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Major General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds A Off-Camera Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: Happy Monday. Just a few things and then I'll get to your questions. So, you probably saw over the weekend we announced that the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group departed the U.S. CENTCOM area of responsibility on Saturday. It will remain briefly in the U.S.-European Command AOR before returning home. As you guys know, it's been deployed more than seven months.

Now, following completion of a scheduled exercise in the Indo-Pacific, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group will depart the Indo-Pacific AOR en route for CENTCOM's AOR, where they will continue to promote regional stability, deter aggression, and protect the free flow of commerce in the region.

Looking into this week, Secretary Austin will host Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon tomorrow morning for a bilateral meeting to discuss the ongoing security developments in the Middle East region. And as you may recall, the minister last visited the Pentagon in late March, and he and Secretary Austin have spoken via phone on an almost weekly basis since Hamas's attack on October 7th.

The Secretary does look forward to welcoming Minister Gallant into the discussion. And per standard will issue a readout following the meeting, so we'll have more to provide then.

Also tomorrow, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks will conduct a scheduled visit to Headquarters U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

While she's there, she will meet with the CENTCOM Commander General Kurilla and senior staff to discuss the implementation of Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2, and receive briefs on CENTCOM's innovations, efforts -- innovation efforts, and threat assessments, among other topics. She'll return back to D.C. the same day.

And then finally, as you may have seen, we issued a statement this morning announcing that Derek Chollet will start in July as Secretary Austin's Chief of Staff. And if you haven't seen that, the statement is on the DOD website. Mr. Chollet has served in senior policy roles at the White House, the Pentagon, and the Department of State, including his current role as Counselor of the Department of State.

And as previously announced, Kelly Magsamen, the current Chief of Staff, will depart this week after three and a half years in the position since the very first day of this administration.

And as Secretary Austin said in his June 5 statement, he's deeply grateful for her tremendous service over three and a half federal years to him, the Department, and the country as the Chief of Staff. So, we all, of course, wish her the very best as she takes some time off before her for some other opportunities.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Any questions to this? All right.

Q: Yeah. How long -- how long is the gap between the IKE coming off station and the TR arriving in EUCOM?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into specific days other than, again, you saw the IKE leave on Saturday into the EUCOM AOR. And as I mentioned, next week after completing its exercise in the Indo-Pacific, it will make its move to the CENTCOM AOR.

Q: Does the Pentagon have any concerns about not having a carrier on station specifically as Houthi attacks seem to continue?

GEN. RYDER: Well, we still have capability in the region. As you know, we have destroyers in both the CENTCOM and EUCOM AORs that have been very active in providing those kinds of defenses, as well as other capabilities to include aircraft and ISR capabilities.

So, you know, we'll continue to work very closely with our international allies and partners toward that end when it comes to safeguarding the flow of commerce and safety of mariners in the Red Sea and CENTCOM. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Thanks. How long is the USS Eisenhower going to remain in the Eastern Mediterranean? And what's the reason for it being there?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics in terms of dates. We just don't -- when it comes to naval operations, we don't get into it other than it'll just be a brief period as it gets ready to transit home.

Q: Is it at all related to Lebanon and what's happening, the potential for Israel?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to go beyond what I provided in the statement. We've maintained a robust variety of capabilities throughout the region to both provide force protection capabilities, but also serve as a deterrent, and enable us to respond to a multitude of contingencies, and so that won't change.

Carla?

Q: Can you give us an update on the pier and how much it's delivered? And there's also been a little bit of confusion. Some debris washed ashore. I think the Israeli government

said that it was the pier. And I think there are reports saying that the Pentagon saying it's not pier.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So, my understanding that no. No part of the pier washed ashore. There was something that washed ashore. I don't know what it is, but it's not part of the pier is what I got from CENTCOM.

I believe they've just issued an update or will today, but operations have continued on the pier since it re-anchored on June 19th. They will be taking a scheduled maintenance pause today to do some maintenance activities, so there will be no aid flowing over the causeway today, but it will resume normal operations tomorrow.

Over the weekend, they delivered 1,000, approximately 1,380 metric tons or 3 million pounds of aid to the shore of Gaza. And that also includes movement of 720 metric tons or 1.5 million pounds of aid on Sunday, which is the largest single day delivery of aid to date, on a day, a single day delivery aid to date.

And so, cumulative total so far since May 17th, more than 6,200 metric tons or 13.6 million pounds of aid have been delivered to the marshalling area for onward delivery. So, again, we'll continue to keep you posted. But I believe CENTCOM will be, like I said, if they haven't already, they'll be posting that later today.

Q: And then just one on Niger. Now that the U.S. is down to 600 troops, where are those troops going? And what's the plan after the withdrawal? Is AFRICOM just going to be 1,000 short? Or are they going to be redeployed in other parts of the country?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I mean, the way to think of it, Carla, is, you know, oftentimes for deployments, it just depends on the units, right? So, there's not 1,000 -- there's not per se a unit that's like the Niger unit. Those forces will be reabsorbed back to their home stations.

Oftentimes, you know, speaking from my own experience, you're deploying in support of a joint task force, so you go back to your home station. So, those forces will flow back to wherever their home stations are to be, you know, focused on their home station missions or other taskings. But I wouldn't think of it as they all just pick up and go do that Niger mission somewhere else, because there's no mission there, right, as they draw down.

And so, all that to say, as you've heard General Langley and others in AFRICOM say, to include, you know, Secretary Austin, we'll continue to work with partners in the region when it comes to counterterrorism and addressing those kinds of threats, just doing it in a different way, recognizing that, you know, we won't be able to do that from Niger.

Q: Just so I understand, so they'll be flowing back to home station. Is AFRICOM going to get temporarily smaller? Are they...?

GEN. RYDER: You need to think of it in terms of mission, right? So, AFRICOM has a core number of folks. But as, you know -- in the same way that folks deploy to CENTCOM to do missions there, those numbers will ebb and flow depending on what mission requirements are.

The combatant commanders, you know, ultimately at the end of the day, depend on the services to be the force providers for whatever missions may be coming up.

So I - it's not an issue of, are they smaller or bigger. It's an issue of what are the mission requirements and we will flow forces to support that as required.

Let me go to Laura and (inaudible).

Q: Thanks, Pat. Can you tell me would the U.S. support on Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into hypothetical questions, Laura. Again, we've been very clear that we're focused on a diplomatic solution as it relates to the tensions that we see on the border.

Q: Would the U.S. be able to help defend Israel against Hezbollah?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. We've been very clear, as well, that we support Israel's inherent right to defend itself. And that's not going to change. But again, I'm not - what we're focused on, understandably, is preventing a wider regional conflict and on resolving diplomatically the tensions along the border. And so, we'll stay focused on that.

Helene?

Q: Hi. Thanks. What message will Secretary Austin be delivering to Yoav Gallant tomorrow?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, you know, as I highlighted, they're going to be discussing the situation in the Middle East, you know, no doubt there will be discussions about the situation in Lebanon. But we'll have much more to say, you know, post-meeting and we'll have a readout to provide that. So, more to follow.

Q: Russia is accusing the United States of - well, they're blaming the United States for Ukrainian ATACM attack over the weekend that killed civilians. Do you have any comment on that? They said the U.S. was responsible for providing targets and intelligence information.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so, you know, ultimately I'd refer you to Ukraine to talk about their operations. You know, they make their own decisions when it comes to operations and targeting. We don't have any information to indicate whether or not civilians were killed. Certainly, you know, as I understand it, that's something that we will talk to the Ukrainians about. It's - we've been very clear about, you know, we don't want to see civilian casualties.

I will say that, you know, it's important to take a look back at how we got to where we are today, which was Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine and if they're concerned about

casualties among their forces then they should stop this war immediately and return Ukraine's sovereign territory versus throwing their forces unnecessarily into this.

Q: Did you provide intel support and targeting data for this strike?

GEN. RYDER: Again, Idris, I'm going to refer you to them to talk about their operations. I'm not going to get into...

Q: But the Russians are accusing you, not the Ukrainians for this.

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd refer you to them on any of their operations. And again, Russia is responsible for conducting its invasion of Ukraine and leading to the death and destruction of thousands of innocent Ukrainians. And so, (crosstalk).

Q: Okay, just following up on Tony's Helene's question. What is Secretary Austin's view on the statements that Prime Minister Netanyahu made over the weekend that suggests that he would potentially want to continue the war after a ceasefire and hostage deal, which is sort of undermining the goal of the whole proposal that President Biden put out a couple of weeks ago. Is that something that he'll bring up with Minister Gallant this week?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I'm not going to comment on the prime minister's remarks, you know, it - I'm just not going to do that. You know, again, from a DOD standpoint we've been working very closely to prevent the wider conflict from happening at the same time, you know, ensuring Israel has what it needs to defend itself, but also looking at what we can do to ensure that aid is getting into the people of Gaza, and also, you know again, to echo what President Biden and others have said, the need to reach a ceasefire so that we can ensure -

Q: But as his state- cease - the lasting ceasefire, right? That would not then immediately revert into conflict?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I mean, what the White House has said, I think, stands for itself. So, okay, take a few more. I'll go to Oren and then (inaudible).

Q: Pat, two questions first. The aid that went in over the weekend, into Gaza through the pier, without World Food Program - without the World Food Program, is that just piling up in the marshalling area or is that being distributed in some other way?

GEN. RYDER: So, as I understand it, the aid is going into the marshalling area for onward delivery. Again, I'd have to refer you to USAID and World Food Program, in terms of what they're plans are to further distribute that. As we've talked about before, you know, there is a coordination cell that is working with all stakeholders to take security concerns into account, so that they can find a way forward. But again, at the end of the day, that's something that World Food Program needs to address.

Q: And then, does the U.S. military continue to carry out shipments of military aid to Israel? And has there been any slowdown in those shipments?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I appreciate the question. So again, just to clarify, we have paused one shipment to Israel. Other security assistance continues to flow as normal.

Q: Just a follow up on those questions. Normal - it sounds like Israel is saying that they're - that U.S. assistance has definitely diminished from the days immediately following the October 7 attack. Can you characterize at all the size of the shipments and how they compare now to where they were in October 7?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, you know, I'll just be very clear here. We paused that one shipment. Everything else continues to flow on schedule as normal. It is not diminished .

Q: And then when Austin meets with Minister Gallant tomorrow, will they bring up the idea that without security for these convoys nothing's getting out of the marshalling yard just because all of the people that are attacking the convoys?

GEN. RYDER: Again, you know, we'll have a readout post meeting and I don't want to, you know, preview too much. But security assistance - or excuse me, humanitarian assistance, I'm sure will be a topic of discussion. It's something they talk about every single time they speak, you know, and the importance of ensuring that aid can get into the people of Gaza. So again, and that's not just the Department of Defense. That's across the U.S. government writ large.

Q: Would there be any role for the military in assisting with security? Not boots on the ground, but is there anything that DOD could do to help those convoys safely get to their final point of delivery?

GEN. RYDER: Again, right now, our focus is on getting aid to the shore for humanitarian organizations to deliver it. And again, you know, when it comes to security for those humanitarian organizations, that is something that they drive and that's something that, you know, they need to talk to right now. I'm not aware of any plans for U.S. military to conduct any kind of a security assistance onshore, nor would we be putting any boots on the ground.

So, let me go to Fadi.

Q: Thank you, General. Since we talked, I believe, last Thursday during the briefing, has your assessment of the situation between Israel and Lebanon have changed? Is the tension still at that same level? Have you seen any indication that there might be some escalation?

GEN. RYDER: So, I would say right now have not seen a change. Again, I mean, to your point, there does, obviously, continue to be tension. We continue to see, you know, the language being used by both Israeli and Hezbollah stakeholders. But our focus will continue to be on working with regional partners to find a diplomatic solution.

Q: And is - I know you said there's going to be a readout from the meeting, but is one of the objectives of the secretary with Minister Gallant to maybe get that point through to (inaudible) or with Lebanon is that a top priority for him?

GEN. RYDER: Again, you know, I'm not going to - I'm not really in a position right now, Fadi, to, again, preview the meeting before the meeting's happened other than to say, again, you know, I'm certain Lebanon will be a topic. You've heard Secretary Austin say publicly before that our focus is on trying to find a diplomatic solution to the situation there, again, with the understanding that, you know, our primary focus here is on deterring a wider regional conflict.

Q: And then finally on the civilian casualties. The secretary has been, you know, voicing his concern about the toll, civilian toll. Does he have something new to put on the table in terms of kind of emphasizing that idea again? Is he - does he want to hear something new from Minister Gallant in terms of planning?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, I'll have more for you tomorrow, but, you know, the secretary, he's been clear both publicly and privately at how important it is to protect the civilian population, again, recognizing the threat that Hamas poses, recognizing the challenge that it presents in terms of them embedding amongst the civilian population, but that it's important not to have tactical victory and strategic defeat because you're essentially, you know, not safeguarding civilians or not ensuring that they have the assistance that they need. So, again, that will be a point that I'm confident he'll continue to make.

Wafaa?

Q: He asked my question, but...

(Laughter.)

Q: So on the...

(CROSSTALK)

(Laughter.)

Q: So do you still have - I mean, the level of...

GEN. RYDER: It's the same answer.

Q: No, no.

(Laughter.)

Q: I want to know if the level of concerns about imminent operation, large-scale operation is still the same as last week?

GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, I think - I - you know, I think we are concerned. We do remain concerned that there's a potential there for miscalculation in this very tense region. And so, again, we see not just, you know, what's here at DOD but across the U.S. government, efforts to look at resolving this diplomatically. And so that will continue to be our focus.

Q: Do you think Israel will more likely or less likely carry out a large-scale...operation?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals respectively. Our focus is going to be on trying to reduce the tensions and drive towards a diplomatic solution. So I'll take one more. Yes, sir?

Q: Yes. Can you explain in more detail on why Kelly Magsamen stepped down? Did it have anything to do with the secretary's hospitalization earlier this year?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Not at all. She has been in the position, as I mentioned, since the very first day of this administration. Three and a half years. You've all been working in the Pentagon for a very long time. And, I mean, just by virtue of the issues we're discussing today, it's an incredibly demanding place to be and job. And so, she's looking forward to just taking some time before she pursues other opportunities.

And for those of you that have had the opportunity to work with Kelly Magsamen, you will not find someone who works harder or who's more dedicated to the department than her. So, you know, like I said, we wish her all the best. And, you know, I know she's going to appreciate getting a little bit of downtime.

Q: So it's completely for personal reasons?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, exactly.

Q: OK.

GEN. RYDER: And, all right. Fine. Last two.

Q: I just wanted to check were any attacks over the weekend on U.S. forces in Iran or Syria?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not tracking any.

Q: Thank you. With the - with the IKE being held, should we read that as any kind of preparation for evacuation, or at least having it there available if needed?

GEN. RYDER: Dan, I don't have anything to read out to you today. Again, I think the statement speaks for itself and I'll just leave it at that.

All right, I hope you all have a great Monday. Stay cool. Stay classy.