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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Well, good afternoon everyone. And thank you very much for your patience.

We do have quite a bit to cover today so thank you in advance.

Well, I'll go through some detailed information here. First of all, let me address the ongoing situation in the Middle East and the Department of Defense response. And then I'll discuss the reports of drone attacks against U.S. facilities in Iraq and Syria.

As you are all aware, Secretary Austin, recently directed several steps to strengthen DOD Posture in the region, to bolster regional deterrence efforts, to include deploying the USS Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean along with the USS Eisenhower currently underway and enroute.

Additionally, we are also enhancing our Fighter Aircraft presence in the Central Command region to provide additional capabilities.

By posturing these U.S. Naval assets and Advanced Fighter Aircraft in the region we aim to send a strong message intended to deter a wider conflict to bolster regional stability and of course to make it clear that we will protect and defend our national security interests.

To that end the crew of the Guided Missile Destroyer, USS Carney, operating in the Northern Red Sea earlier today, shot down three land-attack cruise missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces in Yemen. This action was a demonstration of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Architecture that we have built in the Middle East and that we are prepared to utilize whenever necessary to protect our partners and our interests in this important region.

There were no casualties to U.S. Forces and none that we know of to any civilians on the ground. Information about these engagements is still being processed and we cannot say for certain what these missiles and drones were targeting but they were launched from Yemen, heading north along the Red Sea, potentially towards targets in Israel.

Our defensive response was one that we would have taken for any similar threat in the region, where we're able to do so against our interest, personnel, going to and our partners. This attack may be ongoing so if we have more information to share we will. 

But again, as the Secretary has made clear, we have the capability to defend our broader interests in the region and to deter regional escalation, Israelis and broader expansion of the conflict that began with Hamas's attack on Israeli civilians on October 7th. The crew of the Carney did just that. And across the Force we will remain vigilant to any other potential threats.

And while I'm on the topic of threats let me provide an update on the reports of several drone attacks against U.S. facilities in Iraq and Syria.

Early yesterday morning Syria time, October 18th, At-Tanf garrison in Syria was targeted by two drones. U.S. and Coalition Forces engaged one drone, destroying it while the other drone impacted the base resulting in minor injuries to Coalition Forces.

Also the same morning in Iraq early warning systems indicated a possible threat approaching the airbase at Al Assad, and base personnel sheltered in place as a protective measure. Though no attack occurred sadly a U.S. civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering and passed away shortly thereafter. And our deepest sympathies and condolences are with the loved one — loved ones of the individual who passed away.

And as you know, the day before on October 17th, U.S. Military Forces defended against three drones near U.S. and Coalition Forces in Iraq. In western Iraq at Al Asad Air Base, U.S. Forces engaged two drones destroying one and damaging the second resulting in minor injuries to Coalition Forces.

Separately in northern Iraq, U.S. Forces engaged and destroyed a drone near Bashur Air Base resulting in no injuries or damage.

And while I'm not going to forecast any potential response to these attacks I will say that we will take all necessary actions to defend U.S. and Coalition Forces against any threat. Any response should one occur will come at a time in a manner of our choosing.

Now in light of all of this activity, Secretary Austin continues to actively engage with his counterparts and leaders within the Middle East. Today he conducted a series of calls which included discussions with His Highness, President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, of the United Arab Emirates; Amir Sheikh Tamim of Qatar; and Saudi Arabia, Minister of Defense, Khalid bin Salman Al Saud.

Secretary Austin also spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Galant just a few moments ago. During these calls he reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks, and also underscored the importance of safeguarding innocent civilians both Palestinian and Israeli. He emphasized again that any country or any group thinking about trying to take advantage of the situation in Israel, to try to widen the conflict should think twice and not doubt the resolve of the United States.

It is our aim to avoid any regional expansion of Israel's conflict with Hamas. But we stand ready and prepared to protect and defend our partners and our interests. And we will act to do so.

Readouts of these calls will be posted to the DOD website later today.

And with respect to U.S. support to Israel, the first shipments of military aid, including munitions began arriving in Israel last week, and continue to arrive on a near-daily basis. This assistance is comprised of capabilities requested by Israel to include Precision Guided Munitions such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, Small Diameter Bombs, 155 millimeter Artillery Ammunition and other categories of critical equipment.

In addition ,Iron Dome Interceptors from stocks that the United States has in country have been quickly provided to Israel. And in the days ahead will we be flowing additional Iron Dome Interceptors so that Israel has the capabilities they need to sustain their Iron Dome Defense Systems and protect their citizens and cities from rocket attacks.

We will leverage several avenues available to us to include our stocks and industry channels that reinforce the United States' unwavering and ironclad support for both the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli people.

As always, the Department of Defense will continue to support, plan, and undertake these critical missions professionally and with the inherent right to protect our Force.

And with that I will be happy to take your questions.

We'll start with AP, Tara Copp.

Q: Thank you, General Ryder. Could you also talk about apparently there's a new round of attacks at Al Assad that is occurring either now or has happened today. Do you have any information on that?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks Tara. I've seen some reporting on that. I don't have any details to provide right now but certainly as more information becomes available we'll pass that along.

Q: And then more generally as this violence has upticked since the hospital bombing. What protection measures are you taking particularly for the Forces in At-Tanf at where there's been so much activity over the years as fighters have tried to move weapons and people towards Hezbollah?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Certainly, we take force protection extremely seriously and we will continue to do so. I'm not going to get into specific force protection measures other than again when we have forces in harm's way we're going to look at all possible efforts to ensure that they remain safe and are able to to stay focused on their on their mission. So this is something that we'll continue to monitor. But again, we are going to take force protection very seriously.

Q: But can you say like you've strengthened or taken additional force protection measures? And are you seeing more activity — more drone activity like in the last couple of days than you have you know, for the last few months?

GEN. RYDER: We are certainly taking appropriate force protection measures to ensure the safety of our troops. Again I'm not going to get into specifics. Clearly this is an uptick in terms of the types of drone activity we've seen in Iraq and Syria. But again yes, I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.


Q: All right. Sir, this is a sensitive question. There's a lot of talk among Special Operations veterans that when President Biden went to Israel he had a picture taken with some service members who look like special operators. Can the Defense Department confirm the White House took this picture down, that these were in fact Special Operators? And if so are they — is there a policy against having special operators have their picture taken?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Jeff.

I'd have to refer you to the White House on that. I just don't have any information to provide. Thank you.

Let me go here to Dan. And then we'll come back to yours.

Q: Thank you, General.

These attacks in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon commonly or often ascribes the blame on those two Iranian-backed militias or some similar description. Do you have the sense that's the case here?

GEN. RYDER: So we're continuing to assess the nature of these attacks. And that's something that we'll continue to look very closely at. As you've mentioned in the past we have seen Iranian-backed militia conduct these types of things. But as of right now I don't have any specifics to provide.

Q: More broadly related on Iran, do you have any update on whether Iran directly tied to the Hamas attack of October 7th?

GEN. RYDER: No. At this point again, the information that we have does not show a direct connection to the Hamas attacks on October 7th. As it relates to Iran, again, that's something that we'll continue to look closely at.

All that to say, we do know as you've heard others say that Iran has a significant relationship with Hamas in terms of funding, training, and support, and so again in that regard they certainly bear some responsibility. But again no direct linkage to these attacks. And we'll continue to keep an eye on that.

Let me go to Idrees.

Q: Just for clarification, the USS Carney. You said the – you can't say for certain where or what the missiles were targeting. Can you say that you — do you believe that they were targeting the Carney or do you believe they were not targeting the Carney?

GEN. RYDER: Again, what I provided at the top right now is what we know. Again, we'll continue to assess this.

Q: Can you talk about what Naval assets you have in total, in the Eastern Med and Red Sea? I think there was a USS Mount Whitney yesterday, that went there. How many ships do you have in total in the region right now?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. And so I'm not going to provide a laydown of all of our Forces in the region, Idrees, other than to say as you know, that the USS Gerald Ford Strike Group does remain underway in the eastern Mediterranean. The USS Mesa Verde is in the Mediterranean as well. We've got as I mentioned at the top ,the Eisenhower transiting the Atlantic Ocean right now in route to the eastern Mediterranean. The Carter Hall and the Baton currently remain underway in the Gulf of Aden. I know there's been some questions about that.

And I'm just going to leave it at that for right now.

Yes sir?

Q: Earlier today the State Department issued kind of a worldwide caution alert for Americans abroad. Given what we were talking about some of these drone attacks and attacks on other U.S. facilities, I'm curious is there going to be some sort of blanket warning for U.S. servicemembers and their families or are there any fears that these attacks will be more geared towards U.S. servicemembers even if not just in the Middle East but more broadly worldwide?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So I'm not tracking any specific threats in that regard. Obviously, as I mentioned earlier we do take Force protection seriously no matter where we're serving. And so we'll continue to do that.

Q: So no general warning like State did?

GEN. RYDER: Again, two separate things, right, in terms of State Department and its responsibility to warn U.S. citizens. The U.S. military, by virtue of our mission, wherever we're serving, we're going to take appropriate force protection measures. But I'm not right now aware of any specific threats against U.S. service members and their families, which is what I think you're — you're asking.

Megan, I'm sorry, did you have a question? OK. Let me go to the phone here real quick. Let me go to Gordon Lubold, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Yeah, hey, Pat. Just two questions. On attribution, is there any reason to think that the perpetrators behind these attacks are not what they have been in the past? I know you're still investigating but I'm just wondering if there's any reason to think there'd be anything different? One.

And two, just to clarify, has — was there any American aircraft or other property damaged in any of these attacks? I can't remember if you said it specifically or not.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Gordon. So in terms of the attribution for these attacks, again, that's something that we're continuing to look at.

And I'm — I'm not going to have any information to provide right now in terms of the impacts of those attacks beyond what I've provided.

All right, let me go to Rebecca from BBC.

Q: Hi, thanks for taking the question. I wondered if you can confirm or you had any comments on these reports that the IDF has the green light to — has been given the green light to enter Gaza?

GEN. RYDER: So I — I've obviously seen the — the press reports on that. I'm not sure what that means. As it — as it relates to IDF operations, I would refer you to them to — to talk about their operations. Thank you.

Let me go to Courtney.

Q: The — the American — or the contractor who died of the cardiac event, was he or she an American citizen?

GEN. RYDER: I will get back to you on that.

Q: And then can you say how many drones were shot down? And what kind — and what did the Carney use to shoot down the — the cruise missiles and the drones?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. So I don't have any information to provide on the specifics, in terms of what system the Carney used to take down. So if we're able to make that information available, we will.

And then in terms of the number of drones, I think I kind of laid that out, right?

Q: You said several ... 

GEN. RYDER: Several. Yeah, that's about as specific as I can get right now.

Q: OK. And then just one other. I — I think this is to Idrees' question but I may be wrong. You said that the — you don't see any direct connection to these — this uptick in these recent attacks and — to October 7th, but I wonder if you see any connection to this uptick because it — it really — this is a — a departure from where it's been the past several months — if you see any connection to what's — to what's happened after October 7th? So to the fact that the Israelis are talking about a massive ground invasion, they're already doing these airstrikes, is it tied to that? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so — so, you know, the reality is, Courtney, I — I don't want to allow my imagination to fill in the gaps and — and the supposition — clearly, there are tensions in the region, which is why you see us working so hard right now to make sure that we're keeping lines of communication open with regional leaders, to make sure that we're sharing information, and also for actors in the region to understand our message loud and clear about deterrence, to pretend — prevent potential miscalculation.

Again, as we continue to look at this and analyze the nature of these attacks and attribute these attacks, you know, we'll certainly know more, but that's where we're at right now. In the meantime, again, our focus is going to be continuing to ensure that we are deterring a potential regional — broader regional conflict, as I mentioned, and also continuing to work closely with Israel to ensure they have what they need to defend themselves against future terrorist attacks.


Q: Thank you, General. So when — when you talk about the interception, you said this is a demonstration of the — integrating air and missile defense. Were other nations or — or partners in the region — did they contribute one way or the other to the interception, whether through information, radar? What — what did you mean ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so Fadi, as you know, the United States works with a lot of partners in the region, and broadly speaking, have integrated air defense capabilities. And so in this particular case, the USS Carney, as I highlighted, determining this threat, was able to take that threat out. And that's about as specific as I can get.

Q: So this was in partnership with other ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I — I don't have any other information ... 

Q: ... and then on the — on the hospital, the President, as you know, mentioned that they — the — from the DOD to say Israel wasn't responsible. The IDF used Al Jazeera broadcast to make it — the case that it was a — a — Islamic Jihad. We did a very detailed investigative report about that. Based on our broadcasting, the missile that they claim it was a Jihad missile was actually intercepted seven minutes before the hospital was targeted. Channel 4 UK, they're saying even though there's not a big (inaudible) in ... 

GEN. RYDER: Can you — I'm sorry, Fadi, but if — if you don't mind, just to get to the question?

Q: My — my point is there's lots of questioning of what the President claimed and what the Israelis are saying, noting that many hospital have been targeted, civilian and U.N. facilities by Israel. Are you willing to share the data that you have that the President used ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so let's — let's — let's — couple things here. So first of all, don't conflate other reporting and media reporting with where we're necessarily getting our information from, right? And we — we certainly have our own capabilities, some of which does include open source information, but we have other capabilities. And — and, you know, as you know, the White House put out a statement yesterday on this topic. So when it comes to informing our senior leaders, we are using our own information to make those assessments.

And as — as you've heard us say, right now, based on the information that we have, it is our assessment that Israel was not responsible for that — that explosion. We're continuing to assess that. Initial indications are that this was from an errant rocket that was launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But again, we're going to continue to assess this, and — and that's where we're at on this particular topic right now. But again, just to — to reassure you, we're not necessarily relying on other reports or media reports to come to those conclusions.

Q: ... that wasn't my question. My question is does the department — because under international law, this is a war crime, regardless who did it, right? So is the department willing to share the data that it has ... 

GEN. RYDER: Right now, I'm — I'm sharing with you what we have, and — and that's where we're at. So if we have more to provide, we — we certainly will.

But let me — yes, Lara?

Q: Thank you. Just some clarifications. In Syria and Iraq, can you say a little bit more about how — how the — they took out the drones?

And then on the Carney, could you give more specifics on where the intercept took place? Was it over land or over sea?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So my understanding on the — on the latter — and again, you know, we'll have more details potentially in the future here — but my understand was that was over water.

As far as the — taking out the drones, I'm not going to get into specifics, other than to say defensive systems on those facilities were able to successfully take those drones down.

Q: So not fighter — not fighter jets is ... 

GEN. RYDER: Correct, not fighter jets.

Q: And then just a broader question — just given all of the assets that have been sent to the region for deterrence and the — given these attacks, is deterrence working? And do you see this as an escalation?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so that's a great question. And what I would say is it's important, again, to take a step back. Now, first of all, these attacks, these small scale attacks, are clearly concerning and dangerous, right? And we're going to — as I mentioned, we're going to do everything necessary to ensure that we're protecting our forces. And — and if and when we choose to respond, we'll do so — that — at a time of our choosing.

But if you step back and look again at what our broader strategic aim here, which is deter — deter broader regional conflict, which is why you see us putting additional forces into the theater, which gives us more options to respond, which is also why you see us continuing to communicate very actively with partners in the region, as well as potential actors who might want to try to take advantage of this.

So again, right now, this conflict is contained between Israel and Hamas, and we're going to do everything we can to ensure deterrence in the region so that this does not become a broader regional conflict.

Let me go to Tony.

Q: Yeah, I was going to — if you can square that circle again? Somebody, while listening in on this, is going to think the Middle East is on fire now because of the U.S. helping after October 7th. Broadly, you don't see any connection between these — Yemen, Syria, and Iraq at this point, in terms of Iran directing or some great hand directing the attacks?

GEN. RYDER: Again, right now, I think you have to look at these individually. Again, we're taking them seriously and we're responding appropriately obviously, ensuring that our forces are protected. But again, our focus is on deterring a broader regional conflict, and right now, this conflict is contained between Israel and Hamas. And we'll continue to work very closely with partners in the region and allies to ensure that we can maintain deterrence going forward.

Q: ... question, a follow-up — what advanced aircraft are you talking about? And where are the Iron Dome interceptors from the United States coming from? Are those those from Army stocks being flown to Israel?

GEN. RYDER: In terms of the interceptor ammunition? 

Q: Yeah.

GEN. RYDER: So Tony, we'll — we'll have a variety of means available to us, to include stocks that are already in Israel. And so again, I won't get into specifics on where exactly they're coming from, other than we have a variety of — of means to — to do that.

And then I'm sorry, your first question?

Q: ... you did say though they were being flown from the United States, the interceptors — a follow-on — and — and Iron Dome interceptors. So I'm just asking are those the Army stocks?

GEN. RYDER: In terms of the interceptor ammunition? Yes.

Q: ... same thing — interceptors ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. I mean, again, we have a variety of — of sources, both U.S.-based and then also coming from within — in Israel.

Q: ... are those now being re-deployed to the region?

GEN. RYDER: And then in terms of advanced fighter aircraft, just to — to clarify, in terms of F-16, F-15s, right now, I don't — I'm not tracking any F-35s to — to read out on the — on that front, but again, if that changes, we'll let you know.

OK, thank you. Time for a few more. Yes, sir? You're raising your hand but you're not looking. Yes, sir? No.

Q: Yes, thank you. So I have a couple of questions on Ukraine. So there are reports that the Pentagon plans to send Israel artillery shells that were initially designated for Ukraine. Could you provide any comments on that?

GEN. RYDER: I — I don't have any information on that, other than to say that — that we are confident we can continue to support both Ukraine and Israel, in terms of their defensive needs.

Q: One on ATACMS — so could you specify how many missiles has the U.S. provided for Ukraine? Are there any conditions on their use in the battlefield, your assessment how will they compliment Ukrainian abilities?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So no, I can't get into the specifics, in terms of the number of ATACMS that we've provided, but just like all of the other systems and — and equipment that we've provided to Ukraine, it is with the assurances that this will be used within sovereign Ukraine to take back and defend sovereign Ukrainian territory.

Q: If I could follow up — so the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said that this is not the — the first shipment. There was a commitment to provide more ATACMS for Ukraine in the future. Could you comment on that?

GEN. RYDER: I — yeah, I don't — again, we're going to continue to consult with Ukraine, our allies and partners to ensure they have what they need to defend themselves against Russia.

OK, let me just go to the phone here real quick. Jeff Zeldin, VOA?

Q: Thanks very much for doing this. You've spoken a little bit about the military attacks in — in the region, the drone attacks, the missiles launched by the Houthi, but to what extent is the Pentagon worried about some of the non-military or non-militant group activity, like some of the protests that are looking at U.S. targets, embassies, the — the — you know, the — the bigger concern that maybe there is a coordinated push between kinetic means and — and — and other people pushing buttons to enflame tensions in the region?

And then also, in the past, the Pentagon has been part of the effort to declassify information to push back against narratives like with Russia. Is the Pentagon pushing for any of the — or advocating declassifying information with the bombing at the Al-Ahli hospital since the narrative that Israel did bomb the hospital has enflamed tensions so much?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. So on — on your latter question, again, as I — as I mentioned to Fadi, when and if we have more information to provide on that, we certainly will. I just don't have any additional information at this time.

As it relates to the broader Middle East region and around the world, of course we always take safety and security of our citizens very seriously. We will continue to stay in close consultation with State Department. It is — it is clearly something we're keeping an eye on. We — we recognize that there are tensions right now in the Middle East and throughout the broader region.

Again, I'm not tracking any specific information regarding the — the specific targeting of American citizens or U.S. military forces or their families, but again, this is something that we will take seriously and — and do whatever we need to do to ensure their safety. Thanks very much.


Q: Why did the U.S. shoot down these missiles and drones? And why — what was the — I mean, what — why — why — we — in the northern Red Sea? Who — who were they protecting?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I — what I read out at the top is what I've got on that, Courtney.

Q: Is that — I don't — but I don't think you necessarily addressed it. I mean, it's — it's pretty uncommon. I think, if I remember correctly, there have been cases of U.S. intercepting some things in — like with Bab-el-Mandeb, but I don't ever remember them — you guys intercepting anything in the northern Red Sea. So there must have been a reason, something like — the — the decision was made to protect — was it Israel or?

GEN. RYDER: Well again, as — as this missile was detected and the — the decision was made that it posed a potential threat based on its flight profile, and so the decision was made to take it down, and that's ... 

Q: ... threat to Israel or to ... 

GEN. RYDER: Again, this is something — this is something we're still assessing.

Q: Did Secretary Austin have to — is — is that a Secretary level decision to do that?

GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge.

Q: So it's the ship's commander or?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have the specifics, in terms of who made that authorization, but clearly the — we always maintain the inherent right to self-defense. And so the decision was made to — to take the shot, and they took it.

Q: But you said potentially inside of Israel earlier — just as — as a clarification — potentially targets inside of ... 


GEN. RYDER: Toward Israel.

Q: Toward it?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: Oh, OK.


Q: ... but was it self-defense or was it ... 

GEN. RYDER: Again, what I had at the top there is what I have to provide.

Let me go to Mike.

Q: Yeah, I want to ask about the hospital issue again. A lot of the reporting on these Hamas figures, that it was several hundred victims. Now, AFP is coming out saying it was, like, 30 to 50. I was wondering does the U.S. have any better idea of actually how many casualties there were from it?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Mike. So — so the short answer is not yet. That's something that we're — we're looking at. And — and like you, we've seen numbers all over the map. So that's another aspect that we're looking at right now. Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thanks, General. On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that it was giving the sort of ready to deploy order to around 2,000 troops, but the units had not yet been identified. Have any units out of that — those 2,000 rough troops been identified yet?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So we have identified units but what I will tell you is right now we're just not going to go into specifics unless those — those units are actually tasked to deploy, at which time we will be prepared to talk about what those units are.

Q: Are you able to at least say whether those units are stateside or OCONUS at the moment?

GEN. RYDER: I am not. Thanks.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you. Secretary Austin has stressed the need to focus on therce post-war plan for Gaza war. President Biden mentioned the mistakes found by the U.S. after 9/11, which could be the invasion for Iraq or the strategies there, but I don't know if you agree. Which could’ve improved in Iran's position, and 2,000 forces ready in the Mediterranean. Spokesman Kirby told that no intention of — to put U.S. boots on the ground.

My question is even though the U.S. tries to limit the damage, does the Pentagon assess a big or impact Iran, Syria, or Turkey? And any preparation of U.S. military presence on the ground in a post-war picture scenario in the Middle East again?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not sure I understand what you're — you're asking.

Q: The question is given that you are trying to limit the damage, do you assess a big and large war in the Middle East, including Iran's ... 


GEN. RYDER: Do we assess a big — a large war? 

Q: Yes.

GEN. RYDER: That's exactly what we're trying to prevent, right? I mean, that — that is the — the United States clearly working with our international allies and partners around the world to ensure regional stability and security, to prevent regional — or prevent conflicts from becoming regional.

And again, you know, like — like everyone else, all — all peace and freedom loving countries, we want people to be able to live in peace, security and stability, and we will continue to stay focused on that.

This is a very unfortunate situation right now that — that we're seeing play out, as Israel tries to defend itself from Hamas terrorist attacks. And so we'll continue to stand by the people of Israel as they look to defend themselves and their — their country. 

But certainly when it comes to the broader Middle East, no one wants to see this expand into a broader regional war, and we'll continue to work with our allies and partners to — to prevent that.

Q: ... case?

GEN. RYDER: I — I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I think you and I would both agree that we certainly would not want to see that.

All right, time for a few more. Yes, sir?

Q: Just real quick, I wonder if you can clarify the — the nature of the minor injuries by the coalition personnel sustained in Iraq and ... 

GEN. RYDER: I cannot, other than to say in all cases they returned to duty. Thank you.

Q: Just a quick follow-up — you mentioned this conflict is assessed to be currently contained between Israel and Hamas. The — the attack — attacks on the Asad Air Base was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, just umbrella term for Iran-backed groups in Iraq. 

The head of (inaudible) two weeks ago said that if the Americans intervene in Gaza, the entire, quote, "axis of resistance will intervene and the entire region will catch fire." (Inaudible), head of the (inaudible) Organization in Iraq, said that "we will consider all Americans legitimate targets if the U.S. intervenes in the Gaza conflict." Yemen's Houthi leader said a similar comment, saying that his side was in total coordination with other IRGC-backed groups across the region.

Does the department really see no connection between the Gaza war and what just happened?

GEN. RYDER: Look, again, it's important to separate these attacks from the current situation. We're going to continue to assess attribution on these. Certainly, rhetoric from hate groups is not a new thing in the region. We're of course going to take all of that seriously but we're also not going to overreact. We're going to continue to do what we need to do to deter conflict and ensure regional stability, while at the same time supporting Israel. OK?

All right, last question? 

Q: Thanks, General. So the State Department has released numbers that about 30 — at least 30 American citizens died in the initial Hamas attack in Israel. Do you have any data on whether — you know, how many of those were combatants, like dual citizens fighting with Israel, or how many were just tourists or U.S. civilians over there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I really don't. I don't. 

And actually, I apologize. One more from the phone here. Let me go to James from Messenger.

Q: Hi. Thank you. So if you historically look at any U.S. airstrike that accidentally kills civilians, even if those civilians are co-located with — with enemy combatants, the U.S. typically takes responsibility for — for that incident. Israel's position has been that in airstrikes in Gaza, it is not their fault that innocent civilians have been killed. In fact, it's the fault of Hamas. And — and I'm wondering where the U.S. stands on that position that Israel is taking?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, James. So I'm — I'm not going to speak for Israel. You know — you know, I will say — and — and you've heard Secretary Austin say this — that Israel is a professional military, it's professionally led, but this is something that we have been communicating actively, both publicly and privately, in terms of the importance of ensuring — and — and as I mentioned in my topper, safeguarding civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli, as — as these operations are planned. And so that will continue to be our position. Thank you.

Q: And just real quick, are there any Special Operations Forces in Israel right now?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any specifics to provide for you. If — if your question is do we have Special Operations Forces conducting, you know, boots on the ground operations, again, you've heard us say that we are not going to have, you know, boots on the ground. But I don't have anything. 

We are — we are providing planning and intelligence support to the Israelis, as it pertains to hostage recovery. That's about the extent of — of what I'm able to provide right now.

Hey, before — the — I'm sorry — before we conclude, I just want to highlight one other thing. On Tuesday this week, Ms. Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, was recognized as the 2023 Samuel J. Heyman Federal Employee of the Year award winner. 

And since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Cooper and her team have led the response by the U.S. and a coalition of some-50 countries to secure critical military aid for Ukraine at an unprecedented pace.

Also known as the Oscars of government service, the Sammies are premier awards and recognition program for federal employees. And so on behalf of the Secretary of Defense and the entire DOD, we want to congratulate Ms. Cooper on this significant professional accomplishment.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.