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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. A few things at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.

Secretary Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is in good condition, according to his doctors. He continues to recover well and is focused on executing his duties as the secretary of defense. I don't have an update to provide at this time on when he'll be released from the hospital, but will, of course, keep you informed.

Separately, the Department of Defense Inspector General has initiated a review to examine the roles, processes, procedures, responsibilities and actions related to the secretary of defense's hospitalization in December of 2023 and January of 2024 and assess whether the DOD's policies and procedures are sufficient to ensure timely and appropriate notifications and the effective transition of authorities, as may be warranted due to the health-based or other unavailability of senior leadership. The department welcomes the DOD I.G.'s review, and will fully support. While the I.G.'s review is ongoing, it will be inappropriate for us to comment on the specifics of that review, and so I would refer you to the Department of Defense's Inspector General's Office for any further questions.

Separately, as I highlighted on Tuesday, on January 8th, the secretary's chief of staff directed the DOD's director of administration and management to conduct a 30-day review of the department's notification process for assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense, in addition to directing several immediate steps to ensure appropriate situational awareness when a transfer of authority occurs. While there's understandably many outstanding questions, it's also important to allow both of these reviews to run their course so that we can assure a full accounting of the facts, and importantly, to ensure that we can most effectively improve processes and procedures as necessary, as well as meet the standards of transparency expected by the American public, Congress and the news media.

In other news, earlier today, the department released its first-ever National Defense Industrial Strategy. The NDIS offers comprehensive strategic vision for building a modern, innovative and robust defense industrial ecosystem that supports our National Defense Strategy. The NDIS reinforces the need for collaboration across the interagency community, private industry and with our allies and partners to meet the demands of our current and future strategic environment. As you all know, the need to expand the capacity and resiliency of our nation's defense industrial base has been a critical priority of the department, and the NDIS will guide our efforts as we strengthen this vital element of our Nation's defense capabilities. The NDIS is now available on DOD's defense industrial base website at, and we look forward to making future announcements as we implement the strategy across the department and with our industry partners.

Also today, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks welcomed the Bulgarian minister of defense, Todor Tagarev, to the Pentagon to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues. The deputy secretary congratulated Bulgaria on the 20th anniversary of its joining NATO, and thanked the minister of Bulgaria's hosting of over 1,000 U.S. and allied forces, to include the multinational NATO Battle Group. She praised Bulgaria's steadfast commitment and many contributions to the alliance which helped to ensure the security of NATO's eastern flank during this critical time. Both leaders joined in condemning Russia's unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine. Full readout of the meeting will be available on the DOD website.

Moving to the Middle East region, today's reckless and illeg- — or excuse me, Tuesday's reckless and illegal complex attacked by the Houthis in the southern Red Sea once again demonstrated the importance and effectiveness of Operation Prosperity Guardian in safeguarding commercial vessels and mariners transiting this vital waterway. As U.S. Central Command highlighted in their press release, U.S. and U.K. forces were able to down 18 one-way attack UAVs, two antiship cruise missiles and one antiship ballistic missile when these weapons were launched towards international shipping lanes, where dozens of merchant vessels were operating. We're grateful to the more-than-20 nations that have joined Operation Prosperity Guardian so far to help protect maritime traffic and provide security in the Red Sea, to include Singapore, which announced this week they'll join the — this international defensive coalition. We welcome their contribution and will continue to consult closely with our allies and partners who share the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation.

And two final items before I conclude.

On Monday, the department will recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. On this day, we commemorate and celebrate the legacy of Dr. King's lifetime commitment to equality, justice and civil rights for all people. In keeping with his memory, we encourage everyone, military and civilian alike, to perform acts of service and reflect on our Nation's principles that all people are created equal, regardless of color, gender or creed. 

And finally, I'd like to take a quick moment to recognize the departure of one of our Pentagon Press Corps members, long-standing press corps members, Defense One's Marcus Weisgerber. This is Marcus' last week at Defense One after 10 years and after more than 18 years of covering the U.S. military. During his journalistic career, he's covered too many issues and stories to relate here, but needless to say, he's been in the thick of it from the very beginning, to include reporting from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, and interviewing the senior-most leaders of the Department of Defense. Simply put, Marcus is an outstanding journalist who has never shied away from the tough questions to ensure that the American public and others had the facts when it comes to national security. He's departing Defense One for a career outside of journalism where — and so we here at OSD Public Affairs certainly wish him the best and continued success.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll go to Associated Press, Tara Copp.

Q: Thank you, General Ryder. You gave us an update on Austin's condition. He's in good condition. But can you tell us the prostate cancer that was discovered, what stage it is? How serious is this? And then secondly, when Deputy Secretary Hicks took over some responsibilities while he was hospitalized, can you give us a sense of what those responsibilities were? Did she have nuclear command and control? Was it something more mundane? And now, what kind of role is she assuming? Because obviously, she was doing the honor guard. What else is she taking on right now?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. In terms of the secretary's health and the and the condition, I'm not going to have any more to provide beyond the statement that we issued earlier from his doctors. Certainly, we'll continue to keep you updated going forward. I did speak to his doctors today, and again, they assured me he's in good condition, good spirits, and recovering well.

As it relates to the Deputy Secretary, again, for operation security reasons, I'm not going to go into the specifics, other than to say certain operational authorities that require secure communications. In other words, at any time, should the Department of Defense be required to make important, key, strategic defense decisions, there is always someone on the other end of the phone who can make those decisions at the appropriate level.

And so this is an important point, that during this situation, at no time was there a gap in command and control for the Department of Defense. At all times, national security was in good hands and either the Secretary or the Defense — Deputy Defense Secretary were at the helm. Thanks.

Q: And then now, what sort of duties is she assuming?

GEN. RYDER: As she's doing the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense — and again, the Secretary and the Deputy often share duties, both ceremonial, operational. As you know, the Deputy Secretary traveled out to Colorado to preside over the U.S. SPACECOM change of command. 

And so we'll continue to keep forward as she conducts duties on behalf of the Secretary, but that in and of itself is not unusual, for her to represent the department in a senior capacity in a variety of different events and engagements.


GEN. RYDER: The statement from Walter Reed said that the Secretary was — you know, had been — his infection had totally cleared and that he was improving, but, you know, he's still in the hospital. Can you explain why he's still in the hospital if his infection has cleared and he's been improving? What is the medical reason for him to remain there?

And secondly, was it his decision or the President's decision for him to resume full duties from the hospital as opposed to having Deputy Secretary Hicks do that?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so in terms of the specifics on, you know, what his medical professionals are providing now, again, I don't have anything more to provide beyond what was in the statement, other than to say we will continue — he will continue to consult with his doctors on what kind of care he needs in order to, you know, be released from the hospital at the appropriate time. 

I think this statement highlighted the fact that he continues to experience some discomfort. And so, you know, out of an abundance of caution, of course we want to ensure that — that when the doctors feel it's appropriate for him to check out, we'll do that. So we'll keep you updated, and certainly understand the interest.

In terms of the resumption of full duties, again, that decision was made on Friday, as I understand it, in consultation with his doctors, and the fact that he was prepared to resume full duties from the Deputy Secretary, who of course had been delegated those duties on Tuesday.

Q: So it was his decision or the President's decision?

GEN. RYDER: That's as much information as I have right now, Phil. And again, you know, back to my earlier comment, as we go through this review process, of course we will be able to obtain much more information and ensure we have, you know, a complete understanding of the facts. And so we just need to let that work through itself right now.

Q: And just really quickly on Yemen, the — you know, you talked about their complex attack on Tuesday. Apparently, there was an anti-ship missile fired today. Could you — do you have any details on that and whether — you know, what you know about that incident?

GEN. RYDER: I do. So the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden. The reports indicate one commercial vessel reported visually observing the missile impact the water. However, there were no injuries or damage reported. And my understanding is that this happened today at approximately 2 am, I believe, Sana'a Time, but CENTCOM is putting out a — a release on this and a statement on that. So I'd refer you to that. Thanks.


Q: So the Pentagon Inspector General put out a report on shortfalls in tracking of some of the aid to Ukraine. I was wondering how significant of an issue does the Pentagon view these shortfalls as? And is there any indication of illicit diversions of the aid that has been provided so far?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so we very much appreciate the DOD IG doing this report. We've appreciated working with them to ensure that we do have full accountability of the process.

To answer your question, at this time there remains no credible evidence of illicit diversion of U.S.-provided, advanced conventional weapons from Ukraine. We do see some instances of Russia continuing to spread disinformation to the contrary, but the fact is, as we observe the Ukrainians employing these capabilities on the battlefield, we're seeing them use them effectively for all the obvious reasons, in that Russia continues to present a significant threat to Ukraine's sovereignty. So yeah, I'll just leave it there.


Q: What are some of the broad actions you're going to take to — in light of this report? And my understanding is this is basically not inputting of serial numbers versus losing physical inventory. Is that your understanding?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so as I understand it — and again, I'd refer you to the report, which provides a very comprehensive overview, in terms of the steps taken not only within Ukraine through the Defense Attache Office but across the interagency, to include within the Department of Defense.

Things that have been implemented, Tony, include the use of handheld equipment scanners, leveraging partner nation reporting, collecting of inventory — collecting the inventories of items that are in transit to Ukraine.

And it's important to point out as well that the Ukrainians have offered unprecedented access to information, as it relates to the equipment that we're providing. So they are fully understanding and supportive of our need to ensure that we can account for the items that are accountable. And so we'll continue to work closely with them.

Q: ... Operation Prosperity Guardian, do you know how many ships — allied ships are now in the Red Sea?

GEN. RYDER: Tony, let me take that question cause I don't want to just make something up from the podium. I will say that we do know that some nations have signed up to send ships that are en route. As of last week, when Vice Admiral Cooper briefed, at the time, there were five vessels that were U.S. and UK, in addition to countries like France which have ships that are in the — that are in the Red Sea, that are coordinating and cooperating with Operation Prosperity Guardian. But I think you've seen that the French have said that those ships are operating under their own C2 structure. I won't speak for the French.

The point being is that there are a significant number of ships with the ability to counter some of these attacks, and there are more coming. We continue to see this coalition — this defensive coalition grow.

Let me get to the other side of the room here. Meagan sand then we'll go to Lara.

Q: Can we get an update on the number of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, as well as militia attacks in Iraq and Syria and the associated injuries?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. As I understand it, Meagan — let me just make sure I get the — get you this, so today's missile attack, this was the 27th Houthi attack on international shipping since November 19th. 

Q: And Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER: Iraq and Syria, total number of attacks as of today, 130 — 53 attacks in Iraq, 77 in Syria.

Q: Do you have injuries ...

GEN. RYDER: No new injuries to report beyond what we've provided earlier.

Q: And the 27 includes the 2 am attacks?

GEN. RYDER: Correct. The one as of today.

Let me go to Laura and then Orin.

Q: Thank you. Just to take one back to the secretary and the delegation of authority. If you could clarify, because I understand there's a difference between delegation of certain authorities and in transfer of authority, and I'm just wondering if you can help us understand if it was a — full like transfer….

GEN. RYDER: This was a transfer of certain operational authorities. And it's a good point, right? Like, just stop for a second and put this into context. The Secretary of Defense has many authorities that cover an extremely wide variety of roles and responsibilities. 

But what's most important are those certain operational authorities that may be required in the middle of the night when there's a situation that requires senior level decision making, right? And again, for operation security reasons I'm not going to go into details from the podium.

And so, the point being that when it comes to the most important decisions that need to be made on behalf of the Department of Defense in defense of our Nation, those authorities, the transfer of authorities to the deputy secretary are provided. Those authorities are provided. She has access to full communications needed in order to make those decisions.

So again, just to underscore, at no time during the situation was there any gap in the command and control of the Department of Defense. And at no time was national security at risk.

Q: So, he retrained some of his authorities?

GEN. RYDER: Well, and again, you know I'm just going to make something up. But for example, his authority to sign out decorations for a particular award, that's not necessarily something that, you know, you necessarily need to transfer to the Deputy Secretary of Defense on short notice. But what we do need is certain operational authorities that require secure communications, if that makes sense. 

So again, we can be too specific here in terms of, you know, every single authority. But the authorities that are needed to effectively execute the duties of the Secretary of Defense or make decisions on his behalf for certain operational (inaudible). Yes — and again, I'm sorry, go ahead.

Q: On December 22, he as under general anesthesia. Did you transfer all of his authority to -

GEN. RYDER: Certain — as we highlighted — as I highlighted in the — and again, this transcripts available on the DOD website on the off-camera press gaggle on Monday, I walked through the timeline and the transfer of certain operational authorities that required secured communication were transferred to the deputy secretary on 22 December, while the secretary — and this was also, you know, highlighted in the statement that we put out from the doctors. 

So, Orin? 

Q: Two questions, both again on Defense Secretary Austin. First, can you commit that when he's released from the hospital, he will come answer questions here in front of us about this situation? Because it's great to have you here, but I think he needs to come here —

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Orin, I really appreciate that. So, Orin, what I will commit to do is, certainly, passing that request along. The secretary has, you know, publicly acknowledged that when it comes to transparency, he's taken full responsibility and he's committed to doing better. 

So, I will, of course, relay that, and your colleagues at the Pentagon Press Association that have also relayed that request. And I will ensure that that request goes to the secretary.

Q: And then second question, if and when the secretary were to be hospitalized again, can you commit that the public and the press would know within 24 hours?

GEN. RYDER: I will speak for myself and if have that information I will endeavor to ensure that we are releasing that information as quickly and as accurately as possible. Thank you.

Yes sir?

Q: General, when you say that the secretary wants to do better on transparency, does it specifically mean if he's hospitalized or out of commission or his general approach to the job and, you know, not a regular year but from some of the complaints from my colleagues it seems like they wish he were at the podium a little more often.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so kind of taking a step back here, big picture, to answer your question. Certainly, as I've highlighted earlier this week, there's been a lot of lessons learned and there has been a commitment by the secretary to do better when it comes to transparency. And again, he's taken full responsibility. 

We are committing to abide by the principles, as outlined in the DOD Principles of Information, which is ensuring that the public, Congress and the news media have timely and accurate information about the Department of Defense. We owe that to the American public. And that's the commitment that we're making.

Let me go to — yes?

Q: Senator Roger Wicker is ranking on Senate of Armed Services. He says he's concerned that the president and secretary aren't talking every day, let alone every several days and asked to what extent is the Secretary of Defense a part of the principal conversation going on about strategy and tactics? Is it normal for the secretary and president not to talk for four days? 

GEN. RYDER: So, I'd really refer you to the White House to talk about the president and his level of engagement with senior leaders throughout the cabinet. And what I can tell you is, in my time supporting the Secretary of Defense, he's very actively engaged with White House and with interagency process when it comes to the most important national security and national defense issues. And I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Q: And finally, just different topic, these reports that Iran has seized a tanker with Iraqi crude oil that was apparently the same tanker that the U.S. confiscated last year. Do you have anything — any details to share on that and whether or not the U.S. going to get involved? And trying to persuade Iran to give it back or get it back?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. I know our colleagues at NAVCENT will likely be putting out some more details on this shortly. But what I can tell you is that today the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy unlawfully seized the Marshall Island's flagged oil tanker St. Nikolas while the vessel was transiting the international waterways of the Gulf of Oman. 

As we understand it, this oil tanker was in route to Türkiye when the Iran — Islamic Republic of Iran Navy forces boarded and seized control of the vessel. They subsequently forced the tanker to change course toward Iranian territorial waters and the status of the crew is unknown at this time.

Clearly, this activity is contrary to international law. It's another example of Iranian malign activity, threatening security and stability in the region. And we call on Iran to release the tanker and the crew immediately. 

Thank you. Janne?

Q: Thank you, General. Two questions on Hamas and North Korea and Russia. Did the White House or NSC say that it is aware of evidence that Hamas uses North Korean weapons? Is the Pentagon aware of Hamas' use of North Korean weapons, even if it is not only military cooperation between Hamas and North Korea?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks Janne. I don't have any information on that. Thank you. I don't have any information.

Q: But I have a — but why is Israeli government assured to media (inaudible) or weapons from those….

GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry, I didn't understand.

Q: (Inaudible) Israeli government assured to media they get from Hamas made by the North Koreans….

GEN. RYDER: And yes, I'd refer you to the Israeli government. Clearly, they have more information to provide. 

Go ahead, yes sir?

Q: One more point, please. Despite the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of the violation of the arms trade between North Korea and Russia. Kim Jong-un announced that he will export another new missile to Russia. How concerned are you about this?

GEN. RYDER: Well we've been talking for a long time about the fact that it's very concerning that the relationship between Russia and North Korea, in terms of providing or the provision of munitions, and weapons, that are being employed on the battlefield in Ukraine. Again just demonstrates the desperation that Russia is experiencing right now, when it comes to replenishing their own stockpiles but also more importantly the fact that North Korea is participating in the illegal occupation and killing of Ukrainian civilians in this war.

Let me get to some other folks here.

Let me go to Joseph and then we'll go to Elie.

Q: Thanks. Back to Yemen for a second. Yesterday Secretary Austin had his second operational update from CENTCOM and Joint Chiefs. There was a joint statement put out, was it last week on a warning to the Houthis to stop their attacks without previewing any military action or things that you guys might do. Should we expect any change in the U.S. approach to this threat, as opposed to warnings or statements?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks Joseph.

So you're right. I'm not going to telegraph, forecast, or speculate on any potential future operations. And I think that the statement from multiple nations, when it comes to the fact that there will be consequences should Houthi — the Houthi attacks not stop, speaks for itself. And I'll just leave it at that.


Q: Sorry just one more. Can you give us any updates or have you gotten any — has the Pentagon received any type of notification from the Iraqis in terms of U.S. troop presence there, following (inaudible) statements?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So no changes from what I briefed you on Tuesday. As I mentioned we do continue to remain in close consultation with the government of Iraq when it comes to U.S. Force presence but I will emphasize what I emphasized on Tuesday. We are there at the invitation of the government of Iraq. And those Forces continue to stay focused on the Defeat ISIS Mission. So certainly, as we have updates to provide, we'll make sure we pass this on.


Q: How long was the Secretary in the ICU last week.

GEN. RYDER: Again, I don't have any additional details to provide right now beyond what we've put out, Ellie. You know, as we conduct our review and as we have more information to put out, we'll certainly pass out.

Q: With the transfer of authority on December 22nd, when that authority is transferred is the White House notified but not given a reason?

GEN. RYDER: So again, we will look at all this through our review but as I understand it process wise, it was — it was not uncommon for transfer authorities to occur without an explanation, right, and that was done typically via email.

In terms of your question on you know, did that include an email notification in the White House? I don't have an answer to that question. And again this is something that the review will look at.

As of 8th January, when the Secretary's Chief of Staff issued the memo which again is available on our website, you'll see we took several specific immediate actions to address some things that could immediately look at ensuring more situational awareness, to include a rationale in terms of why a transfer of authority has occurred. So going forward any time there is a transfer of authority, from the secretary to the deputy, that will include a rationale to include whether or not it's hospitalization so.

Q: So on December 22nd, the White House knew about the transfer of authority but did not know the reasons.

GEN. RYDER: I don't have an answer to that question. And again we'll look at all of that as part of our review.


And then go back (inaudible).

Q: Good afternoon. Follow up briefly on Tony's question about the ships in the — in part of the operation. India had announced publicly that they would provide warships to escort Indian vessels. I'm taking that to see they're like France, in other words they're not part of the operation itself. Is that how the Pentagon sees that?

GEN. RYDER: So what I would tell you Tom. Yes, I'm just looking at the list of nations here. So we have more than 20 countries that have — that have agreed to be a part of Prosperity Guardian. And I'm not going to do math in public here but about 14 of those countries have publicly acknowledged that they are part of this.

And again we'll defer to individual nations to their level of comfort how much they want to say about their participation.

I would of course refer you to India, to talk about their participation.

But it's also not unusual to see countries make their own sovereign decisions on how best to protect their interests in the region.

What we will continue to do is consult closely with our allies and partners throughout the world on this important international problem so.

Q: On a completely different topic. And SOUTHCOM used — one of your favorite words, they referred me to you this question.

GEN. RYDER: And I refer you back to them. Can we like...

Q: (inaudible) like you referred back to (them ?) (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER: Podium tennis.

Q: ... beyond those Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador, what is the general military — U.S. Military footprint in Ecuador, please?

GEN. RYDER: I will have to take that question, Tom. I don't know.


Q: Thank you, General. So today the International Court of Justice heard South Africa's genocide case against Israel over Gaza's war. And there were many details of incidents that amount to genocide or acts of genocide according to the case in which U.S. provided weapons were used.

Is the Pentagon concerned about any implications from or potential implications from this case?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks Fadi. So I don't have any comment to provide in terms of South Africa and its particular actions as it relates to the International Criminal Court.

We've been very clear from the beginning of this conflict that we do care about innocent civilian lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, and that we will continue to consult with our Israeli partners, and urge them to take all necessary measures to protect civilians ,also taking into account humanitarian assistance.

And again I know I've said this many times but any loss of civilian life is tragic. And of course, it's not something that that we want.

We also recognize the difficult situation that Israel finds itself in in terms of defending its — its country and ensuring that the kinds of attacks that happen on October 7th, don't happen again.

So we are going to continue to work very closely with State Department and the Interagency and our partners in Israel to ensure that number one, they have the ability to defend themselves but number two, that we continue to do everything that we can to urge them and expect them to safeguard civilians, and also ensure that humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza.

And then more long term of course, the policy of the U.S. government is to work toward a two-state solution where Israel and the Palestinians can live, coexist, in that region in peace. But again I'll just leave it there.

Q: We've heard these comments before but there's a big question about the effectiveness of whatever you're doing with your Israeli allies. Today the Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary General said, Israel impeded the delivery of 18 shipments out of 21, to north Gaza since the beginning of the year and it's basically crippling organizations — humanitarian organizations to do their work in that area.

The death toll continues to grow, hospitals are being targeted. U.N. workers; journalists, more than 110 have been killed; schools; civilian infrastructure, so what is it really that you're referring to in terms of Israel's right to defend itself? Are you in support of such actions?

GEN. RYDER: Again Fadi, no one's questioning the fact that it's a tragic situation across the board for multiple reasons. Again Israel is a sovereign country that's going to make sovereign decisions about how best to defend themselves.

What we've committed to is Israel's inherent right to self-defense. But we've also made it very clear that we expect them to conduct any operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict, and also take into account the importance of ensuring that humanitarian aid and assistance can get into Gaza.

I recognize that this is an incredibly complex situation and there are no simple solutions but we will continue to stay in close contact with Israel. We've had a very long partnership for a very long time. And so again we will continue to have this conversation.

So let me, one last one and then —

Q: Thank you. So I just want to follow up on Iraq. Has any DOD official addressed or talked about or discussed the issue of U.S. presence in Iraq with any Iraqi official in — I don't know, in the last couple of days or since you briefed us on Tuesday, in any framework?

GEN. RYDER: Fadi, what I would tell you, I don't have any specifics to provide right now other than to say again we remain in close consultation.

As you know, CJTF-OIR is in regular contact with their counterparts in the Iraqi government, as well as the fact that we have a U.S. Embassy that has a Defense Attaché Office working through the embassy.

So I don't have any specifics to provide other than again we view Iraq as a valued and important partner. And we're going to continue to communicate with them closely on a variety of topics to include the presence, safety, and security, of our forces there.

OK. Yes sir.

Q: Thank you, (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: And then I got to go to the phone or else I might get in trouble.


Q: Ok. Militia group is in Kurdistan, northern part of Iraq, where it houses a U.S. and National Alliance Forces base, has become a routine. These threats are not only threatening you know, the U.S. Forces but threatening the people. This has created an unstable situation in the region, and created fears with the people. What do you have on this?

GEN. RYDER: In terms of the Iranian proxy attacks…is that what you are talking about? Well clearly I mean these are dangerous attacks as we've talked about and certainly the repercussions on the innocent people of Iraq when these proxy groups conduct these types of things you know, again it just demonstrates the irresponsible behavior.

When it comes to U.S. Forces in the region, again we're there for one reason, and one reason only, which is the enduring defeat of ISIS. And so we will continue to call on these Iranian proxies to cease these attacks. But we won't hesitate as we've demonstrated in the past to take appropriate action to protect our Forces should we need to do that.

Let me go to the phone here.

Howard Altman?

Q: Hey. Thanks Pat. I got a couple questions on the situation in the Red Sea. Is — the Pentagon tracking and mobilization, a Houthi mobilization of forces in its area of control of Yemen. And then the British Prime Minister is meeting with his Cabinet tonight to perhaps talk about this. Are you aware of this?

And then with regard to the ships that are attached to Operation Prosperity, one, would they take — it's a defensive operation but would they possibly be involved in any offensive operation because they're Arleigh Burke? And is there a concern about their defensive munitions given how many times they've had to take out Houthi missiles and drones? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks Howard. That was a lot of questions there. OK. In terms of Houthi forces and what they're doing, and where they're going and all that, I'm just not going to get into intelligence from the podium here.

In terms of Prosperity Guardian, as a coalition, you know, again just to be clear Operation Prosperity Guardian and the Charter under which it's operating is a defensive coalition. And so its focus is on helping to safeguard commercial vessels and mariners that are transiting the Red Sea region.

And so again think of it as sort of a highway patrol, that's there to respond and to help safeguard shipping as I highlighted in my Topper.

Whether individual nations outside of the auspices of Prosperity Guardian opted to take any other action of course that's a sovereign decision. And again I'm not going to forecast or speculate on potential future operations.

And then as it relates to the readiness of U.S. Forces operating in the Red Sea and in the Central Command region. You know, I'm just not going to talk about readiness ,other than to say we have the capabilities and the capacity to do what we need to do to execute the missions that we've been assigned. Thank you.

Let me go to Heather Mongilio, USNI.

Q: Thanks so much. So the British Secretary for State for Defence, Grant Shapps, said that this was the largest attack the January 19th — January 9th — sorry, the attack on a British ship in decades.

The United States hasn't come out and said that it believes that its ships were attacked by the Houthis. I'm just wondering can you explain you know, what the definition that the Department of Defense is using when looking back on whether these attacks by the — or whether the Houthis launching missiles are attacks on U.S. ships.

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks Heather. You know, we've talked about this in the past, right, and so I think the important thing here is what are the potential threats to U.S. vessels. And importantly for those nations that are supporting Prosperity Guardian, and assigned to help safeguard commercial vessels transiting the Red sea, it's taking appropriate action to safeguard those vessels and the lives of the mariners.

And so as an attack drone or as a missile comes within the threat range of a U.S. Military vessel or in a crowded international shipping lane, they have — those vessels have the right, those crews have the right to defend themselves. And you know, shoot first ask questions later in terms of protecting lives.

And so again that's the important equation here. And of course we're always going to do whatever we need to do to defend our personnel.

Got time for just two more. Yes sir?

Q: Thank you, I have one on Ukraine, one on the Red Sea. So you said that you had over 4 billion (inaudible) authority for Ukraine left so is it possible to use this authority now and replenish the stocks later when the Congress approves the supplemental, given what's at stake here?

GEN. RYDER: Well you know, certainly what's at stake in Ukraine is incredibly important. And again this is why we will continue to work closely with Congress to try to receive supplemental funding. At issue here again is the question of impacting our own readiness, as a Nation, and the responsibilities that we have, many of which I've talked about here.

And so yes, while we do have that $4.2 billion in authority, we don't have the funds available to us to replenish those stocks should we expend that. And with no timeline in sight, we have to make those hard decisions.

And so the most important thing right now is securing additional funding from Congress, and we'll continue to work closely with them on this important security — international security issue.

Q: And on the Red Sea — so today, John Kirby said the U.S. is going to do what we have to do to counter and defeat the threats from the Houthis in the Red Sea. So to what extent is the problem just the Houthis and to what extent is the problem Iran's enabling of the Houthis? And does the Pentagon assess that possible action against the Houthis will help to deter Iran too?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, without speculating about potential future operations, we know that Iran — these are Iranian-backed groups. The Houthis are funded, trained, equipped by Iran to a large degree. And so we know that Iran has a role to play in terms of helping to cease this reckless, dangerous, and illegal activity.

And so again, we would call on Iran to do that. Should they choose not to do that, again, as was highlighted in the international coalition statement, there will be consequences, and I'll just leave it at that.

OK, go — two more, just cause — yeah — yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. Before my two quick questions, if I make a personal statement? I ...


GEN. RYDER: ... short though. 

Q: I pray for the Secretary and for his fast recovery and I wish him well.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. That's very kind.

Q: And my question is India is following the U.S. in many fronts in this space, including going around the sun and also in the — studying in the hole — black hole. Is there a space agreement between the U.S. and India now? And year '24 ? will be the space relations between the two nations, India and U.S.

GEN. RYDER: So the — probably a question best addressed by State Department, in terms of bilateral relationships. When it comes to civil space and research, as you know, there's different types of space — there's national defense space and then there's commercial space and then there's research and science. And so things like international research in space would probably be something either to talk to NASA or the State Department about.

All that to say again, you know, the contributions that India continues to make in space and the — and the advances that they continue to make are very impressive. And of course, as a Nation, we continue to look forward to working closely with India on that.

Q: Second question, sir. Thank you. Bangladesh, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, she just won the fifth term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Is there relations between U.S. and Bangladesh, military-to-military relations between the two countries?

GEN. RYDER: I will have to come back to you on that. I don't want to make something up here from the podium. Thank you.

Last question? Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, General. Recently, we see there is a, like, increase in the strikes between Hezbollah and Israel in the south Lebanon. So how concerned are you about these strikes could lead to a wider war, especially in that area? And do you have any, like, measures or steps maybe, by contacting your counter — Israeli counterparts, to prevent, I mean, the (inaudible) this conflict from getting expansion, especially in that area? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so from the very beginning, when we deployed additional capabilities into the region to contribute to regional deterrence efforts, we have been concerned about the potential for this conflict to expand. As we've highlighted before, right now, we don't see the conflict between Israel and Hamas having expanded beyond Gaza, but we also understand the tensions in the region.

So this is a topic of discussion with our Israeli counterparts, but again, what we don't want to see is a situation where this spirals into a broader regional conflict. And certainly — yeah, I'll just leave it at that.

OK, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate your time.