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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, good afternoon everyone. Just a few things to pass along and then I'll be happy to take your questions. The department of defense continues to remain actively engaged on the situation in the Middle East and is focused on three primary objectives. 

Supporting Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks, deterring a broader conflict in the region and ensuring force protection for our troops. And allow me to just briefly address each of these. 

Since Hamas' cruel terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7th, the United States has rushed security assistance to Israel to enable Israel defense forces to restore security and protect the Israeli people.

And as we've highlighted this includes capabilities requested by Israel to include precision guided munitions, small diameter bombs, artillery ammunition, Iron Dome, interceptors and other critical equipment.

We continue to stay in close contact with our Israeli partners on their defense needs and remain committed to the security of Israel. We also continue to underscore the importance of safeguarding innocent civilians in this conflict, both Palestinian and Israeli and insuring the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need.

Since that Hamas terrorist attack we've also been crystal clear that we do not want to see the situation in Israel widen into a broader regional conflict. And as you've heard President Biden, Secretary Austin and other senior U.S. leaders say, our message to any country or group thinking about trying to take advantage of this situation to widen the conflict is don't.

We've already deployed a significant number of additional U.S. military capabilities into the region to bolster our regional deterrence efforts, strengthen our capabilities there and enhance our ability to respond to a range of contingencies.

In addition to the capabilities that we've already announced, I can also confirm that the New Jersey Air National Guard's 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron arrived within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility today with additional F-16 fighting Falcon Squadron bolstering U.S. posture to deter further aggression in the region.

Again, it is our aim to avoid any region expansion of Israel's conflict with Hamas. But we stand ready and prepare to protect our partners and our interest and will act to do so.

Finally, in terms of force protection, the message is simple. As Secretary Austin has consistently made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our troops and our interest overseas. 

And with that, happy to take your questions and we'll go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor, first.

Q: Hi, thank you. A couple things just for some quick clarifications. Pat, can you give a better sense of what the total number of attacks against U.S. basis in Iraq and Syria has been, was there an additional one today or not? Can you -- can you just kind of sketch us out because there's been a lot of kind of haphazard reporting on the numbers. And how many people were injured in addition to the contractor that we know died from cardiac arrest?

And then I have one other thing.

GEN. RYDER: Thank, Lita. So, in terms of those numbers and statistics, we are working with U.S. Central Command to get you a comprehensive list for the public record. And so we'll endeavor to get that to you all as soon as possible. What I can tell you right now, and again, we're still continuing to insure that this accounts for everything.

But between October 17th and the 24th, U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 10 separate times in Iraq and three separate times in Syria via a mix of one way attack drones and rockets.

So again, those are the initial numbers we're continuing to work to CENTCOM to insure we get you the facts on these. And so again, we'll get that to you as soon as possible. And I'm sorry, you said you had a follow-up.

Q: Yes. Can you say whether any of the prepare to deploy forces have actually been activated at this point and can you give us a better sense of what General -- Lieutenant General Glynn and this team is doing in Israel?

Are they -- did that sort of double the number of advisors there or -- and what -- just give us a little bit more clarity on what they're doing. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Sure. In terms of the prepare to deploy, the forces that have been notified under prepare to deploy orders, to my knowledge those forces have not been tasked to deploy at this point in time.

I will say that separately the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery and the additional Patriot battalions that we announced this weekend, their deployment is under way. I'm not going to be able to go into numbers. I'm not going to be able to go into locations other than to say to an undisclosed location in the Middle East. 
Again, those forces are aimed at enhancing force protection for U.S. forces in the region. What I can tell you is that the THAAD battery is coming from Fort Bliss, Texas. And the Patriot battalions and batteries are coming from across Fort Liberty in North Carolina and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. 

As it relates to General Glynn, we have asked a few officials with relevant experience simply to help Israeli officials think through the kinds of questions that they need to consider as they conduct their planning, including advice on mitigating civilian casualties. As I'm sure you’ve seen reported, these officials, to include General Glynn, have deep experience when it comes to urban combat. And so, again, they are there temporarily with their military expertise to just go through and discuss some of the hard questions that the IDF should consider as they plan various scenarios. 

I will be very clear here, though, the IDF will and always will make its own decisions. They are not there to direct. Again, simply to provide advice. 

Thank you. Let me go back into the room here. Matt?

Q: Thank you, Pat. Can you say what, if any, efforts the U.S. is making to prevent future attacks on U.S. forces by these Iran-backed militias in the region? Have there been any counterstrikes so far, any kind of efforts to thwart future attacks? And if not, why not?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Matt. Well, again, as we announced this weekend, we are posturing additional forces in the region for two reasons. One, again, to bolster our broader regional deterrence efforts. And, two, to send a clear message that we will protect our forces. We will always maintain the inherent right of self-defense. And if there is a response, should we choose to have one, we would do that at a time and place of our choosing. 

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. 


Q: A group of Senators sent a letter to OSD yesterday about a new over-the-counter birth control pill, requesting that Tricare cover it. Has OSD received it? And does OSD plan to respond by the end of the month, as the senator has requested?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Megan. So, I don't have anything to provide on that. I'll take that question. As always, we will respond to Congress appropriately. But I'll take that question for you. Thank you. 


Q: Thank you very much. Asking about China. The Chinese (inaudible) today. So the Pentagon believe that defense leaders engagement between the U.S. and China is more likely to happen because China and the sanctions on Mr. (inaudible) was a major obstacle for the meeting? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thank you for that. I've seen the press reports, as I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to comment on Chinese military personnel policy or moves. I will say that we still believe that it is very important for the senior leaders of our two nations to continue to engage, to include between our two militaries. And so we will continue to seek opportunities to keep those lines of communication open, to prevent potential miscalculation. Thank you very much. 


Q: Has department in preparing for stepped-up preparations for mass evacuations if the conflict spreads beyond where -- where it is right now? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I don't have anything to announce in that regard. As you know, and as you've heard us say in the past, we are a planning organization, that's what we do. And so, again, we're going to do due diligence to ensure that we're planning for a variety of contingencies. But as it relates to the situation in the Middle East and U.S. citizens and our embassies, I'd refer you to State Department.

Q: And are there any discussions through intermediaries between the U.S. and Iran?

GEN. RYDER: So again, I -- on the diplomatic side, I'd refer you to State. You know, certainly from a DOD standpoint, our focus is on communicating with our partners in the region. You've seen us read out several calls, to include one today with the Secretary -- I think it was today, it may have been tomorrow, it all blurs together - or yesterday, rather -- Secretary Austin and his Iraqi counterpart. So again, that continues to be our focus.


Q: Thanks. Following up on Lita's question, do you believe that -- these at least 13 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, do you believe that Iran is responsible for these? Were these all conducted by Iranian-backed proxies?

GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, I think we've been pretty clear on this, and my colleagues at the White House yesterday talked about this as well. We know that the groups conducting these attacks are supported by the IRGC and the Iranian regime.

What we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel across the region in the very near-term coming from Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran. So by virtue of our announcement over the weekend, we are preparing for this escalation, both in terms of defending our forces and responding decisively.

And I just want to emphasize the point that I made earlier, which is that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves and we will never hesitate to take action when needed to protect our forces and our interests overseas.

Q: At this point, can you confirm which Iranian-backed militias are responsible for these attacks?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to go into specifics here from the podium, other than to say that we know that these groups are Iranian proxy groups.

Q: And lastly, can we get a breakdown of the injuries that have occurred based on these attacks? And -- and have there been any TBIs that have occurred as a result of these attacks as well?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, we'll come back to you on that. Thank you.


Q: When were the most recent attacks? You've mentioned 10 in Iraq and three in Syria. When were the most recent of these attacks?

And separately, can you confirm that the Carney used a five inch gun to shoot down some of the drones launched by the Houthis?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so in terms of the Carney, Jeff, I'm just not going to go into specifics on its defensive systems. 

And as far as the attacks go, I can confirm, you know -- and think I talked about this yesterday -- we had the attempted attack at Al-Tanf garrison in Syria. No casualties or damage to infrastructure. I am aware that there are Dataminr alerts out there talking about another potential attack today. So we're looking into that. I just don't have any information to provide.

But again, it is our intent to be able to confirm the details of these attacks since they've begun and make that available to the press and to the public so that -- two reasons. One, you asked the question. And two, we're very sensitive to the fact that there's a lot of misinformation out there right now about whether attacks have occurred or not. And so we'd like to have something in the public record so that we can have a basis for truth as we go forward on this. Thank you.

Q: General?

GEN. RYDER: Chris? And then I'll come back to you, Joe.

Q: Thanks, Pat. A couple of questions. Just to follow up on -- on the attacks, it -- it -- do you have a -- a -- or did any of the attacks in Syria come from inside Iraq (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: Chris, right now, I just don't have that level of detail to provide.

Q: OK. And then second question -- you've highlighted there is a very near-term threat but it will take some time for these additional forces, the carrier to arrive. So what steps are you taking right now in near-term deterrence to prevent -- prevent attacks?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so to be clear, we have significant capabilities in the theater right now, right? I mean, you've got the Ford that's in the Eastern Mediterranean, you've got an expanded number of fighter aircraft throughout the region, in addition to the naval assets that are already in the Central Command AOR. 

So there should be no confusion whether or not, you know, we have the ability to respond to any potential threats right now. The announcement over the weekend, as I highlighted, is intended to enhance those capabilities and sustain those capabilities for as long as we may need in order to continue to both deter and protect our troops.

Q: And one final quick question. Did you have an update on the number of C-17 flights that have gone into Israel ... 

GEN. RYDER: I do not -- I do not. I can tell you that we are conducting regular, near daily missions to provide them with support, but I can take that question and we'll see what we're able to provide on that.

Let me go to Joe and then I need to come back to the phone here.

Q: Thank you. Quick question -- have -- (could ?) you say on the record if the Houthis have mid-range missiles that can reach Israel?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Joe. So -- I'm not really able to get into specific intelligence. I can tell you that it's our assessment that the range of those missiles was likely in excess of 200 kilometers.



Q: 2000?

GEN. RYDER: Two -- yeah.


OK, let me go to the phone here. (Laughter.)

Look, I studied advertising at the University of Florida, OK? Please do not make me do math up here.

All right, let me go to Jared from Al-Monitor.

Q: Hi, sir. Thanks for doing this. There have been some new reports, including in my outlet, that -- you know, citing Israeli officials as saying that essentially while they -- they greatly appreciate the U.S. military's support and coordination, that they feel that in order to maintain deterrence, Israel as a state in the Middle East neighborhood, that they -- they have really no choice but to go ahead with a Gaza campaign, ground incursion. Does the department share that ... (inaudible)

GEN. RYDER: Well, look, I'm not going to speak for Israel. I think it's important to remember how we got here. So first of all, we have had a very longstanding relationship with Israel and have worked together for many years to ensure our mutual security in the region.

As I highlighted earlier, on October 7th, Israel was attacked by Hamas in a brutal and cruel attack. And so since that day, we have worked hard to ensure that we are working closely with Israel to understand what their defense needs are to restore security and protect their people. And so that continues to be our focus.

Let me go to James, The Messenger.

Q: Appreciate the opportunity. The question was answered. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Come back in the room. Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thanks, Pat. How involved was OSD in Google's decision to disable live traffic conditions in Israel and the Gaza Strip at the request of the IDF ahead of the potential ground invasion?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not tracking any involvement from DOD on that. So thank you.

Q: And then separately, is the Defense Department providing Israel with Phoenix Ghost or other loitering munitions? And in that light, is the department supplying new or emerging tech weapons that have not been deployed by U.S. forces in conflicts yet?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I mean, you've heard me talk about the kinds of capabilities that we're providing, so I don't have anything additional to announce at this point in time. As we've said, we continue to remain in close contact with Israel -- for example, Secretary Austin talking on a near daily basis with the Minister of Defense there to understand what their needs are. And so as we have new capabilities that they request that we're able to announce, we certainly will do that. Thank you. 

Q: Two questions. So yesterday there was one report quoting a U.S. official that Israel is delaying its incursion into Gaza to give the U.S. more time to prepare for a wide escalation or conflict in the region. Do you have a comment on -- on that report?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I saw those press reports. Look, I'll be clear. Again, it's Israel's decision as to when they -- and how they conduct their operations. The relationship between the United States and Israel right now is focused on, again, understanding what their defense needs are and making sure that we're able to support them in that regard. But we're also communicating with them, as I highlighted earlier, in terms of providing those kinds of thoughtful questions and things to consider based on our lessons in urban combat, and so -- and then also emphasizing the importance of mitigating civilian casualties in light of the situation in Gaza, and so that continues to be our focus.

Q: And in terms of -- you talked about deterrence. You talked about what was announced in the weekend (inaudible). It could be looked at it as more like defensive assets, but not offensive assets in terms of THAAD and Patriot. But as you highlighted, between October 17 and October 24, there's been 13 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. I don't know what your view is on deterrence and how deterrence works and whether this is a case of failed deterrence. But my question to you is, the U.S. says at this moment -- how big are the chances that this conflict could be widened, based on the reaction from groups that are attacking the U.S.?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple things there. Let me just kind of break it down. So first of all, to your point, our focus there's a couple different things at play here, and I think it's important to separate them into their parts. There's the situation with Israel and Hamas and their efforts to defend themselves against Hamas. And so as I mentioned at the top, we're focused on supporting their defensive needs in order to protect their people. 

When -- as we put these additional assets into the region, it again is meant to deter a wider conflict and to message those who might seek to make it a regional conflict, that that would be a very bad idea, OK? Those capabilities give us options. They give us a wide range of capabilities to respond to a multitude of potential contingencies.

You heard me talk yesterday -- no one wants a broader regional conflict, and so we're going to continue to not only ensure that we have those capabilities in the region, but continue to communicate clearly with our partners and our allies throughout the region directly, and then also via messaging of these capabilities to potential adversaries or bad actors in the region.

Separately, we have forces in Iraq and Syria that are there for one purpose only. Our forces in Iraq are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq to assist them in the campaign to defeat ISIS, ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS. Our forces in Syria are there as part of the campaign to do -- to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.

So as you see these Iranian proxy groups -- and it's not the first time that they've done this -- attempt to destabilize, attempt to divert attention, what I'm saying is that we are going to take appropriate measures to protect our people so that they can stay focused on the mission. 

So right now, this conflict in Israel is contained to Israel - and Israel fighting Hamas, and that will continue to be a focus of ours. But we're also not going to hesitate to protect our people when they're in harm's way doing important national security missions like the Defeat ISIS mission. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. Just to clarify on the missile in -- that was launched from the Houthis, it -- you said it was -- it -- its range was in excess of 2,000 km. Is that correct?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: So you -- you assess that the Houthis do have missiles that can reach Israel?

GEN. RYDER: Correct. And again, I think, to highlight what I said earlier, and I think it was this week -- I don't remember the time (inaudible). But when we talked earlier about this, we still cannot say for certain what those missiles and drones were targeting, but those missiles were within range of that ship, and so the Kearny made the decision to take those missiles down.

Q: And have you seen any other such incidents involving those ships in the (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: No, not at this time.


Q: Is the -- the munitions requirements for Israel and Ukraine are for the most part not in conflict, with the exception of 155 millimeter howitzer rounds. What's the Pentagon, Defense Department doing to ensure that their needs, as well as U.S. military zone and (inaudible) needs to have a supply of the -- of those rounds or -- on hand?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, great question. So a couple of things. As you know, we have been working closely with industry not only in the United States, but working with our allies and partners and their defense industrial base to look at ramping up production of 155. In fact, just last week, the national armaments directors again met as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group process to, again, look at how we can continue to increase that production. We are confident that we can meet both Israel's needs and Ukraine's needs going forward.

I would also highlight, again, as you know, the White House provided a supplemental last week, a request to Congress for additional funding, and so of course, those resources would be very welcome in terms of going forward to ensure that we're able to continue to provide the level of support that we need to both Ukraine and Israel. But we are confident that we have what we need to be able to support them; at the same time, ensure that our military readiness stays at the threshold that it needs to. We will not sacrifice our own military readiness when it comes to defending the nation. Thank you.

Let me go back to the phone here. J.J. of WTOP?

Q: Yeah, thanks, General, for doing this. You said yesterday and you said again today that what we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel across the region in the near term coming from Iranian proxy forces, and ultimately from Iran. When you say that, do you mean Iranian forces making direct attacks on U.S. forces? And are you seeing evidence that they're planning of preparing for that?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, J.J. You know, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals at this point. I think my -- my words speak for themselves in terms of, you know, we are continuing to see the prospect for increased escalation in light of the tensions throughout the region with these groups attempting to exploit that. And so, you know, so far, we've seen these Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and Syria conducting these attacks, and I'll just leave it at that.

All right, let me go to John Ismay, New York Times.

Q:  Yes, hi. I was wondering if you can, tell me a little bit about what the Carney was doing before she took defensive actions and what she's been doing since. 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks John. So, she was sailing. Just kidding. I don't have any specifics to provide in terms of, you know, beyond -- obviously, we have a variety of assets in the region, as you know, that are supporting our both national security interests and our regional security interests. 

In terms of the current disposition of the ship, I don't have anything to provide on that at the moment. 

Let me go to Phil Stewart, "Reuters."

Q: Hey there, thank you. Just a quick clarification. I thought initially you said that the missile had an excess range of 200 and then I think you confirmed that you said it was over 2,000. I just want to make sure which one of those it was. 

And then secondly, last night or yesterday the senior defense official briefed all of us that Iran would be held accountable for these attacks. I'm just wondering if you can explain what that means. Thank you. 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks. So yes, 2,000. And then in terms of accountability, again, look I'm not going to discuss, you know, particular actions we could or might take other than to say, again, we will do everything necessary to protect and defend our forces. If and when we would decide to respond, we will do so at a time and place of our choosing. Thank you. 

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

Q: Thanks, General. So, when the Biden administration the other day say they're confident that Israel will follow the law of war, I'm wondering which law is being referred to here. Is it like the Geneva Convention, the United Nations, ICC? Last week we saw an Israeli strike hit the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church, which killed about 18 including some family members of former U.S. Congressman Justin Amash. So, I'm just wondering if attacks like those are in line with the laws of war that the DOD is applying? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so look, I'll let Israel talk to its operations. In our communications with the Israelis, again, we continue to encourage them to abide by the laws of war. We are both democracies. We are both professional militaries and we understand the importance of doing so. Again, I will also highlight the challenges here with urban warfare. I will highlight, we've made very clear that the Palestinians are not Hamas and that Hamas' are not the Palestinians. And it is very, very unfortunate that we see a terrorist group who embeds themselves within a civilian population in order to protect and hide. But again, in our conversations with the Israelis, as we made very clear, we're continuing to highlight the importance of mitigating civilian casualties and ensuring that, you know, for example, things like safety corridors are thought through. 

Q: And could you -- could you speak a little bit on which laws of war are being applied for, you know, those of us accessing the war? 

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to go into a doctrinal discussion about the laws of war. I think, you know, we all know what we're talking about, law of arm conflict and yes, thank you. 


Q: Thanks, General. From the beginning the U.S. has been supporting Israel with the military needs and (inaudible) with the munitions. And now you have expertise helping the Israeli IDF to conduct their operations, possible incursion in Gaza. So, this is adding to your responsibility against the civilian casualties in the region more. So, what are these experts are going to -- what kind of role are they going to play in terms of minimizing civilian casualties or are they going to help the civilian casualties to be -- to --to decrease in the -- in that possible operation?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so let me just kind of push back on a little bit of what you said there. So, to be clear, these subject matter experts are not there to help the Israelis conduct their operations, they're not in any way actively participating in operations. Again, they're there to advise.

And I think it's also important to put into context that we have had, as you highlighted, a long, many year relationship with the Israelis. We frequently share information with one another and it really works both ways, in terms of lessons learned.

But again, given the expertise in conducting warfare in dense, urban environments, in places like Iraq, sharing those lessons learned, to include the importance of doing everything you can to mitigate civilian casualties, and Secretary Austin in fact spoke about this when he was in Israel, during his press conference, talking about his own experiences in places like Mosul and ensuring that you have safety corridors and things like that, because at the end of the day, what everyone's trying to do here is protect innocent civilian lives, in terms of ensuring that terrorist groups like Hamas cannot continue to do what they have done in this situation. Thank you.

All right. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate your time today.