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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few things here at the top and then we'll get right to your questions.

First, let me start by echoing what you heard yesterday from the President regarding the U.S.-Japan alliance, quote, "over the last three years, the partnership between Japan and the United States has been transformed into a truly global partnership.  The relationship with Japan is powerful proof than in investing in our alliance and raising our collective ambitions, we yield remarkable results," end quote.

Our defense and security ties with Japan form the core of our alliance and are the cornerstone of regional peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.  Recognizing that the alliance has reached new heights, we plan to further bolster our defense and security cooperation to allow for greater coordination and integration.

I would add that yesterday, you heard news on dozens of deliverables for the alliance.  I don't have any more specifics to provide today in terms of timelines and outputs but we are working hard across all levels of the department to deliver on the agreements made by our national leaders, and of course doing so in very close concert with our Japanese allies.

Secretary Austin participated in the events with the Japan state visit yesterday and returned to the White House today to participate in the U.S.-Japan-Philippines trilateral leaders summit.  The United States, Japan, and the Philippines are three closely-aligned maritime democracies with increasingly convergent strategic objectives and interests.  Just this past week, in fact, our three countries and Australia held joint naval drills in the South China Sea.

Separately, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Dr. Ely Ratner and his team are hosting our Korean allies today here at the Pentagon for the 24th U.S.-Korea Integrated Defense Dialogue.  The dialogue involves a wide range of comprehensive discussions about how the United States and the Republic of Korea are modernizing and strengthening our alliance.  We'll have much more information to provide this evening when the meeting concludes.

And staying with the Philippines, tomorrow, we look forward to welcoming His Excellency Ferdinand Marcos Jr., President of the Philippines, and Secretary of National Defense Gilbert Teodoro here at the Pentagon.  Secretary Austin will host President Marcos and his delegation to discuss regional security issues, to include our shared concerns on PRC coercive actions in the South China Sea.  

And in recent news, we were very saddened to learn about the loss of two Philippines Navy pilots in a tragic accident.  Our thoughts are with their families and their Navy, and we're ready to assist if needed.

In light of the engagements I've outlined and as we continue to advance a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, it's been a tremendous week of progress with our allies.

And finally, Secretary Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart this afternoon, Minister Gallant, to discuss the current situation in the Middle East and to reaffirm the U.S. ironclad commitment to Israel's security against threats from Iran and its proxies.  We'll have a full readout of the call available later today.

And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.  We'll start with Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Can you bring us up to date a little bit on the JLOTS?  The Secretary said earlier this week that he expected it could begin initial operations the third week of the month, which, by my calculation, would be next week.  So have they even started to build anything yet?  Can you just tell us where that stands?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  As you know, we announced on 8 March that we estimated the JLOTS would be in place and operational in approximately 60 days.  That continues to be the case.  We estimate that JLOTS will be operational in late April, early May timeframe, which of course is within that 60 day window.  

We're obviously working as fast as we can on that effort, recognizing that any operation can be affected by multiple variables, but our forces supporting this effort continue to stay focused on the mission and the important task that they have been given.

So again, we'll continue to provide updates, but to answer your question, no, there's been no construction in the water at this stage.

Q:  So was the Secretary wrong when he said third week of the month?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, we're working towards having it operational toward the end of the month and early May.

Q:  But not what he said?

GEN. RYDER:  We're not to the third week of April yet.  We'll keep you posted. OK.  Oren?

Q:  Just a quick follow on — on JLOTS — when it becomes operational, should it be able to move the maximum number of — of truckloads or — or loads of goods immediately, or is there some ramp-up process, some sort of testing process that needs to happen that will further delay its ability to really have an impact?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so, you know, as I understand it, essentially, you know, you'll see sort of a phased approach, in terms of initial operations capability and the ability to — to receive humanitarian assistance, but of course, you know, based on various conditions that commanders set to achieve full operations capability, you'll see that — that capability ramp up. Again, as we get closer to the initial operations capability and having the pier go operational, we'll certainly provide much more detail.  Thank you. Fadi?

Q:  Thank you, General.  So I want to go back to the — to the call today between Secretary Austin and Mr. Gallant.  Today, USAID Administrator Samantha Power confirmed the — the assessment by the IPC that there's famine in — in north Gaza.  The Israeli government made a commitment to open crossing in the northern part of Gaza for the flow of aid. Did the Secretary get a — a — a clear commitment or a date from Mr. Gallant on when this step will happen?  And how satisfied is he with the government of — Israeli government basically implementing what they promised to do?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, as it relates to today's phone call, as I mentioned, we'll have a full readout on that.  So I'll wait for that to come out.  But in general, and, you know, to include the most recent call he had last week, the Secretary does continue to talk with Minister Gallant about the importance of ensuring humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza. And so I think some of this — the initial steps that we've seen, in terms of ramping up the number of trucks that can come into Gaza, is a good step, but I think we want to see much more, and I think we'll continue to have those conversations not only within the Department of Defense but I know that's also happening elsewhere throughout the U.S. government to see those concrete steps about Israel's commitment to get additional humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Q:  On a separate topic but it — at — it's the issue of Iranians' threat, as — as you mentioned, we've seen reports yesterday, specifically yesterday, that Iranian attack on Israel is imminent.  That's in response to Israel targeting the Iranian consulate in — in Syria.  How concerned are you that the Iranian might follow through with their threats?  And are you seeing any indications that this is what they intend to do?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, we're certainly monitoring the situation closely.  I don't have a crystal ball and I'm not going to get into specific intelligence.  I would just say that — what you heard the President say, and as I highlighted in my topper, we are in close contact with the Israelis, to include today's phone call with Minister Gallant, and that U.S. commitment to Israel's security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad, and I'll just leave it there. Let me go to Idrees.

Q:  Yesterday, the State Department put out a statement saying that Secretary Blinken had spoken with Minister Gallant.  Given that he's Austin's counter — Secretary Austin's counterpart, was the Secretary on the call?

GEN. RYDER:  He was not, but it's also not unusual that Minister Gallant and Secretary Blinken speak.  So as you know, when Secretary Blinken travels to Israel, he's had, you know, one-on-one meetings as well.

Q:  Does Secretary Austin talk to any other foreign ministers?

GEN. RYDER:  On occasion, depending on where we're traveling and you know, as I mentioned, tomorrow, for example, you've got President Marcos, who's the President of the Philippines, coming.  So a — a lot of it just depends on the specific topic, if it's foreign policy or, you know, diplomatic issues versus security assistance issues.  So the bottom line is, you know, when it comes to our relationship with Israel, there are not necessarily going to be "I'm not allowed to talk to that person and you're not allowed to" — you know, it's — it's going to be full, robust communication.

Q:  And — and — and, you know, when they've spoken most recently — or last week, they talked about the World Central — Central Kitchen and the strike that killed the aid workers.  You've had time to look over their investigation, their initial report.  Are you satisfied with it?  Is that something you endorse, their initial findings?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Idrees.  So, you know, you probably heard the National Security Advisor, Mr. Sullivan, talk to that earlier this week.  As I understand it, that continues to be under review. So I don't have anything to provide to you from the Department of Defense standpoint at this point, other than, again, Secretary Austin made very clear in his phone call with Minister Gallant that we expect to see, you know, concrete actions to be taken to prevent another strike like that from happening in the future. Tom?

Q:  Thanks, General.  Was — was General Kurilla in the — Israel today?

GEN. RYDER:  Is General Kurilla in Israel?  Yes, General Kurilla is in Israel.  He's, as I understand it, traveling throughout the region.  So certainly would refer you to CENTCOM for some more info on that.

Q:  If — if Iran is to strike target inside Israel and the — would the — you know, we talked a lot about — you've talked a lot about the ironclad, you know, commitment to Israel.  Would the Pentagon be obliged to — to join in to respond?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.  You know, again, I highlighted our ironclad commitment to Israel's security.

Q:  And then on a different topic, Monday's the anniversary of the start of the Sudan civil war.  Do you have any observations on that conflict?  And do you have any — excuse me — assessments of whether — Iran's role in it?

GEN. RYDER:  I really don't.  Again, I will take that question for you cause I know you had a question on that. Let me go to Ann and then I'll come to Tony.

Q:  So on JLOTS, there are a lot of aid trucks being allowed into Gaza.  Is there any point where JLOTS would not be deployed because you feel like the ground routes are sufficient? And then I just want to try again — if there is an attack on Israel from Iran, can we expect a U.S. military response?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, not going to get into hypotheticals, Ann.  I've underscored our commitment to Israel's security. In terms of would JLOTS still be needed if there's increased aid on the ground, at this point, we have a mission, we have a task that we've been assigned, which is to implement JLOTS to help increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  And so we're going to continue to stay focused on executing that mission, and we'll keep you updated if anything changes.

Q:  ... there's no point at which you have to commit to actually building it?  As — as — as far as you know, it's — it's a clear timeline, you're — you're just moving ahead?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, we obviously — as I mentioned, we have a timeline that we've set.  As in any operation, particularly one that's going to be conducted in a combat zone, there are variables which could affect that timeline.  But as of — as of right now, as I mentioned to Lita, we are on course to go operational at the end of the month, early May.  So we'll keep you posted.

Q:  Thank you, General.  You said that you're not going to speculate on anything when it comes to the U.S. response to possible Iranian attacks inside the — Israel.  One U.S. senator suggested today that there'd be joint U.S.-Israeli strikes against Iran if there were such attacks against Israel.  Are you ruling out anything at this point?  I know you're not speculating but is — is — is a joint U.S.-Israel strike ruled out in this department?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, look, from the very beginning of this conflict, the Department of Defense established two key objectives, you know, among the four, which I've discussed before.  But two of those objectives have been to protect our forces and our citizens in the region, as well as support Israel's inherent right to self-defense.  And so that hasn't changed. And so as we monitor potential threats and as we, you know, do, we'll continue to take appropriate steps, to include any necessary force protection measures if our forces are threatened, but when it comes to, you know, speculating on when and if Iran may attack Israel, again, I'm just not going to get into speculating or discuss intelligence.  And again, I'll just underscore what I said, that our commitment to Israel's security is ironclad.

Q:  And one quick follow-up if I may — if Iran attacked Israel, would that be considered an escalation or retaliation by the DOD?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. Let me go to the phones here.  Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Q:  Thank you.  The Navy released a picture today — this week showing an O-5 firing weapon with the optic backwards.  Is DOD considering ordering sailors to go through any kind of training on the fundamentals of firearms and small arms in the wake of this?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Jeff.  I'd have to refer you to the Navy for any questions regarding training.  Thank you. Let me go to Jared, Al-Monitor.

Q:  Hey, Pat.  My question's been asked but I might try it a different way, I guess.  Following the Secretary's call for — with — with Defense Minister Gallant, you know, the U.S. committed to Israel's security.  Part of that is reestablishing deterrence, if that need be done.  But how confident is the Secretary that Israel's also committed to the security of U.S. forces in the region amidst its activities around that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, the Secretary's very confident of Israel's commitment to the security of U.S. forces.  I mean, as you know, Jared, we have a longstanding security cooperation relationship with Israel to address, you know, multiple threats throughout the region, with the primary aim being regional security and stability.  And so I'll just leave it there. All right, let me go to a couple of other folks here.  Tony?

Q:  I'll just go to Ukraine for a second here.  General Cavoli, in the last couple of days, has painted a very bleak picture of Ukraine's chances for success if the supplemental doesn't pass.  I want to go back to the arcane issue of a Plan B, the $4 billion that the Pentagon has an authority to tap into a — a reservoir — reserves but you don't have the money to replenish yet.  Is there any talk now of just taking that risk and starting to use that $4 billion on the assumption at some point you will get replenishment dollars since it's looking dire for Ukraine and that the House is not moving on its supplemental.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks, Tony.  I certainly don't have anything to announce in terms of taking an approach like that.  I think you know, we've been pretty clear as recently as this week when the secretary was testifying on the Hill to the SASC about how critical it is that the Supplemental be passed so that we can ensure Ukraine has the volume of security assistance support that it needs in order to continue their fight for freedom against Russia.

Q:  Well I need to push back.  I mean you have a 800 billion-dollar organization — department here Is there any discussion though in terms of we — I think we need to push for this $4 billion, any signals at all, any meetings discussing that kind of a plan B?

GEN. RYDER:  Again right now the primary emphasis is on working with Congress to get the Supplemental passed.  That is the most urgent need.  That is the most realistic way to ensure that Ukraine has the support that they need and for the fight that they're in.  So you know, we're always going to continue to consult closely with Congress, and our allies, and our partners, because again it's important to remember that it's not just the United States that's supporting Ukraine.  This is an international effort.  We are committed to working with and supporting Ukraine and their defense.  But as of right now again we're going to continue to stay focused on getting the Supplemental passed.

Q:  I think I'd like to get a call out when you do that detailed detailed readout can you discuss whether the F-15 sale that's hung up on the Hill right now was a topic of discussion that Minister Galant pushed for that or you know, if there was any discussion on the need for those planes?

GEN. RYDER:  Well take a look at the readout and then you know, we can follow up from there.  Thank you very much. Yes sir?

Q:  Thank you.  I have a couple on Ukraine.  We heard Dr. Wallander saying in Congress yesterday that the U.S. was concerned about Ukraine attacking Russian oil refineries because those were civilian targets.  Secretary Austin also said that Ukraine is better served in going after tactical and operational targets on the battlefield.  The same times NATO officials say that these strikes significantly undermined Russia's economy and its ability to fund the war.  So I have two questions here.  What is your assessment of the impact these strikes have on the dynamics of Russia's war against Ukraine? And secondly why does the Pentagon not consider oil refineries that are directly linked to Russia's ability to fund the war as legitimate strategic targets for Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Well I won't speak for Dr. Wallander.  And you know, obviously the secretary's words speak for themselves.  As Secretary Austin highlighted, you know, our focus is on supporting Ukraine and its ability to defend its sovereign territory.  And so when it comes to the situation at hand, on the battlefield you know, we continue to think and support Ukraine's efforts to take back sovereign territory, and defend territory from further Russian aggression.  I'll just leave it there.

Q:  Do you have any assessment of the impact these strikes have on the situation with the war?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't. Yes sir?

Q:  Thank you, general.  Are you taking precautions against any attacks by Iran or process? I mean do you expect attacks on your assets in the region?

GEN. RYDER:  As I mentioned again you know, as we always do and as we've been doing since Hamas's attack on October 7th, we are going to continue to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our Forces in the region.  For operation security and Force Protection reasons I won't go into those specifics other than to say you know, the safety and security of our Forces is always paramount.

Q:  And lastly sir, is the visit of CENTCOM Commander as a part of your coordination with Tel Aviv in case Israel is attacked.

GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry.  Can you say that again?

Q:  I mean the visit of CENTCOM Commander to Israel is a part of the coordination with Tel-Aviv is — if Israel is attacked?

GEN. RYDER:  As I understand it you know, due to recent developments, he moved up his trip to meet with key IDF leadership ,discuss the current security threats in the region but beyond that I'd refer you to CENTCOM. Yes ma'am?

Q: Thank you sir.  I wanted to ask about the AUKUS Trilateral Program and a little bit about the progress. Ms Singh reported earlier this week that the Advanced Capabilities Industry Forum would be launched later this month.  Can you speak a little bit more about that and kind of what's involved with launching that type of forum and what the Secretary hopes to see from that part of the AUKUS effort? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes sure.  You know, I'm going to be infinitely disappointing here.  And just say that we'll have much more to provide on that in the near future.  So just stay tuned and we'll get you more. Let me go to Oren then I'll go back to the phone here.

Q:  Actually my question was just asked.  I was going to ask whether General Kurilla's trip was rescheduled or a response to the Israeli attack?

GEN. RYDER:  And again my understanding was he had a scheduled trip to the — to Israel.  Again due to recent events moved it up.  Thanks. Let me go to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q:  Hi? Thanks for doing this.  Given the Iranian threat to Israel, do does the U.S. assess that there is any threat to U.S. Forces in the region? And have you taken any specific measures to ramp up Force Protection?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks Lara.  Again, as I mentioned earlier, from the very beginning of this conflict two of our key objectives have been to ensure the safety and security of U.S. Forces and citizens in the region, as well as supporting Israel's inherent right to self-defense.  And so as we monitor potential threats we're of course taking appropriate measures to include any necessary Force Protection measures.  But I won't go into those for OPSEC and Force Protection reasons. Let me go to Tara, AP?

Q:  Can I have — if I could ask that secondly since the World Central Kitchen strike there was the investigation that came out from the IDF, is the U.S, is the Pentagon satisfied with changes the IDF has made to its rules of engagement without talking about specific rules of engagement but are you satisfied with the changes the IDF has made in terms of — to the safety of aid workers?

GEN. RYDER:  You know, again, as I mentioned earlier, Lara, you know, the investigation that that Israel is doing and that the information that they've provided to us is still under review. So you know, again more to follow as the White House and NSC take the lead on that.  Secretary Austin in his phone call last week with Minister Galant did have the opportunity to talk about efforts that Israel is taking.  Of course you know, we're going to with withhold judgment until we learn more.  But we do expect them to take concrete steps to ensure that that kind of strike does not happen again. I'll come back in the room. Yes sir?

Q:  Thank you sir.  My question is that how important is these two big visits to Washington? Japanese Prime Minister and Philippines President, as far as China's threat is growing in the region, including Chinese president said that his goal is to take over Taiwan.  Or one day someday he will — they will attack Taiwan.  My question is that as far as U.S. National Security concern, so where do we stand, how U.S. will act or react as far as these activities in the region by Chinese threats?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, sure.  Well, you know, thank you.  As I highlighted at the top, these visits this week are very important, because again, they demonstrate the strengthening of our alliances with two very important allies, Japan and the Philippines. And when it comes to the situation in the Indo-Pacific, it's important again to underscore that our focus is on a free and open, secure and stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific and working with like-minded partners to ensure that it stays that way and that the sovereignty of countries is respected, and that the international rules based order is taken into account. And so, that's really our focus is on — on working together to ensure regional security and stability.  And if there are countries out there that have a different view, that use coercion and aggression, we certainly want to work together to deter and prevent those kinds of activities from impeding or in — on individual nations' sovereignty.

Q:  Sorry, just to — to include, where would you put India in these situations in the region, because India is also concerned as far as Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean a concern?

GEN. RYDER:  Of course.  I mean as we've talked about before, India is a very important partner of the United States and the relationship between the US and India continues to grow.  And we look very forward to continuing to work with India towards our shared values in the region of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

GEN. RYDER:  I skipped over Tara here real quick.  Tara, did you have a question or are you good to go?

Q:  I did.  Thank you for remembering me.  I wanted to talk to Haiti.  What is the Pentagon assessing right now with the ground situation in Haiti?  And is there any movement of sending additional forces there for any sort of protection?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Tara.  No announcements to make right now regarding any additional forces — US Military Forces to Haiti.  You know, again, as we previously announced, maintaining a — a small contingent for embassy security at the moment. You know, and again, in terms of the situation on the ground there.  You know, you're reading the news just like I am in terms of the — the impact that gangs are having and the high levels of crime and of course, remains a very serious situation in Haiti, something that our State Department, I know, is following very closely, as are we, but I have no further announcements at this point. Fadi. 

Q:  So, since the beginning of the war in Gaza, the — the Department and the Secretary were very clear that they don't want to see this conflict spread.  And — and actions were taken to make sure that doesn't happen.  How do you assess the — that impact of the strike in Damascus on — on the security in the region? And do you see any risks in this instance, by supporting and defending Israel that the US might be sending the wrong message that diplomatic installations are a legitimate target?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so in terms of the strike in Damascus, I'll let Israel speak for themselves.  You know, and when it comes to preventing a wider regional conflict, you know, so far, there is not.  We certainly hope that doesn't happen.  As I mentioned earlier, since the very beginning of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, we have been working very hard to prevent a wider regional conflict from happening, and those efforts continue. Thank you.

Q:  Yes, I have follow up to what Tony asked…we know that Russia destroyed one of the biggest power plants near Kiev and Ukraine said that it was possible partially because they're running out of critical air defense munitions, so is there anything that the US can possibly do to — alone or maybe together with the help of the allies to get Ukraine what it needs now, air defense munitions, as we are waiting for the Congress to act?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, and we've been doing it.  You know, certainly the most important thing we can do is get the supplemental passed.  But that doesn't mean that the Department and the US government is you know, not doing anything. As you know, we continue to consult closely with our international allies and partners and with Ukraine on the importance of providing very important capabilities to include air defense to Ukraine, so we'll continue to consult with our coalition around the world to ensure and see what we can get for Ukraine on that front. But again, the most important thing we can do right now, from a US national security standpoint is pass the supplemental.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.