An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

A Senior Defense Official and a Senior Military Official Hold a Background Briefing on Self-Defense Strikes in Syria

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good evening. Thanks very much for joining us this evening so short notice. I'm Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary. I'll be facilitating tonight's background briefing on U.S. military self-defense airstrikes in Syria.

As you're aware, Secretary Austin issued a statement on these strikes a short while ago, which is available on the DOD website.

Tonight's call is on background, which means you may attribute the comments of our briefers to a "senior defense official" and "senior military official." I appreciate your assistance with that. And not for reporting, but for your information only, our briefers tonight are [omitted], and they will be speaking to you as "a senior defense official" and "a senior military official," respectively.

Please note, I will call on reporters. We'll try to get to as many of your questions as we can in the time we have available. And before we begin, I'd ask that you please keep your phones on mute unless you're asking a question.

With that, I will turn it over to our senior defense official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you, everyone, for taking this late evening call.

At President Biden's direction, U.S. military forces conducted discrete precision strikes against two facilities near Abu Kamal, Syria, this evening. These strikes are a direct response to a series of ongoing attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria that began on October 17th. Regrettably, these attacks resulted in the tragic death of one U.S. citizen contractor and left 21 of our personnel wounded, so I'm grateful to report that they have since received treatment and returned to duty.

President Biden's top priority is the safety of our personnel, and today's actions served as a resolute message. The United States will not tolerate such attacks on our people. Our strikes were carefully targeted to defend and protect U.S. forces from the ongoing threats posed by Iran-backed militia groups. These groups, with ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have been responsible for the attacks on U.S. installations and personnels (sic). But let's be clear: Iran is responsible.

The U.S. strikes targeted facilities used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated militia groups. I want to emphasize that the United States does not seek conflict, nor do we desire further hostilities. However, the Iran-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must cease. We are prepared to take further measures to protect our people, if necessary.

It's crucial to understand that these actions are not related to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The United States firmly upholds its inherent right to self-defense. Our commitment to safeguarding our personnel remains steadfast and we will continue to act decisively when faced with friends -- with threats.

In conclusion, the safety and security of U.S. personnel are nonnegotiable. We call upon those responsible for these attacks to cease their actions immediately. The United seek -- the United States seeks security and stability across the Middle East, but we will not waver in our determination to protect our forces.

Thank you, and we look forward to your questions.

GEN. RYDER: All right, thank you very much.

We'll go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this.

A couple specifics, if you can just give us some more details on the strikes, if you could say what specific types of facilities were hit or the ammunition, et cetera. Can you tell us when exactly this happened, what assets the U.S. used, manned or unmanned aircraft? And more broadly, are you concerned that this type of retaliation might broaden or widen the conflict?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hey, Lita. Hey, Lita, [Senior Military Official]. So first of all, thanks for the question.

I -- and so we -- as -- as [Senior Defense Official] mentioned, we struck two locations tonight. One was a weapon storage area, the other one was an ammunition storage area. Both we know to be aligned with Iranian-aligned militia. We used precision munitions delivered by F-16s, and I already forgot the last part of your question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll take it. So the question was on whether or not our actions will widen the conflict. So again, let's be clear: We do not seek to widen the conflict, nor escalate it. That would be a decision made in Tehran and how it directs its Iran militia groups.

Our desire is for Iran's most senior leaders to direct their proxies and militias to cease these attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. We're there for no reason other than as part of the global coalition to defeat ISIS. In Iraq, we're there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and in order to continue supporting our local partners who are in the lead for the Defeat ISIS mission, we need to be able to operate safely and securely. These Iran-backed attacks on our troops prevent us from fulfilling that mission.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Missy Ryan, Washington Post.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this.

Just -- can you just clarify, when was the last time there was a American strike on Iranian-linked forces in Syria, just so we're not missing anything? And then following up on Lita's question, do you know -- I know you're saying that the intent is not to escalate it, but do you have any indication -- you know, the whole strategy of, you know, the deterrence movements has been to prevent an escalation, especially between the United States and Iran, and -- and just wondering, do you have any indication that it -- this won't have -- lead to that? Because it seems like it is, you know, obviously, you know, a step of -- a new step in this conflict, and -- and I'm just trying to understand your thinking for why it wouldn't escalate things.


SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hi, Missy, [Senior Military Official].

So the answer to the first part of your question -- it was late March. I think we can give you the specific date, but it was late March following -- following an attack, I -- I want to say it was in -- it was Northeast Syria on one of our locations that resulted in the death of -- of a U.S. contractor. So again, late March. We can get you the specific date.

And then I'll pass the back half to [Senior Defense Official].

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So you have -- over the past week, what we have done is steadily, expeditiously and dynamically increased our force posture both at sea, and now, we're flowing in additional air defense. The whole point of deterrence theory is not just to put stuff out there, but to demonstrate a credible preparedness to use military force.

Again, what we did tonight was take self-defense action because our forces in the Middle East who are there to support security and stability are being threatened by Iran and Iran-backed militias. What you saw us demonstrate is readiness to take military action to defend our forces, and we're ready to do it again -- sort of core deterrence theory.

GEN. RYDER: OK, let's go to Jennifer Griffin, Fox News.

Q: (inaudible). Thanks, Pat.

Can you tell us if there were any Iranians present at these facilities? Were there any deaths at the facility? What -- what do you know in terms of any casualties associated with these strikes? And why not strike inside Iraq, since 14 of the attacks were on bases in Iraq?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Jen, it's -- it's [Senior Military Official]. I -- I won't get into the particulars as to why we selected the particular locations we did. I would tell you that as -- as we do in all cases, we spent a -- a -- a really significant amount of time ensuring that we're -- we're striking, number one, locations that don't have any civilian connection whatsoever to dramatically reduce the possibility of harming a civilian.

In terms of deaths, I -- I don't have an assessment right now. Those strikes just took place, as you know, so we'll gather more information and -- and be able to make that available in the future.

Q: But would you say that these are -- how -- would you say they were IRGC facilities? And were there any Iranians present?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: They were -- they were IRGC-affiliated facilities. That's -- that's correct. I don't know if there were -- were Iranians present. Again, the -- the people that occupy these locations are Iranian-aligned militia groups, as well as IRGC personnel.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much. 

Let's go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q: Hey, thanks.

Would you say that the facilities were both destroyed? Do you have imagery showing that they were destroyed? And also, you -- you said earlier that you -- you separate this -- that -- what's going on here with what's going on with Israel and Hamas. You know, Iran might not a -- agree with that. How do you intend to keep these things separate, when escalation by the Iranians is happening due to this (inaudible) conflict? 


SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: In -- in terms of what we -- what we hit, I would tell you we hit precisely what we aimed at, would be the first thing I'd tell you, and I'll leave it at that.

And then to answer the second one, you know, just as [Senior Defense Official] said, this is all about defending the people that we have in Syria and Iraq, and those people are there, as -- as [Senior Defense Official] said, at the invitation of the Iraqis and they are to counter the -- the ISIS -- or continue the D-ISIS movement. It has absolutely nothing to do with what's -- what's going on inside of Israel. 

GEN. RYDER: Go to Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thanks. 

Can you help me understand more why we can't know how the military picked these sites? You say that they're -- they're self-defense, but we don't quite understand the connection between these sites and some of the threats that you've seen over the past week. So can you help us make a connection between these targets and how you see it -- how you make that connection of self-defense?

And secondly, can you tell us how many munitions were dropped, what kinds of munitions so we have a better understanding?

And third, I -- Phil had asked if the sites were destroyed. Can you give us any visibility in terms of the degree of damage done by these strikes?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So on the -- let me start on the last one, because I've already forgot the first two, and I apologize. It's just been a -- a long couple weeks, so I -- I -- I'll come back to that. Now I forgot that, too. Yes, I'm -- I'm sorry. I really am sorry. Would you -- would you mind repeating that? I'm very --

Q: No, not at all. Not at all. Can you help us understand -- I'll start with the last one. Were -- were they fully destroyed? Were they partially destroyed? How -- can you give us a sense of that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: See, you're splitting it up now to make it easier for me.



I -- I won't -- you know, so I won't go into the particulars of the -- the precise facility in terms of what was on the facility. I -- I would just reiterate that we hit exactly what we were aiming at, which -- which goes back to, I think, part of your question before. Why did we select these facilities, and -- and how did they have a connection as it relates to defense? We know that -- that these organizations store munitions at these location, that we can connect to -- to a number of the strikes the types of munitions that are being used. So that -- that's one of the reasons we chose this facility- -- these facilities.

And there was one more question that I -- I didn't get.

Q: Yes, how many munitions have you used and what -- what kind. And -- and just to clarify, you're saying that there were munitions -- there were things stored at these facilities that you can directly tie to one -- one of the 14 -- or excuse me, 16 attacks that we've seen over the past 10 days.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So let me be clear about this: Iran is the center of gravity for what we're seeing. Iran, through the IRGC, arms, funds, trains, equips, supports and directs a variety of militia groups across the region.

So yes, there is a direct tie between the militia groups and all the front organizations that claim responsibility for attacks against U.S. personnel. But the core point here is that Iranian fingerprints are all over this. Iran would seek to hide behind some deniable plausibility, and we are holding them accountable by targeting infrastructure associated with the IRGC.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: And in -- in terms of numbers and munitions, I won't get into the particulars. I'd just tell you that we select the -- the numbers precisely based on what we need to do, so not one more, not one less.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. 

Let's go to Oren Lieberman, CNN.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this.

I just wanted to follow up to -- to Jen Griffin's question. She'd asked about Iranians at the facilities. Were there any members that you're aware of -- of the Iranian-affiliated militias killed in these strikes at the facilities? And then you hit two facilities. Was that -- was that essentially the total strike package, or were any -- were any targets called off at the last second because of the presence of civilians, or anything like that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So on the last part, Oren, we -- we didn't call any strikes off tonight. We were -- we were very clear about what we had -- what we were looking at, what we were looking for, and again, there were no civilians on the -- on the objective areas, the target areas.

As to, again, if there were Iranians there, I -- I just couldn't tell you right now. You know, we'll see how the dust settles. We know that if there were personnel there, that they were -- they were, you know, backed by the Iranians either directly or part of the militias.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Let's go to Barak Ravid, Axios.

Q: Hi. Thank you for -- for doing this.

Did you inform Israel of those strikes ahead of time? And did you have any coordination with the Israelis about this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question.

No, we did not coordinate with the Israelis about this strike, and I'd refer to what I said earlier, and what you also heard from the senior military official. What we did in self-defense of U.S. interests and personnel tonight is completely different from our support to Israel as it seeks to restore security after the brutal October 7th Hamas attack.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

Let's go to Luis Martinez, ABC.

Q: Hi.

In the past, the identification has been made that it has been Kata'ib Hezbollah that has been principally behind these attacks. Is that who you believe was the main target here of these attacks? And if not or if so, what's -- what's the hesitation in not naming them? And how can you not see a link between what the Iranian militias are doing with Iranian support for what is happening between Hamas and Israel? 

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So what we're saying is that the actions we took tonight in defense of our forces are separate from our support to Israel and its operations against Hamas. Iran might see them as linked. That's up to Iran. What we want is for Iran to take very specific action to direct its militias and proxies to stand down. And I'd refer back to what President Biden said about the war in Gaza as well, which is a very clear message to any state or non-state actor seeking to take advantage of that conflict to widen this war or escalate the conflict. Very simply, don't.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

Let's go to John Ismay, New York Times.

Q: Yes, hi, I just wanted to try and clarify the timeline of airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups. I was tracking one in February ‘21, another in June of that year, August ‘22 and then the strike in March that Senior Defense Official mentioned. Does that sound correct to you all?


Q: OK. Are there any we're missing?


GEN. RYDER: Thank you, John.

Q: Thanks.

Q: Pat, can -- it's Luis again. There's – there was no follow-up on the Kata'ib Hezbollah question, please.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All of these groups are militia groups who receive their support, their equipment, their training, their funding and their direction from Iran, period.

GEN. RYDER: All right. Thank you.

Time for a few more. Let's go to Fadi, Al Jazeera?

Q: Thank you, General, thank you for doing this.

I just want to try to understand the significance of these two facilities. How big are they? And how important are they to the -- these groups' ability to attack U.S. -- U.S. forces?

And are the groups targeted -- targeted today the same groups that have attacked the U.S. forces since October 17th?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We think these infrastructure targets are significant and will impact the ability of the IRGC and IRGC-backed militia groups to continue to attack U.S. forces and continue destabilizing the region. The U.S. military would not have selected targets that it did not deem to be meaningful.

What was the next question?

Fadi, what was your other question?

Q: My -- my -- so, yes, my follow-up question is, are these -- the groups that were targeted today through these facilities, are they the same groups that targeted or attacked U.S. forces since October 17th? Thank you again.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There -- there's a variety of groups. They have certain names one day, another name another day. But again, the main message is that it all goes back to Tehran. Tehran and Iranian senior leaders are funding, arming, equipping, training and directing a whole plethora of militia groups across the region. And they have escalated attacks against U.S. forces since October 20 -- October 17th, which is why we took self-defense action tonight.

Q: Thank you. Let's go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: Hi, thanks. Just one more on specifics on the strikes. So it was -- was it just one F-16, or how many -- were there other aircraft besides the F-16? Where did they fly from?

And then I'm sorry, I -- I know that we keep beating this -- this issue, Senior Defense Official, but I just want to be clear that you are saying that you believe Iran has been directing these specific attacks that we've seen over the last eight days or so against facilities in Iraq and Syria, the 16, 17 -- whatever it is. You believe that Iran is directly directing these proxy groups to carry out these attacks. Is that accurate?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I am saying is that Iran is trying to hide its hand and maintain some level of deniability, and we are not allowing that to happen. We hold Iran accountable for the actions of groups that it trains and equips.

Over to Senior Military Official for the questions about the number of aircraft.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, Courtney it was a pair of F-16s, and I'm -- I'm not going to get into the details as to where they flew from.

GEN. RYDER: OK, let's go to Carla Babb, VOA. Only have time for one more.

Q: OK, thanks. Thanks.

So about the casualties, I know you can't give us numbers, but can we at least report that there were casualties in these -- these strikes? And then also, just to follow up on the -- the number of attacks, I know that Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said 16 earlier today. I think -- my count now is 17. Can you clarify that for us?

GEN. RYDER: So I'll -- I'll answer that, Carla. So right now, we -- we're tracking that there were three attacks today, so it's now at 19 attacks. And again, we'll -- we'll continue to update those numbers as new information comes in. But as of right now, it's 19 attacks since 17 October.

Q: Can -- can we get a follow-up on that? Because I -- I was -- I was counting the three today and I -- sorry -- so I was at 17, counting the three today.

GEN. RYDER: Well, I'm not going to -- not going to do math tonight.

Q: OK.

GEN. RYDER: When I briefed earlier today, it was at 16 plus three, so that's 19, but that -- that's where we're at, so we'll keep you updated.

And then I'm sorry, your question for our – 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I think it was casualties.

Q: Sure. So casualties...


Q: Can we report there were casualties?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We -- we know that there were people on -- on the target at -- at various points during the day. Again, we know that they were not civilians. I -- I -- I hesitate to give you a number of anything. It -- we literally -- I mean, we're talking about an hour and a half ago, so we'll let the dust settle, and I'll just leave it at that.

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Final question, we'll go to Wafaa from Alhurra.

Q: Thank you, General. My -- my question was answered. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Great.

Thank you so much, everyone, for joining us this evening. Again, this call was on background, attributed to "a senior defense official" and "a military defense official." We will post a transcript to the DOD website once it's available. 

Thank you. Have a good evening.

Q: Hey, Pat, …. (CROSSTALK) 

Q: For your answer to Carla's question, how should we attribute that? OK.