:  Yes, so on Niger, is there expectation that additional precautionary repositionings are going to be taking place like this ongoing one that you mentioned.

MS. SINGH:  Like an additional to like -- like a different movement?

Q:  Another movement from Airbase 101 to 201, another one in the future after this one concludes?

MS. SINGH:  I think we have personnel that are going to continue moving.  I don't know that it's like one movement or like multiple.  It is precautionary.  Again, we're moving just our personnel and assets over to that -- to Airbase 201.  Once that is in place, we will, you know, stop but -- that it will be concluded, but I don't have like more missions to announce or any other additional movement at this time.

Q:  Is it all of them, Sabrina?

MS. SINGH:  Sorry?


MS. SINGH:  Yes.  There will be at a small group that is -- remains at Airbase 101.

OK?  Great.  Thanks, I'll leave it at that.