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Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an Off-Camera, On-the-Record Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, good morning, everybody.  Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and some downtime.  So just a few things at the top just to kick off.

As you saw last week, Secretary Austin traveled to Ukraine, where he was able to conduct a series of high-level engagements, notably with President Zelenskyy and the minister of defense, Umerov.  While we were in Kyiv, they had discussions on the current operational situation in Ukraine, as well as Ukraine's security assistance needs.  As you saw, the secretary also announced the 51st tranche of equipment to be provided from DOD inventories, worth up to $100 million.

Following the trip, back here in D.C., the secretary hosted the 17th Ukraine Defense Contact Group via virtual means, which continues to stand collectively along with 50 nations from around the world to ensure that Ukraine has what they need to defend themselves.

And then again, as you saw over the weekend, Secretary Austin also spoke again with Minister Umerov.

Shifting to the Middle East, I want to just reinforce what we know regarding the commercial vessel — Motor Vessel Central Park.  As you saw in CENTCOM's press release last night, the USS Mason, with allied ships from the combined — Maritime Forces Counter-Piracy Combined Task Force 151 and associated aircraft responded to a distress call from the Central Park when they came under attack by an unknown entity.  Coalition vessels responded, and upon arrival, demanded the release of the vessel.  Subsequently, five armed individuals disembarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat.  The Mason pursued the attackers, resulting in their eventual surrender, and the crew of the Central Park is currently safe.

Later that evening, at approximately 01:45 A.M. on November 27th Yemen time, two ballistic missiles — initial indications were that two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen toward the general location of the Mason and the Central Park, and as CENTCOM's press release highlighted, the missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately 10 nautical miles from the ships.  It is not clear at this time what they were targeting.

Also yesterday, CENTCOM announced the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group completed a transit of the Strait of Hormuz to enter the waters of the Arabian Gulf as the strike group continues to support U.S. Central Command missions in the region.  And while in the Arabian Gulf, the Ike Carrier Strike Group will conduct maritime patrolling in international waterways to ensure freedom of navigation of all international vessels while supporting CENTCOM requirements throughout the region.

And then finally, you may have seen our press release on this today.  Deputy Secretary of Defense Hicks departs today for the United Kingdom for a three-day trip at RAF Lakenheath.  She will tour infrastructure improvements designed to improve the airbase's resilience and see demonstrations of U.S. capabilities, and in London, she'll brief U.K. counterparts on the department's Replicator initiative, meet with the U.K. secretary of state for defense and participate in the biannual U.S.-U.K. Defense Dialogue.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. 

All right.  Phil?

Q:  You said that the missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled territory.  Does that mean you don't believe that the Houthis fired the missiles?  You're not sure yet who fired them?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  We're still assessing it.  We know it came from Houthi-controlled territory.  I'm not sure how many other folks have missiles in that region there.  But yeah, like I said, it landed 10 nautical miles from the ships, traveling in the direction of the ships, but it's not clear to us who they were targeting exactly.

Q:  And the timing of the firing of the missiles, you think that's related to the — it might be related to the seizure of the individuals on that ship, or —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, I really can't speculate on that.  I will say that on the five-armed individuals, an obvious question is, what is the disposition of those five individuals?  They're currently aboard the USS Mason.  We're continuing to assess, but initial indications are that these five individuals are Somali.  But again, we'll continue to assess that, as well as next steps in terms of the disposition of those five individuals.


Q:  General Ryder, we all know that the U.S. forces in the region have the right to self-defense.  How this was being with the Houthis affect in the region?  Do you rule out that we might see same U.S. airstrikes as we have seen in Syria, seeing them again in Yemen, for example?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Joe.  So I'm not going speculate or give into hypotheticals.  We've been very clear that we're going to protect our forces, and if those forces are threatened, we'll take appropriate action to respond.  But in terms of telegraphing any potential future strikes, I'm just not going to do that.

Q:  Okay.  To follow up, is there is there any coordination with regional actors like Saudi Arabia or other GCC countries to counter or to contain the Houthi threat?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Well look, broadly speaking, as you saw in the case of the Motor Vessel Central Park, there is an international coalition that is working together to ensure regional security and stability, to include the safety of waterways when it comes to commercial traffic.  And this is not just the United States that's looking to protect these areas; it's part of an international coalition that's been working together for some time.

Q:  Thank you, Joe.

So you said that the five who were detained are Somalis?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  I said initial indications are that they're Somali.  Again, we're continuing to assess but that’s the initial indication.

Q:  Yeah, so based on those indications, do you think this is a piracy-related incident or —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Clearly, a piracy-related incident in that this vessel was boarded by these five individuals.  They attempted to access the crew cabin.  The crew essentially were able to lock themselves into a safe haven.  These individuals attempted to access and take control of the ship.  But when the combined task force responded, they essentially fled.

Q:  And on this topic, if I may also, what type of ballistic missiles were launched from the Houthis-controlled territories?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, I don't have any additional information to provide on that.

Q:  And separately, on Gaza, you told us previously that the U.S. has ISR assets in order to help Israelis try to recover the hostages.  And as part of this pause, humanitarian pause in Gaza, did you stop these efforts for now?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  I'll have to take that question.

Q:  Okay.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  I don't have an answer to that.

Q:  Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Let me go over here.  Tara?

Q:  A couple — so when the ballistic missiles were fired, did the Mason or any other U.S. asset take any action to try to intercept those missiles?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  So based on what my understanding is, they were tracking the missiles, but did not need to take any type of — in other words, they did not try to shoot them down.  Of course, our ships and our vessels always maintain the ability to take appropriate action.  But if the question is, did they try to shoot them down?  They landed 10 nautical mile in the water away from the vessels.  And so no damage to the ships, obviously.  They were safe and something that was observed, particularly since they were heading in the direction of the ships.

Q:  Did they also not take action because it was an assessment that they weren't going to strike anything else that could have been — like, any other land things or any other ships that could have been put at threat or risk?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Again, I'm just speaking on what happened.  So, again, they landed harmlessly in the water.

Q:  And did they board the vessels, the team from the Mason?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  They did.  So after — are you talking about the Central Park?

Q:  Yeah.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yes.  So after the five individuals fled, the Mason sent out a Visit Board Search and Seizure team on the water that stopped a small boat.  They detained the individuals and then that team, the VBSS team, boarded the Central Park and cleared the vessel, got in communication with the crew, which was found safe, and of course the vessel is now back under power and on its way.  So yes, they did board.


Q:  Thanks.  Just a couple of follow-ups.  You said that the individuals were Somali.  Do you —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  I said initial indications are that they are Somali.

Q:  Are there initial indications that they have any ties to the Houthis?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Again, we're continuing to assess the situation but you've been following this region for a very long time.  You know that Somali piracy is something that's out there.  So these individuals were — we know that they're not Houthi.  Again, we're continuing to assess the situation.

Q:  Okay.  And then did they — do you assess that the Houthis were trying to target the Mason with the —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Again, I answered that earlier.  It's unclear what they were attempting to target.

Q:  Okay.  And did the —


Q:  — any other action to respond?

Q:  The Mason take any other action to respond to the vessel, aside from tracking them?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  You know, not beyond what I explained to Tara.

Yep, Hailey?

Q:  Thanks.  It seems — and correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that there have been no attacks on U.S. forces since roughly Thanksgiving.  Do you guys assess that to be because of this agreement bringing out the hostages?  And then also I know you don't like to talk about this very much but I'm going to try it anyway — can you speak at all to sort of the ISR capabilities ongoing?  Are you guys able to keep eyes on these hostages as they're making their way out?  Do you have that capability now?  Are you using that?  Anything on that?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Hailey.  On your — on your last question, I'm not going to talk intelligence operations.  As far as attacks go, based on the information I have, the last known attack in Iraq or Syria was 23 November.

As far as why Iranian proxies have chosen not to conduct attacks, I'd refer you to them.  But to be clear, again, we're going to continue to make force protection of our forces a priority, and if and when we are attacked, of course, we would respond appropriately.

Q:  And then one another –

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  — You know, clearly, we would encourage anyone thinking of attacking U.S. forces to not do that.

The other point I'd make is — and you've heard us talk about this before — those attacks are dangerous, I don't want to minimize it, but have largely been ineffective.  When we strike, it's extremely effective, and every single time we strike, it diminishes IRGC capability in Iraq and Syria.

And so going forward, should we need to conduct additional strikes, we will continue to diminish IRGC capability in Iraq and Syria to protect our forces and our important mission, which again is the defeat ISIS mission.

Q:  — one other thing on — just on the Central Park.  When — and this is probably an obvious question — when you say that they were demanding the release, what was that?  Were they shouting over an intercom?  Were they weren't physically on there when the militants were on the ship.  So what did that look like?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  I — I'll have to get back to you on that.  I don't know.  Thanks.

Q:  Can I just do a quick follow-up?


Q:  You just said direct IRGC capability, whereas previously you've said maybe Iranian-backed militants.  Are you saying that —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  The capability that we've — and you've seen this in our press releases, right?  When we've struck headquarters, when we've struck ammunition, those are facilities that are used by IRGC and IRGC-backed proxies.  So diminishing the IRGC's capability within Iraq and Syria to conduct these kinds of attacks.  Thanks.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Were the Mason and Central Park still near each other at the time of the missile attack?


Q:  Okay.


Q:  And could you give us a timeline?  You gave the time approximately of the missile attack, but how long after?  Was it from either the interdiction or the —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, so it was about an hour and 40 minutes after the Mason team was on board the Central Park to help, communicate, ensure that the crew was safe and clear the vessel, that — that those missiles were launched.

Q:  Okay, thank you.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Just to follow up on Deputy Secretary Hicks' travel, is she making a push to bring international partners in to collaborate on Replicator?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  We'll obviously have a readout coming out of her visit.  The United States, when it comes to the kinds of capabilities that we employ, works very closely with partners and allies.  So as it — as it pertains to Replicator, we'll have more to provide on that in the near future.  Thanks.

Time for a few more.  We'll go to Ryo and then we'll go back to (inaudible).

Q:  Yeah, thank you.  One follow-up on the incident over the east — over the coast of Yemen.  There is a report that the Japanese destroyer assisted USS Mason operation in responding to the distress call.  Can you confirm the report?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Ryo.  So I can confirm that the U.S. vessel was operating with an allied ship as a part of the combined joint task force.  I'll let other countries speak for their participation.  I don't want to get out ahead of them, so.


Q:  Just to follow up a little bit on (inaudible) again on the Central Park, when it calls and — for (inaudible) what happens (inaudible) decision has to be made on, what (inaudible) —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, I mean, so under and I'm — I'm not a lawyer, but under international maritime norms and  laws, if there's a vessel that's hailing a distress signal and all vessels in the vicinity should — are, required to come and help and support.  And of course, the Mason being there as part of this task force, got the distress signal and responded, and then, vessels — the — these coalition vessels moved in to help.

Q:  Did any other assets put eyes on the Central Park before the Mason got there?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  So my understanding is there were three PLA Navy ships in the vicinity.  However, they did not respond.  Supposedly, those ships are there as part of a counter-piracy mission, but they did not respond.

Q:  Did any U.S. aircraft (inaudible) that?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  It was allied ships and aircraft that responded to this.  I'm not going to go into the specific types of aircraft but yeah.  Okay.

Yes, sir?

Q:  Pat, 10 nautical miles sounds like a big distance, but in that waterway, it's actually pretty close, I think, relatively speaking.  Is there any indication — does the department have any indication of how the Houthis would have known the location of  the U.S. warship?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: I don't have any information to provide on that.  Thanks.

Okay, Tony and then —

Q:  — couple non-follow-up questions.  What's your — what's the status of the DOD's compilation of aid to Israel, in terms of dollar amounts and types?  Sabrina mentioned that was being compiled in —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, I'll have to come back to you, Tony.  I don't have that in front of me.

Q:  Okay.  I there's been report out of Korea, another part of the world, that North Korea has moved troops from — into the area that they abandoned in 2018, a tank of troops and munitions.  Do you have anything on that?


Q:  Okay, is that something you can check into?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, we can check —

Q:  — a lot of information.



Q:  Is there any past precedent to Houthi-controlled areas firing missiles and Somali piracy going on?

Do you have any — is this the first time there would have been an interaction like that?

And is there any significance to two missiles being fired versus one and the distance from the —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, again, like I said, the initial indications were that it was two missiles.  I'm not going to try to speculate and connect dots if dots don't necessarily exist.  You have two events here.  We provided what we know on those.

Okay.  Last question.  Yes, ma'am?

Q:  So I know that the Hudner also shot down missiles over Thanksgiving, given what happened with Mason.  So any indications that Hudner was being targeted at this time by the Houthis?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Again, I don't have any updates to provide beyond what we provided last time, in those cases.  Those missiles were within the threat range, and they took appropriate action.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up?  Given what's happening with the Houthis and the attacks have stopped on coalition forces, but does the DOD still assess that this has not spread outside of Gaza and Israel?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, so, again, taking a step back, we largely see the conflict contained between Israel and Hamas.  That's not to say that — that you haven't seen Iranian proxies attempt to take advantage to further their own goals.  In the case of Iraq and Syria, we've known that these groups, for a long time, have wanted to see U.S. forces depart.  But, again, our forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, focused solely on the Defeat ISIS mission.  And so, again, no, we do not see that this has become a regional conflict, although the — again, tensions are high, and it's something that we're taking seriously and attempting to ensure does not happen.

All right, Courtney, last one.

Q:  On the timeline, maybe — and this may be part of what you take, but can you — if somebody could just walk through — so the Mason arrives; they tell these dudes to get off the Central Park, right?  Did they yell at them with a bullhorn?  Did they —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Yeah, I'll look into that.  I mean, I think I know, but I don't want to speculate.

Q:  And then, also, did the VBSS, they didn't board the Central Park until after —


Q:  — the dudes were off the boat?


So the distress signal is received; the coalition ships and aircraft surround the Central Park.  They demand the release of the vessel.  The five armed individuals flee on a small boat.  They are chased by the VBSS team, apprehended and detained.  The VBSS then, that team, boards the Central Park, clears the ship, ensures that it's good to go; makes contact with the crew.  The crew is safe.  And the ship is back under power.

About an hour and a half after they have boarded the Central Park, an hour, 40 minutes, was when the two missiles were fired, which landed in the water near the vicinity, 10 nautical miles near the vicinity of the two ships.

Q:  And then just, also, the details, just making sure that there were no shots fired, right, by the —

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  The VBSS did fire warning shots at the boat that was fleeing.  But no one was injured, and that was the extent of it.  And they did not fire shots at the U.S. Navy personnel.

Q:  And then there were – I assume the VBSS were part of


Q:  Yeah.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  They are part of the Mason's crew.

Okay.  Thanks very much, everybody.  Appreciate it.