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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Good afternoon. Just to jump right in, I just have a few things, and then I'm happy to jump in and take questions.

So as you know, on Friday, June 14th, ahead of heavy sea states, U.S. Central Command removed the temporary pier from Gaza and towed it back to Ashdod. The pier remains there and will likely be re-anchored later this week when sea states subside. I don't have an exact date for you just yet, but we'll keep you updated. And alongside USAID and humanitarian organizations, we remain committed to working with the international community to get aid into Gaza as quickly as possible. 

Since the pier was anchored on May 17th, over 3,500 metric tons have been delivered for onward delivery by humanitarian organizations. Of the 3,500 metric tons, 2,500 metric tons were delivered since the temporary pier was re-anchored to the beach in Gaza on June 7th. And as we have updates on the temporary pier, I'll be sure to pass that information along.

Separately, last week, the Houthis struck two different cargo ships, the M/V Tutor, which is Liberian-flagged and Greek-owned, and the M/V Verbena, which is Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned and Polish-operated. The June 12th attack on the Tutor resulted in severe flooding and damage to the engine room. One civilian mariner remains missing following the attack.

On June 14th, the USS Philippine Sea responded to distress calls from the Tutor. Aircraft from the Philippine Sea and partner forces helped evacuate all personnel from the vessel. This airlift operation was done in the Red Sea and in range of Houthi weapons systems, which means that our U.S. Navy and partner forces successfully executed a very complex operation under hostile conditions. Among the ships that were in response distance and did nothing to assist the M/V Tutor were Iranian, Russian and Chinese naval vessels. The Tutor remains in the Red Sea and is slowly taking on water while waiting for salvage vessels to help with recovery.

Separately, the June 13th attack on the M/V Verbena resulted in fires on board. One civilian mariner was medically evacuated by aircraft from the Philippine Sea to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention.

On Saturday, June 15th, the crew issued a distress call and was forced to abandon ship and were rescued by the M/V Anna Meta, who was operating nearby. During this time, an Iranian frigate was eight nautical miles away from the Verbena and did not respond to the distress call. The Verbena is no longer on fire, and is being towed by another vessel toward a nearby port.

This continued reckless behavior by Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis claim to be acting on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, and yet, they are threatening the lives of those who have nothing to do with the conflict. The ongoing threat to the ability to safely transit the region caused by the Houthis makes it harder to deliver commercial goods and critical assistance to the people of Yemen, as well as those in Gaza.

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

Q: Sabrina, can you give us an update on the aid agencies? And how — like, how much aid is now sort of gathered on the shore? And is there any indication that it's going to start to be distributed at any — even this next week or anything?

MS. SINGH: What you're referring to is WFP being able to continue doing the distribution. I don't have an update for you on that. They're still not doing the distribution within Gaza, but I'd refer you to them for when they decide to continue to go back and operate.

In terms of the aid that's already pre-positioned and in the marshaling area, I don't have a total for you, but I can look into that...

Q: OK.

MS. SINGH: ... and see if we can get you something.


Q: I think over the weekend, the secretary invited Minister Gallant to the Pentagon.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: Why, I guess? What — what's on the agenda?

MS. SINGH: Part of his engagements is, of course, he regularly speaks with Minister Gallant. Sometimes it's important to have those face-to-face conversations. You've seen the secretary go to Israel and elsewhere in the region to have conversations. The invite was extended and accepted; not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn't taken place, but I think what you can expect on the agenda is things that you've seen raised in these calls, whether it being humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza, understanding a little bit more about their operations, what they're doing. But we'll have more to follow.

Q: Why did he — is there something he couldn't say on the phone that required an in-person meeting?

MS. SINGH: No, it's always good to have an in-person meeting. He invites...

Q: He doesn't invite — he doesn't invite every person he's talked to on the phone.

MS. SINGH: He certainly does regular bilateral meetings with counterparts all over the world. Minister Gallant was one that he spoke to recently. The invite was extended. That happens not just with his Israeli counterparts, but with other counterparts, and that's why you see bilateral engagements here in the Pentagon, which you often come to.

Q: Has a date been set for this?

MS. SINGH: The date has not been set.

Q: For planning, do you have, like, a timeframe, or a...?

MS. SINGH: I don't yet, but we'll keep you updated on that.

Q: OK.

MS. SINGH: Will?

Q: Regarding the Houthi attacks, so there — there've been, it seems, a lot more damage from some of these recent attacks and — and casualties, as well.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: Has there been any change either in terms of the weapons the Houthis are using or — or are there — kind of targeting or anything of that nature... 

MS. SINGH: I'm not tracking — oh, I'm sorry.

Q: ... that's resulting in this, or — or is it just kind of luck of the draw, effectively, that this could have happened anytime? It just happened to happen now?

MS. SINGH: I'm not tracking any change in weapons. I was just trying to see if I could — here we go. I'm not tracking any change in terms of weapons that the Houthis are using. I think what's important to remember is that the Houthis have attacked or threatened U.S. Navy or other commercial vessels over 190 times since November 19th, and while they, you know, thankfully haven't been successful every time, the fact that we're talking about, you know, two to three, you know a few ships that have been hit over the course of the time since November, I think really speaks to the precision that not only U.S. Naval forces in the region have when it comes to striking back at, you know, what's launched towards them, but the coalition that Operation Prosperity Guardian operates under and other countries that operate that are not necessarily part of the coalition, but that have been effective in shooting down some of these, you know, missiles, anti-ballistic missiles that come towards our ships. I think it's important to remember that not every attack gets through. It is unfortunate that some did this weekend. But you know it's a testament to our Navy and what they're doing out there.


Q: So the State Department a few weeks ago, on this NSM-20 report, said it was reasonable to assess that some weapons that the U.S. supplied Israel have been used in war crimes or — or things that would have violated international law, but that they had to still investigate that. Is the Pentagon part of those investigations? Is anyone in this building looking at what's happening, what — what types of bombs Israel is using? Do — should we expect any kind of assessment on that?

MS. SINGH: I don't have an update to provide right now. The NSM was something that the secretary of defense certainly gave his input into, but it a State-led mission. But I just don't have an update to provide at this time.

Q: OK.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. Switching to similarly (inaudible) confirms that the ISIS leader in Somalia was among the targets of a U.S. strike on May 31st. Can you also confirm that he was the target of that strike on May 31st? And can you also confirm whether or not he was killed and whether or not he was considered the leader of ISIS overall, the entire caliphate?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, right now, I'd still have to refer you back to the AFRICOM statement that was issued on May 31st that I don't have it word-for-word in front of me, but it said that they took action against an ISIS leader, or ISIS militants. I don't have any more information to provide right now. I know there's interest in this strike. When there's more information, be happy to provide it, but I just don't have it right now.


Q: Thank you. Russia and North Korea announced that Russian President Putin will visit North Korea tomorrow. So what would be the Pentagon's comment on this?

MS. SINGH: So I think that visit is happening later this week. You know, it's something that we're continuing to monitor. I think what's important to remember is we're seeing a — what's concerning to us is a deepening cooperation between Russia and North Korea. The relationship further continues the war in Ukraine. We know that they are providing weapons to Russia to use on the battlefield in Ukraine. 

We're going to continue to monitor but we're seeing Russia go towards countries like the DPRK, like Iran to help with, you know, getting assistance on weapons because they are further isolated on the world stage. And in contrast, you have the United States, other European partners, allies around the world that — you know, 50 some nations are supporting Ukraine in their efforts.

So we'll continue to monitor Putin's visit, but we're focused on making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to be successful.

Yeah, go ahead.

Q: Sorry, separately — so yesterday, in the South China Sea, Philippines ship and Chinese vessel had a — collisions. China claimed that Philippines was responsible. So what would be your comment?

MS. SINGH: You're talking about around the Second Thomas Shoal?

Q: Yeah.

MS. SINGH: So seen the reporting coming out of there. You know, I'd direct you to the Philippines to speak more to what happened, the actual event. Unfortunately, this behavior is not uncharacteristic. We've seen it before. We're going to continue to, like we always do, monitor, but we don't want to see, you know, tensions continue to escalate.

And as you might remember, the Secretary held a meeting with his PRC counterpart at the Shangri-La Dialogue. Certainly, activity within the South China Sea was something that came up during their conversation. And we're going to just continue to monitor what's going on in the region.

Erin ?

Q: To go off her question about the Kim and Putin meeting, what do you expect to come out of this? I mean, what does Putin get out of it and what does Kim get out of it? Do you think it's just going to be a tech exchange, more munitions, only deepening relationship? What do you expect to come out of it?

MS. SINGH: I don't know. You'd have to ask each respective leader's governments what they expect out of those meetings. We're going to monitor, like we always would. I think with any meeting like this with any type of world leader, meeting whether it be face to face, having calls, there is deepening cooperation, a partnership that develops, but I don't have anything to preview of what's going to come out of those meetings.

Q: And I have one more about Cuba and Russia and the military training down there. Do you — in the past, Russia has had military training. This is not the first time at Cuba they've had military training down there. But also in the past, you've had other countries that have been involved — Iran and China. Do you expect another country to come in and also train with Cuba?

MS. SINGH: Like ... 

Q: I mean Russia.

MS. SINGH: Russia?

Q: Yeah.

MS. SINGH: They do an annual global exercise in the fall. I don't have a list of countries that you would anticipate participating but it could be a broader list. I just don't have anything more for you right now. I don't know — I'm not aware of any other countries going down there at this time to participate in that exercise, but that's really something for the Russian Navy to speak to.


Q: Thanks. According to one of the readouts, the crew that was on the M/V Tutor, they were taken to land for more medical care. Do you have a sense of what the injuries are? Like, is anyone critically injured? Are these minor injuries, or is no one injured and it's just, like, a second medical check?

MS. SINGH: I don't have a better sense. I'd let the ship speak to that, on their own crew members. That's not something that, like I just don't have more details on it. I know that, you know, what I read out at the top is the information that I have, but I wouldn't go into too many specifics on each crew member's medical evaluations, but I am sure the would be able to speak to that or maybe CENTCOM would have more details.

Q: OK. And then last week, the DIA released a new report saying that shipping is down in the Red Sea by upwards of, like, 90 percent. So how has Prosperity Guardian been successful if that's also the case?

MS. SINGH: Well, I think it's been successful in the fact that, to what Lita had asked earlier, you know, we're talking about over 190 attacks from the Houthis since November 19th, of which a few have hit vessels, and we've seen significant damage to one, the Ruby Mar, which did sink in the Red Sea. 

And then of course you know we have seen loss of life, we have seen these two other ships impacted. But overall, when you're talking about 190 attacks and, you know, a handful getting through on ships and some being able to continue underway, I think that speaks tremendously to our efforts. 

It's up to the shipping companies to make the decision if they want to continue transiting through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden. That's really, you know, a decision that each company has to make and weigh. 

We certainly understand the global impact and the effect on global commerce if shipping routes have to be re-routed, you know, through longer sea, you know, pathways. That does have an impact on global shipping, but of course that is up to the carriers to decide what they do.

We are there in support of maintaining freedom of navigation, upholding international laws, and I think in terms of what the mission has been capable of doing in protecting that navigation, we have been pretty successful in that.

Can I go to Brad and then I'll come back ... 

Q: ... Israel dissolved its War Cabinet today. I know it's, like, an internal affair, but does it complicate the U.S. response to Gaza at all?

MS. SINGH: No. That is internal. I would let the Israeli politics speak for itself.

In terms of our own efforts within Israel, that doesn't complicate what we're doing, which is getting humanitarian aid into Gaza and — you know, through the temporary pier, but that doesn't complicate (inaudible).

Yes? And then I'll come back.

Q: Yeah, thank you. Can we get an update on the drawdown in Niger — the number of soldier, the number of personnel that are there right now, an estimate?

And secondarily, have U.S. forces returned to Chad? And if not, where are those who were relocated from the country earlier this year (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: Don't have an update on Chad.

On Niger, the current total of U.S. forces in Niger is approximately around 700. So the withdrawal process continues, and we'll provide updates as that goes. I think AFRICOM did put out a statement. I don't have the exact date of when their statement went out, but they put out a statement on that.

Q: And can we take the Chad one for the record, just ... 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: ... follow up on that? Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. Fadi? And then I'll — I'll go to Haley.

Q: I'm — I'm just — I mean, in — in terms of the mission success in — in the Red Sea, is it only about how many targets the Houthis are able to hit or the impact on shipping in the region? I guess that the (IAA ?) issued this report last (inaudible) report last week that shows almost 90 percent of major shipping companies are — are avoiding the Red Sea.

MS. SINGH: I don't think we're sugarcoating the fact that the Houthis have had an impact on shipping lanes within the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. I think it's fair to say that that report highlighted that shipping companies are making an assessment to change their routes. Global commerce, you know, what we've seen, the amount that flows in through the Red Sea, I think the average maybe before the conflict started was about, somewhere between 10 to 15 percent. 

We certainly know how that can impact markets like in the United States or all around the world. We're doing the best we can to preserve those shipping lanes. We want to see commerce to continue through there. I think the region does as well, broadly speaking, but it's really up to those shipping companies to make the decisions for, you know, what they feel is safe for them.

I think in terms of success, you know, I don't want to I don't want to necessarily repeat — I'm sure you don't want me to repeat myself, but you know, I do think there is something to be said of over 190 attacks, and broadly speaking, most of the Houthi attacks have been unsuccessful. The attacks that we saw this past weekend, the attack on the Rubymar — incredibly destabilizing. I mean, they created their own environmental-ecological problem in her own backyard. What's the payoff for them by doing that? What's the payoff by grain that I think the Tutor was carrying not being able to get where it's supposed to go? So they are upsetting, you know, distribution of food and other goods, and I think — I think that's important to highlight.

Q: And I just wanted to ask a question about the — Lebanon-Israel. We've seen an uptick...

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: ... in — in fighting between Israel and — and Hezbollah. Are you seeing this as a — as a shift in the way the war is being conducted between the two parties that could lead to a further escalation? Or is it still contained to a certain degree?

MS. SINGH: We still assess it's contained, but absolutely fair to say that we have seen an increase and an uptick in exchanges in that — on that northern border. That is exactly, you know, something that we've emphasized from the very beginning, is we don't want to see this spill into a wider regional conflict. It's something that in our — in the readout that the secretary — that we posted last week with — when he did his call with Minister Gallant. That was something that came up.

So we don't assess that the — that the war has expanded, but it's something that we continue to urge for de-escalation. As — you know, that — that we don't — we just don't want to see it spill out into — into a wider regional war.

Q: OK.

MS. SINGH: (inaudible)?

Q: Thanks. Is there an update on the critically-injured soldier who's at (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: The latest update that I have is he's still there and same — same conditions, but I'd refer you to Army if there's any change. I have not received any update on his condition, but that's the latest I have.


Q: (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: Oh, I didn't see you, Nancy. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you. Is the Pa- — can you give us — give us an update on the Patriot that was sent to Ukraine? Is it there yet? And if not, do you have a timeline for that?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any updates to provide or any announcements to make on Patriots. Air defense is something that we know Ukraine needs. You saw the secretary was just in Brussels convening the UDCG. That was something that certainly came up in his meetings, but I just don't have any announcements to make on the Patriot.

Q: Is that something we can get an update on just in terms of...

MS. SINGH: If there's an update, absolutely, yet.

Q: But, like, when it would — when it's in Ukraine?

MS. SINGH: I will keep you updated on anything that has to do with air defense systems or of Patriot.

Q: And the Polish government came out and said that there is a Patriot arriving, if you could also get an update on that. But U.S. Patriots (inaudible)...

MS. SINGH: So we wouldn't — I don't know that we'd necessarily announce arrival of a certain air defenses. I — especially, you know, when it comes to things getting into Ukraine, we usually let the Ukrainians speak to that. We're also talking about our own, you know, operational security. I think you've heard the secretary last week when he was in Brussels say that there's no change in our force posture in — in Poland, but if there are any updates that I can provide, I certainly will.

Q: Yeah, I only ask because the Polish — the Polish government's announced it, so I thought that would be worth addressing.

One other thing: There's a GPM briefing today that's off the record, even though that's been historically a topic that's been talked about on the record. Can you help me understand why that briefing is off the record?

MS. SINGH: I don't have many details about the briefing other than that I know it's happening. So can I just take that and come back to you?

Q: That'd be great.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. OK. All right, thank you, everyone.