Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing
Feb. 8, 2024

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, good afternoon, everyone.  I have quite a bit to pass along today, so appreciate your patience then we'll get right to your questions.

First let me start off by offering the Department's deepest condolences to the families of our five U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16 Third Marine Aircraft Wing who died in a helicopter crash February 6 in California.

As Secretary Austin said in his statement this morning, we mourn their tragic loss and his prayers are with these brave Marines, their families, loved ones and teammates.

We will forever be grateful for their call to duty and selfless service.  And we also want to thank the multiple local, state and federal agencies who are assisting with the recovery operations.

As a matter of policy, identities of deceased service members will not be released until 24 hours after all next of kin notifications have been completed.  For additional questions I would refer to the Marine Corps.

Separately, Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General C.Q. Brown, Jr. will travel to Brussels, Belgium next week to host an in-person meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on February 14.  This will be the 19th meeting of the UDCG since Secretary Austin formed the international group in April 2022. 

The secretary and chairman will join Ministers of Defense and senior military officials from nearly 50 nations to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the continued support from the international community to provide the Ukrainian people with the means necessary to defend their sovereign territory.

While in Brussels, Secretary Austin will also participate in the NATO Defense Ministerial February 15 at NATO headquarters.

Turning to the Middle East, as U.S. Central Command announced yesterday at 9:30 pm Baghdad time, February 7, U.S. Central Command Forces conducted a unilateral strike in Iraq in response to the attacks on U.S. service members, killing a Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time. Additionally, initial assessments indicate that there were not additional militants injured or killed beyond the one Kataib Hezbollah commander who was targeted.

Additionally, CENTCOM continues to assess the results from our earlier strikes in Iraq and Syria on February 2, but initial indications are that over 40 militants associated with Iranian proxy groups were killed or injured in the U.S. strikes against seven facilities, which included more than 85 targets that Iran's IRG and affiliated militias have used to attack U.S. forces.

As we've made clear, the United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people.  And we will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten the safety of our forces.

Separate and distinct from the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria, are the multinational actions we took on February 3 as part of ongoing international efforts to respond to increased Iranian-backed Houthi destabilizing and illegal activities in the region.

As you'll recall, coalition forces targeted 13 locations, striking 36 Houthi targets associated with the Houthi's deeply buried weapon storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems and radars, all capabilities Houthi militia have used to attack international merchant and naval vessels in the region.

These strikes were intended to further disrupt and degrade Houthi capabilities to conduct their attacks against U.S. and international vessels lawfully transiting the Red Sea.

CENTCOM continues to evaluate the February 3 strikes, but initial assessments indicate that 35 targets at the 13 locations were destroyed or functionally damaged.  The targets destroyed include command and control sites, weapons storage, missile systems, UAV storage and operation sites, radars and three helicopters.

More broadly, since the first coalition strikes on January 11, we assess that we've destroyed or degraded more than 100 missiles and launchers, including anti-ship land attack and surface to air missiles, plus numerous communication capabilities, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, coastal radars, air surveillance capabilities and weapon storage areas.

I will repeat again, that the U.S. does not want escalation and that these strikes are directly in response to the actions by the Iranian-backed Houthis.  Again, however, we will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most vital waterways. 

Shifting to the Indo-Pacific this week, the U.S. military and the Japan Self-Defense Force conducted a bilateral command post exercise known as Keen Edge 24, with the participation of the Australian Defense Force.

The exercise is the latest in a series of joint multilateral command post exercises designed to increase our integrated joint operational capability, refine command and control procedures and enhance interoperability of all participants.

This year's iteration of the Keen Edge exercise included greater synchronization with the U.S. Space Command and U.S. Cyber Command, expanding the multi-domain collaboration that is incumbent on any large-scale exercise or operation.

And finally, as status update on the topic that many of you have been asking about, the DOD Performance Improvement Officer and Director of Administration and Management and her team have completed their 30-day review of the Department of Defense notification process for when the deputy secretary or another designated official assumes the duties and functions of the secretary of defense.

The review has been submitted to Secretary Austin and he is in the process of reviewing it.  Much of the report is classified, since it relates generally to continuity of operations and the security of our personnel.  However, as the secretary has said, we remain committed to being as transparent as possible about the review and we'll have more information once the secretary's review is complete.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.  Go to Associated Press Lolita Baldor.

Q:  Thank you, Pat.  Just a couple follow ups on the strikes.  Are you confirming that al-Saedi was the only person in the vehicle at the time and the only person killed, is that accurate what you're saying?

GEN. RYDER:  That is correct.  We have — we have high confidence that that was the case.

Q:  And then, you said — you mentioned 40 militants, are — were those primarily KH militia that were killed?  The 40 that you mentioned.  Because I think there's been some statements that there was a belief that no Iranians had been killed.  Is that still the case?

GEN. RYDER:  So, you know, again, CENTCOM continues to assess right now.  We have no indications that Iranians were killed in these strikes.  I don't have a specific breakdown in terms of the particular Iranian proxy militant group, other than to say, again, our assessment is that, you know, what I read out to you.

Q:  And just on the review, just very — was that submitted today?  And is there an expectation that there are any disciplinary actions recommended in this report or review, or is that something that comes later? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, on that part I haven't seen the review, so I can't answer that question.  Again, we'll try to keep you updated on that front.  To my knowledge the report was submitted to the secretary today. 

Okay, Jennifer?

Q:  What evidence does the Pentagon have that Kataib Hezbollah was behind the drone strike that killed Americans in Jordan?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, as we said in our statement, this commander was responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.  So again — I'll just leave it at that, Jennifer.

Q:  But were — was he directly involved in planning that attack on a Jordan base?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any information on that.  We are confident that he was responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces, of which there's been over 160, as you know.

Q:  And did you tell the Iraqi Prime Minister or anyone in the Iraqi government ahead of this strike?

GEN. RYDER:  So we notified the Iraqis shortly after the strike occurred.  I'm not going to go into any more details in terms of, you know, private diplomatic discussions.  We of course fully respect Iraq's sovereignty and have been very clear in our public statements and private conversations that we would respond at a time and place of our choosing when it came to holding the groups that have been attacking U.S. forces accountable.

Q:  And is your response over?

GEN. RYDER:  It — you know, as I said, this strike that we did yesterday was in response to the continued attacks on U.S. forces.  I'm not going to discuss or speculate about potential future operations, other than to say that we will continue to take necessary actions to protect our forces.

Let me go over here to Tom and then we'll go to ...


Q:  ... killed and wounded, do you have a breakdown from Iraq and Syria?  And also, any sense civilians were killed?  The mayor of — of Al-Khiyam says one civilian was killed, five houses damaged.  Are you guys looking into that?

GEN. RYDER:  So Tom, I don't — I don't have a breakdown for you, Iraq versus Syria.  What I will say is that we are aware of allegations that at least one civilian was killed during the February 2 strikes, which CENTCOM is reviewing.

As you've heard us say, we will always take civilian harm mitigation very seriously and take all possible precautions to minimize potential harms to civilian, but beyond that, I don't ...

Q:  ... civilian killed in Al-Khiyam, do you know of where it was — that person was killed ...

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have that in front of me.  So again, CENTCOM will review this and, you know ...

Q:  And lastly on the review, will that also look into the communications breakdown of what happened here?

GEN. RYDER:  For the 30 day review?  So it will look at all the relevant facts associated with the notification process, as it pertained to transferring authorities from the Secretary to the Deputy Secretary.  Again, that — that memo is available online, on the DOD website under the Publications tab, and you can see exactly what the review is calling for.


Q:  Pat, will the review be provided to Congress?  And if so, would that be in a classified format so they can review it in a classified setting or will you wade into some sort of unclassified version of that?

And then going back to Iraq, do you have an update on the HMC process?  There's some reports that there's going to be a meeting in a few days.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Missy.  So we'll certainly work to keep Congress informed about the review.  And — so we'll keep you updated on that front.  Again, at this stage — the Secretary just got it, so he's reviewing.  But I'm — I'm confident, as we always do, we'll work with Congress to ensure they have the information that they request and that they need.

On the HMC, you know, we do remain committed to the HMC process.  I don't want to get into the specifics on how and when those private conversations will occur, other than we, again, will — will work with our Iraqi partners on that.

Q:  ... ask do you have any update on him potentially testifying before the HASC?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, the — Secretary will testify to the HASC on 29 February.

Q:  And will that be an open hearing?

GEN. RYDER:  I'd have to refer you to Congress on that piece.  OK?


Q:  Can you give us an idea of how important al-Saadi was to the — that militia group and to these attacks on U.S. forces?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, I'd point you to CENTCOM's press release.  And as I highlighted, I mean, this was a commander who was responsible for directly planning and conducting attacks against U.S. forces.  And so again, our focus in Iraq and Syria is on the enduring defeat of ISIS, but when our forces are threatened, we will take appropriate action. 

And this strike was conducted in response to the attack against our forces, as well as the attack on our base — our facility in Jordan where three service members were killed and numerous wounded.

Q:  Just to ask you about the Sea Stallion crash, were there — is there any indication at this point that weather versus mechanical failures might have been a factor?  And also, were there any indications that the crew tried to land or just consider landing before it went down?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Dan.  I don't have any information on that.  As you know, in any type of aviation accident or incident, there will be an investigation.  And so it's very important to allow that investigation to run its course before any — you know, there's any discussion or speculation on what may have happened.

So I'd encourage you to keep in touch with the Marine Corps and they can keep you updated.

Q:  ... Secretary, is there a wider concern about aviation safety now?  There's been so many mishaps, there's been reports indicating problems with, you know, training — a sufficient amount of training for both pilots and their maintenance crews.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, I mean, I can assure you that — that we are dedicated to ensuring that safety is in all of our programs, to include our aviation programs.  We've taken critical steps to integrate industry best practices when it comes to evaluating, training, maintenance, safety standards. 

I can also assure you that each of the services takes this very seriously as well.  And so they will, as always, continue to look at their training, maintenance, and safety programs to ensure that we learn from every incident and apply those lessons into their risk management programs and management of those fleets.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you, General.  I just have one quick clarification on the Higher Military Commission.  There is a statement by Major General about the meeting on February 11th.  So is the Pentagon confirming that or not?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure, and I'd refer you to that statement.

Q:  Well, OK, so my ...


... my question — I could have taken that question — my question is ...


I have two questions.  This is the first time we hear an official statement naming Abu Baqir al-Saadi.  Statement from CENTCOM (inaudible) commander said he is involved in this and that — I mean, why hasn't the Pentagon or CENTCOM mentioned who the guy who — was targeted? 

Especially the Iraqi government is protesting what happened, targeting someone in a busy street, endangering civilians, according to their statement.  And — and there's — seems — there's a major disagreement between you and your partner in Iraq, and yet there's another commander part of the — according to Iraq's PMF, there have been — who's been assassinated in Baghdad, and you're not sharing enough information to prove that he is involved in anything that related to attacking U.S. forces.

GEN. RYDER:  There was literally no question in that statement.


Q:  ... there was a question.  You — even — even in your statement, you didn't mention his name until ...

GEN. RYDER:  So Wissam Mohammed Sabir Al-Saadi was a Kataib Hezbollah commander who was responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.  He's not a member of the PMF, he's a Kataib Hezbollah commander.  And we're very confident in the process that we took in order to identify and, again, hold this individual accountable.

Q:  And then the — you said you — well, you respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government.  The Iraqi government disagrees with that statements, and it seems your action run opposite to that statement. When you take military actions in a sovereign nation, isn't that a violation of its sovereignty?

GEN. RYDER: Well, Fadi, so, first of all, again, we're in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq to fight ISIS. And again, I know you know this, but for the benefit of those listening and watching, you'll recall when we returned to Iraq with significant numbers in 2014, it was to help them fight ISIS. Again, those forces are there to help train and advise in their fight against ISIS and help save Iraqi lives.

We, the U.S. military, have an inherent right to defend ourselves if attacked. And again, publicly and privately, we've made it very clear to our Iraqi partners that we will take necessary action to defend those forces. Again, I've served in Iraq. I've been there many times. We have fought and died alongside Iraqis for many years to help them defend their nation.

And the reason that we're there is, again, to help them to protect their country against ISIS. But if we're attacked, we have a responsibility to defend our forces, and that's what we did. Let me go back over here to Oren and then we'll go to Carla.

Q: Two questions. First, was it by design that no Iranians were killed as the U.S. seeks to avoid open conflict with Iran?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to have anything to provide, Oren, beyond what I've already made in my statement.

Q: And then second question. General Mazloum, the SDF commander, briefed reporters and said ISIS has taken advantage of the situation, frankly, the chaos in the region. And they have seen a spike in their activity. Has the U.S. seen that same spike? Does that mean more ISIS attacks? Does that mean the de-ISIS coalition has effectively been busier?

GEN. RYDER: Look, I mean, you know, part of this is relative. When you want to start talking about ISIS and its presence around the world and around the region, in terms of spike, certainly, as we've seen before, ISIS is insidious and will take advantage of ungoverned spaces and opportunities to exploit tensions and fissures is what you see in places like just yesterday, I think there was an attack in Baluchistan by ISIS-K. You see them in Afghanistan, you see them on the African continent.

So, in Iraq and Syria, they are down, but they're not out. And so, again, this work by an international coalition continues to try to prevent a resurgence of ISIS. And so, again, we're very focused on that, but it's obviously not helpful when you have things like Iranian proxies attacking your forces that are there for that mission.

Q: But have you seen an increase in their activity in Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER: I mean, they certainly conduct activities. I don't have any data in front of me right now to show. But again, yeah, I'll just leave it at that. Carla?

Q: Thanks, Pat. Just to follow up, and then one question, but to follow up, you mentioned about how U.S. forces had been working with Iraqis for years. This was the second time that the U.S. has struck inside of Iraq without letting the Iraqis know until after the strikes had occurred. Has there been some level of trust that's been lost between the United States and Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: Look, we again view Iraq as a very valued and important partner, and we will continue to work and consult closely with them on regional security issues, supporting them, because again, we're there at their invitation. In terms of notification processes. Look, we're going to take operations, security and force protection into account, into any operation. But again, I just go back to what I've said, that we've been very clear publicly and privately that we'll take appropriate action to defend our forces. Let me go to Lara.

Q: One on Ukraine, if I may.


Q: Ukraine's Oleksandr Syrskyi has taken over from (Zulusi ?) as head of Ukraine's armed forces. Has Secretary Austin or General Brown spoken to Syrskyi yet? And does the Pentagon anticipate any changes in Ukraine's military strategy after this reshuffle?

GEN. RYDER: I can't speak for General Brown to my knowledge. Yeah, so I'd refer you to joint staff for that. General Austin — General Austin, going back in time there. Secretary Austin has not spoken to the — to that individual. Obviously, a lot of questions that we've received. We're aware, of course, of the reports about changes in the Ukrainian armed forces.

That's really something that I would have to refer you back to Ukraine to discuss their internal discussions and decisions. I can tell you the one thing that won't change, and that is our continued support for Ukraine and their efforts to defend themselves against Russian aggression. So, just leave it at that. Lara?

Q: One on Syria and one on Ukraine. Has there been an increased threat since these attacks started to the detention centers in Syria where there's many ISIS prisoners like that (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Laura, I'm not aware of anything. Well, attacks against the detention?

Q: Just an increased risk of some kind of breach and the SDF guards having to.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'd have to refer you to CENTCOM on that. I'm not aware of anything specifically, as you highlight. I mean, this is sort of a U.S. SDF joint effort to essentially ensure that Al-Hawl continues to contain ISIS prisoners. But I'd have to refer you to CENTCOM on that.

Q: And then on Ukraine. We've talked about how the PDAs have are on pause right now. USAI contracts continue to flow. How much longer will the U.S. be providing flowing air defense missiles to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: So, I don't have a number to provide for you. There are certain capabilities that were contracted under USAI, which does include some air defense capabilities. We'll also continue to work very closely with allies and partners in terms of identifying Ukraine's needs and then working with them to help facilitate that process.

Q: Still flowing U.S. air defense missiles to Ukraine, right now?

GEN. RYDER: To my knowledge, that and other capabilities that we've announced as it relates to USAI. Jennifer?

Q: Just a follow up. Pat, did you say that the person killed in Baghdad, the head of Kataib Hezbollah, was not a member of the PMF? But the Iraqi leaders say that he was. So, how can you say he wasn't a member of the PMF if they say he was? And if you have targeted the head of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq, does that mean you've determined that the drone that killed Americans in Jordan came from Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any updates to provide in terms of the point of origin for the drone that struck Tower 22. And again, we're confident that this individual was a Kataib Hezbollah commander. And I'll just leave it at that. I won't speak for the Iraqis.

Q: Last week, we heard from the Defense Secretary, who said that Iran was ultimately to blame because they pay for these groups, these proxy groups, they bankroll these missiles and these drones. So, is it, in his estimation, that Iran has been held responsible for the attack at the Tower 22?

GEN. RYDER: Is it the Secretary's estimation? Again, look, we've said is that we will take necessary action to hold those accountable, those responsible for these attacks against our forces accountable. I'm not going to bound it other than to say that we will continue to stay focused on our mission in Iraq and Syria, as well as doing what we need to do to protect our forces. And I'll just leave it at that. Gordon.

Q: Just to go back to this review thing, the Secretary's answer on how much would be revealed or whatever was a bit shaky. The idea of who knew what, when and who was supposed to say and do all that cannot be possibly classified. Sort of trying to get a cleaner answer to how transparent the building will be on the results of this review because the idea that a lot of it is classified seems not true.

GEN. RYDER: I'm going to take a deep breath there, Gordon. I know I understand and appreciate your skepticism there. I'm telling you the truth. And that there will be portions of that report that are classified and that we will work hard to provide you with as much information as we can. And you'll just have to take my word for it. Thank you. Sir?

Q: Just quickly on the Iraq strike, can you talk about any timeline on when the President authorized the strike (inaudible) took place? And then can you talk about at what levels discussions took place following the strike? You said you informed Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Joseph. So, I'd refer you to the White House for any discussion on the President. As I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to get into discussions that the Secretary has with the President in terms of timelines other than Central Command had the authorities that they needed to conduct this strike.

Q: (inaudible) … the level of call from this building to the Iraqis after the strike?

GEN. RYDER: I'd refer you to Central Command. I don't have anything to read out. I mean, as you know, we have forces in Iraq as well as a U.S. embassy presence. And so, we're communicating at multiple echelons, but I'd refer you to Central Command.

Q: Just one on Gaza. Well, there's been talk about the Israelis have said they conduct a military operation in Rafah? Does this Department — would this Department support such an operation? And then secondly on that, at least two, maybe a third American have been detained by the Israeli military. There's civilians that continue to be killed in Palestine. The Department has verbally said and warned that there needs to be a reduction in slain casualties. When or is the Department prepared to do more than just issue verbal warnings?

GEN. RYDER: There's a lot of questions there, Joseph. So, in terms of Rafah, I don't have anything for you on that. You know, refer you to the Israeli MOD to talk about their operations. I think, you know, NSC has talked about this a bit. Clearly, you know, we continue to remain focused on ensuring that humanitarian assistance gets into Gaza, and there are concerns about making sure that civilian safety is taken into account, if there were any operations to be considered in that area.

But again, I don't have anything to provide on Israeli operations. As it relates to the detainment of any U.S. citizens. Again, I'd refer you to State Department on that. I just don't have anything to provide. Okay. Sir?

Q: Thank you. When it comes to addressing the threats of the Iranian backed groups in Iraq and Syria, has your policy changed or shifted from deterrence to degrading these groups? Because one hour ago the State Department I think the spokesperson had said that the focus continues to be on both on deterrence and also on degrading these groups. Has anything changed related to that?

GEN. RYDER: So, I think you got to take a step back a little bit more from that and say the focus is on conducting the mission that we're there to do, and if we're attacked, taking appropriate action to deter future attacks as well as safeguarding our forces to include holding those accountable who have been conducting these attacks.

Part of that would include degrading the capabilities that they've been using to conduct attacks. Right? So, that's what you saw on Friday was efforts to degrade the capabilities that they have, but also send a clear message that we will take action if our forces are attacked or threatened, so.

Q: I totally understand that you are in Iraq by an invitation of the Iraqi government, and we spoke on that at different times. But when it comes to that, the Iraqi government says totally different what we are believing when it comes to the sovereignty. You say that we respect the Iraqi sovereignty and the Iraqi government. The spokesperson for the Iraqi government says that the U.S. is violating the Iraqi sovereignty.

And also today, what they announced that these attacks compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of the coalition. Does that concern you at all? These comments that coming from the Iraqi government? I understand that you are not speaking for the Iraqi government, but are you taking these command statements seriously?

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, we take our relationship with Iraq seriously and we value them as a partner. We do respect their sovereignty. But again, when our forces are attacked or threatened, it's incumbent on us to take necessary action to protect those forces. And so, I'll just leave it at that. Last one. I need to get some of your colleagues here.

Q: Is there any agreement between you and the Iraqi government? Have you told the Iraqi government if you like it or don't, if our force has been attacked by any groups inside Iraq, we will respond them without pre notification to government?

GEN. RYDER: So, as I mentioned, we have been and have had conversations with our Iraqi partners that, both publicly and privately, that we will respond to any attacks against our forces. And of course, part of those conversations include working with the Iraqi government to request their assistance in protecting our forces that are there at their invitation.

And so, again, in some cases, we have seen ISF forces doing that. But as you have all highlighted and as we've discussed, when our forces are threatened over 160 times, and after three U.S. service members are killed, multiple wounded, we're going to take appropriate action. Let me go to the phone here. Idrees from Reuters.

Q: Hey there, Pat. When did the Secretary last speak with the Iraqi Prime Minister? I think it's been a few months at least. And is the lack of, sort of conversations and phone calls with him a sign that the Secretary feels that the Prime Minister is sort of helpless in stopping the attacks against U.S. troops?

And secondly, you mentioned that about 100 missile launchers have been destroyed or degraded. What do you mean by degraded? Does that mean that there's sort of damage beyond use or could you describe that phrase?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks Idrees. I'll have to take the question on when the last call was. I want to say it was December time frame with the Prime Minister. But and then, I'm not going to speak for him and how he feels about things. Finally, in terms of degraded. Yes, functionally incapable of operating or being employed as intended. Thank you. Come back to the room here. Sir?

Q: Thank you. I'm going to come back to the HMC discussions. Today, the spokesperson for Iraqi armed forces said this Sunday the negotiations will start again. And he said, when all the talking is to phase out withdrawal of U.S. and alliance forces.  Does it — this contradict what you have said before?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, first of all, I'm not going to hold the meeting here.  That's what we have meetings and discussions for.  And as you heard us talk about, the — the purpose of the Higher Military Commission, which was agreed upon back in August, was to discuss the phasing of the — or the transition of the military forces as part of the coalition to a longer-term bilateral U.S.-Iraq security cooperation.  So, you know, again, what that looks like is exactly what those meetings will be all about and — and discussed.          

The important thing here is I think we all agree that a secure and stable Iraq is important to the region.  And so the United States is committed to working with our Iraqi partners toward that end.

Q:  ... do your forces in Iraq have any role in conducting airstrikes or only CENTCOM has it?

GEN. RYDER:  The forces in Iraq are there to support the train and advise mission for the defeat ISIS mission at the invitation of the government of Iraq.


Q:  Sir, on — I believe it was the evening of February 4th — I could be incorrect — but there was a suspected militia drone attack on — near the Green Village base in Syria in which Syrian Democratic Forces members were killed.  Is that the first time suspected Iran-backed militias have targeted the SDF with drones?  And does the department see that as potentially indicative of a shift in tactics by these groups?

GEN. RYDER:  So Jared, I don't have the answer to that question.  You'd have to talk to the — the SDF.  As I — you know, my assessment, based on — you know, my read, what I saw was that that drone was probably intended for Green Village and, you know, landed several kilometers away from Green Village. 

So whether or not they were intentionally targeting SDF, I don't know.  So I'll just have to leave it there.  Thanks.


Q:  Two questions.  So first, in terms of all the strikes against the Houthis' equipment and — and different sites, have there been any Houthi casualties?

And then on an earnings call today, the Maersk CEO has said that the U.S. Navy can't guarantee the safety of passage in the Red Sea.  Does the Pentagon agree with that?  Is this Red Sea safe for conventional shipping right now?

GEN. RYDER:  So on — on your first question, I don't have any — I don't have any information to provide in terms of specific numbers.  I think it is a safe bet to assume that Houthi — there are some Houthi militants that have been killed as a result of the strikes that we've conducted.  I just don't have any numbers to provide for you.  Again, our focus is on eliminating capabilities that they've been employing or using to conduct these attacks.

And then in terms of the Red Sea, you know, look, this is why you have a coalition of over 20 countries working to help safeguard this vital waterway.  It's a defensive coalition that is conducting joint patrols and providing capability to help vessels that transit. 

At the end of the day, it's up to commercial industry whether they opt to go through that route.  Obviously, I think it's in the international interest to ensure that it is safe and secure, and that's why we're working so hard toward that end.

Let me go back out to the phone here.  Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?

Q:  Thank you.  The Pentagon has provided an update of how many service members have been injured in Iraq and Syria.  Could we get the number of those diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury?  I know it's been asked before, and understandably other things have happened, but an update on the TBIs would be most welcome.

Also, back in January, there were some tweets that the Houthis, with their F-5, fooled around and found out, and that their F-5 was shot down.  Can the DOD talk about that at all?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Jeff.  On your — on your first question, we'll take that.  As you know, those numbers can fluctuate, but we'll take that question.

On the — the latter question, I don't have anything to provide for you beyond what I've — what I've read out in my topper and in the previous briefings, in terms of BDA at this stage.  Thank you.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Other than the first time it was announced about the Ukraine Contact Group and every time you've mentioned a new one coming up, you've always said "and more than 50 nations will participate."  In your opening remarks today, you said "nearly 50 nations."  Why the drop off in support?

GEN. RYDER:  So I don't think there's been a drop off in support, and I'd ask that you go back and look at the various statements cause I would submit that, you know, sometimes it's nearly 50, sometimes it's more than 50 ...

Q:  ... I thought you might say that and I did look ...


GEN. RYDER:  So it was a setup?  Excellent.  Good to know.  All right.  Anything else I can do to entertain you?



Perfect.  All right, let me go to Howard Altman with War Zone.

Q:  Hey, thanks, Pat.  Can you provide any more details about how — the drone that got through Tower 22 in Jordan, how that happened?  Was it a lack of air defenses?  Can you provide any more details?  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Howard.  So what I can tell you right now is that U.S. Central Command is investigating the attack on Tower 22.  And so at this stage, it would be inappropriate for me to comment or speculate on — on the specifics of that. 

The U.S. Army Central Command has the lead for that investigation.  And so, you know, I mean, they'll be doing that work.  Certainly, you know, once that investigation is complete, we may have more information to provide, but right now, I'm just not able to go into those details.  Thank you.

Come back in the room.  Sir?

Q:  Is there any indications that North Korea prepared (inaudible) military action against South Korea?

GEN. RYDER:  That North Korea is preparing to?

Q:  Military action against South Korea.

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any intelligence to pass along, you know, so basically, you know, again, we're going to continue to monitor the situation.  I'm not aware of any imminent attacks but we're going to continue to work closely with South Korea and Japan to monitor the — the region and work towards security and stability.

Q:  All right.  So do you know any information that — what kind of weapon or technology North Korea received from Russia in return for them providing ammunition and missile to the — Russia?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

Q:  So what kind of weapon or technology North Korea received from Russia in return for them providing ammunition to — missiles to Russia?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have any specifics to pass along.  As you highlight, there — there is a relationship there, and we do know that North Korea has provided capabilities to Russia, you know, hoping to — to build up a relationship to be able to capitalize on — on Russian capabilities.  But I'll just leave it at — at that.

Let me go to Fadi and then I'll come to you.

Q:  So — so General, after the attack on U.S. forces in Jordan, the Pentagon said the response will be multi-tiered.  So far, we've seen twice — two waves at least, the — the one in Iraq and Syria and now with — in — in Baghdad.  Is this approach still valid or does the Pentagon think that the response to it — the attack in Jordan has played out and now it depends on whether attacks continue on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Fadi.  I mean, as — again, just to — to emphasize what I said earlier, the strike on Friday and the strike yesterday was conducted in response to those attacks, as well as the attacks on U.S. forces, and meant to hold those responsible accountable.

As for whether or not there will be future attacks, again, I'm just not going to speculate or talk about potential future operations, other than to say again we'll take necessary action to protect our forces, and I'll just leave it there.

Mike?  Got time for a couple more.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Today, General Mazloum of the SDF accused Turkey of attacking civilian — their civilian infrastructure, including oil facilities.  Can you confirm if that's true or not?  And does that cause any — does it cause any problems for the campaign, to have two allies fighting each other instead of ISIS?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Mike.  I don't have any information on that.  I haven't — I haven't seen those reports.  It doesn't mean it hasn't happened, I just haven't seen anything on it.

And as for political campaigns, that — that's just not something that I'm going to comment on.

Last question, sir.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  Two questions.  One, China was in the news last week and this week in the media and also on the Capitol Hill that — as has — cybersecurity or other concerns are — Chinese have so many people here against the United States.

My question is how much concern is from the Pentagon here, as far as Chinese cyber and military security is concerned, (invading ?) the U.S.?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, well, without going into specific instances, what I would tell you is, as we've highlighted many times before, China continues to remain our pacing challenge.  And as we've highlighted in our National Defense Strategy, one aspect of that is operations in cyberspace.  And so again, we'll continue to take that very seriously, and it's something that we'll continue to work on closely with allies and partners as it relates to their own cybersecurity.

And then you had a second question?

Q:  As far as this war in the Middle East is concerned and terror — terrorist activities against many countries in the Middle East, there are many terrorists in many countries there.  My question is — that — they are digging — they have had 1,300 or 1,500 tunnels, they have arms, they have financing.  My question is are we going after those who are financing them millions and millions of dollars and are giving them arms and supporting them?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, when — I'm sorry, which terrorist group?

Q:  In the Middle East, like Hamas or Hezbollah and others.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so without getting into a specific breakdown of various terrorist groups — and, you know, I'm happy to have an offline discussion with you on that — as you know, as part of our National Defense Strategy, counter-terrorism is an aspect of that, right? 

We acknowledge that — that there is a — significant terrorist threat around the world, and we will continue to work with our allies and partners towards addressing that, to include those that affect our homeland.

And so it's something we obviously take very seriously, it's something, oh, by the way, we got very good at after 20 years of conducting counter-terrorism operations, but also recognizing the fact that around the world we have other interests, to include addressing the threats that — that countries like Russia pose in Europe, as well as the pacing challenge of China, as I highlighted.

So thank you very much, everybody, appreciate it.


Press Advisories   Releases   Transcripts

Speeches   Publications   Contracts


Facebook   Twitter   Instagram   Youtube

Unsubscribe | Contact Us

This email was sent to military_reports@aus-city.com using GovDelivery Communications Cloud on behalf of: U.S. Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon Washington, DC 20301-1400