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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh, Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record, Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  I don't have too much at the top.  Happy Monday, everyone.  I don't really have too much at the top.

I just wanted to, as you guys are probably tracking, the secretary's in Kenya during his first trip across Africa as the secretary of defense.  He met with the Kenya MOD this morning to discuss our strong defense partnership, and also during the meeting, thanked the secretary for hosting U.S. forces at Manda Bay.  I think the secretary, just met with President Ruto to also discuss our strategic bilateral partnership.  In both of these meetings, he's just been reiterating how grateful the U.S. is to Kenya for its leadership in tackling security challenges in the region and around the world.  And during his meeting with the secretary today, he also thanked him for Kenya's willingness to consider leading multinational security support mission in Haiti.

So his trip continues.  It wraps up at the end of the week on Thursday, and then on Friday, we have General Milley's Change of Responsibility Ceremony happening on Friday.

And with that, I'm happy to dive in with any questions.  Yeah, hi.

Q:  Hi.  Shutdown.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, sure.

Q:  Could you sort of walk us through how you're preparing guidance given to the services —

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  — the impact here, (sort of racing ?) through at this point.

MS. SINGH:  So we are a planning organization.  We have issued - and OMB has issued - guidance that is available online.  I don't have the URL off hand, but it is available.  Our biggest focus right now is, you know, of course,  a shutdown would be detrimental for the department, and I think for agencies across this administration.  Troops would go without pay.  Military families would be impacted, of course.  For folks that are not getting paychecks, that impacts, you know, how and when you can buy groceries, childcare — all of these things.  Commissaries would be closed on bases.  So we are still, you know, we are hoping that Congress can reach a deal to avert a shutdown, but we are planning for that, or taking steps to plan for that, should a shutdown occur.

Q:  Any impact to readiness?  And at what — if there is, is it to spot —

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  — something further into the future, or is that an immediate —

MS. SINGH:  Well, I mean, a shutdown, of course, I mean, literally puts the government on a complete standstill.  The U.S. military's going to continue to do its job and protect our national security interests and, you know, of our allies and partners, as well. But of course, I mean, of course it does.  When you don't have your full operating capacity to be able to help with the mission, to be able to conduct an exercise or training, of course, that gets to our national security and readiness.

So the shutdown is the worst thing that could happen.  We're, hoping that Congress can find a way to avert that, but, you know, planning for the worst.

Yeah, Phil.  Hey — oh, sorry, (inaudible).

Q:  The Ukrainians are saying that they've killed the commander of the Black Sea —

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  — Russian commander of the Black Sea Fleet.  Just wonder if you could confirm that.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, I don't have anything to confirm that.  I've seen the reports on that, but I can't independently confirm that at this time.

Q:  And does the Pentagon have any assessment on the — on the impact from the strike?  You know, how many people were — and the Russians who were killed in that strike?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything. I haven't seen, an assessment that we've done yet, so I can't really speak to that.  We'd really let the Ukrainians speak to their own operations, but have just seen the reports of, what's been publicly out there on the commander being killed, but I can't verify that.

Q:  Is (inaudible) sharing intelligence (inaudible) that strike?

MS. SINGH:  I won't get into intel sharing or what we do share or not.

I'll go to Will, and then I'll come back.

Q:  Just after — following the announcement that France is going to pull its forces out of Niger, has there been any — or any change to either the number of U.S. forces, the disposition of the U.S. forces, anything related to that or — or is — is something like that upcoming as a result of this?

MS. SINGH:  So we're still at the point where we're continuing to relocate - personnel and assets from Air Base 101 to 201.  Our position hasn't changed.  Right now, we're focused on U.S. force protection within Niger.  But you know, again, we'll do an assessment of what it means for France to have its troops withdraw from Niger.  But right now, we're just focused on continuing that move.  And I just don't have any updates on any force posture changes at this time.


Q:  Just following up on that —

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  — you said that DOD was going to do an assessment of what it means for France to have pulled its troops from Niger.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, I just don't want to speculate, what it means for our — any ongoing work within Niger.  Right now, we're just focused on moving from Air Base 101 to 201.

Q:  Is that — is that considered a review that the secretary directed, or —


Q:  Okay.

MS. SINGH:  No, I just don't want to speculate and get ahead of anything.

Q:  Okay, okay.  I — yeah.  Because I guess my question is, is — what — what the —

MS. SINGH:  Right.

Q:  — having troops out.  So what is the secretary doing to prepare (inaudible) France?

MS. SINGH:  It's too early to say right now; don't want to speculate.  Again, we're focused on U.S. force protection in Niger.  We're focused on moving our assets, personnel, and continuing that movement to Air Base 201.  As you know, we're not conducting any training or military exercises with the Nigerian military.  We are just focused on, our personnel that's there right now, and that's really our intent.

Q:  Just on a different topic —

MS. SINGH:  Uh-huh.

Q:  There is a story about how there's a Canadian arms deal in the works to sell F-16s to Vietnam.  Can you comment on that?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything to provide on that.

Q:  Just on Niger again.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  Have you done any CT strikes since we last spoke?  And what percentage of the move from 101 to 201 are you at?  Are you almost done?  Are you — are you (inaudible) there?

MS. SINGH:  In terms of counterterrorism, we've not been conducting any counterterrorism operations in Niger.  In terms of personnel that have moved, I don't have those numbers.  I can take that question.  I don't think we'd get into specific numbers, but maybe we could get you —

Q:  Yeah, you (inaudible) —

MS. SINGH:  — a majority or you know, like 80 percent have moved. I just don't have that.

Q:  How do you — how do you define "operations"?  You were talking about counterterrorism operations.

MS. SINGH:  Like strikes within —

Q:  Only strikes, or —

MS. SINGH:  Not necessarily, but —

Q:  (inaudible) strike would include — be included in that?

MS. SINGH:  Sure, but we're not doing any counterterrorism — or, not conducting or planning any counterterrorism operations right now at this time.

Q:  But the U.S. is flying drones, though?

MS. SINGH:  That's ISR, yes, for our own force protection, but nothing for counterterrorism.

Q:  Since we're out on the same topic —

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  — how do you describe the contact between the forces, U.S. forces, and the current people in power in — in Niger?  Is it going well?  Is it no communication?  What is the situation?

MS. SINGH:  We've had communication in terms of when we had flights out of Niger, I believe in early September when some of our personnel left the country.  We did communicate and get the proper authorities that we needed to have some personnel safely leave.  But that's really the extent of the contact, and I really wouldn't comment any further on what our contact is because I would refer you to AFRICOM for that.

Q:  Okay.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Did I see a hand over here?  Yes?

Q:  Could the Pentagon comment on U.S. officials being reported to say that Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine?

MS. SINGH:  I believe President Zelenskyy said Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine, so I wouldn't dispute that.  It's the first tranche, or first batch of Abrams that have arrived in Ukraine.  But in terms of numbers or you know, movements on the battlefield, anything like that, I'd let the Ukrainians speak to that.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  How many batches will there be?

MS. SINGH:  I'm not going to comment on that.

Hi, Liz.

Q:  The Pentagon said last week that training for Ukrainians and weapons shipments, that would be exempt from being affected by a potential government shutdown.  Is there any way that it would still be impacted though, like, if there's interruptions to the supply chain or, you know, (half of ?) DOD's staff would be able to show up to work?

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, so as you saw, Operation Atlantic Resolve, we're exempting that from — we're trying to keep equipment and supplies flowing but absolutely, things could be delayed when it comes to training.  If any of our personnel are furloughed, yes, that could have impacts to the larger mission.

Again, it's something that we're trying to — well, we hope Congress could avert, although it looks less and less likely every hour that passes, but it is something that we're still managing and we're trying to continue those — allow the flow of assistance to continue to go to Ukraine.

And — we'll continue — you know, again, like, I don't know how this impacts how we roll out additional PDAs with a government shutdown.  So it doesn't affect the funds that we have accessible to us but, like, how we continue to do that, I just don't have more for that.

(Hailey ?)?

Q:  Has Secretary Austin spoken to Senator Tuberville since some of these — General Brown, General George, and Smith were — were brought through?

MS. SINGH:  So he was on — he was on the Hill on Wednesday of last week, where he did a closed door Senate briefing on Ukraine.  In that meeting, Senator Tuberville was there and the Secretary did address the impact that these holds have on our military.  I believe that was also the day that Majority Leader Schumer started to move forward on some of the confirmation of some of our nominees.

So there's not been a direct one-to-one conversation with Senator Tuberville, other than that last meeting, but over this past week and weekend, the Secretary did engage with senators on both sides to continue to urge for the holds to be lifted and for our nominees to be confirmed.

Q:  Is he hopeful that, you know, this is the beginning of what could be — like, a trickle, I know, would still take a while (inaudible) over 300 through but —

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.  I think it's hard to say.  I think it's really up to the Senate to make that decision.  And, you know, Senator Reed has been pretty — I think many senators have been pretty frank about how long it would take if you were to confirm each individual of all 300 — you know, it could really gridlock the Senate, so it's up to the Senate to determine how they'd decide to confirm our nominees.

We are very grateful and thankful that three of our nominees have been confirmed but we still have over 300, so it doesn't really get to the larger issue at hand.  And as you know — and I know we've talked about this — but these are nominees that are usually confirmed in large blocks, that aren't, pulled out and confirmed individually, and have enjoyed bipartisan support.  So we would hope that Senator Tuberville lifts these holds.


Q:  With those 300 nominees, is there — has the department generated kind of list — a priority list?  If you're going to do them one by one, here's who should be next?

MS. SINGH:  No, I wouldn't say we have a priority list because they're all a priority.  We saw the Senate take action on the Chairman for the Joint Chiefs, the Army, and the Marine Corps.  Certainly important to have our service chiefs in place, it's certainly important to have our Chairman in place.

But we believe that all of our nominees are important, they're important to ensuring continuity, to ensuring stability in maintaining our national security and readiness, but I don't think we have, a list in priority.  We want them all confirmed.

Yeah?  Yes?

Q:  Sorry.

MS. SINGH:  No, that's okay.

Q:  — just back — the exemption for Ukraine weapons, is you — is the department looking at something similar for Taiwan?

MS. SINGH:  So the Secretary will make decisions on what operations are exempt.  Because the Secretary makes those decisions, I don't want to get ahead of — and I want to make sure that I preserve his decision-making space.  So I don't have anything for you on that yet, but as we — if there is a shutdown, you know, we can get back to you on what things are maintaining and what things are being kept into place.

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Oh, were you pointing at — were you pointing at me, Phil, or were you pointing at the photo?

Q:  No, I was pointing at the — the —


MS. SINGH:  Oh okay, great.  It was a lovely photo.

Yeah?  Hi.

Q:  In the South China Sea, the Philippines has been dealing with aggressive actions by China for about two months now, and the U.S. and (inaudible) countries, including Japan and Australia, are responding or talking about patrols.  I wanted to ask if you could talk about what the U.S. military is doing both to support the Philippines specifically and also the kind of rallying to facilitate that multilateralism?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I think you've seen the Secretary speak to this before, and we're certainly concerned of the PRC's aggressive behavior in the region.  We've made public commitments to the Philippines of, you know, deepening our partnership and security.

I would point you to the readout that the Secretary had — I want to say it was a month ago — with his Philippine counterpart, and leave it at that.

Anyone else?  Yeah?

Q:  Is the — is the department (involved ?) by any means to the summit that's happening today at the White House with the leaders from the —

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  — (inaudible).

MS. SINGH:  Yes.  I'm sorry, what's the question?

Q:  (I'm — all trying to say ?), I mean, there is one part that is happening today at the White House that is, like, in between the President and leaders from this part of the — I — is the defense any part of it?  Are we involved by any means in talking to them?

MS. SINGH:  This is a White House-led — "summit's" not the right word but meeting that's happening there.  So I don't want to get ahead of the White House in any announcements that they're going to make, so I'm just going to let them take the lead and —

Q:  — part of it?

MS. SINGH:  We're not involved in, I mean, as you know, the Secretary's traveling in Africa.  This is White House-led — the President is having a meeting with his counterparts, and I'll just let the White House speak to that.  Great.

Anything else before we wrap up?  No?  Short gaggle.  Okay, I'm going to go meet with some Girl Scouts.