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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Sorry for getting started just a few minutes late here. Just a few things at the top and then I'd be happy to dive in and take your questions.

So earlier today, the secretary arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia to attend the 10th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus. While in Jakarta, he will conduct an ASEAN-United States informal meeting to discuss opportunities to expand the ASEAN-United States security cooperation one year after the elevation of the ASEAN-U.S. relationship to the comprehensive strategic partnership. He will also meet with regional counterparts to express the United States' deep commitment to working alongside allies and partners in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Also earlier today, Secretary Austin approved a request from the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to provide 30 D.C. National Guard personnel to support the D.C. Police Department during the March for Israel on the National Mall.

These 30 Guardsmen will be unarmed and will provide traffic and crowd management support to D.C. police from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and will remain under the operation and administrative command and control of the D.C. National Guard.

The secretary has additionally authorized the activation of approximately six Guardsmen from the D.C. National Guard's Civil Support Team. These Guardsmen will similarly be unarmed and will remain under the command and control of the D.C. National Guard while providing support to D.C. fire and emergency medical services.

For more information, we would refer you to the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

And finally, turning now to our forces in Syria and Iraq, since October 17th through today, we are tracking that there have been 55 attacks on U.S. forces. There have been 27 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and 28 attacks in Syria.

And an update for you from last week on injuries. We are also tracking 59 U.S. personnel who have received injuries in the TBI or non-serious categories since these -- since these attacks began. Approximately 27 personnel have been evaluated for TBI and 32 for other non-serious injuries. As of today, all 59 have returned to duty.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Tara, you want to start us off?

Q: Yes, thanks. To just start with Syria, can you give us any additional information on the airstrike that happened over the weekend? What sort of battle damage assessment was there? And did that strike result in casualties on the ground?

MS. SINGH: So something that we are continuing to do is battle damage assessment, but I don't have anything to read out in terms of casualties. As we mentioned over the weekend, we are aware that there were IRGC-affiliated members in the proximity of the facilities that were struck by our aircraft, but I don't have more on -- on casualty numbers or anything else to read out.

Q: So you don't have a sense of, like, how many people were in the area? OK.

And then just one ... 

MS. SINGH: Not at this time.

Q: ... one more on the summit that's taking place. Much has been said about the -- maybe the potential takeaways from this will really be mil-to-mil and maybe improved mil-to-mil relations ... 

MS. SINGH: Sorry, are you talking about the president's -- OK, yes.

Q: What has the secretary communicated as far as what would be a -- basically a good deliverable to help restart this relationship?

MS. SINGH: Well, as you mentioned, this is -- the president is leading this summit, which is starting tomorrow. And so I don't want to get ahead of anything that the president might announce or any outcomes from that summit. We've stressed from the very beginning that we believe mil-to-mil cooperation, coordination, communication is important. 

Right now, the PRC does not have a national defense -- or a Minister of Defense. And so at the ADMM-Plus that the secretary's at and starting tomorrow, we don't have any indication that there will be a meeting happening between the secretary and his, you know, non-designated PRC counterpart yet. 

So there are no plans for the secretary to sit down with anyone at this point, but again, I'd let the president's meeting that's happening tomorrow -- I don't want to get ahead of that.

Q: And just one last -- can you characterize the state of the relationship right now? Are there any conversations going on? Any sort of deconfliction line talks? Are they picking up at all? Are we even trying?

MS. SINGH: I mean, we continue to be -- both publicly and privately continue to engage with the PRC. We are certainly committed to having an open line of communication and mil-to-mil communications with the PRC, but we just haven't had that reciprocated from their end.

Jen? Yes.

Q: Sabrina, about a week ago, Iranian-backed Houthis downed an MQ-9 Reaper drone, a U.S. drone, $32 million drone. So far, there's been no response by the U.S., and the Houthis are saying that they will threaten Israeli ships in the Red Sea. Isn't the lack of response by the U.S. military inviting more actions -- aggressive actions by the Houthis?

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks, Jen, for the question. I -- I wouldn't say that it's inviting more aggressive or further response from the Houthis. We've seen the Houthis do this before. We've seen our -- one of our MQ-9s shot down before in the past. 

I'm not saying that we're not going to respond. We always reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing. But I just don't have anything to forecast for you right now. I -- I mean, as you know, our main goal is to contain and to make sure this conflict is contained within Gaza. Right now, that's where we see it. We see the conflict remaining within Israel and Gaza and between Israel and Hamas. 

So as of to date, you know, I am -- I'm not going to broadcast any response or -- or, you know, get ahead of any response that the secretary or the president might want to take, but I think we've been pretty clear in our message when it comes to deterrence and we haven't seen this conflict widen out.

Q: But you're not deterring the Houthis. The Houthis are continuing to fire missiles toward Eilat, they're threatening ships now. I don't understand how a deterrent message is being received by the Houthis if there's no response to downing an MQ-9 Reaper.

MS. SINGH: Well, you have to remember that one of our ships did take action when the Houthis did fire missiles that were, you know, headed towards Israel. We did engage in that. We did bring those down. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of any ... 

Q: ... defensive. That was not ... 

MS. SINGH: I understand, but again, I'm not going to get ahead of any action that the secretary or the president may or may not take. We have a very robust presence in the region right now that is sending, I think, a very strong message of deterrence. And while I certainly hear your question, we -- we always reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing.


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. I have a -- a question and then a follow-up on an earlier question.

There's some reports in Arabic language media today, some eyewitness accounts from Gaza, where witnesses are saying that they've seen troops speaking English to each other and with American flags on their uniform. Can you give us an update generally on what U.S. forces are doing currently in Israel? And specifically, can you respond to this -- I don't know what -- I don't know what to call it -- the -- a claim that there's potentially U.S. troops on the ground in Gaza?

MS. SINGH: Well, I can -- I can't respond to that specific claim, I haven't seen it, but what I can tell you is that there are no U.S. forces on the ground in Gaza.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Carla?

Q: And then ... 

MS. SINGH: Oh, I'm sorry. Yes?

Q: ... Yes, thank you. And then just to follow up on that earlier point with the Chinese and the U.S. military communications, you said that there hasn't been any reciprocation.


Q: Now, does that date back to the Pelosi visit in 2022 or when was the last time that you were sending reciprocal communication?

MS. SINGH: I would have to take that question, in terms of when the last time there was a mil-to-mil communication. I mean, the secretary has not engaged with his counterpart, and as you know, that's -- that position is vacant.

Around the Speaker's visit, I'm not aware that there were, you know, communications ongoing with the PRC, but it's something that -- I -- I can take that question and -- and get back to you on that.


Q: Thanks. Back to the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, I have three questions.


Q: First, will the Pentagon acknowledge that deterrence is not working with Iran? 

Second, why is the U.S. not hitting targets in Iraq when it has been proven that there are weapons facilities and weapons being used against U.S. forces in Iraq?

And then third, does this building feel an obligation to strike any and all Iranian weapons and Iranian-backed weapons storage facilities to protect its forces in Iraq and Syria?

MS. SINGH: So many questions. OK, so starting at the beginning, your first question was do we think deterrence has failed? Is that -- was that -- am I summarizing that ... 

Q: ... the Pentagon acknowledge that deterrence is not working?

MS. SINGH: When it comes to Iran? So again, Carla, this war, we want to see contained to Israel and within Gaza. We do not want to see a wider regional conflict. As of today, that has not happened. We have not seen this war spill over into other neighboring countries and into the region.

In terms of attacks on our troops, separate issue, we are in Syria and Iraq for our mission to defeat ISIS. We have seen Iran and Iran proxy groups continue to attack U.S. forces because we know Iran doesn't want us there, we know Iran does not want to see U.S. forces on the ground, and in the region, frankly. And so we saw this back in March, we've seen this before, where they attack our forces. 

On the issue of deterrence, just taking us back -- a -- a step back, is deterrence working? We feel that it is. We have not seen this war spread into a wider regional conflict. We have responded with the -- we responded -- we -- we conducted three different strikes. We responded most recently this weekend. And again, we will always reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing in the future.

Q: So that -- so that, I understand. The strikes that happened, that we've done three rounds now ... 


Q: ... they're not to prevent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, they're to prevent escalation of the conflict? Are -- are ... 

MS. SINGH: I think again …


... something to prevent the strikes against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, I guess I'm trying to understand?

MS. SINGH: So the attacks that -- or the strikes that we are taking is to signal and to message very strongly to Iran and their -- their affiliated groups to stop. That is the purpose of those strikes. And we are seeing ... 

Q: ... (inaudible) because they keep striking.

MS. SINGH: I understand that, but again, I think we are being very deliberate on how we -- and when we conduct our -- our strikes against these groups. And I think that Iran is certainly seeing that message.

And I'm sorry, I don't remember your -- you had a third question in there?

Q: Sure -- sure. So why is the U.S. not hitting targets in Iraq? And does this building feel an obligation to strike weapons facilities if they know that they are there to prevent attacks on U.S. service members in Syria and Iraq?

MS. SINGH: So in terms of why we aren't hitting where we're hitting, we're hitting places where we feel we can make the most impact. And just this weekend, you saw us hit a training facility and a safe house that also operates as a headquarters node.

So we feel very confident in, you know, the targeting and the precision of these strikes. And just because they're in Syria does not mean that they're disrupting access to weapons, access to capabilities that these groups have in Iraq.

And I'm sorry, your third part -- your third question?

Q: You kind of -- you kind of explained it. I was ... 

MS. SINGH: Excellent.

Q: ... if you know of -- of a facility that has weapons, do you feel -- does this building feel that they have the obligation to strike it to prevent enemies from using those weapons to target U.S. forces, as they have done on a daily basis?

MS. SINGH: Well, I think, as you've seen, we've taken action, we've hit weapons storage facilities. And it's important to remember the facilities that we hit are now destroyed. These groups cannot go back to these facilities and take weapons out because they're gone. 

So we feel that we are being very precise with our targeting and ensuring that we can inflict the most damage to the -- these groups and their -- their capabilities.


Q: Thank you very much. So Gen. Ryder said exactly two weeks ago that the mechanism by which the U.S. is providing military assistance to Israel is different from a legal and budgetary standpoint in comparison to their military assistance to Ukraine. How and why? And also, what's the figure we're talking about here in military assistance to Israel? Like, millions, billions, tens of billions? What -- what -- what is it?

MS. SINGH: Yes -- no, so thank you so much for the questions.

So in terms of what Gen. Ryder said, I don't have much more of an update to provide you, in terms of how -- like, the -- the dollar amount right now. What I can tell you is we are providing assistance to Israel through very different mechanisms than how we provide assistance to Ukraine.

So Ukraine, you're seeing the PDAs or the USAI drawdown authorities that we are using. Israel is mainly through FMS, FMF, and then direct contracting that Israel does with private commercial companies.

So again, I -- I -- I don't have that amount in front of me right now but the mechanisms of which we are providing aid to Israel is different from Ukraine.

Q: If you can, get into why that mechanism has been preferred over the other mechanism that's been provided through Ukraine? Is it, like, a specific reason?

MS. SINGH: It's just different country, different mechanisms, different relationships that we have with each country. Again, Israel had at the -- before October 7th, a very capable, professional military. Ukraine was -- is building up to being a -- a very capable fighting force in their, you know, counter-offensive and since they were attacked in February of -- almost two years ago, but they needed -- Ukraine needed the support to build up their military that Israel, you know, already had.

So again, the funding mechanisms and how we're supplying aid, it's -- it's two different countries, two different wars, and -- and again, you know, two different areas of responsibility. So it's -- it's a little different.

Q: Just one last one.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: I haven't heard any figure. Do you think we're going to be able to, you know, find out how much military assistance has been provided to Israel?

MS. SINGH: Yes, it's something that we are -- we are of course -- I know Gen. Ryder spoke to this -- it's something that we're working towards. I just don't have that right here at this moment.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yes, Joseph?

Q: ... one more on the MQ-9?

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: The Houthis said that it was above Yemen territory. So can you -- (inaudible) said that it was in international airspace.


Q: Does the U.S. still stand by that?

MS. SINGH: Yes, the MQ-9 was operating in international airspace when it was shot down.

Q: And can you explain why the U.S. didn't try to recover any of the remnants?

MS. SINGH: I believe it just wasn't going to be salvageable at that point. We know that the Houthis did make an attempt to try and salvage some of the remnants and they also were not successful. So it just wasn't salvageable at that point.

Q: One other one ... 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: ... on military assistance to Israel. We've seen the targeting of civilians and journalists in Gaza that -- that has -- that was ... 


MS. SINGH: ... that's quite a ringtone.



Q: It's – it’s also expanded beyond those borders. Yesterday, there was a -- a group of Lebanese journalists targeted in the southern part of that country.


Q: The reporter said that they had coordinated that trip with the Lebanese Armed Forces and a UN Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon. So -- and this came about a month after a Reuters journalist was killed. They also say that was done by -- as a result of an Israeli strike. So what -- what's the Pentagon doing to ensure or push the Israeli military on this aid that it's providing to make sure that it's not targeting civilians, and specifically journalists?

MS. SINGH: Well, we certainly -- I mean, we've -- I think you asked me this last time, and I'll reiterate that we believe that freedom of the press and protection of innocent civilians is incredibly important during this time, incredibly important when people are on the ground in Gaza reporting on what's happening on the ground. 

And then as you mentioned, I -- I think it was -- you referenced Lebanon, where some of these journals -- journalists were stationed. Again, you know, we are going to continue to urge for Israel to continue to uphold the laws of armed conflict, humanitarian laws.

And again, we know that this is an incredible, I don't know, "burden's" not the right word, but toll that it takes for journalists to cover these -- what's happening on the ground, and it's incredibly important that their safety is protected.

Yes, in the back.

Q: Yes, so a two-part question. The president said yesterday that hospitals in Gaza must be protected. Is the U.S. telling Israel not to attack hospitals, or to shift away in its operating at these sites? And then second, do you have any conclusive intelligence that these hospitals are legitimate military targets?

MS. SINGH: So we've been very clear with -- I think you've seen in the readouts that the secretary has had with Minister Gallant, that we believe that the protection of innocent civilians is, of course, not only a priority, but it must be upheld. And so you've seen in our readouts time and time again that is something that the secretary continues to emphasize with Minister Gallant in all of his calls, and you've seen that from -- from the -- not just this department, but across this administration.

I think what Jake Sullivan said yesterday is exactly what we keep reiterating to our Israeli counterparts, is that we don't want to see a firefight in a hospital. We absolutely believe that hospitals should be places where people seeking medical treatment and attention need to be, and those places should be protected. 

But you have to remember that -- and you know, we do have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad uses some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including the Al-Shifa Hospital, as a way to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages. They have tunnels underneath these hospitals. And so Hamas and PIJ members operate a command-and-control node from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. They have weapons stored there and are prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against the facility. So this is -- I'm just telling you what we -- as the intelligence community assesses is happening in Gaza City, how Hamas is using these hospitals to operate. 

But absolutely, we do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where there are innocent civilians.


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. So you said earlier you don't have any forces on the ground, right?

MS. SINGH: That's right.

Q: So I take it this intelligence assessment is gathered based on information provided by Israel? (inaudible)...

MS. SINGH: Sorry, this what I just read out?

Q: Yes.

MS. SINGH: That's from our intelligence community.

Q: So did you have any assets inside Gaza, intelligence (inaudible)...

MS. SINGH: We have no assets or boots on the ground in Gaza.

Q: So there's no gathering on the ground about this?

MS. SINGH: That's right.

Q: So you have no one entering the hospitals to verify this information, right?

MS. SINGH: We have no one -- we have no boots on the ground in Gaza.

Q: So the question is, how was that assessment -- you -- you know, how did you conclude that assessment? Based on information received from your Israeli counterparts?

MS. SINGH: Well, I'm not going to get into more specifics on how our intelligence is collected. What I can tell you is there are multiple agencies, as you know, here within the department and across the administration, multiple agencies that collect and assess and analyze intelligence. But I'm not going to go into any further details on how that intelligence is gathered.

Q: So you're confirming that you have no assets on the ground or assets entering to these hospitals to basically confirm the information you're sharing with us?

MS. SINGH: I will say it again: We have no boots on the ground in Gaza.

Q: Thank you so much.

MS. SINGH: Luis? I'm sorry, Jared, and then I'll come back to you.

Q: What you just read...


Q: That sounds different than what -- it's more expansive than what Senat- -- Mr. Sullivan said yesterday. So am I correct in saying that this is new information that you are providing to us?

MS. SINGH: Yes, that's correct.

Q: New language that is being assessed by the U.S. intelligence community.

MS. SINGH: This is newly downgraded information that we felt was important to get out today because there have been a lot of questions about the hospital and how Hamas operates. And so it was important that -- important to -- to get out there for you all.

Q: And to clarify on Fadi’s questions here. So this is an independent U.S. assessment separate from the Israeli -- their own assessment or is this information that they provided to you that then you've analyzed?

MS. SINGH: Yes, I'm not -- just not going to get into more specifics on the intelligence. I can tell you that this is information that was downgraded and collected by the Intelligence Community.


Q: What do you mean downgraded? Do you mean declassified?

MS. SINGH: Declassified, yes.

Q: OK. You can't say whether this -- any of this was independently (inaudible) from Israel?

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into how or where this intelligence is coming from. This is done by our intelligence community. It was put together and downgraded so you can, you know, have a better idea of what's happening on the ground.


MS. SINGH: Can I just -- what -- I think you -- well, I think he wasn't done yet.

Q: I'm sorry.

Q: On the subject and then we'll come back to (inaudible).

MS. SINGH: OK. All right. Go ahead, fine.

Q: And just the level of confidence usually you -- when intelligence shares some information or declassify, you talk about -- 

MS. SINGH: Yes, I'm not going to go into the -- the -- the assessment of like how we feel. I'm just telling you where -- what the intelligence community has been able to declassify today and how we've -- I mean the fact that I'm reading it out to you, we feel very confident in our sourcing and what the intelligence community has gathered on this topic but I'm just not going to go into more specifics on the intel itself.

Q: So you had high level of confidence because you said we are very confident?

MS. SINGH: I'm saying I'm confident reading it to you from this podium today in our assessment. Did you have one more question? Then I'm going to go to the phones.

Q: Just on this -- just a follow-up on a previous question.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: I'm sure there's multiple levels of deterrence in the region. Has the department seen any signs that Iran is attempting to reign these groups in from the sort of localized attacks in Iraq and Syria on U.S. bases? 

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to speak to intelligence that we gather on Iran. I'm going to -- yes?

Q: If I could just follow-up.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: Is there any concern that the IRGC may or may not have full operational control of these groups, is that something that might be factoring in to what's going on right here?

MS. SINGH: Well, we certainly know and we've been pretty public about the fact that the IRGC, you know, supports, arms, equips, funds, trains these groups. So they do maintain some level of accountability over these groups. 

I think some of these militias, of course, you know, carry out their own attacks maybe not necessarily running it up all through their command and control nodes but we know that Iran certainly has a role to play with these groups. 

I'm going to head to the phones here. Idrees, Reuters. 

Nothing heard. Chris Gordon, Air and Space.

Q: Hi. Thanks, Sabrina. On the U.S. airstrikes, you and other U.S. officials have said broadly the message to Iran and these militias is to stop. So does that mean no attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria by these militias. Are these airstrikes intended to stop attacks completely, to limit them, to degrade them? What's the end game here? What is the practical achievable goal of these U.S. air strikes?

MS. SINGH: Yes, Chris, thanks for the question. We do want to see a stop to these attacks on U.S. forces. Next question, Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose. 

Q: Thank you. Has the Defense Department or the Biden Administration as a whole made a decision that any airstrikes or other form of retaliation against attacks on U.S. forces will be in Syria instead of Iraq? And I also just wanted to follow-up on my colleague’s question, what is the end game here? There's a cycle of attack and then reprisal and more attacks. How does this end?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Jeff. In terms of why -- I think your question is sort of what Carla had asked earlier on why we are selecting targets in Syria. Look, we feel confident about the targets that we select, the ability to degrade further capabilities of these IRGC backed groups. I'm not going to get into, you know, why we pick certain places over another.

The attacks right now on our forces are basically split pretty evenly between Iraq and Syria. And so we feel confident in our targeting of the -- the places we were able to hit within Eastern Syria.

And on your how does this end, I mean again, we want to see these attacks stop. So how does these end is really up to how these IRGC affiliated back groups choose to conduct themselves. Again, we want to see these attacks completely stop on our forces in Iraq and Syria.

So we will always and continue to protect our troops in the region. We will make the decision to decide when we choose to respond. But how this ends is when these attacks stop. And last question on the phones and then I'll come back in the room. Heather, USNI.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. Not to sound flippant but you keep saying that the war hasn't expanded past Israel and Hamas but I was wondering what the definition -- the DOD's definition for expansion is since we are seeing these attacks in Syria and Iraq against U.S. troops that only started after the Hamas attack in Israel?

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks, Heather. So again, the attack, the -- the brutal terrorist attack that happened in Israel was on October 7th. These attacks started happening on October 17th. Again, we have not seen the conflict that is happening within Israel, within Gaza expand out to the region. And you're seeing that's -- or that's why we have said and continue to emphasize from this podium here that we have surged assets to the region. We have -- when we announced that we -- we announced that we have put A-10s, F-15s, F-16s into the region. 

We have also put the Ford carrier strike group. The Ike is also in the CENTCOM AOR. That is all to send a clear message of -- of deterrence to any actor, state or non-state actor to -- if they seek to -- to take advantage of the conflict to really think about that again.

And again, I'll -- I'll emphasize right now we are seeing the conflict contained to Gaza. And so that is what we want to see and we don't want to see this expand beyond that. All right, coming back in the room. Yes, in the back.

Q: Thank you for taking my question. 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: How certain -- have you seen any indication of progress by Iran in enriching uranium?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any updates for you on -- on that specifically. Sure. Did I see anyone else? Are we -- all right. OK. Thanks everyone. 

Have a good afternoon.