Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

June 20, 2024


Transcript

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Just a few things here at the top and we’ll get right to your questions.

First up, I can confirm that U.S. Central Command personnel re-anchored and re-established the temporary pier to the Gaza beach yesterday. As has been the case in the past, Israeli Defense Force engineers provided all the necessary support to ensure the safe emplacement of the pier on the beach, and there were no U.S. boots on the ground during the re-establishment of the pier.

Overnight, the transfer of humanitarian assistance from Cyprus to Gaza resumed, with more than 656 metric tons, or 1.4 million pounds, being delivered to the marshaling yard in Gaza today. Since May 17, when the temporary pier first went operational, over 4,100 metric tons, or 9.1 million pounds, have been delivered through the maritime corridor for onward delivery by humanitarian organizations.

And I’d like to reiterate that while it’s always been our intention for the pier to be a temporary solution as part of a broader international effort to surge humanitarian assistance into Gaza to meet the urgent needs of the Palestinian people, we have not established an end date for this mission as of now, contrary to some press reporting on the matter.

Therefore, we’ll continue to facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid via the maritime corridor, and as always, take necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of the personnel operating the pier, to include adjusting to sea states in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, the same way we do with aircraft operations in the event of inclement weather or conditions.

And finally, the orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Niger continues. As AFRICOM highlighted in their announcement earlier this month, U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft have begun ferrying personnel and equipment out of the country, in accordance with the arrangements made between U.S. officials and the CNSP in May.

While U.S. personnel numbers will naturally fluctuate during the drawdown period, there are currently approximately 600 U.S. personnel in country, and we remain on track for a complete withdrawal by September 15 as agreed upon.

We’ll of course continue to keep you updated regarding any significant developments.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions. We’ll go to Associated Press, Tara.

Q: Thank you, General Ryder. Thanks for doing this. With the aid moving back through the pier again, can you give us a sense of how much of it has actually moved out of the marshaling yard and onto it -its ultimate destinations, or is it all still in the marshaling yard?

GEN. RYDER: That’s really a question I’ll have to direct to USAID and World Food Program. As you know, they’re responsible for the onward distribution. And so they’re in the best position to talk about the current status of that aid and what their game plan is to deliver it.

Q: And World Central Kitchen said they were not using the pier in any way. So is it just World Food Program participants that are using this pier?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I’d refer you to USAID. I know they’re working obviously with humanitarian organizations, to include the World Food Program, for distribution, but again, I think the important point here is that this is just one part of a broader international effort that consists of aid being delivered via a maritime corridor, the air, and of course ground being the optimal way to get aid. But again, we’re going to continue to push as much aid into Gaza as we can.

Q: And are there any updates on airdrop operations?

GEN. RYDER: I don’t have an update to provide, other than the fact that we will continue to conduct airdrops to get aid into Gaza.

Q: … since the Rafah operation started, or do you have an intermittent start?

GEN. RYDER: Let me look — we’ve done — between March 2nd and today, there’s been 39 humanitarian assistance airdrops. The last drop was on June 9th. But again, we will maintain the option and have the capability and will conduct airdrops in the future.

Let me go to Jennifer.

Q: General Ryder, how concerned is the Pentagon that war could break out on the Lebanese border with Israel right now?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so of course this is something that we’re continuing to follow very closely, Jennifer. You know, as we’ve mentioned before, we do have concerns about tensions along that border. We continue to encourage a diplomatic solution. And so we’re going to stay very focused on that.

Q: And what was the purpose of the USS Ford coming in for a port call?

GEN. RYDER: The USS Ford coming to a port call?

Q: I was — well, maybe I misread that they were in the Mediterranean.

GEN. RYDER: I’m not tracking that, so yeah.

Q: … that’s a mistake — in terms of Putin’s visit to North Korea and to Vietnam, how seriously do you take this new mutual defense treaty? Is this a return to the Cold War? Is it — are you seeing additional weapons moving from North Korea to Ukraine? How serious do you take this relation — new relationship?

GEN. RYDER: And just to clarify, you said Vietnam. Do you mean DPRK?

Q: North Korea — yeah.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously something that we’re continuing to monitor very closely. As you’ve heard others in the U.S. government talk about, you know, there is no surprise here that they’ve been developing and fostering this relationship.

So it is something that we’re going to take seriously, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor, but what we’ve also said is that our focus when it comes to the Indo-Pacific, and broadly speaking, worldwide, is to work with likeminded nations on security and stability throughout the world, to include the Indo-Pacific region.

So we’re going to continue to strengthen and bolster those alliances and those relationships, with the idea that our focus is on peace, security, and stability, but certainly are also going to continue to keep a close eye on this.

Q: And in Vietnam, Putin said that Russia’s considering changing its nuclear doctrine and its first use doctrine. Do you take that seriously, or is this just nuclear saber-rattling?

GEN. RYDER: You know, we’ve seen nothing at this point that would require us to change our own strategic forces posture. Again, it’s not the first time that we’ve heard of reckless nuclear saber-rattling. It’s certainly irresponsible for countries that maintain these types of capabilities to make those kinds of comments.

But again, I go back to what I said earlier, that our focus is on security and stability, not only in the region but throughout the world. And so we’ll continue to stay focused on that.

Let me go here to CNN.

Q: Thanks, General Ryder. So National Security Advisor Sullivan said earlier this week that with regards to the policy allowing Ukraine to use U.S.-made weapons to strike over the border into Russia, that policy, quote, “extends to anywhere that Russian forces are coming across the border from the Russian side to the Ukrainian side.”

So is that consistent with the Pentagon’s understanding of this policy, or has the policy expanded beyond just that kind of narrow Kharkiv region that it was initially understood to be when this policy was implemented?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so there has been no change in the policy. And really, at the end of the day, this comes down to counter-fire, right? And what you saw in the Kharkiv region is Russia was conducting its offensive, was the massing of forces, artillery fire, preparatory fire into Ukraine as they conducted these operations.

And so, the ability to be able to fire back when fired upon is really what this policy is focused on.

So, again, as we see Russian forces firing across the border, the ability for Ukraine to fire back at those ground forces using U.S. provided munitions, it’s self-defense, and so it makes sense for them to be able to do that.

Q: And that applies only to the border areas? Or could it be further into Russia?

GEN. RYDER: Again, if you look back at kind of the early days of this war, and you had Russian forces that were, and still are, to a large degree, but en masse within Ukrainian occupied territory, what you saw were force on force conflicts that were happening within sovereign Ukraine.

So, in this case, what you see is Russian forces attempting to use their border as a safe zone from which to conduct preparatory fires and attacks into Ukraine, in support of offensive actions. And so, again, as we see those forces conducting those types of operations, from across the border, we’ve explained, you know, Ukraine can and does have the right to fire back to defend themselves.

So, again, not a change to the policy that was announced earlier. Now, when it comes to long term or, excuse me, long range munitions like ATACMS, again, there’s been no change in the policy in that regard.

Q: So, it’s broader than just Kharkiv, to be clear?

GEN. RYDER: Correct. It’s focusing on the strategic intent here, which is counterfire when you’re attacked, returning fire. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, General. If I may go back to the situation on the borders between Israel and Lebanon, obviously, you’ve been looking at the tension there. In terms of how dense the situation, are you seeing an indication that this is higher than before and that could lead to a wider confrontation? And do you believe there’s still room for a diplomatic solution between Israel and Lebanon?

GEN. RYDER: So, the latter part of your question first. Yes, I think there’s always time to talk and there’s always a room for diplomatic solutions. I think given the amount of rocket fire we’ve seen going from both sides of the border, we’ve certainly been concerned about that situation, and both publicly and privately have been urging all parties to restore calm along that border, and again, to seek a diplomatic solution.

And so, you know, you’ve heard the White House talk about the fact that they’ve sent a special envoy. Secretary Austin — this is something that he’s spoken about with his counterparts in the region. And so, again, this is something that we’ll continue to stay focused on.

Q: Is the situation between Israel and Lebanon and maybe potential for escalation, has this prompted the DoD to maybe review the U.S. forces’ posture in the region or change it in any way so far?

GEN. RYDER: As of right now, I don’t have any announcements to make in terms of a force posture. Again, I think seeing the forest through the trees here, what we don’t want to see is a broader regional conflict. And so, again, we’re going to stay very focused on working with the rest of the U.S. interagency and with our partners in the region, to attempt to ensure that that doesn’t happen and that this is resolved diplomatically. Thank you.

Let me go to the phone here real quick. Reuters, Idrees?

Q: Hey, just a quick question. Could you, I may have missed this, but how much aid is currently in the marshalling area?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don’t have a number to provide, Idrees. I’d refer you to USAID to talk about how much aid they currently have for onward delivery.

Q: Is there a capacity at which point aid cannot gather at the marshalling area anymore, or is that not a concern?

GEN. RYDER: I mean, there is a certain capacity that the marshalling area can hold. I don’t know that we’ve reached that at this stage. But you know, certainly that’s a factor. But I don’t have a specific amount to provide to you. OK. Let me go in the room here.

Tony?

Q: A couple of geopolitical questions I want to, on the North Korea-Russia, is the Pentagon is assessing or what types of technologies Russia may give to North Korea that they haven’t in the past? I’m thinking ballistic missile guidance technology or along those lines?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Tony. I don’t have any details, nor am I going to discuss in detail any agreements between Russia and the DPRK at this point. Again, I’d go back to what I said earlier. We’re not surprised about this continuing burgeoning of this relationship. It’s something that we’re going to monitor closely.

And again, what you have seen in the past is the DPRK providing Russia with munitions that are being employed in Ukraine, killing Ukrainians, and supporting Russia’s illegal war. So, again, definitely concerning for all those nations that respect sovereignty, respect the rule of law.

Q: A Ukraine weapons question. The White House today announced that it was directing American contractors to ship AMRAAM and Patriot weapons, missiles that were earmarked for foreign customers, other foreign customers, to Ukraine, giving them the priority. What role does the Pentagon have in this directive in implementing this directive or overseeing the shift of missiles from FMS customers to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure. To your point, as you highlighted, the resequencing of planned deliveries —

Q: How are your missile deliveries not plane?

GEN. RYDER: What’s that?

Q: You said plane deliveries?

GEN. RYDER: Planned. The planned resequencing of planned deliveries. So, we’re working closely with industry on the appropriate contracting actions from this resequencing to ensure that we’re able to continue to support our security assistance requirements.

So, I’m not going to be able to go into any specifics beyond that in terms of what those contracting actions are, those companies are. But needless to say, again, we’re going to make sure that not only are we supporting Ukraine, but that we’re continuing to keep on track with those FMS deliveries as quickly as possible.

Q: These are missiles, right? Not the batteries?

GEN. RYDER: Correct, these are missiles. That’s correct. All right.

Noah?

Q: In reference to the policy on cross border strikes, I just want to make sure I understand clarity. Was the policy never geographically bound, and was always focused on the intent of counterfire, like you’re describing there? I just want to make sure that I understand this correctly.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, I mean, I think, you know, the context was, again, this Russian offensive that was emanating from the Kharkiv Region. And so, being able to check that offensive and enable the Ukrainians to fire back, and to not allow Russia to use that zone across the border there as a safe haven from which to conduct those attacks.

Q: So, it changed in reference to the offensive near Kharkiv, but it was never intended just to be around Kharkiv, if I understand you?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, exactly. I mean, I think the policy here is, again, and I think, you know, the National Security Advisor put it, you know, in great words here, in the sense that it’s not about geography, it’s about common sense. Right? Being able to fire back if you’re fired upon. If we can go to Tom.

Q: Thanks, General. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi rebels, today gave a speech in which he said that British — sorry, U.S. and British airstrikes have had no effect at all on the group. Could you comment on that?

GEN. RYDER: Well, they started with a certain amount of capability, and now they have a less amount of capability, so that’s just factually incorrect.

Q: But the tempo and severity and damage caused by the attacks is increasing, and obviously the stress that the U.S. Navy is under is increasing too. So what’s the end point here?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, as I said on Tuesday, you know, the ultimate objective here is to ensure freedom of navigation through the Red Sea and to continue to work with the international community to safeguard mariners that are transiting this area, and we’ll continue to do that.

And again, you know, the more that the Houthis continue to do these types of attacks long-term, it is going to also in the medium and near-term, it’s going to continue to have significant impacts on their own citizens, the people that are living under Houthi control, in terms of the ability for aid to be delivered to Yemen, the environmental impact on the Red Sea, as well as the economic viability of that region.

So again, you know, we’re not looking to get into a full-scale conflict with the Houthis. Our focus, again, continues to be on freedom of navigation and safety of the maritime corridor, and that’s what we’ll stay focused on.

All right, Luis?

Q: What is the department’s comment on the situation that happened earlier this week in the Philippines to the Second Thomas Shoal? The Philippine government has released video that shows a machete-wielding, knife-wielding China Coast Guard service members attacking these boats belonging to the Philippines on a resupply mission. What do you have to say to that? And then I have a follow-up please.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, I kind of touched on this earlier this week, right? I mean, this kind of behavior, it’s provocative, it’s reckless, it’s unnecessary. It’s also antithetical to the PRC’s claims about respect for sovereignty.

And so again, the Philippines should have the right to be able to operate within their legal maritime claims. Those need to be protected. So again, we continue to stand by our ally, the Philippines, and we’re going to continue to call out this kind of irresponsible and reckless behavior when we see it.

Q: And when you say “stand by,” does that mean that the U.S. is considering moving some assets there to kind of show that support for the Philippines?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don’t have any announcements to make, Luis. We’re confident in our force posture in the region right now, and again, I’ll just leave it at that.

Janne?

Q: Thank you, General. On the — I mean, North Korea and Russia’s mutual defense agreement, this is a treaty that allows Russia to intervene militarily in case of emergency on the Korean Peninsula. What is the U.S.’s reaction on this?

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, without getting into the specifics of their agreement, the alliance that the United States has with the ROK and Japan is a defensive alliance, right? We’re there to defend, we’re not there to make war.

And so again, our focus is going to be on working with likeminded partners in the region, to include our allies ROK and Japan, on ensuring peace, security, and stability throughout the region.

Q: Can you tell us what is the difference between South Korea and United States’ mutual defense agreement and North Korea and Russia’s mutual defense agreements? Is there any difference, looks like, or …

GEN. RYDER: Well, again, I’m not going to do a comparative analysis here from the podium in terms of the various agreements, other than to say we’ve been very clear about our ironclad support for our ROK allies.

Q: Kim Jong-un told President Putin he fully supported Russia’s special military operation against Ukraine, and Putin promised military technology support — including fighter jets to North Korea. What change will this make to the war in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I just think it demonstrates the desperation that a country like Russia needs to align itself with the DPRK to subjugate the people of Ukraine. And the fact that they have to go to a country like DPRK to obtain munitions demonstrates how isolated Russia is right now. But again, our focus is on preserving regional peace and stability, and I just leave it there.

I’m going to move on, Janne, if that’s all right. Go to Lara.

Q: Are you — is the Pentagon concerned about an increased risk to U.S. troops in the region if Israel expands the conflict into Lebanon?

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, from the very beginning of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, we have been focused on ensuring that our forces are protected in the region. You saw we deployed additional forces in support of deterrence efforts but also force protection efforts.

I’m not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals on what if, other than to say again we remain concerned about the potential for escalation along the Israel-Lebanon border, and we’re going to continue to encourage a diplomatic resolution of that tension.

Q: Are you — is the Pentagon concerned about Israel’s ability to wage a two-front war at this time if it’s …

GEN. RYDER: Again, look, the focus here broadly speaking is on preventing a wider regional conflict. And I think, you know, you’ve all been following this region long enough to know all the various players and actors that are in the region that have a stake in that part of the world. And so again, we’re going to stay focused on encouraging a diplomatic resolution.

Konstantin?

Q: Thank you, Pat. Earlier this week, Staff Sergeant Gordon Black was sentenced to three years and nine months by a Russian court. You know, first question I guess is does the Pentagon have a reaction to this sentence? And then the second question I have is has anybody from the Pentagon been in contact with Staff Sergeant Black?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. So, obviously something that we continue to monitor closely. Both the department and the Army are in contact with State Department, which has the lead. As I’m sure you can imagine on something like this, given a U.S. citizen being held in a foreign country. So I’m going to have to refer you to State Department for any further questions on that.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks.

Sir?

Q: Thank you. So I on the decision on to prioritize Patriot and NASAMS missile delivers to Ukraine — so first, why now and not earlier? And secondly, what does it mean for Ukrainians practically? Will they be receiving more of those missiles? Will it take less time for them to be delivered for Ukraine? Like, what is the quality change here?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So as I’m sure you know, the Foreign Military Sales program obviously supports numerous countries around the world, but in this particular case, in terms of why now, what we’re seeing is Russia once again trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy system and infrastructure ahead of winter. And so they urgently need air defense — additional air defense capabilities, which is again the topic you heard Secretary Austin talk about last week.

And so providing Ukraine with additional interceptors more quickly, it’s an existential situation. And so this prompted the decision to re-sequence near-term planned deliveries of critical air defense interceptors to go to Ukraine. So that’s the reason for why now.

And practically, what that means is that it will increase their inventories more quickly to enable them to continue to defend that critical infrastructure and the civilian population as we go into the winter here.

Q: One more on Patriot — we saw Romania today announcing that they will also provide additional system to Ukraine on the condition that the allies and the United States would help them to fill that gap. So could you please speak more about that? Will the U.S. replace the system that Romanians providing to Ukraine? Will it be something else?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I won’t speak for Ukraine, other than to say, again, as Secretary Austin highlighted last week in Brussels and oh, by the way, has been talking about now for a long time, is air defense continues to be a priority.

And so the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — you know, over 50 allies and partners coming together to find ways to provide capabilities to Ukraine when it comes to air defense. And certainly, you know, many countries have stepped up in that regard, whether it be Patriots, whether it be SAMP/Ts, whether it be, you know, the NASAMS capabilities.

So we’re obviously grateful for those countries that continue to do that, and we’ll continue to keep after that.

Q: Are there specific plans to fill that gap for Romania? Cause they are saying that there’s a condition that allies and especially the United States will help to find a temporary solution.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, look, again, without getting into specific details, as a — you know, both bilaterally and as NATO allies, we work with all of our partners to take into account what their defense needs are, and we’re going to do everything we can to support those.

You know, in the case of this re-sequencing here, again, all of the affected countries were notified, and again, we’re working with them to make sure, as I highlighted to Tony, that industry can work to get those requirements filled.

So across the board, you know, we’re going to do what good allies do. Oh, by the way, the fact that we’ve re-sequenced these interceptor deliveries for Ukraine — again, the bottom line message here is to our allies and partners is if there is an existential threat, you know, we’re going to step up and we’re going to help you, as we are in this case.

So yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. Yesterday, Pentagon DSCA said it was 5,000 autonomous systems and other military supplies to Taiwan. So — is the Pentagon concerned about the backlash from China? And also, do you feel that Taiwan is particularly prepared for attack by China at this time?

GEN. RYDER: Hey, I’m sorry, can you repeat that last part?

Q: Last question is — question’s do you feel that Taiwan is particularly prepared for an attack by China at this time?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so, you know, I guess the way I’d respond to that is, as Secretary Austin has said, we don’t believe that an attack is either imminent or inevitable. And so I’ll just leave it at that.

Time for a couple more. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. Regarding again to the tension at the border between Hezbollah and Israel, there is some reports claiming that the Israel officials have told the U.S. that they are planning to shift resources from southern Gaza to the northern of Israel in preparation for possible offensive against Hezbollah. So do you confirm these reports? Have you seen these reports?

And from the last Tuesday, when the IDF has been approved operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon — since that approval, does Israel ask for any new munitions or weapons from the U.S.? And what discussions the DOD had to try to deescalate the situation there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So, you know, in terms of that press reporting, look, I’m not going to speak to potential Israeli operations or planning. I’d refer you to them to talk about their current status. Again, we’ve been very clear publicly and privately that we want to see calm restored along the border in our conversations with partners in the region, to include those in Israel and Lebanon.

And again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate on, you know, if something could happen. Our focus right now is on preventing a wider regional conflict and on encouraging resolution of these tensions via diplomacy. So we’ll continue to stay focused on that.

Q: And I have another one. Could you give us an update about the status of these 2,000-pound bomb shipments that (on) hold? Is this still on hold? And what about the other deal about the F-15 fire-fighters to Israel that already has been approved?

GEN. RYDER: OK, that was five questions.

(LAUGHTER)

OK, so no change in the one shipment that we’ve paused of the 2,000-pound unguided munitions. And as I mentioned on Tuesday, you know, final determination on how to proceed with that shipment has not been made.

As far as the press reporting on F-15 sales, as a matter of policy, we don’t confirm or comment on proposed cases until they’ve actually been notified to Congress. So I’m not going to have anything additional.

All right, we can do one more question. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. Last Sunday, U.S. Central Command conducted airstrikes in Syria. According to CENTCOM, a senior ISIS official was killed. Do you believe ISIS still have a stronghold on the region? And how much it is a threat?

GEN. RYDER: So, you know, we’ve talked about this in the past. So ISIS, as it exists in Iraq and Syria, has been greatly diminished from where it was 10 years ago. We have not seen an uptick in terms of ISIS activity broadly speaking.

That said, they do remain a threat, which is why, again, you continue to see the international coalition, of which the U.S. is part, focused on working with regional partners to prevent a resurgence of ISIS and to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.

And so it’s one of those things that, again, as we’ve all seen, you can’t take your eye off of it or else, you know, it can rear its ugly head again. And so we’ll continue to stay focused, as CENTCOM was and is, vis-a-vis their news release.

So all right, thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/3812734/

NEWSLETTER

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list


Read More

John Pike