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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 here at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.

Regarding the ongoing situation in the Middle East, the department remains squarely focused on supporting Israel's defense needs in the wake of Hamas' terrorist attacks, deterring a broader regional conflict and ensuring force protection for our troops serving in the region. Secretary Austin spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant yesterday as part of their near-daily phone calls and received updates on Israel's operations to restore security. During the discussion, Secretary Austin reiterated the importance of ensuring humanitarian aid can be delivered into Gaza and repeated our calls for Israel to ensure the protection of civilians. A readout of the call has been posted to the DOD website.

In addition to the security assistance for Israel we've announced previously, I can confirm that in addition to the Iron Dome interceptors we're flowing to Israel, we're also planning to provide the two U.S. Iron Dome systems currently in our inventory to Israel to help further bolster their air defense capabilities and protect citizens from rocket attacks. For operations security reasons, I'm not going to discuss shipment timelines or delivery dates, and will defer to Israel to make any announcements regarding future deployment and use of these systems.

As part of our efforts to deter a broader conflict and further bolster U.S. force protection capabilities, I can confirm that since our initial force posture announcement, approximately 900 troops have subsequently deployed or are in the process of deploying to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. These include forces that have been on prepare-to-deploy orders and which are deploying from the continental United States. Deployed and deploying units include a terminal high-altitude area defense battery from Fort Bliss, Texas, Patriot batteries from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Patriot and Avenger batteries from Fort Liberty, North Carolina and associated air defense headquarters elements from Fort Bliss and Fort -- Fort Cavazos, Texas.

While I won't talk specific deployment locations for these forces, I can confirm that they are not going to Israel and that again, they are intended to support regional deterrence efforts and further bolster U.S. force protection capabilities.

Shifting gears, the White House announced today a $150 million security assistance package for Ukraine to support Ukraine's urgent security needs. This marks the 49th provision of equipment from DOD inventories to Ukraine since August, 2021. This crucial security assistance includes air defense capabilities, artillery, ammunition, antitank weapons and other important aid to help Ukraine counter Russia's ongoing aggression and continue its fight for independence and freedom. As you've heard Secretary Austin and other senior leaders say, the United States will continue to stand firmly with Ukraine and we will continue to have their backs.

Finally, the department released its annual report on Suicide in the Military for CY2022 today. This report serves as the official release authority for annual suicide data on servicemembers and their families. The report also highlights current and ongoing department-wide efforts to reduce suicide risk among servicemembers and their families. Although the department is cautiously encouraged by some of the information in this year's annual report, we remain deeply concerned about suicide in the military community. The health, safety and well-being of our military community is essential to the readiness of our total force. Every death by suicide is a tragedy.

As part of broader efforts to ensure we take care of our people, which includes Secretary Austin establishing the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Commission, the department is implementing a campaign with five lines of effort and enabling tasks to augment our suicide prevention and response capabilities. Based on findings from this report, the department will continue its efforts and at effectively meeting the needs of our population at greatest risk of suicide and continue to support military families. The report is available online on the DOD website.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. We'll go to Lita, Associated Press.

Q: Thank you. Two clarifications, if I can, and then a question. One, the THAAD and Patriots that you mentioned are not in addition to the ones you talked about the other day.

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

Q: They are the same ones, correct?

GEN. RYDER: Correct. Correct.

Q: Secondly, the two Iron Domes, has the U.S. been able to determine how legally and they -- those particular systems can be delivered? Because there are caps on some type of weapon systems on the amounts, so...

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Lita.

Q: Has all of that been settled? And then I have a (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so on -- on that question, yes, we're working through that process. We are -- we are confident that we'll be able to provide those systems to Israel. I don't have any details to provide for you today. If and when we're able to, certainly we'll -- we'll get that information out. And then your follow?

Q: But that process is ongoing, right? Or is it done?

GEN. RYDER: We -- we are working through the final details of that process, but we're -- again, we're confident that these -- we are going to be able to provide these systems to Israel.

Q: OK. And -- and then my question: On the attacks against the United States bases and personnel in Syria and Iraq, exactly how many attacks is the Pentagon now assess have been actually done against the bases?

And secondly, a number of groups have taken responsibility for these. What does the U.S. assess as the groups that are responsible for them?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So on your -- on your first question, I would tell you that between October 17 and 26, U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 12 separate times in Iraq, four separate times in Syria, by a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets. Again, we will continue to revise those numbers as new information comes in.

In regards to your second question, I'm not going to have more specific information to provide to you from here, in terms of specific groups that have claimed responsibility, other than to say we know that these groups are affiliated with Iran. Thanks.


Q: Pat, were there two more attacks in the last 24 hours on U.S. bases? We understand that Deir ez-Zor and Erbil were attacked. What's happened?

GEN. RYDER: So Jennifer, what I would tell you is we're continuing to refine information coming in from Central Command. I -- I can tell you that we are aware of an attack today against U.S. forces at Erbil Air Base in Iraq. It was unsuccessful. No casualties, some minor damage to infrastructure. But again, we will make sure that we're able to update that information. 

I -- I'm not tracking a second one at this point in time, but again, as that information comes in ... 

Q: So that -- you assess that these are Iranian-backed groups? Will you hold Iran responsible or are you holding the proxy groups responsible? And what is taking so long to respond?

GEN. RYDER: Look, I'm not going to get into telegraphing whether we are or not going to respond, other than to say we would do so at a time and place of our choosing. I think we've been crystal clear that we maintain the inherent right of defending our troops, and we will take all necessary measures to protect our forces and our interests overseas.

As it relates to these groups, again, we know that these are Iranian-backed militia groups that are supported by Iran, and of course we hold Iran responsible for these groups.

Q: But how are you holding them responsible?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to telegraph any potential actions.

Q: Lastly, you're sending some EOD -- explosive ordinance troops to the Middle East. Will they be helping in Gaza? Are they helping with booby traps in tunnels? Why send EOD personnel?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so to be clear, to my knowledge, we are not sending any EOD personnel at this time. Certainly, we have EOD forces that are potentially tapped for a deployment, but none of those forces would be going to Israel. 

So again, I'm not going to get ahead of units that are on prepared to deploy orders, other than to say, you know, we will make sure we have the capabilities we need in theater to -- to support both force protection and deterrence efforts.


Q: Thanks. On -- on this idea of Iranian-backed groups and what they're doing, is DOD observing actual coordination between Iran and these groups and Hamas? And presently, one of the senior leaders of Hamas is in Moscow. Is DOD perceiving any coordination at this time between Moscow and Hamas or any of these groups?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I think your question was these groups in Iraq and Syria and Hamas, right? So let's -- let's separate these two things. One is the situation in Israel, which is Israel and their fight against Hamas. 

What we're -- what we're seeing here is, in Iraq and Syria, where our forces are there as part of the defeat ISIS mission, these groups, many of which are longstanding in that region, are conducting these attacks against U.S. forces. And so two separate issues that we're -- that we're seeing here. 

That said, we do know Iran of course has a relationship with groups like Hamas, with Hezbollah, and with these militia groups that -- that we see in Iraq and Syria.

Q: Yeah, but does that relationship mean daily tactical communications about possible strikes?

GEN. RYDER: So I'm not going to get into intelligence, but again, I would not necessarily try to connect dots that don't necessarily exist right now. Thanks.


Q: Thank you. I just have a -- a clarification about the attack in Erbil first. You described it as unsuccessful. What is the criteria that the DOD used in evaluating attacks whether successful or unsuccessful?

GEN. RYDER: Whether or not there was, you know, any significant injuries or damage.

Q: So all of these attacks so far have been unsuccessful, based on ... 


Q: OK. Just a clarification ... 


Q: OK. And you might know that yesterday, family members of Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike. This adds to more than 7,000 civilians who've been killed, according to health authorities in Gaza. I know the President yesterday seemed skeptical about these numbers, and other officials in administration are skeptical about these numbers.

However, the White House issued a memo in 2023 about the transfer of conventional weapons, and that links human rights violations to transfers and there's a monitoring process there. Is the DOD trying to monitor how Israel is using weapons provided by the U.S. and the toll on civilian -- innocent civilians in Gaza? If -- if -- if so, can you detail some examples? If not, why not?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Fadi. So first of all, seen those reports and -- and certainly our hearts are with any innocent civilians that have been killed in this conflict, whether they be Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, or -- or any other -- from any other nation. No one wants to see that.

And in terms of our focus, you know, we continue to communicate closely with Israel on what they need to defend their people against terrorist attacks. And as you've heard us say, we are communicating regularly about the importance of abiding by the laws of war, by protecting civilians, and we'll continue to do that.

As it relates to the -- the types of equipment that we provide and the capabilities we provide, we have longstanding agreements in place, and -- and I'll just leave it on that ... 


Q: ... is there any active -- when you say you're pushing the issue with the Israelis, is there any work being done to verify whether Israel is adhering to its obligations or not?

GEN. RYDER: Look, I'm going to defer to Israel to talk about their operations. Again, they are a professional military, we're a professional military. We communicate on a regular basis. And as I mentioned, we've been having those discussions about the importance of abiding by the laws of war and about protecting civilians, and we will continue to do that.


Q: A couple of questions. Firstly, how long will it take for the air defenses that are going to the region to be operational? Are we talking days or weeks? 

And secondly, the French earlier today said that one of their warships heading to the region would support hospitals in Gaza. Has there been any consideration or planning about the U.S. warships that are in the region helping hospitals in Gaza?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Idrees. So in terms of the deployment of the systems, I'm not going to get into the specifics, other than to say many of those systems will be on -- some of them are already online and many of them will be online very soon, but again, for operation security reasons, I'm not going to go into specifics.

As it relates to our carrier strike groups in the region, right now, they are there for a deterrence mission and also, again, to support a wide range of contingencies. So as it -- as it relates to France or other countries, I obviously can't speak to that, but we, again, have the flexibility and adaptability should our mission change. 

Q: One last question, yesterday President Biden said I am sure innocents, and he was referring to Palestinians, have been killed and it's the price of waging a war. Does the secretary agree with that? 

GEN. RYDER: Look, I think it's important, again, to take a step back in how we got here. And, you know, I don't have to tell you, October 7th, vicious terrorist attack by Hamas against Israeli people. And so the United States rushed quickly to assist our partner Israel in terms of what they need to defend their people. As we have consulted with them, we have, again, not only provided assistance but had those discussions about the importance of making sure that innocent civilians are not caught in this conflict, to include the Palestinians. 

The United States is been working very closely with Israeli officials, Egyptian officials, others to figure out how best to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. We fully recognize that there is a humanitarian situation there that needs to be addressed. And everyone wants to see the Palestinian people be able to live in peace and security. 

It's terribly unfortunate that a group like Hamas is using facilities throughout Gaza to shield themselves with -- with civilians. And, again, we're going to continue to communicate with our partners on the importance of civilian safety. But we also recognize Israel's inherent right of self-defense as well. Thank you. 


Q: I wanted to follow up on a statement you made earlier this week and – and get some clarity. You said that General Glynn was traveling in Israel in part to help address civilian casualties and reduce those figures. And then the president said that they -- that the U.S. doesn't trust the Palestinian figures. Does the U.S. military have an estimate of how many Palestinians have been killed since October 7th in Gaza? 

GEN. RYDER: I -- I don't have one in front of me. I -- I don't have those numbers. And -- and the figures that I'm tracking are coming from Hamas. But I don't have any civilian casualty figures independently from the United States, no. 

Q: I guess what I'm having a hard time understanding is, the U.S. was able to give an estimate for how many Palestinians were killed in the hospital attack, why is it able to...


GEN. RYDER: I'm not tracking that either. 

Q: (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: Yes, (inaudible). Yes -- between what? 

Q: (inaudible) hospital attack? They put that out earlier this week...


GEN. RYDER: Between 100 and 300? 

Q: One hundred that came up. 

GEN. RYDER: One hundred and three hundred, OK. 

Q: And I guess what I'm having a hard time understanding is, why is the U.S. able to make an assessment on that attack, but can't provide estimates on how many Palestinians have been killed, especially when the President is saying that those figures can't be trusted? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so at -- at the risk of speculating here, because that's what I'm going to be doing, you and I have both been following conflicts in the Middle East and terrorist attacks for a very long time. And you know that how difficult it is to prove the situation on the ground without having independent observers go there and -- and look at this information. And if you look at incredibly dense place like Gaza, and you look at the situation there, a lot of those reports, that information comes in, it's going to be very difficult to independently verify it on a -- on a case-by-case basis. 

So, in the situation of the -- the hospital, again, a lot of international focus and attention on that. And so, of course, the -- our intelligence community is able to zero in and focus on that and really gather information. But even that took days to get. So, you know, we've all seen a lot of the -- the news alerts that come out after various airstrikes or explosions. In some cases it's coming from various sources. It's hard to confirm. 

And so for me to stand here and say we have a -- accurate accounting of civilian casualties in Gaza, I just don't have the information. That's not to say that eventually that information won't be developed, but that's where we're at right now. 

Q: I -- I appreciate the answer. I guess what I'm trying to understand though is when General Glen and others are trying to advise ways to reduce civilian casualties, how are they making an assessment whether that advice is being taken, whether they need to adjust it, whether it's being used effectively or -- or ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah -- no, I -- I -- I understand, and -- and it's a -- it's -- it's a good point. And just to clarify, General Glen is not there to direct the Israeli military, he's not there to tell them what to do, he is there as a subject matter expert on urban combat, among which the considerations are how do you account for the civilian population in trying to mitigate those casualties? Because again, at the end of the day, this is about saving lives, it's about trying to eliminate a terrorist threat. So yeah. Thank you.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you. I want to pick up on the air defense systems that are being shipped to the region. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. had asked Israel to hold off on the ground offensive until those air defense systems could get to the region. Is there any truth to that report?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I've seen those reports. What I would tell you is I -- I'd refer you to the Israelis to talk about their operations, their timelines. Our focus is really on ensuring that the Israeli Defense Forces have what they need to defend the Israeli people, and again, as I mentioned earlier, to send a clear deterrence message and to ensure we have capabilities in the theater for force protection.

I would highlight that we already do have significant capabilities. Fadi asked earlier about unsuccessful attack. You know, we have defensive systems on -- on these facilities that are able to mitigate some of those attacks.

And so again, that's really what our focus continues to be.

Q: ... and -- and just quickly as well, French President Emmanuel Macron floated the idea of a coalition that's similar to the one that was found -- made to -- to defeat ISIS. Has there been any further movement from the U.S.? I know that they were looking into that with the -- with the (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don't -- I don't -- I -- I don't have anything on that in particular. As you know, we cooperate with many nations on counter-terrorism, but as it relates to that specifically, I don't -- I don't have anything.


Q: Two questions, one Israel, one Ukraine.

You took -- as we're asking some of these Israel questions, you -- you referenced how we got here, the October 7th attack from Hamas. When we ask about Palestinian civilians killed as a result of Israeli strikes, does the U.S. hold Israel responsible for any civilian casualties in Gaza?

GEN. RYDER: Again, Oren, right now, our focus is on helping Israel defend themselves from terrorist attacks and also deterring a wider regional conflict.

Q: And on Ukraine, the -- the package announced, the $150 million, is one of the smallest we've seen I think since the start of the war. As -- as -- as the Pentagon says, we can support both Israel and Ukraine at -- at -- at a critical time. Why such a small package? Are you -- are you running out of money here? Cause that -- that's how it comes across.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well, Oren, you've been following this for a long time and you know that the -- that those capabilities or the size of the packages will fluctuate based on what we see in terms of the -- the needs on the ground. So you -- same thing -- you can expect to see those continuing to ebb and flow in terms of the size.

That said, we have submitted a supplemental request for additional funding for Ukraine and Israel, as well as other national security requirements. And so we'll continue to work closely with Congress to seek that funding so that we can continue to provide support at a level that we think is important. Thank you.


Q: ... Pat. Two questions. 

First of all, can you just tell us the latest overall number of casualties from the attacks in Iraq and Syria, including the attacks today, and whether there were any TBIs reported among them?

And then secondly, altogether, how many troops are either deployed or on prepared to deploy to CENTCOM as a response to ... 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So between October 17 and 18 Eastern Time, 21 U.S. personnel received minor injuries due to drone attacks at Al-Asad Airbase, Iraq, and Al-Tanf Garrison, Syria. And as we've highlighted, all members returned to duty.

At Al-Tanf Garrison -- so during those two days at Al-Tanf Garrison, there were 17 U.S. personnel who sustained -- who sustained minor injuries, 15 of whom were diagnosed with TBI, traumatic brain injury. At Al-Asad Airbase, four personnel were diagnosed with TBI but no other injuries. And again, in all cases, members returned to duty. There have been no injuries or no reported cases of TBIs since the 17th and 18th of October. And again, we'll continue to keep you updated. 

As I mentioned in the statement that I put out last night, as we've seen in the past, there are situations where, several days after an attack, a member may self-report, you know, a ringing in the ears, headaches, and -- and subsequently diagnosed as TBI. So those numbers can fluctuate. But as of 1506 on the 26th of October, that's what I've got.

OK ... 

Q: And then just -- sorry, on the second question, how many troops altogether are either deployed or on prepared to deploy?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so beyond what I just announced, I'm not going to have any specific numbers to provide, in terms of the broader theater blueprint.

As it relates to prepared to deploy orders, those numbers are going to continue to fluctuate, just based on mission requirements, readiness rates, et cetera. So I'm -- I'm just not going to be able to provide a number.

Q: The last number we had heard was 2,000.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so that was -- that was a mark on the wall, again, based on the -- the moment in time, but again, that's going to continue to fluctuate. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you. Recently, Secretary Austin traveled to Angola, and while there, he expressed the U.S. interest in -- in strengthening the -- the cooperation with Angola. So since he returned, has the Secretary briefed President Biden? And can you give us a overview how things are progressing since Secretary's visit to Angola?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So as -- as it relates to the -- the Secretary's conversations with the President, I -- I don't have anything specific to read out. Clearly, Africa and -- and our relationship with Angola continue to remain important. As you know from that trip, we announced a series of upcoming initiatives, in terms of regular contact to look at ways that our two militaries can work together to enhance our security relationship. And so as there are additional developments, we will -- we will post information to make that available.

Q: Can you share a -- can you share a little bit your -- the Secretary and all team experience while in Africa? How was it? Everything was ... 

GEN. RYDER: How the experience in Africa was? It was fantastic. I mean, you know, we had the opportunity to -- to see several important initiatives, from Djibouti to Kenya to Angola. The visit to Angola, if you -- if -- and I'm -- I'm sure you saw the speech, that the Secretary provided some very inspiring remarks about his views on the importance of Africa and the importance of democracies. 

And so yeah, it was a great trip and the Secretary really, really appreciated the opportunity to meet with all of our partners there.

Let me -- I've been remiss, so let me go to the phones here. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg?

Q: Hi, Pat. I have a quick question on inventory. There's a running narrative now in Washington that the United States might not be able to supply Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel all kind of at the same time simultaneously. 

Can you run through a little bit though how much U.S. inventory has actually been sent to Israel? Maybe 155s but the small diameter bombs and JDAMs are all on a Boeing contract and not really out of U.S. inventories, but can you address that a little bit? I mean, is -- does Israel have a -- have a chance to -- does -- does that complicate U.S. inventory issues on top of Ukraine? 

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. So you -- you know, the -- the difference here is that Israel has a -- a very advanced military, a -- a very Western style military already. So the -- the needs writ large are different between what Israel is asking for and what Ukraine is asking for. And so we are confident that we will be able to support both, as you've heard Secretary Austin say in the past. 

And so obviously we continue to work closely with our defense industrial base and with our allies and partners around the world in -- in their efforts with their industrial bases to ramp up production of things like 155, but again, we're confident that we can support both. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Let me go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. First, just a quick clarification. I thought that the Patriot batteries and the THAAD battery were in addition to the troops that were placed on prepared to deploy orders? Are you saying that the 900 troops are -- that the 900 troops that are -- that the -- are -- include troops that have been put on prepared to deploy orders?

And the second thing is if -- the -- the United States has said that it, you know, does not want a wider conflict in the Middle East, yet attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria continue. Is it possible that Iranian-backed groups in Iran are just not getting the message?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. So as -- as I mentioned at the top, some of those forces of the 900 are on the PTDO. I'm not going to get into the specifics of which were and which weren't, but, you know, needless to say we're going to deploy whatever capabilities we need to be overseas to support our force protection and deterrence efforts.

As it relates to these groups and these attacks, again, I'll just emphasize what I said before, that we will always reserve the right to self-defense, that we will take all necessary actions to ensure that our forces are protected and that our interests overseas are protected.

I'm not going to telegraph any response, if and when we decide to respond, other than to say we would do so at a time and place of our choosing. Thank you very much.

Time for a few more. Yes, ma'am?

Q: I wanted to ask about Robert Card, the suspect in the Maine shooting, enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve, has an active military ID, getting access to any military base. Has that been suspended or revoked? And there are also reports he previously threatened to carry out a gun attack in a U.S. Army base. Can you talk about that?

GEN. RYDER: I really can't. I'd have to refer you to the Army, and then of course the Maine authorities I know are -- are addressing this situation. So the -- the Army should be able to provide you with additional information regarding this individual.

Q: And then just to clarify, I know that they asked, just in terms of the injuries but then also the deaths. Is the only death in these attacks the U.S. contractor that had died of cardiac arrest? Is that the only death?

GEN. RYDER: That is correct.

Q: And just beyond that, as we're talking about -- he said now 16 attacks over the last week or so. My question is, is U.S. deterrence working?

GEN. RYDER: Look, again, these attacks are concerning, they're certainly dangerous, and our forces are there to conduct the defeat ISIS mission. So I -- I would say that we are going to take any necessary measures to protect our troops, but again, as far as any actions we might take, I'm not going to telegraph that. We would do something at a time and place of our choosing, should we choose to do so, and I'll just leave it at that.


Q: Asked and answered.

GEN. RYDER: OK. Time for a few more. Tom? And then we'll go back here.

Q: Thanks, Pat. I wanted to follow up on -- on your use of the phrase laws of war. I know on Tuesday, you were asked what specific laws of war, and I don't want to get into that area either, but what I am curious is Israel has signed many protocols from the Geneva Conventions. Are those what you refer to when you say the laws of war, without going into the weeds and what specific ones? I'm just trying to really get a grasp of this because that phrase has been used a lot by you and others. 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, again, Tom, I -- I -- you know, there's plenty of information online in terms of the judicial aspects of laws of war. But as you know, laws of armed conflict -- conflict is a significant aspect in terms of what, you know, we in the Department of Defense abide by. But I'm not going to hold a lecture today on...

Q: I -- I know. I want to be specific what I'm asking. And I'm not trying to get a lecture or...


GEN. RYDER: Proportionality...

Q: Are the ones we're talking about, the ones that Israel has ratified and signed, or the broader laws of...


GEN. RYDER: I'd refer you to Israel to talk about what they've -- yes.

Q: (inaudible) phrased to have -- not to have...


GEN. RYDER: Now what you're asking me to do is give a class on the laws of war and...


GEN. RYDER: ... and I'm going to not waste everybody's time and will move on to other questions. 


GEN. RYDER: Yes, ma'am. 

Q: Just a follow-up on the civilian casualties in Gaza. You mentioned that independent observers are needed to verify those numbers. Which independent observers does the U.S. trust to verify the count? 

GEN. RYDER: Yes, that's beyond the -- the scope of my responsibilities here at -- at the Department of Defense. Again, our focus right now is on supporting Israel, deterring a wider regional conflict, and ensuring that force protection is taken into account across the -- the AOR. Thank you. 

All right. 

Q: Can you take...

GEN. RYDER: I'll give you two more. Jennifer, and then (Fadi ?), and then we'll...

Q: Can I get your response to two recent reports, including one suggesting that there was a meeting in Beirut between Iranian leaders, Hezbollah, and Hamas before the attack, and second, that 500 Hamas fighters trained inside Iran? Do you have any evidence of either of those stories being accurate? 

GEN. RYDER: So as it relates to the meeting and as it relates the training, I've seen press reports on that. I don't have any information to provide on those other than to say, again, we know that Iran and Hamas have a long-standing relationship. We know that Iran has trained, funded, resourced Hamas in the past. 

Going back to what we know about the October 7th attacks, we still have not seen that Iran -- the Iranian government knew in advance that these attacks were going to occur. But, again, that's something that we continue to look at closely. Thank you.

Fadi, last question. 

Q: Thanks for taking this question. I just want to sum up because you've been asked many questions on the same topic and -- and you -- you maintain two things, that the department will support Israel's right to defend itself, as a professional military, at the same time, you are not able to verify the number of civilians killed in the Israeli operations. 

Let me put it this way, is -- is the support to Israel's right to defend itself, is unconditional regardless of the toll it exacts on civilians in Gaza? 

GEN. RYDER: So I -- I understand what you are asking, Fadi and I'm -- I'm not going to turn it into that black and white of an issue. What we are trying to do here is a couple of things. Most importantly, to try to ensure the safety and security of not only the Israeli people but people throughout the broader region, which is why we're working so hard to deter regional conflict. 

No one wants to see innocent Palestinian people in Gaza suffer, right. The -- the United States has made very clear our policy on trying to find a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live together in peace. Unfortunately you have a group like Hamas that has exploited this situation and exploited the Palestinian people. 

And so clearly a complex issue, not something that, you know, we could, of course, stand here and -- and have a long conversation and you would know infinitely more than I the complexities of this. But United States is focused on helping Israel defend itself against terrorism. And we're also focused on ensuring that this conflict is not widened so that more innocent people are killed. 

We will continue to have those important conversations with our Israeli partners about proportionality and civilian safety. But I'm not going to speak for the Israelis, and I'm not going to speak to individual specific strikes because that would be inappropriate. But I can assure you, again, that this is important to us and it will continue to be important. 

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate it.