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Senior Military Official and Senior Defense Official Hold a Background Briefing

MAJ. GEN. PAT RYDER: All right, well, good evening, everyone. Thanks very much for joining us this evening, so short notice. I'm Major General Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, and I'll be facilitating tonight's background briefing on multinational strikes against military targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen intended to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis have used to threaten global trade and the lives of innocent mariners.

Please note tonight's call is on background, which means you may attribute the comments of our briefers to a Senior Defense Official and a Senior Military Official. Appreciate your help with that [REDACTED]. Please note I'll call on reporters. We'll try to get to as many of your questions as possible in the time we have available. And before we begin, I'd ask that you please keep your phones on mute unless you're asking a question.

And with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Defense Official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you. Good evening, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Since November 19th, 2023, Houthi rebels have launched attacks on at least 33 commercial vessels using a range of weaponry, including anti-ship ballistic missiles, close-range ballistic missiles, land attack cruise missiles, uncrewed aerial vehicles, and unmanned surface vehicles.

These assaults, notably the unprecedented use of anti-ship ballistic missiles, have significantly disrupted the free flow of commerce and navigational rights in one of the globe's most critical waterways. The Red Sea is a vital artery for nearly 15 percent of global seaborne trade, including eight percent of the world's grain trade, 12 percent of seaborne-traded oil, and eight percent of global liquified natural gas, and it's been compromised.

Incidents of concern include the seizure of a Japan-owned vessel with a multinational crew, a missile strike on a Norwegian tanker transporting vegetable oil, and an attack on a New York-bound vessel carrying 16.1 million gallons of U.S.-owned jet fuel.

U.S. military and merchant vessels have faced persistent threats from Houthi missiles and UAVs. Notable incidents include a January 14th attack on the USS Laboon and a barrage of nearly two dozen munitions on January 9th targeting U.S. Navy and U.S.-flagged merchant vessels.

U.S.-owned vessels, including the M/V Genco Picardy and the M/V GIBRALTAR EAGLE, were also struck in mid-January. Increasing danger has led over 14 shipping companies to cease Red Sea operations, severely impacting global commerce and the economies of Egypt and Jordan.

In response, President Biden has directed the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with Australia, Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, to execute precise strikes against select Houthi targets in Yemen. This action aims to deter further regional maritime attacks and diminish Houthi capabilities.

These strikes, while necessary, do not indicate a shift in our approach to the region. We remain committed to the rules-based international order and will defend ourselves as needed. This action, grounded in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, reflects our inherent right to self-defense. We stand ready to take further actions to neutralize threats or respond to attacks, ensuring the stability and security of the Red Sea region and international trade routes.

Thank you. I'll now turn it over to my colleague.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hey, good evening. On January 22nd at approximately 4 pm Eastern Standard Time, U.S. Central Command forces, alongside the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom and with the support of allied and partner nations, conducted strikes on Houthi targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The strikes were launched from air, surface, and sub-surface platforms targeting eight locations consisting of Houthi missiles, unmanned aerial systems, and weapons storage areas. We conducted the strikes with Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, or TLAMs, and manned aircraft from the United States Navy and the UK Armed Forces. Precision-guided munitions were used to destroy the targets and also to minimize collateral damage.

We would like to emphasize that these strikes have no association and are completely separate from Operation Prosperity Guardian, which is a defensive coalition currently comprised of 22 countries operating in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandab, and the Gulf of Aden.

The U.S., UK, and partner forces that participated in these strikes this evening remain well prepared to defend themselves, as well as well prepared to continue to contribute to the defense of maritime traffic and other military vessels as part of the coalition in the Red Sea, Bab-al-Mandab, and Gulf of Aden.

And with that, Pat, we can move on to questions.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you both, gentlemen. Our first question will go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q: A couple questions. I think you said eight locations. Can you say how many targets were struck and whether you have even any preliminary BDA on any of them?

And then secondly, can you give us any estimate the perceived impact on the Houthis? What (inaudible) their capabilities do you think (inaudible) at this point? What is the overall impact? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you for your question. Yes, again, eight locations. They're - in some of these locations, there were multiple targets. I'm unable to give an exact target number at this point. We can tell you that we observed good impacts and effects at all eight locations, assessing that we did in fact destroy missiles, unmanned aerial systems, and weapons storage areas.

The - you know, we continue to collect battle damage assessment and we'll have - we'll have a better assessment going forward, but at this point, we do assess that the strike was successful and achieved the desired effect of removing these capabilities from the Houthis.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Next question will go to Missy Ryan, Washington Post.

Q: Hi. Sorry, I just had to unmute. I just wanted to clarify this is - is this - am I correct to think this is the eighth round of strikes since January 11th for the United States?

And just following up on the earlier questions, should we conclude from the fact that there hasn't been another large scale Houthi attack like the one on January 9th that - that it's - the - the group's ability to conduct the more disruptive attacks have actually been eroded because of these - because of these strikes, or do you have any sense that they're, you know, taking some sort of operational pause?

And can you address the whole question of whether this is now a named operation? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We definitely feel that the strikes we have taken, the strikes tonight, the January 11th strikes with the same coalition partners and a number of self-defense strikes against immanent threats that have taken place in the interim have removed significant Houthi capability.

That does not mean they have no more capability but we definitely believe that has had an impact. I don't want to access Houthi strategy because attacks have continued during this period. So we know that they remain capable and based on some motivation to do that.

But our intention when -- is to de-escalate, to restore calm in the Red Sea. And when we've seen the international community being attacked issue the necessary warnings, said consequences would follow and indeed they have followed. Regarding -- this is not a departmental named operation and I'd -- you know I'd refer you to the -- to the relevant combatant command for their designations for how they describe the operation.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: Thank you very much. The -- can you say how many munitions were dropped by the U.S.? I don't know if you're able to speak to how many the -- the British did as well. And if it's possible to break it out, how many were TLAMs versus how many were like precision guided munitions dropped from aircraft.

And then the statement that we got said they targeted -- you targeted underground storage facilities. Can you talk about what kind of munition was used for that please? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, with regard to the weapon storage facilities, these were facilities that had -- had missiles and unmanned aerial systems so there was a combination of advanced convention weapons at these -- at these facilities. I don't -- I don't have the exact number of munitions at this point as we're still assessing the strike itself. But I would -- I would put it likely around probably in the 25 to 30 range right now but I don't have that exact number.

Q: And I'm so sorry, is that senior military official or defense official.

GEN. RYDER: Military official.

Q: OK. Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: All right, let's go to Eric Schmidt, New York Times.

Q: [REDACTED] Just to recap, eight locations (inaudible) an undetermined number of components (inaudible) 25 to 30 munitions, is that -- is that all correct?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, that's an approximate on the munitions. I -- I won't have the full accounting with the strikes just completing not to -- not to long ago, I won't have the full accounting until all our aircraft have returned and we get a full debrief from everything. So we'll have -- we'll have a refined number in the future on that but I -- I don't have the exact number of munitions.

Q: OK. And then -- and just in terms of the -- of this underground facility, this is -- is this the first time you stuck and underground bunker?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: This would -- this would be the first time we struck a storage facility of this type in Yemen.

Q: OK, is that --

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Other storage facilities were of a different type.

Q: OK. Is this bigger or broader or different -- more munitions, more complex munitions in it, what's different about what you struck than what you'd done before?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, the strike this evening, that -- the particular weapon storage facility was assessed to have more advanced conventional weaponry in it than in the -- in the first strike on the 11th.

GEN. RYDER: All right, I'll our next question will go to Liz Friden, Fox News.

Q: How many aircraft were used in this and how many Navy ships contribute -- U.S. Navy ships contributed?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, I can't reveal the number of -- the number of aircraft at this time but the -- the aircraft were from the U.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower and part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower’s carrier strike group, which is currently located in the Red Sea. And additionally our -- we had a contribution of fighters from the United Kingdom that were part. But to avoid giving away our tactics and our operational approach, I can't give you the number of aircraft --

Q: Thank you. And --


Q: All right, were there any casualties assessed?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: There were no U.S. casualties.

Q: On the Houthis' side?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Unknown at this time. But I can point out that the targeting was very specific and very deliberate to go after the capability that they are using to attack Maritime vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden. They were -- they were not intentionally selected for casualties. They were going after weapon systems.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Next question will go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q: Hey, just -- I got a quick follow-up on that. Do you assess there's any risk of civilian casualties in these latest strikes? And also, could you give us kind of up to date account -- I don't have any idea of how many missiles or radar systems or UAVs you've -- you've struck so far since you started hitting targets inside Yemen.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: None of these targets had concerns for civilian casualties. Again, precision guided munitions used in -- in each of -- each of these events and the locations were carefully vetted for any collateral damage concerns. So no, we did not have any concern for civilian casualties at any of these eight locations.

I don't have an exact number for you. Again, this is -- this is part of our intelligence apparatus and -- and revealing the exact number, you know, could reveal some of that. So at this time I'm -- we're not able to give you a number that we've destroyed. I can, like I did on the --

Q: (Inaudible).

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I can you that it is -- it is significant and it has definitely degraded their ability to conduct these maritime attacks.

GEN. RYDER: OK. Thank you. Let's go to Fadi Mansour – Aljazeera.

Q: Thank you, General. And thank you for doing this. So previously since, I believe January 11, all the strikes against Houthi positions were -- were framed as defensive in nature. Is this new round, does it imply a more sustained campaign against their capabilities? And I have a follow-up, please.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: This round of strikes is really of a similar character to those on January 11th for several weeks, as I outlined earlier. The Houthi have posed persistent threats and attacked on a an ongoing basis legitimate international shipping and innocent mariners and naval vessels as well.

And this is simply something that the international community can't really accept. The principle of freedom of navigation is fundamental. It has severe economic consequences when ships are forced to take a - take alternative routes.

And so as a number of nations came together on January 3rd to say this kind of aggression against international shipping is unacceptable and that there would be consequences if it continued, and it did continue and it has continued, that - a coalition of countries is now taking action, did on January 11th, did again tonight.

So it's really of the same character as those - those earlier strikes, intended to deter additional attacks and to degrade the Houthis' capabilities to conduct those attacks.

Q: And as part of that coalition, apart from the U.S. and the UK that took military action, can you be more specific about the type of support Canada, Australia, Bahrain, and the Netherlands offered? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I would defer to our coalition partners to describe their contributions. We're very satisfied that this coalition works well together and everybody in it does contribute. We know we have the political support of an additional number of countries, and I expect we'll hear from them as well. So - but I'll - I'll defer to each country to - to describe its own contribution.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q: Yeah, we've been told that the Houthis are moving their missiles around, doing a better job of concealing them. Could you talk about that? And also, do you know the locations of their command and control nodes or is that just difficult because they're dispersed?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, I can't answer much of this due to - due to classification and - and the - the - the risk of revealing intelligence, but we - you know, we - we have the - the capability to - to locate - continue to locate these - these Houthi weapons systems and we have the capability to target them. And I think that's - I don't think I can get much more in - more into that. I - I - yeah, I'm sorry, that's about all I can tell you.

Q: OK. Can - also, do you see this as a long-term campaign, lasting weeks, if not months, as you keep striking and they keep firing missiles?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: You know, I don't want to make any projection about our future operations, and I obviously will not speculate about the Houthis' decisions and strategies. We've said that we aim to de-escalate, we aim to restore calm in the Red Sea, but when the international community is going to be attacked, there will be consequences. And that's what's happened again tonight.

Q: OK, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Let's go to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. A couple of questions. First of all, can you just clarify that that - the storage facility of a different type that contained more advanced conventional weaponry was the underground storage facility that this - the statement mentioned?

And then I have a follow-up.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, that's correct.

Q: OK - OK, thank you. And then I - also wondering - I've seen some reports that the Houthis were - were starting to use naval mines in the Red Sea. Is - has that - has that occurred? Is that accurate?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: At this time, we have not seen the - the employment of naval mines. Our forces remain postured, well equipped, well trained to respond to - to any threat to maritime traffic, but at this point, we have not - we have not seen the employment of mines.

Q: OK. Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's - let's go to Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. So the strategy of trying to bomb your enemy into submission didn't work in Vietnam and the strategy of trying to degrade but not defeat your enemy didn't work in Afghanistan. What makes you think the combination of these two strategies will allow the United States to prevail in Yemen?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Again, I'm not going to make projections about the future. I - I am going to say that the strikes that we and our coalition partners have undertaken thus far have removed significant Houthi capability, have degraded their capabilities to conduct the attacks. They have continued to conduct attacks and - and threaten imminent - imminent attacks that we've dealt with in self-defense strikes.

So this hasn't - you know, this has not been going on that long. The Houthi attacks have been going on since mid-December, as I mentioned. The coalition response has been going on since January 11th. So I think it would be premature to draw long-term conclusions anyway but our - our strategy is to defend international - legitimate international shipping that is under attack and degrade the ability to carry it out.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let's go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q: Thanks. I've got a few questions here. Can you say what precision munition's been used besides the TLAMs? And what was used on the underground bunker? And then can you say what ships were involved besides the Ike? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Unfortunately the answer to your first question is no. I can only tell you that they were Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, TLAMs, and then there were munitions that were released both by U.S. and UK fighters. As far as the other ships that were involved in the strike, it'd be the Philippine Sea, the Gravely, and the Mason.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Great. Let's go to James LaPorta, Messenger.

Q: Hi. I got - I got kind of a related question but - you know, about the strikes themselves but related to all this. The - the two Navy SEALs that are now deceased unfortunately, I wonder if the Pentagon views that as on the fault of the Houthis, in the - in the sense that, you know, if the Houthis - you know, if - if weapons hadn't - were not being shipped to the Houthis and targeting ships in the commercial shipping lanes, the Navy SEALs would not feel the need to even carry out that operation. So I'm wondering if - you know they were swept at - swept away at sea, it appears. I wonder if that's actually the fault of the Houthis, in - in the eyes of the Pentagon?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, this is the Senior Military Official. This was a - you know, that interdiction was separate from our ongoing, you know, maritime security operations in that region. We, for - for a very long time, have maintained a - a force that conducts routine interdictions, actions on intelligence related to the smuggling of - of arms, particularly advanced conventional weapons, throughout that region. And that - exactly what this mission was, was they acted on this intelligence, they interdicted a - a vessel that was in fact smuggling advanced conventional weaponry.

And so I view these as - as separate incidents and not specifically tie this, or as you put it, blame it on the Houthis. This is a problem that is prevalent in that region and something that we've -- we've had to deal with for a number of years.

GEN. RYDER: We have time for just a few more. Let's go to Carla Babb, VOA.

Q: Hey, thank you for doing this. Just two questions. First a follow-up. You said that it -- some of their capabilities have been significantly degraded. Can you give us any more detail into that without giving specific numbers, without going in to intelligence. But I mean how much are we talking about here, has a quarter of their missiles been wiped out?

I mean how -- just give us some sort of sense on how much you've been able to degrade their missile abilities. And then secondly for -- for the defense official. Iran is -- you know the Pentagon is saying that Iran is supplying the Houthis, Iran is supplying the proxies in Iraq that launch attacks on U.S. forces. Why have their not been any attacks on any Iran production facilities for ballistic missiles?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah, going back to the first one. Again, I'm sorry without -- due to classification I can't reveal the -- you know our assessment on what the percentage. I can, as the defense official did, attribute the decline in the -- in the number and the ferocity of the maritime attack directly attribute that to the reduction in Houthi capability to carry out those attacks. So we -- we are having the intended affect.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Regarding Iran, it's true Iran is a supplier of the Houthi and has provided equipment and training and expertise to other proxy organizations in the region. We have communicated in various our -- that we consider that activity to be unacceptable. We obviously address threats when we see them and when they're directed at us or directed at allies or at international shipping. And I won't speculate on any future -- any future operation.

GEN. RYDER: Go to -- Constantine?

Q: Thank you. Thank you guys for doing this. My question is if you can speak at all to the U.S. warships that have been targeted. First of all, can you say which warships you assessed who have been targeted by the Houthis? And whether you've seen an uptick in the targeting of U.S. warships since the initial strike on January 11th? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So aside from the USS Laboon, which was specifically mentioned, no I don't have additional information on the -- on the -- the ships -- the ship names that were -- that were targeted. And then what was the second one?

Q: If there had been an uptick in the targeting of U.S. warships since the initial strike on January 11th?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The Houthi have made some claims in that regard, which we won't respond to. But, you know, we've considered ships throughout that region to be subject to this kind of aggression. Sometimes a stable ship, sometimes it's commercial ships. And of course we mentioned two U.S. owned vessels that were struck in -- in -- within the last week. So the targeting is -- has some breadth to it.

GEN. RYDER: Right. And final question we'll go to Chris Gordon, Air and Space Forces Magazine.

Q: Thanks, Pat. And thank you to the senior officials for doing this. I -- you mentioned the underground storage site had more advanced capabilities than some previous targets. So are you beginning to strike a broader array of targets, more advanced targets, not just, you know, missiles ready to launch or are these strikes of the same nature?

Are you trying to put more of an emphasis on striking infrastructure to weaken Houthis' ability to carry out a prolonged campaign against shipping? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: No these -- these are characterized as more of the same, this -- this particular location in -- was -- was different in what we -- what we knew was at that facility and the actual construction of the facility. But no it's more of the -- it's more of the same. Missiles, UAVs. You know the initial strike specifically targeted some -- some surveillance sites, both coastal surveillance radars and air surveillance radars.

This -- this strike did not include those. Based primarily on the success of the -- of the strike on the 11th. But no, we would characterize this as more of the same. And again, I have to reiterate that we are -- we're specifically avoiding escalation by selecting these -- these locations and individual targets that will remove capability used in maritime attacks.

We are -- we are not at this time expanding beyond that -- that target set. So that is -- that is why this is characterized the same as it was on the 11th. It is the -- the weapon systems and support systems they've used to carry out these maritime attacks and that's it.

GEN. RYDER: Right. Thank you very much again for joining us. As a reminder, tonight's discussion was on background, attributed to a senior defense official and a military defense official. We will be posting a transcript to the DOD website when available. Thanks for joining us.