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U.S. Continues Protection Mission in Middle East, Convenes Ukraine Defense Group Meeting

As part of an international effort, the United States continues to protect shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and continues to defend against attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria, by Iranian supported groups, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said today.

Singh also said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Air Force Gen. CQ Brown Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will host a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group tomorrow.

There have been 151 attacks against U.S. forces in the Middle East since Oct. 19, Singh said. Over the weekend, U.S. forces responded to threats from Houthi rebels and from Iran-backed groups. On Jan. 20, U.S. Central Command forces struck Houthi missiles aimed into the Gulf of Aden, she said. "U.S. forces determined the missile presented a threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region and subsequently struck and destroyed the missile in self-defense," Singh said. "This action will make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy and merchant vessels."

A missile is launched into the night sky.
Missile Launch
The guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely launches Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles in response to increased Iranian-backed Houthi malign behavior in the Red Sea, Jan. 12, 2024. The Gravely is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to support maritime security and stability in the Middle East.
Photo By: Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Word, Navy
VIRIN: 240111-N-BT677-1083

Also on the 20th Iran-backed groups launched multiple ballistic missiles and rockets at Al-Asad airbase in Western Iraq. "Most of the missiles were intercepted by the bases air defense systems, while others impacted the base," she said. "Two U.S. personnel were injured but have since returned to duty, and there was some structural damage to non-critical facilities. And at least one Iraqi service member was wounded." 

These are the latest attacks which stretch back to Oct. 17 in Iraq and Syria and to Nov. 19 from Houthi rebels in Yemen. "We are going to continue to respond, as we do not seek an escalation," Singh said. "It is really up to the Houthis, to these [Iranian] backed militias to stop their attacks on our forces, on commercial shipping, on innocent mariners that are transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden." 

Singh also said two Navy SEALs lost during a boarding operation on Jan. 11 have been listed as deceased. "We mourn the loss of these two brave SEALs and our hearts are with their families," she said.  

The SEALs were boarding a dhow conducting illegal transport of lethal aid from Iran to Houthi forces in Yemen. The Navy and international partners launched an expansive search operation covering more than 21,000 square miles to locate their missing teammates.  

Austin and Brown will host the 18th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group virtually tomorrow. The group comprises more than 50 countries who come together monthly to coordinate security assistance for Ukraine. "This contact group continues to make … a real difference in real time," Singh said. It "is a testament to our collective resolve to stand up to Russia's assault on democracy sovereignty and the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure."

Two men shake hands.
Ukraine Defense Contact Group
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the 16th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 11, 2023. Austin and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., joined ministers of defense and senior military officials from nearly 50 nations to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the continued close coordination by the international community to provide the Ukrainian people with the means necessary to defend their sovereign territory.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 231011-D-TT977-1046

This is the first meeting of the group in 2024. Congress must pass a supplemental bill to continue U.S. funding to Ukraine. Still, the meeting of the group enables the nations to confer and work together to get military capabilities into the hands of Ukrainian service members. The United States continues to support Ukraine with U.S.-led training continuing at bases in Germany and pilot training continuing in Arizona.

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