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Home : Media : News : News Article View
NEWS | Oct. 26, 2023

Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds a Press Briefing With Assistant Secretary Ratner and Admiral Aquilino

U.S. Department of Defense

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. 

I'd like to introduce Admiral John C. Aquilino, commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, and Dr. Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. They will brief you on some newly-declassified images and videos of coercive and risky PLA operational behavior over the last year or so against U.S. aircraft operating lawfully in international airspace in the East and South China Sea regions. We will release these videos and images later this afternoon. 

And with that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Ratner. 

DR. ELY RATNER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INDO-PACIFIC SECURITY AFFAIRS: OK, great. Well, thank you, Sabrina. Good afternoon, everyone. 

I'd like to take this opportunity today to speak about the newly-declassified pictures and videos shared by the Department today that depict the PLA's sharp increase in coercive and risky operational behavior in the East and South China Seas, and in particular, I'd also like to discuss why it represents such a significant concern. 

Now, as many of you know, every year for over 20 years, the Department of Defense has released what we call the China Military Power Report, or the CMPR. It's an important document because it's the department's authoritative public assessment of the PLA and the role it plays in helping to realize Beijing's broader ambitions. 

This year's report will be out soon, and taken together with today's announcements, it represents the department's most comprehensive depiction to date of this highly-concerning behavior by the PLA. While last year's CMPR noted that PLA fighter jets were increasingly engaging in coercive and risky operational behavior, this year's CMPR provides a much clearer estimate of that disturbing trend. 

Specifically, since the fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents, more in the past two years than in the decade before that. That's nearly 200 cases where PLA operators have performed reckless maneuvers or discharged chaff or shot off flares or approached too rapidly or too close to U.S. aircraft, all as part of trying to interfere with the ability of U.S. forces to operate safely in places where we and every country in the world have every right to be, under international law. And when you take into account cases of coercive and risky PLA intercepts against other states, the number increases to nearly 300 cases against U.S., allied and partner aircraft over the last two years. 

Now, let me take a moment to explain why this matters so much from our perspective. For decades, the United States has operated in the region safely, responsibly and in accordance with international law, and we will continue to do so. Our allies and partners welcome our military presence because it advances our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. This vision, which Secretary Austin described at the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, is characterized by respect for sovereignty, adherence to international law, belief in transparency and openness, freedom of commerce and navigation, equal rights for all states and the resolution of disputes through peaceful means, not through coercion or conquest. And it's the peace and stability extending from this security environment that has provided the foundation for the region's shared prosperity. 

By contrast, the PLA's coercive and risky behavior, like the kind the department is highlighting today, seeks to intimidate and coerce members of the international community into giving up their rights under international law. It directly contradicts what the region wants for itself and it can put lives at risk, the lives of our servicemembers, the lives of our allies and partners' servicemembers and even the lives of PLA operators. 

The examples released by the department today may each look different, whether in terms of the distance between the lawfully-operating U.S. asset and the PLA asset engaged in coercive and risky behavior, or in terms of how exactly the PLA asset behaves in any given interaction. But all of these examples we've released today underscore the coercive intent of the PLA by engaging in these behaviors, particularly in international airspace. 

And the bottom line is that in many cases, this type of operational behavior can cause accidents, and dangerous accidents can lead to inadvertent conflict. 

In January of this year, for example, an American air craft was flying in the skies above the South China Sea safely, responsibly and in accordance with international law, and hundreds of miles from land. A PLA jet fighter approached our asset at a speed of hundreds of miles per hour, clearly armed and closing to just 30 feet away. In fact, once it was there, the PLA fighter jet lingered at that narrow proximity for more than 15 minutes. Just weeks before, INDOPACOM had publicly released a video of a similar incident. 

And for the PLA to engage in this coercive and risky behavior so soon after that incident, indeed for PLA operators to continue this behavior at all, points to what this year's CMPR will describe as, and I'm quoting directly here, "a centralized and concerted campaign" -- let me say that again -- "a centralized and concerted campaign to perform these risky behaviors in order to coerce a change in lawful U.S. operational activity and that of U.S. allies and partners. 

We've also witnessed PLA pilots deliberately interfere with and create turbulence for U.S. operators by flying in front of U.S. aircraft at close distances. Photos from an incident in January 2022 show a PLA fighter jet crossing in front of a lawfully operating U.S. asset at a distance of just 100 yards, forcing the U.S. pilot to fly through the PLA's wake. Again, this is at speeds of hundreds of miles an hour and at an altitude of tens of thousands of feet. 

And this is not a one-off occurrence. In May of this year, as many of you know, INDOPACOM released a video of a PLA aircraft speeding along a U.S. aircraft before cutting in front of it. You can even see the physical effects of the resulting turbulence on the aircraft and the crew. 

This is yet another disturbing sign of the PLA's coercive and risky operational behavior, at a time when the PRC has declined our invitations to open lines of military-to-military communication at the senior-most levels. 

These images and videos speak for themselves. U.S. planes are operating safely, responsibly, and in accordance with international law. Indeed, the skill and professionalism of American service members should not be the only thing standing between PLA fighter pilots and a dangerous, even fatal accident, and yet time after time, that is exactly what has prevented a disaster in the East and South China Seas. 

As Secretary Austin has said on numerous occasions, the PRC can and must end this behavior, full stop. For our part, the department will continue to raise awareness about the dangers of the PLA's coercive and risky operational behavior. 

We will also continue to seek open lines of military-to-military communication with the PLA at multiple levels, including the senior-most level, because we believe these channels are crucial for preventing competition from inadvertently veering into conflict. 

Finally, the United States will not be deterred or coerced. We will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly, wherever international law allows. Our forces have helped sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific for decades and we will continue to do so every day. 

So I hope today's announcement can help increase understanding here in Washington, across the Indo-Pacific, and around the world about why the PLA's operational behavior is so concerning. Thank you, and I'll turn it over to Admiral Aquilino before we open it up to questions. 

ADMIRAL JOHN C. AQUILINO, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES INDO-PACIFIC COMMAND: Thanks, Dr. Ratner. Sabrina, good to see you. Thanks for inviting me to be here today. And to all of you in the audience, I've spoken to many of you but not all of you, so I'm honored to be here and I thank you for participating. 

Ely talked about the perspective and the challenges that exist as it applies to the PRC activity described in the report. I'm here to talk about these concerns from my perspective as the commander of USINDOPACOM. 

First, let me start by stating that the service members of INDOPACOM -- our uniformed members, our civilian warriors, every day operate in order to prevent conflict. That is prevent conflict, not provoke it. 

Now, we do that in order to execute our functions and our missions, and that is to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. That free and open Indo-Pacific enables peace, prosperity, and stability for all the nations in the region, and we've done that for eight decades. 

INDOPACOM deters conflict by being ready every day, whether it's our warfighting capabilities, our operations, our relationships with our allies and partners, and our exercises. Let me point out that our Joint Force is highly trained, disciplined, and professional. Our air operations are planned, rehearsed, and executed safely every day. 

As the Joint Force Commander, I'm most concerned about the potential for accidents the way Dr. Ratner explained them, and those accidents could lead to miscalculation. We must prevent these from happening in the theater. 

So let me be clear -- intercepts happen every day around the world. The vast majority are conducted safely and without incident, and there's no reasons for the intercepts with the PRC in the Indo-Pacific region to be any different. 

I'm here today because it's the operational commander's number one responsibility to ensure the safety of our service members, and it's a responsibility I take very seriously. So highlighting these behaviors and ensuring that we can prevent them is a top priority. 

I want to thank you again for allowing me to be here today and I'll look forward to your questions. 

MS. SINGH: Great. Just a quick note at the top, I'd ask that you keep your questions to this topic, and then we'll brief after for news of day. 

So with that, I'll go to AP, Tara Copp. 

Q: Thanks for doing this. Admiral Aquilino, given the new conflict in the Middle East, how concerned are you that you do not -- or will not have the assets you need, given that there's now two carriers monitoring the Med? How are you able to continue to deter China if all of these assets need to go in into potentially to another Central Command conflict? 

And then for Dr. Ratner, given that there is also now a second conflict, have you been able to speak to any of your partners or allies about increasing production to get more 155s, since now both Israel and Ukraine will need them? 

ADM. AQUILINO: So thanks. Let me start first. It is incredibly sad to watch the actions of the terrorists in the Middle East. It's also sad to watch the illegitimate, illegal war in Ukraine that's been initiated by the Russians. 

As it applies to the Indo-Pacific and my responsibilities, what I'll tell you is I haven't had one piece of equipment or force structure depart. The United States is a global power, and that means we can deliver effects and execute our deterrence responsibilities across the globe, but I don't think any other nation can do that at this time, but the United States can. 

Oh, by the way, the Indo-Pacific Command has two aircraft carriers right now at sea as well, along with a large portion of the Joint Force executing deterrence missions in my theater. 

DR. RATNER: And maybe I'll just follow up. I'm not -- I'm going to stay away from the questions about issues related to other theaters and discussions with our allies and partners, but what I will say about this question, of what does the events in other parts of the world mean for our policy and strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and as it relates to the PRC, which is that, look, we have a 2022 National Defense Strategy which has described the PRC as the department's pacing challenge. That remains true today. 

We have a presidential budget request for the department that reflects that strategy, a strategy-driven budget, and we have been, in addition to those investments, developing new operational concepts relevant to the region. We have been developing a more mobile distributed lethal and resilient force posture in the Indo-Pacific. We've had a banner year in that regard over the last 12 months, a lot of great work in concert with INDOPACOM from Japan, the Philippines, down through Australia. And in the meantime, we have been deepening our alliances and partnerships in the region. And to a tee, our key alliances and partnerships in the region are stronger than they have ever been.  

As a result of that activity, you have likely heard department leaders say repeatedly we believe deterrence is real and deterrence is strong. And we're doing everything we can keep it that way.  

Q: A quick follow-up to that, though. Is there concern in the region that while having to engage in both Ukraine and Israel there might be a reduced capability to meet whatever threat is faced by those same countries by China? 

DR. RATNER: Like I said, we have been taking a number of steps to strengthen our commitment to the region, strengthen our deterrent to the region, and will -- and we will continue to do that.  

MS. SINGH: Idrees, Reuters.  

Q: Admiral, similarly on that, have you seen any indications or any intel that the Chinese are looking at this period of not distraction but just focus on the Middle East and Europe as an opening for a potential invasion of Taiwan, but (inaudible) operations against the island?  

And, Ely, how many of these 180 described are unsafe and/or unprofessional? Because that has been the standard by which we have measured dangerous behavior. So coercive risky seems subjective, whereas unsafe and unprofessional (inaudible) sort of a metric for what is dangerous in the intercepts?  

ADM. AQUILINO: Yes, first, thanks. I'm certainly not going to discuss any intel that I have seen. What I'll say is, historically, certainly all nations look at what's going on in the geopolitical space, in the military space, and I would expect there to be lessons learned. INDOPACOM prepares every day to ensure we execute both of the missions the Secretary gave me. Number one, to prevent conflict in the Indo-Pacific; and number two, if mission one fails, be prepared to fight and win.  

So those actions go on each and every day in INDOPACOM. And we would expect all nations to be watching these actions and then determining how that best fits into their future ways. That said, my forces are ready today.  

DR. RATNER: So just in response your question, look, we have a very specific set of criteria that we use to articulate and describe particular behaviors. That is classified. It should remain classified. And what we are presenting today is a set of activities that we believe exhibit observable behavior and that we have catalogued along the lines that I have described.  

And, look, I understand the desire for exactly how many of these, what's the exact number, one is too many. All right? That's our view here at the department. What we have provided and will be on the Pentagon website, if it's not up already, will be 15 specific incidences cataloguing over this period from the fall 2021 through today, the most recent case in September. And every one of these is -- is one too many.  

MS. SINGH: OK. I'm going to go to Janne.  

Q: Thank you. Thanks for -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin's summit will be held in Beijing. Also North Korea and Russia holding meeting in Pyongyang tomorrow. How do you analyze the strength of military cooperation and solidarity between North Korea, China, and Russia?  

ADM. AQUILINO: Thank you. First, we watch very closely the cooperation and certainly the concern from INDOPACOM is the statement of a no limits relationship between the PRC and Russia, the inability to denounce bad actions globally and their increased cooperation exercises and we watch it very closely. 

So two authoritarian powers working that closely together is certainly concerning. Secondly on North Korea and Russia with the transfer of weapons and capabilities that you have seen and been written about in the media is also of concern. So the region is -- gotten more dangerous and we watch very closely. 

Q: Why do you think China refuses military talks with United States, reason why? 

ADM. AQUILINO: Yes, you're going to have to ask my counterparts in China. I have -- as I've been the record before, I've asked to speak with my counterparts, the eastern and southern theater commanders now, going on two and half years. I have yet to have one of those requests accepted and I look forward to speaking to my counterpart. I think developing that relationship would be critical to maintaining the peace and stability in the region. 

MS. SINGH: Great. Oren. 

Q: The incident you're talking about focus on intercepts in the air. I was wondering are you seeing related action or serious of incidents in the maritime domain and increases in that trend? I know there have been some incidents and some video shared by DOD and others. Is there a similar trend you're seeing on the water? 

DR. RATNER: Yes, maybe I'll take that first and then pass it over to Admiral Aquilino. Absolutely yes, this part of a broader pattern of PLA behavior throughout the region, throughout domains and throughout geographies that we're seeing this behavior on the water, in the East China Sea, in the South China Sea. 

We're seeing it against allies and partners. Not just the United States. We're seeing it on land against our Indian partners. So this is part of a much broader picture. What we wanted today was focus on this particular set, provide some information and some data in this particular issue that we think is dangerous and one that Secretary Austin has spoken about directly, publicly and privately with allies and partners. And frankly, privately with PRC counterparts when he's had the opportunity to do that. 

(ADM Aquilino), if you want to talk about the broader regional picture? 

AQUILINO: Yes, there's certainly incidents in the maritime that are concerning. We released one not long ago when the U.S. and Canada were transiting through the Taiwan Strait and PLA ship cut directly in front of the United States ship. That's one example. There are more. 

I think the best I would say is if you would look at what the Philippines have released most recently as it applies to utilizing firehouses in attempt to blocking their movement into Second Thomas Shoal, it's similar to the air domain. 

MS. SINGH: Great. I'm going to go to Tom. 

Q: Admiral, do you get -- is there any indication of communication between the U.S. and allied pilots and ship drivers and the Chinese? Is it a one-way conversation or any conversation? And also, I know you can't get into intel but is this being ordered by the highest levels of the Chinese government or is this more lower-level kind of military thing going on here? 

ADM. AQUILINO: Yes, I'd go to what Dr. Ratner talked about as a part of the report. I think the report assesses that this is a part of a strategy by the PRC. So that's point one. Point two, the first thing we do at all points in the operational space is attempt to communicate to ensure both parties understand what are we -- where are we, what are we doing, what's our intent to insure we can avoid any type of accident. That is always step one. 

Sometimes, that communication happens, sometimes it doesn't, and there's -- I think -- I think there's video in some of those -- or audio in the videos that articulate sometimes the responses that we get.  

There are expansive claims that are not in accordance with international law, but the United States always attempts, step one, to communicate and ensure we understand intent. 

Q: You say sometimes this communication -- do you have any sense of percentage? 20 percent of the time? 

ADM. AQUILINO: Yeah, I don't have the percentage. 

MS. SINGH: Great. I'm going to go to Courtney. I saw your hand up. 

Q: Thank you.  I just wanted a clarification on your answer to Idrees cause I didn't understand. Are you saying that now it's classified, whether in -- something is unsafe or unprofessional? 

DR. RATNER: No, no, no, what I was describing is the very specific criteria that we use around these, and some of the data is classified. In fact, what you are seeing today is the result of months and months of efforts to declassify this information, sanitize it for public release.  

So we don't think it's in our interests and in our national interests to get into very specific details about the nature of all of these incidents because of how our other countries may use that information. So we're not today prepared to go beyond the data which we're releasing here, but just emphasize that we believe we're providing a significant amount of transparency into the event today. 

Q: Is that a policy that only relates to Indo-Pacific Command? Because I know with -- for EUCOM, we've had Pat Ryder stand here at the podium and tell us that something that happened with the Russian aircraft was unsafe and unprofessional. So is that ... 

DR. RATNER: And we have done that on a case-by-case basis. The question here was about very specific summary data about all of the events, and we're not prepared to share that data today. 

Q: ... OK, so just to be clear -- that -- the 180 that you referenced that were -- I think you've said they were risky? Is that -- risky and what? 

(UNKNOWN): Coercive. 

Q: Coercive -- that that is -- how -- I mean, just it -- it's language that I think we've known for a long time, unsafe and unprofessional and how that -- that was a characterization that I think a lot of us are just familiar with, frankly.  

So how -- I guess I'm having a hard time equating how to take that information that you're putting out today with how we have characterized these sorts of things in our -- in our reporting in the past. So is it -- are all of these things risky and coercive considered unsafe and unprofessional then as well? 

DR. RATNER: I'm not going to get into additional labels ... 

ADM. AQUILINO: Well, let -- let me just say -- let me take a shot at it, Courtney. I think what I would say is when you get to unsafe and unprofessional, that's really concerning behavior, right? People's lives are at risk.  

What we've seen since 2021 is a set of actions that have brought airplanes much closer together than are comfortable for those in the cockpit. In other words, flying off my wing at 15 feet for 45 minutes has too much of a chance to lead to an accident. 

We've seen an increase in those close intercepts and activities in very close proximity to our airplanes since the fall of 2021. A subset of those 180 have been unsafe, unprofessional. 

MS. SINGH: Great. We're going to take one more question ... 

DR. RATNER: ... we can -- we can provide you with an articulation of the criteria that was used for these events today. We'll do that. 

Q: Thank you. 

DR. RATNER: Yeah. 

MS. SINGH: And I know we have -- our briefers have limited time, so I'm going to take one last question from Ryo. 

Q: Yeah, thank you very much. A question to Dr. Ratner. Does the Pentagon encourage allies and partners to release the Chinese unsafe behavior to the public so that the public will get a better understanding of what the Chinese is doing? 

DR. RATNER: I would say our position is that is their story to tell, those are their sovereign decisions to make about releasing that information. I think from our perspective, we believe that transparency around this is important for better understanding about this behavior. 

ADM. AQUILINO: Yeah, and I would say all those things you've heard about and publicized from other nations have been publicized from other nations. What I think they show is the linkage to what we're putting out today, is this is not behavior just faced by the United States, this is behavior that many of our allies and partners are having to deal with in the region. 

And again, to Dr. Ratner's point, you know, one accident is too many. We went through it in 2001. And certainly my intent as the operational commander is to do everything possible to ensure that we can protect our air crew and that all nations should have the expectation to be an -- being able to operate safely in international airspace in the region. That's the rules-based international order that you hear us talk about so frequently. 

MS. SINGH: Great. Thank you, guys. I know that we have a lot of questions but unfortunately that's all the time our briefers have for today. And I'll be up here to take your questions. Thanks, all. 

==================================================

All right. I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone's questions today. I know there were a lot but just have to be respectful of folks' time. And Megan, welcome back. Nice to see you here. So I just have a few things at the top here that I want to pass on and then happy to dive into questions. 

So yesterday, as part of our continued engagement with our Israeli counterparts, Secretary Austin spoke with Minister of Defense Gallant about Israel's operations following Hamas's October 7th terrorist attack. The two have been in touch on a near daily basis since the attack and I expect that they'll connect again soon. 

During yesterday's call, the Secretary reiterated that America's support for Israel's security remains ironclad and emphasized the importance of civilian safety, as well as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  

Hamas specifically and indiscriminately targeted civilians and was barbaric in its cruelty, reminiscent of ISIS-style attacks. This was terrorism in its clearest sense. Hamas does not speak for the Palestinian people, and we will continue to raise the importance of adhering to the rule of law and the rule -- and the law of war, under which civilians may not be deliberately targeted. 

The department remains focused on three objectives -- supporting Israel's defense through security assistance, sending a strong signal of deterring -- of deterrence to any actors who might be thinking of entering the conflict, and staying vigilant to any threats to U.S. forces in the region. 

We are actively providing additional security assistance to the Israeli Defense Forces. Secretary Austin visited an air base in Israel to see the latest arrival on Friday of security assistance. And our security assistance continues to flow, including munitions, to meet Israel's urgent needs. 

With that, Secretary  Austin issued a prepared to deploy order to approximately 2,000 DOD personnel from a range of units. This directive increases DOD's ability to respond quickly to the evolving security environment in the Middle East. 

Should the President decide, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional air defense, security logistics, medical, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and transportation, and additional capabilities into the theater. 

But to be clear, no decisions have been made to deploy any of these forces at this time. This order only puts these forces -- these units on higher alert. The Secretary will continue to assess our force posture and remain in close contact with allies and partners. 

Also yesterday, Secretary Austin approved the extension of the Ford carrier strike group's deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Ford will soon be joined by the USS Eisenhower strike group, which, along with sending aircraft into the region, shows our seriousness and commitment to deterrence. 

And last, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is moving to the region. The 26th MEU is an adaptable military force composed of infantry, aviation and logistics components, all operating under one command. Positioned at sea, the 26th MEU is equipped to execute amphibious missions, respond to crisis and engage in limited contingency operations across a spectrum of military scenarios.  

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Tara, why don't you start us off? 

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. I wanted to ask about the hospital bombing. I want to know if there's any indication that this was an Israeli airstrike that has potentially killed hundreds of Palestinians seeking treatment and shelter there? And if so, does that change the U.S. evaluation of whether or not to send things like JDAMs or other bombs to Israel? 

And then separately on Ukraine, could you discuss the arrival of the ATACMS? And is this a part of continuing package of ATACMS for Ukraine and where they're possibly being sourced from?   

MS. SINGH: Sure. So, I've seen the reports of the strike that you're referring to or the hospital that was hit. I'm aware of the reports but I don't have anything to offer further at this time. The secretary, as I mentioned, has been in regular contact with Minister Gallant, emphasizing again that in this conflict that the law of war is being upheld. And that's not only something that's consistently delivered and in private but also publicly. So, I would just leave it at that. I just don't have more for you on those reports. 

Separately, on the ATACMS, I'm sorry, you asked where they're being sourced from?  

Q: Is this part of an ongoing -- will there be more shipment of ATACMS?  

MS. SINGH: Well, I'm not going to preview any future security packages that we have, that we are putting together for the Ukrainians. It's something that, you know, we're regularly consulting with the Ukrainians on what they need. But I'm just not going to preview anything that might be included in future packages. And in terms of where they're sourced from, I'm just not going to get into that at this time. 

Great. Sorry, right here, Jeff.  

Q: Can the Defense Department identify the units that the 2,000 service members that that are prepared to deploy? Also, that you mentioned 26th MEU. One of the missions that the MEU trains for is a non-combatant evacuation operation. Is that why the 26th MEU has been sent to the eastern med for a possible NEO?  

MS. SINGH: So, the 26th MEU right now does not have orders. They are there so that the secretary and the president can make a decision if they are needed. They are in the region. But I'm not going to get into specific operational details at this time.  

Can you repeat your first question? 

Q: I was hoping you could say the first units. 

MS. SINGH: Oh, sorry. In terms of the units, again, this was a decision the ready to deploy order came down yesterday from the secretary. It is up to the commanders to start sourcing those units, to figure out who would best meet the requirements that is needed. But those units have not been identified yet.  

Courtney? 

Q: So, no one's gotten prepare to deploy orders yet? 

MS. SINGH: Not yet. This is just, the secretary made the decision yesterday but the orders themselves and which units are going to be selected have not been selected yet. So, I don't have that full list yet.  

Yes?  

Q: Thank you very much, Sabrina. 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: So far security officials, including but not limited to Secretary of Defense Austin, they say we're good, that there's no conditions set on the use of the U.S. munitions provided to Israel? 

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q:  And just in the past though you've seen the pictures, you say yourself that there's been an attack against a hospital. There is massive hundreds of casualties. So, isn't there any concern within the Department of Defense that whilst you're supplying this military assistance, you're kind of part of it or like you might be military involved in any possible war crimes committed against civilians? 

MS. SINGH: So, what I will say is that exactly what you just said, is that we did not put any preconditions on Israel when it comes to using our security assistance. From the beginning, what we have said is that governments like us, our democracies is what separates ourselves from Hamas.  

We certainly expect Israel, as with any ally or partner, to uphold the law of war. It should be very clear that Hamas is the one putting Palestinians or those in Gaza at great risk. I mean, they are putting their command-and-control units inside hospitals, inside areas where there are innocent civilians.  

So, the fact that they've set up command centers at these hospitals just shows the brutality that they're willing to engage on, that they're willing to use civilians as a way to mask their operations but also to see them as casualties. That's not how we -- democracies are going to -- or how the secretary in his conversations with Minister Gallant, we have always emphasized that the -- that the law of war be upheld. 

Q: Have you seen that so far? They've upheld the laws of war by Israel? 

MS. SINGH: We are in constant communication with the Israelis. We have seen them, I think, be very deliberate about where they are striking, continuing to target Hamas locations and away from civilians. 

Idrees and then I'll go to Tom. 

Q: I mean you just further to his point you talked about, you know, what separates the U.S. and Israel from Hamas is your democracies. You expect them to follow the rule of law. But Israel has a very long and well documented history of targeting and killing civilians. We saw it earlier this morning when the U.N. said they killed five and now roughly 500 believed to be dead.  

You know, I get the point that you're trying to make, that that is the expectation, but why not say given your history, even though you are an ally, we will put in end-use monitoring systems. We will track in the way that we track other countries. Why not put those guidelines in place knowing what you know about them? 

MS. SINGH: We feel confident in our discussions that the secretary has had with Mr. Gallant. You just saw Secretary Blinken was back in Israel for a second time in just less than a week. The president is going to Israel today. These are certainly things that will be discussed.  

But again, we did not put preconditions on Israel when it came to providing security assistance. We feel that Israel, and democracies like us should follow the law of war and follow the law of war in protecting innocent civilians and directly targeting where these known terrorists are. 

Q: And I guess they're not, is my point. And like just because the command center is in the hospital it's a war crime to target those, right? So, I guess what I'm saying is like there is evidence that they are not doing what you're saying they should be doing. Why not then say, okay, we will now put in the restrictions? 

MS. SINGH: Well again, in relation to the report that you're referring to, I've seen the reports, I don't have any more details to provide at this time. Again, I don't know who is responsible. We don't have all of the facts. And I'm sure as we learn more, you know, that will inform conversations. But right now, I'm not going to go down a hypothetical road of who is responsible for something.  

What I can tell you, again, is what the secretary has been very clear on, is that we expect Israel to uphold the law of war and our priorities, our objectives in supporting Israel is making sure that Israel has what it needs throughout security assistance, sending a continued strong message of deterrence that should any other actor think of entering the conflict that they think again. And that we are being mindful and vigilant of any threats to our U.S. forces. 

Tom, yes? 

Q: Along these lines on the law of war, the Israelis have cut off water, fuel, electricity, food to two million people in Gaza. The ICC sees that as a violation of international law, so does the U.N. How does the administration see that? Is that a violation of the law of war by that action? 

MS. SINGH: Well, we don't want to see any innocent civilians without water, power, the necessities that they need to survive. 

So we do know that water was turned back on in the southern part of Gaza. We're continuing to engage with the Israelis on making sure that civilians have what they need and that they can clear out or evacuate into safe areas. 

You're seeing that, you're, again, seeing ongoing discussions from the State Department, and then tonight, the President is flying to Israel, where I expect that of course he will raise this issue. 

Q: Those in Gaza moving south, they thought it would be safe but Israel is bombing the Rafah area. So how is that safe? 

Listen, if you want people to move south, you have to make it safe for them. 

MS. SINGH: And that's something that I can assure you the Secretary has been communicating to Minister Gallant and is having other calls with partners and allies in the region to ensure, I should say, that innocent civilians within Gaza, which includes American citizens, have a way to leave that area safely. And we are also urging them to turn on, like they did, water in the south part of Gaza so that civilians can have access to that. 

I'll go to Nancy. 

Q: I wanted to get a couple of clarifications. Is there any U.S. evidence that there was a command center in this hospital? 

MS. SINGH: In relation to this attack? 

Q: Yeah. 

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't be able to speak to that cause that gets to also intelligence. So, I haven't seen which hospital. Again, I've been in here, I haven't seen which hospital it was. So I've seen the reports but, I know what you're referring to but I just don't have more information at this time. 

Q: And General Kurilla is in the area now. Is he currently trying to find out more? Who is he asking to determine what precisely happened at this hospital site and why it was struck? 

MS. SINGH: I know that General Kurilla is in the area but I would refer you to the CENTCOM team to answer those questions. I just don't have more on his discussions. 

Q: And lastly, you've said that Israel is launching targeted strikes, but I think by any objective measure, the Israeli intelligence failed to see the October 7th attack. Why does the Pentagon have so much confidence in Israeli intelligence to launch precise, accurate strikes in Gaza, given the failure of its intelligence community to see the threat to Israel leading up to the October 7th attack? 

MS. SINGH: Well, I'm not going to get into specific intelligence and what the Israelis can see now, but of course we are working with them when it comes to hostage rescue and recovery. We feel confident that you know, we continue to share intelligence with the Israelis. We feel confident that they will be deliberate in their targeting and not target innocent civilians. 

I'm going to move on -- OK. 

Q: On what basis do you have such confidence? I guess I think the consistent theme you're hearing in these questions is that the U.S. is saying civilians won't be targeted, and yet we can't get a clear answer on what it's doing to make sure that civilians weren't targeted in this case. And I'm just looking for some clarity on that. 

MS. SINGH: Yep. So I'm not going to get into private conversations that the Secretary has with Minister Gallant. I can tell you that what I have heard consistently from the Secretary and from this administration is that we expect all democracies, like Israel, to uphold the law of war.  

That's something that's incredibly important, that's something that sets us apart from other -- whether it's other governments, other terrorist organizations, and that is a consistent theme that the Secretary brings up in his calls, and not just the Secretary but across this administration. 

Yeah, James? 

Q: So on the same subject that we've been talking about, is it the Defense Department's position, and by extension the White House, that we trust the Israelis more than we trust the Ukrainians?  

Because as you've said, we have not put preconditions on the Israelis, we expect them to follow the law of war, yet we have put conditions on the Ukrainians, particularly as it relates to cluster munitions. They are required to tell us where they've used them, they are required to keep a list of how they've used them and what targets they have had. So do we trust the Israelis more than we trust the Ukrainians? 

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't look at it like that. I would say that both Ukraine and Israel are engaged in two very different wars right now. I would say that the way that the Ukrainians are employing the DPICMs on the battlefield is responsible. They are keeping track of where they are going.  

That is something for their own safety that they are doing, in order to, when they start clearing those -- when they start taking back their territory, to avoid further civilian casualties, to avoid any type of cluster munition that did not go off. That is for their security as well. And Russians have been also using cluster munitions on the battlefield as well. Let me finish. 

So -- can I just finish -- can I just finish really quick? OK, I'm just going to finish this really quick. So again, Israel is one of our oldest, longest partners and allies in the region. We are working with them very closely, when it comes to providing them the security assistance that they need. 

I think, James, we have to remember that this attack is considered their 9/11. They have every right and should respond to the terrorists that killed innocent people. Again, in our conversations, we have been very clear that they -- that the Israelis, when engaging, continue to uphold the law of war, that they allow civilians -- innocent civilians safe passage. But again, we have to remember that they were attacked viciously on October 7th. 

I'm going to move on. Yep? Fox? Yeah, Liz? 

Q: What exactly is the U.S. and is the Pentagon doing to ensure the safety of Americans in Gaza? And have any members of the U.S. embassy team gone into Gaza to help find the hostages? 

Separately, is the 26th MEU that's going to the region, could that be used to evacuate Americans from Gaza? 

MS. SINGH: So on the 26th MEU, right now they have not been tasked with anything in particular. So they are there if needed and at the Secretary and the President's discretion for whatever they feel they could be used for. But they don't have orders. And so at this time, I'm just not going to get into any operational details.  

I'm sorry, you had asked me one other question before that. 

Q: If any of… 

MS. SINGH: There are no boots on the ground in Gaza.  

Yeah? 

Q: Is  the U.S. doing anything to ensure the safety of Americans in Gaza? Have they given any different guidance? 

MS. SINGH: The State Department is really taking the lead on that and continuing to engage, to ensure that American citizens do have a way of safe passage out. What the department is focused on, again, is those three priorities that I listed out, which is sending a message to the region on deterrence, providing security assistance to Israel, and then of course staying incredibly vigilant of any threats to our U.S. forces. But beyond that, I don't have anything else. 

Oren? 

Q: Two questions.  

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: Will the U.S. conduct its own investigation of the hostile explosion in Gaza to have its own decision on or own clarity of whether it was an Israeli airstrike or something else? 

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get ahead of any investigations that have or have not been launched. I am not going to take that. 

Q: And if the conflict spreads beyond Gaza and you see Hezbollah or other parties getting involved, does DOD have the authorities it needs to carry out whatever actions it sees fit or does it need a UMF if the decision is made to become involved? 

MS. SINGH: We of course would certainly consult with Congress on any type of action that we would take that involves U.S. forces, but right now, that's a hypothetical. Our main goal by positioning -- not one but a second carrier will be there soon -- is to send a message of deterrence, to say to actors in the region who think that they might want to take advantage of this conflict do not do that, this is not the time to do that. 

We remain focused of course on providing Israel what it needs, but again, our biggest focus as well is sending a message of deterrence to the region. 

Fadi? 

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. I just have one clarification of something you said, and I have another question. 

MS. SINGH: OK. 

Q: You said, I believe, that you saw the reports concerning the targeting... 

MS. SINGH: I'm aware of the reports. 

Q: Aware of the reports about targeting this hospital, which is under the church in Jerusalem, but you don't have information on what happened. However, you felt the need to say that Hamas uses hospitals to have command centers. Why did you feel that you needed to put that in if it's not clear what happened there to you? 

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't say that I was trying to conflate the two by any means, I was just trying to be specific -- more specific on the fact that Hamas does integrate in high civilian populations and tries to set up command centers in places where -- should be used for innocent civilians to be treated, should be used for innocent civilians to seek medical care. 

I would not conflate or draw any type of comparison to the attack that I've only heard the reports. I don't even know where it is located. I'm getting information from you as I'm standing up here. So I really wouldn't draw the comparison. I was trying to show you that Hamas is willing to use innocent civilians as essentially human shields. That's exactly what we saw with ISIS. 

And so I would be really mindful of not trying to draw any connection there as I don't have any details on the report that you're referencing. 

Q: And my question is even before this hospital attack happened, more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, U.N. facilities have been targeted, 14 U.N. workers, staff members have been killed, 11 journalists ... 

Q: 15. 

Q: 15. Thank you for correcting me. You say this -- we, at the Pentagon, doesn't put conditions on how Israel use U.S. security assistance. Is this a matter of principle or should be tested against the realities on the ground? Is this, like, an open-ended commitment or what Israel does matter here? 

MS. SINGH: I would say that of course what Israel does matters, absolutely. Absolutely, this is a war, and absolutely the actions that are taken of course matters, but that's why, in our conversations, the Secretary, this administration has been very clear about the law of war and what that means. And that's what does set us aside from other nations around the world who do not follow that. 

So again, I think that we have been very clear from all across our agencies about the incredible loss of life that we are seeing in Israel and in Gaza, but we feel confident in our conversations with the Israelis that -- and we will continue to reiterate that the law of war must be upheld. 

Yeah? 

Q: Hi. Thanks, Sabrina. Just a clarifying question -- given that there's no preconditions over tracking of U.S. materiel once it's gone to Israel, you can't rule out how it's being used. So it's entirely possible that U.S. bombs have already been used to kill civilians in Gaza, whether or not that was intentional but you can't rule that out, right? 

MS. SINGH: Well, that's a hypothetical, and I wouldn't get into that. 

Q: Is it hypothetical though? Well, OK, turning aside the -- whether or not it's a hypothetical, cause we don't know where those bombs are going, OK, does it not make your position untenable to keep saying again and again that there's no preconditions and that, you know, I mean, Israel respects the law of war and so on if you -- that position is becoming harder and harder to sustain in the face of the mounting casualty rate that we're seeing every day from Gaza. 

MS. SINGH: I know I've said this many times, but the Secretary is having near daily conversations with his Israeli counterpart. He is speaking to allies in the region. The Secretary of State was there, had an hours-long conversation with the Israelis and his counterpart. 

Again, we feel that the Israeli military is a very capable, very professional military. And I know I've said this, but what sets us apart from the world, democracies like ours, is not targeting innocent civilians, and that is important and that is what you've heard the Secretary continue to say in his conversations and that's what we'll continue to say. 

Q: And if it turns out that U.S. weapons specifically have been used to target civilians, then will you change your position about no conditionality or tracking of U.S. bombs? 

MS. SINGH: Well, again, as I said, that is a hypothetical and I'm just not going to get into that right now. 

Lara, did you have a question? 

Q: Yeah. I just wanted to ask you about the support to the IDF if they go in and look for the hostages. Is there any type of support? And can you talk to the support that DOD is offering, in terms of any Special Operations Forces, intelligence, ISR, anything like that? Are there any troops on the ground in Israel dedicated to that mission? 

MS. SINGH: We do have a small team that has been at the embassy that has been engaging with their IDF counterparts, when it comes to hostage recovery or hostage rescue. They are sharing intelligence and have been pretty latched up with the Israeli Defense Forces. But in terms of intelligence, any other additional operations, I just wouldn't get into that right now. 

Q: Are there plans to send additional shipments of weapons currently to Israel? 

MS. SINGH: Yes. You're going to probably see a steady flow of weapons continuing to flow into Israel. I think as of today, there have been five C-17 aircraft missions that have successfully carried a range of security assistance into Israel. Those flights occurred between October 12th and October 16th time frame. So you're seeing almost near daily deliveries into Israel, and I would expect that those are going to continue to flow.  

Great. Carla? 

Q: Thanks. Can I get clarification on the 2,000-plus DOD personnel ... 

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: Those personnel that will be preparing to deploy should the President make that call, would they be part of U.S. deterrence? Is this a reactionary force should Iran or Hezbollah expand the conflict? Or is this additional support for Israel? 

MS. SINGH: So I would say that they are preparing to deploy. I would just want to make sure that we're very clear that they have not deployed. So if they are, it would be to surge support to the region, but what they are doing in terms of any type of planning, again, those decisions have not been made. 

And I think I said in my beginning but what they would be focused on or what these units that would be going would be able to help augment in the region is air defense, security, logistics, medical, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and transportation. 

Yes? 

Q: And then switching really quickly to Russia, do you have any update on Chinese military support for Russia? 

MS. SINGH: I don't. Yes. 

Q: Would the President have to approve that? 

MS. SINGH: Yes, the president would have to approve it. 

Q: I'm sorry, I should know this but - 

MS. SINGH: The prepare to deploy is a decision the Secretary will make but the decision to actually move them out would be at the presidential level.  

Q: I just feel that there's been a lot of confusing reporting on this, I don't get it. The President doesn't have approve Secretary Austin issuing a prepare to deploy order per unit. 

MS. SINGH: Right. 

Q: Right. It's just the deployment? 

MS. SINGH: Right. Jannie? 

Q: Thank you, Sabrina. The Australian Ministry of Defense reported that Hamas used North Korean rockets when it attacked Israel. North Korea transported a huge of ammunition and artillery to Russia. What tools does the United States have to stop North Korea from providing these weapons to Hamas or, you know, Russia? 

MS. SINGH: I haven't seen those reports, so I'm sorry, I just wouldn't be able to offer a comment on that. 

MS. SINGH: Yes? 

Q: I'm not seeking intelligence here. I'm just asking you if you can yes or no, have you seen evidence that Hamas is using these hospitals and schools as command centers? And, obviously, you're adopting the Israeli version of the story here and if you didn't see this evidence so you're justifying Israel of targeting these schools and hospitals. If you can just say yes or no? 

MS. SINGH: I would not say that we are justifying that by any means. We are, certainly, giving Israel the security assistance it needs to take out and to effectively push back on Hamas in Gaza. Again, I will reiterate as many times as you want, that does not mean the killing of innocent civilians. We expect and we have, in our conversations, the secretary and others across this administration have reiterated the absolute need to uphold the law of war.  

I, again, I wouldn’t conflate the two, as I just when I walked up to this podium, just got a note about the reports of this hospital. I do not know where it is located. I do not know if Hamas has a command-and-control center in it.  

All I can tell you is in the past what we have seen of Hamas is the same thing we have seen of ISIS. Is that they are willing to use human infrastructure to conceal and to hide behind in order to conduct their attacks.

Israel has a very capable and professional military, and we believe that the security assistance that they are using in Gaza is going to be used properly and is going to be used to target Hamas but also allowing for innocent civilians to seek areas where they can go for humanitarian assistance. 

Q: When you say properly, what do you mean by properly? 

MS. SINGH: Like all democracy should. 

Chris? 

And this will have to be the last one, sorry. I realized I'm late for a meeting. 

Q: To clarify on the 2,000 prepare to deploy order, you said it was up to commanders but it's a presidential decision? 

MS. SINGH: It's up to commanders to select the units. 

Q: So, have commanders selected units for specific capabilities or what -- I'm just trying to find out how much delegation is to the commanders here already and how much is decided by the administration or this building. 

MS. SINGH: No, the commanders will identify the units that would be prepared to deploy and then if they are needed and if they are called to deploy that would be a decision that rises above.  

Q: Can I just clarify one thing? 

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: On the C-17s, you're going to continue the assistance to Israel but right now it's PGMs, interceptor missiles, artillery shells. Anything else or is that pretty much what you're sending? 

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into more specifics on what else we are providing them. We are trying to meet their requests as rapidly and as quickly as we can. Of course, many of the things that have been reported or some of the things that they've requested, whether it's munitions, whether that's air defense systems, but again, we are working to meet their needs as quickly as we can as we'll continue to flow assistance into the country.  

Guys, I got to wrap it there. Sorry. I got to wrap it there, sorry.

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