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Senior Officials Hold a Background Briefing

STAFF: Great.  All right, everyone.  Thank you so much for joining us today.  Good afternoon.  Again, this is Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary.  I'll be facilitating today's background call.

As a reminder, today's call is on background.

I will call on as many reporters as possible — I know we have many questions — in the time that we have allotted. So we'll — we'll please ask that you keep your follow-ups to a minimum, and please keep your microphones on mute unless you're asking a question.

And with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Administration Official, followed by our Senior Military Official. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: OK, thank you.  The humanitarian situation in Gaza is incredibly dire, and the humanitarian community has been working relentlessly to surge assistance through all available means.

The entire population of Gaza, 2.2 million people is facing acute food insecurity, and more than half of the population in northern Gaza is facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity.  Nearly 30% of children in northern Gaza are showing signs of severe malnutrition.  And in southern Gaza, nearly a quarter of the population is facing this kind of catastrophic food insecurity.

These numbers will increase significantly in the coming months without urgent lifesaving interventions to combat malnutrition among the most vulnerable, particularly young children and their mothers.

We need nutritional therapies, clean water, support for healthcare in addition to food aid to come in and reach mothers and children, in addition to the broader community.  And support the measures needed to prevent this malnutrition in the first place.

The IPC has reported that the threat of famine is looming, particularly in northern Gaza.  And humanitarian aid workers have been working day and night to surge lifesaving food assistance, nutritional support, and the interventions that I just mentioned into Gaza to address these acute needs and prevent a further deterioration.

Because of this great need, and in particular the looming threat of famine in northern Gaza that the experts have warned us against, this is why USAID is working so closely with the Department of Defense to establish a maritime corridor.

The corridor is intended to be additive and augment, not replace overland delivery of humanitarian aid going into Gaza.

There have been several land routes and crossings that are in the process of being opened and progress has been made.  But a lot more needs to be done.  And this is why the construction of the maritime corridor and the JLOTS is so critical to get additional assistance in at a time when we need to surge everything in.

So, this is a humanitarian initiative with a humanitarian purpose, in line with humanitarian principles.  And this was why we're really pleased, as we have been working for decades with DOD to stand this up.  It's critical that humanitarian organizations are able to receive and deliver lifesaving assistance via that corridor in an independent neutral and impartial manner.

USAID will partner with UN organizations to deliver the lifesaving aid once it gets to Gaza through the maritime corridor.  And we'll be supporting augmented land route distribution and logistics capacity throughout Gaza.

Work on the maritime corridor is progressing along the expected timeline.  This was a complex operation which requires coordination between many partners.  And we're very grateful for the work of our partners in this effort.

I'll also say that we're very grateful for the government of Cyprus for providing the support and the starting off point to make this happen.

Throughout Gaza, the safety and security of humanitarian actors is critical to the delivery of assistance, and we continue to advocate for measures that will give humanitarians greater assurance.

We are working to ensure lifesaving assistance reach those civilians in need through all avenues.  And we'll continue to do everything we can to save lives and alleviate the suffering of those in greatest needs.

We need Israel to continue to fulfill the commitments that they've made to improve humanitarian assistance in Gaza.  We're pleased to see that those commitments are happening and underway, but a lot more needs to be done. 

So with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Military Official.

STAFF: I can read you loud and clear.  Over to you, Senior Military Official.

[Technical Difficulties]

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: OK.  Hey, thanks for bearing with me, everybody.

Directed by the Secretary of Defense, supporting USAID efforts to supply humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza is a top priority for U.S.  Central Command.  USAID, as you may know, is the lead Federal agency for the delivery of U.S.  humanitarian assistance worldwide. 

It's been fantastic teaming to support USAID on this effort.  For weeks, we've been planning and working side-by-side with the USAID team in Washington, Cyprus, and Israel, planning efforts to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Just this Tuesday, we joined the United Nations in New York.  The exceptional cooperation shouldn't be a surprise.  DOD and USAID have worked closely together around the world for decades, as our Senior Administration Official described.

Let me talk broad Central Command efforts in support of humanitarian assistance into Gaza first, then dive deeper on the at-sea delivery portion.

First, on air delivery, CENTCOM is already supporting the delivery of aid to Gaza by facilitating airdrops, many of which are conducted with partners.  As of today, the U.S.  Air Force has executed more than 25 missions, airdropping more than one million meals into Gaza.

The U.S.  airdrops alone have delivered more than 1,000 tons of humanitarian assistance.  The delivery effort stems from very strong coordination with and support from the Israeli Defense Force as we engage in very precise collaboration to ensure safety for both air crews, and in particular, safety for people on the ground.

We separate the airdrop delivery and time and space throughout Gaza, and our primary focus with airdrops has been on delivery into north Gaza.  This broad effort has also included airdrops from more than a dozen countries, led by Jordan.  And cumulatively, these multilateral drops have totaled more than 2,200 tons of aid to date.

Now, let me shift and turn to delivery of humanitarian assistance from the sea.  This is a unique mission.  Last month, consistent with the President's direction, the Secretary of Defense directed the U.S.  Central Command to lead establishment of a temporary pier to deliver humanitarian assistance from the sea into Gaza.

We had ships sailing from the East Coast of the U.S.  to execute this mission within 36 hours.  On board these ships are important materials to build out the pier.  We also planned and expected that it would take until early May to meet initial operating capability.

Earlier today, the at-sea assembly of key pieces of the temporary pier began off the coast of Gaza.  We are on track to begin delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza from the sea in early May.

Importantly, this maritime delivery route is complementary and additive to the very vital land and air routes already ongoing.

In terms of capacity, we expect throughput to begin at about 90 trucks a day at initial operating capacity, and then quickly scale up to 150 trucks a day of humanitarian assistance as we achieve a full operating capability.

For some comparison and broader context, over the past two weeks, the daily average of trucks delivered, delivering humanitarian assistance into Gaza was about 220 trucks a day.

Obviously, some days are higher, some days are lower. So, this additional throughput from the sea represents a significant increase of life saving aid. This effort is less about a military operation and aptly described as an effort to provide a shared service on behalf of the international community to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza with the U.S. military as a logistics enabler.

The establishment of a temporary pier into Gaza and execution of this mission will be done by a predominantly joint force from the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy using a system called JLOTS, Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore. One thousand U.S. soldiers and sailors will support this effort to enable delivery of humanitarian assistance from the Sea to Gaza for further distribution ashore and as coordinated by USAID.

We also have significant partner nation support in the execution of the mission. A key point to emphasize there will be no U.S. military boots on the ground in Gaza, in the execution of this mission.

Now, allow me to just go into some detail and review the concept of execution to give you an idea of how the maritime aid delivery corridor will work from Cyprus to the Sea to the Gaza shore.

First, humanitarian assistance comes into Cyprus via air or sea, where it's screened, palletized and prepared for delivery. We have already begun to see volumes of humanitarian assistance flow into Cyprus for further distribution, and we expect this flow of goodwill to continue. Upon receipt in Cyprus, pallets are then loaded onto commercial vessels that travel about 200 miles from Cyprus to a large floating platform anchored miles off the coast of Gaza.

This floating platform is one component of the JLOTS system and provides a stable workspace to trans-load pallets from the larger commercial vessels onto smaller Army vessels that can reach closer to shore. These smaller vessels are called LSVs or logistics support vessels, which can hold about 15 trucks each, and LCUs, landing craft utility, that can carry about five trucks each.

The LSVs and LCUs then shuttle the humanitarian assistance from the floating platform to a temporary fear — temporary pier fixed to the shore in Gaza. Think of this as a floating causeway. The floating causeway is several hundred meters long and is anchored into the sand on Gaza. Trucks then drive off the LSVs and LCUs down the causeway onto the land and drop off commodities in a very secure area.

These trucks repeat the process over and over in a closed loop and then separately assure a distribution partner. As my colleague has talked about, will pick up pallets for UNRWA distribution in the Gaza. Security protocols are in place to ensure that the transfer of humanitarian assistance is done safely. This is an important point.

I'd also like to add that in order to achieve all of this, we have established two coordination elements, or command and control cells, to enhance coordination among all the parties involved. Both are fully operational today. The first, in Cyprus, is integrated with USAID. They coordinate with the Cypriot government, organizations, multinational partners in the UN. This cell focuses on coordinating collection and inspection to ensure a smooth flow of goods.

The second coordination cell in Israel at Hatzor Air Base near Ashdod, is led by a U.S. three-star general who has been on scene and in country for nearly a month. This cell is a combined coordination effort, U.S. soldiers and sailors sitting side by side with IDF partners, integrated with USAID. We also have partners from WFP (World Food Program), the UN and other NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) who will join in the coming days. This cell will be a primary lever for coordination and transparency for the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the Sea.

Since there are going to be no U.S. boots on the ground in Gaza, we have accounted for all the tasks that a partner would have to perform to execute the mission. As an example, and notably, the Israeli Defense Force will partner to anchor the JLOTS to the beach in Gaza on day one.

A U.S. Army engineering unit has teamed with an Israeli Defense Force engineering unit these past several weeks to train and practice for JLOTS emplacement. They trained on an Israeli beach just up the coast. That Israeli unit will reposition for execution on day one, and the Israeli Defense Force engineering unit is well prepared for this aspect of the mission. Let me shift gears for just a moment and talk about force protection. Importantly, force protection is our number one priority.

We've been working closely with the Israeli Defense Force for weeks on a comprehensive, integrated plan that protects U.S. troops from the land, air and sea.  Forces from U.S. European Command and U.S. Naval Forces Europe are also assigned to support the overall effort. The Israeli Defense Force has a brigade, thousands of soldiers, plus Israeli Navy ships and the Israeli Air Force that are dedicated to force protection of this operation specifically.

As you would expect, the U.S. is also bringing significant complementary capability for force protection as a prudent measure. As you can appreciate, I won't be able to talk in any specifics about the force protection measures in place. Today, we assess that the security environment around the area of Gaza is such — we assess that the security environment around the area in Gaza that we have chosen to establish the JLOTS site is sufficient to support execution of the mission.

But importantly, we reassess security every single day. And as he would do in any mission, the commander of U.S. Central Command will make a final determination on moving forward with JLOTS in placement based on the security situation at the time. We do this every single day. We did it just this morning prior to a morning humanitarian assistance airdrop.

Finally, a couple comments. All the ships and people required for the initial execution of this mission are in place today in the eastern Mediterranean. Similarly, all the supporting enablers like communications and logistics support are absolutely on track to support the execution in early May.

Facilitating delivery of international humanitarian aid into Gaza is of course a highly, highly collaborative effort, and we've been working coordinating closely with interagency and international partners as I've described.

I would like to thank the United Kingdom for providing support for the coordination in Cyprus and also providing the ship RFA Cardigan Bay to support this mission. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers and sailors will live and sleep on Cardigan Bay at sea, and this is a requirement because of no U.S. boots on the ground.

We've also enjoyed superb coordination with and are thankful to the government of Cyprus, the Cypriot Chief of Defense, as well as dozens of countries from around the world, many of whom we briefed in Cyprus late last month on our plan to deliver humanitarian assistance from the sea to those in need. More than 40 countries and organizations participated in the briefing. I would like to point out that the effort to deliver humanitarian assistance from the sea is fully supported by the Israeli Defense Force, with whom we have been and will continue to work very closely. From affixing the JLOTS pier to the shore to providing force protection, this effort is fully integrated with the IDF.

I'll leave you with just three thoughts. Big picture. The U.S. military is building up and building a maritime pier to surge global aid. We have developed a comprehensive, integrated security plan with the Israeli Defense Forces to address force protection of American troops. And everything is in place: the people, procedures, ships and coordination protocols. Our plan to deliver lifesaving aid from the sea is on track for delivery in early May.

And with that, I'll pause, and happy to answer any questions.

STAFF: Thank you to our senior military official, our senior administration official. We also have a senior defense official also on the call. I'm going to open up the call to reporters for questions, and I will moderate those. Just a reminder, this call is on background.

So we will get the call started first with Lita Baldor, AP.

Q: Thank you. And thanks very much for doing this.

On security, aid agencies continue to say they are very concerned about security, particularly in the wake of the attack yesterday. Can you address what security concerns you have in the wake of this attack — mortar attack yesterday and the security — the aid agencies' concerns about things like the Israeli Security Forces having, quote-unquote, “remote control guns” that they're worried about because they're not only worried about, obviously, insurgents, but possible violence from the IDF?

And then I have a quick question for the Senior Administration Official. How concerned are you about the security arrangements that you've been briefed on?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, first, from my side, let me just offer several important points. First, there were no Americans involved or even remotely close to the incident that you're describing. Second, we don't assess that the attack had anything to do with the JLOTS mission or delivery of humanitarian assistance from the sea.

Without getting into the specifics on force protection, I would also add that the defensive umbrella around JLOTS today looks nothing like it's going to look like when we actually execute the mission. It will be far more robust. And then I think, most importantly, we are conducting, as I mentioned, a daily assessment of force protection and security.

And as we would do with any mission, the commander of U.S. Central Command will make a determination on mission execution based on security assessment at the time just prior to operation.

With that, I'll turn it over to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Thanks. Just to add on, you know, it's very clear that it's a very difficult environment for humanitarian workers in Gaza, just given the state of the conflict. You know, we're continuing to, as far as JLOTS is concerned, we're continuing to work closely with CENTCOM and our partners to just make sure that those arrangements are in place. But the broader issue is the safety and security of our partners and just making sure that the deconfliction systems are working well.

So, I'll leave it at that. Thanks.

STAFF: Thank you. Our next question will go to Oren Liebermann, CNN.

Q: Hey, it's actually Natasha Bertrand for CNN.

STAFF: Oh, sorry about that.

Q: No, you're fine. A couple quick points of clarification for the senior military official. The first is who is going to be driving the trucks that are actually going down the causeway and delivering that aid to the secure distribution point? Is that going to be U.S. military or is that going to be contracted out or is it going to be NGOs?

Similarly, you said that commercial vessels are going to be going from Cyprus to the pier. Is it going to be exclusively commercial vessels or is the U.S. military also going to be transporting aid from Cyprus to the pier itself? And then finally, who — are there U.S. destroyers that are going to be providing security in the eastern Mediterranean? I think we have about three in the area right now. Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah. In order. So, we have a third party who will be driving the trucks down the pier. Just a point of emphasis, there will be no U.S. military boots on the ground. So, a third party is driving those trucks.

In terms of the Cyprus to pier transportation, that will predominantly, at this point, be civilian vessels. There's no reason, as we look forward, that it could not be military, but right now, we envision it will be civilian. We'd certainly want to maximize the volume of humanitarian assistance going forward, so I wouldn't rule anything out.

And I think you had another piece there I could come back to.

Q: Yes, the destroyers. I think there are about three in the Eastern Med right now. Are they going to also be providing security for this mission?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, without talking specifics. Obviously, their presence in the Eastern Mediterranean is meaningful and complimentary to the overall effort.

STAFF: Thank you. Our next question will go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.

Q: Thank you all for the time today. Wanted to see if we could drill down a bit on concerns about bottlenecks, particularly if some of the assurances don't hold, or if we see attacks on some of the humanitarian workers as aid is delivered, not unlike what we saw with the World Central Kitchen strike or others subsequently. How are you all thinking about that issue and trying to make sure that aid is continually flowing despite evolving situations?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Why don't I give that to USAID first, and I'll come on the back end on the military side.  Or I'll be the lead blocker, and …

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I'm having trouble with mute and unmute, and I lost part of the question. So, yes, please go ahead, and I will pick up from there. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: Yes, no problem. In particular, wanted to get a read on how you all are thinking about the potential for bottlenecks with aid, if you're able to push stuff down on the pier onto the beach, or the beachhead, and because of attacks on humanitarian workers or distribution problems, that leaves things basically sitting on the beach, open ended. What kind of assurances do you have? How are you thinking about that issue?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for that question. So, if you're following this pretty closely, you know that, you know, all of the crossings have challenges with aid distribution. And there's a variety of factors that go into it. We definitely need to build up the logistics capacity in Gaza and make sure that there are safe and coordinated routes for the convoys.

So, we do see periodic bottlenecks happen at all of the crossings, and there's a variety of reasons for it. With respect to JLOTS, our UN WFP partners will basically be working on a distribution model with their trusted partners and distribution hubs throughout Gaza.

We'll be working closely with our colleagues at CENTCOM and the node, the operation cell that the Senior Military Official mentioned in Cyprus, to basically make sure that the aid is kind of coming in at the right pace.

And obviously, we'll be doing everything possible to help our partners get it off the beach and into Gaza. But the distribution challenges, you know, remain real. But I think we're making some pretty good progress. And as we get some better logistics capacity into Gaza, I think those will resolve themselves.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I'll just pick up and say, Dan, this is exactly why we have the coordination cells in Cyprus and a coordination cell in Israel. The one in Israel in particular is unique. It's side by side with the Israeli Defense Force. It's a unique arrangement, and I think both of these together will help to meter the flow into and out of Cyprus, in the case of the coordination cell in Cyprus, and help meter the flow into and out of the floating pier onto Gaza respectively.

STAFF:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal.

Q:  Thank you.  I just have a few clarifying questions.  Will all the troops be sleeping on the Cardigan Bay, or is that just for some of them?  How far will U.S. troops be from the shore? 

And you mentioned that a third party was going to be driving the trucks.  Is that a defense contractor?  And if so, who is it?  And who's doing security for them?  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, on the last piece, it's not defense contractor.  It will be done by non-American — there will be no Americans involved in it, and we'll — we'll have a chance to identify those countries here, you know, going forward and also let them speak for themselves.  Hopefully that answers that part of the question.

Q:  That — that is — another nation's forces will be driving the trucks?  Is that if I'm understanding you correctly?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  No, it's not another — it is another nation.  We'll be able to identify, you know, that nation or let them speak for themselves here, you know ...

Q:  OK.  And presumably, that nation then will be providing its own security, is that right?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  There's a complimentary security those — the security has been baked into our current plan. 

And then separately, on — in terms of where is everybody sleeping, yeah, there's — everyone is going to be in one of three places — either at sea or — for the coordination cell in Cyprus, they sleep there; coordination cell in Israel sleeps there.  Back at sea, they're either on the Cardigan Bay or we also have a contracted vessel to accommodate everybody.

STAFF:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Hi there.  First, for the Senior Administration Official, does the location of the pier allow for direct access to northern Gaza without any further checkpoints or inspections?  You know, will all these inspections take place in Cyprus?

And for the Senior Military Official, a question and a clarification.  The question on deconfliction — will U.S. forces respond if they are attacked off-shore?  And will the Israelis respond if they're attacked on land?  And what's the division of labor there?

And the clarification — you know, how far exactly off the coast of Gaza are U.S. troops right now?  Because we were told they're outside of mortar range.  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi.  So thanks for that question.  Yes, the goods will be inspected in Cyprus, and we do intend for the assistance to reach the north.  There are different checkpoints along the way to go up north, and I'll defer this question and further detail to the Senior Military Official — but we are working on different kinds of protocols to basically ease some movements through the checkpoints.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, let me just pick up on that…there is a — through our coordination cell in Israel, we have worked on a series of protocols to help support transition through checkpoints, particularly focused on the area in and around the JLOTS emplacement, as a mechanism to ensure that we can quickly move humanitarian assistance onto the beach and out to those who need it.

In terms of the U.S. forces, obviously I'm not going to talk about ROE (rules of engagement).  Self-defense is always in effect.  There are no U.S. forces ashore, there will be no U.S. forces ashore.  So that's a non-issue.

In terms of inspections, all the inspections of the materiel happen back in Cyprus.  So these are the — this is a unique and important point.  So there'll be no inspection of materiel, and that inspection regiment in Cyprus has already been agreed to by the Cypriot and Israeli governments.  So once humanitarian assistance hits the beach and moves forward, we want to be able to quickly keep that moving.

And then finally, on your last point, yeah, as I mentioned, the initial buildup of the floating platform started today.  It's well off the coast in a safe position.

Q:  Miles away?


STAFF:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q:  Thank you.  Just one more on the truck for the Senior Military Official.  I understand that the — whomever it is that's going to be driving them, that nation will provide security, but what about actually — will they also be responsible for checking the trucks before they come on and off the — the U.S. military ships and platforms? 

So in other words, will the U.S. military, like, check the trucks to make sure that there's nothing that's been placed on them before they come back to — on, or is it that other host nation or whatever country who's responsible for that?

And then for the Administration Official, we've heard that the UN's going to be involved in this distribution, and I'm curious, is that UNRWA?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK.  For — Courtney — so on the trucks, the U.S. — we have a very thorough and detailed inspection regiment to maintain control of the trucks.  And just to reiterate, the trucks that are the — delivering humanitarian assistance from the sea simply go off the pier, drop off, and come right back and they stay in that same security loop. 

But we have all of the pieces in place to ensure the safety of the truck and the drivers, and you can — I'll let you just imagine what all of the systems could be to ensure that safety.  All those pieces are planned to be in place.

STAFF:  Our Senior Administration Official, I don't know if you were able to weigh in on that question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  No, I don't have anything else.

STAFF:  OK.  All right, great.  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Jared Szuba, Al-Monitor.

Q:  Hi all, thank you for doing this.  Just a clarifying bit here.  Will the IDF be deployed on the ground in the areas around the port?  And has the UN agreed to distribute the aid after it reaches shore? 

And I'll have a follow-up.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, on the military side, yes, the IDF is deployed on the ground over a fairly wide area to provide force protection in a very integrated way.  And as I mentioned, this force protection umbrella is integrated on the land, at sea, and in the air.

Q:  And then has the UN agreed to distribute aid after it reaches shore?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi, I can jump in on that.  Yes, the UN is working with us, and I think as I mentioned earlier, we're working with them to set up a logistics hub for the humanitarian logistics hub on the beachhead, and we'll be distributing to different humanitarian hubs and supporting humanitarian partners to access the assistance.

STAFF:  Thank you.  We have time for just a few more.  Lara Seligman, Politico?

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.  Just wondering — just a clarifying question, and I apologize if you did say this already.  It was kind of in and out, my connection.  But who is it that will be securing the causeway to the beach?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Sure.  It's — the Israeli Defense Force will be securing the causeway to the beach.  Over the last several weeks, we had a U.S. engineering — our — U.S. Army engineering unit work alongside an Israeli Defense Force engineering unit and replicate this process on an Israeli beach.  That Israeli Defense Force unit then moves into Gaza and conducts the same mission that it practiced for, and they're well positioned to do this and well trained.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Konstantin,

Q:  … everybody for doing this.  I guess this is probably best directed to the Senior Military Official.  You know, obviously the Navy publicly announced last week or the week before that one of the ships in this convoy, the (USNS John P.) Bobo, had a fire, had to turn around.  And then open-source trackers seemed to show one of the Army vessels, I believe the Wilson Wharf, was waylaid in the Canary Islands for a good portion of — of — of the journey. 

So my question is I — you know, are both of these — you know, how much of an impact does both of these ships not being in theater make on the overall operation?  And going forward, are there concerns about the material readiness of any of these watercraft as you look to bring this whole operation to full operating capacity?  Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, we intentionally and deliberately baked in redundancy into the operation.  Those two vessels are redundant in nature and will have zero impact on mission execution.  Going forward, we're confident with readiness.  We like where we are now and we think we have a good plan to sustain this.

STAFF:  Thank you.  All right, we're just going to take just a few more here.  We'll go to Joseph, Al Arabiya.

Q:  Thanks.  Two questions, one for the Senior Military Official.  What's the timeline for how long these 1,000 U.S. soldiers or sailors are supposed to be deployed? 

And just quickly, the Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee today after the attack called on President Biden to abandon the project immediately before any U.S. troops are injured.  So how confident are you in the Israeli military's capabilities or assurances to protect U.S. troops, as well as the aid workers?

And just a second for the Senior Admin Official — have you all found specific partners on the ground willing to help, especially in light of the aid workers that have been killed — targeted and killed by the Israeli military? 

And you mentioned malnourished children and a looming famine in Gaza.  What kind of food is being sent?  And how long do you assess Gazans can survive before getting this food?  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, on your first question, we're prepared to execute this mission for several months, and there'll obviously be a determination of what exactly that looks like.

On the second piece, we have full confidence that the plan we've developed over the last month side-by-side with the Israelis is comprehensive in nature, addresses all the issues, as I mentioned, from the air, on land, and at sea.  We have rehearsed a — the sensitive and protective measures on multiple occasions and feel very confident in that.

And on top of all of that, as we do with any mission, we're going to make a very thorough force protection assessment before actual execution.  This is our number one priority, the protection of American sailors and — and soldiers.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So I can jump in on the — the food question.  You know, there has been food going into Gaza.  You know, there's been flour and different kinds of food.  Just really what — what needs to happen to prevent famine and it — you know, this takes time. 

So, you know, we'll have to wait and see what the next assessment tells us and the next expert body report tells us, but it really requires a lot of different things.  It requires high quality variety of foods that is nutritious, and it requires clean water for children especially because of the link between malnutrition and immune system deficiencies and just vulnerability, disease. 

It requires access to healthcare and nutritional supplements and, you know, the — the kinds of ready-to-use therapeutic foods that are necessary to treat children and — and bring them back from famine — or I should say to bring them back from acute malnutrition, and — and that kind of treatment takes a number of weeks.

So there's a lot that goes into it.

STAFF:  Thank you.  And our last question will go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you.  I understand there will be no boots on the ground, but the craft bringing the food to the causeway, how close do they come to shore?  Are they within mortar range?  And the pier itself, it may be miles off-shore but is that in the ships where people are sleeping?  Is that within range of the rockets and missiles that Hamas has?  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, we factored in all of the variables to maximize the force protection, both on the floating platform, which is several miles off-shore, as well as on the — on the temporary pier, which actually affixes to the shore.

No U.S. vessels will touch the shore.  That — the pier, as I described, is several hundred meters long.  So let me just recreate, you know, the visual for you of a large commercial vessel with humanitarian assistance coming from Cyprus, dropping off humanitarian assistance commodity onto Army LSVs and LCUs at the large floating platform several miles off the coast.  Those vessels getting loaded with 15 — five to 15 trucks worth of commodity, and then traveling a short distance, several miles, to the actual pier that's affixed to Gaza, and driving right off the — that LSV onto the causeway, all the way down onto the sand, into a — a facility where we — we turn it over to distribution partners.  I hope that helps.

Q:  So U.S. troops will be several hundred meters from the shore?


STAFF:  Thank you all, and thank you to our background briefers today.  We very much appreciate your time.  Again, this call was on background today, and we will have a transcript later posted on  Thank you again.  Out here.