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Senior Defense Official, Senior Military Official Hold a Background Briefing on Israel

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Good afternoon everyone.  

Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary.  Thank you for joining us for today's backgrounder on the situation in Israel.  

We have with us -- this will be on background, attributed to a Senior Defense Official and a Senior Military Official.

With that I will turn it over to the Senior Defense Official for opening comments.  And then we'll go straight to questions.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Good afternoon everyone.  I appreciate this opportunity to provide an update and answer your questions on our ongoing efforts to support our partner Israel, our partners in the region, in order to maintain stability in the Middle East.  

As we've communicated previously, the U.S. remains committed to ensuring the security and well being of its allies and partners particularly in the face of escalating threats across the region.  

Given recent developments, I'd like to provide some clarity on our defense posture in the region.  As you likely saw from our announcement over the weekend, Secretary Austin directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense's posture in the region.

First, we redirected the movement of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Central Command Area of Responsibility.  In addition to the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group already present in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  

Two, the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD Battery, and additional Patriot Battalions are underway aimed at enhancing Force Protection for U.S. forces in the region.

Three, an additional number of forces have been placed on prepare-to-deploy orders, to increase their readiness, and ensure rapid response if required.  

As Secretary Austin conveyed over the weekend, these measures are critical to bolstering regional deterrence efforts, safeguarding our troops, and assisting in the defense of Israel.  

Let me say a few additional remarks about the posture increases.  Our Carrier Strike Groups give us the ability to launch operations independently anywhere in the world, and immediately upon arrival.  When we send them somewhere, we are deliberately sending an incredibly strong signal to our adversaries but also to our allies and partners about the depth of our support and the ability of the U.S. military to expeditiously, dynamically, respond to contingencies anywhere in the world.  That's what we're demonstrating today in the Middle East.  

And that support is wide ranging, from intelligence collection, to maritime dominance, to long-range strike.  This is an entire strategic, incredibly capable village, that we are sending to show our support not only to the region but also to support Israel and its right to defend itself from the brutal October 7th Hamas terrorist attack.  

Our advice to those who might seek to exploit the situation or amplify the conflict is simple, don't. We retain the right to defend ourselves and will act decisively when required.

Lastly, on the humanitarian front, the loss of innocent lives including U.S. citizens, Israeli civilians, and Palestinian civilians, is truly heartbreaking.  We have worked across the board, from the White House to the State Department, to Defense Department, to prioritize civilian protections and safety, as well as ensure the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid to Gaza over the weekend.  

Civilians under any circumstances should not be deliberately targeted.  I would make a point here: our partner Israel is a law-abiding country who is obligated to adhere to the law of armed conflict.  

Hamas, a terrorist organization did not, does not and continues to deliberately target civilians and hold civilians hostage.  

Thank you for your time.  

I'll now turn it over to my colleague, the Senior Military Official.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  With respect to your time, we can go right into questions.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you both.  

All right.  For our first question, we'll go to Tara Copp, Associated Press.  

Q:  Thank you both for doing this.

Could you give us a -- in we've heard a lot of concern about a wider war but really what are you seeing that's most concerning?  And as far as Iran's involvement can you tell us any more about the missiles that were shot over the Carney, do you think they were Iranian provided? Thank you.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Let me start by reflecting on one of the objectives we've talked about previously which is the Department of Defense was oriented number one – on supporting Israel with, for example – expediting security assistance.  

Number two – containing the conflict to Gaza and deterring state and nonstate actors who are seeking to widen or expand the conflict beyond Gaza.  

And three was the protection of U.S. forces and personnel including a focus on hostage recovery.  

What has happened in the last several days is efforts by Iran and Iran proxy forces to seek to escalate this conflict.  And you've seen this in the series of statements that U.S. Central Command has put out about the targeting of U.S. forces stationed in Iraq and Syria with one-way attack drones and rockets.  

Let me be very clear about U.S. Forces in Iraq and Syria.  They're there for one purpose and one purpose only.  It's to support local partners who are in the lead to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS, for no other purpose.  

So when we see this effort which we will hold Iran accountable for and its proxies to threaten and attack U.S. Forces, what Iran is actually doing is giving space for ISIS to reconstitute and further destabilizing the region.  

GEN. RYDER:  Okay.  For our next question, we'll go to, Idrees Ali, from Reuters.  

Q:  Hey thanks for this.  

Could you -- just on that last point, and explain a bit more the extent to which Iran is facilitating and or directing these attacks by you know countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and potentially elsewhere?  And just very quickly have any additional U.S. military advisors flown into Israel in recent days, and what's the total number of advisors in country right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure Idrees.  I'll start with the first part.  

It's been well-documented and you've heard U.S. officials across the podiums as well as policy leaders for years talk about Iran's funding, equipping, guidance and direction, to partners and proxies across the region.  That includes Lebanese Hezbollah, militia groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Houthis, in Yemen.  So I think it's fair to say when you see this uptick in activity and attacks by many of these groups, there's Iranian fingerprints all over it.  

And on U.S. military advisors, we have offered advice to our Israeli partners on best practices for mitigating civilian harm.  And as well, there are a limited number of military personnel on the ground to support CENTCOM for contingency planning and augmentation to the embassy staff.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you, much.  

All right.  Let's go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.  

Q:  Hi? I have a couple questions on aid to Israel.  Can you talk a little bit about any of their contracts that have been expedited like the JDAM and Small-Diameter Bomb contracts that were expedited?

And also there's been a couple of news stories saying that 155 munitions sent to Israel have actually been diverted from Ukraine.  New York Times had this yesterday.  Can you square that circle a little bit? Is that true? Ukraine 155 munitions have been shipped or shifted to Israel?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Let me clarify what has been provided to Israel through Direct Commercial Sales Contracts.  That includes Small Diameter Bombs, ammunition and JDAM Tail Kits.  As for 155 ammunition, what had happened prior to the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack, is some 155 had been withdrawn from the war reserve stockpile in Israel, to replenish U.S. stocks in Europe.  Much of that has been redirected and provided to the Israel Defense Forces for their use.  

Q:  Thank you.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  

Let's go to Fadi Mansour, Al Jazeera.  

Q:  Thank you for taking my question.  In terms of deterrence as you noted Hezbollah is active.  We've seen the Iraqi militias in both in Syria and Iraq.  Last week we saw the Houthi attack where the Carney had to intervene.  How much do you think the -- this deterrence message is resonating with Iran and forces backed by Iran? Thank you very much.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  What I can say is, no adversary, either state or nonstate actor should question the commitment of the United States to support regional security and stability and stand up for its partner, Israel, in its efforts to defend its people and its territory from Hamas' brutal terrorist attacks.  

So I can't speak to what Hezbollah or any of the militia groups understand but what we're making very clear and matching every day in actions as well as words, is our commitment to deterrence, and our readiness to take action to defend U.S. forces and personnel who are being targeted.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  

Next question, let's go to Courtney Kube, NBC.  

Q:  Thank you.  

Is there any -- with this change in posture in the -- in the Middle East and this enhancement, is there any specific intelligence pointing to the fact that Iran or these proxies are planning  -- chaos in the region that they are able to exploit?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Thanks for your question.  

Unfortunately I can't speak to the intelligence matter or what we are collecting or what we think may happen.

But I can reiterate what (the Senior Defense Official) brought up is we've been under an increase of attacks really for the last three, three days or so at various locations throughout the AOR.  So that is a clear indicator that additional force protection measures are needed.  And that's what the Secretary has ordered.  And the forces that are being re-postured and other measures that are being taken throughout the AOR are based on those demonstrated attacks against our U.S. forces at bases throughout the AOR.  

Q:  I appreciate that Sir but I just have to press a little bit on this because it's -- I'm not asking for specifics on the threat but just if there is something that if you guys are aware of specific -- more specific threats than just what we have seen is the historical norms of how these groups operate, without asking for specifics of what the intelligence says, just if you are aware of specific and new threats against the U.S. military or U.S. personnel in the region?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  And I can tell you generally that we know there is a significant threat of escalation throughout the region and that would include towards U.S. forces.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you very much.  

Next question, we will go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q:  Yes.  Getting back to the missiles fired from Yemen, heading north and taken out by the Carney.  Do we know for a fact that the Houthis have medium range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel? And also as far as U.S. personnel on predeployment orders, the additional personnel, the 2,000 we've been told about are for -- we're told for medical, intel, transportation, the additional ones they're going to be called up, would these be for evacuating U.S. citizens possibly embassies, if you give us a sense of what the role would be?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thanks for those questions.  I'm not going to speak to the specific capabilities we understand or assess the Houthis to have but let's be clear that Iran has been increasing the sophistication and lethality of equipment that it's been providing to the Houthis for years, and CENTCOM has been very public about the multiple times just in this year of interdicting many of those illicit weapons shipments.  

So we've seen a demonstrated pattern of continuing to aid the Houthis.  And the Houthis just presented to us some of their capabilities that pose a threat to the region.  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  On the second part of the question, the additional forces that were placed on prepare-to-deploy orders are largely Command and Control Units that would give the Secretary as well as the Central Command Commander options for various missions you know for force that are already postured there.  So that additional force structure is largely Command and Control.

Q:  All right.  Thanks.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  

Let's go to Dan Lamothe Washington Post.  

Q:  Thanks General.  

You provided a couple of details this morning about an additional attack at the Al-Tanf's Garrison but we've had a number of claims over the weekend.  Can you just kind of level set for us a bit, what have we seen since I guess last Thursday in terms of one-way attack drones, that sort of thing, just throughout the region in terms of number, location? I feel like we may be missing some.  

And secondly there's an Axios report today that suggests General James Glynn on the Marine Corps side went forward to the embassy with some other officials.  Can you provide any details there? Thank you.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So we're going to take back to get a list of each of the attacks on U.S. forces in the region that we've confirmed.  

I will say here the environment of disinformation and misinformation is quite acute right now.  So you've also seen U.S. Central Command come out and directly dispute some of the allegations of these militias and their front groups on various social media fora.  And we are going to work with U.S. Central Command to make sure that we are reporting transparently and expeditiously exactly what has taken place and what hasn't so that the public can have confidence in what we're sharing.

And to your second question, we have an entire generation of U.S. military senior leaders who have experience in counterterrorism and complex operations, especially in an urban environment like Gaza.  And we have consistently made our experts available to provide their best practices and lessons learned to our Israeli counterparts.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you very much.  

All right.  Let's go to Joseph Haboush, Al-Arabiya.  

Q:  Hi? Can you hear me?

GEN. RYDER:  How are you?

Q:  Awesome.  Just wanted to -- two quick ones.  

Could you guys talk about where the THAAD and the Patriot Battalions are being deployed, to -- which specific countries in the region?

And secondly I know you've been asked a bit about this but last week you know DOD said they couldn't attribute some of these attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria to any particular side although they had some like you mentioned Israeli -- sorry Iranian fingerprints.  

Apart from the Houthi missile and drone attacks that the U.S. military foiled last week, is there any -- do you guys have any attribution now for who's behind these attacks in Syria and Iraq?

Yesterday Secretary Austin said you know the U.S. expects a prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops throughout the region.  Secretary Blinken said there's a likelihood of escalation of violence by Iranian proxies.  So any more detail that you can share on who's -- who's -- who you guys believe is behind these attacks? Thank you.  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  On the deployment of the additional THAAD Patriot Batteries.  I can't speak to the exact locations for those but they will be in the CENTCOM AOR.  So they'll be -- they'll be throughout the theater.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  On the second question, listen we've seen rocket and UAV attacks against bases housing U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria.  And what you've heard from the President, from Secretary Blinken, from Secretary Austin, and many of the spokespeople across the U.S. government is our concern about the escalation of these attacks in the days ahead.

We see a prospect for much more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel in the near term.  And let's be clear about it, the road leads back to Iran.  Iran funds, arms, equips and trains militias and proxy forces, all across the region that have consistently undermined the stability, cost in civilian life, and at a cost the entire region of security and stability.  

And what you've seen from the posture announcements and all of our senior officials, is that we are preparing for this escalation both in terms of defending our forces and being prepared to respond decisively.  

Let me again reiterate what you've heard our most senior leaders in this government say.  We always reserve the right to defend ourselves and will never hesitate to take action when needed, to protect our forces and our interests overseas.  Any response will come at a time and manner of our choosing.  

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you very much.  

Let's go to Howard Altman.  

Q:  Thanks.  I have a couple of questions.  

One, as you're having attacks in in Iraq, are you talking to Iraqi officials about increasing cooperation or increasing force protection help from them?

And then in Lebanon and Syria, are you seeing an increase in foreign fighters in -- along the border with Israel be it Quds Force or other fighters, so you can talk about that? Thanks.  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes.  With regard to force protection in Iraq, we have a very cooperative relationship with the Iraqi government and they're fully committed to supporting us in force protection.  And are -- you know they're -- they're aware and cooperating with additional measures as we've seen these attacks over the last few days.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I would refer you to the statements that came out of the Defense Department and the State Department today.  Both Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken made calls to Prime Minister Sudani.  

Let me reiterate something I said earlier, U.S. Forces remain in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to support the Iraqi Security Forces who are in the lead, to achieve the enduring defeat of Daesh.  Part of that is an obligation by the Iraqi government to ensure that U.S. and Coalition Forces can operate safely in order to achieve their mission.  This is something that U.S. officials have always and will always have on the table in their consultations with Iraqi leaders.  

I've seen the reports you're referring to about flows of foreign fighters across the region.  At this point I have nothing to report or confirm.  

GEN. RYDER:  We have time for just a few more.  

Lara Seligman, Politico.?

Q:  Thanks so much for doing this.  A couple follow ups.  Is there concern about in addition to the attacks on troops in Iraq and Syria, attacks on commercial ships or U.S. assets in the Persian Gulf by Iranian proxies? I know we've seen that in the past.  

And then also I'm just wondering if you can say anything about whether DOD has advised or asked Israel to delay the ground attack -- ground invasion of Gaza until we get these additional forces in place to protect our troops?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  On the first one, the maritime security environment throughout the region remains a priority for the Commander of Central Command.  We haven't backed off of that mission from you know late summer where we did have growing concern over potential Iranian action.  And actually you know saw some of this throughout the summer and a know that our presence you know facilitate or prevented Iranian activity against commercial traffic.

So no, that concern has not gone away.  I would not characterize it as any more significant.  I would say that it still remains and we still remain postured to respond to it.  

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And on your second question, Lara, I'm not going to comment on the private discussions by U.S. senior leaders with their Israeli counterparts but I will share what we are talking about every day.  

Number one is, we're checking in with our friends in Israel, and ensuring that they have the appropriate security equipment to defend themselves.  

Number two, we're consulting with them on best practices and lessons learned for mitigating civilian harm during their operations.  

And three, we are consulting with them about how to integrate hostage recovery activities into their operations.  And of course there's an ongoing dialogue about the need to accelerate humanitarian aid deliveries to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  

GEN. RYDER:  Okay.  Let's go to James from The Messenger.  

Thank you for taking my question.  

I wanted to go back to the 155 shells.  To clarify you said that before the October 7th attack you had taken out 155 shells to replenish U.S. stocks in Europe.  But we took -- much of that went to Israel.  So one part is that, does that mean to suggest that U.S. stocks in Europe are diminished?

And then the second part of that question is, is there a reason why Israel would be prioritized with those 155 shells versus Ukraine, given that the Defense Department and the White House for months have said that Ukraine desperately needs 155 shells? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So I'm not going to talk about U.S. readiness levels.  But what we are doing is assessing U.S. stocks globally and what can be made readily available to the needs of Israel as well as Ukraine.  So what I said is accurate, that we withdrew 155 from the stockpile in Israel for our forces in EUCOM and now we are sending that back to Israel for their use.  

Also the United States can walk and chew gum at the same time.  So we're going to continue to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend its territory.  And at the same time we're ensuring that Israel has what it needs.  Two very different operational environments with different levels of need and consultation.  And we're continuing to prioritize both.  

GEN. RYDER:  Final question.  

We'll go to Chris Gordon, Air Force Magazine.  

Q:  Thanks Pat.  

A question addressed to both officials, if I may.  

Carrier Strike Groups can deliver lots of capabilities but it's going to take a little while for them to get to CENTCOM.  And there are a number of forces prepared to deploy but they obviously aren't physically there yet or even ordered there yet.

So my question is, as we saw again today, and you highlighted there is a current right now threat to U.S. forces.  So is the DOD looking at additional air assets, including bombers that the U.S. military sees a concerning threat you need to address before the Eisenhower gets to CENTCOM?

Is there a concern that the Ike or any other additional Forces will arrive too late if there's such a significant threat which you've outlined for us on this call? Thank you.  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes.  This has been previously released information.  But the Secretary did order additional land-based fighter aircraft as well as A-10s to the region which I don't want to get into the specific numbers or locations but there's been a relatively significant increase in the number of land-based fighter and A-10 aircraft in the CENTCOM AOR so that that is that has already occurred.  And as we know the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is in route.  I can't get to the specifics on her arrival but she is in route to the CENTCOM AOR.  

GEN. RYDER:  Great.  Thank you very much.  That is all the time we have today.  Appreciate our Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official for taking some time.  Again this is on background. A transcript will be posted to the DOD website later today.  Thanks everyone.