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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few things here at the top and then I'd be happy to take your questions.

Secretary Austin is still at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is in good condition.  Deputy Secretary Hicks continues to retain the functions and duties of the Secretary of Defense at this time.  However, we anticipate Secretary Austin will be released from the hospital later today, so we will provide an update on when that occurs and when he resumes his full duties and functions.

Also, as briefed yesterday, the Secretary still intends to participate in the virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group tomorrow.  This includes delivering opening remarks which will be livestreamed and available to view on the DOD website.  Again, we will continue to keep you updated on Secretary Austin's status later today.

Separately, the department applauds the Senate passing earlier today a bipartisan national security supplemental.  This important legislation will authorize the department to provide military aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression - aggression, deliver security assistance to Israel, along with humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians, and bolster our support in the Indo-Pacific region, and is also an investment in our nation's defense industrial base.  

As you all know, the United States has not provided a presidential drawdown package for Ukraine since December 27th, and as the President said in his statement earlier today, the cost of inaction is rising every day.  

If U.S. support wavers, we know Putin is not going to stop in his war in Ukraine and his ongoing quest for power beyond Ukraine's borders and toward NATO.  If we do not stand against aggressors who invade other - another sovereign nation's territory, the consequences for our country's national security will be substantial.

And so make no mistakes, our allies and our adversaries are watching.  And so we welcome this bipartisan supplemental agreement and ask that the House act urgently.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.  I'm just going to go to the phone first because I believe we have AP joining us via phone.  Tara Copp.

Q:  Hi, Sabrina.  Thank you for the update on Austin.  I wanted to know if we could go back to a question from yesterday - was his bladder issue related to the - or a part of the complications from his surgery to treat prostate cancer?  Can you provide any additional details on that?
MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Tara.  Yep, to my knowledge, what he was treated for with his bladder condition was not related to his cancer diagnosis.

Q:  So what about for the - like, is it - was it an ongoing complication?  Like, after the surgery, there were complications.  Was this also part of those complications?

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, thanks, Tara.  Despite the fact that I'm wearing a white jacket, I am not a doctor, so I will let the doctor's statement, hopefully later today, speak more to his condition.  I just don't have any more information to provide at this time on that.

With that, I'm happy to come in the room.  Jen.  

Q:  You said that there'd be substantial consequences if the House does not act quickly and get aid to Ukraine, as well as Israel and as well as Taiwan.  What would those consequences be?  And what is Ukraine needing right now quite desperately?  And how quickly could you get the weapons, and which weapons, to them if the House were to act?

MS. SINGH:  So some of the most urgent needs for Ukraine right now remain air defenses and artillery.  That's something that we've been providing in PDA packages that you've seen up until December 27th.  So one of the things, when we are able to and hopefully soon able to provide presidential drawdown authority to Ukraine, would be - you'd see some more of these types of capabilities flowing to them.

If we're not able to do that, they're still in the fight of their life.  Right now and later this week, there'll be a - or I'm sorry - tomorrow, there'll be a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group where Ukraine will give an update on their battlefield needs and what they're seeing their both short-term and long-term requests are, and that's what the Ukraine Defense Contact Group is there to do, to work with other nations to see what else Ukraine can be provided, both in the short and long-term.

But if we don't get this supplemental from the House, that means no more PDA packages for Ukraine, no more USAI packages and authorities for Ukraine, and of course that puts at risk also what we're able to do in the Indo-Pacific.

Q:  U.S. provide weapons to Ukraine through foreign military sales if Ukraine had the money to buy them?  And what - what's the - what's the benefit of a PDA versus foreign military sales?

MS. SINGH:  So PDA means that it's flowing right off of our stocks, and foreign military sales would be Ukraine purchasing those systems or capabilities that they need.  I'm not aware that they've submitted a request to purchase anything through FMS but that would of course be, you know, something that State would contract with first.

But the PDA authority allows us to immediately flow things from our stockpiles into Ukraine.  You've seen things arrive within days, sometimes weeks.  So that's the benefit of having that PDA authority.

Q:  ... so foreign military sales would take a lot longer ... 

MS. SINGH:  It would take longer, yeah.


Q:  If - if the House passes this supplemental, do you have a PDA and - and a USAI ready to go if it gets the President's signature?

MS. SINGH:  Well, as ... 

Q:  ... how much?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything to preview at this moment but as you can imagine, we are a planning organization, so certainly this building and the interagency is ready and working to provide Ukraine what it needs when we have that authority, but I don't have a package to preview today.

Q:  And then a very quick follow-up on the Secretary.  You said his - from what you know, his bladder condition is not related to his cancer diagnosis ... 

MS. SINGH:  Right.

Q:  ... but if this is a totally new issue, that seems to raise more questions about his overall health, if he's dealing with multiple problems here.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, again, this is not a - my understanding, this is not related to his cancer diagnosis.  I can't speak to whether there were further complications from when he was hospitalized previously.  That's something that the doctors would need to speak to, and we're hoping to provide more information later today on that.

Yeah, Dan.

Q:  Thank you, Sabrina.  With the Contact Group coming up and - and the supplemental very much still up in the air, can you speak at - at all to the Secretary's message to allies tomorrow and a post to the ministerial this week as well, just in terms of how - how Europeans need to lean in, how stopgap measures might be taken?  I guess what Plan B might be?

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, thanks, Dan.  So I obviously don't want to get ahead of the secretary, as he intends to participate tomorrow in the virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group, but I think some of the messages that you'll hear is that the U.S. is going to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes but we do need that congressional authority to continue to provide those packages.

So I'm not going to preview too much for you right now, the Secretary's remarks, but he's been in touch with his counterpart - or I think late last week about this, and receiving battlefield updates as well.  So I think what you'll hear from him is more of a commitment from the United States, in that as soon as we get this supplemental package passed in the House, they will continue to see aid flowing to them.

Q:  Given the amount of the political uncertainty, is - is it still accurate to say that the United States will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I think that they're - well, just looking at it factually, this morning, the Senate passed a supplemental with bipartisan support.  There are outliers in both chambers that have wavered on support to Ukraine but we feel really confident that the House will support Ukraine and eventually pass the supplemental.  We've continued to urge - we've been doing that since early December, continuing to urge for this supplemental to get passed immediately.  So we're hopeful that the House does take it up soon and it does get across the finish line.

Yes, Ryo.

Q:  Thank you.  Just following up about the supplemental, you often said China is watching - watching how the U.S. will - will react to the war in Ukraine.  Does that mean if the House fails to pass the Senate-approved supplemental budget, China would be more aggressive in the Taiwan Strait, in the South China Sea and East China Sea?  Is that what you mean?

MS. SINGH:  No, I think what I mean is that our adversaries and our allies alike are watching what happens in Congress, and our adversaries and other nations are not under the constraints of a Continuing Resolution, which we've been continuing to operate under for over - over a few months now, and they're not constrained by some of the congressional measures that are in place right now, including the additional passage of a supplemental.

And so of course our allies and our adversaries are watching to see whether the U.S. will continue to stand with Ukraine, to stand with Taiwan, to stand with Israel.  And so it's really important to send a message of resolve across the world and a message to our allies that - and sovereign nations who were invaded, such as Ukraine, that we do have your back and that we will have your back and we're going to continue to have your back, but we just need that additional funding from Congress. 

Yes, I'm going to go to the phones, and then I'm happy to come back in the room.  

Lara, Politico. 

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.  Thanks for doing this.  I understand that this is maybe the 9th or 10th day in a row that we haven't had an attack in Iraq, Syria or Jordan.  I was wondering if you could comment on that.  Do you take that as a sign that deterrence is working?  The strikes have been effective.  Can you just speak on that, please?

MS. SINGH:  Yes, thanks, Lara.  You're correct.  We haven't had an attack on our forces in Iraq and Syria.  That's a good thing.  We don't want to see any further attacks in Iraq and Syria or in Jordan, where our forces are there to continue their mission, which is to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.  

I can't predict what these groups will do, but we certainly welcome that we have not seen additional attacks on our forces. 

And I'm sorry, did you have another question?

Q:  Yes, just a follow up, we can't - the same cannot be said for the Houthi attacks, even though the U.S. and the U.K. have conducted, I think, three rounds of multinational strikes at this point.  So, I'm just wondering if you could speak to the difference there and why is the - why is some more action not working to deter the Houthis?

MS. SINGH:  I can't speak for that.  I can't speak for the Houthis to say why they continue to do what they do.  Just yesterday, they launched an attack on a ship that was carrying, I believe, it was corn to Iran.  So again, their actions are endangering not just innocent mariners' lives, but they're putting at risk much needed, food supplies or whatever these commercial ships are carrying, they're putting at risk supplies going to other countries. 

And so, I can't speak for why the Houthis are continuing to conduct their attacks.  What I can say is that the U.S. has responded and will continue to respond if these attacks have - continue to occur and you've seen that CENTCOM has put out releases when we've done dynamic strikes, when we've been able to identify missiles that are on rails or an attack about to happen.  You have seen CENTCOM respond right away. 

And I'll take another one from the phone.  Phil Stewart, Reuters. 

Q:  Just on the Houthis, the leader of the Houthis, said in a televised speech that they claimed victory, and said in a televised speech that they've succeeded in halting Israel linked ships from passing through the Red Sea.  And just wondering whether or not you might be able to respond to that.  Thanks. 

MS. SINGH:  I'm sorry, Phil, I haven't seen those comments.  But again, there are still ships transiting the BAM and the Red Sea that have ties to countries all over the world, I mean, over 50 nations are impacted by these attacks.  But I don't have more specifics on those comments. 

Yes, I can come back in the room. Ann.

Q:  The U.S.  have led extensive strikes against the Houthis and their missile sites.  Is it the U.S. understanding that they're able to resupply through Iran or did they just have a larger weapon supply than maybe we anticipated, since these attacks have continued?

MS. SINGH:  You mean - you're asking if they have been able to resupply since these attacks started?

Q:  Right.  I mean, that what we had heard, especially after the U.S. and Britain struck together. 

MS. SINGH:  Yes. 

Q:  That there was significant - they - we had degraded their ability to strike again, but yet we still see these strikes happening.  So, do we have any sense that whether or not they've been able to resupply through Iran?

MS. SINGH:  We've certainly disrupted and degraded their capabilities.  I don't know that we ever said publicly that we've taken all their capabilities off the map and therefore they wouldn't be able to conduct strikes.  It's very clear that they still have a significant arsenal.  But we've also significantly been able to degrade their capabilities. 

In terms of resupply from Iran, I can't - I won't speak to intelligence, but we know Iran supports the Houthis and other groups - militia groups in the region.  I would assume that support still continues from Iran. 

Jen, do your follow up?

Q:  I Do.

MS. SINGH:  Sure. 

Q:  -- I'll follow up on this.  Is it your understanding that the Iranian intelligent ship is still in Djibouti?  Did it leave the Red Sea?  

MS. SINGH:  I don't have an update on where it is.  I believe it's still in the region though.  

Q:  And can you tell us anything about the, I believe the U.S. Coast Guard, Qatar or U.S. Navy intercepted a weapon shipment for Yemen?  What happened?  

MS. SINGH:  I don't have more information on that.  So, I will be happy to take that question and follow back up with you.  Yes?

Q:  Thank you.  I'd like to ask about the Osprey.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  There have been people citing that the Pentagon has identified mechanical failures that caused the Osprey crash in Japan last November.  Can you confirm that report?  I mean, was it really a manufacture - mechanical failure as opposed to factors like weather conditions or human error?

MS. SINGH:  Yes, I don't have anything more specific for you on that, unfortunately.  I'd have to refer you to the services who are conducting that investigation.  They're still grounded as far as I'm aware.  So, I'd have to refer to the services for more information on that. 

Q:  And what are your concerns regarding the duration of the grounding?  Do you have - do you think that a grounding has had an effect on the operation of U.S. forces?  If so, in what way?

MS. SINGH:  Look, safety is a priority.  It's something that the Secretary takes very seriously, that each of our service secretaries take very seriously.  This was a decision made by each service.  So, if they feel the need to ground these and further reevaluate, why certain incidences have happened, we're going to let them do that.  And when they deem it safe to fly again, we support that. 

Great.  I'm going to go back to the phones here.  Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose. 

Q:  Thank you.  Just wanted to follow up on Lara’s question.  When was the last attack on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria?  And does the Defense Department have any indications about what may have prompted the temporary or, at least for now, temporary halt in attacks?  Thank you. 

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Jeff.  I thought I said this, but I didn't apologize.  There have been no attacks since February 4 on our troops in Iraq or Syria.  So, since February 4.  And again, I can't speculate to the behaviors of why.  All I can tell you is that we welcome that these attacks are -- that we have not seen attacks since February 4.  It certainly takes away from our service members mission in Iraq and Syria, which they are there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.  And I'll just leave it at that. 

Next question from the phones, Jared, Al-Monitor. 

Q:  My question's been asked.  Thank you. 

MS. SINGH:  Back in the room.  Yes?

Q:  Thank you, Sabrina.  According to assessments, is there still a threat of ISIS, either in Iraq or Syria?  And do you believe that the Iraq Security Forces are able to deal with the threats that they're seeing?

MS. SINGH:  Well, the Iraqi Security Forces are a valuable partner when it has come to the defeat ISIS mission. Certainly ISIS is not the same threat in Iraq and Syria as it was 10 years ago but they still remain a presence within the region. You've seen attacks from ISIS throughout the region that continue.

Part of the HMC is to discuss the path forward with the U.S. and Iraq as the mission has changed and the threat of ISIS has also changed. So that's why you're seeing these agency conversations continue with the Iraqi government and the United States military and those conversations remain ongoing.

Q:  Firstly, a bit confused about the statement by Iraqi government that say the aim of HMC discussion is to set a timeline or a phase with role of alliance forces from Iraq and setting a timeline, I mean. But we'll -- but I have heard from the Pentagon is a different thing.

MS. SINGH:  Yes, and I can tell you from our conversations there has been no timeline discussed. Again, these are consultative conversations that are happening. We are there in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government as we laid out early on when the HMC first started. 

There are three factors that are being taken into effect. The threat of ISIS, the capability of the ISF, and of course then of course the operating environment. These conversations are going to continue and we look forward we committed to these back in August of 2023. So I've seen those reports but what I can tell you is that a timeline has not been discussed.

Great. OK. Yes. And then I'll go back to Fadi and then we can wrap up. Yes.

Q:  Yes, ma'am. Thank you. Two quick questions. One, as well as the U.S.-India merger to merger relations are concerned, so much going on in the region, Chinese activities and two wars are going on and also across the border in Pakistan uncertainness and military involved maybe at this time while it's going on. Where do we stand today; U.S.-India military relations or any -- are we expecting any visits from high level?

MS. SINGH:  Any visits? I don't have any visits to read out from officials from the Indian government. At least here at the department. I can't speak for other -- across the interagency. Unfortunately I'm not going to give you much of a different answer than General Ryder gave you a few days ago, which is that, you know, we have a great mill to mill relationship with India, good communications. We're going to continue to monitor what's happening in the region. But I don't have more to share on any updates.

Q:  And second, thank you. As part of Pakistan and the U.S. military relations are concerned now because of elections, military view point, are you watching there what's happening in Pakistan as far as this building is concerned?

MS. SINGH:  Yes, we're certainly monitoring what's happening there but I'd direct you to State for more specifics on that. Fadi. 

Q:  Thank you, Sabrina. The Huffington Post is reporting that the Biden administration is assessing Israel's actions in -- in Gaza and whether the constitute violation of international human -- humanitarian law. And that includes, as well, lawyers at the Pentagon and whether these actions actually implicate the U.S.

Can you confirm or -- or deny these reports as the Pentagon currently engage in assessing any of Israel's actions in Gaza in terms of violation of international humanitarian law?

MS. SINGH:  I'm not aware of any discussions. I'm sorry, I just haven't seen the report. So I'm happy to take a look at what you referenced in terms of this Huffington Post article but I haven't seen that.

Q:  OK. So let's put the -- the reporting aside. Do you know if any effort in the Pentagon lately to look into specific incident and actions in -- in Gaza specifically now with the -- the total of deaths amongst civilians as nearing 30,000?

MS. SINGH:  I'm not aware of any specific efforts here at the Pentagon. But as you have seen the president as recently as yesterday speak to this, we are continuing urge the Israelis both very publicly and privately that any of their operations of course take into considerations innocent civilians.

And I think the president really spoke to this well yesterday when he was at the podium.

Yes, of course. OK. Thanks everyone. We'll wrap up there.