BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Hey, good afternoon, everybody. Just a few things to deliver up top, and we'll get right to your questions here.
So first of all, I'd like to take a moment to recap recent operations in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. Per our DOD statement last night, a U.S. contractor was killed yesterday and five U.S. service members and one additional U.S. contractor were wounded after a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle struck a maintenance facility on a coalition base near Hasakah in northeast -- northeast Syria at approximately 1:38 P.M. local time.
Secretary Austin, at the direction of President Biden, authorized U.S. Central Command forces to conduct precision strikes into eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The air strikes were conducted in response to yesterday's attack, as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC.
In terms of air strike details, two U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter aircraft, assigned to U.S. Air Forces Central and based in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, struck two IRGC-affiliated facilities at approximately 7:40 P.M. Eastern time, or 2:40 A.M. local. The facilities were located near Deir Ez-Zor in eastern Syria, and we're continuing to assess the outcome of the strikes. Initial indications are that the facilities were destroyed. In regards to any militant casualties, we're still assessing.
These precision strikes were intended to protect and defend U.S. personnel, and the U.S. took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties. As Secretary Austin said in his statement, no group will strike our troops with impunity.
Again, Secretary Austin, along with the Department of Defense offer our thoughts and prayers to the family and colleagues of the American contractor who was killed and with those who were wounded in the attack. Our forces deployed in Syria continue to conduct their important mission in support of the international coalition to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.
Separately, Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley testified yesterday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2024 Budget. Next week, both leaders are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee on DOD's budget posture and our future year's defense program.
Again, the secretary and the chairman look forward to working with Congress to provide our service members serving around the world with the resources that they need to accomplish DOD's mission and strengthen America's national security for the 21st century and beyond.
Finally, on Wednesday, Secretary Austin unveiled a comprehensive plan aimed at improving the lives of our dedicated military force and their families. The new plan consists of six additional actions that address essential needs in education, childcare, parental leave and career advancement. The Department of Defense is committed to working with Congress and other stakeholders to ensure the successful implementation of these measures.
The plan directs the implementation of the following: universal prekindergarten at DOD education activity schools; dependent care flexible spending accounts for service members; promoting awareness of new military parental leave benefits; improvements to the exceptional family member program; expanded spouse eligibility for career advancement account; financial assistance; and continuing efforts for portability for professional licensees for military families.
Secretary Austin and the Department of Defense are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for our service members and their families through these new measures. The DOD will collaborate with Congress and state partners to ensure the successful implementation and ongoing support of these initiatives. The memorandum and additional information can be found on the DOD website.
And with that, I will take your questions. We'll start with AP, Lita Baldor.
Q: Thanks, Pat. A couple things. Just one quick clarification in the counterstrikes. Did the U.S. hit three or two? Was it three strikes or two strikes?
GEN. RYDER: Two -- two different facilities, so two strikes.
Q: Two strikes, okay. And then secondly, can you talk a little bit about the protection at the base where the Iranian drone hit? My understanding is that there was some either lacking protections there. Can you say whether or not any of the radars or aerostats or anything that are there, either failed or were not operating? Is there adequate protection there now? How did the drone pierce the security of that base?
GEN. RYDER: Yes.
Q: And then I have one follow-up.
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So first of all, broadly speaking for operations security reasons, I'm not going to get into the specifics in terms of -- of the types of force protection capabilities we have in our facilities other than to say we take force protection very, very seriously. I will say, as it pertains to radar, my understanding is that there was a complete site picture in terms of radar.
All that said, as is the case in any type of attack, U.S. Central Command will conduct a review to assess what happened and take a look at what, if any, other type of mitigating actions need to be taken, but it would obviously be premature to -- to talk about that.
And then your follow-up?
Q: And -- and then just a quick follow-up on the -- the actual situation now -- obviously, the U.S. was struck again -- Green Village was hit again in response to those -- the U.S. retaliatory strikes. Are things escalating there? Can we expect more? Is this turning into a far more escalatory situation in Syria for the troops?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. And -- and as you highlight, this morning at approximately 8:05 a.m. local time, which would have been 1:05 a.m. Eastern Time, we had 10 rockets that targeted coalition forces at Green Village in northeast Syria. The attack resulted in no injuries to U.S. or coalition personnel and no damage to equipment or facilities.
In terms of escalation, look, again, our focus in Syria is on the Defeat-ISIS mission, and that will remain our focus. We do not seek conflict with Iran, we don't seek escalation with Iran, but the strikes that we took last night were intended to send a very clear message that we will take the protection of our personnel seriously and that we will respond quickly and decisively if they are threatened.
Let me go to Fadi.
Q: Thank you, General. I have two questions.
So according to the DOD, the intelligence assessment is this -- UAV to be of Iranian origin. The groups that were targeted by the U.S. are affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. One American citizen was killed, six more were injured. Do you and the department and the Secretary of Defense hold Iran responsible for the death of an American citizen?
GEN. RYDER: Look, we know that these groups are sponsored by Iran, so Iran certainly plays a role in terms of ensuring that -- that this type of activity doesn't happen.
Q: So is Iran responsible for the death of an American citizen or not?
GEN. RYDER: Look, Iran certainly, again, backs these groups, and by default, therefore, has a responsibility to ensure that they are not contributing to insecurity and instability, but clearly they continue to do that. Thank you.
Jennifer? Let me -- let me go to --
Q: -- one more question if I may, I'll make it quick. So yesterday, Gen. Kurilla was on the Hill delivering his testimony. According to the DOD statement, the attack happened at 1:38 local time, so that was before -- prior to his testimony. When he delivered his testimony on the Hill, did he know about the attack? And if so, why didn't he inform the Congress about it?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I'd -- I'd have to refer you to Gen. Kurilla.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you.
Q: Gen. Ryder, what kind of drone was this Iranian drone? And how fast was it flying when it came towards the base? And did it, in the end, actually crash into the base or did it fire its missiles at the base?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Jennifer. So we're still assessing some of those pieces. I don't have that information to provide, other than we are very confident that, based on the forensics, based on the intelligence analysis that we've done, that it was of Iranian origin.
Q: Yes, but did it crash into the facility or fire a weapon at the facility?
GEN. RYDER: It did not fire a weapon, to my knowledge.
Q: So if you say the radar was working and if you were tracking it and drones don't fly that quickly, how was it that it was able to crash into the base? It -- and -- and you say that you're protecting those bases.
GEN. RYDER: Look, again, this is a dangerous part of the world. The work that we do is inherently dangerous. That's why you have the military in these types of places conducting these type of operations. We've seen rocket attacks, mortar attacks in the past from these kinds of groups.
Again, CENTCOM will do an assessment, in terms of -- of the attack, but the fact is that these IRGC-backed groups conducted this attack, and unfortunately, we had an American killed.
Q: But why wasn't there a contingency to shoot down the drone if it was coming into the base?
GEN. RYDER: Again, look, we take a variety of measures to safeguard our people, but again, it's an inherently dangerous place, and -- and again, we'll look into the details of the actual attack. Thank you.
Let me go to Janne.
Q: Thank you, General. I have two questions.
North Korea announced that it had conducted a nuclear underwater explosion test and Kim Jong Un said that he would respond aggressively to U.S. and South Korea. How does the U.S. react to this?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I'm -- I'm aware that North Korea issued a -- a press release about this supposed capability. I've seen the press reports but I don't have any further information to provide on that.
Q: So you're not concerned about Kim Jong Un's --
GEN. RYDER: Look, we're always concerned about any type of destabilizing activity by North Korea. And so again, it's something that we take very seriously, but as it pertains to the -- the North Korean press release, you know, I don't have anything further to provide.
Q: …(inaudible)… Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley will visit South Korea soon. Does he have any plans to visit the DMZ, Ponmunjom?
GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to read out today in terms of General Milley's upcoming visit, so I'd refer you to -- to Joint Staff.
Q: -- you think he will visit --
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don't want to speculate, but thank you.
Let me go to Oren.
Q: Thank you. Following the 10 rockets that were fired at Green Village, do you believe it was the same group that carried out -- the same group or same militia that carried out the rocket attack and the drone attack? Do you plan to respond to those rockets? And what will it take, do you believe, to restore deterrence there?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure. So our -- our current assessment is that these -- these rocket attacks were conducted by IRGC-affiliated groups, that this rocket attack was done in an effort to retaliate from last night's attacks. Again, they did not cause any damage at the coalition facility.
As far as any type of future action, I'm not going to talk about or preview potential future operations, other than to say we will always reserve the right to respond appropriately if our forces are threatened. Thank you.
Q: Are you not concerned that there will be an all-out war with Iran due to the continued exchange fire between the proxy groups and also -- they are attacking your bases in Syria?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, look -- so -- so first of all, we don't seek conflict or war with Iran. Our focus in Syria is on the enduring defeat of ISIS.
You know, unfortunately, what you see in this situation are these Iranian-backed groups, not only in Syria but conducting operations in the Strait of Hormuz, in the Gulf, in Iraq, conducting destabilizing operations that are meant to export terror and instability -- you know, Iran sending drones to -- to Russia.
And so again, the United States and our coalition and our allies and our partners, we're focused on trying to ensure stability, security in these regions, and that will continue to be our focus. We do not seek a wider conflict, and so we will -- that said, if our people are threatened, we will continue to respond appropriately and proportionately.
Q: -- was not the first time and they did it many more times and they did it today as well. Will there be any additional response from the U.S. to these groups --
GEN. RYDER: ...yes, I think I just answered that, right? So again, I'm not going to preview any potential future actions, other than to, again, say that we will take appropriate action if our forces are threatened, OK?
Q: Yesterday, U.S. and ROK joint military exercise named Freedom Shield '23, operationally finished. How do you assess the outcome of this exercise?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks for the question. Unfortunately I don't have any information on the exercise at this point in time. But I'd prefer you to USFK, they could give you a good readout.
Q: And so do you plan to do more additional such large scale joint military exercise between U.S. and South Korea?
GEN. RYDER: So I don't -- I don't have any specific exercises to -- to highlight here today other than to say that we very much value our relationship with South Korea. And that I am confident we will continue to conduct a variety of exercises, exchanges, partnerships in order to improve interoperability, ensure that we're working together to -- to ensure security and stability in the region. Thank you.
Let me go to Kasim.
Q: General, I have a clarification question and then I have a separate -- with respect to Iran-backed groups, in the past -- in the past strikes we wouldn't hear attributions from the DOD. And you are now very specifically mentioning Iran, Iran-backed (inaudible) IRGC in this statement. Is this -- what -- what is the reason behind it? Is this something new?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I can't speak for the past. All I can speak to is the information that we have which is our intelligence community assessed that the origin of this drone was Iranian-made and that the groups conducting this attack are affiliated with the IRGC.
Q: And the other question about the contractors. The contractor who was killed, what was his job? One. And then how many contractors do you have in Syria? Do you have a ballpark number for us?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So I'd -- I'd -- I'm not going to provide any numbers. As you know, we work closely with a variety of contractors around the world conducting a variety of -- of missions. In terms of the organization of this particular contractor, as a matter policy that is something that we will defer to the individual's company to -- to highlight or provide. And so I'm not going to be able to provide any additional details on that. OK?
Let’s see here, yes, sir.
Q: Thank you for taking my question. So as Taiwanese President Tsai visits to the U.S. next week. So it is expect that there will be Chinese backlash. So does Pentagon going to respond some actions like changing the deployment or build up military around area with Taiwan?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure, on the -- on the transit of the president, that -- that's really something for State Department to address or to my knowledge really no DOD equities associated with that, nor are we changing any postures that I'm aware of. So thank you.
Time for one more. Yes, ma'am.
Q: Thank you for taking my question. I have a follow-up question on North Korea's announcement yesterday. How much are you worried about North Korea's future deployment of underwater attack vehicle specifically?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, to my knowledge, you know, what we've seen right now is a press release coming from North Korea about this supposed capability. We've seen the press reports, but I don't have any specific information to provide on -- on that particular aspect. Again, more broadly speaking, we constantly maintain, you know, awareness and observe. And -- and are concerned about any destabilizing activity by North Korea. And so we'll continue to consult closely with our allies and our partners in the region to deter aggression and ensure that we can continue to maintain security and stability in the region.
All right. The last question, yes, sir.
Q: Thank you, General. So Peppi DeBiaso, he's former director of the Office of Missile Defense Policy. Earlier today, he was at the CSIS, and he said there's kind of a lack of political will in defensive missile technologies. Do you care to comment on that?
GEN. RYDER: I did not see that, and so I -- I don't want to comment on that.
Q: Is the Biden administration pursuing, you know, research in that area to intercept hypersonic missiles, for example, in improving ICBM interception capabilities?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I mean, look, broadly speaking, missile defense is something that the department takes very seriously for obvious reasons. I don't have specifics to provide to you. Certainly, we can get with you offline. But when you look at the kinds of capabilities, the kind of missile capabilities that countries like China are developing, or the use of missiles in the war in Ukraine, missile defense continues to be a very important aspect of our portfolio, and something that we'll continue to take a close look at. Thank you.
Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.