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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, just a few things.

First of all, happy Passover to those of you who celebrate.

Secretary — switching gears here, Secretary Austin, as you know, lauded the passage of the National Security Supplemental by the House of Representatives on Saturday.  He issued a statement, which we have posted to the DOD website, underscoring how the legislation will make America more secure and save lives.  We, of course, remain hopeful for a good passage by the Senate and subsequent signing into law.

Separately, as I mentioned last week, Secretary Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will host the Ukraine Defense Contact Group virtually on Friday of this week.  This will be the 21st Contact Group meeting since the first session exactly two years ago.  And I would say that it's notable that despite Russia's assumptions that the international community would fragment and lose interest in super — supporting Ukraine over time, the opposite has been true, and some of and the some-50 nations of the UDCG have remained unified and resolute in our support for the Ukraine, plus you've seen the NATO alliance reflect the defense expand, underscoring international consensus that Ukraine's security matters to the security of all of our nations.  For planning purposes, there will be a joint press conference afterwards, so we'll keep you updated on that.

Also, just a quick update on Niger.  We can confirm the beginning of discussions between the U.S. and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.  The department is providing a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command to participate in the discussions.  In terms of departure timing, we're not going to speculate and get ahead of discussions, so we'll keep you updated on additional details as we have them to provide.

And finally, today is also Earth Day, and DOD has announced the Secretary of Defense Environmental Award winners for 2024.  The awards recognize installations, teams and individuals for their exceptional achievements and effective environmental management strategies that enhance installation resilience and mission readiness.  We've posted a release on the DOD website with the list of winners, and want to congratulate all of them for their notable achievement in this accomplishment.

And with that, I'll take your questions.  Lita?

Q:  Has there been any change at all to the troop levels in Niger at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  No, no.

Q:  Okay.  And do you expect a PDA this week?

GEN. RYDER:  We, you know, first step in the process is getting the National Security Supplemental signed into law.  As I mentioned last week, we are poised and ready to support Ukraine with additional security assistance, and also, of course, again, we're eager to see that be signed into law.  I don't have any specifics to provide right now in terms of timing, other than to say, again, we recognize Ukraine has urgent needs.  We've been in constant contact throughout with Ukraine, our allies and partners on what those needs are, and so we'll certainly keep you updated.


Q:  On the reports of attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, can you confirm that there was an attack at al-Asad?  And then was there an attack at Rumalyn?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, on Rumalyn, what I can tell you is that yesterday, a coalition fighter destroyed a launcher in self-defense after reports of a failed rocket attack near the coalition base at Rumalyn in Syria.  No U.S. personnel were injured.  For any other details, I'd refer you to CENTCOM.

On al-Asad, I've seen those reports.  I know CENTCOM's looking into them.  No indication whether or not, you know, those were targeting al-Asad based on the reports.  But again, we'll have more to follow.

Q:  So Rumalyn, so is this the first attack on a U.S. base since February 4th?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, CENTCOM's looking into that, so I would refer you to them.  Thanks.

Q:  So just to clarify on Niger, so the discussions have started, or they're — or just somebody has been — a team has been dispatched to begin the discussions?

GEN. RYDER:  Discussions have begun.

Q:  Okay.  And then can you provide any details on the Israeli attack on Iran last week?  And did the U.S. play any type of role on that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I don't have anything on that.

Q:  Yes, thank you.  So what is your understanding of the situation in Iraq and Syria after Rumalyn?  And I understand that initially there was a report that K.H. issued a statement announcing the resumption of attacks on U.S. forces.  Later that day — I believe it was yesterday — they denied issuing any statement.  So what is your assessment of the situation?  Are these, like, just one-off, you know, incidents, or do you have indication that U.S. forces will be under attack again?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I — honestly, Fadi, what I've provided is what I have, so I know CENTCOM's looking into those, you know.  Once we have more to provide, we will, but whatever (inaudible) the facts as I know them right now.

Q:  Okay.  On a separate topic, the reports about anticipated U.S. sanctions on the Israeli unit Netzah Yehuda in the West Bank, I know that I haven't — you know, have been — you have — but was there any training or involvement of DOD in the activity of this unit prior to this anticipated announcement?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have an answer to that question.  You know, as it relates to the unit and what State Department has said in terms of potential sanctions, I'd have to refer you to them.

GEN. RYDER:  We can take the —

Q:  Can you take the question, see if there was any relationship with this unit?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure, yeah, absolutely.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.  Just to clarify on Niger, are — is — has there been agreement reached that U.S. troops will all leave?  Or is that up for discussion?

GEN. RYDER:  No, it's like I highlighted, that we can confirm the beginning of discussions for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces.  So again, more to follow; can't get ahead of those discussions at this point.

Q:  Has DOD been told to withdraw troops?

GEN. RYDER:  What I can say is that we can confirm the beginning of discussions, so — for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces.  So I'm not going to speak from here.

Q:  So it's just — it's just very vague, and I just really would like to get some clarity on what that means.

GEN. RYDER:  Okay, yeah.  Definitely will have more to follow.  Obviously, that's kind of where we're at right now.

Q:  Yeah.  Any update on the JLOTS — do you have any idea if the Israeli side would have a role in controlling the project?  When are we going to see the project done?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah.  So again, with the caveat we'll have much more to follow in the — in the days ahead here, you know, relatively soon, we continue to assess that — that JLOTS will become operational by the end of this month, or early May.  In terms of security, as I've highlighted before, Israel has agreed to provide security on the ground in Gaza.  Again, we'll have much more to provide on that.

But now, when you said Israel will control, I mean, this is a U.S. military capability in terms of the causeway and the temporary pier that will be offshore and managing that.  So the U.S. military will be managing the JLOTS system.

Q:  Without any Israeli footprint or cooperation?

GEN. RYDER:  In terms of management.  I mean, it's a U.S. military capability.  I mean, certainly, the Israelis, as I highlighted, will be supporting with —

Q:  On shore?

GEN. RYDER:  — on shore in terms of security, and as you know — and we'll have more to follow.  We'll — we've made progress in terms of NGOs and working on the aid distribution portion.  But again, I'm not going to get ahead of that.  We'll have more in the coming days.

All right, let me go to Missy and then I'll come to (inaudible).

Q:  Okay, just a quick follow-up to Fadi's question and then Joe's question.  On the — regarding the JLOTS, can you tell us, are the ships now in the Med?  Are they still in transit or are they up in assembly)?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I don't —

Q:  …in initial assembly phases somewhere?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't — I don't have a breakdown individually of ships.  As I understand it, there are ships with JLOTS materials in theater standing by to begin construction.  Again, I'll have more for you here in relatively near future.  So, all the pieces and parts are nearly in place to begin the actual construction of the pier, but again —

Q:  In theater would be in the Med, you mean?

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  Okay, and then a follow-up on Fadi's question regarding if just to add to the taken question, if possible.  So, you know, I know that State Department is — has the lead on the Leahy designation.  But there is — because there is a DOD Leahy law, could you tell us whether or not there's any DOD participation in the evaluation of whether or not this — does that include our other units would meet thegross violation determination?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, well, we'll take that and add it to Fadi's question.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Go ahead, Bill.

Q:  A quick follow up on the pier, first of all.  You said the Israelis are providing security.  Who's going to be doing the anchoring, like when the pier has to be anchored to the beach, you know, or the shore, who's going to be doing that part?  Is that the Israelis?  And are you training the Israelis on how to carry out that part of the operation that was normally done by U.S. personnel?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so to make sure that we get you the most accurate information possible, what I don't want to do here is give a JLOTS operational briefing, other than to say, again, we are working with the Israelis.  They will help play a role in terms of the security on the beach.

We continue to conduct the planning with partners in the region in terms of, to your point, when the causeway is put onto the beach there will be no U.S. forces on the ground to receive the end of the causeway and to anchor it into the ground.  So again, we'll have much more for you on that from here in the very near future.

Q:  And then on — in Niger, you said, you know, when you were reading that, I know you have to keep close to the talking point on this one for now, but do you say —

GEN. RYDER:  They're all in my words.

Q:  — withdrawal.  Well, then great.  You said withdrawal, do you mean departure or withdrawal — are those two words interchangeable?

GEN. RYDER:  Interchangeable.

Q:  Okay.  Just doing the follow-up.  So, you've had 24 hours since the attack in Syria.  How come you can't say it — that this was the first attack in a few months since — the Iraqis have come up specific numbers?

GEN. RYDER:  Because the question specifically is, is it targeting U.S. forces.  And as I understand it, in this particular case, you had a truck with rockets on it that was shooting rockets all over the place, some type of malfunction, failed rocket attack.  And a coalition and aircraft took it out.

So, you know, initial reports in all that, CENTCOM's going back and looking at this like what was this.  What were they intending to do.  And I just don't want to definitively say one way or another and make something up and give them the benefit of their analysis to provide you.

Q:   How close was the closest rocket to the base?

GEN. RYDER:  And again, I'd have to —

Q:  General, was the truck inside Syria or Iraq?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have that in front of me.

Q:  Okay.

Q:  Thanks.  Has the government of Chad given the U.S. a formal eviction notice, saying that, you know, hey, you must — your troops must leave this country?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Jeff.  So, I'd refer to you State Department or the specifics.  To my understanding that is not the case.  There's discussions with Chad on — in terms of the SOFA.  But again, that's a question for State Department to —

Q:  Is the DOD concerned at all that this coming after Niger shows that the U.S. military's presence in Africa is sign — significantly diminishing?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, a couple things.  So first of all, you know, at this time, to my knowledge, U.S. forces have not been asked to leave Chad, so don't want to get ahead of that.

Second of all, you know, taking a step back here and looking at U.S. force presence in Africa, when it comes to counter-terrorism, we are going to continue to take counter-terror the terrorist threat seriously, and we're going to continue to work with partners throughout Africa on that front.  You know, certainly, when it comes to places like Niger, we want to work with reliable partners to address the threat that affects countries and — and citizens all throughout the region, and so we'll continue to work toward that.  We'll continue to explore options to ensure that we can continue to conduct the kinds of counter-terrorism, advising, assisting and operations that we need to, so —

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  On Niger, can you speak at all to how much of a mission impact this withdrawal will have?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, as I just mentioned, if you look at the forest through the trees here, you know, obviously, there is a significant counter-terrorism consideration here throughout Western Africa, and it's something that we continue to work very hard on.  So don't want to get ahead of the process here.  We're in those discussions, but at the same time, we'll also continue to explore options on how we can ensure that we're able to continue to address potential counter — or potential terrorist threats.

Q:  And just to follow up on that, has there been any conversation in terms of what's going to happen to the two bases in Niger if we withdraw?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, let's let these discussions take place, and we'll have more to follow.

Q:  Two follow-up questions.  You said on Chad that there were discussions regarding U.S. force presence.  Is that solely with State, or is DOD also involved?

GEN. RYDER:  State Department's got the lead  as I understand, so I’ll have to refer you to them.

Q:  And then also on exploring options for what the U.S. counter-terrorism mission could look like after a withdrawal occurs in Niger, what are those options?  Could you go into that for us?

GEN. RYDER:  I really can't today, other than, again, you know, we obviously, this is something we've been looking at for a while, and as we have updates to provide, we will, so —

Q:  Just to follow up on what you said about JLOTS, you said you have ships with JLOTS material in theater standing by.  Is there some kind of holdup that they can't start initiating — they can't initiate the construction?

GEN. RYDER:  No, I mean, you need to think of it like a checklist, right?  So you're going to go in and you're going to set conditions to make sure that when you start to put this together, you have all the conditions right.  It's sort of like when you've got your Lego set, you're not going to go to page five and start building that page.  You know, you're going to start on page one, and you're going to go through the process in the right order so that when you implement it, all the things that need to be in place, to include security, distribution networks, all the agreements, everything's — you know, the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.  So I mean, this is, again, something that CENTCOM is working with JLOTS and all of the myriad partners involved to make sure that it's all done in the most effective and efficient way.

Q:  So those agreements are not set in stone yet?  Is that what you're saying?  And that's why they're standing by?

GEN. RYDER:  We are — we're going through the checklist and — and implementing it in order, and as I mentioned earlier, we're making progress on that front.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  I — could I just clarify something on the fighter timeline and that rocket — whatever was happening — attack?  Did this — was this fighter up, and then responded to these rockets being fired?  Or was this — did these rockets fire, and then you guys took it out?  Because in the past, there's been —the dynamic —

GEN. RYDER:  — for that level of detail, I’d have to refer you to State.

Q:  Well, I mean, was this in a response to it or was this event happening and then the fighter happened?  Because it's been — or when they —

GEN. RYDER:  Well, they clearly detected it, and so, took it out in self-defense.  But, you know, again, I'd refer to you them for the timeline.

Q:  All right.

GEN. RYDER:  Anyone else?

Q:  Yes.  Yes, I have a request and a follow-up.  Can we get a briefing on the JLOT technology in more details on the capacity and exactly what they will be doing and how it's going to be set up and the whole operation specifically for that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Fadi.  Again, I'll take that request, and as I highlighted, I mean, we'll have much more information —

Q:  Yes.  Yes.

GEN. RYDER:  — to provide here in the days ahead.

Q:  And then on Niger, is — what is the thinking in the department?  Are you looking for redeploying that force?  And by the way, how many — what is the size of the force right now in Niger?  That you're looking to redeploy it somewhere in West Africa or take it out of the continent?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so right now, as you know, we have approximately 1,100 U.S. forces in Niger.  Again, don't want to get ahead of the process other than to say we'll continue to explore options to address the terrorist threat as it relates to Nisahal in Western Africa and working with regional partners to help address that threat.  So, don't have any additional, things to announce on that front, but we'll keep you updated.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  All right — all right, thanks very much everybody.  Appreciate it.