U.S. Department of Defense

11/30/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/30/2023 17:39

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press BriefingContracts for Nov. 30, 2023Statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on the Passing of Former[...]

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: So good afternoon. Happy Thursday. So just a few items at the top, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

So sadly, as many of you know, a United States Air Force CV-22B Osprey from the -- from Yokota Air Base, Japan, assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing was involved in an aircraft mishap Tuesday, Tuesday Eastern, while performing a routine training mission off the shore of Yakushima Island, Japan. Emergency personnel remain on scene conducting search and rescue operations. The cause of this incident is currently under investigation. Our thoughts are with the unit and their families, and we'd like to thank the government of Japan and the Japanese Coast Guard for all their assistance.

As a reminder, Secretary Austin will travel this week to California, December 1st and 2nd. On Friday, he will host the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Richard Marles and the U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Grant Shapps at Moffett Field to discuss the Australia-U.K.-U.S. security partnership, or as you all know it, AUKUS, and this is on the campus of the DOD's Defense Innovation Unit. And then, later that day, he will travel to Simi Valley to deliver a keynote address on Saturday at the 2023 Reagan National Defense Forum.

And shifting to the Middle East, the United States remains encouraged by the humanitarian pauses that we're seeing in Gaza, and we remain in close contact with our Israeli partners. As you know, on Tuesday, the U.S. airlifted 54,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance, which included medical supplies, warm clothing, food and nutrition assistance to the people of Gaza. We expect more aircraft carrying humanitarian assistance to come in the coming days.

And lastly, tomorrow, approximately 180 U.S. Army soldiers from the Fifth Corps, Second Cavalry Regiment will join Exercise Brave Partner in North Macedonia, concluding on December 10th. This U.S. Army and Africa-led exercise tests the regiment readiness on short notice, enhancing interoperability and strengthening our NATO alliance. The exercise also demonstrates our commitment to the Western Balkans' aspirations for European integration, emphasizing that no nation can face today's challenges alone.

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

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. Japan has suspended its Osprey flights and has asked that the U.S. also suspend some Osprey flights. Is there any move or any decision yet by the department to suspend, pause or otherwise slow down in that area flights of the Osprey until after -- even until after recovery operations are finished? And has the department received an official request from Japan to do some sort of standdown?

MS. SINGH: So I'm not tracking an official request received here at the department. We -- I've seen some of the comments that you just referenced. Right now, the Ospreys are still operating in Japan, but at the time -- right now, our focus on, in terms of what just happened this -- earlier this week, remains on search and rescue efforts. So that's the priority, of course, and you know, we're grate- -- we're, of course, eternally grateful for the government of Japan and their Coast Guard for helping in our search and recovery efforts.

Q: So is there no concern within the department that there are possibly problems within the Osprey that should be looked at before others continue to fly?

MS. SINGH: Well, there -- I mean, I would say as a department, and of course, the secretary values -- there's a true commitment to safety when it comes to any of our airmen operating any aircraft. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of the investigation. It's currently under investigation to see exactly what happened. And so until that concludes, if there are any -- if the investigation concludes that there need to be additional steps taken, we'll make -- certainly do that, but at this time, the investigation is underway on what happened.

Idrees?

Q: There were eight personnel on board. Do you know how many have been recovered versus how many of the (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: I don't have an update for you on recovery efforts just yet. Again, we know that there are eight missing. The search and recovery efforts are ongoing. I hope that we will have more to share soon, but at this moment, I just don't.

Q: Did you have any updates on the five Somali attackers who were on the Carney over the weekend? And have you been able to find any link between the Somalis and the Yemeni Houthis?

MS. SINGH: Do you mean the Mason?

Q: Pardon me.

MS. SINGH: That's OK. So in terms of connection, let me take the second part of your question first. So in terms of connection, again, we're still doing our assessments. We're not seeing one right now, but if there is one, we'd certainly, of course, you know, let you know. But at this time, these five armed individuals that the Mason -- was able to interdict as they were trying to flee from the Central Park remain in U.S. custody.

Yeah, Lara?

Q: Can you tell us, have there been any additional attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since Thanksgiving? The last we were tracking was 73, I believe.

MS. SINGH: Yes, let me see here. I just want to make sure. Yeah, so there was -- so we do have an update. There was an attack on Tuesday*, so that was earlier this week. So that brings the total attacks up to 74 attacks from October 17th until now. We did not see, as you just mentioned, over the period of Thanksgiving, and then over the last two days, we did not observe any additional attacks on our troops.

Q: And where was the attack on Tuesday?

MS. SINGH: That was in Syria.

Q: Thanks.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: Were there any injuries?

MS. SINGH: No injuries, no damage to infrastructure. If there are any injuries -- and again, I know that we provide those updates. I don't have any more updates to provide on additional nonserious injuries, but I'm not tracking that there were any injuries from that attack on Tuesday that happened.

Q: Drone -- drones, rockets?

MS. SINGH: I would have to get back to you on that. I'm -- I just don't have that information in front of me.

Q: Do you have any (inaudible) of the drone that was shot down, I think, was it yesterday? What type of drone was it? I think it was an Iranian drone. Can you say what type of drone...?

MS. SINGH: It was an Iranian-manufactured drone. I believe that -- also there's more information that I think CENTCOM did put out on the drone but it was a drone that we know was headed in the general direction of the Carney and was engaged in -- because the commander of the ship obviously felt that it was a threat, and so they did take it down. But I think there is more information available online, in terms of the type of drone that it was.

Konstantin?

Q: Thanks. I -- on the topic, can you say what the Carney used to down the drone -- missiles or guns?

MS. SINGH: I would refer you to CENTCOM for more information. I just don't have that.

Q: And one other question -- can you say whether the Mason fired any weapons as part of its engagement with the ballistic missile that was headed its way?

MS. SINGH: On the -- are you talking -- I'm sorry, are you talking about the event when -- from Wednesday -- or Tuesday? No, I'm not aware that the Mason did fire any weapons in regards to the ballistic missile.

Again, that ballistic missile we know landed, you know, far away from the ship. I believe it was at least 10 nautical miles away. So I don't believe there was any need to use any weapons.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. Ryo?

Q: Thank you. Following up on the Osprey missile in Japan -- so are you saying the Japanese government should not be worried about the safety of other Osprey aircraft going to Japan?

MS. SINGH: Well, I'm not going to speak for the Japanese government, but what I can tell you as the U.S. government and this department, of course safety is our number one priority and of course we're concerned when any -- when there's any mishap, which is why we have launched an investigation into what exactly happened to try and figure out more of the facts here.

At the -- in the immediate, our focus is on search and recovery -- or search and rescue efforts for our eight missing airmen. But in terms of, you know, the comfort of the Japanese government, I would refer you to them to speak to speak to that.

Q: Just to be clear ...

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: Just to be clear -- so does the -- will the U.S. military continue to operate the Osprey as you did before this crash happened?

MS. SINGH: Again, as of right now, we are still continuing to operate the Osprey aircraft. We have a commitment to safety. There is an investigation that is currently determining and looking into what exactly happened with this aircraft and the mishap.

Should that investigation yield in results that require the department to change anything about the Osprey or to take additional steps, we will certainly do that, but at this time, I'm not going to get ahead of that investigation and its process.

Yeah, Fadi?

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. I just have one clarification about this extra attack in Syria.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: Did it happen this Tuesday or Tuesday of last week?

MS. SINGH: There was -- it was an attack this past Tuesday, yes.

Q: OK. And then on the incident with the drone yesterday with the Carney, the statement from CENTCOM mentioned one of the ships that the Carney was escorting was carrying weapon -- military equipment to the region. My understanding, that this is not a government ship. But are you able to say whether that shipment was going to Israel or somewhere else and maybe tried to understand what actually happened with that incident?

MS. SINGH: Sure. I -- all I know -- that is -- it's not a military ship, it's a commercial vessel. In terms of where it was going, I don't have more information for you on that. I would direct you to the CENTCOM team to answer more of those questions.

But yes, the Carney was escorting that ship as a matter of safety and to ensure, you know, international passageways obviously remain open, but in terms of where that ship was bound for, the Central Park, I think that -- oh, I'm sorry, not -- I'm getting my own incidents confused here -- in terms of where that -- the Carney was escorting that commercial ship, I just don't have more for you on where it was going.

Q: And then lastly ...

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: in terms of rules of engagement with the -- with some of the UAV activity ...

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: ... what is the threshold -- I mean, obviously these incidents are happening in international waters. Did you have information on how far out was the drone before it was shot down by the Carney?

MS. SINGH: I don't have the exact measurements of how far it was from the Carney but of course a commander of a ship, if he or she assesses that the drone or missile is a threat to that ship and the personnel on that ship, they have the authority to shoot it down.

So I don't know that there's a threshold that needs to be met so much so as that the commander of that ship feels that it is under threat and therefore they must take action and respond in whatever is coming its way.

Yeah, Liz?

Q: Yeah, the USS Carney shot down a drone that was, quote, "heading towards it," according to the statement we got yesterday, in the Red Sea. And then on Sunday, the USS Mason, at least one ballistic missile was heading towards it. But these are not deemed the targets of these Houthi missiles.

So my question is if -- what makes these not considered targets? What is the target? Why are these not being considered attacks like the attacks in Syria and Iraq? Because the Iranian proxies are missing there too.

MS. SINGH: Well, I don't know that we wouldn't say that these aren't attacks. I mean, they -- I mean, we are of course taking action if we feel that they are a threat to us. But in terms of intended target, our initial assessments -- when it came to what the Mason took down and what the Carney took down, our initial assessment is that the ships were not the intended target but they came close enough where at least the Carney felt the need that it had to engage the drone that was coming its way or heading toward -- in the general direction.

And I'm sorry, I forgot your -- you had another question in there that I'm ...

Q: I guess just to pinpoint it a little bit more, if it's not the intended target, then is it an attack or not an attack?

MS. SINGH: Well, again, I would refer you to the people who are launching these drones or missiles, what their intended target is. We can't really speak to that. What we can speak to is the fact that our initial assessment -- and if that changes, we would let you know -- but our initial assessment right now is that these ships are not the intended target.

If that changes and if we continue to go through our assessments and say, you know, we did another analysis and it did look like they were targeting the Carney, we would of course let you know and adjust how we're talking about these.

But again, it is up to the commanders of these ships if they feel that they are under attack or they're -- feel like their personnel are threatened to be able to respond and take action.

Q: And ... separate topic. So President Biden met with Chinese President Xi earlier this month in San Francisco and they said that military-to-military communication would continue or would restart. Has Secretary Austin or anyone in the U.S. military been in contact with their Chinese counterparts since that meeting?

MS. SINGH: I don't have anything to read out today. We certainly welcomed the conversation, and that was something that you saw the President announce in San Francisco, that mil-to-mil communications would start back up again, but again, until the PRC appoints the Secretary's counterpart, the Secretary doesn't have someone to necessarily engage with just yet. But of course we welcome mil-to-mil communications at the very high levels, from the Secretary, to our lower levels and of course in the Indo-Pacific as well.

I'm going to go to Ellee.

Q: General VanHerck opened an investigation into alcohol consumption at NORAD/NORTHCOM. Is Secretary Austin aware of that investigation? And is the Pentagon confident that drinking in the workplace has not impacted national security?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, the Secretary is aware of the investigation, and I think it shows just how seriously the commander is taking this, by immediately launching one. And of course we are aware of the reports of allegations of alcohol being in the workplace. Again, NORAD/NORTHCOM, they continue their mission uninterrupted. I'm not going to get ahead of the investigation, as it's ongoing now, but we are certainly tracking it here.

Q: What is the DOD policy on alcohol consumption on duty?

MS. SINGH: I would have to get back to you but I -- think you would probably guess that we're not supportive of alcohol consumption on duty while performing certain tasks, but, you know, I'd have to get back to you on the exact policy.

Yeah, Tom?

Q: Thanks. Just two quick follow-ups please. You said earlier that the -- you all are not tracking an official request from the Japanese government regarding the Osprey. If such a request is -- does that come from -- to the Department of Defense or does that come through State Department, such a request? Would you -- do you know?

MS. SINGH: I don't know. I think it could come through varying levels though, yeah.

Q: And my second follow-up -- thank you on that -- my second follow-up is regarding the drill in North Macedonia, is this the first time U.S. troops will be participating in a NATO exercise in North Macedonia?

MS. SINGH: Certainly not first time U.S. troops are participating in a NATO exercise. I -- in North Macedonia? I don't know. I'd have to -- I can take that question.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: OK, great. I'm going to go to the phones and then we'll come back into the room. Howard Altman?

Q: Thanks. Is the Pentagon tracking an attack on a Houthi base in Yemen? And if so, do you know who might be behind it?

MS. SINGH: I've seen the reports of an attack within Yemen. I can tell you that it was not a U.S. military that conducted that.

Q: Do you know who might have been behind that?

MS. SINGH: I don't.

Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Q: Thank you. Can the Defense Department confirm that one of the crew members from the missing -- from the Osprey that crashed has been recovered and pronounced dead? And are the -- are efforts right now still search and rescue or have they transitioned to recovery?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Jeff, for the question. So I've seen the reports. I can't confirm what's being reported about a death. What I can tell you is this is still a search and recovery -- I'm so sorry -- search and rescue mission for the eight that were on board that aircraft.

When we have more to share, we certainly will do, but again, this is still a search and rescue mission.

MS. SINGH: And the last question from the phones, Heather from USNI?

Q: Thank you so much. So this is the first time that CENTCOM has actually said that -- or CENTCOM or the DOD has said that the drones are Iranian made, and I was just wondering what that tells the DOD about what the Houthis have, in terms of drones and weapons that we've been seeing launched at -- near the U.S. ships?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Heather, for the question. So again, when it comes to drones or other equipment, I mean, we have been very clear from the beginning that Iran equips, funds, supports, trains various IRGC militia groups, has supported the Houthis, has supported Hezbollah.

So I think what you saw is us directly calling that out in a statement yesterday. We have not shied away from doing that. We've certainly done that, again, when we have taken our own -- self-defensive strikes within Syria and Iraq. We have said that we know that these are Iranian-used, IRGC-used facilities that fund and support many of these militia groups. So that was just us doing that again.

All right, I'm going to come back in the room. Yes?

Q: Thanks, madam. Two questions quick, one on India, another one on Middle East.

As far as the U.S.-India relations are concerned, military-to-military, now in the midst of two wars, Ukraine -- Russia and Ukraine and also of course Israel and Hamas, anybody -- the Secretary or anybody in touch with the Indian Defense Minister or anybody in connection of these two wars?

MS. SINGH: As you know, the Secretary was just in the region. It feels like three months ago but it was literally just, I think, three weeks ago. The Secretary was in India engaging with his counterparts. Of course, world events came up and we put out detailed readouts of those meetings. So he is, you know, of course regularly engaged with his Indian counterparts, as recently as, you know, last month.

Q: And the second, madam as far as Israel's war against Hamas, Hamas has been designated as the international terrorist organization, but they have a political office in Doha, so did, maybe even still today, Taliban.

So if anybody's talking to the Qataris or Doha people that why they still have the critical office there and they are running this terrorist organization against innocent people around the globe, including India or U.S. or Israel, among others? And Qataris -- Qatar, they are friends of -- our friends, U.S. friends, India friends, Israel friends, among others. So -- and they -- the actors in this area still have not condemned these terrorist organizations.

MS. SINGH: I think the actors in the region have certainly condemned the actions that Hamas took on October 7th, and what you're seeing with Qatar is engagement and them working and -- with the Egyptian government, as well as of course with this administration, to free hostages and to continue this enduring humanitarian pause that is happening right now.

I don't have anything further to say about where they're located but I think we've been very definitive on the grotesque and disgusting actions that were taken on October 7th, and I'll just leave it at that.

Yeah?

Q: Hi, Sabrina. Thanks for doing this. 972 Magazine this morning reported that the IDF has been hitting what it describes as, quote, "power targets in Gaza." That includes high-rise complexes, civilian homes, in some cases without prior warning, in order to, quote, according to their sources, "lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas not to collate -- locate with combatant -- non-combatants," excuse me. Is the department aware that the IDF has been using this tactic? And has this issue come up in conversations between the department (inaudible) counterparts in Israel?

MS. SINGH: I'm not -- I'm sorry, I'm not aware of this report that you mentioned or where it's being reported in the magazine. I think we've been very clear -- in all of our engagements that the Secretary's had on a near daily basis with Minister Gallant -- and he just had another call yesterday with Minister Gallant -- that IDF operations, that they are precise, that they're targeting Hamas.

But let's be very clear -- and just to go off the last question -- Hamas is a terrorist organization that embeds deeply within civilian infrastructure and uses civilians as a way of shielding their operations. So they are making it incredibly difficult for the IDF of course to conduct their own operations.

But in all of the Secretary's calls and engagements with the Israelis, we continue to of course emphasize that innocent lives -- that they are taking into consideration in any military operation civilian lives and innocent lives.

Q: (Inaudible) reporting that one of the examples given in the article is that IDF officials are instructed to find a building, say a high rise, that it has civilian inhabitants, and if they find half a single floor of the building occupied by Hamas offices, then it's a target, wipe it out. Is that something the department condones?

MS. SINGH: Again, I have not seen this report that you're referencing. I do not -- I'm not aware of this. I think what I just said -- and I'm happy to reiterate it -- but we have been very clear when it comes to engagement and the need to protect innocent civilian lives, but again, finding and targeting any member of a terror network is going to be any challenge for any military, especially when that network is operating in an urban environment like in Gaza.

So we're continuing our engagements with the Israeli government, we're continuing to, again, support them in their operations against this terrorist organization, but it is -- in all of our conversations and as you've seen in the readouts that we've put out, the Secretary continues to emphasize the need to uphold the law of armed conflict and protect innocent lives.

Chris, yeah?

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. You thanked the government of Japan and their Coast Guard, but to clarify that this search and rescue effort -- is this being led by the U.S. military at this point?

MS. SINGH: Yes.

Q: OK.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: And how many assets roughly do you have ...

MS. SINGH: I don't have more on how many assets are being used for the search and rescue efforts. It's ongoing. Again, when we have more to share, I will certainly let you know, but I don't have more to provide on that front.

Yes, in the back? And then I'll come over here.

Q: Yeah, thank you. Just a quick question. So the House is voting today to freeze the $6 billion in funds that the U.S. released for Iran earlier this year. Can you respond to what lawmakers are saying? Do you think the unfrozen money has emboldened Iran and its proxy groups in the Middle East, especially considering all of the clashes that we've seen?

MS. SINGH: I would say that's really a question for Treasury and the State Department, but to my knowledge, Iran hasn't been able to access those funds. They're -- still remained frozen and -- or sorry, they still remain intact and -- they have not been able to be tapped into.

Again, I'm not going to just comment on pending legislation, and that's really something that I think Treasury would be better to answer.

Yeah? And then I'll come -- and then the last one over to you.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Japanese Defense Minister Kihara has publicly stated that he has requested the U.S. military to halt operations of Ospreys in Japan. While there hasn't been any official request, I was wondering has there been -- has that concern been communicated directly to this building throughout the informal channels?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, again, I think I answered this but appreciate the question. Haven't received a formal request that I am aware of. Again, we are taking what happened, the mishap of one of our aircraft, extremely seriously. Our focus right now is on search and rescue of the eight that are missing.

There is an investigation. I'm not going to get ahead of that investigation, but when those results, you know, are concluded, if there's any action or additional action that needs to be taken, we will certainly let you know, but at this time, our efforts are on, of course, you know, thinking of these families who are missing their eight loved ones right now.

Yeah, and last question over here?

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. There are reports claiming that the White House has requested the removal of restrictions on all categories of weapons and ammunition. Israel is allowed to access from U.S. weapons stockpiles stored in Israel itself. So do you confirm that (inaudible)? And if so, how that will affect providing weapons to Ukraine?

MS. SINGH: So I'm not exactly sure on the report or what you're referencing but I think we've been very clear from this podium, and again, throughout this administration that we are providing Israel with what it needs in its fight against a terrorist organization like Hamas.

We've provided the contours of what we are providing, which is ammunition, precision-guided munitions, and air defenses. These are the requirements that the IDF needs when it comes to engaging in its fight with Hamas in Gaza.

In terms of Ukraine, different area of responsibility, different war, very different landscapes too. We continue to provide Ukraine with what we can on what's remaining from the presidential drawdown authority that we have.

We are running low, as you know. That's why we requested a supplemental package, that we submitted to the Hill that has still not been passed. But the authorities that we're using to provide Ukraine with the weapons and capabilities and systems it needs are coming from presidential drawdown authorities. What Israel and -- what we're providing to Israel is coming mainly through FMS and FMF. So Israel is purchasing equipment.

So again, we're going to continue to provide both countries with what it needs in each of their areas of them fighting for their sovereign territory against an aggressive neighbor, and we've had that long-term commitment to them from the very beginning.

I mean, you've seen the President, you've seen the Secretary committed to Ukraine for as long as it takes. He -- what also feels like three months ago but just last week, he was in Kyiv reassuring the Ukrainians that the U.S. is with them for the long haul.

And so I'll just, I guess, leave it on this note, that we are -- would hope that Congress, over these next few weeks, not only pass a full time appropriations but also passes our supplemental because we need to keep providing Ukraine with what it needs on the battlefield, we need to keep supporting Israel, and of course we are always looking to the Indo-Pacific to shore up what we need there.

OK, great, and I'll leave it at that.

(CROSS-TALK)

Q: ... are you saying that you saw the reports of an attack in (inaudible) or are you confirming an attack happened but the U.S. was not involved in it?

MS. SINGH: I've seen the reports out there. I can't confirm that the attack happened. All I can tell you is that the U.S. military did not initiate any attack. Yeah.

Thank you, everyone. Have a good Thursday.

*Editor's Note: On the morning (EST) of Nov. 29, a single rocket attack was launched against US and Coalition forces at Mission Support Site Euphrates, Syria. No casualties and no damage to infrastructure.

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