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Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Hey, so good morning.  Just a few things at the top.

As you saw over the weekend, Secretary Austin issued a statement highlighting some additional steps that the Department is taking to strengthen our posture in the Middle East region.  This includes directing the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Central Command AOR which is going to increase our force posture in the region.  It will strengthen the capabilities that we have there, and importantly, it will enhance our ability to respond to a range of contingencies.  We're also deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD battery, as well as some additional Patriot battalions into the Middle East region to increase force protection for our forces there.

Please note that for operations security reasons, I'm not going to discuss the specifics today about deployment destinations or provide the associated number of troops with those capabilities.

Finally, we've placed an additional number of forces on prepare-to-deploy orders as a prudent measure to allow us to be ready to move forces quickly, should we need to do so.  I do not have an approximate number to provide to you today, but I am aware that that is something you're interested in, so as soon as we're able to give that information out, we'll do so.

And then as Secretary Austin said in his statement, we will continue to assess our force posture requirements in the region and we will consider deploying additional capabilities as necessary.  As he has been from the start, Secretary Austin remains in close touch with President Biden and White House and the national security team on the situation in Israel, as well as regular engagements with his partners in the region, to include near-daily calls with Minister Gallant, his Israeli counterpart.

The focus of the department continues to be on supporting Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks, deterring a broader conflict in the region and then ensuring force protection of our troops.

And with that, we'll go ahead and take your questions.  Lara, you raised your hand first.  Go ahead.

Q:  Awesome.  Wondering if you can talk about any threats you are seeing to forces across the rest of the Middle East.  I know we've talked about Iraq and Syria specifically, and the rocket and drone attacks there.  But have you seen any increased threats to forces in, like, Bahrain or the UAE or places like that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, nothing specific that I would flag at this point.  As you highlight, we have seen this increase in rocket and UAV attacks against our bases and our facilities in Iraq and Syria.  We are -- as you heard Secretary Austin say on Sunday, we are concerned about a broader escalation of these attacks in the days ahead, which is why you've seen us move some additional -- or announce some additional movements of forces into the region.

And so we are going to do everything we need to do to ensure that our forces are protected.  As always, we maintain the inherent right to self-defense and also, again, we are very focused on ensuring that this does not become a broader regional conflict. 


Q:  General Ryder, back to what you said about the THAAD and the battery or batteries, you -- you can't mention the -- the specific locations where they will be deployed, correct?

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.  But I can tell you these are intended for force protection purposes.

Q:  But they're going to be in the CENTCOM area?


Q:  Can we say in some Arab countries or Gulf –

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I can't go into specific locations.

Q:  Another question: about the USS Carney, is she still alone in the region or can -- or is it fair to say there are addition -- additional ships in the northern area of the Red Sea?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I don't have specific ship locations to provide, Joe.  I mean, always, you know, as we're out there at sea, we're going to ensure that those vessels have the appropriate force protection measures needed.  I'm not going to go into, you know, what is or is not escorting the Carney.  So I'll just leave it at that.  Thank you.

Q:  Can you get into -- I know you said you don't have, like, the numbers on the troops prepared from -- prepared to deploy, but can you talk a little bit about the -- the roles that they're playing ? So I mean, logistics, medical?  Like, what are some of the jobs that are –

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Haley.  I don't have that in front of me, so I don't want to speculate.  But again, it -- so we'll come back to you as we're able to provide more details, other than to say these are the kinds of forces that we would need in order to enable not only force protection, but enable potential operations for a wide variety of contingencies.  Thanks.

Q:  Have there been any further attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria since you briefed on Thursday?

GEN. RYDER:  That is a difficult question to answer.

The short answer is yes, and so I will tell you that we are working with Central Command right now to do a more comprehensive overview, so, you know, we'll look to try to provide that as best we can.  I know a couple of you have asked about an attack today.  I can confirm that there was an attempted drone attack at Al-Tanf in Syria.  Two one-way attack drones taken down; no injuries to U.S. forces.

Q:  Did they say how they were taken down?

GEN. RYDER:  What's that?

Q:  How they were taken down?

GEN. RYDER:  Defensive systems.

Q:  So -- so no attacks on (inaudible?) and then (inaudible), which is on the other –

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm just tracking this one.

Q:  One today.

GEN. RYDER:  -- one today.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  No others.  And you know, you raise a good point, right?  We've seen -- and again, I recognize that this is difficult to cover in the sense that we have seen some misinformation go out about alleged -- you know, there was a report that two service members had been killed yesterday, which is inaccurate.  And so again, I recognize you're coming to us in Central Command trying to get factual information, and we'll continue to work to expedite that process.

Q:  Was there one on Friday?

Q:  Thanks, General. 

GEN. RYDER:  I'll come back to you.

Q:  You said at the top that Secretary Austin is in daily, or near-daily calls with General Gallant.  Can you tell us a little bit about the extent to which there's liaison going on in terms of whether an invasion might occur?  Is the U.S. involved in that decision-making?  And what is the input from the Pentagon?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so when it comes to Israeli operations, that is their decision.  I'm not going to get into forecasting potential operational timelines.  That would be, you know, very inappropriate.  Certainly, as Secretary Austin talks with his counterparts -- and he's said this publicly -- you know, part of those conversations are on, what are Israel's defense needs, which we're working urgently to meet?  And then part of that also is talking about the importance of conducting operations in accordance with the law of war, most notably, the protection of civilians.  So in order to, you know, minimize the potential for civilian casualties.  And so you've heard us not only from the Pentagon talk about this, but elsewhere within the U.S. government.  So that's part of the conversation.  You know, just leave it there.

Q:  Was the conversation to -- is there preference from the Pentagon to encourage the Israelis to delay?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get into operational timelines.  I'll defer you to the Israelis to talk about their plans.


Q:  Can you talk about the thinking behind moving the Ike into CENTCOM, instead of having it in the Eastern Med?  Is it providing greater protection for U.S. troops there?  And given that it -- it's still on its sail, is that -- is there a concern that these major ground operations might launch, and you don't have adequate protection?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so on the – on the second point, you know, just to be crystal clear, with the – with the Ford carrier strike group in the region, as well as the aircraft that we already have in the region and other capabilities, we have plenty of capability to respond now to a variety of contingencies.  By moving the Ike to the Central Command AOR, it enhances our presence, and again, just provides another level of capability across the broader Middle East region. 

And the point I made earlier is this is meant to be a deterrence message to those who would want to escalate this conflict into a wider regional conflict, number one.  Number two, as I highlighted, we will do everything and take all necessary measures to protect U.S. forces and our interests overseas.  Again, no one wants to see a widening conflict, and that is our primary goal, but we will also never hesitate to protect our forces.

Q:  And then just to clean up on the drone strikes today, it seems like there was a very early morning strike and then maybe there has been one since then?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'm only tracking the one right now.  That doesn't mean, you know, that there hasn't been, but again, I don't have a real time ticker in my office, other than Dataminr, which, again, you know …


-- like you all do.  So we're all learning at this at the same time, right? 

So process wise, when we see those, we reach out to Central Command to try to get ground truth and work through that, which gets back to Jeff's earlier question – today is Monday, right?  So we spoke on Thursday – let's see here.


GEN, RYDER:  Yeah – yeah.  So – and again, you know, let me get a – a more comprehensive – because I don't want to give you piecemeal information here that's – you know, we're double checking some of these things. 

The point being what you're saying – you know, we do know that there's been this uptick in drone and rocket attacks.  I'm not tracking any – you know, there was the one unfortunate incident and a contractor passing away, which you know we talked about last week, but no casualty – no deaths since then, you know.  Thank goodness.  But again, we're going to continue to do what we need to do to protect our troops.


Q:  What do you believe is the intent of these attacks?  Is it to kill and injure Americans or is it to send a message?

GEN. RYDER:  I'd have to refer you back to these Iranian-backed groups.  You know, it's not the first time we've seen these kinds of attacks, and as you know, in the past, we've decided to respond at a time, a place of our choosing, you know, when and if we want to do that, but in terms of their motivation, I'm not going to speak to that.

Q:  And on Friday – or Thursday, you said you didn't necessarily see a link between the uptick and the October 7th attack and Israel's response.  Do you now believe that there is a link between the two?

GEN. RYDER:  So what I would say, Idrees, is that we know that these groups are groups that are backed by Iran.  We don't necessarily see that Iran has explicitly ordered them to take these kinds of attacks.  That said, by virtue of the fact that they are supported by Iran, we will ultimately hold Iran responsible.

And so again, we're going to continue to do what we need to do to protect and safeguard our forces and take all necessary measures.  As I highlighted, and I want to emphasize this, no one wants to see a wider regional conflict, but we will not hesitate to protect our forces.


Q:  What did you mean by "explicitly?"  You said you haven't seen Iran explicitly direct these attacks.  Is there something less than explicitly?

GEN. RYDER:  We haven't seen a direct order, for example, from the Supreme Leader saying "go out and do this."  Does that make sense?


Q:  The armaments being sent to Israel – PGMs, interceptors, shells – will it be more of the same or anything in addition to that?

GEN. RYDER:  So this'll be a continuing dialogue.  I don't have anything new to announce from what I provided on Thursday, in terms of the 155, small diameter bombs, PGMs, that kind of thing, but again, we'll continue to keep the channels of communication open.  And if we have new and significant things to announce, you know, in coordination with the Israelis, we will seek to do that.


Q:  Thank you, General.  Two questions.  You mentioned that the Secretary has been raising the issue of civilian protection with his Israeli counterpart.  However, according to health authorities in Gaza, we're at more than 5,000 civilians killed, 2,000 children, and only in the last 24 hours, 400 Palestinian civilians lost their lives to Israeli bombing.  Does the Secretary has a sense that his Israeli counterparts are actually listening to his advice?

And then the second one, on the Houthi attack from last week, you mentioned that they were in the direction toward targets inside of Israel.  Is the Pentagon able to – was able to verify the – the range of these weapons and get to a – a better conclusion and understanding what they were aiming at?

 GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Fadi.  So on your second question, right now, again, based on the information I have, we still don't know what specifically these missiles were targeting, but I think – and the Secretary talked about this again on Sunday on his ABC interview – these missiles were launched, they were in the vicinity of our ship, and so the ship took action to protect itself, right?

As I said on Thursday, they were heading north along the Red Sea and could potentially have been heading to Israel, but the bottom line is they were within the range of the ship and the ship took appropriate action and took down and I think the number I provided on Thursday was three.  It actually took down four land attack cruise missiles.

Q:  And the first question?

GEN. RYDER:  In terms of the discussions – so I'm not going to speak for whether or not, you know, the Israelis are taking our advice.  I would tell you that, as I mentioned, the Secretary is having frequent conversations.  You know, I'll leave it at that.

Certainly no one wants to see innocent civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, be killed.  Broadly speaking, you've seen the U.S. government work very hard to try to get aid into Gaza to support the people living there.  And again, we'll continue to encourage our Israeli counterparts to abide by the laws of war.

Q:  … cause he – is the Secretary concerned about the toll so far among Palestinian civilians?

GEN. RYDER:  I think the Secretary's concerned about a couple things.  One, making sure that Israel can defend itself.  I mean, let's remember how we got here in the first place.  You know, it was about two weeks ago that Hamas committed these terrible, cruel attacks against Israeli people.  So he's concerned about that.

He's also concerned about ensuring that this not become a wider regional conflict because no one wins in that situation.

Q:  So the civilian toll is not – among Palestinians is not part of his concern?

GEN. RYDER:  You're putting words in my mouth.

Q:  No, I asked you a question.  Is he concerned about …

GEN. RYDER:  Of course.  No one wants to see innocent civilians die.

Q:  So he's concerned about Palestinian civilians being killed?

GEN. RYDER:  No one wants to see innocent civilians die, no matter who they are.


Q:  -- has anybody calculated how many trucks will be needed to feed, provide water for the half million or so in the south?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I'd have to refer you to the State Department on that, Tom.  I don't have that in front of me.


Q:  First, a clarification question if I might.  On the uptick on – in attacks in Iraq and Syria, I think on Thursday you mentioned the department was still looking into attribution, who may be behind them.  Today, I believe you mentioned that we know these groups are supported by Iran …

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I just answered that question a couple of minutes ago.

Q:  Okay.  And then how confident is the department in the IDF's capability to achieve its objectives in Gaza with a ground incursion within a timeframe or in a manner which doesn't trigger wider instability in the region?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so it's really not my place to assess Israeli capabilities.  I'd refer you to them to talk about their operations.  Again, what we're focused on is making sure that they have the capabilities they need to defend their people.


Q:  I came in a few minutes late, so apologies if someone asked this.  Can you give more details on where the Patriots are going?

GEN. RYDER:  I cannot, at this time.  Yeah, they're going to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, but I can't go into specific –

Q:  But not into Israel, outside of –

GEN. RYDER:  These are systems intended for force protection of our forces in the region, so -- I have time for a few more.  Liz, and then I'll come over here.

Q:  Okay, thanks.  What is the Pentagon doing to best utilize its stockpiles, specifically the (inaudible) bombs?

Those are being sent to both Israel and Ukraine.  Is there a team assigned to best utilize these weapons?

GEN. RYDER:  So, broadly speaking, you know, as we always do, we have people here in the Pentagon, and working with the various combatant commands and, you know, abroad -- across the Department of Defense, to ensure that we can meet the requirements of both Ukraine and Israel, as well as ensuring that we can continue to meet our own readiness requirements, right?

So as it relates to Israel, we will be able to support Israel with their needs.  We will be able to support Ukraine with their needs.

Largely speaking, and, you know, I would say it's important to look at what we're providing, in terms of the situation in Israel is different than the situation in Ukraine and the kinds of capabilities we're providing.

Yes, 155 is an area that both have in common.  But, broadly speaking, that's just one small area.  And we don't assess right now that we're going to have any problems in providing them with both.

Now, that said, you know, there's been discussion about 155.  And as you know, again, broadly speaking, we are ramping up production of that capability, not only with the United States but with allies and partners.  And so, again, going forward, we're confident that we'll ultimately be able to meet those needs.


Q:  A couple follow-ups.  So which specific Iranian-backed proxies?  Sometimes you guys provide specific attribution.  Do you have that –

GEN. RYDER:  I don't.

Q:  Okay, and then a follow-up.  So the announcement that came out from Sec Def on Saturday about the forces going on, prepared to deploy, these are additional forces than the ones that were put on –

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  -- prepared to -- okay.  And so have any of the prepared-to-deploy -- when does that happen, on, like, Tuesday, or earlier in the week?  Have they been given the deployment order?

GEN. RYDER:  Deployment orders?  I'll have to come back to you on that.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  If I have updates to provide, I'll aim to try to do that at the briefing tomorrow.  I will also say that we are looking at the possibility of doing a backgrounder later today.  So we may have more updates.

Q:  I have two that you probably won't be able to answer –


-- the first one going back to some of the earlier questions.  Does the Secretary believe it would be better if the Ike and other U.S. assets were in theater, where you guys are sending them, before the ground invasion begins?

GEN. RYDER:  So, kind of, a hypothetical question, right?  You know operate in the operating environment that you're given.  So, broadly speaking, again, we have significant capabilities already in the region.  By providing these additional capabilities, it only enhances what we have available to respond to a range of contingencies.  So I'd just –

Q:  I'm just trying to ask the question in a way that it's not, "Is the Secretary asking Israel to delay until those assets are in the region," which you are not –

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, I'm not going to get into operational timelines.

Q:  And then, sorry, just quickly, the Carney, as far as, I think, we understood the day of the launches, you guys were saying that the Carney was not the target.  And obviously, we heard what the Secretary said yesterday, so –

GEN. RYDER:  No, what we said is we don't know for sure what the target was.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  Regardless, these missiles are in the vicinity of this ship.  And that ship has the inherent right to protect itself.  And so, as it saw these missiles and these drones, it took them out.

Q:  Because it believed the threat was to the ship, not because it was given an order to shoot anything down going –

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  -- to Israel?

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  So, quick question, you talked about moving all these assets for force protection, I'm just wondering do you have evidence of increased capability from these, as you're saying, Iranian-backed groups or is it just a – an uptick in the frequency that you're concerned about?

GEN. RYDER:  No, I think – I think we are concerned about escalation based on, you know, you've seen several groups throughout the region publicly say, "Hey, you know, if there is a ground incursion, we are going to scale up our attacks."

So broadly speaking, again, you know, we recognize the fact that – or the potential for an increased escalation and we want to do everything we need to do to ensure force protection for our troops while also, at the same time, deterring a broader regional conflict.

Q:  But it's not necessarily we are aware now, for instance, that the Houthis have missiles with much greater range and we need to act accordingly …

GEN. RYDER:  I wouldn't necessarily pin it on one singular act, other than, again, we're all watching increased tensions within the region, and again, we want to try to deter this from becoming a bigger conflict.


Q:  I wanted to follow up on a couple things related to the Carney.  Is it the U.S. assessment that the Houthis have missiles – missiles that have a 2,000 kilometer strike capability, the distance between Yemen and – and – and Israel?

GEN. RYDER:  So the short answer is I don't have anything on that.  Continue to look into it.  I just, at this point in time, don't have anything further to provide on the specific missiles, other than they were land attack cruise missiles.  I don't know the range.  Again, we don't know specifically what they were targeting.

Q:  But I guess I'm just saying broadly, it – it – was it – the – the – is there a way to find out whether the U.S. believes that they are – they have that capability to – to – of any kind of missile to strike in – for that …

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, we'll look into it.  You know , I'll take the question.

Q:  So then when you – when you said last week that it was potentially – I think the quote was "potentially targeting Israel – targets in Israel" --

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  -- was that reference in to the direction that the missiles were going in rather than an understanding of their capability, their distance that they could travel?

GEN. RYDER:  Correct.

Q:  Okay.  And then my limited time, on the destroyer – when things like this happen, one of the first things they do is video these incidents.  So I imagine that there's some video evidence of this.  If so, is that something you're going to release?  And if not, why not, given all the questions around it and helping us better understand what kind of threat the Carney was under?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  Let me look into that.  I'm not sure whether they shot video. Like you say, sometimes they do, but we'll go back and check that out.

Q:  Video of missiles and drones.

GEN. RYDER:  And drones.  Okay.


Q:  On the THAAD and the Patriot, I – I'm not clear if it's each one – both the THAAD and the Patriot will be the – the – the systems, the interceptors, and the personnel?  Is – is that – or – and – and it sounds as if the Patriots are multiple, the THAAD is one.  So --

GEN. RYDER:  So my understanding right now – a THAAD battery with personnel, and then Patriot battalions with their Patriot systems.

Q:  Do you know how many --

GEN. RYDER:  I do not.

Q:  Okay.  So where are they coming from?  If you can't say where they're going – cause it seems like --

GEN. RYDER:  So we're right now, I'm not able to pass that information out.  You know, as you know, often times we're able to, at a certain point, acknowledge where they're deploying from.  And so we'll work toward that.

In terms of where they're deploying to, you know, to an undisclosed location in the Middle East.

Q:  Just to be clear – or – I'm sorry --


Q:  -- every battalion, every one of those several Patriot battalions is traveling with a – with a launcher, is that right?

GEN. RYDER:  Correct – correct.

Q:  Sorry.

Q:  That's okay.

Q:  And then on the Carney – darn it, what was my Carney question? 


GEN. RYDER:  Why are U.S. Navy ships so awesome?


Q:  It was similar to that, it was very similar to that.


I've forgotten it.

GEN. RYDER:  The question I've always wanted.  Okay. 


Q:  So on Carney, can you tell us – tell us more about how they were able to intercept the missiles?

And then also, I know we're mentioning all the force posture adjustments with the Navy but are there any humanitarian assets from the Navy going towards Gaza or Israel --

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I'm not tracking any humanitarian focus right now.  You know, from a DOD standpoint, certainly broadly speaking, you know, we'll continue to support State Department and others as required.

In terms of the – the Carney and – you know, I just don't have any other details to pass along right now.

Q:  Courtney thought of my question.

Q:  -- I remember my question – who gave the order to shoot them down?  I remember we asked – we talked about that in the briefing.  Is that clear?

GEN. RYDER:  Let me come back to you.

Q:  Or – or if it had to go higher level than that --


GEN. RYDER:  … I mean, I – I confirmed – so the suspicion on my part, but instead of just speculating, let me get you the facts.  It did not have to come to the Pentagon, in other words.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  And again, Secretary Austin did talk to that on his interview on Sunday, you know, that our vessels and our personnel have the inherent right to self-defense.  And so I have my suspicions but I want to get you the facts, so.

Q:  The THAAD battery and – I – I want to confirm about the THAAD battery and the Patriot battalion.  You said they are going to be used to protect U.S. troops in the region.  So presumably they're not going to Israel to sort of augment its own air defense?  So it's going to be a location where --


GEN. RYDER:  -- location in the Middle East.

Q:  Where – where U.S. troops are?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, undisclosed location in the Middle East.

Q:  Okay.

GEN. RYDER:  But nice try.

Q:  One location or multiple locations?

Q:  General, can you have the --


GEN. RYDER:  -- locations.


Q:  -- technical verification on the THAAD and the Patriot, would you say these systems are – are usually used against drones or bigger system, like cruise missiles or ballistic missiles?

GEN. RYDER:  Right.  I mean, they – it enhances the capability to respond, as – as you're seeing, you know, in other parts of the world to a wide range of air threats, to include cruise missiles.


GEN. RYDER:  Two more.  Yep?

Q:  In the conversations that the Secretary's had with his Israeli counterpart and other conversations that the Pentagon has had, is the Pentagon satisfied that Israel, when it's carrying out its aerial campaign against Hamas in Gaza, is actually striking predominantly Hamas targets?  Is Israel giving proof, evidence that when it has these strikes where there are civilian casualties, that Hamas fighters or Hamas targets are being destroyed?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so I'm not going to do a BDA of Israeli air activity right now, Jeff.  Again, we know that Israel is in a fight against Hamas.  So I'll refer you to them to talk about their operations and what their target sets are.

Again, in our conversations with them, the – look, there are – you've heard the Secretary talk about this – it's a professional military, professionally led.  In our conversations, we again are highlighting the importance of the law of war and the importance of taking civilians into account in operational planning, based on our own lessons learned, right, in – in places like Iraq and Syria in fighting ISIS.  So I'll just leave it at that.

Last question.  Yes, sir?

Q:  My colleague just asked about who gave the order to shoot down the missiles that came from Yemen.  So is there any change in the rules of engagement, in terms of the U.S. forces in the region, after the tensions started to be higher because of the Gaza thing?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so we don't talk about specific rules of engagement but what I can say is that no matter where our forces are serving, they always have the inherent right of self-defense and to protect our forces.  And so in this case, again, decision made at a lower level.  Again, we'll get more details on that.  And so these missiles were deemed a threat, and so the Carney took action.

All right, thanks very much, everyone.