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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: As you know, Secretary Austin returned from Hawaii early Saturday morning after a very productive trip. Now, while he was in Hawaii, he had the chance to meet with his counterparts from Australia and the Philippines for several bilateral and multilateral discussions which were all intended to deepen our security cooperation and strengthen alliances.

He also presided over the INDOPACOM Change of Command on Friday. He had the opportunity on the margins of the ceremony to meet the leaders from the Freely Associated States, to include the president of the Republic of Palau, president of the Federated States of Micronesia and the foreign minister of the Republic of Marshall Islands, and he also had the chance to meet with service members stationed in Hawaii and thank them and their families for their service and sacrifice in defense of our nation.

Separately, Secretary Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart yesterday to discuss the ongoing hostage negotiations, humanitarian assistance efforts in Rafah, per the readout that we issued after the call yesterday. The secretary also expressed his condolences for the IDF soldiers that were killed and wounded by a rocket and mortar attack launched by Hamas out of Rafah. During the call, the secretary reaffirmed his commitment to the unconditional return of all hostages and stressed the need for any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah to include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid. Secretary Austin also reiterated the United States' commitment to supporting Israel's defense.

Also, earlier today, Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks announced some of the capabilities and one of the systems selected for accelerated fielding as part of the first tranche of the Replicator Initiative, which as you know, is focused on the fielding of all-domain attritable autonomous systems, and that release was posted to, so I'd invite you to take a look.

And then finally, looking ahead to this week, Secretary Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Brown are slated to testify to the HACD on Wednesday, that's 8 May, to discuss --


GEN. RYDER: What's that?




GEN. RYDER: SACD -- on Wednesday to discuss the FY25 DOD Budget Request, and on Friday, Secretary Austin will deliver the commencement address at South Carolina State University in South Carolina. We'll have more details to provide about that trip later in the week.

And with that, happy to take your questions. Ma'am?

Q: Good morning. Can you confirm that Israel has started to move civilians from Rafah to humanitarian camps? Have you -- what -- based on what you've been able to see or any other way to confirm?

GEN. RYDER: So as I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to do an operational update for Israel, so I'd refer you to them to talk about their operations. We do know that they have notified some of the people in Rafah to evacuate, so of course, we're continuing to monitor that. We've been very clear publicly and privately about what I highlighted in the readout there, that we still want to ensure that civilian safety and humanitarian assistance are taken into account as it relates to any potential operations in Rafah, and we'll continue to emphasize that to our Israeli partners.

Q: Does that have any impact on delivering humanitarian aid to the south?

GEN. RYDER: As of right now, you know, we're going to continue to be focused on getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza, whether it's via air or the maritime corridor, and of course, you know, also continuing to work to try to increase the flow via land. So can't predict the future, but that will continue to be a significant emphasis.


Q: Just two quick questions. One is, over the weekend, there was a report saying that the U.S. had halted the shipment of certain ammunition to -- or certain delivery of ammunition to Israel. Is that correct? Has there been any halt in any deliveries of -- of weapons? And then secondly on -- on Rafah, you know, the secretary had said on Thursday that he wanted to see the humanitarian needs sequenced ahead of an operation. Does he still believe that that's necessary or possible?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so on Rafah, I mean, you're right. Secretary Austin and others have been clear that, you know, in any type of operation that goes after Hamas that's in Rafah, sequencing is important, and the point there is that given the large number of civilians and ensuring that those civilians can be evacuated from the battle space so as to mitigate potential civilian casualties or suffering, you know, will continue to be an important factor. You've seen some of the public messaging by the Israelis indicating that they're taking that into account; again, something that we're continuing to monitor.

As it relates to security assistance, I've seen those press reports, Phil. I don't have anything to provide. I mean, as you know, broadly speaking, we've provided a significant amount of security assistance to Israel in support of its defense, but I don't have anything on any particular individual cases or security assistance based on those reports.


Q: Thanks, Pat. So on Wednesday, the administration's assessment of whether Israel has been abiding by international humanitarian law in its use of U.S. weapons, NSM 20, is due, and I'm just wondering if the department has any -- has -- has provided any input on that or seen an early kind of assessment of that. And also, if we can get an update on the pier, because last week it was moved to the Port of Ashdod. So is it back in the Eastern Med, or --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so on NSM 20, National Security Memorandum 20, I obviously don't want to get ahead of that process. That's a State Department-led process, so you know, I'd defer you to them. When and if we have something to provide on that, we'll be sure to let you know.

As it relates to JLOTS, you saw CENTCOM put out a release last week that they had moved the construction of the pier temporarily to Ashdod due to the sea states, or the weather conditions. As I understand it, they're continuing to construct the pier in the vicinity of Ashdod. And so you know, all indications are that we're continuing to move forward with the construction and the implementation of JLOTS, understanding that variables like the weather can -- and the security situation can always play a factor. So we'll keep you posted, but right now, again, all indications are that they'll continue to move forward with that.

Q: Can I have just a quick follow-up on NSM 20? Has the department provided input for that assessment? Can you say --

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to provide on that right now. Thanks.

Q: So Pat, you don't have a specific date on when the pier would -- all of the -- the construction would be done? Is that correct?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to give a specific date just because of the variables I highlighted other than to say, you know, I would anticipate in the relatively near future.

Q: Okay. And then to follow up on a question earlier about -- so Austin said in the -- well, you said in the readout of the call yesterday that he needs to see this credible plan. So can we assume that so far, the U.S. has not seen a credible plan to help civilians in Rafah?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, they -- you know, as he's highlighted, we've seen kind of the concepts, but nothing detailed at this point.

Carla, then I'll go to Laura.

Q: Thanks, Pat. Is the U.S. pulling its forces out of Syria?


Q: And there's no plan to potentially be pulling them out in the coming weeks?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not tracking any force posture changes at this point in time.


Q: Are there any other delays to JLIT -- JLOTS aside from the weather, particularly given the fact that somehow Israel (inaudible) from Hamas rocket fire and what are the (inaudible) these latest rounds?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not tracking any specific delays with the caveat that, you know, again, senior leaders managing this project can always make the call whether or not to speed things up or slow things down based on conditions.

And so, we're obviously going to pay attention to the safety of the soldiers that are constructing this, whether it be weather or security situations. But as I said, right now, all indications are that we're moving forward, but if anything changes, certainly, we'll let you know.

Thanks. Will?

Q: Russia's announced tactical nuclear exercises near Ukraine. I was wondering if DOD's assessment of this is it just posturing? Is it something more? And has this led to any changes on the U.S. side?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I've seen those comments in the press. And I would say again, this is an example of the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that we've seen from Russia in the past. It's completely inappropriate, given the current security situation. And, you know, we've not seen any change in their strategic force posture. Obviously, we'll continue to monitor. But it's just, yes, irresponsible rhetoric.

Q: Thank you, General. Back to Rafah, Secretary Austin said last week that many things must happen before any operation in Rafah to protect civilians. Is Secretary Austin, today, confident that Israelis are taking these things into consideration, to protect civilians? And to -- the way that you described that you didn't see the plan, but how confident you are that Israel is really in -- on track or like can really protect these civilians in Rafah?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, well, I mean, it's one of those things that we're going to have seen play out. But again, I think those concerns are still there. That there needs to be a credible plan to take into account how you're going to deal with the hundreds of thousands of civilians, displaced civilians, you know, over a million that are in Rafah. And so, that is going to continue to be very important in our conversations with our Israeli partners and something that we're going to continue to expect to see if there are operations in Rafah.

Q: Representative Calvert on the House Arms Services Committee has said the U.S. plans to establish a sovereign rule. And I was just seeing, is there any DOD component to this? Any forward operating base on the lunar surface?

GEN. RYDER: You know, it's funny you mentioned that, Jeff, because I was just playing Moon Patrol over the weekend, one of my favorite 1980s video games. But all joking aside, I'm not tracking at this point, especially from the DOD standpoint, any plans to establish a lunar facility. As you know, NASA, on the research and space exploration side may have more on that front. But the DOD are focused on the issues at hand right now here on the Earth. So, thanks.

Q: Got it.

Q: Back on Earth here and Moscow, the (inaudible) at the May Day parade, displayed an M1 tank and a Bradley tank -- a Bradley fighting vehicle that were captured in Ukraine. If you know, is there a sense at DOD that there's some technology's been compromised by their capture and dismantlement?

GEN. RYDER: Tony, I don't have anything along those lines to pass along. You know, certainly, that's something that we always take into account whenever we're providing capabilities to foreign partners. But I don't have any intelligence or specifics.

Q: Can you check? Because I guarantee that Austin's going to be asked at that at the -- Wednesday by some senator.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, I'm not -- I'm not tracking any concerns at this point, nor do I have anything to pass along.

Q: Nor what?

GEN. RYDER: Do I have anything to pass along in that --

Q: Okay, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks.

Q: Just to follow up on two things, not to bang on about this, but I think the secretary said last Thursday, mentioned that he was not so much concerned about the lack of a plan with the Israelis for Rafah, but the lack of implementation of that plan. So, I take it from your comments a moment ago, that they're not moving fast enough still (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, you just have to look at the situation on the ground in Rafah, right? As I've highlighted, as the secretary and many others have highlighted, there's over a million displaced people in Rafah. And so, any operation that's there, I think we've been very clear, as I mentioned, that we want to understand how the Israelis would evacuate the civilian population, again, taking civilian safety into account. And so, that has not changed and that won't change.

Q: What about JLOTS? You've mentioned, I think, in the past that, you know, there's a number of pieces of this checklist that have to be checked off before JLOTS is properly set up and put into place. Is distribution squared away? Is that ready to go or is that one of the pieces that's still kind of in the works?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I mean, again, as I understand it, working with World Food Program, USAID, the short answer is yes, you know. So, I think -- what you will see initially, as JLOTS implements, you know -- is implemented, once it goes operational, you will see some initial distributions as we sort of go on the initial operating capability there, and then you'll start to see that ramp up as it's all implemented. So, it's not going to be like on day one, two million meals disturbed. It's going to ramp up to work the system and make sure it's all operating smoothly. So, thanks.


Q: Yes, Pat, just to ask a variation of the questions about the evacuation plan or the humanitarian plan. So like, is it accurate to say that the piece that you've seen a sort of potential plan or conceptual plan but not a detailed plan of the evacuation/humanitarian plan that the Israelis have. So, is it accurate to say that it still is the case that DOD believes it's not -- inadequate or planned or what gives the U.S. confidence, because that's what people were saying up till late last week and I assume --

GEN. RYDER: Yes. No, I think there's still concerns, in terms of the, you know, again, given the number of people there and how you're going to take into account the safety and well-being of the million plus people that are in Rafah as any operation commences.

Again, we agree with our Israeli partners on the importance of defeating Hamas and preventing them from being able to conduct attacks like they've done in the past. But we want to see that operation done in a way that, again, takes into account civilians, takes into account how you're going to evacuate them off the battlefield. And so, those conversations will continue.

Q: And you haven't seen a plan that gives you confidence that that will occur?

GEN. RYDER: We have not seen a detailed plan that indicates how that would be taken into account to a scale necessary as it relates to, again, the number of displaced persons.

I can take a few more. Sir?

Q: Have the Israelis given assurance to the U.S. that none of the personnel involved in securing JLOTS would be impacted by any invasion of Rafah?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into the specifics of Israeli forces or speak for them. But again, we're confident that Israel will provide security for the forces that are -- and the personnel that are supporting this effort. And so, that's both on land and at sea, in addition to our own security capabilities that we're going to have supporting this operation.

Q: But the Israelis are still going to have to anchor that thing, right?

GEN. RYDER: The Israelis will be providing support on the ground, so I mean, again, we -- you know, CENTCOM has planned this, rehearsed it, working with the Israelis and others. And so again, right now are things moving forward. If anything changes, you know, obviously, I'll let you know.

Okay, we'll do three more. Phil, and then Natasha.

Q: Did the secretary, in his call with Minister Gallant, call for any ultimatums or say what would happen if the Israelis went ahead with a Rafah operation without a -- a credible plan to protect civilians?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to go beyond what was in the readout that we provided. Again, they did discuss Rafah, and as I highlighted in the readout, the secretary emphasized and reaffirmed the need for a credible plan to take civilian safety and evacuations into account.


Q: I know that you -- Phil and -- and you reported last week that the Russians are now in the same base as Americans in Niger. Can you talk a little bit about how close they are, whether they've had any interactions and whether there are concerns about them being on such a small base together?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So I don't have a breakdown of, you know, exact distance, but they're not right next to each other by any stretch. They're on the same compound, but as I understand it, pretty big compound, so you know, not co-located in near proximity. They -- as Secretary Austin highlighted last week, they don't have access to our personnel, our equipment, any of our resources. No indication that it poses a force protection concern. And so, you know, they're doing their thing. We're focused on ours.

Q: No interactions?

GEN. RYDER: No interaction to my knowledge.


Q: I was going to ask on Niger, do you have an update on how many troops are there? And have any U.S. troops have left (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Still approximately 1,100 and still working with the Nigeriens in terms of, you know, what that orderly withdrawal will look like. So don't have any updates beyond what we provided previously, but we'll keep you posted.

Last question. Yes, ma'am?

Q: Has the U.S. changed its policy with regard to conditioning aid to Israel?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not aware of any changes in policies at this time.

Okay, all right, thanks very much, everybody. Have a great day.