Apr 17, 2024

Pentagon Press Briefing on 4/16/24

Pat Ryder gives pentagon briefing
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Pentagon Holds Press Briefing After Israel Vows ‘Consequences’ For Iran Drone Strikes. Read the transcript here.


Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (00:00):

… afternoon, everyone. Just a few things here at the top, then we’ll get right to your questions.

This morning, Secretary Austin had his first engagement with Admiral Dong Jun, Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China, via teleconference from here at the Pentagon. The two leaders discussed US-PRC defense relations and regional and global security issues.

During the discussion, Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the US and the People’s Republic of China. He also underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea, and reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.

Secretary Austin also discussed Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and expressed concerns about recent provocations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In addition, the Secretary reiterated that the United States remains committed to our longstanding One China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances, and he reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the strait.

The department will continue to engage in active discussions with PRC counterparts about future engagements between defense and military officials at multiple levels, as agreed to by President Biden and PRC President Xi Jinping in November 2023. A full readout of today’s call is available on Defense.gov.

Switching gears, Secretary Austin spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant last night to discuss the aftermath of Iran’s unprecedented April 13 attacks which, as you know, US, Israeli, and partner forces thwarted in a combined defensive operation.

During the call, the Secretary reiterated steadfast US support for Israel’s defense and reaffirmed the strategic goal of regional stability. As you saw from our call readouts posted yesterday, Secretary Austin continues to communicate with leaders throughout the Middle East region and beyond to emphasize that while the United States does not seek escalation, we will continue to defend Israel and US personnel.

Separately, Secretary Austin also spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov earlier today to discuss the situation on the ground and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s defense capabilities and fight for freedom from Russian aggression. A full readout will be posted today on the DOD website.

And then finally, looking ahead to tomorrow, Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General C.Q. Brown Jr. will provide testimony before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee at 10:00 AM on Capitol Hill regarding the Fiscal Year 2025 DOD budget request.

With that, I’d be happy to take your questions. We’ll go to AP, Lita.

Lita (02:53):

Thanks, Pat. The Secretary’s been speaking to Minister Gallant quite frequently. Has he spoken to him again today? Are there plans to do another call today?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (03:05):

He has not spoken with him today, and I don’t have a call to read out. Of course, we’ll keep you updated.

Lita (03:10):

And can you describe in any way what the Secretary believes is whether or not the Israelis and Minister Gallant are heeding US entreaties to not trigger a wider conflict in the Middle East? Is there a sense that Israel is listening to that message?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (03:34):

Well, I appreciate the question, Lita. I don’t want to speak for Israel of course. The Secretary has been very clear in his conversations with Minister Gallant, per our readouts, that we will firmly support Israel’s defense, but you’ve also heard us say that we do not want to see a wider regional conflict, and I’ll just leave it there.


Liz (03:56):

Is it expected that Israel would give the US a heads-up if it does a counter-attack and give the US any formal warning?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (04:06):

As I’m sure you can appreciate, I can’t go into specific diplomatic discussions. Again, we maintain frequent contact, not only with our Israeli partners but our partners throughout the region. Thank you.


Fadi (04:20):

Thank you, General. So according to the readout and what you just stated, that the Secretary reaffirmed a strategic goal of regional stability. In light of this call, is Secretary Austin more or less hopeful that this goal can be achieved?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (04:41):

Well, look, I’m not going to characterize the Secretary’s sentiment other than to say what we’ve put out there. We’ve been working very hard for many months to prevent a wider regional conflict in the region, and we’ll continue to work toward that end.

Fadi (04:58):

Does the Secretary see a way to achieve this option if Israel decides to strike Iran?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (05:08):

Well, again, without getting into hypotheticals, I guess much will depend on what happens exactly and how Iran might respond. So again, as you’ve heard us say, while we don’t seek to escalate, we don’t seek escalation in the region, we will continue to support Israel’s defense, we will continue to defend our personnel. And you’ve also heard us say, as I just mentioned, that we don’t want to see this spiral into a wider regional war, nor do we seek conflict with Iran.

So again, we’ll continue to work toward that end.

Fadi (05:42):

A follow-up on this. It’s interesting that you said this depends on how Iran reacts. Doesn’t it depend as well on how Israel reacts?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (05:51):

I appreciate you commenting on my commentary being interesting, but, I mean, my words speak for themselves. I mean, you’re asking if Israel does something, how will the US respond? Well, a lot will depend on what happens, and as you know, right now, nothing has happened. So we’ll have to see. Thanks.


Lara (06:13):

Thank you. Can you speak generally about how long it takes to set up JLOTS once they arrive? Like, typically, what kind of a timeframe are we looking at?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (06:22):

Yeah. A lot of the components are already in the theater. And as I’m sure you can appreciate, there’s sort of a sequencing that will take place to construct and implement JLOTS. Based on the information that I have right now, we’re still on track to have JLOTS achieve operating capability by the end of the month or early May. And so, what you will probably see in the next two to three weeks is components of JLOTS starting to be constructed. But again, planners are working through those details, and we’ll certainly provide you much more information as we get closer to.

Lara (07:05):

Has the date shifted, though, because originally it was third week of April, then it was end of April. Now, it’s maybe early May.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (07:10):

I’m telling you that there’s IOC and there’s FOC. Right now, we’re tracking that it will be operational, which means it will have some initial operating capability by the end of the month or early May.

Lara (07:25):

So it shifted?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (07:25):

What we said when we announced it was that it would be operational within 60 days, and we’re still on track for that. Thanks. Chris?

Chris (07:33):

In the Secretary’s call on PRC Minister today, did he bring up the issue of the air intercepts with American aircraft, and he pressed for an explanation of why those occurred and what the Chinese reasoning was for those.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (07:51):

Yeah, thanks, Chris. I’m really not going to have much more to provide beyond what we included in our readout. As I mentioned, there was a discussion about the fact that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows. Janne?

Janne (08:09):

Thank you, General. Iran and North Korea are working together to pursue the performance of nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles. And is it possible that these weapons was used to attack Israel?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (08:31):

I can’t speculate, Janne. Certainly, when it comes to threats posed by the DPRK in Iran, something that we take very seriously. Which should be obvious, but again, just for the sake of restating it, we will continue to work very closely with our partners, both in the Middle East region as well as the Indo-Pacific region, to address potential threats to our peoples, and work very hard towards regional security and stability.

And on that front, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific Pacific region, just to make clear, similar to our ironclad defense of Israel, our relationship and our alliance with the Republic of Korea and Japan are also ironclad, and we will stand beside them to work together towards security and stability throughout the region. Let me-

Janne (09:25):

One more. Do you predict that Israel or Iran might use nuclear weapons in the future?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (09:35):

Again, I can’t get into predicting the future, Janne, other than we’re going to work very hard again to ensure security and stability and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Oren?

Oren (09:49):

Two different questions. One, is there any more clarity or information on whether there was or wasn’t a 50% failure rate from Iranian ballistic missiles? And second, in the call between Secretary Austin and Minister Umerov on the unwavering commitment, we’re still unclear if Congress is going to pass a supplemental. And it looks like that commitment is very much wavering. What did Secretary Austin tell Minister Umerov on that? And does the Secretary believe the supplemental will pass? Specifically on Ukraine?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (10:18):

So, on the 50% number, I don’t have anything new for you, Oren, other than to say, as I highlighted yesterday, that the air threats that Iran launched toward Israel, the vast majority of those were taken down, and clearly Iran failed to achieve their objective of causing destruction within Israel. Very minimal damage on the ground. When it comes to the unwavering commitment of the United States for Israel, I think it’s important, first of all, as you highlight.

Oren (10:54):

For Ukraine.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (10:55):

I’m sorry. So many countries to talk about today. The unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine. Look, we absolutely need the supplemental, but I think it’s also important to look at what the United States is doing with many other countries to support Ukraine. In fact, we’re about to conduct the 21st Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And two years after Russia’s invasion, you have a coalition of nearly 50 nations that have worked together for over two years to support Ukraine.

And the United States continues to provide a significant leadership role when it comes to working with those partners to ensure Ukraine has the capabilities it needs, as well as helping with the capability coalitions that looks at not only the near-term requirements, but also the long-term defense requirements that Ukraine will have. And so, we absolutely are committed to Ukraine’s defense, and we’ll continue to work closely with Congress to get the resources we need to support them.


Tom (11:57):

Getting back to JLOTS, has the security arrangements been worked out about who will secure the aid once it gets into Gaza? Presumably the idea, but any other countries we expect to get involved in that as well? And also, as far as who will be driving the aid in, is that USAID doing that and contracting out? Do we have any details on the way ahead?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (12:20):

Yeah, Tom, we’ll certainly have much more to provide in the near future. Right now, what I would tell you is, again, we’re making progress on that front. When it comes to security, again, with the important point here that there will be no US forces on the ground in Gaza. Israel has signed up to provide security. And so, we’re obviously working through, with USAID, who is going to receive that aid, how it’s going to be offloaded onto land and then distributed throughout Gaza.

So, again, I’m not in a position right now to go into much more detail than that, other than progress continues to be made. And like I said, we’re on track right now for a late April, early May initial operating capability.

Let me go to Carla, and then I’ll come to Konstantin.

Carla (13:07):

Thank you, Pat. Is CENTCOM Commander General Erik Kurilla still in the region, and is he still working to coordinate a potential defense for any future attacks?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (13:18):

I’d refer you to CENTCOM on his specific whereabouts. I do know that he’s traveling right now, overseas, but I’d refer you to them for the specifics.

Carla (13:28):

And then on the video call, did Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin mention the surge in sales that you confirmed yesterday that China has been doing, supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. Did he mention that at all? And did he ask China to stop?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (13:45):

Again, as I highlighted in the topper, the Secretary did raise Russian aggression in Ukraine. But beyond that, I’m not going to be able to provide any further details. Thank you.

I’ll start with Konstantin, then I’ll come to you, Rob.

Konstantin (14:00):

Thanks. Just a quick follow up on Tom’s question. Has any decision been made in terms of security being provided at sea? So Navy ships or other security arrangements for the seaward component of JLOTS?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (14:15):

Yeah. First let me just say that when it comes to JLOTS and when it comes to US forces supporting this effort, it’s important to understand that safety of our forces is paramount. So that is something that is being taken into consideration throughout this planning process. And so, in addition to some Israeli support, when it comes to the maritime aspect of security, certainly, you know, within 6th Fleet, we have capabilities there as well.

And as I understand it, the JLOTS vessels and personnel have organic force protection capability as well. So again, not going to go into the specifics on that, but that is something that is fundamental to the entire planning of this operation.

Go to Ryo, then I’ll go to the phone real quick.

Ryo (15:05):

I have a follow-up on the Secretary’s call with the Chinese Defense Minister this morning. During the call, did the Secretary receive any explanations or any commitment from the Chinese side regarding the recent tensions in [inaudible 00:15:18] in the South China Sea?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (15:21):

Yeah, appreciate the question. I’ll let the PRC speak for themselves. Again, I’d refer you to the readout in terms of what was discussed and our positions. Thank you.

All right, let me go to the phone here real quick. J.J. from WTOP?

J.J. (15:35):

General, thank you for the chance to do this. Two quick questions, Israel, it seems is planning a limited response to Iran’s attack. The Pentagon has said it doesn’t want a wider war, how do Israel’s plans impact the Pentagon’s plans in the region?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (15:50):

Yeah, again, seen those reports and certainly would refer you to the Israelis, J.J., when it comes to anything they might do, which of course, is an Israeli decision.

As I’ve highlighted, we do not seek escalation in the region, but we will not hesitate to defend Israel and protect our personnel. Again, we do not want to see a wider regional war. We don’t seek conflict with Iran, but we won’t hesitate to take necessary actions to protect our forces.

J.J. (16:21):

Thank you. Iran and Russia have developed-

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (16:26):

I’m sorry J.J., I can’t hear you.

J.J. (16:29):

Yeah, Iran and Russia have developed a military partnership, which may be to Iran’s benefit as Israel prepares for whatever response it’s going to give. Iran also helps Russia in its war with Ukraine, so how does that partnership impact the Pentagon’s view and plans for dealing with both of those countries?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (16:49):

Well, you raise a really good point. And I think it’s often forgotten about, the fact that Iran has been providing Russia with capabilities to include one way attack drones, as you know, to conduct its illegal war inside Ukraine.

And so, while you see the United States and other international partners working together to promote regional security and stability and deliver humanitarian assistance, you see countries like Iran exporting terror and destruction. Thank you.


Eunice (17:25):

Thank you General. This administration has been calling for one thing since Saturday, and that is de-escalation, which sounds like the perfectly reasonable thing for hundreds of millions of people in the region, but you’re also saying that we’re not going to hesitate to defend Israel, so doesn’t that give enough freedom to the Netanyahu government to escalate just as much as they’d like? Because the US is going to be there, under any circumstances, to defend?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (17:50):

Well again, certainly, the bottom line upfront, we don’t want to see a wider regional war, and we’ve been working very hard toward that end ever since the Hamas Israel conflict, as you know, kicked off back in October.

And when it comes to a potential Israeli response, again that is a sovereign decision for Israel to make. They were attacked by Iran in an unprecedented attack over 300 air threats, so that is their decision. But again, we’ve been very clear that we don’t want to see things escalate.

What I’m saying is that if Iran were to conduct another attack against Israel, just to be crystal clear, the United States will support the defense of Israel, just as we did this last weekend.

Eunice (18:41):

So, wouldn’t that make a potential Israeli government decision binding for the Pentagon?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (18:48):

Again, look, I’m not going to get into the Israeli decision-making, I’d refer you to them. I think we’ve been very clear that we don’t want to see escalation, that we don’t want to see a wider regional war, and I’ll just leave it at that.


Speaker 15 (19:02):

Thank you. So China has continued to become more aggressive towards the Philippines and in the past, MMCA, a US official stated that we’ll continue to press the PRC on those issues, did Austin press them on this particular issue?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (19:20):

Well, again, I’d refer you back to the readout. The Secretary, as I highlighted, made clear in the discussion that it is important to respect the high seas freedom of navigation that is guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea. And that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.

Speaker 15 (19:47):

Correct, but did he press them on Thomas Shoal like the Philippines not just the South China Sea?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (19:55):

Yeah, I appreciate the question, I’d refer you back to the readout. That’s about the extent of what I can provide today.

Liz, and then go to-

Liz (20:00):

You’ve you said several times that the US does not seek a wider regional war. Is that message to Iran or a message to Israel?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (20:09):

I think it’s just a statement of fact.


Carla (20:12):

Thank you, Pat. The IDF is now saying that an Israeli air strike killed a Hezbollah Commander in Lebanon today. Can you confirm, was the Secretary given any sort of notification in his call with his Israeli counterpart yesterday?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (20:29):

That’s news to me, Carla, I’d have to refer you to the Israelis to talk about that.

Let me go the phone here, Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Jeff Schogol (20:37):

Thank you. Just two quick questions. Has there been any change to the US Military’s footprint in Niger? And also, there was a fire at the Army’s ammunition plant in Scranton yesterday. At the risk of invoking Billy Joel, do we know who started the fire?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (20:55):

On Niger, Jeff, no change in the US Force posture at this time.

On the fire, I’d have to refer you to the Army, because we didn’t start the fire.

Yes, ma’am?

Speaker 17 (21:11):

Just to clarify and follow-up. So is the message that no matter what Israel does, if it reacts, the US will defend it regardless?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (21:19):

Well, look, I think the President and the Secretary have been clear, that the United States and our support for Israel’s defense is ironclad.

Speaker 17 (21:28):

So, doesn’t that take away any leverage you might have had to try to influence the Israeli decision?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (21:34):

Look, Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood and again, I think it’s important to take a step back here and look at the US Israel defense relationship. The multi-decades long relationship that we have with Israel and understand again, that the United States recognizes the neighborhood that Israel lives in, the threats to regional security and stability that exist if Israel is not able to defend itself.

And so, I’ll just leave it there.

Speaker 17 (22:02):

Doesn’t that give them carte blanche then just to go as big as they want?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (22:05):

I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. Like I said, whether or not Israel responds is an Israeli decision. We don’t want to see a wider regional conflict. You see the Department of Defense and the broader US government working hard to deescalate tensions in the region. You can see that in all the readouts the Secretary’s had with his counterparts throughout the Middle East Region, and I’ll just leave it there.

All right, let me go Heather, from USNI?

Heather (22:30):

Thank you so much. Just wanted to check in on what we’re seeing right now with the Houthis. It seems like they’re getting quieter. Do you think that’s related to what happened over the weekend with Iran? Or are we expecting to see more?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (22:47):

I don’t have any updates to provide, Heather. As it relates to the Houthis, clearly, we continue to have forces there that work together as part of Prosperity Guardian to deter, disrupt, and degrade Houthi capability, but I’d refer you to CENTCOM. They may have more.

And Heather, while I have you on the phone here too, and the group, I just want to clarify a question you asked yesterday. You asked about whether or not airbase… or, excuse me, land-based, sea-based fighter aircraft… I don’t think you said “fighter,” I think you just said “aircraft” participated in the taking down of… or in the action yesterday.

What I thought you were asking was, were sea-based aircraft part of the capabilities we had that were supporting this overall effort. That is true. But just to clarify, the fighter aircraft that were participating in the operation to take down drones were land-based aircraft, not sea-based aircraft. So just to clarify that.

All right, any other questions? Last question. Yes, sir?

Chris (23:54):

Thanks, Pat. I didn’t thank you the first time. A point of clarification on the… You said there’d be the Israeli support for the maritime aspect of security on JLOTS. Does that include aerial support for those ships, such as monitoring for threats, et cetera?

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder (24:16):

Don’t want to get into the specifics, in terms of air coverage. I mean, clearly, the United States is going to do what we need to do to protect our forces. As I understand it, Israel has signed up to provide maritime security and land-based security. So I’ll just leave it there.

Okay, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

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