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Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy new year. Just have a few things to provide at the top, and then we'll get to your questions.

First, on behalf of Secretary Austin and the department, our hearts are with the Japanese people after their tragic earthquake earlier this week. The United States and Japan share a deep bond of friendship that unites our people, and our Japanese ally graciously hosts thousands of U.S. service personnel and family members. As you've heard from the president and the U.S. ambassador, our military forces in Japan are ready to assist as needed.

Second, I'd like to recap a few significant developments that occurred over the holidays. On December 28th, the Offices of Special Trial Counsel reached full operational capability, shifting prosecutorial discretion for 13 serious offenses away from the chain of command. This is the most important reform to our military justice system since the creation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1950, and aims to help strengthen accountability and increase service members' trust in the fairness and integrity of the military justice system. This milestone follows through on Secretary Austin's commitment that we must do more as a department to counter sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.

Separately, on January 1st, the U.S. Navy announced that the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group will redeploy from the Eastern Mediterranean to its home port as scheduled to prepare for future deployments. As was highlighted in NAVEUR’s press release, we continue to retain extensive U.S. military capability both in the Mediterranean and across the Middle East. This includes the current deployment of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Middle East, the deployment of additional cruisers and destroyers in the Mediterranean and Middle East and the recent arrival of the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Notably, the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall joined the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde, and have consolidated as the Amphibious Ready Group in the Eastern Mediterranean, along with the embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The ARGMU consists of three ships, more than 50 aircraft and approximately 4,000 sailors and Marines that provide sea-based expeditionary forces capable of conducting a wide range of missions in support of our regional deterrence efforts. As we have done since Hamas' brutal terrorist attack on October 7th, DOD will continue to leverage its collective force posture in the region to deter any state or nonstate actor from escalating this crisis beyond Gaza.

And finally, I can confirm that on January 4 at approximately 12 P.M. Iraq time, U.S. forces took necessary and proportionate action against Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari, a.k.a Abu Taqwa, who was a Harakat-al-Nujaba leader. Abu Taqwa was actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel. The strike also killed another HAN member, and it is important to note that the strike was taken in self-defense, that no civilians were harmed and that no infrastructure or facilities were struck.

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

Q: Hi, General Ryder. Happy new year.

GEN. RYDER: Happy new year.

Q: I wanted to talk about the warning that the U.S. sent yesterday with its allies to the Houthis about not conducting additional attacks on ships. And then you see, just hours later, there's an attempted attack with an unmanned surface vehicle on ships in the Red Sea. What are the options for the U.S. at this point? And will those options also include potentially addressing Iran's role in supplying the Houthis with these weapons?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tara. So as you've heard us and others say within the U.S. government, we are approaching this from many different facets, to include sanctions, but from a DOD standpoint, of course working closely with the international community to establish a coalition to help deter Houthi efforts and reassure mariners as they transit this vital seaway in the Red Sea.

So we're going to continue to work very hard at that. Deterrence, in and of itself -- or excuse me, presence is a deterrent, in and of itself. And so we can -- expect to continue to see the international coalition grow in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian. As you heard Vice Admiral Cooper, the NAVCENT Commander, say earlier today, over 20 nations so far have joined. And again, we expect to continue to see that grow.

This is an issue that affects the entire international community. The economic impact, never mind the dangerous, unlawful behavior, is something that we're all taking seriously and that requires collective action.

Q: What sort of options would there be militarily? Because obviously the statement didn't stop the Houthis from sending an armed drone toward ships again today.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'll let the statement speak for itself, and I'm not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals about potential future military operations.



GEN. RYDER: I'll come right back to you.

Q: Pat, I'd just like to follow up on the January 4th strike targeting Abu Taqwa. What kind of weapon was used? Was it a Hellfire missile? Why now? Is this the beginning of a new campaign to target the leaders? And this group that you've targeted, in terms of planning, it's not Kata'ib Hezbollah, which has been behind a lot of the attacks. Why not?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jennifer. So I'm really not going to have more specifics to provide, in terms of what I've read out. As I highlighted, this individual was actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel, and as we've long said, we maintain the inherent right of self-defense and we'll take necessary action to protect our personnel.

Q: Was the second person killed?

GEN. RYDER: It was an associate of Mr. Abu Taqwa, but I don't have any further details to provide.

Let me go to Joe.

Q: Thank you, General Ryder. I want to go back to the issue of the statement that was issued yesterday from the U.S. and its coalition about the Houthis. Have you seen any evidence that there is a serious escalation around the Houthis over the last few days? And given the situation, could you tell us if the option of striking the Houthis is on the table or it's something just related to contingency plans?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, Joe, I think I'll let the statement speak for itself, which again represented many nations around the world and highlighted that if these strikes don't stop, there will be consequences. But again, I'm not going to get into speculating, forecasting, or talking about hypotheticals.

In terms of escalation, again, these are illegal, dangerous attacks. Since November 18th, there've been now 25 attacks against merchant vessels transiting the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. And so we have worked closely with the international community to stand up Operation Prosperity Guardian under the umbrella and leadership of Task Force 153, with the express purpose of deterring this illegal activity through the increased overall presence, and also providing assurance to the maritime industry to help safeguard their transiting of that waterway.


Q: A couple of follow-up questions on the Iraq strike. You called this a self-defense strike. What attacks was this group, Harakat al-Nujaba, responsible for and how many? Did you notify the Iraqi government in advance? And -- and given the condemnation of U.S. strikes in Iraq that we've seen in the course of the past couple weeks, do you think the U.S. military presence in Iraq is -- is at risk? Have you seen a tension there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So again, I'm not going to have any more details to provide as it relates to this particular strike and, you know, in terms of the specific attacks that HAN has conducted against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

As you well know -- you've been following this for a while -- those attacks have continued, putting U.S. forces in danger. And as I just highlighted to Jennifer, we maintain the inherent right of self-defense and we'll continue to take necessary actions to protect our personnel.

Q: how many of the 120 attacks has this Harakat al-Nujaba --

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into a breakdown.

So as far as your other question, you know, Iraq is an important and valued partner. Our forces are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq to help train and advise, in support of the Defeat ISIS mission. And so as we have been doing all along, we will continue to consult closely with the Iraqi government about the safety and security of U.S. forces. In the meantime, we will continue to stay very focused on that Defeat ISIS mission.

Q: Are you able to say whether you notified the Iraqi government in -- in advance of --

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to get into diplomatic discussions.


Q: Thank you. A question -- two questions actually. First, on the Red Sea operation -- so Admiral -- Vice Admiral Cooper and you have both said that this is a defensive operation. Why is this a defensive operation? Why is this not an offensive operation? Why is the U.S. and the international coalition either unwilling or unable to target launching areas inside of Yemen?

GEN. RYDER: So the express purpose of Operation Prosperity Guardian -- again, under the coalition maritime forces, is a coalition of the willing -- and so this particular operation is a defensive operation focused on helping to reassure commercial vessels as they transit the Red Sea and also helping to safeguard the lives of mariners who are sailing those ships. And so it's as simple as that.

Q: Should I interpret that as some of the coalition did not want this to be offensive? Is that fair to say?

GEN. RYDER: Carla, so again, you know, countries are going to be willing to participate in various efforts focused on very specific operational goals. And again, Operation Prosperity Guardian is a defensive coalition focused on safeguarding the commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. So that's the mission.

Now, again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate about what individual countries may or may not do as it relates to their security or the collective security, but again, for OPG, this is a defensive coalition. Thanks.


GEN. RYDER: -- let me go to one of your colleagues --


Q: There -- there's a Newsweek story out there that says that there is ATACMS up for destruction, the expired ATACMS, U.S. ATACMS, that would be a significant expense to American taxpayers, according to one former advisor to Ukraine's commander. Is this true? Are there a bunch of ATACMS, expired ATACMS set to be destroyed? And if that is true, why would they not be going to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I've seen those press reports. We looked into this and it is not true. Those reports are false.


Q: Thank you, General. I have two separate topics. First on the strike in Iraq against Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari. Last week, as you said, the U.S. forces are inside Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government.

However, Mr. Al Sudani, Iraqi Prime Minister, has rejected any actions from U.S. forces outside the perimeters of advising and assisting Iraqi forces. And he said that Iraqi government is headed toward ending the presence of the international coalition inside Iraq.

Has the Pentagon been notified or by the Iraqi government of any steps to get the U.S. forces out of Iraq? And how do you respond to his comments on actions taken by U.S. forces?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Fadi. So, I'm not going to comment on the remarks of others and I'm not going to speculate about what the future may portend or get into hypotheticals. As I mentioned earlier, U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the government Iraq to help train and advise in support of the Defeat ISIS mission.

And, you know, you've been covering this story for a very long time, in terms of U.S. presence, as have many of your colleagues here. And you'll recall, it was 10 years ago this coming summer that ISIS was approximately 24 kilometers outside of Baghdad when we kicked off the counter-ISIS mission after they had subsumed large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

So, no one wants to see a return of ISIS, which, oh by the way, just claimed responsibility for the attacks that we're see -- we saw yesterday in Iran. So, our focus is going to continue to remain on the Defeat ISIS mission. But again, we're not going to hesitate to protect our forces if they're threatened.

Thanks very much.

Q: And a couple days ago, Saleh al-Arouri, senior Hamas leader, was assassinated in the strike in Beirut and it's, you know, supposedly carried out by Israel. The U.S. has maintained a position that you don't want to see this, the war in Gaza escalates, either in Lebanon or in the region. Was the DOD or the U.S. government notified of this operation? And does the U.S. administration or the Pentagon support such strikes beyond the borders?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I don't have anything. You know, obviously, I've seen the reports on that strike. I just don't have anything to provide on that.

Let me go to the phone here real quick. J.J. Green from WTOP.

Q: Yes, thanks for the opportunity. Can you characterize the strength of Haraka al-Nujaba, the threat that it poses to U.S. forces? And when you look at all of the other terror organizations that are active in the region now, especially ISIS and Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, can you characterize what that looks like for U.S. forces and how the Pentagon is approaching dealing with that?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks J.J. As I'm sure you can appreciate, you know, there are myriad threats throughout the region, you know, not only to the United States but to other countries as well. And so, I won't go into a detailed briefing about terrorists' groups across the AOR, other than to say as we've highlighted in several of our press releases when we've conducted strikes in Iraq and Syria, they have been against groups that are sponsored, Iranian proxies, to include HAN and Kataib Hezbollah.

And so, those forces have represented a threat to our forces. And again, we maintain the inherent right of self-defense and we'll take necessary actions to protect our forces. And that will continue to remain our focus as well as doing the mission which we're there to do, which is to help defeat ISIS. Thank you.

All right. Let me do one more from the phone here. Jeff Schogol, "Task and Purpose."

Q: Thank you. And thanks to the audio folks for getting my mic to work. I just wanted to double check, the person killed in Baghdad, I've seen his name spelled differently. I've seen Al Siadi, I just want make sure we're talking about the same guy.

And also, this person was a commander in a popular mobilization forces. Was this also an attack on Iraqi security forces? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jeff. Again, I'm not going to have anything to provide beyond what I've spelled out for you. And this was a strike against a member of HAN, the terrorist group that I've highlighted, the Iranian proxy group. Thank you.


Q: On Ukraine questions, one of the things you didn't highlight in your recap was the December 27 presidential drawdown authority of package 54. Is that last package the U.S. can give Ukraine until Congress approves a supplemental?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Tony. As you heard us say as we went into the holidays here, you know, we have no more replenishment funds. And so, right now I'm not anticipating any new PDA announcements in terms of new capabilities, which is why, you know, we'll continue to work closely with Congress and urge them to pass the supplemental.

Q: Final one. F-16s to Ukraine, what's the latest in terms of when they would plan to show up there?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I don't have any specific dates to provide. That training does continue in Arizona. As you know, that, you know, again, depending on the skill level of the pilot, that can range from five to eight months. And so, I would expect, you know, sometime later this year we'll start to see those pilot's graduate. But I don't have any specifics for you.

Q: One Houthi question. There's this talk about military strikes. What would they be striking at, and what would they be striking? Are these mobile missile units that the Houthis have or are they big sites the U.S. knows about and you're deciding what to do?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Tony. I appreciate the question. But again, I'm just not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate or forecast any potential future operations. Thanks.


Q: I'd like to go back to some of the comments you made earlier about the strike in Iraq. You know -- as you know, earlier today the Pentagon was unwilling to talk publicly about the strike. And now you're telling us, you can't tell us the threat that demanded a self-defense striking.

I just -- can you help me understand why the U.S. can't provide basic information about a strike that it conducted in an allied nation's territory? Is this the expectation going forward that you'll conduct self-defense strikes but we won't know why you're doing that?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I appreciate the question, Nancy. I would take exception that the characterization, first of all, I'm here briefing you on the record about the strike. And then if I can finish answering the question that you asked me.

Q: But the answer was that you won't tell us --

GEN. RYDER: I provided you the information that I have available to provide. And I have answered why this was a self-defense strike, because this particular individual was involved in the planning and execution of attacks against American personnel in Iraq and Syria which, by definition, is a threat. Which by definition, us taking action is a self-defense action.

Q: But I guess what I don’t understand is was it one strike that this person was involved in? And was it several? Were they deadly? Over what period of time?

GEN. RYDER: On January 4, at 12 p.m. Iraq time, we took a strike targeting this individual and killed him and an associate. There was no civilians -- no civilians injured, no infrastructure and no facilities. So, I mean, that's as much information as I'm able to provide. Thanks.

Yes, sir?

Q: Thanks, Pat. Going back to the Red Sea for a second, Operation Prosperity Guardian, both you and Vice Admiral Cooper have described it as a defensive action, but Vice Admiral Cooper earlier this week, I believe, gave the USS Carney a combat action ribbon for its actions, you know, I believe in December. I mean, are U.S. Navy ships in combat in the Red Sea?

GEN. RYDER: I think that the Admiral's actions speak for themselves, in terms of recognizing the crew for what they've done to be able to protect not only themselves but also international commerce and mariners as they transit. So I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.


Q: Thank you, General. My question is about your opening remarks on Japan. So we appreciate it. Pentagon or U.S. force in Japan received any request from Japan's government on the disaster?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. So as I said earlier, we remain in close communication with the government of Japan and we do stand ready to aid in any way that would be most helpful to Japan. I would say this could include support from U.S. forces who are stationed there who would be able to respond at a moment's notice. At this time, I'm not able to go into any specific details, but of course we'll keep you updated on what that could look like, should we receive any specific request. Thank you very much.


Q: Thank you, General. Happy New Year.

GEN. RYDER: Happy New Year.

Q: Okay. Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that he would eventually unify Taiwan and put Russian Putin -- I mean President Putin also designated Korean Peninsula and Taiwan as conflict-risk areas this year. And also, the -- North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un declared that he was ready for nuclear war against United States South Korea. What is the Pentagon's position on these war crises?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we're going to continue to stay very focused on working with our allies and our partners in the region to ensure that regional security, stability, and prosperity are the main focus. No one wants to see conflict in that region, and so that will continue to be our focus.

Q: Do you think a nuclear war can be suppressed through U.S. extended deterrence?

GEN. RYDER: I believe that U.S. extended deterrence will continue to help contribute directly towards regional security and stability.

Let me go back to the phone here. Howard Altman?

Q: Thanks, Pat. The question's answered.

GEN. RYDER: And Jared from Al-Monitor?

Q: My question has also been answered. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: We'll take a few more. Chris?

Q: Pat, on the airstrike in Iraq, I understand your comments on the rationale, but to be very direct, did this U.S. airstrike violate the agreement U.S. forces and the coalition has with the Iraqi government?

GEN. RYDER: The U.S. always maintains the inherent right of self-defense if our forces are threatened. And again, we'll continue to communicate, as we have been all along, closely with our Iraqi partners when it comes to the safety and security of our forces in Iraq.


Q: Yeah, thank you. Just two questions. First, a follow-up on the U.S. response to the earthquake in Japan. So is it accurate to say the U.S. and Japan is discussing what the U.S. is in discussion with the Japanese about what type of assistance will be necessary?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so as I understand it, U.S. Forces Japan is in regular contact with the government of Japan to discuss how we might help, should assistance be requested, but I'd refer you to USFJ for any further details.

Q: Okay. On the second question, China appointed a new Defense Minister in late December. So has the Pentagon requested the first contact about engagement between the Secretary and the new Defense Minister after his appointment?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we continue to be in communication with the PRC at the working level about the sequencing of upcoming engagements, and certainly we'll share more when we have more to announce. We continue to believe that sustained communication between our two countries is important in order to prevent miscalculation and mitigate potential risk. Thank you very much.


Q: Thanks, Pat. You know, at the end of the year, they cleared up all the holds on the military promotions. Are there any delays, holds or otherwise, of civilian nominees for key DOD positions that are still remaining?

GEN. RYDER: There are some individuals that continue to be held -- delayed, and again, we'll continue to work --


Q: -- number on that?

GEN. RYDER: We can get that for you.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks very much.


Q: Thank you. I have a two questions. The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability has sent a letter to Secretary Austin last month and asked to provide documented information about the Osprey program's safety and performance by today. Has the DOD responded to their request? And does the committee's investigation affect U.S. military decisions on when to resume Osprey flights?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much. So the Department of Defense commits to working cooperatively with the committee to accommodate its requests, and we'll work diligently to provide additional information as soon as possible. I don't have any further details to provide beyond that at this point. Thanks very much.

We've got time for a few more. Yes, sir?

Q: Yeah, thank you, General. The Iraqi Prime Minister's office statement says that Abu Taqwa -- or these attacks was an attack on the Iraqi security entity that is operating within the powers authorized by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Does that concerns you at all, that there are some elements and people that operating under the Iraqi Prime Minister authorities and they are planning and they're masterminding to attack the U.S. forces in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: Again, look, Iraq is an important and valued partner. We work very closely with the Iraqi Security Forces, you know, as part of CJTF-OIR, and have had a relationship with the Iraqi Security Forces for many years, supporting, training, and advising their counter-terrorism efforts.

And so we will continue to work closely with our Iraqi partners. We do know that the Iraqi Security Forces have continued to assist in identifying in some cases where these Iranian proxies have conducted attacks against U.S. forces, and we are very appreciative of that support.

And so, you know, with -- this is an important partner to us, and we'll continue to lean into that relationship.

Q: You also said that this will -- undermines the previously established understanding between the Iraqi Armed Forces and the coalition forces. Do you have the same concern?

GEN. RYDER: Again, I think I responded to that question earlier. I'm not going to comment on the remarks of others. Thanks very much.

Time for just a couple more. We'll go here and then here.

Q: Thank you, General. Recent attacks by the militia groups in Iraq on U.S. forces seem to be more accurate than before. You know, the recent target of a U.S. base in Erbil injured three U.S. service members, and one more attack in Kurdish Peshmerga forces. So aren't you concerned that these militia groups have the more sophisticated weapons that can target U.S. forces?

GEN. RYDER: So to date, we continue to see the one-way attack drones and rockets. Again, over the course of these, you know, largely ineffectual, but to your point, they continue to remain very dangerous, which is why we will respond seriously to any threat of our forces.

We do not seek any broader conflict with Iran, we don't seek conflict with these groups, but we're not going to stand aside and allow our forces to be threatened without ensuring that we're properly protecting them.

Yes, sir?

Q: You mentioned replenishment money is out. How much is left in PDA for Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Right now, we've got roughly $4.2 billion in restored PDA authority, but again, the replenishment funds are expended.


Q: Just to be clear, Harakat al-Nujaba, is it considered to receive funding and support from Iran or is it simply an Iraqi-based Shia militia?

GEN. RYDER: This is an Iranian proxy group. I'll just leave it at that.


Q: -- two, just one off of Jennifer's -- is this group part of the PMF?

GEN. RYDER: Look, the HAN group is a Iranian proxy group that has been targeting U.S. forces. And so again, we took appropriate and proportionate action. Thank you.

Q: -- the Iraqi PMF forces?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have an answer to that question.

Q: Okay. The other one that I was going to ask is Ukraine. With the $4.2 billion, because there's no replenishment money, does that mean that money is essentially untouchable? Like, you can't dip into the --

GEN. RYDER: So that is the authority to spend funds, again, without having the replenishment funds in order to actually replenish our own funds. It's the authority to spend them but not necessarily the funds available. Thus, we need the supplemental from Congress.

Q: Okay. So you don't actually have $4.2 billion in --

GEN. RYDER: We have the authority to spend that from available funds but wouldn't have the ability to replenish the stocks by taking money out -- or taking stuff out of our inventory.

Q: So in practical terms that means that's not --

GEN. RYDER: We're out of money.

Q: Okay.

GEN. RYDER: Right.

Last question, Fadi?

Q: I mean, on the one hand, you say the -- Iraq is an important ally, you talk about how the U.S. presence is -- is at the request of the Iraqi government. When the Iraqi government is saying no, we -- you cannot take military actions inside Iraq because this is a breach of the agreement about advising and supporting the security forces, you refused to comment. Is there a disagreement between the Pentagon and Iraqi government about the situation in Iraq, vis-a-vis U.S. forces?

GEN. RYDER: Look, again, I'll be very clear -- U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq, and they're there for one reason, which is to support the Defeat ISIS mission. We'll continue to work very closely with our Iraqi partners when it comes to the safety and security of our forces. When those forces are threatened, just like we would anywhere else in the world, we will maintain the inherent right of self-defense to protect our forces.

And so again, this was a necessary and proportionate action against this particular individual who was personally involved in the planning and execution of attacks against American personnel.

Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.