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

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

Earlier today, Secretary Austin spoke by phone with the Egyptian Minister of Defense, General Mohamed Zaki, to discuss regional challenges and the deep bilateral security cooperation between our two nations. During the discussion, Secretary Austin reiterated U.S. commitment to the Middle East and Egyptian security in the face of the regional threats. A full readout of the call will be posted to later today.

Additionally, Secretary Austin also spoke today with his counterpart from Lithuania, Minister of National Defense Laurynas Kasciunas. During the call, Secretary Austin congratulated Minister Kasciunas on his recent appointment as Minister, and the two leaders discussed support to Ukraine, NATO regional plans, and recent progress with Lithuania's defense industrial base. 

The Secretary lauded Lithuania's strong commitment to providing security assistance and training to Ukraine, and their continued support for U.S. force posture in the Baltics. A full readout of their discussion will be posted to the DOD website.

Switching to some exercise news, nearly 30 nations and approximately 1,300 personnel are participating in Exercise Flintlock, which kicked off yesterday during an opening ceremony in Cote d'Ivoire. The exercise, which runs through May 24, will be conducted at training locations hosted by Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. 

Exercise Flintlock is U.S. Africa Command's premier and largest annual Special Operations Forces exercise that works to strengthen combined partner force collaboration in Africa alongside international and NATO international Special Operations Forces.

Separately, Exercise Obangame Express, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and conducted by U.S. Naval Forces Africa, kicked off May 6th and continues until May 17 throughout Africa's West Coast, particularly in and around host nation Gabon. 

The Obangame Express - you - excuse me - through Obangame Express, U.S. forces work alongside participating nations to improve combined maritime law enforcement capacity, promote national and regional security in West Africa, and increase interoperability between the U.S., African, and multinational partners. The U.S. routinely exercises with our partners in Africa to build enduring relationships and combined capacity to ensure the safety and security of the regional maritime environment. 

For more information about these two exercises and the many other regional partnership activities throughout Africa, I would recommend you contact USAFRICOM Public Affairs.

In other news, the department would like to welcome our new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Mr. Anka Lee, who has joined us from USAID. DASD Lee is leading the East Asia team at a time when our alliances with Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as our partnerships with New Zealand and across the Pacific Islands region, are stronger than ever. 

And shifting to the Middle East, in the coming days, the United States, as part of an international effort, in coordination with the United Nations and the World Food Program, will begin facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza via the Cyprus maritime corridor.

The U.S. government and other international donors are providing aid commodities for delivery from Cyprus to the beach in Gaza by way of U.S. and partner nation military and civilian vessels and a temporary floating pier.

The World - World Food Program will take receipt of that aid once ashore in Gaza and coordinate its onward movement and distribution to people in need. To be clear, this humanitarian effort is intended to relieve the suffering of the people of Gaza. We call on all parties not to interfere with the delivery of lifesaving assistance.

And finally, on an administrative note, Secretary Austin will go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later today for a scheduled, routine follow-up appointment with his doctors. The Secretary's in good health, and as we've highlighted previously, you can expect he'll be conducting these types of follow-on check-ups from time to time.

And with that, we'll take your questions. We'll go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q: Thanks, Pat. On the aid distribution, is the U.S. satisfied at this point - since this is going to start in the coming days, is the U.S. satisfied with security on the ground? Humanitarian aid groups are still voicing some concerns about their safety on the ground. What does the U.S. think at this moment of the Israeli security on the ground? And are you aware of any lingering concerns about safety for the aid groups?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. So as you know, U.S. Central Command has been working very closely with USAID, Israelis, other partners in the region on putting together a comprehensive security plan for this temporary pier and the aid distribution routes. 

And so a - a lot of work has gone into that, and of course as we've said all along, force protection is going to continue to be of paramount concern. All that to say we do believe that we have the - the pieces and parts in place so that when we do begin operations, we're confident that - that we'll have the security in place that we need. 

For any operation, any commander at any time can make the decision based on the situation on the ground to - to take appropriate measures to safeguard forces or to safeguard the operation. And so certainly as this operation continues, that will of course be something that we're constantly looking at to make sure that - that, at the end of the day, aid can be distributed safely and securely.

Q: And just as a follow-up, is it your understanding at this moment that aid agencies are prepared to begin distributing the aid once it starts moving onto the shore?

GEN. RYDER: The short answer is yes. You know, again, as I highlighted at the top, I'm not going to get into specific dates, but in the coming days, you can expect to see this effort underway. And we are confident that - that we will be able to, working with our NGO partners, ensure that aid can be delivered. OK?


Q: Thanks. Just on the pier as well, we've heard some dollar amounts before. Can you put a dollar amount on how much it's costing the U.S., how much the U.S. has spent on this?

GEN. RYDER: You know, again, right now what I would tell you is we estimate that to operate this pier will cost approximately $320 million. Again, if we have revised estimates, we certainly will - but that's the - the current estimate.

Q: And then secondly on that, there - so - Hamas and others have - have said this pier will be useless by the end of August due to the changes in tide. I know you - the department has made it clear that this is temporary but does the Pentagon have an initial timeframe for how long you guys want to be using this pier?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I - I don't have an initial timeframe to provide to you today, Joseph. That's an interesting statement by Hamas. You know, what I would tell you is look, if you take a step back here, in the situation on the ground in Gaza, this is about providing another avenue by which to get humanitarian assistance in to the people of Gaza.

Clearly, land routes would be optimal, but as, you know, we continue to see challenges in terms of getting aid in via ground, we're going to continue to employ this method to work with the international community to get aid in to the people of Gaza.

Q: Can I just ask you one more? Sorry. Turning to the - on the Red Sea and the campaign against the Houthis, last night CENTCOM said that U.S. or USS Mason was targeted. U.S. forces took down the incoming drone. I mean, or is the U.S. in this for the long run because we're seeing pretty steady flow of Houthi attacks on a daily basis. And they've expanded now from previous to just being in the Gulf of Aden in the Red Sea. Now, we're seeing some of the Indian Ocean and then as well in other parts of the Mediterranean.

So, I mean, can you talk a little bit about—elaborate a little bit?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, what I would say is, you know, said another way is the U.S. in it for the long run when it comes to freedom of navigation and vital seaways around the world. Yes, we are. So.

OK. Laura?

Q: Thanks Pat. I wanted to ask you about Kyiv. The situation there. There's reports that Ukraine is running low on weapons as the Russians advance. So, are U.S. weapons not getting there fast enough, or what exactly is going on?

GEN. RYDER: We, as you've heard, Secretary Austin and others say we are working very hard to rush aid into Ukraine. Again, it's a challenging situation on the battlefield right now in Ukraine. But all accounts are you know, that they continue to take measures to defend their territory. And we're going to do everything we can to get them the critical munitions and supplies that they need.

Q: Can you give us a little bit more information about how we got to this point? I mean, was part of the problem that we weren't sending aid, specifically in the Kharkiv region, or are the Russians, or the Russians in a better position. Can you just give us kind of a battlefield update?

GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, I think it's a combination of things and certainly won't recount the last, you know, six to eight months on the battlefield. But needless to say, it was not helpful to have this pause in security assistance. Clearly, you know, you've got other partners around the world that are providing aid to Ukraine. But the Russians have exploited the situation on the battlefield, and are attempting to -- to make advances.

Incremental as they may be, it's certainly concerning. And we're going to continue to work closely with Ukraine and our international allies and partners to get them the security assistance they need. Thank you.

Let me go to Constantine.

Q: Thanks Pat. On the pier. Can you say whether any U.S. Naval vessels are going to be providing security to the operation?

GEN. RYDER: There -- there will be.

Q: They will be. Can you go into any detail?

GEN. RYDER: And I'm not going to go into the specifics, for OPSEC reasons. But as you know, we do have naval vessels, destroyers in the region that can provide assistance.

Q: OK. And then slightly similarly, has any determined that -- any determination been made as to the USS Eisenhower and whether she'll be extending in CENTCOM?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, as I'm sure you can appreciate. I'm not going to get into talking about future ship movements and deployments. So, we have updates, we'll certainly let you know.


Q: I was just wondering if you could say, as we -- as we prepare to see the humanitarian corridor from Cyprus to Gaza began operating. How much aid is there in Cyprus right now ready to move?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have a number for you, Oren. Certainly will have much more in the in the days ahead. As you highlight, we've been pre-positioning aid, international groups have been pre-positioning aid in Cyprus, to be loaded onto vessels for transfer -- transport to the floating pier.

And so, you know, what I think you'll end up seeing is as this pier becomes operational, and as it becomes the viable route for humanitarian assistance to get into Gaza, that you'll see other groups coming, wanting to participate and contribute aid via this mechanism. Because again, when we take a step back here and look at what it is we're trying to accomplish here, it's trying to get humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible to the people of Gaza, whether that be by land, sea or air. Thank you.

We go to the phones here real quick. Heather from USNI.

Q: Hi, thanks so much. I was just following up on what was happening in the Red Sea. And with the Gaza pier. At this point does the Department of Defense have confidence that they can both support the safety of the Gaza pier while also continuing Prosperity Guardian, with the ships that are available in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. I mean, and the other -- the other important aspect here, Heather, is that we're not doing this alone, right? When it comes to Operation Prosperity Guardian, we are part of a multinational coalition that's working to safeguard those shipping lanes, you also have the -- the European effort that we are coordinating with in the region.

And then when it comes to operations in the Mediterranean and near Gaza, as I mentioned, we do have naval vessels there. But we're also working with our Israeli partners when it comes to security, both on land and at sea.

Can come back into the room. We’ll go to Chris, and then we'll come to you Janne. 

Q: Thanks Pat. Niger participated in Flintlock last year, and a few years ago, it was held in Niger. There been a number of coups since then. So how enduring and effective are these exercises?

GEN. RYDER: The exercises are incredibly important, and they are enduring. And I mean, you saw that, you know, just to kind of take a step outside of Africa for a second. I mean, you saw that play out recently, in the defense of Israel, when Iran conducted, it's unprecedented aerial attack. I mean, a lot of the -- the coordination and the ability to communicate and work together and that interoperability between the U.S., Israel and other partners in the region, was because of exercises.

And so certainly, when it comes to things like counterterrorism, or addressing regional threats, or humanitarian crises, types of situations, those exercises are central to enabling our forces to not only interoperate, but to understand one another, and to have those kinds of relationships that on that -- on that day, you need the most, there, there.

Q: Do you have any concerns about Nigerian armed forces trained by the U.S., given the situation now?

GEN. RYDER: You know, look, when it comes to Niger, you know, certainly we are proud of the -- the long relationship that we had with Niger and the work that we were able to do together in terms of counterterrorism and helping to train Nigerian forces to address threats like terrorism. But as you know, we're in a different position now. And we're going to continue to consult with the Nigerians in terms of the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces, we're going to continue to stay engaged with the partners in the region when it comes to terrorism and countering the terrorist threat. Because, again, you know, I think we all collectively can work together to address those very real threats. But we also respect the sovereignty of countries that we work with. And I'll just leave it at that.

Janne and then I'll come to you.

Q: Thank you, General. North Korea announced that it has deployed the new 244-millimeter multiple rocket launcher to the people's army and is preparing combat. And Kim Jong Un declared that he will target the Korean peninsula and the U.S. military unit. Can you comment on this?

GEN. RYDER: You know, look, Jenne, we -- we obviously continue to work very closely with our ROK and Japanese allies in the region when it comes to regional threats to include those -- that may be posed by North Korea. We certainly aren't seeking conflict with North Korea. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to ensure regional security and stability in the region through our extended deterrence efforts, but also through continuing to work with like-minded partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region. 

Q: Yeah, how will the war in Ukraine change it if this, I mean, new 240-millimeter rocket, multiple rocket launcher exported Russia? Do you think it will be changed somehow? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't want to get into hypotheticals, but let's leave it at that. 


Q: Thank you, General. I have just a clarification and two questions. So, on the cost of the pier and the causeway, the 320 million, what is the period you're talking about? This is throughout, like, this is the just...

GEN. RYDER: Estimated for about a three-month period. 

Q: That's for three months. Okay, thank you. And then on the situation in Rafah, as with the Israeli operation continuing, we saw today Israel and Egypt trading blame over who's closing the Rafah crossing. Israel is saying that Egypt can prevent humanitarian catastrophe by reopening the crossing. Egypt is blaming Israel for what's happening. Based on the information available to you, who's closing the Rafah crossing? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Fadi. So, I don't have that in front of me. The bottom line is we want to see the gates opened and aid delivered at an increased rate into Gaza. So, we'll continue to consult with our partners in the region, to include Israel and Egypt to ensure and work hard to get those gates open so that additional aid can be delivered over land into the people of Gaza who need it most. 

Q: And on Niger, I don't know if you saw the interview with the prime minister today in The Washington Post. He addressed the situation and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. He basically said the U.S. tried to dictate who Niger can work with in relation to Russia and Iran. And he's blaming the U.S., you know, the situation of the U.S. stopping its security cooperation with forces in Niger after the -- after the coup. Do you have any comment on that? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, the only thing I'd say is kind of what I relayed to Chris earlier and that, you know, we're proud of the work that we were able to do alongside Niger, you know, the work that we were able to do together. But, again, we respect Niger's sovereignty. 

And so, as we've said, we're in discussions with them now at their request to discuss the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces. And so as we have updates on that front, we'll definitely provide those. 

Let me go back to the phone, Ryo? 

Q: Thank you so much, General. So, yesterday there was a media report that U. S. and the Taiwan navies conducted official joint trainings in the Western Pacific in April. And the Taiwan navy didn't deny the report of this joint training. Could you give us DOD's comment on this report? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo. I've seen that reporting, but don't have a comment on specific operations. As you know, we have a longstanding One-China policy. And consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a self-defense capability. So, beyond that, nothing further to provide. 

We'll come back to Liz. 

Q: Thanks. So, for an update for the troops that were stationed in Chad that had to move to Germany, since the presidential election has taken place, is there any update on if they'll stay in Germany or go back? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. No updates provided this time. They're still in Germany. We still have that very small presence in Chad, but beyond that, no updates at this time. 

Q: And so with Chad and Niger, with the troops that will be leaving Niger soon, what do you attribute that to, that these U.S. forces had to leave Chad and Niger? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Well, look, I mean, I think we've, you know, when it comes to Niger, we've been very clear that the Nigerians have asked us to depart and we're going to work with them to discuss the orderly withdrawal of our forces. On Chad, again, this is a temporary drawdown as they went through their elections. And again, we're going to continue to have conversations about, you know, what types of support they require and where we can work together. 

But I think it's also important, again, to take a step back, as I highlighted at the top of this, the other work that we're doing throughout Africa. And so while it's very understandable to focus on these two countries, and they're important countries in the region, it's also important to look at our efforts more broadly when it comes to counterterrorism, and to working with countries throughout Africa on regional security and stability issues. 

And so we'll continue to do that, and we'll continue to find areas where we can work together, you know, as appropriate in accordance with policy and law to address areas of mutual concern. Thanks. 


Q: Two follow-ups. On Niger, there was supposed to be a follow on meeting with Assistant Sec Def Mara, Lieutenant General Anderson. It was supposed to happen the week of the 29th, it didn't happen. It was supposed to happen last week. As of late Thursday, it had not happened. Has that meeting started yet or is that still delayed? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So, they're actually enroute right now and, you know, we'll keep you updated on the outcomes of those discussions. 

Q: Okay. And then on the pier, if I may -- apologies if I missed it, but has the pier been attached to the coast yet? I know that yesterday it was supposed to. 

GEN. RYDER: No. No, it's still off the port of Ashdod and has not been attached to the beach. But again, when that happens, we'll obviously make sure to let you know. 

Q: Do you know about how long -- sorry if I'm asking for too much specificity. But about how long does it take to attach it? Because my understanding was the sea state today was pretty good. 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Again, we'll give you -- we'll keep you updated on that front. I'm not -- for operation security reasons, I'm not going to go into specifics here from the podium. But again, in the coming days, I think you can expect to see it operational. Yeah. 

Q: Thanks. What is the current risk assessment for the location that American hostages could be housed in case of a larger-scale miliary operation in Rafah? 

GEN. RYDER: The estimate of American hostages? 

Q: Yeah. And the risk assessment that places hostage could be housed to be bombed or to be targeted? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I mean, I don't have any specifics on that. Obviously, we're going to continue to stay very focused on hostage recovery. As you know, the U.S. has been working closely with Israel, Egypt, Qatar, and others in the region to get the hostages released. 

But I don't have any information, obviously, in terms of where they're located, what their current situation is, other than this continues to be a top priority for the U.S. government. Thank you. 

Yes, sir. 

Q: Thank you. Chinese Coast Guard vessels entered prohibited waters last week south of Kinmen, the island that belongs to Taiwan. I was wondering if the DOD, through some of its measures that it's restored to communicate with Chinese counterparts, has sent a message regarding that since that happened last week. 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I don't -- I don't have anything specific to pass along. You know, we, obviously, continue to urge the PRC not to use Taiwan's election as a pretext for escalation. As you know, we've seen in the past where they've used naval activity to increase pressure. We remain concerned by those types of activities. And I'll just leave it there. 

Thank you. Laura? 

Q: I wanted to ask you about Iraq also. There's been some reports of an ISIS resurgence in Iraq recently. So, can you tell us if that is accurate and if there's been an uptick in the number of reports of attacks?
GEN. RYDER: You know, I think we've talked a little bit about this before. When it comes to Iraq, Syria, there is an ISIS threat. Nowhere near the degree that it was, you know, 10, 5 years ago. But it's something that definitely requires continuing to keep an eye on and addressing. 

You know, when you look at places like Al-Hawl Detention Facility, that is a significant challenge in that how do you repatriate ISIS prisoners and their family members. And so that continues to be an area of main effort. But to your point, you know, I don't think we can necessarily take our eye off the ball here. So we'll continue to work with regional partners to address that threat through the international coalition.

Q: So there has been an uptick recently? 

GEN. RYDER: I said that I don't have numbers, Laura, to provide other than, again, we don't see the ISIS activity as the level it was back at the height of ISIS, but ISIS does continue to remain a threat. 

Q: You'll take that question? 

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. So you may have heard this, Defense Intelligence Officer Harrison Mann recently resigned from the DoD, citing his own guilt in abetting Israel's war. Yesterday, he posted a letter online explaining why. And it read, the policy that has never been far from my mind for the past six months is nearly unqualified support for the government of Israel, which has enabled and empowered the killing and starvation of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians. As we were recently reminded, this unconditional support also encourages reckless escalation that risks wider war. 

Mann said his work at the DIA unquestionably supported the war and its consequences. Then he concluded saying, at some point, whether the justification, you're either advancing a policy that enables mass starvation of children or you're not. So what does the Pentagon make of his reservation and his charges that the DoD is abetting the slaughter of innocents and risking a wider war in the Middle East? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I appreciate the readout of the report. I've seen those as well. Look, I don't have anything to provide on the status of this individual. I'd refer you to DIA or the Army. Thanks. 

Q: And his claims against the DoD, do you find any legitimacy behind them? 

GEN. RYDER: Again, look, I'm not going to discuss the particular -- the viewpoints of an individual service member. Again, I'd refer you to that service for any comments on his status. But generally speaking, you know, this is an all-volunteer force. We're engaged in challenging and complex issues on any given day around the globe. It's always been that way. There's going to be times when there's members that have different views. And of course, in this particular case, it's certainly your right to go ahead and get out. And I'll just leave it at that. Chris?

Q: If I could just follow up on Laura's question, not to press you too much on the specifics, but is it fair to say that the Iranian-aligned militia activities and before that, the Russian activities have certainly not helped the ISIS fight in the last? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I mean, that is a fair assessment, right? I mean, it's a diversion from the defeat ISIS mission when you're focused on those kinds of things. And look, I know it's hard to believe. I don't have a data tablet here that shows me ISIS activity over the last 10 years, month by month. 

You know, the bottom line is ISIS continues to present a threat in various parts of the world. Again, for context, I don't see it at the same levels we saw in 2014, again, when you had ISIS forces 24 kilometers outside of Baghdad threatening to essentially take control of Baghdad. 

And so when it comes to the activities by Iranian proxies that are targeting forces that are engaged in the defeat ISIS mission, of course, that has an impact. But, you know, our forces remain disciplined. They stay focused on the task. 

I'll just leave it there, Chris. Time for a couple more. Yes, sir.

Q: Just one more on Iraq. One, can you tell us when the last attack was on coalition -- U.S. or coalition troops in Iraq or Syria? And two, are there any updates -- can you provide any updates on the bilateral talks for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq? 

GEN. RYDER: No updates on the higher military commission at this time. In terms of the last two attacks, there was one attack at the Ramallah landing zone on April 21. And April 22 was the other. That was an attack near Al-Asad Airbase. No injury or damage to infrastructure. Prior to that was the February 4 attack. OK.
Yes, sir. Last question. 

Q: Thank you, General. You just touched on ISIS threats. So the security situation and borders between Iraq and Syria has become an ISIS threat to make preparations for its activities. So do you have any plan to increase your posture and engage more with the Iraq and Syrian Democratic Forces? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. No announcements to make in terms of force posture. As you know, Operation Inherent Resolve remains focused on working as part of an international coalition to address the threat of ISIS and to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS as it relates to Iraq and Syria. And so we'll continue to stay supportive of that as well as working with regional partners to address the threat of ISIS. 

All right. Fadi, fine, I'll take your question. 

Q: All right. Yeah (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: That was a pretty deep sigh here. 

Q: You still got it. I want to revisit my question because you said, I believe, that you want to see -- the department wants to see the gates reopened in reference to Rafah. With your contacts, with the Egyptian partners and the Israeli partners, you must know who's closing the crossing. Is it both sides? Is it one side? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I just don't have in front of me here what the situation at the gate is. Again, right now, what I'm tracking is four of the five gates are open. The Rafah gate is not. And again, we'll continue to work with Egyptian and Israeli partners to address that gate and ensure that we can continue to see aid come into Gaza. 

Q: Do you know when was the last shipment of aid that went through Rafah? 

GEN. RYDER: I don't. I don't have that in front of me. All right. Thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.