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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few things here at the top and then get right to your questions.  

So upfront, on behalf of Secretary Austin, the department wants to extend our congratulations to the more than 20 DOD senior leaders who were confirmed by the Senate this week to include Cara L. Abercrombie, whose nomination to be assistant secretary of defense for acquisitions was approved, and U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel Paparo to be the next commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

These confirmations are welcome news and we're excited for what these leaders will bring to the important mission of the Department of Defense.  

In other news yesterday, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, Ms. Rebecca Zimmerman hosted Colombia's minister of defense, Mr. Ivan Velasquez, and Minister of Justice and Law Mr. Nestor Osuna.  The senior officials exchanged views on countering illicit drug trafficking and human security, semi-irregular migration and frameworks to enhance bilateral security cooperation.  The meeting reaffirmed the United States's and Department of Defense's strong partnership with Colombia as the two nations work together to ensure a stable and secure hemisphere based on a foundation of respect for democracy and human rights.  

Today, acting Under Secretary -- and also today -- or, rather, excuse me, today, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ms. Sasha Baker will host Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and his senior delegation.  The meeting will emphasize the United States's longstanding commitments to continued partnership with the people of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Regional Government, for secure and stable Iraqi-Kurdistan region within sovereign Iraq.  

And tomorrow, Secretary Austin is scheduled to welcome Slovakia's minister of defense and deputy prime minister, Robert Kalinak to the Pentagon to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues.  

Full readouts from these senior leader engagements will be available on the website.

Shifting gears to Africa, the 13th African Air Chief Symposium is taking place this week in Tunis, Tunisia, hosted by the Association of African Air Forces alongside the Tunisian Air Force and sponsored by U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, and serves as a pivotal platform for addressing critical challenges, strengthening partner networks, and fostering cooperation among African air chiefs.  With a thematic focus on pan-African education and training opportunities, this symposium is strategically designed to nurture more effectively -- excuse me, more effective military relationships among participating nations with approximately 40 African countries engaged in advancing regional air power solutions.  

Separately, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks will depart on domestic travel this Sunday, March 3rd, to visit Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin, California.  At Camp Pendleton, the deputy secretary will meet with servicemembers to better understand the challenges and opportunities they experience as part of their military service.  At both locations, she'll interact with warfighters to see combined joint all-domain command-and-control in action via the Project Convergence Capstone 4.  Viewing this experimentation will enable Deputy Secretary Hicks to gain better insight into the challenges that impact JADC-2 implementation across our Joint Force and the outcomes of experimentation exercises.

And finally, Secretary Austin will go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center tomorrow afternoon for a scheduled routine follow-up appointment with his doctors.  He continues to recover well from his recent cancer treatment, and you can expect that he'll be conducting these types of follow-on checkups from time to time.  We'll be sure to keep you updated regarding any significant developments, as appropriate.

And with that, be glad to take our questions.  We'll go to Associated Press first, Tara Copp.

Q:  Hi, General Ryder.  Thanks for doing this.

Today, Secretary Austin, in response to a question, said that as many as 25,000 women and children have been killed in Gaza.  Could you elaborate further on this, where he got that number?

Q:  (inaudible) during the hearing, he was asked how many women and children have been with (inaudible) women and children have been killed by the Israelis since October 7th, and he replied, "It's over 25,000."  There's been a clarification to say those are -- the numbers he cited were from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.  Why was he citing numbers -- firstly, he didn't actually say they were from the -- the Gaza Health Ministry.  But why was he citing numbers from Gaza’s Health Ministry?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, we need to clarify, as you highlight.  His answer was citing an estimate from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry that more than 25,000 total Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, and -- and as -- as you know and as you've heard us say, we can't independently verify that these numbers are accurate.  We can't independently verify Gaza casualty figures.

And so we've talked about this before, that we're dependent on open-source information like many of you.  We're, you know, certain that thousands of people have been killed.  But as for the specific numbers, again, we cannot verify those specific statistics.

Q:  So he's the secretary of defense.  Is he -- is there some accuracy in those numbers, that he -- the fact that he's saying how (inaudible) and not going with, for example, Israel's estimate?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm providing you with the context of the information that he provided and what he was citing.  Thanks.

Let me try Tara again.

Q:  Hi.  Thanks.  Can you hear me now?

GEN. RYDER:  I can hear you.

Q:  OK, good.  I was going to ask the same question Idrees did, but as a second question, today, Senators King and Reed have asked President Biden to send one of the Navy hospital ships to Gaza to help support civilians there.  Is this something that the Pentagon -- is this a request the Pentagon has received, and something you're looking at?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Tara.  I don't -- I don't have anything to announce today in terms of any deployments of hospital ships into the region.


Q:  So to follow up on Gaza aid, is the Pentagon considering any -- any potential airdrops or any other steps to -- to get -- put more aid into Gaza at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  So I -- I don't -- similarly don't have any announcements to make regarding any DOD airdrops or -- or plans to conduct airdrops.  As you've heard us say before, the U.S. does continue to work with our partners and expand and sustain levels of assistance, much-needed humanitarian assistance in Gaza.  This week, for example, you heard USAID announce that they will be providing an additional $53 million in humanitarian assistance for urgently-needed food, shelter and water for Palestinian civilians.  But as for DOD activities right now, I don't have anything to pass along.

Let me go to Lara and then Oren.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Secretary Austin testified this morning that his military aide transferred his authorities to his deputy during that hospital stay.  So I just want to clarify the timeline.  In between when he was transferred to the critical care unit on January 2nd and when he transferred power, the -- that was the afternoon of January 2nd, as it says in the 30 day review -- how much time passed?  What was going on?  And who was in charge?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Lara.  So I'm -- I'm not going to provide a minute by minute tick tock.  As we've talked about, when the Secretary was admitted to the critical care unit, it became clear that he would not have access to his secure communications.

So following the procedures that his aides have followed in the past when he's not been able to access secure communications, the decision was made to initiate the transfer of authority to the Deputy Secretary, and that process played itself out.  There was no gaps in command and control, as the Secretary has highlighted and as we've highlighted in the 30 day review.

Q:  So if there were no gaps, why can't you break it down minute by minute?

GEN. RYDER:  Because I don't have it here in front of me.

Q:  So, like, if it was ... 

GEN. RYDER:  And -- and what we've provided you in the -- in the 30 day review is -- is what I have to provide.  OK.

Q:  ... the sentence ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Let me ... 

Q:  ... goes from on January 2nd, he was admitted to the critical care unit, and then on the afternoon of January 2nd -- so even if there's, like, a couple hour gap, that is a big deal.  So I'm asking ... 

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, there -- there -- again, there were no gaps in the command and control of the DOD -- of DOD command and control.  The Secretary or the Deputy Secretary were in charge at all times.

Let me go to (inaudible).

Q:  Pat -- so he testified this afternoon that he was not aware when the staff was told that he was in the hospital.  So he has communications at home, he's put in the  ambulance, he gets to the hospital.  When -- isn't that at least a gap in communications?  Because he ... 


GEN. RYDER:  No, he travels -- he travels with a communicator at all times, right?  He has access to those communications.  But I -- I mean, just to put this into context, you carry your phone with you every single place you go, every moment of the day -- I mean probably -- you're a reporter, you probably do -- but ... 

Q:  ... but he testified that he did not have a cell phone.

GEN. RYDER:  He has access to a personal communicator who travels with him at all times.  So again, if he needs to talk secure comms, if he needs to conduct command and control activities or reach someone, again, there's literally someone, like, steps away that can hand him what he needs to conduct operations.

So -- Oren?

Q:  I want to go back to Gaza for a second.  A large number of Palestinians were killed near an aid truck.  Is the Pentagon asking for any investigation or clarification of the incident from the Israeli military?  And do you still believe that Israel is taking steps to avoid civilian casualties?  Because some of the incidents we're seeing don't seem to support that.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Oren.  We've seen the reports obviously.  They're certainly alarming.  And what I would say is the situation highlights the tragic nature of this conflict.  We're of course very saddened to hear about this loss of innocent lives.  

And we do acknowledge, as I've, you know, just said a moment ago, that too many civilians have been killed in Israel's military operations, that we continue to reiterate that civilian lives must be protected.  As you're likely aware, the White House has been in touch with the government of Israel to ask that they investigate immediately to learn about more -- about what happened.  

But this situation also does underscore the critical importance of ensuring that much needed humanitarian assistance can be delivered to the people of Gaza in a safe, secure, and sustained manner.  And that's something that the U.S. government is going to continue to work on closely with partners in the region.

But it also underscores that, in this situation, the requirement for Israel to take into account civilian harm mitigation in planning and executing its operations, whether they're ongoing operations or whether they've completed operations against Hamas.

And as we've talked about before, this is something that Secretary Austin communicates to his Israeli counterpart on a regular basis.

Q:  And at this stage, there is no -- it's a White House request to the government, there's no mil-to-mil request for an investigation into the incident?

GEN. RYDER:  I -- I'm -- I'm not tracking any specific request from DOD, but again, like I said, the White House has reached out.


Q:  Can I stay in the Middle East really quick?  First, have there been any attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East this week?

GEN. RYDER:  Not that I'm aware of.  If you're talking about Iraq, Syria, no.

Q:  And then following on the Houthi situation, Xinhua reported that the Chinese was sending ships from the 46th fleet to come and help escort ships in the Red Sea.  Have -- has the U.S. military seen these ships arrive and do any escorting?  And has the Chinese reached out to help with the situation concerning the Houthis, to help with some of the -- the counter-attacks?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I -- I don't have a status on location for Chinese vessels.  I'd  refer you to them.

In terms of a Chinese role in countering these attacks or supporting freedom of navigation operations, you know, we've talked before about the fact that we would welcome a productive role for China to play, but to my knowledge, at this stage, they have not offered, nor are they conducting any type of operations to help safeguard mariners or international shipping.


Q:  Thanks.  Just to follow up on the attacks in Iraq and Syria, it's been just shy, I  think, of a month since the last reported attacks.  That could change at any time, you know, God forbid, but do you assess that deterrence has been restored or -- have been restored for this -- for the past couple weeks?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, you know, look, it -- I don't want to put myself on a situation where I'm predicting the future.  I think we are obviously glad that we have not seen additional attacks, primarily because, A, it's dangerous, but B, because our forces are there to focus on the defeat ISIS mission.  And they'll continue to stay focused on that.

But if we are threatened or attack, as we've demonstrated -- attacked, as we've demonstrated, we will take appropriate measures to safeguard our forces.

Q:  ... the second one.  You've mentioned and the Secretary mentioned this morning that the Israelis need to do more to mitigate the civilian casualties in Gaza.  At -- that comes up almost in all the readouts of the Secretary's calls with his Israeli counterpart.  Have you guys outlined or put forth what the potential consequences or what could happen if they don't?  

I mean, you guys have been calling for this for probably the -- since the second or third week, since the military campaign started, yet we haven't seen much change, at least in terms of the number of casualties.

GEN. RYDER:  Well look, I mean, again, at the end of the day, Israel is a sovereign nation that's going to conduct operations.  So I'd refer you to them to talk about specifically what they're doing.  But again, we've highlighted that it -- it is their inherent right to defend themselves -- we understand that -- but it's also important that they take civilian safety and -- and mitigation into account as they're conducting their operations.  I mean, Secretary Austin talked about this at Reagan, in terms of don't allow a tactical victory to be taken away by a strategic defeat.

And so again, we're going to continue to consult closely with them, we're going to continue to expect that they abide by the law of armed conflict. 

Q: Pardon me, I'm sorry. Just to follow up on. I mean, we've heard that this now multiple times. But it seems to be falling on the fears. And have you guys relayed to them any potential moves that you could make if they don't hear these calls? 

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to pass along to you, Joseph, other than, again, you know, we expect Israel to operate as a professional military. And I would say also, you know, Hamas could play a role in this too by putting down its arms, turning the hostages back over and saying, hey, we're done fighting and we're done embedding ourselves among the civilian population, and putting everybody in this difficult situation.

So you know, I think that that could play a role to. Nancy?

Q: Yeah. Just one follow up on something you said and a point of clarification from the testimony this morning. Is it the US assessment then that the Israeli military conducted itself professionally today? 

GEN. RYDER: Again, as I highlighted. the White House has reached out to ask what actions are taking and ask them to Investigate. And I know they've publicly said that they're reviewing. 

Q: No, I appreciate that. But if I heard your answer, Joseph, correctly, you said one of the things is that the US is -- of the assessment, the Israeli military is behaved. Professionally, I just wanted to expect -- 

GEN. RYDER: So we expect the Israeli military to behave? 


GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to pre-conclude the situation that we're talking about. Again, it's a tragic incident. We obviously are very saddened to see what happened. But again, I think Israel needs to investigate that.

Q: And could you clarify and answer that the secretary gave to Representative Wittman and what she said that the -- there's not a standard procedure to notify NMCC when the secretary moves? And I don't understand under what circumstances that notification happens. Can you help me get a better read on that? 

GEN. RYDER: You mean in terms of -- and when his situation?

Q: No, broadly. If I heard the question correctly, Representative Wittman was asking when you move, is NMCC notified a standard procedure? And the secretary's answer was no. And I just didn't understand that under -- what if I understand it correctly that there to let everybody know where the secretary is over time. So if it's not being used consistently, how does it work? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Well, you know, without -- so part of this is situational-dependent, right? If the secretary is within the national capital region, what level of information needs to be passed along to the NMCC, you know, versus if he's going outside, if he's traveling. So I think the key point here is that through this exercise, through this experience, the department has had the opportunity to go back and look from, you know, one to end. OK. What are our current procedures? What are some things that we can improve upon and take steps to ensure that this kind of situation doesn't happen again? And so that's really what we're focused on. 

And as I talked about on Monday, we've already taken some initial steps. And we have some others that we're going to take to make sure that that information is being shared. 

Q: I'm sorry, I don't mean to belabor the point, but he was referring to it today, not in the past. The question was, when you move today, when you move, is that notification happening? So I'm just trying to understand the procedure today. What is the standard of the threshold that has to be met for that notification to happen?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, if he's in the National Capital Region, and depending on the situation, it could vary, you know, again, without getting into specifics, you know, and I don't want to make up hypothetical situations or get into potentially sensitive situations. But if it's warranted that they know exact -- his exact location, then I'm sure that information will be passed. But largely speaking, you know, they're going to be tracking if he's in the national capital region. 

Let me go to Tom here and then I'll go to the phone.

Q: Thank you. Just going back to this morning, the 21,000 precision-guided munition since the start of the war to Israel, does the US track where those are being deployed? Do we know they're all in Gaza? Have some gone up to the north? Do you have any sort of visibility on that?

GEN. RYDER: No, I don't have any information like that to pass along, Tom. 

Q: And then just going back to the -- appreciate what you said about the, you know, the 25,000 figure and how that was -- the Secretary citing the mass controlled health ministry, how does it work in the Pentagon? Do you -- you look at all open sources, so you would look at Israel's estimates on the one hand, and the health ministry from Gaza on the other hand, and you would sort of just cite those figures, or would you make a determination about which one has the most? 

GEN. RYDER: Well, again -- yeah. Again, what I said earlier is I cannot verify the veracity of those figures. And we're not able to corroborate them. And so we don't have a lot of confidence in, you know, the information or in other words, we're not able to corroborate or verify the statistics, whether they're being provided from one entity to another without independently being able to verify them, not too dissimilar from the way I'm sure that your outlet tries to gather and verify that information. Without the ability to be on the ground and independently assess, it's challenging. And so we do have to rely in large part on open source information that's out there. 

But as I said before, we're fairly confident that thousands of civilians have been killed. And one innocent civilian being killed is too many. So again, it just underscores the tragic situation that's there. And again, we're going to continue to work with partners in the region to try to ensure that humanitarian assistance can be delivered while at the same time, communicating with our Israeli partners, the importance of taking civilian safety into account. 

Q: Why would the Secretary cite information he can't verify?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm just highlighting the context of the information and where it came from and what he was citing. Yeah. Let me go to the phone here or else I'm going to get in trouble from Jeff Schogol. Jeff Schogol Task & Purpose? 

Q: Thank you. Earlier in the week, you provided an update of how many targets had been struck in Yemen. Can you say what steps the military is doing to replenish? The munitions that it's using in the Red Sea, and to make sure the forces in INDOPACOM have enough cruise missiles and other missiles in case of a war with China. Thank you. 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Jeff. For operations security reasons, I'm, I'm not going to go into specifics other than to say, we have a very proven, detailed, and elaborate process to ensure that our forces receive the ammunition and the supplies that they need to conduct the operations that they've been tasked to do around the world. And that includes in the Red Sea region and the broader Middle East, as well as the Indo-Pacific. 

Let me go to Mike Glenn, Washington Times. 

Q: Thank you, Pat. A review of Aaron Bushnell's social media account indicates that he has some pretty strong anti- Zionist views, anarchist views, he said Israel didn't have a right to exist. He appeared to condone Hamas's October 7th attack on Israel. My question is the same question I asked last time. Under the Pentagon's definition of extremists, would he fall under that? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Mike. You know, so as you've heard the Air Force say, the matter is under investigation as is appropriate, following the death of a service member. So I'm not going to put a label on Airman Bushnell.  I do think it's fair to say that an act of suicide by self-immolation is an extreme act.

But as for the specific circumstances surrounding his death, we know it's been made public, but we owe it to the airman's family and to the service to allow for a full investigation to obtain the facts.  So leave it there.

Let me go to Eunice.

Q:  Thank you very much, General.  You said that earlier today, it was a tragic incident.  Obviously, like you would think otherwise, you know, civilians being fired by that while trying to get some peace food.

But there is someone, an Israeli national security minister says that they acted excellently, the IDF and it's madness to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.  And you've been saying that the president made it very clear that in this current bombing of Gaza, and you've been speaking to your counterparts, but if this is the government that you've been speaking to, is there any result that's been produced?

GEN. RYDER:  Hey, I can't speak for that individual.  I can only respond on behalf of the department, so I don't have anything to provide.

Q:  You know, you've been having these conversations for months now, but the result doesn't seem to be much different on the ground.  So is there a sense of urgency within the Department of Defense that perhaps we should change the way that we're talking to our Israeli counterparts?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, I think we've been very transparent in terms of how we're communicating with our Israeli counterparts as well as our efforts to try to support the people of Gaza in terms of humanitarian assistance and ensuring that their safety is taken into account.

But we also, again, recognize that Hamas plays a factor in all of this, and Hamas has not given up and laid down their arms and are still threatening to attack Israel and conduct operations.  And again, you know, I'm not going to lay out Israel's campaign plan, I'm not going to lay out specific operations that they're doing on a daily basis, but we have seen them change some of their approaches and how they're conducting operations.

But again, as I highlighted, too many civilians have been killed.  And so we'll continue to consult with them, communicate with them, and expect them to abide by the international humanitarian law and law of armed conflict.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Thank you very much, General.  As you said today, Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, was here at the Pentagon.  What can you tell us about your commitment to fighting ISIS, and what is your view of the role of the Peshmerga in that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.  Look, as I highlighted at the top, we very much appreciate that the role that Peshmerga have played for a very long time when it comes to security and the Kurdistan region of Iraq and also in fighting ISIS.

And we remain committed to working with the International Coalition for the enduring defeat of ISIS.  Again, it's why we have forces in the region right now working with international partners, to include the Peshmerga.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you, General.  Follow-up on Joseph's question.  Apparently, communications with the Israeli and consulting with them is not helping much spare civilians in Gaza.  Are there any concrete steps or measures the administration can take to press Israel on the matter of civilians in Gaza?  And is there any discussion within the department to maybe pull the U.S. military assistance to Israel, like a way to press Israel on this matter?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Wafa.  So, again, we continue to believe in Israel's inherent right to defend itself and we'll continue to support them in terms of their right to defend themselves.  And we have, from the very beginning, been communicating actively on the importance of taking civilian safety into account, and we will continue to do that.

I mean, Secretary Austin just had a conversation with his Israeli counterpart this week, as you saw, and this is a topic of discussion.  He talked with him last week as well.  And so, they understand that this is important.  I'm not going to speak for the Israelis, but we will continue to urge and expect that this is something that's taken into account, so.

Q:  Do you have any update on the U.S. military assistance to Israel?  Is it like a daily shipment going to Israel?  Secretary Austin today mentioned that there was about more than 21,000 munitions delivered to Israel.

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have a timeline to pass along to you Wafa.  Thank you.

Let me jump back to the phone here.  Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi, Pat.  A Ukraine question.  Without Republican support for more aid in the supplemental, what is the Pentagon's best assessment of the tactical military implications over the next two or three months to the Ukraine military in terms of air defense and artillery shortages?  How greatly will those grow?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, I mean, they're obviously engaged in an active fight right now.  We continue to see Russia, you know, making some small but incremental gains, as you know.  And so it's vital that we be able to receive the supplemental funding.

And as well as a full year appropriation to be able to ensure that Ukraine has the assistance to include air defense and ammunition capabilities to be able to not only defend themselves but also take back sovereign territory.

And so, you know, the Ukrainians have proven themselves to be very innovative, courageous fighters.  So we have no doubt that they're going to fight, you know, they're going to continue to fight very bravely.  But it's absolutely essential that we get them the resources they need now and not too late.

Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Chris?

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Two questions on the Red Sea region.  First, what is the coordination between the E.U. maritime mission and Operation Prosperity Guardian?  Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?  So, at the very least, you aren't confused about which vessels are where and what they're trying to do?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, as I understand it, they do coordinate and communicate on a daily basis.  You know, we have obviously around the world have experience working closely with partners inside and outside of coalitions, working coalition side by side.

And, of course, many of the countries that are resident within Operation Prosperity Guardian and then the corresponding Operation Aspides.  We've all worked together for many years in many different places around the world.  And many of those countries are within NATO.  So, when it comes to interoperability, you know, that's something that is a strength.

Q:  My second question, the State Department's Special Envoy for Yemen said this week, state was working to expand the strike coalition against the Houthis and the Gulf states needed to do more, but couldn't speak for the DOD.  So on behalf of the Pentagon, is the DOD working to expand the strike coalition against the Houthis?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, I don't have any specific announcements to make.  I mean, we're always consulting with allies and partners in the region to address the international problem that's been created due to the Houthis illegal and reckless strikes against international shipping and mariners.

Q:  Overall, are you trying to grow the coalition, either Operation Prosperity Guardian or the Strait Coalition?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, we're -- we're trying to address this as an international problem because, you know, it's affecting the international community.  And so this is the way that the United States operates.  We -- we work with coalitions and we work with allies in -- in order to achieve common goals.  

And I think internationally, everyone will agree that the Red Sea is a vital waterway.  15 percent of global commerce transits through there.  And so this is something that we'll continue to keep after.

Let me go -- yes, ma'am?  Sorry.

Q:  (inaudible) spoke about the Deputy Secretary's trip out west, in part which is to siege -- CJADC-2 and Project Convergence.  Can you talk about what the Secretary -- Secretary Austin and Deputy Secretary Hicks hope to see from that effort, and the timeline of what's being achieved?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, there'll be obviously a lot more to come out of that -- that event.  And so I'd encourage you to reach out to the Army, as I'm -- as I'm sure you are.  But what you've seen over the last several years is things like Project Convergence or the Air -- Advanced Battle Management System or the Navy's overwatch program -- Project Overmatch, rather, working together to look at how we can better integrate using various technologies when it comes to combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

And so they're going to have the opportunity to experiment with technologies, operate at a theater level versus a tactical level, but do it in a way that enables us to better synchronize and synthesize our operations when it comes to operating as a Joint Force.

And so really, for the Deputy Secretary, it's a -- it's a great opportunity to -- to see the continued progress that's being made and -- and also, again, see -- as I mentioned, see the specific outcomes as they can be applied to the broader Joint Force.  Thank you.


Q:  Yeah, turning to budget, a few weeks ago, Secretary Kendall said that if there's no '24 appropriation, basically the '25 request is irrelevant because it's building on '24.  And there was debate then about whether to delay releasing the '25 request to give more time to see if there's going to be a '24 appropriation.  What's the current thinking on that and process timeline for releasing '25?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, as -- as I understand it, the intent is still to release a Fiscal Year '25 budget.  I'd have to refer you to OMB to talk about specific timelines at this point, since it is the President's budget, but that is my understanding right now.

Q:  And any free workingbeing considered inside the building to adjust for the fact that almost half the year is gone and a CR is going to be happening for at least a few more weeks?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I mean, as I'm sure you can imagine, you know, one of the primary things the Pentagon does is work on budgets, right, and resourcing.  And so, you know, clearly that -- that work is always being done, whether it's, you know, this year's budget or future years' defense spending.

But to your point -- and -- and it's something you've heard others talk about -- the fact that we continue to operate under CRs is not helpful.  We need a full year appropriation in order to do the work that we've been asked to do.  And so certainly, the longer we kick the can down the road, the more challenging it becomes for the department to conduct the operations in support of our national security mission.

All right, time for a few more.  Nancy?

Q:  ... come back to your answer about what happened today in Gaza.  I'm just trying to better understand the DOD position.  The White House has said that it was tremendous -- found the incident, what happened, tremendously alarming.  The State Department said that it's urgently seeking more information.  And I just want to understand is there any sense of shock or urgency out of the Department of Defense, or is it more reassured from the conversations it's having with its Israeli counterparts?

GEN. RYDER:  Well look, I mean, again, we're -- we're watching the same images that you are on TV, and it is alarming and it is, you know, very unfortunate.  And a -- and as I mentioned, we're very saddened at the loss of innocent lives here.  I mean, these are human beings that are trying to feed themselves.  And so I -- I think we're all kind of looking at that and saying, you know, what happened here?

And so -- but again, the White House has reached out and asked Israel to investigate this.  I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  I -- I appreciate that, but when you say we're all looking to find out what happened here, what I'm trying to understand is what is DOD doing to find out what happened here?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, DOD is not currently operating in Gaza.  We're not at war in Israel against Hamas.  So our focus is what we've talked about before, and that is working to protect our citizens and our forces in the region, it's working with Israel to ensure they have what they need to defend themselves, it's working with them to enable the release of hostages, and it's trying to prevent this conflict from spreading into a wider conflict.

Where -- at -- where required, we support the U.S. interagency.  You know, in the past, we've helped to deliver humanitarian assistance.  So that continues to be our focus and -- there -- as part of the broader U.S. government.

OK.  Sir?

Q:  Thank you, General.  My question will be about your fellow Airman who set himself on fire last Sunday in front of the Israeli embassy, saying that he doesn't want to be complicit in a -- a genocide, in his words.  So there are allegations that he decided to make this extreme act of protest after his clearance led him to see some information about the U.S. involvement in this.  

So what can you tell us about this?  And you said there is an investigation.  What kind of investigation is that?  Can you give us some more information about it?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, John.  So any time there's the death of an airman, particularly a -- in a suicide situation, there is going to be an investigation into the circumstances.  And because it's under investigation, I don't want to speculate about this particular airman and -- and what he may or may not have been experiencing or what -- what his mental state was.  That would just be pure speculation on my part.

So again, we owe it to his family and we owe it to the Air Force to have the time to be able to do that investigation and get ground truth.  Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Thanks, General.  I just wanted to follow up on the Houthis.  The U.S. is spending a lot of money to take down cheap drones.  Do you think that that's a sustainable strategy over a long period of time?  And do you have a strategy to maybe divvy that up in some way?  

GEN. RYDER:  Hey, look, you know, we're oing to continue to work with the international community to safeguard international shipping and the lives of mariners that are transiting the Red Sea.

I think the fact that we've been able to save as many lives as we have -- and it's kind of a null hypothesis you're asking me to prove here, what would have been the cost of sunken ships, lives lost, environmental disaster, had -- had we not and were we not working with the international community to address this problem?

As I highlighted on Monday, it -- it's almost like the Houthis are trying to wreck their own neighborhood, you know?  And, you know, ultimately, in the long-term, not to their benefit to continue this.

Let me go over to Courtney.

Q:  Thank you.  I wonder -- two different topics.  On Israel, today, does the Pentagon think it's appropriate for Israel to -- to investigate itself in this attack today, considering that most of the -- the allegations from witnesses on the ground are that it was the IDF who were responsible for many of these deaths and injuries?

GEN. RYDER:  Hey, look, Israel's a sovereign country.  In the same way if there were allegations in our own military of inappropriate actions or something that -- that was problematic, you know, we conduct investigations in our military and there's methods and procedures to do that.

Again, I'm not going to speak for Israel, in terms of who within the Israeli government would investigate or how they approach it.  But, again, one would expect that it would be very similar.  

Q:  What -- on the secretary's testimony today, there was one thing that I was about, I -- I'm confused now about who it was that made the determination on January 2nd for him to transfer authorities to Secretary -- Deputy Secretary Hicks.  Because he said -- at one point he said that his staff were advised by doctors they would not be able to gain access to him.  And -- and maybe I misunderstood, but it made it sound as if the staff were the ones, whomever that was, who made the decision for him to have to transfer authority, and it was a communication thing as opposed to a medical necessity, which I thought was -- was what we were earlier told, that the -- the seriousness of the diagnosis and his medical condition was one of the reasons.  

GEN. RYDER:  Now is -- it -- it's highlighted in the unclassified summary.  And as we talked about on Monday, it was the secretary's inability to access secure communications that prompted the staff to take the measures that they had done previously when he was not able secure communications.  And, again, taking the initiative, saying, well, OK, if -- if the secretary is not able to access those communications, procedure has been -- oh, by the way, procedures that are, you know, written and prescribed by the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense, then we will transfer authorities to the deputy secretary.  

And so that -- that was the determination.  Now, again, recognizing, looking back through all of this through the review process, broadly, that improvements could be made.  And so, again, we -- we're undertaking those process and procedure improvements.  

Q:  But, again, so it was this -- the staff, and it would be great to know who the staff were who -- because, again, and correct me if I'm wrong, if I'm -- if I'm mixing up the time line, because I felt like some things were a little jumbled today.  I was under the impression that the SMA, the chief of staff, the public affairs had, and one other person, whoever it was, who were all notified on January 2nd were told earlier in the day, and that the transfer of the authorities were transferred later in the day.  

So who were the staff members whom -- who have the authority to make the decision to say Secretary Austin's -- because I thought it was Austin -- it was Secretary Austin's decision to transfer authorities, for whatever the reason is.  


GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, I'm just hesitating here because we talked about this ad nauseam on Monday, so.  But, again...

Q:  (inaudible) today, if I'm wrong, I'm happy to talk about this off-line.  But I -- because Secretary -- I thought that it was Secretary Austin's ultimate decision to transfer the authorities for whatever the reason be, communication or whatever, but it's the...


GEN. RYDER:  I'll say again, what the -- what the...


GEN. RYDER:  Right, what the review found, and -- and what we talked about previously, was that when the secretary's doctor said that it would -- they recommended he go into the critical care unit, it was clear that he was not going to be able to have access to secure communications.  And so as he is going into -- you know, being prepared to go into that critical care unit, his staff military aides make the determination based -- you know, again, recognizing that this is sort of an unprecedented situation, based on the fact that if the secretary is not going have access to communications, checklist says it's time to start talking about a transfer of authority to the deputy secretary because we need to have positive control in terms of secure communications. 

So the military aides took initiative to execute that to ensure that there was no gap in command-and-control.  And thus the fact that the review found there was no gap in command-and-control.  

Q:  (inaudible) General (inaudible) made that statement.  

GEN. RYDER:  I -- I don't have it, the review right in front of me so I don't want to...


Q:  ... (inaudible) in the summary of the review that we got?  Because I don't believe it does.  Because I just also want to point out when -- when you guys talk about, I appreciate that the -- that the summary -- that the review was classified by the drafters, whatever drafter means, that the secretary said today.  But the -- we've only received a summary of the review, so.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  

Q:  So we -- there's a lot of details here that are still unclear to -- to us.  And it -- and it gets mighty -- frankly, when we have this very vague summary that's put out and then we have testimony from the secretary today that -- and without a -- a clear timeline.  

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks, Courtney.  Well, again, I appreciate that.  We're going to continue to try to provide as much information as we can.  As we highlighted earlier this week, you know, there are elements of that report that are classified.  And that we have endeavored to try to give you as much unclassified information as was available to provide.  

So thank you very much, everybody, appreciate it.