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

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  OK.  Hello.  Good morning.  Happy April Fools, for those who celebrate.  Happy Final Four, for those who watch.

So just a few things at the top, and then can get — can jump right in.

So on the bridge repair that's happening in Baltimore, the department continues to support the whole-of-government response in Baltimore.  Through the unified command, the U.S. Coast Guard is coordinating this effort in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy and many others.  The unite — the unified command launched the wreckage removal effort on Saturday.  Highly-trained demolition crews started cutting the top portion of the north side of the collapse — collapsed bridge on Saturday, which is the key step prior to the removal.  Multiple Navy barges are on site assisting in the efforts.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed the underwater survey that needed to take place prior to removing the wreckage.  Hundreds of personnel from the Army Corps, Coast Guard, Navy are supporting efforts on the ground, as well.

Additional vessels, equipment and personnel are expected to arrive over the coming days.  We stand ready to assist in further efforts to provide immediate response, reopen the — the port, rebuild the bridge and support the people of Baltimore.

And last, the department wishes a fond farewell to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere Affairs Daniel Erikson.  We thank him for his exceptional public service and his lasting contributions to the department, including successful implementation of the National Defense Strategy in the Western hemisphere, stronger security partnerships, regional defense modernization, advancing climate resilience and an enduring commitment to democracy and human rights.

And with that, I'm happy to jump into questions.  Tara?

Q:  Sabrina, I wanted to ask you about the "60 Minutes" piece last night.

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  Did DIA conduct an investigation into the Havana Syndrome attacks?  And if so, is there any part of that that can be made public?  And then last year at the NATO Summit, the (inaudible) reported that a DOD official was injured by a — a potentially Havana Syndrome attack.  Can you talk about that?

MS. SINGH:  I can confirm that a senior DOD official experienced symptoms similar to those reported in anomalous health incidents.  This person was there at the — at the NATO Summit in Vilnius; not part of the secretary's delegation that was also there during that time.

In terms of any investigation, this is something that the intelligence community is at the forefront of and leading, so I'd refer you to the IC to speak more to that, particularly, ODNI.  So I just don't have more for you on anything that we're doing.

Q:  But there — was there a DIA component?  Can you confirm whether there was - because (inaudible) is saying that there was a Pentagon investigation into this.  Was there any Pentagon investigation?

MS. SINGH:  I can't confirm anything.  As far as I'm aware, ODNI is — has been the lead on this, so I'd have to refer you there.

(inaudible).  Do you want me to —

Q:  No, no.

MS. SINGH:  I was happy to silence.


Q:  So —

Q:  Sorry about that.

MS. SINGH:  That's OK.

Q:  The "60 Minutes" overtime piece said that —

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  — 11 members of Harris' advance party to Hanoi were also reporting these symptoms, nine of them DOD.  Can you confirm that?

MS. SINGH:  I can't.  I just don't have anything more to share on that.  All I can share is that when it came to that particular "60 Minutes" piece, just the DOD official that was impacted in Vilnius, but that's it.

Q:  Does — does Secretary Austin agree that it is — agree with the intelligence community's assessment that it is very unlikely these symptoms are being caused by an attack from an external power?

MS. SINGH:  Secretary has confidence in the intelligence community, and they're continuing to do their assessment.  The investigation is ongoing, so obviously not going to speak more to that at this — at this time.

Q:  Did he have any personal reaction to the fact that a DOD official reported these symptoms?

MS. SINGH:  The secretary is tracking that this occurred in Vilnius, but other than that, I'm just not going to be able to preview anything.


Q:  There were reported Israeli strikes, a — a building next to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus.  Of course, the (inaudible) — did the Israelis notify the U.S. that they would be striking next to the Iranian Embassy?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything more on that one.

Q:  Is there going to be any DOD participation in these remote talks on Rafah with the Israelis this — today?  And then a separate — separate issue: are — any updates on the Niger situation?

MS. SINGH:  On Niger, no updates.  On the — what you referenced earlier on this meeting, right now, I don't have anything for you.  I'd refer you to the NSC to speak more to it.  We might have something later today, but I just — I don't have anything for you at this time.


Q:  Has — is DOD currently doing any more reviews on contracts or things to see if there's any extra funding that can be kind of reworked, like we saw a few weeks ago, for Ukraine?  Is there, like, any active relooking at things?

MS. SINGH:  I'm not aware of any right now.  As you know, what happened a few weeks ago was we had nine contracts come in under bid, which we are very fortunate of.  But I'm not aware that any more have come in under the bid amount, or that there's another assessment being done.  As you — as you've seen us continue to urge, you know, our — the most important thing that we want to see Congress pass is the supplemental.  I know they're out of session, but hopefully, when the House is back in session next week, they will bring it to the floor, and then we can continue getting out those PDAs as we — you know, regularly.


Q:  Thanks.  Do you have a — any totals on the number of service members involved in the response to the Baltimore bridge collapse?

MS. SINGH:  Let me check.  Let me check if I have anything.  I believe from Army Corps of Engineers, over 1,100 engineering, construction and contracting and ops specialists are available for support.  For Navy, I don't have more specifics on numbers, so I'd refer you to the Navy to speak to that.

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Of course.

Tara, yes, I'm happy to (inaudible).

Q:  Just a couple more on Vilnius.  So —

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  — the DOD official, was that person not part of the secretary's traveling delegation?

MS. SINGH:  That's right.  They were there separately attending meetings that were part of the NATO Summit at Vilnius, but not part of the secretary's delegation that traveled there.

Q:  OK.  And did that person return to work, or did they have to be medically — some of these more serious cases, it sounds like people have to be medically retired.

MS. SINGH:  I'm not aware.  I'm, you know, not going to get into more specifics on the medical well-being of this individual as they're entitled to privacy, so I'm just not going to be able to provide more details at this time.  But you know, again, it was a — just to reiterate, separate and apart from the delegation that traveled with the secretary.

Q:  Same hotel?  Like, was it — was it a part — was it, you know, a question of maybe the secretary's delegation could have been at risk because of (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH:  I'm not aware that the secretary's delegation was at risk.  I'm not sure on the specifics of the hotel, either.


Q:  Hi.  Just wanted to ask if you — I know that you wanted to defer questions about DO — potential DOD participation in the remote meeting —

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  on Israel/Gaza.  Like, can you just sort of explain to us what — what the goal is of that meeting?  It seems like it's a — it's a little bit different than what I think a lot of the senators heard was supposed to happen as of last week, which was, you know, a — a sit-down to discuss alternative approaches to the operation in Gaza.  What is this?  Is this sort of like an interim meeting on that front or is this something different?  If you could help elucidate that a little bit, that'd be helpful.

MS. SINGH:  So I don't want to get ahead of anything.  I know that's not very satisfactory but I — I know that there will probably be more to share later today.  The, I think, initial goals of the meeting still stand, is to understand what their plans are for any type of operation within Rafah, to understand how they're going to move or conduct operations with the very concentrated population that's there, over a million people.

So I think the goals and the intent are still the same but I just don't have more for you at this time.  Hopefully we will have more to share later today.

Yes, Joe?

Q:  Last night, I guess overnight, a couple — several drones were launched from Iraq, or they claim (inaudible) Iraq (inaudible) towards Israel.  It seems — I mean, just from open source says that these drones traveled above, you know, Jordan and above — and undetected, even by U.S. radar systems.  Are you guys still looking into — I mean, Tower 22 wasn't too long ago.

One, is there anything that you can share about that investigation or is that strictly CENTCOM?  And two, are you guys looking into what happened last night and how those went undetected?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks for the question.  I'm not tracking anything on that, so I would have to refer you to CENTCOM for — for more details on that.

Q:  On both?

MS. SINGH:  On both, yes.

Yes, Jeff?

Q:  Thanks.  Setting aside Havana syndrome symptoms, what level of concern is there at the Pentagon and — and with the Secretary about U.S. adversaries, Russia or others, employing directed energy weapons on the battlefield or not on the battlefield in other situations (inaudible)?  I mean, where does the Pentagon stand on that?

MS. SINGH:  I think we'd always be concerned of any type of impact to our service members or civilians that causes, you know, health — health defects, health impacts.  Again, I know this is something that the IC is looking into, continues to investigate.  I'm just not going to get ahead of that.  I know that's not satisfying, but sorry.  Anything else?

Q:  Sabrina, who's — who's representing the DOD in the discussions today?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have more for you right now but hopefully we will have later today.

Yes, Tony?

Q:  Once you do get a briefing from the Israelis, can you share at least the — a level of detail of they're — they're showing in terms of their offensive plan, you know, both the plan to go after these Hamas battalions and also mitigate civilian casualties?

MS. SINGH:  I don't think we would be in a position to read out the Israeli plans in detailed —

Q:  Not detailed, Sabrina, but just generally.  To this point, you guys have said "we haven't seen details of these" — if you do get more details, it — just broadly contrast what you're —


Q:  — two weeks ago with today.

MS. SINGH:  As — as you can probably appreciate, just not going to get ahead of anything that's occurring today or in subsequent weeks.  If there is more details to share, we, you know — we'd be happy to do it, but right now, I'm just not going to get ahead of any meetings.

Q:  I understand that.  OK.

MS. SINGH:  Yes.  All right.  Anyone else?  Oh, yes?

Q:  Is there a cost estimate yet on JLOTS, on the deployment?

MS. SINGH:  On the deployment?

Q:  — for JLOTS.  How much will it cost to build the pier?

MS. SINGH:  There is not, but I know — I know that's something that folks have asked for, and I haven't forgotten on — on — about that.  I don't think I have, like, a — a cost estimate in totality but let us get back to you on that —

Q:  OK.

MS. SINGH:  — because we do owe you an answer on it.

Q:  Great.

MS. SINGH:  Yes, OK.  OK —

Q:  — any developments on, like, that final mile distribution part or just — is it — is it accurate to say at this point that, like, the final mile, there's just no DOD role at all?

MS. SINGH:  There is not going to be a DOD role when it comes to, like, where the — you're talking about when humanitarian aid comes through the causeway and goes into Gaza?  There is not going to be a — a DOD role into that.  I know you've asked about contracts.

Q:  Yes, the contract management part of it, but —

MS. SINGH:  To my knowledge, there is not.  Looking into — I mean, I can't speak for — I mean, I can only speak for DOD.  I can't speak for other agencies.  You know, USAID is of course coordinating with NGOs and other groups who are — are getting aid into Gaza, but as far as a DOD role in terms of boots on the ground, as you know, we've been pretty clear that that won't — that won't be the case.

In terms of how that distribution is happening, it's still something that we are working through.  Hopefully we will have more to share in the coming days and weeks.  I know that's also of interest to a lot of people in here.  But I just don't have more right now.

Q:  Any update on the ships?

MS. SINGH:  Ships are still underway.  We're still aiming towards our — our, you know, goal of setting this up within the 60 days that we announced, which was — I don't — I don't — I don't want to do the math from here, I want to say we're half — maybe halfway there.  But they're still underway, and when we have more details to share, we will certainly share.

Q:  Sabrina, where — where is this going to be built in Gaza?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have a location for you just yet.  It will be off the coastline, but no specific location.

Q:  So no specific — you — location you can share, or it hasn't been decided yet?

MS. SINGH:  A little bit of both.  I think — I think that's still being worked through, on what makes the most sense in terms of, you know, what would be most impactful and effective.  We're still also working through, you know, how we're going to coordinate the aid getting from the floating pier to the causeway, what makes sense.

So, you know, I don't know that we'd exactly detail explicitly the location ahead of when we're ready, but obviously when it starts to — get it set up, you know, we'll have more details to provide.

Q:  To — today, we've seen the — I don't know if you saw the footage from — coming out of Al-Shifa Hospital, the wide destruction, the — the dead bodies.  This is the biggest hospital in — in Gaza.  There was a big Israeli operation.  They claimed they went after militants.  Other organizations on the ground saying actually a lot of civilians were killed in this operation and this medical establishment has been destroyed.

How much did the Pentagon know about this operation?  How much did the Israelis share?  And do you have any comments about what we — we've been seeing coming out of that location?

MS. SINGH:  I honestly have seen the public reporting.  I don't have more to share in terms of the actual operation itself.  You know, we don't ask to clear operations by the IDF before they go in.  We do know that unfortunately Hamas does embed in — and use civilians as human shields, as we've seen in hospitals, schools, mosques.  I just don't have more to share on the actual operation itself —

Q:  So —

MS. SINGH:  — I refer you to the IDF.

Q:  — Hamas was using the hospital when Israel launched this operation?

MS. SINGH:  We know that Hamas uses hospitals —

Q:  Yes, but —

MS. SINGH:  I've only seen the public reporting.  I don't have a independent assessment.

Q:  — but this hospital, do you know if — if they were using it or not?

MS. SINGH:  I just don't have an independent assessment, but by all accounts, it seems very clear that Hamas does embed in hospitals and, you know, use civilians as human shields.  So it certainly wouldn't be surprising if —

Q:  So is it OK now for Israel to destroy hospitals?

MS. SINGH:  I — again, I — I'm going to have to refer you to the IDF for their own operations.

Q:  No, from your perspective, from the — from the — let me put it this way — does the — is the Secretary OK with the Israelis launching operations against hospitals in Gaza?

MS. SINGH:  I think, Fadi, that you can understand that the Israelis have an incredibly hard task in front of them.

Q:  No, I don't understand that.

MS. SINGH:  — well, just let me finish.

Q:  Yes.

MS. SINGH:  — in an — a terrorist organization using — I'm just taking an example — a hospital, a school, a mosque as a place to operate out of.  That's not something that I think many modern, professional militaries have had to encounter before.

I think the Israelis — we have received assurances from Minister Gallant, from others — Israelis — government officials across the interagency that they are doing everything they can to ensure that civilians are protected.  We are absolutely — every single time in the readouts that we put out, we are imploring on them that they uphold humanitarian laws, that they, you know, conform to upholding the laws of armed conflict.

This is not our fight, so I can't speak to all the operational decisions that are being made on the ground.  We certainly believe that one civilian death is one too many, but I — again, I can't speak to this specific operation.

Q:  Can I — can I —

Q:  Just — just to clarify on —

MS. SINGH:  I'll come back to you.

Q:  You said many, many times no boots on the ground.

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  No boots on the causeway?  Will there be boots on the causeway?

MS. SINGH:  No boots on the ground into Gaza.  I — on the causeway, I mean, you're going to have our ships coming up and — and, like, personnel probably helping offload cargo, but —

Q:  U.S. personnel helping offload cargo onto the causeway?

MS. SINGH:  Most likely, but not onto — not into Gaza.

Q:  But then not driving it down the —

MS. SINGH:  Not driving.  That's right.

Q:  OK.

MS. SINGH:  Missy —

Q:  Just to follow up on Fadi's question, the — I think the — I believe the WHO assessed that more than 20 patients had been killed during the Shifa operation.  Does DOD have a comment on that?

MS. SINGH:  I haven't — I actually have not seen that report.  Look, we've said this very publicly and I'll — and I said it to Fadi as well, that, you know, we certainly don't want to see any innocent civilians die when it comes to any operations that are happening, whether it be in and around a hospital or anywhere else, and I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  OK.  And then there's been some analysis that the fact that it — the IDF has had to go back to areas that it allegedly cleared in the past or that they stated — you know, where they had been operating previously and reengage in those areas sort of attest to a lack of effectiveness of what they're — what they're doing there and the potential for ongoing problems.  And I just wonder what the — what — if DOD agrees with that assessment, in terms of the — what the return to Shifa says about the effectiveness of this strategy in — in Gaza?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything for you on that one.  I would let the IDF speak to their own operations.

Yes, and then Idrees?

Q:  Regarding the — North Korea, does North Korea continue providing weapons to Russia?  How is the (inaudible) between the two countries?

MS. SINGH:  We do assess that the partnership continues to flourish, that North Korea does continue to provide support to Russia.  We've certainly had declassified intelligence read out to all of you.  So we do believe that support continues but I don't have anything to share in terms of, like, recent shipments or anything like that.

Q:  (Inaudible) flourish?

MS. SINGH:  It continues to grow.  We see that partnership — you know, we continue to see Russia reach out to partners like North Korea, to Iran, to continue to get support for its war in Ukraine.  And, you know, we continue to stand with Ukraine for however long it takes.

Q:  Do you know what weapons the — North Korea received from Russia?  You — you talked about they're providing weapons to Russia.

MS. SINGH:  I'm sorry?

Q:  What kind of weapons North Korea received from Russia in return for them providing weapon to — to Russia?

MS. SINGH:  I mean, it's been a variety.  I think we've declassified some of that intelligence, whether it's munitions or other supplies.

Idrees, last question?

Q:  Is the U.S. considering conditioning any aid to Israel at this point?

MS. SINGH:  We don't condition aid to Israel.  I don't have anything to share that would change our policy at this point.

Q:  And I think Chairman Brown on Friday said — or Thursday that the U.S. had turned down Israeli requests for some weapons.  Do you have any details on what type of weapons you guys turned down?

MS. SINGH:  I think he was referring to — in — and — and I would, you know, let Joint Staff speak to this more — but I think he was referring to it as, like — in any type of — any time we've — we provide aid to an ally, we always assess our own readiness.  So sometimes, there are requests that we just can't meet because it will impact our own readiness.  So there are certain things that, you know, we just aren't able to provide at — at that time.

Q:  (inaudible) how frequently they’ve been turned down?


All right, OK, last question?

Q:  Just getting that Shifa Hospital, the (inaudible) hospital, you said that you the U.S. knows that Hamas use — embeds with schools, hospitals, uses human shields.  Throughout Israel's operation, given that the Defense Department has had some ISR assets overhead, has the department been collecting any evidence in — to prosecute or later present of the war crimes that are being alleged by Hamas?

MS. SINGH:  We're flying ISR to help with hostage rescue and recovery.  That's from the beginning, that's what it's been used for in helping the Israelis, you know, identify where hostages are, but that's it.

Q:  So the U.S. is not looking with its, as its done in Russia, looking for evidence of war crimes or atrocities by Hamas?

MS. SINGH:  Right now, the ISR is just being used to help identify where hostages are.

OK, thanks, everyone.