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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things at the top, and then I'd be glad to take your questions.

As you know, yesterday, three U.S. servicemembers were killed and dozens of personnel were injured from a one-way attack unmanned aerial system that impacted a U.S. military facility located in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border. The names of those soldiers who lost their lives were Sergeant William Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Sanders and Specialist Breonna Moffett, all of whom were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit based out of Fort Moore, Georgia. These three fallen heroes were deployed to Jordan in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and the international coalition working to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS. These brave Americans and their families are in our prayers, and the entire Department of Defense mourns their loss. 

We also pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured. Eight personnel who received injuries required medical evacuation from Jordan to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. Three of those patients are scheduled for imminent transport to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for follow-on care. The other five have been assessed for mild TBIs and are expected to return to duty.

We are still assessing what happened and how a one-way attack drone was able to impact the facility. US Central Command continues to investigate this attack and for operation security and force protection reasons, we're not going to discuss further specifics or measures we're taking to prevent such actions towards future attacks. But we do know that Iran-backed militias are responsible for continued attacks on U.S. forces in the region, and as the president and the secretary have stated, we will not tolerate continued attacks on American forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend U.S. military men and women forward-deployed, and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing. 

Now, over the weekend, the secretary received regular updates on the attack against U.S. forces and participated in a briefing with the president and his national security team. Today, Secretary Austin returned to work at the Pentagon. This morning, he hosted the NATO secretary-general for a bilateral meeting where they discussed the war in Ukraine, the next NATO summit and ways to further strengthen trans-lantic (sic) security. He also met with President Biden at the White House, and later today will host again the -- the NATO secretary-general alongside Secretary Blinken and the national security advisor. 

Additionally, the secretary's tentatively scheduled to visit Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this evening for a follow-up appointment. As his doctor said in their statement on Friday, Secretary Austin continues to recover well and is expected to make a full recovery following his treatment for prostate cancer.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Lita, thank you, yes.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. A couple things. Number one, as Secretary Austin has now returned...

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: ... to the building, can you tell us whether or not we will be able to see him in the briefing room this week?

MS. SINGH: I don't have -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Q: (inaudible) that's fine.

MS. SINGH: So I don't have an update just yet, but it's something that we're certainly working towards, and we'll keep you updated.

Q: OK. And then secondly, can you give us an update on the number of wounded, and any breakdown between Air Force and Army on that? And also, any update on the perpetrators of the attack? There's been a lot of chatter about K-H. Can you tell us whether that is the leading suspicion right now?

MS. SINGH: Sure. So on the number of injuries, right now, we assess that there are more than 40 that have been injured. We do expect that number to continue to fluctuate as our service members, as you know, with TBI, report symptoms later on. So that number could continue to grow.

In terms of attribution for the attack, we know this is an IRGC-backed militia. It has the footprints of Kata'ib Hezbollah but not making a final assessment on that. Our -- our teams here are continuing to do the analysis but we know that Iran is behind it. 

And certainly, as -- as we've said before here in this -- in this briefing room, Iran continues to arm and equip these groups to launch these attacks, and we will certainly hold them responsible.


Q: ... you said you know Iran is behind it. You know that Iran and/or Iranian leaders were actually behind this attack, as in planned, coordinated, or directed it?

MS. SINGH: We know that Iran certainly plays a role with these groups, they arm and equip and fund these groups. I don't have more to share on -- terms of an intelligence assessment on if leaders in Iran were directing this attack, but what I can tell you is that we know these groups are supported by Iran and therefore they do have their fingerprints on this, but I can't tell you more in terms of who directed the attack.


Q: Sabrina, did this drone take off from an IRGC base in Syria?

MS. SINGH: I don't have more on the point of origin just yet of where this attack originated from.

Q: And was it human error that failed to recognize that this was an Iranian drone coming to the base?

MS. SINGH: It's something that Central Command is looking into, to find out exactly what happened. As I mentioned at the top, they're doing the assessment on this, they're working through what they need to do to make sure our service members, whether being in Jordan, Iraq and Syria, are further protected, but I just don't have more to share at this time.

Q: Lastly, what kind of drone struck the base? Is this the same kind of Iranian drone being used by the Russians in Ukraine?

MS. SINGH: That's something that we're looking at. Right now, we're assessing the drone, but I don't have more to share just yet.


Q: Just to follow up, you said Iran was behind the attack. What does that mean? Have -- have you seen evidence of financing or directing, anything specific (inaudible) not just in -- generally but specifically?

MS. SINGH: So maybe I need to clarify it further from what Lita had mentioned. We know that Iran funds these groups, like Kata'ib Hezbollah. We know that these IRGC-backed militias are the ones responsible for attacks on our troops in Iraq and Syria.

Beyond that, we're -- we're doing an -- intelligence assessments. We don't have -- I don't -- I can't give you today that ... 


We just know that Iran funds these groups, like Kata'ib Hezbollah and other groups that have attacked our forces, but I don't have more to share on that -- as a general matter, yes.

Q: And the second thing is you've talked about how the conflict is contained to Gaza and -- in Israel, the conflict is contained. Now that U.S. troops have been attacked in another country, are you willing to say that the conflict is no longer contained and it's spreading?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't say that the conflict is spreading, in that we've seen over 100 attacks on U.S. forces -- unfortunately, over 100 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria and of course now in Jordan. We don't want to see a widening of this conflict. 

We don't see this conflict widening as it still remains contained to Gaza, but this attack was certainly escalatory in that it killed three service members -- three of our U.S. service members. And as the President has said, we don't seek conflict, we don't want to see a widen -- widen -- a widening of a regional war but we will respond at a time and place of our choosing.

Q: ... not spreading when troops literally have died in another country?

MS. SINGH: Yeah. Well, again -- but they've also been launching these attacks since October 17th, and again, we can't discount the fact that these attacks are incredibly dangerous, put our service members at risk, but they have not, up until yesterday, inflicted lethal harm. They have been predominantly minor injuries and minor -- minor damage to infrastructure.

Yeah, Missy?

Q: I would like to ask if you could address the broader trajectory for American forces in Iraq and Syria? And will these attacks affect the ongoing discussions between the United States and the government of Iraq about the future of the American presence there? or, you know, there have been some reports that the United States is reviewing plans for the future troop presence in Syria. Can you -- can you talk about how this will or will not impact that -- those deliberations?

MS. SINGH: I think what you're referring to is the Higher Military Commission that we discussed last week. So we're focused on working with our Iraqi partner -- partners regarding how to respond to the attack that claimed three U.S. service members. 

We remain committed to the HMC process and will continue to focus on it at the appropriate time. I don't have anything to preview on troops levels or changes in Iraq and Syria but we are committed to the HMC process and that is ongoing.

Q: I mean -- but could you just say you -- would I be right to say that this lethal attack on American forces and the potential for a response, which ... 


... President Biden has kind of foreshadowed explicitly, would you say that it will not have an impact on U.S. plans for the troop presence in Iraq and Syria, or is it too soon to say that?

MS. SINGH: No, I think it's too soon to say that, and also I would say that you have to remember that the HMC was already happening and was something that was announced back in August of 2023. 

The attack on October 7th did delay some of those conversations from happening and the discussions from starting with HMC but we're still committed to that process, we're still committed to working with the Iraqi government, and we are going to continue to do so. But I don't have anything more to preview on what that means for our -- our force levels. 

Yeah, Meaghan?

Q: Can the Pentagon confirmed any of the reports that the reason the drone wasn't shot down is because the troops on the ground thought that it was a returning American drone?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I've seen those reports. Again, that's something that Central Command is assessing right now but I don't have more to share at this time.

Q: And to follow up on that, you say that this is escalatory because troops have now died in these attacks but it's not a spread, even though it happened in a different country. Is there any indication that this attack, either the equipment or the way it happened, any of that, was a different kind of attack than what we've been seeing in Iraq and Syria or was it simply an escalation and people died because they weren't able to shoot it down, they didn't detect it the way that they are in Iraq and Syria?

MS. SINGH: To my knowledge, there was nothing different or new about this attack that we've seen in other facilities that housed our service members. Unfortunately, this attack was successful, but we can't discount the fact that other attacks, whether it be Iraq or Syria, were not intended to kill our service members. 

It is a true tragedy that three of our service members died, and of course Central Command is looking into what can be done when it comes to our air defenses and looking into this incident to determine how best we can move -- or how best we can further strengthen our air defense systems.

Q: Was this base less well protected than other bases in Iraq and Syria?

MS. SINGH: Not to my knowledge.


Q: Thank you. Can you talk a little bit more about what this unit was doing in Jordan? 

And also, you have said that Iran has backed these groups which have launched these attacks. Is this attack that has killed three service members an act of war by Iran?

MS. SINGH: Well, look, I -- I think I said this in -- earlier -- we don't seek a war with Iran, we don't seek to widen this conflict. We have said and we will continue to call out the fact that Iran does fund and equip these -- these groups and provide them the capabilities that they use to attack our service members, whether it be Iraq, Syria, or Jordan.

So, we're not going to hesitate in calling that out, but we certainly don't seek a war, and frankly, we don't see Iran wanting to seek a war with the United States.   

We are there in Iraq and in Syria and the -- I think your original question was what were these service members doing there? They were there in the support of the defeat ISIS mission. That is their purpose there. They are part of a named operation that this -- that this Department has and is committed to in both -- in Iraq and Syria. And so, yes, I'll just leave it at that.

Q: If I could follow up, how is this not a regional war now, between the United States and Iranian proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and now Jordan?

MS. SINGH: We're not discounting that tensions are high in the region by any means. Since October 17th, we've seen repeated attacks on US forces, so we're not discounting the fact that tensions are high, that these Iranian backed groups are targeting our military members with the intention of trying to kill them. But we don't seek a war. 

We don't want to see this widen out into a -- a broader war, and that's -- you know, again, attacks on our service members happening in Iraq and Syria -- to bring it back and to look at what's also happening in the Red Sea, we don't seek a wider war there either, but we are going to respond when it comes to commercial ships or our ships or our partners' vessels being targeted and therefore jeopardizing international trade and putting at risk innocent mariners.

So again, we don't seek war, but we will take action and respond to attacks on our forces.

Yes, Janne?

Q: Thank you. Sabrina two questions, one on North Korea, one on Russia, and North Korea launched another is submarine and launched the cruise missile into the East Coast yesterday, do you assess that North Korea's continued negative actions will lead to military action?

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks, Janne . So, we're monitoring these activities and we won't comment on intelligence, but we've been very clear on the threat posed by the DPRK, and their military programs and our commitment to the Republic of Korea and Japan continues to be ironclad.

Q: (Inaudible) Russia...

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: ... the Russia and Defense Ministry spokesman criticized the United States saying that the US is dragging South Korea into the Ukraine conflict, then he warned that if South Korea supported the -- Ukraine, he would stop relations with South Korea?

MS. SINGH: Yes, I think quite to the contrary, you see countries all around the world supporting Ukraine's cause in the fight for their democracy and the fight for their sovereign territory.

We're coming off on the two year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine. Russia is seeking help from partners like Iran, like North Korea to continue to fund itself or support itself in its war against Ukraine. 

And you're seeing likeminded nations like the United States and other countries stand in alliance in support of a democracy and in support of a sovereign country who was invaded by its neighbor -- unjustly invaded by its neighbor. And we're very proud of the coalition that we've built in support of Ukraine.


Q: What -- what's the total number of attacks now since October? And the total number of injuries? 

MS. SINGH: Yes, just a sec here. So, from October 17th to January 29th, we are tracking approximately 165 attacks, that's 66 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and of course the one yesterday in Jordan.

Oh, and I'm sorry, and on injuries, I am tracking approximately 80 US personnel have received non-serious injuries since the attacks began.

Q: How -- have there been any attacks today? And where?

MS. SINGH: There -- I believe there was an attack earlier today. I don't have the exact location. We can get you that. I -- I don't want to speculate, but we -- we can get you that information after.

Yes, right over here?    

Q: Thanks. You said just above 160 attacks just this month, there's been a little over 50, so there had been around 114 or 15 from October 17th and the end of last year, so -- and you guys have -- the -- the Department -- the US has responded to a few of these but the -- you know, in order to deter, and that came out in statements from the Secretary and from other US officials. 

These attacks have continued, now they -- you know, they've escalated, not just into the Red Sea, now into Jordan, a third country. The deterrence does not seem to have worked yet, is the Department considering altering or reviewing its policy in order to -- to deter these Iran back militias from -- from injuring and/or killing more US troops?

MS. SINGH: Yes, that's ultimately a -- a decision that the President's going to make, and as you -- as I read out earlier, he has convened his national security team -- you know, frequently within these -- the -- these past few days. I'm not going to get ahead of any decisions that the President and the Secretary make on this together, but certainly, as our statement said yesterday, we are committed to responding, and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing.  

Q: Just a second...

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: ... comment on -- to go to Israel and Gaza, reports in recent days suggested that the Biden administration, including officials in the Pentagon have become more and more frustrated with the civilian death toll and there are considerations of reviewing what types of weapons -- weapon sales to -- to review those to Israel. I know FMF, a separate part of the State Department, but is the Pentagon -- does the Pentagon share that assessment? Does the Pentagon share that frustration of too many civilian casualties in Gaza?

MS. SINGH: I think we've been pretty clear that we don't want to see any innocent lives lost in this war, and we've been very clear, both publicly and privately with our Israeli counterparts that innocent lives need to be protected, humanitarian corridors need to be opened, humanitarian aid needs to continue to flow through.  

Of course, we're concerned by the right -- the -- by the death toll in Gaza. We don't want to see continued Palestinians get caught in the crossfire and we've continued to urge Israel to protect those innocent civilians, and we'll continue to do so. 


Q: Yes, as clarification on the -- on the number of injured, the 80 includes those from the most recent attack or not?

MS. SINGH: It does not, I'm sorry.

Q: And then, has -- has Tower 22, that -- that facility been targeted previously, either during the Israel Hamas war or prior to that in recent years?

MS. SINGH: I'm -- I can't speak to before October 7th, but since October 17th when these attacks have happened, no, Tower 22 as to my -- to my knowledge, has not been the target, but as you know, there is the Ultom Garrison is right on that border, so attacks have come pretty close to Tower 22, but nothing that has landed on the Jordanian side. Impacts have always been on the Syrian side, except for the attack that happened yesterday.

Great. Natasha?

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. So, previous drone and rocket attacks that have struck or landed near military facilities in Iraq and Syria, they have not caused anywhere near as much damage, nowhere near as many casualties, is there an assessment of why this particular drone caused so much -- I mean over 40 people injured, three killed, what was different about this drone -- or what was different about the facility that it didn't have the kind of protection that other bases do? 

MS. SINGH: I think what was different about this attack is where it landed. It did impact in -- where living quarters are and I believe so -- I believe it was pretty early in the morning, so people were actually in their beds when the drone impacted.

But in terms of -- I mean we've seen these types of attacks before. We're certainly -- that's something that central command is looking into on how they can better refine not only your defenses but prevent future attacks like this from happening again.

Q: (Inaudible).

MS. SINGH: Yeah. Can I just -- I'm going to go over here and then come back. Yeah.

Q: Couple of questions. As (inaudible) review in the interim are their tactics, techniques or procedures being changed to prevent this from happening again in the region?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I wouldn't forecast that from the podium here, I wouldn't want to get ahead of anything.

Q: How about backdoor channel discussions with Iran and I think that this was government at this point or --

MS. SINGH: I don't have anything to preview here. Yeah. Felicia ?.

Q: Do you also have a number for the attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the most recent?

MS. SINGH: Let me see here if I do. I don't know that I have -- let me get -- let me -- we can take that question and get back to you. I just don't have the running total here. As you know there were -- as recently as Friday there was another attack at a commercial vessel that was transiting. So happy to get you those numbers.

Q: And one more. Just on the secretary's meeting with Stoltenberg, did they talk about contingencies in the event that the Ukraine aid doesn't go through or can you talk about the strategy?

MS. SINGH: I believe we'll have a larger read-out. But of course something that is top of mind for the secretary and for many folks across the administration is securing that supplemental funding from Congress. We have not be able to supply Ukraine with a PDA since December. Since late December. 

Ukraine is quite literally in the fight for it's life as it continues to hold territory and continues to fight for it's sovereign territory and push the Russians back in the East and the South. So we're going to continue to urge Congress to pass the supplemental budget and to give us the funding that we need to start those PDA packages. 

But of course it's top of mind for everyone.

Q: Is there anything you can do without it?

MS. SINGH: No, not right now. Yes?

Q: Yes, thank you. You mentioned that the Kata'ib Hezbollah has some (inaudible) of that attack. And you know Kata'ib Hezbollah is a part of the popular mobilization group and it's part of the Iraqi defense system. So how do you get engaged with the Iraqi government specifically on that attack?

MS. SINGH: On the attack that happened on our service members? I don't have anything to read out.

Q: Yeah, when you talk about you're not looking in a war with Iran, does that mean that Iran is not in a table when you are thinking and assessing -- to responding to that attack?

MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, I don't necessarily understand the question.

Q: Are you taking Iranian ROTC as an option to responding when it comes to responding this attack that happened yesterday?

MS. SINGH: We're going to respond, as the president said and the secretary has said, at a time when we feel that we -- that we need to respond. I am not going to get ahead of the president or any decisions. We don't seek a wider conflict with Iran. We don't want to go -- we don't want a war with Iran. Again, these are Iran proxy groups launching these attacks on our service members but we certainly don't seek a wider conflict but we also own the clock here and we will respond at a time and place of our choosing.

Yeah. Oh, I'm going to -- sorry, will we’ll go to you.

Q: Thank you. If Iranian proxies carried out the attack and do you -- do you hold Iran accountable for the attack and what -- what like response would be -- as a retaliation against this attack?

MS. SINGH: So as you can appreciate, I'm not going to forecast what our response looks like but of course we hold Iran responsible as they are supporting these groups. These groups that continue to inflict casualties on our forces, whether it be in Jordan, Iraq or Syria.

We absolutely hold Iran responsible because we know that they fund and train and support and equip these militias that operate in Iraq and Syria. Fadi?

Q: Thank you. 

Q: So there is the position of the Department that Iran is responsible for the attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Northeast Jordan?

MS. SINGH: Iran bears responsibility because it funds these groups that operate in Iraq in Syria that launch attacks on our service members.

Q: I understand that but this attack led to the deaths of three service members. Is Iran responsible for the death of these three service members that you just read their names and their families have been notified of their deaths.

MS. SINGH: Yeah. Again, Iran certainly bears a responsibility as they fund these groups that continue to use capabilities that they get from Iran and of course killed three of our service members.

Q: Can I take just a step back.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: And just looking at last week maybe from Saturday of last week up until Saturday --

MS. SINGH: Saturday of last week, OK.

Q: Or Sunday maybe.


Q: That’s nine days. The U.S. launched strikes in Syria in Iraq against Houthi positions inside Yemen with the aim of reestablishing deterrence and degrade their capabilities of whether attacking U.S. forces or shipping in the Red Sea.

Now the last of those days where we saw an unprecedented escalation, an asset was targeted with ballistic missiles, a cite was targeted with a drone, more U.S. soldiers were injured. The Houthis went after British ship, after a U.S. ship. It seems to me -- does the Pentagon think it's approach to deterrence is firing back, is it successful? Would you say it's successful especially when three soldiers were killed?

MS. SINGH: Well, I mean we are assessing what happened yesterday and we are trying to figure out how a one way attack drone was able to evade air defenses and was able to kill three of our service members and injury dozens more.

To your question on deterrence, I can continue to say we don't seek war. We don't seek further conflict, we don't want to see this widen out into a regional conflict. But we will continue to do whatever we need to when it comes to protecting U.S. forces and our coalition partners and innocent mariners transiting the Red Sea.

We believe that we have been effective in degrading their capabilities and disrupting their ability to launch certain attacks. But the reality is, yesterday, unfortunately they were successful and they killed three of our service members and that is an absolute tragedy.

I'm going to go to the phones and then I'll come back in the phone. Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. I have a couple of questions. Can you say whether there's been any decisions made to send any additional air defenses or other forces to the region to beef up some of the counter UAS capability here?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, thanks, Lara. I just wouldn't -- I'm just not going to get ahead of any decisions that are going to be made and certainly wouldn't preview the repositioning of any air defenses.

Q: And do we have sufficient counter drone capability in the region to account for all the different basis that have come under attack recently?

MS. SINGH: Yes, thanks, Lara. I mean again, we have seen repeated attacks on our U.S. service members in both Iraq and Syria and a majority of the time our air defenses have been incredibly successful and you've only seen minor damage to infrastructure and of course some -- some injuries, which we all take very seriously but for the most part our air defenses have been robust and have been successful.

I'm going to take one more from the phone here. Heather, USNI.

Q: Thanks so much. The Houthi -- Houthi leadership announced that they fired a -- fired a naval missile at Luis B Puller in the Gulf of Aden. I was wondering if there's any confirmation from the Department of Defense on whether that happened and if there's any damage or if the polar shot it down?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Heather. I don't have anything for you at this time.  I'm happy to -- we're happy to get back to you on that one. 

I'll take a few from in the room and then, I'm sorry, we do have something coming up soon. Yes?

Q: There's been some back and forth about whether the U.S. has troops in Yemen. Can you confirm that?

MS. SINGH: We do not have U.S. troops in Yemen. 


Q: In the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the U.S. carried out preemptive strikes targeting Houthi missiles before they can be launched at international shipping. Is the U.S. going to consider launching preemptive strikes when it sees potential attacks on its bases in Iraq, Syria and now Jordan? And if not, why not?

MS. SINGH: Well, you've seen Central Command take action, dynamic strikes within the region when we've identified -- when we've been able to identify a potential setup of an attack or identified a point of origin. So, we have seen some of those dynamic strikes in the region. And I'm sorry, I don't have the exact dates when those happened, but they were late last year. I'm not going to get ahead of any decisions that the secretary and the president are making on what future action looks like, only to say that, of course, will respond when we do. 

Yes, I'll take a few more and then got to wrap. Yes?

Q: You mentioned the drone impacted the living quarters. Do you have any details on what kind of structure that was? Is this kind of hardened structure? If it was a CHU, a hanger? I was trying to get a better sense of why it caused so much damage.

MS. SINGH: Yes, it was a contained housing unit. I'm sorry. 


Q: Just one or?

MS. SINGH: It -- I believe it was just one that was struck. But, you know, again, we're still doing our initial assessments. So, if there's more to readout we certainly will. 

Yes, Jeff, got the last question. 

Q: I apologize for blurting out a question. How -- and when you had said some of them were in their beds at the time, usually when there's an indirect fire attack there's something called the voice of God that yells, incoming, incoming, incoming. Take cover. I'm wondering why these soldiers weren't in the IBF shelter, why they were still in bed.

MS. SINGH: Yes. It was, I believe, early in the morning. This is something that Central Command is looking into, in terms of how the one-way attack drone was able to get through. I don't have more details to provide at this time. And when we do, we certainly will let you know. 

Okay, thanks everyone. Sorry, we've got to wrap.