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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: All right. Everyone, good afternoon. So we have a guest today. Today, Dr. John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, is here to announce the release of the department's Commercial Space Integration Policy. Dr. Plumb's space policy portfolio covers the strategic capabilities of integrated deterrence, space missile defense, nuclear weapons and countering weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Plumb has some opening comments, and then we'll take a few questions, and following Dr. Plumb's portion, I'm happy to answer a few news-of-day questions. 

So with that, I'll turn it over. Dr. Plumb?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (SPACE POLICY) DR. JOHN F. PLUMB: Great. Well, thanks, Sabrina, and good afternoon, everyone.

Today, I'm proud to announce the release of the department's first-ever Commercial Space Integration Strategy. This marks a new effort to harness the remarkable innovation of the commercial space sector to enhance our resilience and strength and integrated deterrence as a department.

Space is essential to the Joint Force. Our military relies on space every single day. To protect our men and women in uniform and to ensure the space services they rely on will be available when needed, the department has a responsibility to leverage all tools available, and those tools include commercial solutions. From launch, to space domain awareness, to satellite communications and more, the commercial sector's ability to innovate, to scale production and to rapidly refresh their technology is opening the door to all kinds of possibilities.

Now, when I talk about the commercial sector, it's important to note that this is distinct from the Defense Industrial Base, or the DIB, as we call it. The DIB is predominantly focused on U.S. government contracts to build specific government systems, but the commercial sector develops products to serve a viable commercial market outside of government, and their incentives are to innovate for their entire customer base, not just the Department of Defense.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy directed us to increase collaboration with the commercial sector and leverage its technological advancement and entrepreneurial spirit. Our new Commercial Space Integration Strategy follows through on that directive.

The degree to which commercial space capabilities and services can benefit U.S. national security will ultimately be measured by how well the department can actually integrate commercial solutions into the way we operate not just in peacetime, but also in conflict. And to do this, as Secretary Austin has written in the foreword of the strategy, the DOD will need to illuminate the structural, procedural and cultural barriers to overcoming legacy practices and preconceived notions of how the commercial sector can support national security.

Now, rolling this out, it's been a lot of work to get here. Over the last year, my team has engaged directly with space stakeholders across the department, across the interagency and with commercial space entities of all sizes. We've hosted roundtables, tabletop exercises and informational sessions to better understand how commercial space solutions could support the department while taking into account the commercial sector's interests as well, and informed by that body of work, our strategy outlines four priorities for the department to pursue.

First, we will work to ensure access to commercial solutions across the spectrum of conflict. We will leverage contracts and other agreements to set clear expectations with commercial providers and ensure the Joint Force has access to the capabilities it needs when it needs them to execute its mission.

Second, we will work to achieve integration prior to crisis. We want to integrate commercial space solutions in our day-to-day operations during peacetime so we can be ready and able to rely on those same commercial solutions during conflict. Critically — and this is a finding from our sessions with commercial providers — we need to work to bring more commercial partners into our wargames and into our training exercises so that commercial partners also understand what will be required of them.

Third, we will work to establish the security conditions necessary to integrate commercial space solutions and help commercial providers reduce risk. 

Now, the department will always maintain the option to use military force to protect and defend commercial assets, but our main lines of effort will follow three — three lines: one, create norms and enhanced safety for all; two, generate and share actionable threat information with commercial partners; and three, explore different forms of financial protection, if required. Underpinning all of this is the department's firm commitment to be a leader and a responsible actor in space. And finally, we will support the development of new commercial space capabilities that have the potential to support the Joint Force. The department has a number of tools at our disposal to help commercial companies scale where our interests align, and we need to seize them.

Now, before I take questions, I'll just note the Commercial Space Integration Strategy is entirely unclassified. It's available to the public. It will be posted today on, I think shortly after this. The strategy is deliberately unclassified to be transparent about what we are trying and need to achieve, and it will also help hold ourselves accountable to the strategy we've signed ourselves up for. 

So we're excited to embark on this important new effort to leverage American ingenuity and enhance the resilience of our national security space architecture and strengthen deterrence. I'm confident it will pay dividends for the department for years to come. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

MS. SINGH: Great. We'll start in the room here. Yes, go ahead.

Q: Hi.


Q: Ashley Roque with Breaking Defense.

DR. PLUMB: Hi, Ashley.

Q: I just need to ask you about the promised gaps analysis dealing with commercial insurance for DOD space contractors. When do you think that will be wrapped up? And then sort of the strategy published about when to compensate firms, or would that be a case-by-case basis?

DR. PLUMB: Yeah, the strategy looks at — so first of all, thanks for the question. The strategy is — kind of lays out the four different types of financial protection that can be made available to commercial partners, and so one is just commercial insurance. So there's a market that the government deal with.

There is also this concept of war risk insurance, which is sometimes available on the commercial market, and then there is U.S. government-backed war risk insurance, or just U.S. government-backed insurance. That particular piece, I think, is what you're asking about. We do not have a final answer on that. The secretary has directed that the department look at, are there gaps that need to be covered by this now? And the parallel is for air logistics, we had this craft agreement which in very specific cases, the department can turn on additional insurance for providers. Same for the maritime, for convoys and for the types of logistics. And so the question is, is there a gap that needs to be filled for specific mission sets? And I think the most important thing to take away is in any case, in whatever thing we end up with, if we do end up in that space, it is only when the government turns that on. And so we're going to look at our primary means of ensuring that kind of de-risking is through the contract with the company itself.

Q: Just - I want to do a quick follow-up. You mentioned different stakeholders. Did you work with ODNI on this, or should we be expecting different strategies to come out from the Intelligence Committee?

DR. PLUMB: So there are many components of the IC that have kind of dual hat that also work with, you know, the department and the IC. So certainly NGA and NRO are part of this, and ODNI is aware of it. If - you know, NRO has its own commercial strategy for buying electro-optical. So they all nest sort of under this OSD piece, they're all - work together. They're not at odds with each other in any way.

MS. SINGH: Let's go to Mike and then Sandra.

Q: Thanks. Mike Stone from Reuters. 

DR. PLUMB: Hi, Mike.

Q: As commercially-provided space capabilities become more critical for civil services on Earth? How does the department under international humanitarian law view the principle of distinction between military and civilian assets in space?

DR. PLUMB: How does the department view the distinction? I'm not sure I have a answer on that specific piece because of course many systems can be used for military or for commercial. They are today and continue to do so.

I will say on the - you know, what we've seen in the Ukraine conflict is Russia threatening commercial provider satellites, frankly even hacking ViaSat because it - well, it's a commercial provider who's also being used, or the Russians think they're being used, for Ukrainian battlefield.

Q: So the - the question is really at what point of content on a satellite will you view that as an act of war if someone shoots it down? Is it just a little bit or if you're ... 

DR. PLUMB: I'm not - I'm not - I can't get into hypothetical red lines but I understand your question, it's a good question. I think I'd have to - I'd have to ponder that one for a bit, Mike. That's not one that I've considered before.

MS. SINGH: Sandra?
    Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Sandra Erwin, Space News.

DR. PLUMB: Hi, Sandra.

Q: On your point about what the Secretary wrote in the report about the cultural impediments and the institutional problems or issues, how do you change that? I mean, do you - the report really doesn't get into, like, that problem. So what are your thoughts on how you would change that?

DR. PLUMB: So I don't want to undersell how hard that could possibly be, but I do think right now it's very clear across the department that the commercial sector has ability to move at a faster speed than we can move in many ways and it brings innovation in ways that maybe don't match our normal pace. 

We need to hold ourselves accountable. Frankly, one way to do that is to come back to the Secretary perhaps on an annual basis, et cetera, to say "Hey, here's what we're doing, here's how we're making progress, here's where there's stumbling blocks and hurdles." 

So we have to have an internal process to make sure that we do keep doing this. That's one thing I intend to do through the ASD for Space Architecture we've set up with the Space Warfighting Activities Group just to make sure that we are staying true to this strategy.

Q: Is that something that you discussed with ... 

DR. PLUMB: Absolutely.

Q: ... the companies, and they've ... 

DR. PLUMB: Yeah - with the companies or with the department? Yes, with the companies, I think the value of this being unclassified to the companies, we'll also be able to use this and say "look, this is a thing you have signed up for. So how can I benefit national security? Can we work together?"

I think it's very powerful on - on both sides, not just from the department's side.

MS. SINGH: We're going to go in the room here. Sure.

Q: Hi. Mikayla Easley with Defense Scoop. Thanks for your time, sir. I was just hoping maybe you could clarify the differences between this strategy and the one currently under development by the Space Force, as well as maybe how these two will support one another?

DR. PLUMB: Sure. And frankly, I just had a long talk with General Saltzman about this. So I'll just say we're - we're very much aligned. This is - the department-wide strategy, a little bit more policy-focused. And overall, I think - you know, hope his strategy will follow in the near future, and I think it is a little bit more focused on service-specific, acquisition-specific, and frankly, how he, as a service chief, wants to see his military service take this on and address it.

MS. SINGH: Great. And we will go out to the phones. Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg?

Q: Hi, sir. Thanks for doing this. One quick - two quick questions. How much money is this Space Force Space Systems Command budget is there for - in the '25 plan for potential commercial services envisioned in your strategy?

And two, what commercial companies can you point to at this point as capable of performing this ISAM mission, this space services, assembly, logistics, manufacturing mission?

DR. PLUMB: Sure. Thanks, Tony. So two things. One, I don't know the answer to your question about how much money, so I'm just going to have to - you'd have to ask the Space Systems Command or Space Force on that.

And I do want to be clear, the point of this strategy is not to have someone just do an accounting for how much money we're spending on a thing because that's a - that's the wrong metric. The right metric is how much national security benefit are we getting or how much more cost efficient might it be to solve certain problems using the commercial market.

But then your second question - so in the strategy, we have these 13 different mission areas laid out, and we distinguish between those mission areas that are primarily government, which means mostly it's government function and some commercial sector solutions might help it - there's hybrid, where it's more of a 50/50, some government, some commercial, and it could be pretty much even-stevens, and then primary - primary commercial.

And out of those 13, the only one that's clearly primarily commercial right now is Space Force designation here, but SAML, which is Space Access, Mobility, and Logistics, and SpaceX is launch, Tony. So SpaceX, Firefly, Rocket Lab, all these different companies that are doing commercial launch, that's where the commercial sector clearly can provide services.

On mobility and logistics, I'm only aware of one and a fully functioning company, and that's Space Logistics that can do a - on-orbit servicing right now. There are more coming.

And then the ISAM piece is not even a mission area for us yet. It is emerging, and is clearly emerging mainly in the commercial market, which is on-orbit assembly generally, so.

MS. SINGH: Great, thank you. And our last question is from Shelley Mesch, Inside Defense.

Q: Hi. Thank you for taking the time. I wanted to ask about what commercial space operators can do with this information? What guidance do you have for them to getting involved? What's the front door? And how is this going to help the department find new commercial partners?

DR. PLUMB: OK, thanks, Shelley. I guess I'd say first of all I, as the policy - as the Space Policy Chief, as some of you like to call me, I don't have any acquisition authority. That acquisition authority is in, you know, Space Systems Command as one of the primary acquisition places. Frank Calvelli with the Department of the Air Force has Space Acquisition Executive title on. Clearly, Space Systems Command has the Space Commercial Office, which is a front door. I'm not saying it's the only front door.  

I think what this strategy hopes to do is say yes, continue working on bringing commercial entities in. This is actually a thing we want you to do, not just a thing you should be experimenting with. And so I think over time this should provide better integration, better ways forward, and hopefully as we identify those mechanisms or those capabilities that could benefit national security, an additional lever arm for the department to say yes, let's help that through, let's scale that, let's figure out how we could incorporate that not just in the peacetime but also into - to crisis and conflict.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. Thanks, Dr. Plumb. Really appreciate your time.

DR. PLUMB: Well, thanks, Sabrina. And thank you, everybody. I really appreciate it.

MS. SINGH: All right. Hi, everyone. Hopefully you don't have any space questions for me. I just have one thing at the top and then happy to jump in and start taking questions.

This morning, Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner hosted Singapore Deputy Secretary for Policy Frederick Choo here at the Pentagon for the 9th U.S. Singapore Midterm Defense Review. This is an annual dialogue that surveys defense priorities and collaboration between the U.S. and Singapore, one of our longstanding partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

The officials discussed a range of topics, to include maritime domain awareness, emerging technologies, force posture initiatives and training opportunities. A readout of the meeting will be published later today online.

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

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. I have a couple on Israel, Gaza. First, is the Pentagon concerned that Israel's strike against the Iranian consulate is going to increase the risk to U.S. troops in both Iraq and Syria? There has been a quiet period, I guess, where it looks like Iran had directed the proxies not to strike. But is that over now? Is the Pentagon concerned about that?

MS. SINGH: Well, I can't speak to actions that haven't happened or anything, you know, hypothetical actions. But we certainly continue to monitor the situation. Of course, we are aware of the strike that was conducted yesterday. But I don't have anything more for you. We're going to continue to make sure that our forces are protected in the region. So, that means monitoring what's going on around them. But beyond that, I just don't have more to share. 

Q: Okay. And then on the World Central Kitchen strike, has Israel reached out to you to assure that the weapons used to kill the World Central Kitchen aid workers were not provided by the U.S.?

MS. SINGH: So on that first, I think just it should be very clear that, you know, our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in that strike. These are humanitarian aid workers who are providing lifesaving aid to Palestinians in Gaza. And, you know, the Israelis have taken responsibility for that strike. They are conducting an investigation. There have been conversations at different levels from the Department with Israeli counterparts. 

I don't have more to share for you on the weapons that were used. But we are, certainly, engaging with the Israelis. As you know, the secretary regularly engages with Minister Gallant. I don't have a call to preview just yet, but when they do speak, I'm sure this will be something that comes up in conversation. But we certainly welcome that the Israelis have opened up an immediate investigation into the incident. 

Q: Does it change circumstances particularly for the U.S. providing weapons if it turns out that the weapons that were used to kill these aid workers were actually U.S. provided weapons though?

MS. SINGH: Well, again, I'm not going to get ahead of the investigation that the Israelis are conducting. We've been very clear from the - from the beginning, since the war started, since the Israelis conducted operations within Gaza, that they need to do everything possible to preserve innocent lives, Palestinian lives, the lives of humanitarian aid workers going in every single day providing this type of care and service. 

And they need to uphold those humanitarian laws. And that's something that, you know, you've seen in every single readout that we put out as well, with the secretary and Minister Gallant. So, we're going to keep having those conversations. We're going to keep reiterating that. 

Q: Just last -

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: — does this further complicate getting the pier constructed? Does it show just how potentially dangerous and deadly it could be for anyone that's going to distribute aid that comes into that pier?

MS. SINGH: Well, it's certainly something that, you know, we're - we take into consideration when we're talking about forces that are going in to set up the pier. Now, we have received assurances, the chairman spoke to this. You've seen other people across the administration also speak to this as well, that the Israelis have committed to providing some type of security for our forces along with other - we expect other nations to also play a role in that. 

I don't have more to provide at this time but there's no higher priority than the protection of our forces. That is something that the secretary and the president take very seriously. And they will be protected when they begin to start the - setting up the JLOTS. 


Q: Thanks. Her last question was one of mine. But I'll follow up on that. 

MS. SINGH: Okay.

Q: Can you give us any sort of update on the pier construction? Do we have anymore finite ideas about when this will start?

MS. SINGH: No, unfortunately. I know that you want an exact date. Look, we announced this, we said within 60 days from when announced. So, we're looking, you know, mid - sorry - late April, early May, I believe that's somewhere in the 60 days. I'm - again, I'm not looking at a calendar here. We're still on track to meet that deadline, we believe - or that timeline that we set. And the ships are continuing underway. But when we have more details of when that construction starts, we'd certainly be - we'll be providing an update. 

Q: Okay, thanks, Sabrina. 

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: And then just two clarifications. The U.S. did not conduct a strike in Damascus? 

MS. SINGH: The U.S. did not conduct a strike in Damascus. I would refer you to the Israelis to speak to their strike. 

Q: And then, can you confirm that no attack has occurred on U.S. ground forces in the Middle East over the last month?

MS. SINGH: That's correct. I - if you're referring to an engagement that happened at Al Tanf Garrison yesterday, a drone was shot down by the base. But we do not believe the base or U.S., or coalition forces were the intended target. The drone was traveling in the proximity of the base and the base did engage that drone. But we do not access right now that that was an attack on U.S. Forces. 


Q: Can you give us – know 0 the origin of that drone? Where it came from or (inaudible) -

MS. SINGH: I don't.

Q: — Distribution?

MS. SINGH: I mean we have - believe is probably launched by an IRGC-backed group, but I don't have an attribution for the drone. 

Q: In Iraq or Syria? Can you - no?

MS. SINGH: I don't. 

Q: All right. And then I have - and have there been any force posture adjustments in the aftermath of the Israeli strike in Damascus yesterday? 

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't get into any force posture projects or changes, just for the security of our own forces. Again, we're all - we will always take whatever we need to do to protect our forces. But I just don't have anything to announce. 

Q: And can you say if anybody in DOD was contacted by the Israelis before, during or after this strike? Were you guys notified? 

MS. SINGH: We were not notified about - I'm sorry - the strike in Damascus? We were not notified by the Israelis about their strike or the intended target of their strike in Damascus.


Q: Hi. Well, shouldn't the Israelis have notified you, given this does have a clear implication, the safety of U.S. personnel in the region?

MS. SINGH: All I can tell you is that we were not notified about the strike prior to the strike happening. 

Q: (Inaudible) remarkably beyond concern. I mean, this has an implication (inaudible). 

MS. SINGH: That's your characterization. That's not mine. 

Q: One question on the pier then. I asked once before whether assurances had been received from the Israelis. I mean, you talked about assurances for the safety of U.S. forces. But what about the safety of the aid workers unloading supplies from the pier? I asked General Ryder whether the U.S. had asked for assurances that they wouldn't be fired upon. And he said they hadn't. 

But now, with this latest attack, and we know we have - you know, Haaretz in Israel is reporting, the drone methodically shot each one of these cars, making sure everyone was dead with full visibility, all the convoy, aid convoy cleared with the Israeli military. They made sure everyone was dead in it. Isn't the time now to ask for assurances that humanitarian workers who are moving supplies from this pier will not be fired upon, even if there's clear visibility?

MS. SINGH: I think we've been clear and at the top when I was addressing Tara's question, we were very clear that we don't want to see humanitarian aid workers targeted. These are heroes going into Gaza, putting their lives on the line, getting lifesaving aid, whether it be medical or humanitarian - or food aid into Gaza to Palestinians. 

We certainly don't want to see any humanitarian organization or worker targeted. In terms of assurances, all I can speak to right now are our forces.

What happens when the aid convoys come off the pier and go into Gaza, again, we don't want to see any humanitarian aid worker or the distribution of aid targeted. We are working with partners in the region, NGOs to figure out how that aid is distributed —

Q: (Inaudible) negotiations, who is willing to do this now?

MS. SINGH: We are still — we — an organization like the World Central Kitchen in one of many organizations providing life-saving aid to Palestinians. And — and people all around the world.

We hope that they will continue to do that and to continue their efforts within Gaza. But again, the logistics of how the humanitarian aid gets disbursed and distributed within Gaza is still something that's being worked out now. Fadi?

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. So I mean this incident is significance but it's — it's not isolate that according to the (inaudible) security database, which receives support from the USAID. In less than six months 208 workers have been killed by Israel in Gaza, which is the highest toll registered since 1997. This is more than what's been documented in Syria and Afghanistan and in Sudan.

Are you calling on Israel to investigate all the other incidents and do you think this was an unintended consequence of the war or is Israel actually — this has some disregard to civilian life, aid workers as manifested by the high numbers of aid workers killed and the high total of civilians killed.

MS. SINGH: Well, and not to sound like a broken record here but we have been very consistent and repetitive in our conversations with the Israelis. The need to preserve innocent lives. They need to, when conducting operations protect innocent lives within Gaza. And of course that includes humanitarian aid workers. I believe Israel has launched other investigations into other incidences. So I'd refer you to them to speak to more of those.

We certainly welcome the fact that they did this very quickly. They launched an investigation very quickly, taking responsibility. So want to see what comes out of that investigation and we would hope that they share those results publicly so we too can also learn and understand what exactly happened here.

Q: Do you think — so as you said, you've been raising this issue with the Defense official, including the Secretary with the Israeli counterparts. Do you think the Israelis have been listening and does — do the numbers provide you with a sense of the Israelis are actually listening to what you're saying to them?

MS. SINGH: We do believe that the Israelis have listened to us when it comes to some of their operations. I mean we saw at the very beginning of the war, you know, more paired back targeted operations.

They have been able to heed our advice, especially early on when we, you know, were talking to them about urban warfare and what it would mean to go into highly dense populations. So we do believe that they are heading our advice. 

Again, we're going to continue to, in all of our conversations at all levels of government, we're going to continue to urge them to protect innocent Palestinians, to protect humanitarian aid workers, and that's coming from the highest levels of government.

So we're going to continue that in our conversations.

Q: May I just ask one more question on the strike in Damascus?

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: So apparently you targeted a diplomatic building, which according to international law should have immunity. Is the U.S. concerned that its main ally region is targeting diplomatic buildings?

MS. SINGH: So I don't actually know what type of facility that was. Again, this was not a U.S. strike. So I don't have a lot of details on what type of building that was. But no, we don't support attacks on diplomatic facilities. Lara?

Q: Yes, thank you. Just wondering if anyone in DOD is looking into whether Israel deliberately targeting aid convoy is — violates international humanitarian war and whether that should have consequences in terms of continuing to send aid to Israel?

MS. SINGH: Well, that's something that the Israel government is looking in to. They're launching their own investigation. We're not. We're not doing our own independent investigation. That's something that we, again, are waiting to see what the results are from the investigation. They've already started I believe a preliminary one.

And so we'll just wait to see what those results yield.

Q: So why — do we have any assurances — I mean why do we — why do we trust and is the Israeli government investigating themselves on this? Is that how we treat other allies? 

MS. SINGH: Well Lara, we investigate ourselves and we hold ourselves to very — very high standards as well. We would expect — we would expect the Israeli government to do the same. If —

Q: (Inaudible) violating humanitarian law is that — do we trust them or o we have an independent assessment?

MS. SINGH: We expect that — well, I'm not going to speak and get ahead of the investigation. If there are findings in the investigations that lead to behavior changes, how operations are conducted on the ground of Gaza we would certainly want and would want to have assurances that Israeli would do that. Would uphold any findings from the investigation and would, you know, implement them.

But again, it's under investigation and I'm just not going to get ahead of that. Natasha?

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. So you've said a couple times now that this was an Israeli strike on this building in Damascus. The Israelis have not actually confirmed or denied whether it was them. So I'm just double checking here. So it's the Pentagon's assessment that this was an Israeli strike. Have you all been in touch with the Israelis about this?

MS. SINGH: We were not notified before the strike occurred. We have been engaged with them at different levels. But again, this was not a U.S. military strike. So I don't have a lot of the details on it.

Q: You have been engaging with them after the fact to discuss specifically their attack on this building in Damascus?

MS. SINGH: We have engaged with them on various different levels, not to mention some of the questions about the humanitarian aid workers that were also killed in the strike in Gaza.


Q: Thanks, Sabrina. Thank you. Does the U.S. plan on increasing airdrop into Gaza now that World Central Kitchen and at least of their agencies suspended operations?

MS. SINGH: We have a steady cadence of airdrops, humanitarian airdrops that Central Command does almost daily every other day. It sort of depends on the weather conditions and also conditions on the ground. I'm — you know, they're pretty consistent, Tom, so I think I'd let Central Command speak to that if they're going to increase. But right now they're happening almost on a daily basis.

Q: Thank you. And going back to the drone outside of Al Tanf, does the Pentagon still assess that — I think the date was February 4th was the sort of the last like attack on —


Q: Is that — is that — is that still the determination that that was the last attack on U.S. troops? Yesterday doesn't count.

MS. SINGH: That was the last attack on — on U.S. forces was February 4th that we assessed as an attack. Again, as I said, I believe it was Fadi that — that had asked. The — the drone was shot down in the vicinity of Al-Tanf garrison but we don't assess that it was targeting that base.

Q: What kind of a drone was it?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any of those details.

Q: And then finally, sorry, just to be clear from something you said earlier, I think it was in response to Tara's question. You are — you and the Pentagon are unable at this time to rule out that U.S. munitions were used in yesterday's strike in Gaza?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any details on the strike. As you know, the Israelis are launching an investigation. We are in touch with them. But I have no details on anything that was used in terms of what hit that convoy. What I can tell you and what I will continue — what we continue to say in our conversations with the Israelis is that we always expect them to uphold humanitarian laws when it comes to the use of U.S. made systems, capabilities, munitions. They are launching investigation into what happened. They have taken responsibility for what happened. So I'm going to let that investigation continue and not get ahead of that. 

I'm going to go to the phones and happy to come back in the room. Dan Lamothe, Washington Post. 

Q: Sabrina, to the question of, I guess, targeting, the United States has offered several times to assist Israel with targeting, basically improving their accuracy. This looks different. This looks less like inaccuracy as much as a direct choice to strike this convoy, this World's Central Kitchen convoy. What is, I guess, the Secretary's comfort at this point that the Israelis are taking necessary precautions to avoid collateral damage, to avoid civilian casualties? And if it is, as it sounds so far in open source that they may have struck a convoy knowing there is humanitarian workers in it, even if there was only one militant or something like that nearby. 

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Dan, for the questions. So what we have worked with Israel on and helped them with is I think what you're referring to is some of the operational planning when it comes to Rafah. There was a meeting at the White House, a virtual meeting hosted by the White House yesterday when it came — when it comes to the operations in Rafah, but what we are working with the Israelis on is how they are going to conduct operations when there's a dense humanitarian population there. We're not necessarily providing targeting to the Israelis. What we have been doing is providing assistance when it comes to hostage rescue and recovery. 

In terms of assurances when it comes to protecting innocent Palestinian lives, the lives of aid workers going in to Gaza, it's something that every single call, conversation from the Secretary's level on down through this building, we are focused on. It comes up in every single meeting. And we are going to continue to press the Israelis to uphold those humanitarian laws, to ensure that they are doing everything possible, everything possible to protect innocent lives in Gaza. 

I will take another one from the phone. Idris, Reuters. 

Q: Hey, Sabrina. So I think in every readout that you put out, and I think even after the Secretary met Minister Gallant, you talk about the importance of civilian casualties and how the Secretary brings it up with his counterpart. Is he a bit frustrated and maybe even embarrassed that even after his pleas, the Israelis continue these sort of actions that risk and kill civilians and are actually — somehow actually increasing the number of civilians they've killed in the past couple of weeks, even after the Secretary met him? 

So is the secretary frustrated? And does he believe it's worth pushing the Israelis since they don't seem to be actually decreasing, that they seem to be increasing civilian casualties over time?

MS. SINGH: Thanks for the question. The Secretary has voiced his concerns publicly and privately with Minister Gallant over his concerns on how the innocent civilians within Gaza are being protected as the IDF continues their operations. I'm not going to go further into their conversations, but these conversations have been very direct. They've been quite candid. And, you know, they continue to engage on an almost weekly basis as you well know, Idris, and so I'm just going to leave it at that. Yeah. 

Q: Thank you. Yesterday, the NSC announced that there would be an upcoming talk between Secretary Austin and the PRC.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. 

Q: I'm curious if you can add any more details, schedule, purpose of call, and then is the Secretary planning to travel to the PRC anytime soon? 

MS. SINGH: I don't have any travel announcements to make today. I don't have any calls to preview today. I know you were probably not expecting that. But I will say that, you know, we value mil-to-mil communications at the highest levels. It's something that we continue to engage the PRC on. A call has not been set up yet. That's not to say one won't come in the future. I just don't have an exact date for you. Yes? 

Q: Thank you. On the attacks on the consulate, Iranian consulate in Damascus. Yesterday, the Iranian Foreign Minister, he pushed it that cause on Pakistan. And he said that we send a very important message to the U.S. as a supporter of the Israeli government. And the U.S. must be held accountable for that. Have you received any notification? Any message through the Swiss Embassy in Iran from the Iranian government, first. 

And second, does that kind of this message concerns you that this will — may fuel up the conflict in Gaza and this will encourage the Iranian proxy groups to resume the attacks on the U.S. forces in the region? 

MS. SINGH: Well, we've made it very clear and private channels to Iran that we were not responsible for the strike that happened in Damascus. I will reiterate, the U.S. had no involvement in that strike. And we had no knowledge about it ahead of time. So I'll just leave it at that. Yeah. 

Q: OK. You are not involved in India. But are you expecting more attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East after the Israelis (inaudible)? 

MS. SINGH: I don't have a crystal ball to predict attacks on U.S. forces. 

Q: But don't you believe that such kind of strikes will escalate the region? 

MS. SINGH: Well, we certainly don't want to see escalation in the region. Again, what we have done in the region is position U.S. forces to send a message of deterrence. We continue to engage through diplomatic channels, so we don't see tensions rise in — or continue to rise in the region. We certainly don't seek escalation. And I know we've had conversations about this, but you know our forces in Syria and Iraq are there for the primary mission to ensure the defeat of ISIS. That is their goal. That is something that we share with the Iraqi government. That is something a mission that we share with the SDF. And so we want to be able to continue our mission. And of course, we don't want to see any escalation or tensions rise. 


Q: Couple of quick ones. On the World Central Kitchen, who in the Pentagon had the conversations with the Israelis about that, the strike that killed the aid workers? 

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into specifics, but at different levels of the department, there was an engagement with the Israeli government.

Q: So phone calls today or (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: Calls today. 

Q: I mean, are we talking about — at Secretary Austin's level or has that (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: I have no calls to read out from the Secretary today. 

Q: So (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: So, no. 

Q: So it wasn't the Secretary?

MS. SINGH: It was not the Secretary. 

Q: And then on the strike in Syria, do you expect that the U.S. will have any kind of independent confirmation of who was actually killed there or are you relying on the reports from the Syrian and Iranian governments? 

MS. SINGH: Our initial assessment right now is that it was a few top IRGC leaders. We haven't been able to independently confirm identities, but that is our initial assessment right now. Yeah. 

Q: And then I know the answer to this, but I got to ask it. So you just said that the — we made it very clear in private channels to Iran that the U.S. was not involved and who — what are those channels and who's the one on the U.S. side of those strikes? 

MS. SINGH: Yes. Thank you, Courtney, for the question. As you can — as you predicted, I will not get into more specifics on that, but appreciate the question.

Well, and then Luis. Yeah, go ahead.

Q: A quick — two quick questions.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: I don't know if you can answer about the space or not. My question was about space...

MS. SINGH: You just had Dr. Plumb up here.

Q: Thank you. Is there a competition in the space like we have on the arms on the Earth, yeah, as far as space is concerned? And second, where do we stand as far as U.S.-India space relations are concerned because so much has been going on in the past?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I don't have much more for you on that. You know, we have a good relationship with the Indian government. We don't seek any conflict when it comes to, you know, expanding operations or capabilities in space, but competition is something that, you know, all nations are looking to expand their capabilities into space. But I just don't have more for you on that.

Q: As far as cyber security attacks are concerned, so much talk of the town these days, which nations are those who are attacking the cyberattacks in the U.S. and affecting the common normal lives and also the national — the U.S. national security?

MS. SINGH: Look, I don't have any specifics to go into from here. We're certainly, you know, mindful of bad actors who want to attack our cybersecurity infrastructure. We take, you know, precautionary measures. We work with the interagency to ensure that our systems are robust and secure. But beyond that, I just don't have more.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Luis?

Q: Yeah. You mentioned that the United States reached out to the Iranians. Can you explain why? I mean, I understand the circumstances, but what is the rationale in doing so?

MS. SINGH: To make clear that the U.S. had nothing to do with those strikes.

Q: Based on comments that they've made, I mean, what was the prompting for something like this?

MS. SINGH: Again, I think that tensions being high in the region. We wanted to make it very clear in private channels that the U.S. had no involvement in the strike in Damascus. And we did that.

Q: And then a separate question back to Natasha's point.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: I don't think the Israelis have actually acknowledged that this was their airstrike. So are you saying that this was the United States assessment when you say that there were several IRGC top leaders that were there that this was an Israeli airstrike?

MS. SINGH: That's our assessment and that's also our assessment that there were a handful of IRGC top leaders there. Can't confirm those identities, but that's our initial assessment right now.

Great. I will take two more from the phone and then happy to wrap up. Jeff Schogol, Task and Purpose.

Q: Thank you. During the most recent airdrop over Gaza, 60 bundles went into the ocean. That seems a little bit higher than recently. Do you have any data on what may have caused that?

MS. SINGH: Jeff, thanks for the question. For more specifics, I would refer you to CENTCOM to answer that. What I can say is that when we do these airdrops, while we always try to mitigate for, you know, civilian harm and where these could land whether it's something that we cannot control. And I believe these bundles, unfortunately, when they did deploy we're just the drifted into the water and landed into the water. But for more specifics, I would direct you to CENTCOM for that.

And last question, Heather, USNI.

Q: Hi, thank you so much. Two questions. The first is that, it seems that the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea has slowed a bit in the past couple of weeks. And I was wondering if there's any speculation or reasoning for why those might have slowed down.

And then second just to go back to the Israeli strike on the aid workers. I know you talked about how they were investigating themselves and that the United States investigates themselves, but does the United States have the same confidence in the Israelis ability to investigate themselves as they would say for the United States investigating themselves?

MS. SINGH: We expect the Israeli government to hold themselves to the same standards that we do when we do an investigation. We want this investigation to be independent, to be fair, to gather the facts, and to make sure that something like this never happens again. So, yes, we do have confidence that the Israelis can do this and learn from their mistakes and understand and better plan for future operations, whether it be in Gaza or, or elsewhere.

In terms of your first questions on Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, I mean, look, we have continued to engage when we see the Houthis preparing to launch whether it be, you know, unmanned surface vehicles, UAS's at our ships or commercial vessels. I can't speak to the pace. I would direct you to them to speak to why if they have slowed down.

We certainly continue to engage. We certainly will continue to do everything we can to protect commercial shipping through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. And, of course, do everything that we need to protect our forces as well.

All right. Thanks, everyone.