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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Good afternoon, everyone, and Happy Passover to those who celebrate, and I have a few items to pass along at the top, and then we'll take your questions.

As you saw over the weekend, Secretary Austin welcomed the passage of the National Security Supplemental by the House of Representatives on Saturday, which will help the Department of Defense support Ukraine and Israel, bolster security in the Indo-Pacific and stand firm with our allies and partners around the world. In his statement, he highlighted that the bipartisan legislation will allow the department to surge life-saving security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia's aggression, support Israel's defense from Iran and its proxies and increase the flow of urgently-needed humanitarian aid to suffering Palestinian civilians in Gaza. We remain hopeful for quick passage by the Senate and subsequent signing into law by the president.

Separately, Secretary Austin spoke today by phone with the Greek Minister of Defense Nikos Dendias and U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Grant Shapps and separate calls to discuss a variety of topics concerning mutual security interests. Full readouts will be posted on later today. 

Additionally, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Lisa Sawyer and State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense for the Slovak Republic Igor Melicher cochaired the U.S.-Slovakia High-Level Defense Group today at the Slovak Ministry of Defense in Bratislava, Slovakia. Participants discussed a range of issues related to the global security environment and shared their commitment to strengthening the NATO alliance ahead of the 75th Anniversary NATO Summit July 9 through 11 in Washington, D.C. A full readout has been posted to the DOD website.

Switching gears, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force Africa, along with the Zambian Army, are cohosting the African Land Forces Summit 2024 April 22 through 26 in Livingstone, Zambia. The summit brings together over 40 land force military chiefs from across Africa, other European partner nations, along with academic thought leaders and government officials for candid dialogue to discuss and develop cooperative solution. The theme for this year's summit is “Regional Solutions to Transnational Problems.” At the conclusion of the summit, DOD will sign the two newest state partnership programs between North Carolina, Zambia and Malawi. For more information, I would refer you to AFRICOM Public Affairs. 

Finally, on April 22, Iran malign militia groups conducted two unsuccessful attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. These are the first attacks on coalition facilities since February 4th. These attacks put coalition and Iraqi personnel at risk. We call on the government of Iraq to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria against attacks from these groups. If these attacks continue, we will not hesitate to defend our forces, as we have done in the past. 

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. We'll go to Lita Baldor, A.P.

Q: Thank you, Pat. Two questions. One, can you give us an idea how quickly the U.S. will be able to get any of the military aid to Ukraine once this bill makes -- it's -- it's clearly on its path, and the president is expected to sign it. There have been concerns expressed by Ukrainian forces that even if it's approved now, it's going to take a really long time to get there. Can you give an estimate how quickly some aid can get there? And then I have a separate question.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I mean, in general terms, I would say that we would expect to be able to deliver aid within days. You know, of course, and I will caveat this by saying I don't have anything to announce right now in terms of what that aid could look like. You know, we need to have a law first. But depending on what that aid is -- and as you've seen in the past, we provide a variety of aid -- you know, anticipating this, we're doing everything we can to lean forward to be able to provide additional security assistance to Ukraine as quickly as possible.

So much more to follow in the days ahead, but needless to say we understand the importance and the urgency and are doing everything we can to be poised to respond quickly.

Q: And then just on the pier and causeway, can you say whether or not the U.S. military has done any construction or any development at all yet, or is it still sort of waiting for the final security aid, et cetera ... 


Q: ... to get worked out?

GEN. RYDER: So as I understand it, as of right now, there has been no physical construction of the temporary pier or the causeway. As we've discussed, you know, there is a -- for lack of a better term, sort of a checklist that one is going to follow in order to implement this capability.

And as Central Command and U.S. Army Central goes through that checklist, we are positioned to begin construction very soon, in the very near future, but you want to do those steps in order so that by the time you are erecting this causeway and temporary pier, that all of the pieces are in place and that you can begin operating.

So we're still, based on all indications, on track to see an operating capability by the end of this month or early May, and we'll keep you updated on that.


Q: General Ryder, would the U.S. military like to stay in Niger and keep its base in Niger? And what are the implications if it is forced to pull out?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I mean, what I would say is that we can confirm that discussions have begun between the United States and Niger for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. In the near future, the Department of Defense will provide a small delegation from the Pentagon and U.S. Africa Command to participate in those discussions.

So, you know, I'll leave it there for now. I don't want to get ahead of those discussions. You know, clearly, when it comes to Western Africa and the Sahel, we are going to continue to monitor for potential threats throughout that region in order to protect U.S. personnel, assets, and our interests, to include the welfare of our partners, and we're going to continue to work with countries throughout the region when it comes to addressing terrorism threats throughout the region.

Q: And you believe that Russia and the Wagner Group had an influence on the Nigerien government in deciding to ask the U.S. military to leave?

GEN. RYDER: I really think that's a question that Niger has to address. Again, you know, we're having these discussions right now with our Nigerien counterparts, and we'll definitely keep you updated. Thank you.


Q: Thank you, General. Two questions. The United States and South Korea defense cost-sharing negotiation meeting is currently being held in Hawaii. How do you view the possibility of changing cost-sharing?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I appreciate the question, Janne. I don't have any updates on that. Now, certainly we'll need to let that meeting take its course, but as we have more to provide, we'll certainly get that for you.

Q: But there is a presidential election year this year. Will the cost-sharing matter be done in this year or ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I just don't have any information on that.

Q: One more -- one more quick question on North Korea. Last weekend, North Korea launched several ballistic missiles, and Kim Jong-un declared that this was a tactical nuclear and nuclear counterattack exercises. What is the Pentagon's position on this?

GEN. RYDER: Well, as you know, we continue to consult closely with our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan when it comes to regional security and stability issues, to include, you know, claims by North Korea to that effect. And so we'll continue to work together and closely on those issues as we support each other to deter potential conflict and threats to the region.

Let me go to Natasha.

Q: Thanks, Pat. Just a clarifying question on the pier -- so are all of the necessary vessels to construct the pier and causeway already in theater, or are we still waiting for some of them to transit the Atlantic and get there before they can start construction? And if they're all there, are they just all on standby at this point, just waiting to begin construction?

GEN. RYDER: As I understand it, all the necessary vessels are within the Mediterranean region and standing by, as I mentioned, to begin construction when given the order to do that. Again, you know, there is a process and procedure that will have to be followed.

And as we've gone through and our planners have worked through the details of all the things one would expect, to include security on the ground, coordination with partners that will be supporting this effort, to include NGOs, working with USAID, there's a very specific process and timeline that needs to be implemented. And so again, as I understand it, we're on track at this point to implement that.

Q: ... one follow-up on the pier also. So when the aid is loaded from Cyprus and it goes to the pier, is it going to be the U.S. military exclusively transporting that aid from Cyprus to pier, or is it also going to be commercial vessels?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So as I understand it, what the capability allows us to do is you have the temporary pier, which is of course several miles off-shore, which can receive both military and civilian vessels, but then it's transloaded onto the pier, put onto military vessels, logistics support vessels which are U.S. military. Those are the vessels that will then take the aid to the causeway, where it's then loaded onto non-military trucks, you know, driven by NGOs that will then take the aid off the causeway into an assembly area and then for further distribution throughout Gaza.

Q: So the U.S. military will not be driving those trucks on the ... 

GEN. RYDER: It is my -- as I understand it, that is correct. Yeah.

All right, let me go to the phone here real quick. Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg?

Q: Hi, Pat. On Ukraine and an upcoming PDA, what gives you confidence that the DOD is going to be able to move within days to get all this equipment and get it transported and in transit to Ukraine? Is it because of the basing structure already in place? And has DOD kind of ear-marked a shopping list of items that you're ready to pull the trigger on once the President signs the legislation?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. Well, as you know, as you've been following, thanks to organizations like the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine and plus our efforts with international allies and partners, we have created a very robust logistics network to enable the delivery of aid into Ukraine.

So again, you know, more to follow in terms of what the specific security assistance will entail, but there are, you know, certain things that of course we can work to have get there faster. And so again, we're going to do everything we can to lean forward, employ that robust logistics network capability, employ the relationships that we've built with our international allies and partners, to get aid there quickly.

Q: Okay, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Let me go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. I'm seeing media reports that the next military assistance package to Ukraine, once the president signs it, will be $1 billion. Now, the Senate has passed cloture on this, so now it's just waiting an up or down vote. Is DOD at the point where it can publicly confirm the $1 billion figure? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. I've seen those press reports. I don't have anything to provide at this time, and of course, I'm not going to get ahead of the process. As you highlight, we first need the Senate to vote, and then Congress to send the national security supplemental bill to the president to be signed into law. 

And so, once he signs that, we'll be in a better position to discuss any potential security assistance packages, to include the details of what would be in that package. Thank you. Come back into the room here. 

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. State Department has actually published the annual country report on human rights practices. And in that report there was the section for Israel, focusing on the Gaza war, and the casualty amongst the civilians, journalists and international human rights workers.

Is there any new precautions that the Pentagon will take against the Israeli army or about the arms support that you are providing to Israel in this framework? Any restrictions? Future restrictions?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks. I don't have anything to announce today other than, again, we continue to discuss the importance of civilian safety and the importance of delivering humanitarian assistance to those in need within Gaza with our Israeli counterparts on nearly every single conversation that we have. And we'll continue to have those conversations. 

Let me go to Missy and then -- sorry.

Q: Is it still true that the DOD has not received a plan from the Israelis for their evacuation of civilians from Rafah or the military operation that they're going to do? Because now there's been some reports, like, from the AP and others, showing that tent cities being built up around Khan Yunis, suggesting that they're beginning the evacuation plan. Have you guys gotten any more clear information from the Israelis on that?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So, you know, with the caveat that I'd refer you to the IDF to speak specifically to their operations. I can tell you that coming out of the recent meeting that was hosted by the White House, the U.S. and Israel have agreed on the shared objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah. They shared their thinking, we've shared ours. 

But in terms of what their plan looks like, we still have some concerns in terms of the various courses of actions. And so, we'll continue to discuss those concerns related to how they're going to take into account civilian safety and humanitarian assistance. No indications at this point that any type of major ground operation has begun. 

And so, again, those conversations will continue to be very important, and it will also continue to be something that we feel is essential. That before any type of operation that they're taking civilian safety and humanitarian considerations.

Q: They did share a plan in a way that they hadn't previously as part of that discussion?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I'm not aware at this point of any detailed Rafah plan, executable, credible plan that's been shared with us. But I know those conversations continue.

Q: So, no plan either for the evacuation of the civilians for Rafah or the military aspect of that operation?

GEN. RYDER: As I understand it, no plan that goes into the level of detail that would mitigate our concerns at this point. Thank you. Carla?

Q: Thanks. On Niger, now that the Nigeriens have told the United States that they intend for the U.S. to withdraw, where are these soldiers going to go? Where are these U.S. service members going to go? Is the intent that they'll stay in Africa? I know that you're at the initial planning stages, but does the Pentagon intend for them to stay on the continent?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, Carla, I don't have anything for you at this stage. Again, we're beginning these discussions. As I highlighted, there is a terrorist threat that exists within the continent of Africa and certainly in the Sahel region and West Africa. 

And so, as we step back and AFRICOM looks at that threat, we'll continue to work with regional partners to address how best to ensure that we can continue to do the kinds of things we do to not only protect our national interests, but also look at the collective security of regional partners in Africa. So, more to follow when we have it. But right now, I don't have an answer to that.

Q: If I may. How? How will you do that? Because there's -- there are no bases in West Africa. How can the counterterror mission continue?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I mean, certainly Africa is a big place, right? And we're going to work with African partner nations to continue to assess force posture options in Africa. You know, look, at the end of the day, you've seen us be able to conduct counterterrorism operations in multiple different ways, using a variety of capabilities. 

I'm not going to go into the specifics of those, but when you look at the potential threat that groups like ISIS or Al-Shabab present, we're going to continue to work with partners in the region that recognize those being threats, not only to their people, but regionally and globally, to address that. Thank you. 

Let me go back to the phone here real quick. Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hey, Pat, my question has actually been answered. Thank you so much.

Q: General. I was actually going to ask if you could confirm that the DOD is not against Hamas militarily in Rafah. But you already have. So, my question is going to be, this administration has made it crystal clear that a major military operation in Rafah could have terrible consequences for all those (inaudible) of 1.5 million. Is that going to stand still in regards of whether there's a proper military action plan, or are you under any circumstance against a major military operation in Rafah?

GEN. RYDER: Well, what we're against is a major military operation where civilian safety and humanitarian assistance isn't taken into account. Right? We agree, and we understand the need for Israel to defeat Hamas to prevent the kinds of attacks that they conducted on October 7. 

And so, we again believe that there are ways to address that threat while at the same time taking into account the significant civilian impact that such an operation could have. And that includes making sure the humanitarian assistance considerations are taken into account, civilian safety considerations are taken into account. And so, those conversations continue with our Israeli partners, and we'll continue to make those points.

Q: …those concerns are heeded. Those suggestions are heeded by the Israeli government, the Israeli military. That could be a guide from the DOD extent point of view for the major military operations.

GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, that's really a question for Israel to address. Again, I think we've made our points, we'll continue to make those points. At the end of the day, what we don't want to see is more suffering among the people of Gaza, who have been caught in the crossfire, in this fight with Hamas. So, thank you. 

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. As you pointed out, among militia groups in Iraq conducting an attack on U.S. personnel, the attack happened sometime after the Iraqi prime minister returned from (inaudible) to Baghdad. Do you think the Iraqi government has a power or has a willingness to reign in these groups?

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, Iraq is an important partner, and we very much value their contributions to addressing regional threats. You know, I'm not going to speak for the Iraqi government, and I'll just leave my words where I -- where I left them. Thank you. 


Q: Thanks, Pat. I wanted to follow up on Natasha's question about the aid going from Cyprus to the Pier. The first link from Cyprus where it'll be screened before put on the ship, it'll be on U.S. military ships going from -- this is a question. Will it be on U..S military ships going from Cyprus to the Pier, or there'll be civilian ships as well?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, as I understand it, the Pier, that the floating temporary Pier will be able to receive both civilian and military vessels that can unload. Right? So.

Q: OK, thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Right. OK, let me just do a couple more from the phone here. JJ Green, WTOP.

Q: General, thanks for doing this. Question regarding Ukraine. Are you able to say at all anything about what the supplemental is going to give them in terms of equipment, weapons, etcetera, and how significant will this be for them in this fight that they're facing now?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, JJ. Again, as I highlighted, I'm not able to go into specifics or preview anything at this time until after we're in a situation where the supplemental is signed into law and the president has authorized a drawdown. I will say again, that this security assistance package will be based on Ukraine's most urgent needs. 

Again, without getting into details, I think it's a good assumption to expect that it'll include air defense capabilities as well as artillery, ammunition. But we're going to continue as we've done from the very beginning to stay in close contact with Ukraine, with our international allies and partners, to ensure that we understand what they need the most right now, to be able to rush that to them. So, much more to follow.

Q: Thank you. I'm sorry. Just one quick clarification, Pat. I just want to make sure I got your sentence right. When John was asking about Niger, you said, discussions have begun for an orderly withdrawal. And you said sort of in the near future. Is it withdrawal in the near future, or in the near future you're --

GEN. RYDER: I said a delegation. Yes. In the near future.

Q: The delegation is what's in the near future?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: OK.

GEN. RYDER: That's correct. OK. Let me go to Jared, Al Monitor.

Q: Yes, hi, Pat. My question has been asked. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Time for just a couple more. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions, please. One, if department knew that last week, State Department's sanctions four companies in China and Belarus. They were supplying missile parts to Pakistan. And when was the department new, and how you think this will affect U.S.-Pakistan military to military relationship or whatever? Its missile parts?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm afraid I don't have any information to provide on that. You know, clearly, as you know, we maintain a good relationship with Pakistan. They're an important security partner in the region. And so, you know, we'll, again, continue to have those conversations and make sure that we can -- yeah. 

Q: Quick question. Thank you. As far as this aid to Taiwan is concerned from this package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, how do you think China will react because in the past, China have already threatened United States, if there is any aid to Taiwan, as well as military aid or any kind of aid that relations will affect? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Well, I'm not going to speculate or speak for the PRC when it comes to their behavior. Again, our focus is on working with like-minded partners throughout the region to ensure security, stability, and prosperity. Last question. Yes, sir? 

Q: How long will construction on the causeway take? 

GEN. RYDER: You will have much more for you here in the days ahead. But as I mentioned, right now, we're on track to see the temporary peer be operational either at the end of this month or in early May. 

So all right, Luis, you convinced me. Go ahead 

Q: Apologize for being almost the last one. You know, in following up on Natasha's question -- actually, I'm sorry, the Tony Capaccio question, the flow of weapons you described that there's a robust system in place to get assistance to Ukraine. In the past, as the United States used systems that were placed in Europe ahead of time, ahead of PDAs, and then they could get there quickly, is that something that potentially could be done here? In other words, to shorten the gap time between approval, delivery, things like that. 

GEN. RYDER: You know, without getting into specifics, we use a variety of means to get capabilities into Ukraine to include from preexisting storage facilities that are located and lots of different places to include Europe. So certainly, have many means at our disposal to be able to meet their security assistance requirements once approved. All right. Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.