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Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing for Resident Media

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right.  Welcome to Monday.  Just a few things at the top here and then we'll get right to your questions.

So today of course marks the solemn occasion of the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  The remembrance events for those lost in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and then the 184 lives lost here at the Pentagon commenced on Friday with a ceremony for Pentagon employees in the Pentagon courtyard.  And then today's ceremonies here at the Pentagon began with an American flag unfurling at sunrise and continued with a reading of the names of those 184 killed on that day here at the Pentagon.

Secretary Austin and General Milley, as you know, delivered remarks at the Pentagon Memorial to honor those we lost and their families.  And then this afternoon, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend a wreath laying here at the Pentagon with Secretary Austin and General Milley at 4:20 pm.

As Secretary Austin said in — in his remarks, the men and women of the Department of Defense will always remember, we will always honor the memory of our fallen teammates, and we will always strive to be worthy of the memory of those we lost.

Separately, Secretary Austin conducted an introductory phone call this morning with the new Ukrainian Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov.  The Secretary congratulated the Minister on his new position and reiterated our steadfast support for Ukraine.

Secretary Austin provided an update on U.S. security assistance efforts and exchanged views with the Minister on priorities to support Ukraine's immediate battlefield needs and capability requirements over the long term.  If we haven't already, we'll be providing a readout on our website.  So you should have that very shortly.

On a related note, Secretary Austin will be hosting the next Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base on September 19th.  So we'll have the opportunity to meet Minister Umerov in person during that event.

And as you know, the Contact Group brings together nearly 50 nations to discuss Ukraine's most urgent battlefield needs, as well as the longer-term support required to maintain their defense and security.  And so we'll have much more to provide on that in the coming days.

Finally, on an administrative note, both Sabrina and I will be attending the Contact Group next week.  So we'll be out on Monday, so we won't have a gaggle on Monday, but we will kick them back off again on the 25th of September and keep going every Monday from there.

So with that, I am happy to take your questions.  Lara?

Q:  Hey, Pat.  Just wondering about the ATACMS.  There was a report on Friday that the U.S. was likely to send them to Ukraine.  Just wondering if — if — even if there hasn't been a final decision to send them, if that is something that, if there's movement on now?

And also, there was reporting that they had found ATACMS missiles that could perhaps be upgraded and then sent to Ukraine that they hadn't thought of before.  So can you just speak to that please?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I saw the press report on that.  Again, from a Department of Defense standpoint, we have nothing new to announce.  We will continue to maintain close contact with Ukraine and our allies and our partners on their security assistance needs.  So when and if there's anything new to — to announce on that front, we certainly will, but as of today, I've got nothing new to provide.

Q:  Are there ATACMS that the DOD could potentially send?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get into inventory levels or, you know, speculate on — on potential future options.  Of course, we're going to work with Ukraine to provide them what they need to be successful.  So thank you.


Q:  I wanted to ask about reports on Bahrain and the Crown Prince is coming and a potential security agreement will be signed.  Could you sort of walk us through what that means for the Department of Defense, potentially force posture, et cetera?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Ashley.  I — I just don't have any information on that, so let me take that question and we'll come back to you, okay?


Q:  Hi.  Two questions, one on — on Niger.  Any — have there been any further movements of — of U.S. forces?  And has the — has the move from Niamey to Agadez been completed at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Will.  So you should have received my note over the weekend just providing the status.  Again, no significant changes to the force posture there.  As — as Sabrina highlighted at the briefing on Thursday, we are, out of an abundance of caution, repositioning some forces from Niamey to Agadez.

I'm not going to get into the specifics, in terms of numbers or — or the timelines, other than to say broadly speaking our forces in country continue to remain there, paused in terms of, you know, training with the Nigerians, awaiting a diplomatic outcome for this.

So when we have significant updates to provide, we'll be sure to do that.

Q:  And then on — on North Korea, North Korea said today that — that — basically confirmed that Kim Jong-un will meet with Putin, and South Korea's state news agency reported that — that he's departed.  Do you have any details on — on that or — or on the expected meeting?

GEN. RYDER:  We do expect some type of meeting.  And — and, you know, based on the information we've been provided, KJU is traveling to Russia, but as far as the details of that meeting and what will be discussed and when and where, I just don't have any information to provide.

I would just again reiterate that we remain concerned that North Korea is contemplating providing any type of ammunition or materiel support to Russia, in support of their war against Ukraine, which, as you've heard us all say, that — that would really just serve to perpetuate this needless war and result in the death of innocent Ukrainians.

And so it's something that we'll continue to keep a close eye on but I'm just not going to have any further details at this point.

Yes, ma'am?

Q:  Do you have any updates on whether there's going to be any DOD support for the Morocco earthquake recovery efforts?

GEN. RYDER:  As of right now — well, first — first of all, let me just say that — that we are all very saddened to see the extent of the devastation in Morocco.  Our thoughts and prayers certainly are — are with those that are affected.

As of right now, there's been no request by the government of Morocco for DOD support.  We do have approximately 100 U.S. forces that are in country that are there for exercise planning not related to the — the current situation.  They're all accounted for.

But again, you know, we'll — we'll continue to monitor this situation but we have not been asked to provide any support as of right now.  Thank you.


Q:  On Senator Tommy Tuberville's holds, does the Secretary have any plans to meet with him in person?  And are there any plans to say — go, like, the long way in the Senate of approving one by one for just, like, the top few officials?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so — so when it comes to potential actions by the Senate, I mean, that's really something for the Senate to talk about.  That's, you know, way out — way outside of — of my lane, to talk about the potential —


Q:  — has the Secretary talked to Leader Schumer about that?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, Liz, I — you know, the Secretary has engaged with congressional leaders.  I'm — I'm not at liberty to go into the specific individuals that he's spoken to, and — and of course would refer you to the Congress to talk about that.  I think he's communicated, again, publicly and privately the impacts that these holds are having.

I'm not aware at this time of any scheduled meetings or phone calls.  If that changes, we'll be sure to let you know.  Thank you.


Q:  Pat, would it — going back to the ATACMS questions, would it be accurate to say that — I know you don't have anything to announce — but is it accurate to say that the Defense Department still has reservations about the level — the American stockpile levels?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so —

Q:  Now, I know it's been rising, you know, with the, sort of, position and the reluctance to provide it in the past?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Missy.  So what I would say is, you know, we're — we're never going to talk publicly about specific readiness levels and where we are in terms of inventory and things like that.  Any time we make a decision to provide any type of capability to Ukraine, or working with our allies on that front, as you've heard us say, we take into account the potential impact on readiness.  And we're not going to do anything that would jeopardize our own military's readiness in order to carry out our commitments worldwide.

So that is always part of the discussion before the secretary would approve or make a recommendation to the president to approve.  And so, as it relates to ATACMS, I'm just not going to go into the specifics on them.

Q:  And a corollary to that, maybe a question to take, would it be possible to get a list of countries to which the United States has sold ATACMS?

GEN. RYDER:  I can take the question.  You know, I'm — and the only reason I'm sounding hesitant is part of that is, when we do foreign military sales, of course there's a process by which those are requested.  The State Department makes the recommendation.  The Congress approves.  There's also an understanding, depending on certain countries, of what they will and will not announce publicly in that regard.

So we'll take a look, and we'll provide you what we can.

Okay, thank you. 

Q:  To go back to the Tuberville question, is DOD preparing for the possibility that General Milley's retirement occurs before General Brown is confirmed by the Senate?

And what does that look like, and how can you see that play out?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, as of right now, General Milley's retirement is scheduled for the 29th of September.  As you know, if the holds are not lifted by then and — and a chairman is not confirmed, then, as I understand it, the vice chairman would be the acting chairman and would be essentially serving in both roles as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So, okay?  Ryo?

Q:  Thank you.  The U.S. and Vietnam have agreed to upgrade their bilateral relationship to (inaudible) comprehensive strategic partnership at President Biden's visit in Hanoi on the weekend.

So what does this mean for the bilateral defense cooperation with Vietnam and how significant is it to push back on China's maritime reign in the South China Sea?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Ryo.  So — so, as you know, we have a very good relationship, working relationship with Vietnam.  Let me come back to you, though, in terms of specifics as it pertains to outcomes from this particular meeting in defense cooperation.  I — I just don't want to speculate from here.


Q:  On Tuberville, is it possible, not for right now, but is it possible to get a sense of how much time the secretary has spent on this issue.  I mean, without saying who the phone calls are to, how many phone calls he's made, you know, how many meetings he's had, you know, whether or not it's actually — it's something that he thinks is a personal responsibility of his to resolve, or whether he thinks this is mainly an issue for Congress to resolve among itself, if you could understand that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, no, thanks, Bill.  I mean, I would tell you that obviously this is something that the secretary is taking very seriously.  He has conducted three phone calls with Senator Tuberville.  You know, again, I'm not going to read out the specifics of those phone calls, other than to say, you know, the secretary communicated that these will have an impact on our readiness.

You've also heard him talk about it in public speeches on multiple occasions.  And as referenced before, our staff here on the legislative affairs side is engaged with members on the Hill and their offices, to include Senator Tuberville's office, to communicate with the impacts are going to be.

You know, on any given day, the secretary of defense is engaged on a — a multiple number of issues on a wide variety of topics, but we do recognize that this is an important issue, and it's one that he remains committed to trying to communicate what the impacts are going to be.

When it comes — when I talk about the Congress and — and what they need to do on this, again, that's their legislative responsibility.  It's not within the realm of the Department of Defense or the executive branch to tell legislators how to go about legislating.  And so — and I — and certainly, as a uniformed officer, I'm not going to stand here and — and suggest that other than, again, I would refer you to them to talk about how they want to address it on the Hill.

In the meantime, the department has serious work to do defending this nation.  We also have a responsibility to ensure that all our service members have equitable access to reproductive healthcare, and that is the basis for the policy that we have adopted which is legal according to the Department of Justice, so I'll leave it at that.

Q:  I'm sorry.  Can I follow up?  I just want to understand why we can't get any more specifics on what the secretary is doing.  If it's a priority of readiness, the question is reasonable and just ask  (inaudible) —

GEN. RYDER:  I — I'm not sure that I — and then maybe I'm not communicating, but I mean, Nancy, I'm not going to have an hour-by-hour breakdown in terms of manhours other — and — and as a matter of protocol, we typically do not read out the secretary's individual engagements on — with members of the Hill for all the obvious reasons — executive privilege — you know, and not executive privilege in this case, but just in — in the course of doing business —

Q:  I — I get the point, but just, you said that typically by — by the description, this is not typical; this is exceptional.  It's hurting military readiness.  We've seen the services come out (inaudible).  They've gone on CNN.  All we've been told so far is that in any specifics, that he had a call in July.  So I just don't understand.  The department keeps saying that this is a priority, that it's a priority for the secretary, but can't bolster that with any sort of details.  So I think — because we can't get a list of names.  We're just asking for some measure of what the department has made —

Q:  And he's had dozens of calls with lawmakers.

Q:  Right.

Q:  He's had 50 calls with… every day?

GEN. RYDER:  Okay, yeah.  I'll — I will take that question.  I will take that question.

Q:  Yeah.

GEN. RYDER:  But again, I would — I would just kind of push back on the notion of — of putting the responsibility where it's due.  And — and this isn't Secretary Austin somehow trying to throttle back and just let this work its way out.  At the end of the day, there is a senator preventing three — now, 318 nominations from going forward, and that is going to continue to have an impact, and the longer those holds are in place, the more the impact will be felt, so — yeah.

Q:  Well, I get your point.  I would just say it's also for the — it is the conversations he has between the civilian leadership, not with the uniformed.  And we've seen some of the civilian leaders come forward, and we're just looking for some specificity on how —

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  Okay.

Q:  — the secretary's trying to address this.

GEN. RYDER:  Yup, gotcha.  No, understood.


Q:  Thanks very much. I was wondering a little bit about, with the exercise going on right now with Armenian forces and what Russian officials have said about it.  Could you talk a bit more about what the exercises are, how long that they were planned and — and what the plans are for additional exercises, perhaps, in — in that region?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Jeff.  So I would — I would refer you to EUCOM.  They should be able to give you — I — I know they've put out some information on this particular exercise already.  But they can break it down.  As you know, we conduct a multitude of exercises throughout the — the EUCOM AOR, but they can get you the details on that.

All right, time for a couple more.  Oren?

Q:  Two quick questions.  One, has the F-16 pilot maintainer language training gotten to Lackland yet?  And the second question is there an update on Travis King?  Any official communications about his — his status or anything?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Oren.  I have no updates to provide on — on Private King.  To my knowledge, his status has not changed.

And then in terms of F-16 maintainer language training, let me take that and we'll come back to you.

Q:  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Okay?  All right, last question.  Yes, sir?

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  General Brown put out a memo today basically, the — instructing airmen to be on the lookout for Chinese members to convert them to spy for the Chinese.   Is this is a concern that's shared more broadly at the OSD level?  And is there — you know, from your perspective, has there been anything that would motivate General Brown — like, has there been an uptick in Chinese efforts in this — in this area? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I don't — I don't really have anything to add beyond General Brown's letter.  I mean, certainly, as — as part of the — the training that we receive on operations security, and you know, particularly as you retire from the military, you know, you're required to receive briefings in terms of what you can and can't do when it comes to working for foreign governments.  So I — I think General Brown's point was, again, to just flag that you have to keep your head on a swivel in terms of who's asking you to do what, in light of the threat that China poses as — as the pacing challenge for the department.  Thank you.

All right, thanks very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.  Have a great day.