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Defense Officials Hold A News Briefing Via Teleconference On Humanitarian Assistance To Gaza

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: All right. Thank you, everyone, for joining our call this morning. This is Sabrina Singh again, the Pentagon deputy press secretary. I'll be facilitating today's on-the-record briefing call.

Joining us on the call today is Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, deputy commander, United States Central Command, and Chris Mewett, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Global Partnerships. I'll call on as many folks as possible, but just please keep your follow-ups to a minimum, and please keep your microphones on mute unless you're asking a question.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Vice Admiral Cooper for opening remarks.

VICE ADMIRAL SAMUEL BRAD COOPER: Okay, thanks, Sabrina, and thanks to all for the opportunity to discuss this very important effort with you this morning.

U.S. Central Command forces continue to support USAID's provision of humanitarian assistance into Gaza from the sea as part of our government's overall policy to flood the zone with humanitarian assistance. This humanitarian mission continues to be executed by 1,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors. There are 15 vessels of different sizes supporting this operation.

I'm very pleased to announce that earlier this morning in Gaza, U.S. forces successfully attached the temporary pier to the Gaza beach. Israeli Defense Force engineers provided all the necessary support to ensure the safe emplacement of the pier to the beach. The policy of no U.S. boots on the ground does remain in effect.

We expect to resume delivery of humanitarian assistance from the sea in the coming days. To be sure, this method of delivering aid from the sea to the people of Gaza has already proven to be effective. During its previous week-long period of operation, the temporary pier delivered 1,000 metric tons of aid, more than two million pounds, to the people of Gaza. To give you some broader context, aid from the pier to the people of Gaza was the second-highest volume of aid entering Gaza from any crossing during that period, and the pier accounted for about 30 percent of all aid delivered to the people of Gaza that week. Given its proven success, we expect to increase the volume of humanitarian assistance provided through the pier over the previous levels.

We also continue to operate two coordination cells in support of USAID, one in Cyprus and one in Israel. In Cyprus, we continue the coordination in order to receive and then onload aid onto commercial ships for transit to Gaza. We're very thankful to the government of Cyprus for their continued support.

And then in Israel, the coordination cells led by a U.S. Army Central commander, a three-star general, continues with close coordination with USAID, the IDF, COGAT (Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), the U.N. and other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and IGOs (intergovernmental organizations), and the cells recognized best practice of employing a Convoy Management Board absolutely remains in effect.

Of course, it's well-known that moving aid inside of Gaza is exceptionally challenging. In our case, as a result of the coordination of the Convoy Management Board, we experienced no interruption of aid flowing to the people of Gaza through the pier for the last five days that the pier was operating.

As you know, on 25 May, an unanticipated increase in sea state damaged the pier and ultimately resulted in the need for us to remove the pier from the beach. We then reconstituted it and repaired the pier in the port of Ashdod, Israel. As you know, weather is obviously a factor in all of our lives. Weather has always been and will always be a factor in military operations, and as we do around the world every day, we will adjust to the weather as required.

I personally, and I think we as a command, could not be prouder of the exceptional work by our soldiers and sailors who have done a simply superb job in just getting the pier back on mission in very short order. I'd also highlight that the Israeli Defense Force has been exceptional partners. They remain completely supportive of our effort to increase the volume of aid into Gaza.

We also continue to enjoy the support of the international community. Thousands of tons of aid are in various stages in the pipeline for delivery, and clearly, our international partners have seen the previous positive effect that the pier has on effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and they remain committed to its continued success.

Importantly, we remain focused on force protection as our number-one priority. U.S. and Israeli Defense Forces continue our exceptionally-close coordination to ensure the safety of our people.

And to reiterate, this is a 100 percent humanitarian mission. Any attack on those working on the pier is an attack on much-needed aid for the people of Gaza.

And with that, I'll pause for any questions.

MS. SINGH: Thank you, Vice Admiral Cooper.

We will start by opening it up to questions. We'll kick it off with Tara Copp, AP. 

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. So with the pier reestablished and reconnected, is there anything that you think our operations will do differently to make sure that the pier doesn't fall apart again? And just based on that first week of operations, were there any lessons learned on how to get aid moving, I guess, more reliably and quickly to people? Thank you.

ADM. COOPER: Hey, Tara. Several pieces to this. One, clearly, the issues with the pier stemmed solely from unanticipated weather. So in that regard, as we have always done, we will continue to look at the weather. I would also note that we undertook a very comprehensive analysis of weather patterns before the mission even began. In this case, we'll continue to look very closely at this as we go forward.

In the last five days of operations, we had a very successful track record of making sure that aid itself moved from the beach to the people of Gaza through the Convoy Management Board. That process continues, and we look to build on that.

Q: Okay, thank you.

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

Q: Hi. I'm sorry. Do you have any -- can you give us any better, I guess, more specific estimate than the coming days for when the system will be back up and running? I mean, can we expect it as soon as tomorrow? And then can you give us a sense of how much aid you expect to be delivering on the first day or so? And then, like, as that presumably grows, what are the numbers going to look like over time? Thanks.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, we're certainly moving with a sense of urgency. In the last week, there've generally only been two crossings that are opening, so now, we are enabling a third crossing or a third entry point into Gaza. So we want to seize this opportunity and get the aid to the people as quickly as possible. We anticipate that our goal will be to deliver 500,000 pounds over the beach initially, and then wrap that up soon thereafter. So essentially, everything -- a million pounds over every two-day period.

Q: And then on -- can you say anything more specific about the timing? We could -- could we see deliveries actually begin as early as tomorrow or this weekend even?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, let's just see how the preparation goes. We are definitely moving with a sense of urgency and coordinating with all of the partners to move as quickly as possible. So more to follow on this.

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

Q: Good morning all. Thanks for your time. On these JLOTS operations in general, while we've seen sort of an enduring problem, if we look back over the years on sea states exceeding two or three feet, that's not in the forecast but certainly it could happen again. What might you do if that comes up? Is this the kind of thing you can form -- farther away where it's safer? Can you sort of colloquially batten down the hatches? Like, what will you do to prevent damage should you see a -- waves or storms kick up again? Thanks.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, for reasons you'd appreciate, Dan, I'm not going to be able to talk on the operational specifics, other than to say we do have a series of contingency plans to adjust and adapt to the weather, as we do in any operation. They're certainly applicable to -- in this case, and I think, you know, obviously the degree and type of weather and the significance of it drives all the follow on actions.

But bottom line, we have a series of plans that are in place to implement if necessary. Until then, our goal is to keep the main thing the main thing, which is to maximize the amount of humanitarian assistance over the pier, delivered to the beach and to the people of Gaza, as another entry point into Gaza.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. Our next question will go to Jared Szuba, Al-Monitor.

Q: Hi, sir, thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask -- the ceasefire proposal that's on the table for the conflict in Gaza -- I believe in -- phase two calls for an IDF withdrawal from the Netzarim Corridor. Would -- I mean, how would that affect your guys' operations? Would that leave you without a security cordon? And would the pier operation continue in those conditions, or would that depend on the opening of overland crossings? Thanks.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, we'll just have to see how those negotiations go and adjust accordingly if necessary from there. The rest of all of that would be hypothetical, and I just wouldn't be in a position to be able to talk about it.

Until then though, we are focused, as I mentioned earlier, with a sense of urgency to maximize aid over the pier and to the beach ASAP.

Q: Sure. If I could just follow up then, I guess if I could try another -- the -- a number of experts -- I'm sure you're well aware of the alarming statistics about famine in Gaza. A number of experts have suggested that people who are starve -- have -- starving or near starvation need more than just food, they actually need medical care and they need very specific, you know, diets. What is the JLOTS pier -- what is the aid going in doing for that, if anything, or is it mainly just sort of food staples?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, I'll have a couple of comments and then see if Chris from Policy would like to discuss them. So first of all, it is well established and very well known that the land crossings offer the highest capacity for delivery of aid to the people. The temporary pier is additive in this nature, although, as I've pointed out, it is certainly important, given where the land crossings are today.

And up to this point, there's been a wide variety of aid delivered. Medical assistance is certainly included in that -- in that very broad category of that which has been delivered and that's what -- and that which is allowed.

DASD CHRIS MEWETT: Yeah, I would just add there that I would defer to USAID on characterizing the process through which the commodities that are loaded in Cyprus and prioritized for delivery, how that process is undertaken.

But to echo what Admiral Cooper said, there are non-food items included in the commodities that are being brought ashore over the pier. I think everyone recognizes that food is just one component -- shelter, medical care, et cetera.

Again, defer to USAID on the specifics of that prioritization process, but food is not the only commodity being delivered through JLOTS.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. Our next question will go to Nick Schifrin, PBS.

Q: Hey, guys, thanks so much. Forgive me in advance, I've got three. The first one is, as you identified, the biggest problem is moving aid within Gaza. Has there ever been or has there been any discussion of moving trucks themselves or truck parts over the JLOTS into Gaza to facilitate the shortage of trucks inside Gaza?

Number two, trying again -- what steps have you taken to try and prevent the damage that happened before from happening again?

And three, there's been a very, very complicated step between distribution within Gaza and aid coming off the JLOTS. As you've discussed, you had five days of uninterrupted effort there. Who exactly is in charge of that? And how are you ensuring that that step -- that specific step is uninterrupted in the future? Thanks.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, several things on this, and I'd, on the backend, defer to Chris if he has any comments.

In terms of the movement of aid itself, this is coordinated at our coordination cell in Israel using a Convoy Management Board that consists of U.S. military, representatives from USAID, Israeli Defense Force, COGAT, the UN, and then the other NGOs and IGOs.

Five days of successful and really, frankly, uninterrupted movement of that aid from the marshaling area at the beach to the distribution point is a reflection of the really strong coordination from that board. It obviously, like other processes, adjusts every day to the dynamic environment on the ground, and the environment is really dynamic and challenging. So a really nice job to the folks working this process, which has worked down to the detail.

In terms of internal distribution just in general though, this is a UN-led process. We are simply adding value in the coordination that we have, particularly with the IDF.

MS. SINGH: Thank you.

MR. MEWETT: Yeah, and then on the trucks question, I think I would just defer to USAID to speak about discussions with WFP (World Food Programme) on their requirements. We recognize they have some requirements for internal distribution -- trucks, fuel, things like that -- that we have as a U.S. government been in conversation with the implementing partners about, but again, defer to USAID on the specifics of that.

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

Q: Thank you very much. I had a couple questions. One, you mentioned that the pier has been put back onto shore but there've been no boots on the ground. So who actually put the pier in place?

And the USNS Stockham is in Cyprus right now. Do you know how much aid has been loaded onto that ship in anticipation of being used to deliver aid via the pier? Thank you.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, Nancy, the Israeli Defense Force engineers were the enabling force on the beach to allow us to re-emplace or emplace the pier onto the beach this morning. This is the same unit that we trained several months ago on how to conduct this operation. They conducted it flawlessly this morning. So we're very grateful for their assistance.

In terms of the Stockham, this ship carries a high volume of humanitarian assistance. At this point, there are literally thousands of tons of aid on the vessel. And in the coming days we'll see the Stockham integrated into the process to move that thousands of tons over the beach and to the people of Gaza.

Q: I wonder if we could get a more specific number on what's on the Stockham?

And also, were there any private companies involved in repairing the pier or helping put it back in place?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, we'd have to follow up on the Stockham. I'll leave you with it's thousands of tons right now.

In terms of their -- in terms of companies for repairs, in general, yes, we, as we do in many cases, in fact most cases, we did have private companies assist in the overall effort. But predominately, it was done by soldiers and sailors simply doing an absolutely outstanding job in a relatively short period of time.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. Our next question will go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you very much.

Admiral Cooper, there was a video posted on social media recently, a U.S. soldier and Israeli soldiers on the floating causeway, the causeway -- excuse me, I'm messing it up. I was just wondering, can you talk about how often U.S. and Israeli soldiers interact here on the pier or the causeway?

And -- and what do -- do they do anything together?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, Jeff, I would just say, broadly, without talking to specific force protection or anything like that, we have a very, very close and collaborative working relationship with the Israeli defense force. We're protecting ourselves from the land, on the air and the sea. We have extensive communications in all three of those domains and a very close relationship with the IDF in that regard.

Q: Thank you. And is there -- have any more service members been injured?

And have any been nominated or received awards?

ADM. COOPER: I have no further injury updates. And we'll -- on the awards piece, we're at the beginning of the mission. Let's execute successfully and continue to execute successfully, and we'll go from there.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. We have time for just a few more. I'll go to Joseph Haboush, Al-Arabiya.

Q: Thank you.

Admiral, I just wanted to try again. Can you confirm that at least one of the three injured troops is in critical condition, that he's still in Israel, he's been transferred elsewhere?

And then, we haven't seen any air drops since the pier was damaged. Should we expect to see those resume again?

And is there a reason they stopped throughout this period? Thank you.

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, we have one critically injured service member who was aero-medically evacuated to Brooke Army Medical Center (San Antonio, TX), where he remains there in critical condition.

In terms of the airdrops, they were suspended due to the kinetic operations happening in the north. We do expect those to resume here in the coming days. And we'll, kind of, leave it there.

MS. SINGH: Thank you. Our next question will go to Carla Babb, VOA.

Q: Hey, thanks, Admiral. I just want to follow up on your timing on starting aid again in the coming days, what Courtney was saying. Can you explain to us, why not right now?

Is it the weather? Is it something else? Is the aid not yet on the floating pier? What's the step that I'm missing there?

And then, also, to follow up on just the last question, are you saying that there will be simultaneous airdrops and aid being delivered from the sea in the coming days?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, first, on the weather, absolutely beautiful weather today, no issue there. And the aid is on scene. There's a whole series of measures on force protection that we want to validate to make sure we have all the communications in place so that we can move successfully. We're validating all those with a strong sense of urgency. And it would be my expectation that we begin to roll aid, you know, absolutely as soon as possible and, as I mentioned, you know, in the coming days, for sure.

And we are well-positioned to conduct aid, deliver aid from the sea and from the air. In each case, as we do every day, we're just verifying the conditions are safe to do so. So today we are validating the conditions are once again safe to do so from the sea, and as we do every day, validating that conditions are safe to do from the air, and then make decisions from the air.

But we certainly have the capability to do that, and that is our intention.

DASD MEWETT: I'll just add that, as a matter of policy, we're continually reassessing what the best mechanism to ensure the delivery of the maximum amount of aid and at the best value proposition. But obviously, as the president said when he first announced the pier, this is a temporary solution. We see airdrops as a temporary solution as well. And those decisions about which delivery mechanisms will be used at what time will continue to be made not just on considerations of operational considerations on the ground, but also as a policy matter about what's the best mechanism to deliver aid.

MS. SINGH: Thank you.

And our last question will go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina.

A couple questions. One is has the C-RAM (counter rocket, artillery and mortar defensive weapon) system been reinstalled?

And the second is, in the planning for the delivery of aid, has -- did you guys ever at any point consider having, like, with the LCAC (landing craft air cushion) hovercraft deliver aid onto the ground?

ADM. COOPER: Yeah, two things. One, I'm obviously not going to get into the specifics of what force protection measures are implemented or not, other than to say we have a very comprehensive and integrated force protection plan, along with the Israeli Defense Force, to achieve priority number one, which is the protection of our service members.

Then, on the second piece, we considered a whole range of options on how best to deliver aid. And the current processes and models that we're using are the ones that we've chosen.

And let me just reiterate, the process and model that we have right now is proven. It was highly successful. It was highly impactful. Now we're looking to take that proven model, add a little energy into it, a little higher volume, in moving forward. And I think we're really in a good position to be able to do that.

MS. SINGH: All right. Thank you, everyone.

Thank you to our speakers today. Very much appreciate your time. Thank you for joining us, all. And that concludes our briefing call for today. Happy Friday.