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Senior Military Official and Senior Defense Official Hold a Background Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  Good evening.  So thank you so much for joining us tonight.

I'm Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary.  I'll be facilitating tonight's background briefing on the U.S. military self-defense airstrike in Syria.

As you're aware, Secretary Austin issued a statement on these strikes a short while ago, which is also available on our website.  Tonight's call is on background, which means you may attribute the comments of our briefers to be Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official and not for reporting, but just for your information only.

Our briefers tonight are (Senior Defense Official) and (Senior Military Official).  And again, they will be speaking to you as a Senior Defense Official and Senior Military Official, respectively.  And with that, I'll turn it over to our Senior Defense Official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Good evening, everyone.  Today, the United States conducted a targeted strike against one facility in eastern Syria, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, and related groups.  These actions were taken in response to ongoing threats and attacks directed at U.S. bases in both Syria and Iraq by the IRGC and Iran-aligned militia groups.

While our defensive measures have proven effective in countering unmanned aerial vehicle attacks on our personnel, we remain vigilant and concerned about the potential for escalation or bypassing these defenses.  We have fortified our U.S. bases with additional Patriot batteries and increased defensive counter air patrols to further deter attacks and defend our forces.

The night the president directed the Secretary of Defense to conduct the strike in a necessary and proportionate manner, the target was identified as a weapon storage facility.  This action is aimed at disrupting and degrading the capabilities of groups directly responsible for attacking U.S. forces in the region.  By specifically targeting IRGC-associated facilities, we seek to convey a clear message to Iran that we hold it accountable for the attacks on U.S. forces, and we expect Iran to take measures to direct its proxies to stop.

In light of heightened tension stemming from the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, we have undertaken additional measures to communicate directly with Iran, Iran-aligned groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and our regional partners.  We aim to clarify that our military actions do not signal a change in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and we have no intentions of escalating conflict in the region.  Our commitment to self-defense and the protection of U.S. personnel remains the same.

We look forward to your questions.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Okay.  We'll start off with Lolita Baldor, A.P.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you for doing this.

A couple, sort of, operational questions for the Senior Military Official and one for the Senior Defense Official.

For the Senior Military Official, can you give us a more precise location, what town or whatever, where this was, what it was near, something more specific than, quote-unquote, "eastern Syria"?  And I realize you probably don't have a detailed BDA yet, but can you tell us was this destroyed or were there people there or do you anticipate any casualties?  Can you give us anything on that?

For the Senior Defense Official, we've all seen attacks increase over the last couple of weeks, so clearly, the initial strike didn't appear to have a great deal of deterrent effect.  What is it about this particular location that you think was valuable enough that it will be what served as a deterrent?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hi there.  Good evening.  So let me see if I can tackle all that.

So we used a pair of F-15s this evening to strike a weapons storage facility, as (Senior Military Official) mentioned, associated with the IRGC.  The weapons storage facility we've been watching the location for a bit.  It's in — I'll say it wrong, but Maysalun, Syria.  I clearly said it wrong.

And so, we've been watching it for a bit to ensure that when we struck the target, we would strike it at a time that we would be able to eliminate the use of the facility to the IRGC and do so with a minimal number of casualties.

I'm not going to talk in particular so — as the actual numbers, but I would tell you that we are very certain that this did not involve civilian loss and that the personnel, if they were there, were associated with the IRGC in terms of either, you know, their affiliated groups.

Just to give a more — because I know we'll get the question, we use precision munitions.  I watched the engagement.  I can tell you that we're pretty certain there were some secondary explosions that indicated that the facility was housing weapons that we believe are likely used in many of the strikes that have taken place against our forces here in the region.  And I'll hold there.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  And on your question for the Senior Defense Official, let me start with what our objectives are.  Our objectives are, one, to prevent regional escalation and prevent a widening of the conflict.  And number two, to defend U.S. forces from Iran and Iran-aligned militia group attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

We hold Iran accountable for these attacks not just the militia groups.  So the strikes we took tonight were on a facility known to be used by the IRGC as well as militia groups.  And we're combining this with very clear messaging through multiple channels, and the message is to Iranian senior leaders, "We want you to direct your proxies and militia groups to stop attacking us."

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Our next question will go to Jennifer Griffin, Fox.  Jen, are you out there?  Okay.

Nothing heard, next question will go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.

Q:  Hey, sorry, we got one second.

MS. SINGH:  Sure, yeah.

Q:  Oh, sorry.  Can we assume that there were Iranians at the base?  And secondly, what is response or will there be a response to the shooting down of an MQ-9 by the Houthis?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, Jen — so we don't know the nationalities of the individuals that were on the ground.  As (Senior Defense Official) mentioned, we know that the IRGC uses this location to store weapons, but I can't tell you if there are Iranians on the ground or not.

In terms of your second question, you know, we are certainly concerned about the fact that the Yemenis shut down an MQ-9, and we'll continue to have conversations about that as we go forward.

MS. SINGH:  Okay.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Jen, let me correct that.  It wasn't the Yemenis, it was the Houthis from Yemen.  So please let me correct that.

Q:  Yes, (inaudible).

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Our next question will go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.

Q:  Thank you.

Just a couple point of order.  Any additional attacks on U.S. troops?  Can we clarify where that Reaper was taken down, whether it was over the Red Sea or some other body of water?  And could you spell out or provide the spelling in some other capacity the closest location of the airstrike?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, Dan, let me see if I can go last first.  So I believe it's (M-A-Y-S-U-L-U-N, Maysulun?).  And so I'll leave with that one.

And then the MQ-9 was down over the Red Sea.  And I may have missed your last question.  Were there additional attacks — were there attacks associated with that, was the other question?

Q:  Yes, thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, in terms of the Houthis strike, there were not additional attacks that were part of that.  It was a single engagement of our MQ-9.

Q:  I'm sorry.  To clarify, any additional attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq or Syria, I guess, until last update, Tuesday?


SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So we're tracking a total — just over 40 engagements.  It's almost split exactly between Syria and Iraq in terms of those attacks.  And I'm not sure, you said the last conversation was Saturday? 

I'm trying to think when the last attack was, Dan.  Let me check that while ...

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well, it was yesterday.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't know what —

MS. SINGH:  Hey, Dan, this is Sabrina.  We can get you an updated list after the call.

Okay.  Our next question will go to Idrees with Reuters.

Q:  Yeah, one for the Senior Military Official.  Just to, sorry, clarify any casualties, like, we you aware of any individuals at the facility when you struck them.

And for the Senior Defense Official, just from a policy standpoint, is the aim for there to be no U.S. strikes — or no attacks against U.S. troops as a policy, because I think critics would argue that that is not a realistic policy.  So the question is, will the strikes continue until there are no more attacks against U.S. troops, which is something that probably isn't attainable?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So on the first question, over the course of the day, we had observed individuals at this strike location.  That number goes down significantly as you can imagine overnight, and so we were tracking just a couple max that we don't have any confirmation of just prior to the strike.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And on the second question, our objective is to prevent regional escalation and war.  Thus far, we have not seen a widening of the conflict beyond Israel's operations to defend itself from terrorism in Gaza.  Number two, we have messaged very clearly both with increased force posture, demonstrated willingness to use military force, and clear diplomatic messaging that we want Iran's senior leaders to direct its proxies to stop.

That did not happen after the October 26th strikes.  We just again demonstrated tonight our willingness and readiness to use military force.  And no one should question the readiness of the Department of Defense with additional options to defend our forces and our interests, or President Biden's willingness to direct additional self-defense strikes.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  And I think just to build on that back to the first question in terms of casualty numbers, I think it's important to recognize that at no point have the Iranian militia groups taken a shot at U.S. forces where they had any idea of the numbers of casualties that they may or may not inflict, and in all cases were taken shots at what they believed to be very large numbers of U.S. personnel with the intent of killing them.

So in terms of how we are going at this, it's a much more precise in terms of our ability to manage escalation here.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Our next question will go to Ellee Watson, CBS.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you.

On the F-15s, can you tell us where they came from?  And then on the types of attacks between October 17th and today, has there been any change in terms of what's been used, what's been hit, intent?  And — well, sorry, one more.  On the MQ-9, is there a recovery effort to go and get that?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Hi.  So on the F-15s, as you know, we don't talk about where our aircraft are flying from, so I'll just skip over that one.

In terms of the attacks, it's been really a combination of one-way attack drones and rockets.  That's the predominance of strikes that we've seen against our personnel in both Iraq and Syria.

And on the last piece, as you would imagine, we're always concerned with where one of our aircraft goes down, and that's a major importance to us.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Next question will go to Fadi, Al Jazeera.

Q:  Thank you for doing this.  I have two questions.  So the first one, were the Russians given the heads up or notified through deconfliction channel?

And second question, I mean, you maintain that there's no change in policy towards the U.S. towards Israel as a conflict.  However, it is clear that these attacks started in light of the Israel war in Gaza.  Do you feel the U.S. support to Israel is increasing the threat for U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  The first one, Russian mil, we did use the deconfliction line, Fadi.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And on the second question, Fadi, look, President Biden has been unequivocal and clear that Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorism, and the United States is going to support our partner in doing that.  Our self-defense strikes are separate.  We have been very clear that we're going to support Israel.  The attack on Israel from Hamas on October 7th was abhorrent, and we would never expect any government or defense force to not take action to defend itself.

What we have focused on doing is, one, supporting Israel, and two, containing the conflict to Gaza.  There have been an increase in Iran and Iran-backed attacks against U.S. forces since October 7th, which is why you've seen us use precise, deliberate, and targeted self-defense force to make it clear that we will not tolerate it.  We will respond, and we want Iran's leaders to stop.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Our next question will go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q:  Yeah, you talked about a couple of military folks at that location that you struck.  I guess you would have, as you said, no confirmation of any casualties.  As far as the first strike on October 26th, do you have any BDA from that or any casualty figures?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  We had — Tom, so for the earlier strike, we are not tracking any fatalities at either of those locations.

Q:  Okay.

MS. SINGH:  Okay.

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

Our next question will go to Carla Babb, VOA.

Q:  Hey, thanks.

Are we able to get visual confirmation of the strike today or the strikes that happened last month?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Right now, we're working on that.  It's still dark there, but we're working on that.

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Carla.

Our next question will go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q:  Thank you.

Someone pointed out that the Maysalun that the senior — a military official mentioned is in southwestern Syria, not eastern Syria.  And I'm hoping we can get some clarification on that.

And for the Senior Defense Official, you have said the U.S. has demonstrated that it will respond in a precise and limited way — or excuse me, I'm paraphrasing — in response to these threats.  Is it possible Iran is not impressed by the responses so far?

Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, Jeff, I don't know if Maysalun is like Springfield, but there clearly are a couple.  And the Maysalun we're talking about is in Deir ez-Zor province, so just for clarification.

MS. SINGH:  And on your second question, I wouldn't speculate on the emotions of Iranian leaders.  What they need to understand is this administration's determination to defend our forces and our interests.

And I want to be very clear again, because I think this is an important message for those audiences that will read your reporting tomorrow and the days after.  This isn't a decision to target just the militia groups, it was a decision to target facilities used by the IRGC and degrade the infrastructure that they are using to store weapons and conduct attacks on U.S. forces.  And there should be no question or doubt that President Biden, if he deems it necessary, will direct additional strikes to defend U.S. forces and interests.

Thank you.

We're going to have time for just two more.  Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi.  A well, a couple questions.  Was the site struck, was that one of the largest ones in the area?  And secondly, when you say a weapons storage facility and there were secondary explosions, what types of weapons and munitions do you think were in there?  Were there drones, artillery shells, explosives?  What might have caused those secondary explosions?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, Tony, first of all, it was, you know, I couldn't give you a size on this, but it was essentially a warehouse.  The target looks like a warehouse.

And what we blew up inside were bad things.  It could have been rockets, could have been drones, could have been artillery shells.  Certainly, whatever it was, was what is being used against our forces in the region.

Q:  Okay, thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Thank you.

And our last question will go to Konstantin with Military Times.

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina.

Question probably for the Senior Defense Official.  This is the second strike that you guys have conducted in the region.  You've already placed a number of forces on prepare to deploy orders.  You've deployed some of them.  Is there a plan in the near future to deploy more forces to the region, especially if these attacks don't stop or don't slow down?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for that question.

So I don't have anything to announce tonight.  But again, what I want to make very clear is we have both deployed significant capability to the region in extremely short order and put forces on prepare to deploy order and backed it up twice now with demonstrated willingness and readiness to use military force.  So any state or non-state actor that's questioning U.S. commitment to use force to defend ourselves in interest should think twice.

MS. SINGH:  All right.  Thank you, everyone.  That concludes our background call for tonight.  Have a good evening.