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A Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Hey, well, good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us today for this backgrounder on the situation in the Middle East. I'm Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary. I will be facilitating today's discussion. As a reminder, today's call is on background, which means you may attribute the comments of our briefer to a Senior Defense Official…With that, I will turn it over to our Senior Defense Official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good morning, everyone. Glad to be with you today. Let me just start by reiterating the lines of effort that the Department of Defense is focused on with respect to Israel's response to restoring security following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack inside Israel.

The first is to support Israel and its right to defend itself, and that includes with provision of equipment it needs. The second is to prevent escalation broadening of this conflict, and you've seen us do that both with exceptionally expeditious increases in U.S. posture across the region, as well as putting forces on prepared-to-deploy orders.

And the third is a focus on U.S. force protection and personnel. That includes both taking decisive and self-defense military action to defend U.S. forces, as you saw last Thursday, from Iran and Iran-sponsored militia attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. And it also includes a focus on supporting hostage recovery efforts in Gaza, as well as working with all relevant stakeholders for the safe evacuation of American citizens and others of interest to the United States from Gaza.

Let me stop there, and I welcome your questions. Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much. Our first question will go to Associated Press, Tara Kopp?

Q: And thank you for doing this this morning. A couple of numbers questions. Can give us an update on the number of troops in the region, ships in the region, and then, on the strikes by Iranian-backed militant groups, can you gives us an update on the number of strikes. There was a report this morning that U.S. facilities near Deir al-Zor might have been struck. I was wondering if you could shed some light on that. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question. So on the number of forces and number of ships, we're going to take that and get back to you. And for your second question, from October 17 to October 30, U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 14 separate times in Iraq and nine separate times in Syria, through a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets, for a total of 23 attacks to date. Many of these attacks were successfully disrupted by our military. Most failed to reach their target, thanks to our robust defenses.

Q: Just a follow-up on that, with the Deir al-Zor, does -- do you count every single attempted strike, or is it only if it -- if it's in the vicinity of a base? And can you say anything about this morning's claimed attacks on Deir al-Zor?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're going to look into the reports on the -- on the attack on Deir al-Zor. And on the --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, Tara, I'll jump in on this one. So essentially we're defining attacks as strikes on our facilities. And we'll just leave it at that. Okay, next question will go to Natasha Bertrand, CNN.

Q: Hey, there. So I have a question about Jordan. Jordan says that it has requested Patriot air defense systems from the U.S., because of the regional tensions, obviously. And I'm just wondering if the U.S. is prepared to provide those additional systems?

And then I'm also wondering if you could elaborate a bit on what you said in your opener? You said that the force posture increases also includes a focus on "working with all relevant stakeholders for the safe evacuation of American citizens." Are those plans, kind of, ramping up now for some kind of military-assisted evacuation, particularly from Lebanon? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for those questions.

Okay. So I'm going to refer you to the government of Jordan to talk about anything specific that -- that they are requesting. But let me just say, broadly, our announcement last week included the announcement of several capabilities and associated forces for air defense across the region. And we are in the process of assessing the location and where those air defenses should go, based on requirements and the threat environment.

I was specifically referring to the hundreds of -- of American citizens in Gaza who desire to leave. There has been an intensive State Department-led effort to work with all relevant stakeholders, which include Israel, Egypt, the United Nations and Hamas, who has to allow for safe movement of those civilians through Gaza and out through the Rafah crossing.

With respect to military-assisted departures, I don't have anything to report for you today, other than to say we're the Department of Defense, and we're prepared for every contingency.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Nancy Youssef, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you. Israel ordered the evacuation of 10 hospitals in Gaza. Does the U.S. believe that -- that hospitals in Gaza are legitimate military targets? And if so, where should civilians harmed in the execution of this war, or seeking medical treatment in general, go to be treated? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question.

So, first of all, with respect to civilians in Gaza, the United States has been very clear that -- that civilians inside Gaza deserve unfettered humanitarian aid delivery and access to medical services. It's one of the reasons Ambassador Satterfield has been on the ground intensively working to ensure that that can take place. It means that medical services need to be provided and that medical supplies need to be delivered.

With respect to hospitals, let me say we have consistent, clear and ongoing conversations about the IDF's unilateral obligations to the law of armed conflict. And I've seen the reports that the IDF have put out about Hamas command-and-control bunkers underneath civilian structures such as hospitals. This is a really complex problem set, in an urban environment where militants are using civilian structures to hide weapons and obfuscate other -- other tools of war.

It's an ongoing conversation, but obviously, the Israeli Defense Forces are in the lead. We're making our views clear, and they're doing what they need to do to protect their people and restore security.

Q: Thank you, Senior Defense Official. If you could just clarify, though, when you say it's an ongoing conversation, what is it -- the U.S. position vis-a-vis this decision by Israeli -- Israel specifically to say that hospitals are a target? Can you give me some more fidelity in -- on how the U.S. is looking at this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We have been talking to our Israeli counterparts since the beginning of the conflict about their plans, their objectives and their strategy, and that includes answering tough questions about how they grapple with really complex challenges such as Hamas' use of hospitals to emplace command-and-control infrastructure or other weapons that can be used against Israeli civilians. So when I say it's an ongoing conversation, it's because we have relevant experience. We have an interest in Israel being able to have the capabilities and equipment necessary to restore security. But we also expect Israel, just like any ally or partner, to uphold its obligations to the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Chris Gordon, Air & Space.

Q: Thanks, Pat, and thank you, Senior Defense Official. Were the U.S. military strikes on Thursday designed to minimize casualties, including enemy combatant casualties? And if the majority of attacks were carried out in Iraq, why did the U.S. military strikes occur in Syria? Why not strike Iraq, where most of the attacks have occurred? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question.

Our strikes on Thursday for focused, precision proportionate attacks, and the reason they were in Syria is because it's not about the location; it's about Iran and the IRGC who use infrastructure, militants and proxies on the ground across the Middle East, to include both Iraq and Syria. So even though there have been attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, there have also been attacks against U.S. forces in Syria, and we were clear. That was Thursday night, but we reserve the right to respond in the -- at a time and place of our choosing, and we're going to continue to do so.

Q: Could I just follow up on the casualties point. Were they designed to minimize enemy casualties?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They were proportionate, focused, precision self-defense strikes.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Carla Babb, VOA.

Q: Hey, thank you, Senior Defense Official, for doing this. Real quick, two clarifications. If a command center is underneath a hospital or a school, does that not – and I’m not 100 percent on the law of war - but does that not violate the law of war? And then how many U.S. forces are now on prepare-to-deploy orders? And then I have one follow-up.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I would refer you to our previous statements that we've issued about the number of forces on prepare-to-deploy orders. And what I would say about Hamas is use of civilian structures for command-and-control facilities and to hide weapons, there is an abundance of public reporting about the ways in which Hamas uses civilians as human shields and civilian structures to hide and obfuscate tunnels, as well as weapons.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

Q: And then -- thank you. My follow is with 23 attacks now against U.S. forces, if there had been 23, does that mean that U.S. deterrence is not working in the Middle East right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I would note, first of all, that most of those attacks have been unsuccessful. They're -- U.S. forces remain on our bases in a campaign to support local forces for the Defeat ISIS mission.

Iran's objective for a long time has been to force a withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region. What I would observe is that we're still there. There have been ebbs and flows in the pace and severity of Iran and Iran-sponsored attacks against U.S. forces. You've seen this administration multiple times over the past three years have the president direct the Department of Defense to take precision self-defense strikes. And deterrence includes both demonstrating the preparedness and the willing to take military action, as well as messaging, which is why we have been very clear about what we want, which is for Iran's senior leaders to direct its proxies and militias to stand down and stop these attacks, and we've backed it up with the use of force.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much.

Q: But they haven't stopped. The definition of (inaudible) --

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, Carla, we need to move on to some other questions.

Q: (inaudible) --

GEN. RYDER: Hassan Sayed, Al Jazeera.

Q: Hello, folks. Can you hear me?

GEN. RYDER: We can hear you.

Q: Fantastic. Thank you so much for taking my question.

Our colleague, Al Jazeera correspondent (inaudible) received a warning from Israeli authorities to evacuate her residence before getting bombarded. This warning comes only a few days after the killing of our colleague, Wael al-Dahdouh's family. What can the U.S. do to guarantee the safety of Youmna, her family and other journalists reporting on the ground?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: First of all, I want to express my condolences for your reporter's loss of family. It is really tragic, and we extend our condolences.

Secondly, this is the Israel Defense Forces' operations in Gaza. The U.S. cannot provide guarantees, but what I do want to make clear is that we expect Israel to uphold the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law, and that includes the ability for journalists to be able to report without fear of attack, and we'll continue to make that clear.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. I just wanted to see, have any other U.S. troops or contractors been injured in these attacks in Iraq and Syria? And just to follow up with -- on Carla's question, the facts that the -- the fact that these attacks are continuing, is that an indicator that the airstrikes in Syria failed to deliver the appropriate message? Thank you.


On the -- on your first question, I don't have anything more to report about U.S. casualties, but we have consistently reported out following every attack once we -- once we have confirmed the details whether or not that there have been injuries and casualties, and when those forces have returned to duty.

And on your second question, I refer to what I said earlier. Iran's strategic objective for a very long time, way before October 7th, was to force U.S. forces to withdraw from the region. We have maintained tens of thousands of U.S. forces across the region for decades. We have increased our air defense posture. Most of these attacks have been unsuccessful. But Iran's strategic objective has not changed. What we have demonstrated over several years now is with proportionate, deliberate, precise, presidentially-authorized use of force combined with messaging has delivered messages to the Iranians about U.S. willingness to use force.

Now I'd direct you to Iran about the reason they continue to allow their proxies to attack U.S. forces. And let me be clear: We're going to continue to respond when the president decides that's necessary for U.S. force protection.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to NPR, Tom Bowman.

Q: Yes, getting back to the American citizens in Gaza, you said you're working with all the stakeholders, including Hamas, which apparently is preventing everyone from heading south from the -- from the northern part of Gaza, Gaza City. Do you have any sense of how many of these Americans are in the south near the Rafah Crossing? And also, any sense of the number of aid trucks that have gone through Rafah into Gaza at this point?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We have successfully in the -- in the -- over the weekend seen an increase in the number of trucks with humanitarian aid that are entering through the Rafah Crossing, and Ambassador Satterfield, as the lead for the U.S. government on this, is doing everything he can with the support of the State Department, the National Security Council and the U.S. Agency for International Development to see the number of trucks increase. Hamas is not a good faith...

Q: Yeah, what's the number to date, though? Do you have that? And also, again, the number of American citizens in the south.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm going to refer you to USAID or the State Department for the number of trucks. What I can say that it's a dynamic, fluid situation, and we're focused on increasing it.

For the number of American citizens, again, I'm going to refer you to the State Department.

The most important thing to make clear here is our focus and priority in ensuring that those who would like -- those civilians who would like to leave Gaza are able to do so in a safe and orderly manner.

GEN. RYDER: Let's go to Jared, Al-Monitor.

Q: Hi, ma'am. Thank you for doing this.

I believe it was on Friday, General Eric Smith, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that General Glynn -- Lieutenant General Glynn had returned from Israel. When did Lieutenant General Glynn return? Why did he return? And has the department's advisory mission towards the Israelis, of which it was reported that he was a part, continued in -- in any further fashion? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question.

So Lieutenant General Gr- -- Glynn was one of a few officials with relevant experience who the Department of Defense asked to help Israeli officials think through difficult questions that they need to consider as they conduct their planning. The Israel Defense Forces will, as always, make its own decisions about its military operations. I want to be clear here: U.S. military officials are not directing nor advising operations.

General Glynn's trip was temporary, intended to offer observations informed by extensive military expertise and pose hard questions to the IDF as they think through various scenarios. I think his return date is well reported on social media, Jared, but I can confirm that he's returned to the United States.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.

Q: Hi. I had a couple of weapons questions.

Can you review the bidding on the types of weapons the United States has provided Israel? And roughly, what types have actually come from U.S. inventories versus direct commercial sales from Boeing and other companies? And second, the Iron Dome -- U.S. Iron Dome batteries, have they arrived yet in Israel, or will they be arriving in the near future?


Broadly speaking, the categories of equipment that the IDF has requested and we have worked to provide include, one, air defense, to include Iron Dome; two, artillery ammunition; and three, precision-guided munitions. I do not have a breakdown for you at this moment about what came from U.S. inventory versus through existing contracts such as defense commercial sale. But as have we've discussed before, we are using all available authorities, mechanisms and funding to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself. And the Iron Dome batteries have not arrived yet, but they are in the process of being transferred to Israel.

Q: One quick Iran question, too. There's a lot of Syria and Iraq. What's your level of concern that Persian Gulf attacks may ratchet up, you know, the small boat harassment of oil trafficking through the Strait of Hormuz?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question.

Look, we're concerned, which is why you've heard us continually underscore our focus on preventing regional escalation and a widening of this conflict. We know that Iran cultivates a threat network that touches both the maritime space, the air space and the land space, whether through its cultivation of militias and proxies on the ground, its provision of one-way attack drones, which compromises the air, as well as its -- its very clear use of -- of fast boats and other -- other mechanism to threaten freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce at sea. It's why you've seen the Department of Defense not only talk about our increases in force posture, but all of the ways in which we're working with our allies and partners across the region to ensure that they have what they need to defend themselves, and that we're doing it in a networked way.

This is also not new. A long-time goal of the Department of Defense, which has accelerated in recent years, is that focus on integrated air and missile defense, as well as a regional security construct for the maritime domain. All of that is at play now, and it's -- it is fortunate that we have a platform of years of working together in order to deter and counter Iranian aggression.

Q: Thank you.

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

Q: Thank you. Just three quick follow-ups. So the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, are all three of those ships now in the Red Sea, or have any moved into the Med? There were a bunch of reports over the weekend about that.

On Tony -- to talk to Tony's question, how many shipments has the U.S. now sent into Israel? And I just want to be clear, when you were -- when you were going through the overall categories of what you're sending, there's -- is there anything new or different beyond what we've already heard about in previous backgrounders? And then finally, are the U.S. air defense systems that you guys announced last week, are they all in place now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks for those questions.

On the Bataan, I'm not going to talk here about the specific locations, but you've seen our public statements about where things are going.

On the shipments to Israel, listen, this is a robust -- across the Department of Defense with the State Department effort that has scaled up exceptionally quickly, which underscores President Biden and Secretary Austin's commitment to ensuring Israel has what it needs. There are shipments arriving every single day for Israel. There is nothing new or different beyond the three general categories that I described. And on the air defense, we're continuing to flow air defense into the region.

Q: Can you say just numbers, though, of how many shipments?

I mean, are you -- if it's every day, are we at, like, a dozen, two dozen? How many, like -- and they're all coming in via air, right? Like, how many flights have flown in?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're looking at every possible way to get Israel what it needs as fast as we can get it to them.

GEN. RYDER: Let's go to Meghann Myers, Military Times.

Q: Asked and answered. Thanks, Pat.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Laura Sullivan, Politico?

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Just to follow up on Gordon's question about the Bataan. I'm just wondering -- I know we've seen the reports that the ship is in the Red Sea, and I know you don't want to comment on the ship movements. But if you could speak generally about the ship's mission there and why it's not moving into the Eastern Med?

Does the Navy feel -- or does the DOD feel that a large-scale evacuation from Israel may no longer be needed, or is there some other reason that the -- the ship is needed in CENTCOM? And then I have a follow-up.


I don't have any update for you on the Bataan, but I do want to refer to something I said earlier, which is that we're the Department of Defense, and our job is to be prepared for every contingency necessary. So we're obviously continuously planning and assessing across the U.S. government what could be required.

Q: And then, in a follow-up, I'm just -- just, more broadly, obviously this is an Israeli operation, as you -- you've said, multiple times. What -- and DOD has all these forces in the region. What is, if you could speak broadly, DOD on the lookout for, in terms of support to the IDF, or any potential evacuations?

I mean, what -- what are you looking out for as this operation goes forward?


So you got part of it, which is we're there to support any requests necessary to ensure that U.S. forces, U.S. personnel and U.S. interests are secure across the region. And, number two, this ties back to what we said, I believe, from October 7th, which is our commitment and focus on containing this conflict to Gaza and preventing this from widening into a broader regional conflict.

And part of the messaging of the increases in U.S. force posture is that we did it dynamically, expeditiously. What we have been clear about for years, in terms of how we've worked through our defense strategy, is that the U.S. military is able to project power on a really short timeline in order to respond to crises and contingencies globally.

Adversaries should be aware and allies and partners should be reassured. And that's exactly what we demonstrated in the last two weeks with this increasing force posture.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Time for just a few more. Let's go to Barak Ravid, Axios.

Q: Hi. Thank you for doing this. Two questions that are connected. First, can you confirm that, over the weekend, there was another U.S. air strike on pro-Iranian militias in Bukamal region on the border between Syria and Iraq that was not officially announced by the Department of Defense?

And, second question, which is related, how much are you concerned that the continuation of those attacks by pro-Iranian proxies like the Houthis in Yemen and militias in Syria and Iraq could draw the U.S. deeper into this war?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, Barak. Can you say your second question one more time?

Q: How much are you concerned that the attacks by the pro-Iranian proxies that we've been seeing in the last few weeks could draw the U.S. deeper into this war?


On your first question, there are no additional U.S. strikes to confirm at this time. If we do undertake self-defense strikes, we would publicly report it.

And to -- look, we are concerned about all elements of Iran's threat network increasing their attacks in a way that risks miscalculation or tipping the region into war. This is not only about U.S. force protection for the mission we're doing in Iraq and Syria, which is to support partners and defeat ISIS. Everybody loses in a regional war, which is why we're working through partners, with allies, working the phone lines, increasing posture, to make clear our desire to prevent regional conflict.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Time for just a couple more here. Let's go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q: Thanks. Got a couple questions.

One is on the -- can you clarify the number of Patriot batteries and battalions -- and/or battalions that are -- have been shipped out as part of this influx of U.S. air defense systems? Can you give that number?

And can you say, a separate question, whether U.S. Reapers have been active over Gaza?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks. On the first question, two battalions. We'll not get into numbers today. And I have nothing else to report today on U.S. Reapers.

GEN. RYDER: Okay. Final question, we'll go to Wafaa from Alhurra? Wafaa, are you there? Okay, nothing heard. Thanks very much, everyone, for joining us. That is all the time we have available today. Take care.