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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Just a few things at the top here, and then happy to dive in and take your questions.

Today, Secretary Austin is traveling to Brussels to host the 23rd Ukraine Defense Contact Group tomorrow, June 13th.  The secretary will be joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General CQ Brown, and senior military officials from nearly 50 nations to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and encourage continued support from the international community to provide the Ukrainians with the means necessary to defend their sovereign territory.  Also while he's in Brussels, Secretary Austin will participate in the NATO Defense Ministerial on June 14th at NATO headquarters.

And now, switching to a few operational updates on the temporary pier, or the Joint Logistics Over-The-Shore capability that is being used to surge humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  As you know, for two days, the temporary pier was not operational due to high sea states.  As of yesterday, June 11th, U.S. Central Command resumed the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza with more than 500 metric tons of aid delivered to the marshaling area, and today, delivered another over-500 metric tons as well to the marshaling area.  In total since, May 17th, Central Command assisted in the delivery of more than 2,500 metric tons, or approximately 5.6 million pounds of humanitarian aid to the shore for onward distribution.

Additionally, the one remaining Army vessel that was beached in Gaza on May 25th was recovered last night, and we greatly appreciate the IDF's assistance with recovery of that vessel.

Switching gears, the National Guard is wrapping up its largest annual cyber exercise this weekend at the Virginia National Guard State Military Reservation outside Virginia Beach.  Exercise Cyber Shield 2024 brings together nearly 1,000 participants from National Guard units in 41 states and territories, 27 defensive cyber operations elements, nine international partner nations and the active-duty Air Force with a focus on defending critical infrastructure against cyber threats.

Building off the DOD's 2023 Cyber Strategy, exercises like Cyber Shield 2024 are leveraging industry-leading courses and force-on-force cyber attack simulations to grow collaborative and interoperable capabilities among local, state, national and international partners for unified defense and all-domain deterrence.

And finally, Abe Denmark, the secretary's senior advisor for AUKUS, is departing the Pentagon.  We want to thank Abe for his leadership, building strong coalitions, bringing us even closer to two of our closest allies, the U.K. and Australia, and for strengthening security across the Indo-Pacific.  He was a key architect of the AUKUS Pillar One optimal pathway announced by the president and the prime ministers, and instrumental in developing advanced capability cooperation in AUKUS Pillar Two.  On behalf of the secretary of defense, we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.  Lita?

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.  Two things.  One, when does the U.S. expect to deliver the new Patriot system to Ukraine?  And what impact does the secretary and the military believe that will have on the war there?

And then just secondly on — just a follow-up on the pier, has any aid moved from the marshaling area into Gaza that you're aware of?  And how big of a problem is this, that aid is just going to keep mounting?  Do you have any sense that it will resume at all?

MS. SINGH:  Let me take the last part first.  So to my knowledge, since aid has started flowing in from yesterday and today, it's just being collected in the marshaling area, getting ready for when the UNWFP is ready to distribute.  That distribution hasn't happened to my knowledge.  I'd refer you to USAID and WFP to speak more to that.  I know that they are conducting a security review, so while they do that, it is in the marshaling area.

The good news is, is that it's on the beach, so it's a step closer to getting to the people who need it most.  But I just don't have an update on when that will be further distributed.

In terms of your first question on Ukraine and air defenses, I've seen some of the reporting out there on the Patriot.  I don't have any announcements to make on a Patriot battery today.

What I can tell you — not getting ahead of the Secretary, but something that he continues to emphasize when he has — hosts the Ukraine Defense Contact Group is that we know air defenses are a priority for Ukraine, it's something that they need, whether it be in the Patriot or other forms.  And so I'm sure that's going to be a topic of discussion tomorrow at the UDCG.

Won't get ahead of the Secretary and don't have any announcements to make, but we'll certainly keep you updated if there are any other additional presidential drawdown packages.


Q:  Sabrina, just to follow up — so of the 2,500 tons that have been delivered to Gaza, all are still in the marshaling area, none have been distributed?

MS. SINGH:  No, so for better numbers on the distribution, I'd refer you to the WFP and USAID to speak more to that.  I am speaking about the aid deliveries from the temporary pier from yesterday and today.  That aid remains in the marshaling area and just collated there.  The aid that came off the pier before, you know, we had to — what's the right word — remove it and then re-anchor it, that aid had been distributed on — or at least went to the warehouses.

Q:  And how seriously are you taking the arrival of this Russian flotilla in Havana and the exercises being take — taking place in the Caribbean?

MS. SINGH:  We've been tracking the Russians' plans for this.  This is not a surprise.  We've seen them do this — these type of port calls before, and these are, you know, routine naval visits that we've seen under different administrations.

We're always, constantly going to monitor any foreign vessels operating near U.S. territorial waters.  We of course take it seriously, but these exercises don't pose a threat to the United States.

Q:  But when was the last time that Russian naval vessels were off the coast of Florida or in Cuba?

MS. SINGH:  I'd refer you to NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM to speak more to that.  I know it — they have done exercises — it — previous years under different administrations, but I don't have those exact dates in front of me.


Q:  Yeah, just to follow up on Jen's question on what's happening with Russian war ships moving into Cuba, it did happen in different administrations, as you're saying, but the timing of it happening now with what's happening in Ukraine, with President Biden taking off for the G7 in Italy, meeting with world leaders and not Vladimir Putin, is this seen as some sort of muscle-flexing on the side of Russia?

MS. SINGH:  You know, I'd refer you to the Russians to speak to their own operations and exercises.  It certainly wouldn't come as a surprise to us if we see more activity around the United States.  And, you know, they do have a global exercise that will, I think, likely culminate this fall.

It's something that we're going to continue to monitor.  Again, I think what's important here is that what Russia is doing in these exercises, they don't pose a threat to the United States, but of course we're going to continue to monitor.

Q:  Have they gotten close to — I know we've — have our U.S. ships kind of repositioned in the area monitoring it.  Have they gotten close — or can you say how close they've gotten to — to our ships?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have those specifics.  I would direct you to NORTHCOM and — and SOUTHCOM as well to speak more to that.  I just don't — I just don't have that right now.

Konstantin?  Did I see you have — had a question right there?

Q:  So just continuing on that line of questioning —

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  — are you able to say what the U.S. military responded with?

MS. SINGH:  So, I mean, we are continuing to monitor.  I can tell you that the Navy's U.S. Second Fleet, U.S. Fourth Fleet, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, and Canadian Joint Task Force Atlantic are conducting routine operations throughout the Atlantic.  But we're going to continue to monitor, you know, what's happening in the region, but that's all I have in terms of specifics.

Q:  And then one last detail.  Are you able to say how close the Russians ships got to the coast of Florida?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have those specific details.  I'd direct you to NORTHCOM for that.

I'm just going to go to the phones and then happy to come back into the room.  Fadi Mansour, Al Jazeera?  Okay, maybe not.  Idrees Ali, Reuters?

Q:  I have two quick questions.  Are you aware of any of the aid either becoming inedible or unusable because it's been in the marshaling area or in warehouses for so long?  And is the Secretary frustrated with either the World Food Program or USAID for — for apparently not foreseeing some of the challenges that they're now facing in delivering the aid that's just collecting in the marshaling area?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Idrees.  So in terms of the actual aid, I can't really speak to that.  I would direct you to USAID and the World Food Program to speak more to the specifics on the donations and if — you know, some of the concerns there.

But to my knowledge, the aid that has moved on and off the pier from yesterday and today has been aid that, when the WFP is ready to continue forward with onward distribution, will be used well and get into the hands of the Palestinian people that need it most.

In terms of your question of are there any frustrations, there are not.  I mean, this is — we're working hand in glove with USAID, who has been a great partner in culling together different nations, different NGOs to donate aid to a population that desperately needs it.  We are the conduit for getting that aid to the people who need it the most, but USAID has been instrumental in making sure that we are getting those donations from other countries and NGOs as well.

So we certainly value their partnership.  The WFP of course is taking the security measures that they need to do and the reviews that they need to do in order to feel safe and secure and — to operate within Gaza.  We're not standing in the way of that.  We are just ready and waiting to help with getting aid from Cyprus to the temporary pier into the marshaling area so that aid can get to the people that need it most.

I'm happy to come back in the room.  Janne?

Q:  Thank you, Sabrina.  And two questions.  U.S. and South Korea held Nuclear Consultative Group — I mean NCG group meeting in Seoul recently.  The review of the U.S. and ROK joint statement said that joint guidelines on North Korea's nuclear weapons has been completed.  What are the specific details?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything to read out of a specific meeting, Janne.  I'm not exactly tracking what you mentioned, but of course we're always monitoring what's happening on the peninsula and aware of, you know, DPRK's provocative activities over the last few days and weeks.  But I don't have anything — specifics on a meeting that you just mentioned.

Q:  Why does senior officer recently mentioned about the — if China and Russia do not reduce their nuclear weapons, U.S. might, you know, increase the nuclear deployment, the U.S. will adjust its nuclear — I mean nuclear posture capabilities or what is meant?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Janne, for the question.  Bit of a hypothetical there.  As you can appreciate, just not going to get into more specifics, but we're always assessing, you know, what Russia, what the PRC are doing.  I don't have any announcements to make in terms of force posture changes to our own nuclear posture — or changes to our nuclear posture, I should say, but, you know, we're going to continue to monitor, and I just don't have anything more for you on that.


Q:  Thank you, Sabrina.  The prime minister, Netanyahu, has said that Israel is prepared for a strong action in the northern part of the border with Lebanon.  And yesterday, we heard that Secretary Austin, he already discussed with his Israeli counterpart the efforts to de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border.  So my question: Do you have — do you worry about any maybe potential war more than just — in that specific area?  And what tools does Secretary Austin have — he can maybe prevent that area from getting more escalation?  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, no, thanks for the question.  As you saw, we put out a readout of Secretary Austin's call with Minister Gallant.  This was something that was discussed.  We are seeing an increase in activity in the north, and we don't want things to escalate into a broader regional conflict, and that's something that is not new.  That's something that we've said from the very beginning from when Hamas first, you know, launched its brutal attack on October 7th.  We never want to see an escalation of tensions in the region, and we took very specific steps from the beginning with the secretary making that decision and of course, with the president, to have the Ford go into the Eastern Med.  We're going to continue to urge for de-escalation.  That was something that the secretary spoke with Mr. Gallant about at length yesterday.  I'm not going to get into more specifics of the call itself, but we don't want to see a wider regional conflict, and that's why we do want to see de-escalation of tensions in the region.

Q:  Can I follow up to that?

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  If there is a deal — do you expect, if there's a deal, to a cease-fire deal will happen in Gaza, do you believe that will de-escalate this area, of the tension in the north in — of Israel and Lebanon?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I think a cease-fire would certainly lead to a de-escalation of tensions, but that is something that's still being worked.  As you've seen, Secretary Blinken is in the region.  I know he made some — he's been meeting with different partners in the region.  He made some comments earlier today.  I don't have anything additional to add to what he said already, but certainly, it could bring further — it would lead to further de-escalation, which is a good thing.

Yes, in the back?

Q:  Thank you so much for this opportunity.  Two quick questions.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  Some of the media reports suggest with the recent (inaudible) by the Pentagon, defense officials in Riyadh, they have talks with the Arab military chiefs.  So as — meanwhile, the United States has engaged diplomatically with Saudi Arabia and Israel on Arab normalization.  So they're in — in consultation with the defense officials that diplomatic normalization, there is another potential threat in Middle East.  Are the U.S. — so U.S. is preparing for that?

MS. SINGH:  No, I think what you're referring to is some of our officials just traveling within the region doing — whether it's diplomatic meetings or meeting with their counterparts, this is something that happens often and very frequently.  That's not an indication that tensions are rising.  That is something that's, frankly, a part of the portfolio of where these officials sit.  So no, it's about deepening those partnerships.  Of course, they're going to talk about and discuss what's happening in the region.  It would be imprudent not to.  So that's something that, of course, you know, is always on the table and discussed, but no, it doesn't — it doesn't indicate anything one way or the other.

Q:  Secondly —

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  I wanted to ask, like, in your experience, have security (inaudible) cooperation with Pakistan.  So from the month of May and from the timeline long ago, we — we observed the number of illegal strikes happened in Afghanistan along the border of the Pakistan to a number of high value targets.  So I want to know, like, if there are any intelligence seeing a correlation by United States toward Pakistan regarding the onward of Pakistan counter terrorism operations regarding TTP are top-valued targets?

MS. SINGH:  I don't have anything to add on that.  I mean, if you're talking about our ongoing efforts to, you know, go after ISIS militants or ISIS senior leaders, of course, that's something that we continue to work on in the region.  But I don't have anything more on that.  I'm sorry.


Q:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, This morning, Secretary-General Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Orban of Hungary had a press conference where they announced that Hungary would no longer veto or block NATO country efforts to support Ukraine in exchange for not — for NATO not considering Uk- — Hungary to give money and materiel for the war in Ukraine.  What's the Department of Defense's assessment on how this will impact now support for Ukraine among NATO nations?

MS. SINGH:  I'm sorry.  I haven't seen the reports from this morning.  I don't have anything to add to what the secretary-general and his engagement with Orban.  But I would say that, you know, of course, we want to see countries around the world, our partners and allies, continue to support Ukraine, and that is exactly what the secretary is going to be doing tomorrow with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, but I don't have anything additional to add.  I'm sorry.  I just — I haven't seen some of the reporting from that meeting.

Yeah, of course.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you.  The day before yesterday, INDOPACOM's commander, Paparo, said in an interview with The Washington Post, if China invades Taiwan, he will make it hellscape response.  And the other August, 2023, Pentagon announced that aim to deploy thousands of (inaudible) assistance within the next 18 to 24 months.  So have there been any change to this plan of war?  How do you view the feasibility of this project?

MS. SINGH:  I'm going to let Admiral Paparo's comments stand for themselves.  I don't have anything to add.  What I can tell you is the secretary just concluded his 10th visit to the Indo-Pacific region.  Something that, of course, was on the mind and something that he spoke to at the Shangri-La Dialogue was our pacing challenge of the PRC.  So we're continuing to monitor what the PRC is doing in the region, some of the behavior around, whether it be the Second Thomas Shoal or other areas within the Indo-Pacific.  But I just don't have more to add onto those comments.

Go ahead.  I'm going to see if we've got Fadi Mansour back from Al Jazeera on the phones.  Otherwise, I can wrap it up.

Q:  Hi, Sabrina.  Can you hear me now?

MS. SINGH:  I can hear you now.

Q:  Thank you for taking my question again.  In the readout from the phone call between Secretary Austin and Gallant, the secretary congratulated Mr. Gallant on the rescue of four Israeli hostages, an operation that health authorities in Gaza says resulted in the death of more than 270 Palestinians.  Half of them — or all — almost half of them are women and children.  Did the secretary discuss the civilian casualties as a result of this operation?  And if so, why wasn't it included in the readout?  And I have another question for you.

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Fadi, for the question.  The secretary — of course, it's something that is always on the top of our minds, something that the secretary has brought up in various engagements with in various engagements with Minister Gallant and other officials within the Israeli government.  Of course, we are — we are deeply concerned by some of the reports that we are seeing out of Gaza when it comes to civilian casualties.  It's something that we're always very frank about whenever it's a call or a private engagement or publicly from here.

It's something that we're going to continue to speak to the Israelis about, it's something that we're concerned about, but I just don't have anything additional to add, other than what we've put out in the readout yesterday, which you referenced.


Q:  — if I may, the follow-up, Sabrina,  Considering that the administration —

Q:  — specifically in — in yesterday's call?

MS. SINGH:  He talked about the operation broadly.  I'm not going to go into more specifics of the call.  It was a pretty sensitive operation, and we are glad to see the success of these four hostages that were returned home.

Blanket, we are always concerned about the reports of civilian casualties coming out of Gaza.  It's something that he reiterates constantly in his calls with Minister Gallant, not just him but from other officials in this building.  It's something that does come up routinely.

I'm not going to get into more specifics, but there were certainly questions about the operations that were asked, and I'm just going to leave it at that.

Okay, thanks, everyone.