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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. Hold an On-Camera Press Conference

STAFF: Well, Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here today.

It is my pleasure to introduce the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin III, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. The secretary and the chairman will deliver opening remarks, and then we'll have time to take a few questions. Please note that I will moderate those questions and call on journalists. Due to time constraints, would ask that those I call upon limit their follow-up questions to give your colleagues a chance to ask their questions.

Secretary Austin, over to you, sir.


Well, good afternoon, everybody, and thanks for joining us.

Gen. Brown and I have just come from the 22nd meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and I'm grateful to the some-50 countries from around the world that joined us again today.

The Contact Group heard directly from Ukraine's defense leaders, including Minister Umerov. They gave a valuable update on Ukraine's defensive operations across the front line, including the new Russian offensive around Kharkiv. 

We met today at a challenging moment for Ukraine. Putin's forces have opened another front to seize sovereign Ukrainian territory, and the Kremlin's invaders are obliterating Ukrainian villages and killing innocent civilians and bombarding civilian infrastructure, including dams and power plants. Ukraine's defenders are in a hard fight. But Russian troops are paying a high price for Putin's aggression. 

Now, Putin is betting that eventually, Ukraine will fold, and he's betting that this Contact Group will crumble. But he's wrong, and today, we saw again why. Ukraine is fighting for its life, which gives it the huge strategic advantage of a just cause. And meanwhile, Putin is trying to wage a 19th century war of imperial aggression in the world of 2024. That's a terrible idea and a terrible strategy.

Ukraine's forces are fighting the Kremlin's war of choice with ingenuity and skill, and they are making excellent use of the capabilities provided by the members of this Contact Group. 

We spent a lot of time today on lifesaving air defense systems which are helping Ukraine stave off waves of Russian missiles, Iranian UAVs and North Korean munitions, and we'll continue to push to ensure that Ukraine owns its skies and can defend its citizens and its civilian infrastructure far from the front lines.

The United States and our allies and partners worldwide remain laser-focus on Ukraine's near-term requirements in Kharkiv and elsewhere, and we'll keep pushing to find swift solutions to Ukraine's most pressing needs. And that's why President Biden announced a $400 million security assistance package for Ukraine earlier this month. It will provide critical munitions for NASAMS and Patriot air defense systems, more HIMARS systems and munitions, more anti-armor systems and other priority requirements. And this comes on top of the $7 billion -- $7 billion of security assistance that we've already committed to Ukraine since the recent passage of the National Security Supplemental. We're delivering the most urgently needed capabilities, including 155 millimeter artillery rounds, and much more is on the way.

Now, Contact Group members also spent time today on the long-term challenge of Ukraine's security, and I continue to be impressed by the work of the capability coalitions. These eight coalitions are helping to anticipate and meet Ukraine's battlefield needs, and they're also laying the foundation for Ukraine's future force, which must be strong and -- and sustainable enough to ward off future Russian aggression.

Today, we heard updates from the Maritime Coalition and the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Coalition. I'm also impressed with Germany's immediate action on the Air Defense Initiative. It's helping Ukraine's global partners dig deeper and to find rapid and creative ways to deploy more air defense systems and provide the spare parts to sustain Ukraine's defenses. Meanwhile, the U.K. and Norway are leading the Maritime Coalition in helping Ukraine beef up its capabilities to fend off Putin's attacks.

Now, those are just two of the eight capability coalitions, and together, they're providing a sturdy, flexible structure to meet Ukraine's security requirements over the long haul. So we'll continue to work with nations of goodwill from around the world to support Ukraine's fight for survival, and we'll continue to make the case for why Ukraine matters.

The outcome in Ukraine is -- is crucial for European security, for global security, and for American security. None of us would want to live in a world where dictators re-draw borders by force and launch wars of aggression to try to revive yesterday's empires. So let me be clear -- Ukraine's partners are united and we're determined and we're not going anywhere.

And with that, let me turn it over to Gen. Brown.

GENERAL CHARLES Q. BROWN JR.: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Good afternoon, everyone. In an address to Congress near the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson laid out his 14 point program for world peace. He asserted that political independence and territorial integrity required an association of nations united against authoritarian aggressors. He said, and I quote, "we cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end."

President Wilson never realized his vision for a strong coalition of nations based on his 14 points. The world had to endure a Second World War, a war more brutal and more costly than the first, before there was collective will to come together in common purpose.

The principles President Wilson championed formed the basis of the international order we live in today. That order is being challenged by Russia's illegal and unprovoked attack on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group has stood together in the face of this Russian aggression, and we will continue to stand together to support Ukraine and defend the international order.

Once again, I want to thank Secretary Austin for his leadership in this international coalition of more than 50 nations in support of Ukraine. Thanks also to Defense Minister Umerov and the Ukrainian delegation who joined us today and for their leadership of Ukraine's armed forces. And to all of the nations attending today, thank you for your continued support of Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces are being challenged, particularly in the Kharkiv region where they are valiantly defending against increased Russian attacks. In recent days, Russia launched a new offensive attacks against Kharkiv, aiming to establish a shallow buffer zone along the Ukrainian border. Russia anticipates that this will divert Ukrainian focus and capabilities from other critical areas.

Ukrainians made concerted efforts to build and strengthen defensive lines, which are being tested by Russian attacks. Ukraine's expending air defense munitions to protect their skies as they defend against continued Russian strikes on critical civilian infrastructure.

Ukrainian forces are fighting hard to hold against Russian advances across the front lines. Ukraine's reserves and stockpiles are being challenged as they defend against Russian offensive actions, which underscores the urgency of this coalition's work to sustain Ukraine.

The President authorized a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine following the passage of the national security supplemental, and a second aid package was authorized a little over a week ago to send additional critical capabilities to Ukraine.

These packages include earnestly needed weapons, such as artillery ammunition, air defense interceptors, anti-aircraft missiles, armored vehicles, Javelins, and other anti-armor systems. We have worked diligently to deliver these supplies as quickly as possible.

The influx of U.S. and coalition assistance will enable Ukraine to continue to withstand Russian aggression. Military aid to Ukraine sends a clear message to the world: this coalition will not tire, we will not waver, we will not give up. Our collective resolve is steadfast.

We know that we cannot allow Russia to rewrite borders, to force tyranny on an unwilling people, and to supplant the sovereign, democratic nation. The actions of this coalition show other would-be aggressors that we will defend the international order together.

Our support for -- for Ukraine is not merely an act of solidarity, it is a strategic necessity that -- that reinforces broader international security. If unchecked, Russian aggression could embolden other authoritarian regimes to challenge the international norms and violate the sovereignty of their neighbors. This highlights the importance of a robust and unified response.

Global events have far-reaching consequences that impact us all. Our collective actions today will shape the geopolitical landscape of tomorrow. This is what President Wilson understood. Safety and prosperity for all nations can only be won -- the -- through unified and cooperative effort. President Wilson understand that peace and security are more than just words, they require constant work and action on the part of nations coming together for a common purpose. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group is committed to that work.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

STAFF: Thank you both, gentlemen. Our first question will go to Associated Press, Tara Copp.

Q: Thank you for doing this. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about Iran. Does the Pentagon have any indication that the helicopter crash in Iran that killed President Raisi was anything other than an accident? And have you directed any force posture changes in case there's unrest following these deaths?

And then for Chairman Brown, I wanted to ask you about senior airman Roger Fortson. What would you like to say to Fortson's family? And more broadly, what would you like to say to black service members who are wondering if it matters whether they serve? No matter what they do, there's still law enforcement that see them as a threat?

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Tara. Regarding the death of Iran's President in the -- in the very unfortunate helicopter crash, we -- we continue to monitor the situation but we don't have any -- any insights into the cause of the -- of the accident at this point. And certainly, I know the Iranians are investigating, or will investigate. And -- and so we'll see what they -- what the outcome is once their investigation is complete.

In terms of our force posture, don't have any announcements to make, and -- and again, this is something that we'll continue to watch. And I don't necessarily see any broader regional security impacts at this point in time, Tara.

Q: But at this time, you have no indication that there was anything other than an accident that brought this helicopter down?

SEC. AUSTIN: I -- I can't speculate on what may have been the cause of the accident, Tara, but, you know, again, I think we'll -- we'll learn more once the Iranians have -- have investigated.

GEN. BROWN: Tara, let me first of all pass on my sincere condolences to Senior Airman Fortson's family, friends and fellow airmen. I know they're going through some difficult times right now. And I will also tell you that, you know, for every service member we lose, it always tears on me because I know it impacts a family.

The one thing I would highlight, you know, this is under an investigation, but the -- what I would highlight is that a number of our service members and their families live in our -- various communities around the country, and we would hope and expect that they would all be able to be safe in those communities and -- and safe in their homes.

At the same time, I would also highlight that for each one of those young people that join our service and raise their right hand to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we're going to provide them opportunities to reach their full potential, and -- and that's our focus for -- no matter their background, that decided to join our force.

STAFF: Thank you, gentlemen.

Next question, go to CNN.

Q: Secretary Austin, sir, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant briefed National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on -- on Rafah plans and humanitarian efforts. At -- at least according to the readout, it seems it's more detailed. Have you seen the plans that Sullivan was briefed on? And does it meet the requirements of what you want to see in terms of what Israel needs to do before an operation in Rafah?

And then Gen. Brown, sir, as -- as Ukraine tries to defend itself against a renewed Russian offensive in -- in Kharkiv, do you believe Ukraine should be able to use American weaponry to target Russian forces that are just right across the border there? Is that a recommendation you would make?

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks. I -- I've not seen the -- the information that was briefed to Mr. Sullivan, but you know, I -- as -- as you know, I talk to Minister Gallant every week, and I would expect that he would detail the information in the -- in -- in the -- in that briefing to me as well, so -- and I'll -- I'll talk to Jake Sullivan as soon as -- as soon as he's available. But because of that, I won't speculate as to whether or not it meets any kind of requirements. But -- but again, you know, we've been clear about what we -- what we think is very, very important, and that is to make sure that the civilians that are in that battlespace are -- are moved out of the battlespace before any activity occurs in that -- in that -- in that city, so -- so we'll see what happens, so --

GEN. BROWN: Our -- our focus in support of Ukraine, as -- as being able to use capabilities, particularly the things that will impact the -- the close battle in -- in various areas. And we're paying attention to what's going on in and around Kharkiv. I won't publicly talk about what I might advise, but as we continue to support them, I'll -- I'll continue to work with the secretary as we make our recommendations going forward. But the real key point is -- is using the capabilities that we provided them in the close battle in the areas that they are -- they are doing on the fronts that they're already operating on, as well as into Crimea.

STAFF: OK, let's go to Washington Post.

Q: Hi. Nice to see you all.

This question's for both of you regarding -- going back to the Rafah operation and following up on Oren's question. So the IDF is announcing plans as -- as recently as today to expand the Rafah operation, and meanwhile, people that we've spoken with on the ground say that in -- in -- that they perceive what is already a full-fledged operation, at least that’s the perception on the ground. Given the Biden administration's statement that it will not support a full-fledged invasion of Rafah without a coherent evacuation and humanitarian plan, are you prepared to declare that it's a full-fledged invasion if these actions go ahead?

And do you think there's a danger that the IDF could sort of just do this gradually, continue to make sort of gradual expansions and incremental push into Rafah in a way that falls short of a giant charge into the city, and potentially try to avoid the U.S. consequences that have been threatened? 

Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Yes, again, I -- I've seen what -- what was reported that Minister Gallant said. I look forward to talking to him about -- about what his plans really are, and also, getting -- talking with Jake Sullivan as well.

And I really don't want to speculate as to whether or not this is or is not a -- or will be a -- a -- a larger operation. I really would like to -- to see what the -- you know, what -- what they intend to do. But what we would like to see, again, is -- is protection of those civilians that are in the battle space, move those civilians out, but not only move them out but make sure that wherever they go, wherever you move them to, that you -- that you have provisions for them to take care of them -- water, shelters, those types of things.

And, you know, I've said before that there -- in my view, there have been far too many casualties -- civilian casualties in this fight. We need to see something done a lot differently. And even, you know, if there are -- if there is kinetic activity, if there are -- if -- if there is an operation that -- that -- that is conducted that's -- that's larger, we certainly would like to see things done differently -- more precise and -- and -- and less destruction of -- of, you know, the -- the civilian structures and -- and -- and more protection of the civilian population, so.

Q: Gen. Brown?

GEN. BROWN: Well, I would echo, you know, very much what the secretary said. In -- in all -- all of my conversations with my counterpart, it's -- it's very much the same -- you know, be able to communicate with us what their intent is so we understand how they're approaching it, but at the same time being able to take care of -- of the civilians, and not just, you know, move them out but move them into places where they can, you know, have shelter, have food. And -- and that's something we -- we continually message in the -- in -- in the engagements I have with my -- my counterpart.

STAFF: Let's go to Fox.

Q: Secretary Austin, Victoria Nuland, the former acting Deputy Secretary of State who just stepped down, said yesterday on the Sunday shows that the administration needs a new Ukraine strategy, and she said, quote, "I think if the attacks are coming directly from over the line in Russia, that those bases ought to be fair game. I think it's time to give the Ukrainians more help hitting these bases inside Russia." Do you agree with her assessment?

SEC. AUSTIN: I agree with what the Chairman just said, Jennifer, and that is that, you know, in my view, their focus ought to be on -- on the close fight and making sure that they're -- they're servicing those targets that will -- that will enable success in the close fight.

So, you know -- and, you know, we've been that way throughout and -- and, you know, that'll be my view going forward, so.

Q: And Gen. Brown, is there anything NATO can do to help Georgia resist Russian efforts to expand their influence? How does this affect what's happening in Georgia right now? How does it affect Georgia's pathway to NATO?

GEN. BROWN: Well, you know, we -- we're -- we're deeply concerned and watching the influence Russia has in -- in Georgia. And we'll -- we will remain committed to Georgia's sovereignty. You know, as -- as I met last week with my -- my NATO counterparts, we consistently talk about how we work together to -- the -- the sovereignty of the -- the -- the nations that are partner to NATO but also just the overall security situation in -- in Europe.

Q: But will this affect Georgia's admission to NATO or pathway to NATO, should they be --


GEN. BROWN: -- I'm not in a -- policy-making decision points of -- of whether or not -- but, you know, from my perspective as a uniformed service member, it's about ensuring the security of -- of the various nations but also the security of the citizens of those nations as well.

STAFF: OK, let's go to Al Jazeera.

Q: Thank you, General. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. The International Criminal Court prosecutor today announced he's requesting arrest warranties against Prime Minister Netanyahu and -- of Israel and your counterpart, Mr. Gallant, over accusation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

My first question: Will your administration support this case? And will you cooperate with the court on this case?

And the second question is, the U.S. being the main supporters of -- supporter of Israel, in light of this case, will you reconsider the provision of weapons to Israel some of which have been used to kill Palestinian civilians, according to President Biden? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: So, I've seen the press reports of the ICC seeking arrest warrants, but I don't have anything to provide on that issue -- on that issue.

Again, our focus continues to be on providing Israel what it needs to defend itself. We’ve – we’ve -- that's been our focus from the very beginning. And as President Biden has said a number of times, our support to Israel remains ironclad.

I think it's important to reflect back to how this got started. You know, this brutal attack on October 7th, a number of Israeli and American civilians were -- were killed in that assault -- in that terrorist attack. There were over 230 hostages taken. Half of those hostages remain in custody.

And so, again, our focus remains on providing support to Israel in its efforts to defend itself. And we very much would like to see the hostages returned safely.

And in terms of the decision to provide weapons to Israel, again, I won't engage in any type of speculation going forward. But, again, my hope would be that we do what's necessary to protect civilians in a battle space, and you'll hear me say that over and over again. I -- I don't think the two things are incompatible.

You know, I think you can conduct military operations effectively and also account for civilians in a battle space, you know. We have learned a lot. The United States has learned a lot in terms of this type of operation over the past several years. And, again, there is -- there are ways to do this where -- where you can account for both. You can protect the people and also accomplish your objectives.

STAFF: Let's go to Reuters.

Q: Gen. Brown, could you explain, you've been quoted talking about the inevitability of advisers, U.S. advisers in Ukraine working with Ukrainian forces. Can you explain a little bit about what -- why that is necessary and what it would take to make that happen?

And, Secretary Austin, on the ICC, President Biden has called it, the arrest warrants, outrageous. This department had said it would work with the ICC to provide evidence about Ukraine. Is that work continuing? How does this decision affect those Pentagon efforts? Thank you.

GEN. BROWN: So, let me put, you know, that discussion into context. If you go back before February of 2022, we had our U.S. military members in there while working and training with the Ukrainians, and that's not the case right now.

And, you know, when I said that we would be able to do that eventually, you know, once this conflict is over and we're in a better place, then I would suspect that we would be able to bring trainers back in. But right now, there are no plans to bring U.S. trainers into Ukraine.

SEC. AUSTIN: So, on the question on the ICC, again, as I said earlier, I don't have anything to add on the -- on the reports that -- that we've seen here recently. Regarding the question of whether or not we'll continue to provide support to the ICC with respect to crimes or committed in Ukraine, yes, we continue that work.

STAFF: Time for just a couple more. Let's go to NPR.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to go back to Rafah. You said you haven't received a detailed military plan from the Israelis about the way ahead there. What about the humanitarian plan?

You say you want them to care for these hundreds of thousands of people displaced, provide food, shelter, medical care. Have they given you any indication about how they plan on doing that?

SEC. AUSTIN: Early on, we received a conceptual brief on how they were going to -- going to put the measures in place to take care of the population that moved out of that battle space, and the things that are required to support that plan. We've just not seen -- I've not seen those elements go into play. And so, my view is that there's – there’s more work to be done, and my view is also that this takes – this takes time.

And so, again, those things that I think need to be in place to take care of people whenever they migrate from one place to another, again, I've not seen evidence that those things are in place yet.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the concept that they gave you? Any details on that to us?

SEC. AUSTIN: I'll leave that to the Israelis to brief their concept. But, yes, it's one thing to have a concept. It's another thing to actually put it into play.

STAFF: Let's go to NBC.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that it is possible to conduct operations and also account for civilians in the battle space. And I wonder on Rafah, given your extensive military experience, what you're seeing happen in Rafah right now, do you think that Israel is doing that, conducting their operations and accounting for civilians in the battle space?

And then, Mr. Chairman, on the idea of Ukraine conducting strikes inside Russia, I wonder if you can say, are you confident that none of the long-range ATACMS that the U.S. has provided have been used to strike inside Russian territory?

SEC. AUSTIN: So, regarding what Israel is doing inside Rafah, what we've seen thus far is a limited action that's been focused on the Rafah border crossing. And, again, it's reported that Mr. Gallant said that he looks to expand operations going forward.

Now, I -- I look forward to having that discussion with him to understand, you know, what his intent is and how he's going to do that. But, again, what we want to see is civilians accounted for and moved out of that battle space before anything happens. We've been clear about that – about that throughout.

As you well know, I think before things -- this fight kicked off in Gaza, there were some 275,000 or so people that lived in and around Rafah. That number grew to 1.25 million or so, and that's – that’s a big jump. And that's a lot of people in a very compressed battle space that's in a very difficult urban area.

And, as you know, urban combat is very – very intense, very difficult to begin with. So, unless you account for those civilians and do things differently, then I think you stand to have a lot more casualties going forward. And that's something that we'd like to see change.

STAFF: Let's go to Scripps.

GEN. BROWN: Yes. I am confident the ATACMS that we provided have not been used in Russia. They've been used in targets in Ukraine.

Q: Secretary Austin, the Russians, they're flying bomb -- they're flying bombers in Russian territory with glide bombs that are having a devastating impact on the battlefield inside of Ukraine. Should the Ukrainians be able to use American air defenses to hit those Russian bombers in Russian territory?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I -- again, you can diagram a number of different cases for, you know, whatever. I would say that we -- we have been clear about providing Ukraine the ability to defend it -- defend its sovereign territory. 

And again, the dynamics of a -- of an aerial engagement, you know, I -- I'd leave it up to the experts, but -- but -- but certainly, you know, our expectation is that they -- they continue to use the weapons that we've provided in -- on targets inside of Ukraine.

Now, the -- the -- the aerial dynamic's a little bit different. And -- and so -- but again, don't -- don't want to speculate on any -- any one or -- or any type of engagement here at the podium, so.

Q: But you're saying it's off-limits or not off-limits?

STAFF: Yes, so final question will go over here.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, are you concerned that Iran is going to try and blame Israel or even the United States for the crash that killed the President yesterday?

And for Gen. Brown, Israel is also conducting operations in northern Gaza, even though they've said that -- they -- they previously said that they had defeated Hamas there. So particularly given your personal experience fighting terrorists in the Middle East, do you believe that Israel can achieve its goal of fully eliminating Hamas?

SEC. AUSTIN: The -- the -- the United States had no part to play in -- in that crash. And so -- and that's -- that's a fact, plain and simple, so.

Q: And Israel? Are you afraid they're going to blame Israel?

SEC. AUSTIN: I -- I -- I won't speculate as to what they will -- what they will blame. Again, they -- they have to conduct an investigation to see what the cause of the crash was. It could be a number of things -- mechanical failure, pilot error, you name it, so.

GEN. BROWN: To you -- to your -- your -- your question about northern Gaza, you know -- and -- and based on experience, not only do you have to actually go in and -- and -- and clear out whatever adversary you're up against, you -- has to get a -- go in and hold the territory, then you've got to stabilize it.

The -- the Israelis didn't -- not -- not actually -- once they cleared it, they didn't hold. And so that allows your adversary then to re-populate in areas if you're not there. And -- and so that does make it more challenging for them as far as being able to meet their objective, of being able to -- in -- militarily destroy and defeat Hamas.

Q: Do you think they will be able to do that?

GEN. BROWN: Well, you mean -- Hamas, it's -- it's not just an organization, it's a -- it's a ideology. And -- and so you've got to think about -- you know, the overall piece of being able to provide security not only for Israel but just there in the region is going to take a -- a concerted effort, not just from a military piece but it's also how we, you know, work through the humanitarian assistance, which is why we focus so much -- the Secretary and I talking about humanitarian assistance and -- and protecting the civilians that are there in -- in Gaza.

STAFF: Secretary Austin and Gen. Brown, thank you very much, gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our press briefing. Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks.