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Director of the Joint Staff and Pentagon Press Secretary Hold an On-Record, Off-Camera, Telephonic Press Briefing

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Hey, good afternoon, everyone.  Major General Ryder here.

We are fortunate today to have Director of the Joint Staff Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, who will be providing an update on last night's strikes against military targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to degrade and disrupt their ability to conduct future attacks.  This session today will be on the record.  I will call on reporters, and I would ask that you please mute your phones while we're conducting this press briefing.

And with that, I will turn it over to General Sims.

Thank you, sir.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL DOUGLAS A. SIMS II:  Thanks, Pat.  Good afternoon, everyone.  I appreciate the opportunity to get together and talk with you about last night's operation.  I guess what I'll say, and I'll just say very shortly and then I know you're more interested in asking questions than listening to me ramble on.  But I think you were tracking that last night, the United States and British elements, with the support of the Australians, Bahrainis, Canadians and Netherlands, conducted multiple strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.

And just to clear things up as we get started, so the original strikes were against 16 separate locations.  Each of those locations contained a number of different items, so -- and the reason I say that is there's -- I've seen and -- and heard from conjecture about total numbers of -- of targets, and I just wanted to be very clear that there were 16 locations, and on each of those locations, there might have been a number of items that were struck.  So there could have been, as an example, multiple launchers for antiship ballistic missiles, as an example, in one location. 

Subsequent or immediately following those strikes, there were 12 other locations that had been identified as possessing articles that could be potentially used against forces, maritime and air.  Those areas were also -- they were subsequently struck again.  Those 12 locations consisted of multiple items.

So all told -- and I say that just under 30 different locations.  There were just over 150 various munitions used.  Those munitions came from both maritime platforms, as well as air platforms, either British or U.S., in the air.  As I know you're tracking, the U.S. Naval assets, air assets, came off of the Eisenhower Strike Group.  And at this point, we continue to conduct battle damage assessment of the -- of the various targets.  We feel very confident about where our -- where our -- where our munitions struck, but we don't know at this point the complete battle damage assessment, and we continue to do that as -- as we're speaking now.

So I'll hold there, and look forward to your questions.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you, sir.

First question will go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q:  Thank you, and thank you, General Sims, for doing this.  I realize -- it sounds like you don't have much more of a BDA, but can you give us any idea of militants killed or anything like that for the BDA? And then more broadly, the Houthis and the public, I think, to a degree were pretty aware that this was in the process of planning.  Do you believe or does the U.S. believe that that had any impact on the Houthis?  Were they able to hide things?  Do you get a sense that they were able to move things around because they knew something was coming?  And -- and what is your assessment of what they're planning to do now?  Have you seen anything?

GEN. SIMS:  So Lita, thanks. I'm not going to get into the intelligence aspects of this, except to say, you know, this -- this was not -- first of all, in terms of -- of, you know, the numbers, not to play a numbers game with you, the number of casualties, we don't expect would be very high.  In fact, the majority of the locations that we hit were in areas that were not built up at all.  So think ballistic missile launchers that were in mountain areas or, you know, very lowly populated areas.  So the number of casualties will likely not be very high.

I will tell you, in the end, this was not about -- this was not necessarily about casualties as much as it was about degrading capability.  So we know precisely the capability that the Houthis have been employing against international shipping in the Red Sea, in the Bab-al-Mandeb.  This was -- this was solely designed to get after the capability that is impeding international -- you know, the freedom of navigation in -- in international waters, and that's -- we feel pretty confident we did good work on that.  

In terms of early notification, I can't speak to that.  You know, perhaps the Houthis can answer that.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  Let's go to Eric Schmitt, New York Times.

Q:  General, can you just talk a little bit more about what you kind of anticipate, what you're seeing?  Have you seen any kind of reaction yet from the Houthis or from any other of the so-called Axis of Resistance actors, whether it's the Shia militia in Syria and Iraq, Hezbollah, anybody else that might be responding in solidarity to the Houthis after these strikes?  Thanks.

GEN. SIMS:  Thanks, Eric.  So we did see one anti-ship ballistic missile that was fired today.  That -- that did not hit any of any ships of any kind, and we're still working through that in particular.  So we know that they have fired at least one missile in retaliation.

My my guess is that the Houthis are trying to figure things out on the ground and trying to determine what capabilities still exist for them, but I would expect -- as, you know, their rhetoric has been pretty strong and pretty high, I would expect that they will attempt some sort of retaliation.  

I quite honestly, I would hope they wouldn't, and what I mean by that is there are a number of actors here who have the ability and have influence with the Houthis who recognize that continued conflict is not in their -- is not advantageous to them.  Iran would be one of them.  As you know, the Iranians are directly, you know, connected to this, have been connected to the Houthis for quite some time, and we know that the Houthis listen to them.  

So the hope would be that any real thought of retaliation is based on a clear understanding that, you know, we simply are not going to be messed with here.  This is -- this is all about creating freedom of navigation for the -- for the international shipping.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  Let's go to Oren Liebermann, CNN.

Q:  Yeah, just two quick questions if I may.  First, what is the -- the difference in timing between the initial group of 16 strikes and the subsequent group of -- of 12 strikes?  And why was it determined to be necessary to take those -- those subsequent strikes?

And the second question, this -- look, from our perspective, this leaked pretty badly on the UK side.  Did that affect the -- the tactical outcomes?  Did the Houthis have time to move what you were going after because of -- this was -- you know, this was just leaking from the UK, that this was about to happen?

GEN. SIMS:  So Oren, first of all, welcome home.  

Secondly, the -- in terms of the timing, it was -- it was near immediate.  I mean, it was -- it was -- I say " near immediate."  I think you're talking somewhere between 30 minutes and 60 minutes, at which time we determined that the additional 12 locations I mentioned before -- certainly, at that point, we were able to identify them and they did in fact have the ability to influence our maritime or air forces.  And, you know, in self-defense, those sites were struck.

The -- in terms of the early warning you were talking about, again, I can't really speak to what was known on the ground.  It clearly, I understand that there is conversation about what was out there beforehand.  I can't tell you what the Houthis did or didn't move.  I think our continued battle damage assessment will give us an idea of that, and then we'll make decisions based on that.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

GEN. RYDER:  Let's go to Fadi, Al Jazeera.

Q:  Thank you, generals, for doing this.  So my first question is about, first of all, impact on the freedom of navigation in the region.  You probably heard three different companies that have tankers operate in the region ceased operations through the Red Sea.  So how do you see these strikes contributing to enhancing the security of shipping in the Red Sea?

GEN. SIMS:  Yeah, Fadi, that's a great question.  I -- I mean, so, you know, that's three companies.  I think all told, there are somewhere around, you know, 12 companies around the world that have somehow altered their operations, whether they're going all the way around or they're limiting the movement in and around the Red Sea and the -- and the BAM.  Every time they do that, that cost is incurred or is passed on to consumers around the world.  

And, you know, so, you know, we think certainly about the United States, but this is -- as I mentioned before, this is an international problem.  I mean, of the ships since the 19th of November -- and we're talking in excess of 50 countries -- 50 countries on every continent.  

We've got representation on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, that have been impacted by the Houthis' desire to lob missiles into the -- into the ocean there -- into the Red Sea, and I should mention, in some cases, generally indiscriminately.  

And what I mean by that is, you know, that -- as you know, there is a large amount of shipping that transits the Bab-al-Mandeb and goes through the southern Red Sea there, and the missiles that are being employed in some cases by the Houthis are not the most technical.  And so they have the ability to strike multiple -- you know, different locations just based on what they see at the time.

So, again, this wasn't a U.S. action, this was a multinational action.  It was -- you know, the Houthi action was condemned by 14 countries, plus the United States, a week or so ago.  And the action last night was an international -- a multinational response to that action by the Houthis.

Q:  And my second question is from operational point of view.  We've seen similar actions taken by the U.S. in -- in Iraq and Syria in response to attacks on U.S. forces.  Nonetheless, those attacks continued.  Is your assessment that these military actions by the U.S. are having an impact on the quality and the capability of what you're -- what the Pentagon called Iranian proxies in the region?  What are expectations?  What might come from Yemen from Houthis or Iraq and Syria?  Thank you very much.

GEN. SIMS:  Yeah, Fadi, I think, you know -- listen, this is -- there is nothing -- there is nothing about this that is good for the Houthis.  You know -- and again, this isn't just an American saying that, that's -- this, to me, is the world saying it.  I mean the countries that they're interdicting.  I mean, it's not like the 50-plus countries are part of the same -- are part of any of the same organization.  I mean we have you know, we have -- we have country, Russian ships we've got -- we've had Chinese pieces in port, ships, or flagged ships, or crews.  This is affecting the entirety of the world.

The strikes that we have taken in Iraq and Syria have been designed against the Iranian-aligned militia groups.  Again, we know that the Iranians have influence there.  The situation is different.  It's a different conversation in Iraq and Syria and -- than it is down in Yemen certainly supported by the Iranians in both cases.  But there are some fundamental differences between the two.

GEN. RYDER:  Go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q:  Thank you.  I'm sorry.  I'm unclear on the targets now.  So, it's the 16 locations.  Was that where AFCENT said that there were more than 60 targets at 16 locations.  So does that mean that the additional 12 locations meant there were more targets or is it still more than 60 total?

GEN. SIMS:  Yes.  Courtney, I can understand the confusion.
And so, there were 16 locations and on -- and I give you a you know, kind of a hypothetical on it.  So, on one location, you may have had four missile launchers so launchers with ASBM -- I'm sorry Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles or Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles.  You may have had one location on which there was a warehouse, housing one-way attack, UAS and, a radar.  You may have had a location that had a radar plus other aspects of that radar, generators, or other pieces of equipment.

When AFCENT released theirs today, they were talking more about the total number of things on those locations but there were a total of 16 locations that were targeted.  And on that multiple things.

Same thing with the subsequent 12 then.  So, on one of the 12 there may have been you know, three or four launchers.  Over.

Q:  I get that but so what's the total number then? Is it still more than 60 or is it more than that?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah,  Courtney.  I mean at this point we're not going to have a specific number to provide other than to say you know, over a hundred and fifty munitions employed and multiple targets struck.

Again ...

Q:  Well, is the number that we're using wrong because we -- I mean I think a lot of people are quoting this statement out of AFCENT that says more than 60 but now I'm concerned that that's wrong.  Is it ?

GEN. RYDER:  That is factually.  It...

Q:  OK.

GEN. RYDER:  ... is more than 60.  Yes.

Q:  It is more than 60.  OK.  And then -- and then second the subsequent strike with the -- on the 12 additional locations, you mentioned Senior -- U.S. Military official that there's a -- that it was -- you mentioned self-defense.  So I'm wondering did that -- was that -- did that require additional authorities like did they have to -- was it all the same aircraft and ships that were involved in that second round of strikes and then or did it require going back and getting a second approval? Because it sounds as if it was a second -- like it was a second round almost.  Or was it all...

GEN. SIMS:  Yes.  We think...

Q:  ... like the same package basically.

GEN. SIMS:  ... No.  It was -- it was -- and you know, Courtney, without getting into the particulars of what aircraft were where and what ships were where, there were some of the same Maritime Forces and potentially different aircraft just based on who was flying where at the time.  The authority is based on self-defense.  So based on hostile act ,hostile intent, determination that those weapon systems would be employed against the Maritime or Air Forces.  And as a result they were -- they struck those targets.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  And Courtney just to reconfirm, this is all on the record.

Q:  Oh, thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  But Courtney.  The Senior Military Official is good, I like that.

Q:  OK.  Sorry.  There was -- there were there are quotes on the wires that were on background which made me think I was wrong that it was on record.  OK.  Thank you, Pat.

GEN. RYDER:  OK.  Yes.  

Q:  Senior Defense Official...


Q:  ... Senior Military Official too.  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  All right. Let's go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Oh hey there.  I just wanted to follow up.  You said that you expect the Houthis to you know, live up to their pledges to retaliate and keep -- and keep going.  I'm -- I'm just wondering you know, what do you think -- do you think the Houthis wanted this? Do you think they wanted the U.S. to strike them? Do you think they want to fight with the U.S. and Britain and its allies? And if so you know, what do you assess why that is?

GEN. SIMS:  First of all, I would hope that they don't respond.  Do I expect they will? There's a possibility.  As I mentioned there was a -- the ballistic missile fire this morning.  So you know, it seems within the DNA.

What I would hope though is that they recognize that it's, you know, generally fruitless.
I mean I'm not sure you know, what advantage they have to holding the international shipping in the Red Sea hostage.  I think it's harmful to the region.  It does not simply affect things that are directly tied to the Houthis but it affects you know, it affects many of their partners quite honestly or many of the folks that they -- they're working with.  So I would hope that they don't retaliate but we're prepared in the event that they do.

Q:  But do you … did you assess that they wanted the U.S. to strike?

GEN. SIMS:  I don't think they would want the U.S. to strike.  You know, my guess is if you're operating a -- if you were operating a ballistic missile launcher last night you certainly didn't want the strike.  But no I would -- I would hope they didn't want us to strike.

GEN. RYDER:  And folks for the sake of time please limit follow ups so we can get to several of your other colleagues here.

Dan Lamothe, Washington Post?

Q:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  I wanted to see if we could go a deeper level on how you did this particularly which ships which, which jets that sort of thing.  We saw the video of the Eisenhower involved but beside that it's been pretty thin on that.

And then there's a -- there's a bulletin that went out to Mariners that that was passed around pretty widely that raised the idea that the U.S. Military or the Defense Department is speaking with commercial groups and to some degree, I think trying to coordinate on safety.

Sounded like there was a discussion of keeping them -- keeping them clear for another day or so and letting it settle down.  Can you speak at all to the communication with the commercial side? Thanks.

GEN. SIMS:  Yes.  So, you know, we've been talking to the Commercial Mariners for quite some time.  And I say we, that is a part of you know, Prosperity Guardian and the separate operation to defend and provide defense for shipping moving through the Red Sea.

And we have in fact talked Commercial Maritime personnel or companies just to provide them with a clear understanding of what we believe the situation to be, how our defenses work, what we can and can't do.

And I don't have the particulars down on what's been said today.  We can certainly follow up with you with anything that's come out official.  I just -- I'm not tracking that, but it would not be -- I don't think that would be uncommon for us to be talking with Commercial Maritime organizations to ensure they understand the current situation.

The first question you asked about the particulars, you know, I can tell you that we had a number of U.S. aircraft, U.S. Navy Aircraft from the Carrier Air Wing -- Carrier Air Wing Three, from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, the U.S.S Gravely, Philippine Sea, and Mason, all either Guided Missile Cruisers or Destroyers participated.  And then finally in Ohio Class-Guided Missile Submarine also participated in the strikes last night.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.  OK.  We have time for just a few more.  Let's go to Liz Frieden, Fox.

Q:  Hey thanks.  My first question is, can you explain Secretary Austin's setup at Walter Reed as he was overseeing this strike? A U.S. official suggested earlier today, he was in a hospital bed.  Is that true?

GEN. SIMS:  Liz, I mean I'll let -- I'll let General Ryder talk to that.  I got to tell you I've been involved in this for you know, the entirety of it.  I couldn't tell you where General Austin was, whether he was, you know, my conversation or not my conversations but my participation.  I couldn't tell you if he was upstairs in his Office or anywhere else.  it hasn't seemed to matter, but I'll give that to Pat.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks sir.  Yes.

Secretary Austin has been actively engaged, overseeing and directing the strikes.  Last night.  On Tuesday when the Houthis were conducting their complex attack, Secretary Austin conducted a phone conference with the Chairman and the CENTCOM Commander to monitor that and to monitor the Operation Prosperity Guardian response.

And then over the last two days, so between Tuesday and yesterday, he had a couple of conversations with the President, conducted multiple daily conversations with the Chairman, the CENTCOM Commander, as well as the National Security Council, to discuss the response options and the execution following the President's authorization.

And then it was Secretary Austin, yesterday, who gave the CENTCOM Commander the order to execute the strikes.  And then he monitored them from his hospital room in real time via a full suite of secure communication capabilities.

And then following those strikes conducted a call with the National Security Council, the Chairman, and the Central Command Commander for an initial post-strike assessment.

So continues to monitor the situation today.  And hopefully that answers your question, Liz.  Thanks.

Q:  Thank you.  

GEN. RYDER:  OK.  Let's go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.  And then we have time for one more after that.

Q:  Hi? General Sims one quick question.  Do you assess right now or does the Joint Staff assess at this point that the strikes last night sufficiently degraded Houthi capability that they can't replicate the complex attack from Tuesday?

GEN. SIMS:  All right.  It's a good question.  I know we have degraded capability.  I don't believe that they would be able to execute the same way they did the other day.  But, we will see.

Q:  OK.  You'll see.  One quick follow up.  How quickly did this operation come together after the complex attacks on Tuesday? Did the White House ask CENTCOM for its current operational plan? And things just progressed from there within like two days?

GEN. SIMS:  The -- I guess what I'd tell you Tony is you know, the beauty of the Military is we're always planning.  So you know, after -- I believe the first strike on an international vessel was somewhere around the 19th of November.  From the 19th of November on we've maintained a very clear awareness of what's going on with the Houthis.  And as a result you know, as you would expect our military and a group of like-minded militaries were prepared to execute operations as necessary.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you, sir.  Final question will go to J.J. Green, WTOP.

Q:  General Sims, General Ryder, thank you.  Very quickly, what was the logic behind the targets you chose -- radar locations, launch sites?  Why did you choose those specific sites?

GEN. SIMS:  Hey, J.  Every target we struck last night was associated with a capability that has been employed in denying freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the BAM.  So, whether it was associated with radars that are providing surveillance to the Houthis to determine what ships to strike at, if it's one-way attack UAVs are being used to strike at ships or it's some sort of missile, ballistic, cruise or otherwise, that have been employed in an effort to strike those ships, all of those were capabilities that we sought to degrade with our strikes last night. 

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you very much, sir.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  That concludes our press briefing today.  Have a great evening.  Thank you.