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

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: All right. Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things here at the top and then I am happy to take your questions.

So tomorrow, Secretary Austin will welcome Japanese Defense Minister Kihara on his first overseas trip and his first visit to the Pentagon as Minister. The Secretary looks forward to a strong relationship with Minister Kihara and working together to advance one of our strongest alliances. We'll have more information to share tomorrow.

And then switching topics -- as I'm sure many folks here in the room are focused on, as you know, over the weekend, Congress was able to avert a shutdown of the government. However, we once again find ourselves in a continuing period of uncertainty.

Defense of our nation requires certainty and resolve. This also means a commitment to strengthening our own national security by ensuring that Ukraine has what it needs to defend its freedom and protect their people from Putin's brutal invasion.

We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine's battlefield needs for just a little bit longer but we need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the department seeks to replenish our stocks.

As Secretary Austin said on Saturday, we urge Congress to live up to America's commitment to provide urgently needed assistance to the people of Ukraine as they fight to defend their own country against forces of tyranny. America must live up to its word and continue to lead.

We have seen bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress and we urge members of Congress to keep their commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure the passage of support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. I'll start with Lita.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. Just on the issue of the weapons replacement and refurbishment and -- in his letter the other day, the Comptroller talked about the pressure on replenishing stocks and said there's about $1.6 billion, I guess, left. How long will that $1.6 billion last?

And can you give us a sense of what are the weapons systems that are under most strain right now? Where are you seeing the biggest demand that you may not be able to continue to send to Ukraine now?

MS. SINGH: So good question. In terms of how long the $1.6 billion will last, that -- that's a determination that will be made by the Comptroller, and I don't know that I'd be able to put a timeframe on it. It's really how that funding is used to replenish our stocks and of course when we're available to enter into contracts to refill our stocks. So I can't really put a timeline on how long that $1.6 billion will stretch out for.

In terms of -- in terms of what we would be -- or how -- which systems or capabilities we're working to refill, that depends on, again, what we continue to send Ukraine, whether it's air defenses, more artillery. We know that we are working to refill artillery in our stocks. But it really depends on what Ukraine requests.

And again, we know that their priorities are air defense and artillery and also mine-clearing equipment. So that's what our focus is on. So that of course is what we're inevitably going to be refilling as well. But you have to remember, in the beginning of the war, we were also sending Javelins, Stingers, other things like that. So those also are being replenished but we've done so over time.

Q: But the Secretary's made the point the other day that air defense was the key that the U.S. wanted to continue to send. Is there pressure on that? Is there -- is that a point where the U.S. is having strains replenishing U.S. stocks at this point? And can you at least narrow it down -- is it weeks, is it months, is it 2025? I mean --

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: -- give us a sense.

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't say there's a strain. I mean, we know that -- and a -- we've been very public here from the podium saying that we're not going to drop below certain levels. So not necessarily a strain but we do know that replenishing our stocks is a priority for this department as we continue to send and flow aid to Ukraine.

I really wish I could give you more of a timeframe on that. It's -- it's really hard to say. A lot of it depends on when Congress gives us the funding support we need, that we can continue to use that $1.6 billion. So I just -- I can't give you a certain timeline or, like, even forecast weeks or months on how long it will take to use that money.

Yeah, Liz?

Q: On the Defense Department official who was arrested last week, he -- it's suspected he was in a dogfighting ring. What level security clearance did Frederick Moorefield have?

MS. SINGH: I'm not sure what type of security clearance level he had. That's not something we would give out, as that's something that is individual to, you know, what access that person has. We wouldn't really detail what types of security clearance levels.

But we are aware of the criminal complaint and of course, you know, would refer you to the Department of Justice as this is an ongoing matter.

Q: But he did have a security clearance. How was that able to happen? He was investigated by local police five years ago when dead dogs were found at his -- in a bag in his property. How was that able to happen?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I -- again, I don't know the level of clearance that he had. I'm not going to go into more specifics on it. It's an ongoing case. I think these are some things that of course will come out in the investigation.

I think you raised an excellent point on, you know, why or -- were behaviors caught when it should have been. That's something that will be revealed of course as the Department of Justice leads this investigation. So I'm not going to comment any further.


Q: A follow-up on Lita's question. She asked about Ukraine replenishment. I'm curious about the flip side of that. You said you have enough funding to meet Ukraine's battlefield needs just a little bit longer. What does that mean? And when do we start to see the lack of additional Ukraine funding play out as -- as a detriment to Ukraine on the battlefield?

MS. SINGH: So as you know, we're in -- we are constantly in contact with the Ukrainians on their battlefield needs. As you've seen from the 47 other packages that we have rolled out over the course of the last year and a half, each package ranges in dollar value, each package also varies in the capabilities and systems and weapons that we're giving.

So it's hard to say how long that additional recalculated PDA authority will go because it will depend on the package. So again, you've seen some packages that are just over $200 million, you've seen packages that are close to $1 billion. If we -- we have five packages that continue to roll out, that's going to be gone pretty quick.

So again, I'm -- I'm hesitant to put on a timeline. We -- we do feel that we have the funding authorities to meet Ukraine's urgent needs right now but it's not going to be able to sustain us in the long-term. We do need Congress to pass a funding bill.

Yeah, Dan? And then I'll come to you, Lara.

Q: Thanks, appreciate it.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: I wanted to address a point that I think has remained in conflict, and the -- and the political crisis over the weekend, I think, underscored it again, which is that President Biden and the Biden administration has said over and over again that the United States will be there for Ukraine as long as it takes. That's usually the phrase we hear. But there are all these other reasons that that can be put in jeopardy, including the federal elections and, you know, even political disputes on the Hill over whether -- whether or not to fund this.

Can you square the circle on that? How -- how can anyone take that "as long as it takes" seriously, considering all of the other pitfalls here?

MS. SINGH: Yeah -- no, I think that's a great question. I think what's important to remember is you've seen bipartisan support for Ukraine on both sides of the aisle. I mean, most recently, we had a Republican and Democratic delegation that went to visit Kyiv, that met with leadership there, that saw our weapons and systems that are going in that Ukraine's using.

So I think it's important to remember that even though there is consternation on the Hill, you still have Republican support in the House, and you still have Republican support in the Senate and, of course, Democratic support.

And it is -- it's a good reminder also that it is just a small minority of folks in the House that are expressing their opposition. So, we do feel confident that we will have bipartisan support to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. And I think it's important and I think many members on the Hill understand this, supporting Ukraine is in our national interest as well.

We can't allow Russia to win. We can't allow Russia to expand its war outside of the lines of Ukraine. And that's why you're seeing the power of the United States to convene over 50 nations with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that the secretary leads almost every month. That's why you're seeing aid packages continuing to flow. So, I do feel confident that we will have the funding that we need as Congress works through this -- this point of turmoil on the Hill.

Q: If I could follow up on the --


Q: -- Moorefield case as well?

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: That dog fighting case.


Q: The phrasing of the Pentagon statement yesterday left it a little ambiguous. Is he considered still a Defense Department employee? Is he on terminal leave? Is he a former employee? Where does he actually fall at this point?

MS. SINGH: I can confirm that he's no longer in the workplace. I just can't comment any further on this matter, as it's an ongoing investigation. So, I'd have to refer you to DOJ for more information.

Laura, did you have a question?

Q: Yes. Yes. A couple questions. Just on the aid to Ukraine, you said you have enough funding authority to keep the battlefield needs going for a little bit longer. Is DOD taking any measures to make that aid, that authority last longer? Is there anything that's going to be delayed to make it last longer? What steps are you taking?

MS. SINGH: So, at the moment I would say no. We're still putting together packages. You're going to see our -- you know -- our regular cadence continue, which is usually weekly or every other week, give or take. Unfortunately, even though, you know, we are having conversations on the Hill and, you know, with the interagency on how can secure more funding for Ukraine, the war is still ongoing. And so, those -- the requirements and the needs that Ukraine has hasn't changed.

And so, you're going to continue to see packages. Right now, we're not adjusting anything to, I don't know, maybe have it like dribble out any longer. We're going to continue to flow aid as as we can.

Q: And is there going to be ATACMS in this upcoming (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any announcement on ATACMS today. Thanks. I'm going to go to the phones then I'll come back in the room.

Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you very much. Is the U.S. military going to send any more forces to Kosovo in light of current tensions there? And does the Defense Department access that Russia maybe be -- may be provoking tensions between Serbia and Kosovo? Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Jeff. I don't have any announcements to make on that or any changes to our force posture. So, I'll just leave it at that. In terms of Russia provoking tensions in the region, I mean, we've certainly seen that before. But I don't really have more light to shed in terms of the specifics to what's happening in Kosovo and Serbia.

I'll take another question. Heather, USNI.

Q: Thanks so much. I was wondering if you could give us a battlefield assessment of the current Black Sea fleet. I know that Russia has experienced multiple attacks from the Ukrainians. And I was just wondering if there's an idea of how many ships they still have and where they might be keeping their ships.

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks, Heather. So, in terms of a battlefield assessment on the Black Sea, I would direct you to the Ukrainians to speak to that. We know that they have been able to successfully inflict some damage on Russian forces in the area, but for more of a update on, you know, ship count, how successful they have been, I'd really direct you to the Ukrainians to speak to that.

I'll come back in the room. Yeah, Brandi?

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. More follow-ups on Moorefield. He was the Deputy Chief Information Officer for command, control, and communications in the Secretary's CIO office. Has Secretary Austin named someone who's going to step in in that capacity or CIO John Sherman? Is anyone stepping in to fill in that role?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any personnel announcements today, so I would -- I don't --

Q: -- the role's vacant --

MS. SINGH: That role is vacant right now, yeah. Great.


Q: Thank you. I want to ask you about the Secretary's meeting with the Japanese Defense Minister tomorrow. In January, the U.S. and Japan agreed to look for more effective command and control structure. Then, how much have you made progress on that? Is that a priority area of cooperation with Japan?

MS. SINGH: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the Secretary's conversation that's going to happen tomorrow. As you know, Japan is one of our oldest standing partners and allies in the region. The Secretary certainly looks forward to welcoming Minister Hamada* tomorrow but I'm going to let -- not get ahead of their conversation and we'll provide a readout after the meeting.

Q: Okay. The also on Japan, the -- Mr. Kihara, the -- is the third Japanese Defense Minister that Secretary Austin meet with since the Secretary took the current position. I wonder how difficult such Japan's frequent replacement of the Japanese Defense Minister make for the Secretary to develop trust or possible relationships with the Japanese defense leadership?

MS. SINGH: Well, we already have a very good and deep relationship with Japan on different levels, from not just the Secretary's level but across the department. I'll really let Japan speak to their changes in leadership but the Secretary did have a strong rapport with Minister Kihara when they last spoke and he looks forward to welcoming Minister Kihara tomorrow.

But I think it's important that, you know, this is one of our deep alliances that we have, and I'll just leave it at that.


Q: I had a question. $5.4 billion is left in PDA for Ukraine. So is Pentagon ready to go beyond $1.6 billion mark, given that that's the amount that's left to replenish the -- the American stocks?

MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, can you repeat the first part of your question?

Q: -- so, like, $5.4 billion is left in the PDA. Is the Pentagon ready to go beyond $1.6 billion mark, given that that's the amount that is left to replenish its own stocks?

MS. SINGH: That's what we're requesting. We are requesting more Ukraine funding so we can replenish our own stocks. The $1.6 billion is specifically to -- for that replenishment. And as you noted, the $1.6 billion is far below -- is much lower than what we have in PDA authority left. So that is something that we are urging Congress to look at, of course, because we do need to replenish our stocks as we continue to flow aid to Ukraine.

Q: Okay.

MS. SINGH: Great.

Dave? Yeah.

Q: So would you just state for the record exactly how much money is left in the PDA account?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, so in the PDA account in the reevaluation, we have $5.4 billion left in PDA funds and we have no more USAI left. And then we have the $1.6 billion that we will use to replenish our stocks. Great.


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. Regarding Niger, there are, like, 29 Niger soldiers were killed in attack by armed insurgents near the country's border with Mali. So do you have concern about the security of -- security or stability for this country? Is there any change with your troops' posture there? And are you planning to maybe reel in your operations against these groups?

MS. SINGH: So I've seen the reports on what happened -- I think it was yesterday or overnight. In -- I mean, in terms of our force posture, of course -- no U.S. soldiers or troops were involved in that. Our focus is, again, continuing to move our personnel and assets from Air Base 101 to 201, which is mostly complete. And we're focused on our force posture -- so I think you -- I -- I think you -- or force protection, I should say.

I think you mentioned operations. We're not conducting any CT operations in Niger, we're just focused on consolidating from 101 to 201 at this point. Yeah, of course.

Did I see a question -- I'm going to come back to you. Mike? Sorry. I'll come back, just -- yeah, go ahead.

Q: Regarding Ariane Tabatabai, last week, Secretary Maier testified up on the Hill that there was an internal investigation -- or some sort of internal investigation going on here in the building to determine whether all laws and policies were followed when she was granted her TS/SCI clearance. My question is what's her status now? And does she -- is her -- have you suspended her clearance? And if not, why not?

MS. SINGH: No, we haven't. We believe that she was -- went through the vetting process. I think that was -- there were many questions about that on the Hill and -- and in the testimony that you reference. I don't have any more to provide on that. Great.

Did I see -- yeah, right over here.

Q: Yeah, do you have any indication that arms deals between North Korea and Russia took place after their summit?

MS. SINGH: We know that they've been in communication. We would not be surprised if there was a transfer of artillery from North Korea to Russia. We saw the heads of both countries meet and surely discuss that. We know Russia's going through and expending through its artillery pretty quickly.

So it wouldn't be a surprise. I don't have anything to read out or confirm that's, like, an actual transfer has taken place, but of course it would not surprise us if that -- if that does in fact happen.


Q: So how -- how about the Private -- Private Travis King who returned from North Korea?

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: So how is he here? And then what is his next step for him to -- to (inaudible) into the military court? What is his next step?

MS. SINGH: So next step is he's still going through the reintegration process. As I mentioned, I want to say, last week, there's not really a timeline on that process. That takes time for any individual and it's -- you know, it can be as long or as short as a person needs.

He's been reunited with his family. I -- you know, I think I read out that he was in good spirits when he landed in the United States. But this is an ongoing process. And so for any follow-up on what happens to him, his status, I would refer you to the Army for further questions on that.

Yeah? And then I'll come to Oren.

Q: A follow-up on Moorefield -- just to be extra clear, when you mentioned he's no -- no longer in the workplace, to use your words, does that mean still employed but not showing up to work or does that mean not employed anymore and not in the workforce?

MS. SINGH: He is no longer in the workplace, but in terms of his actual status or anything like that, because this is an ongoing investigation, I would just refer you to DOJ. I just don't have any more details to provide at this time.

Q: Okay, but just -- so not showing up to work, just to be clear?

MS. SINGH: He is no longer working in this building.

Oren, last question to you? Okay, I'll come to you and then -- Oren, you first, and then I'll come to you.

Q: -- a quick follow-up on Ukraine. Has Secretary Austin engaged with the Hill since the shutdown was averted to ensure bipartisan support and get any update on -- on when that would happen?

MS. SINGH: Well, the secretary was actively engaging with the Hill throughout the -- since last Friday and throughout the weekend, engaging with folks to encourage not only funding for Ukraine but to keep the government open.

I don't have any more specifics to add but I will say that our legislative team here, along with other senior leaders in the building constantly engage with the Hill on a frequent basis on behalf of the Secretary.

So I think our -- I think our DOD presents is certainly felt on the Hill.

Yes, last question.

Q: Thank you. You saw the Turkey strikes against the PKK in Northern Iraq over the weekend. Has the Secretary spoken to his Turkish or Iraqi counter parts?

MS. SINGH: I don't know.

Q: Does Turkey's renewed focus on the PKK in anyway make the U.S. support for the SDF unattainable in the longer term?

MS. SINGH: So I don't have any calls to read out in terms of what you asked about the Secretary. What I'll say again and what I've said before is that any actions that further destabilize our mission, which is the enduring defeat of ISIS, don't serve that mission.

And so the United States is of course focused on that mission. We continue to do so. You saw CENTCOM over the weekend send out a few statements that announced some of their progress that they're making in the defeat ISIS mission but I just don't have anything else to provide in terms of calls.

That's it. Thanks all. I'll leave it at that.

* Editor's Note: Minister Kihara.