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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right, good afternoon, everyone.  So a few things at the top here, and then we'll get right to your questions.

As you know, in response to continuing attacks against U.S. forces, to include the attack in northeastern Jordan on January 28th, which killed three U.S. servicemembers, U.S. military forces conducted strikes February 2nd on seven facilities in Iraq and Syria, which included more than 85 targets that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated militias have used to attack U.S. forces.  The facilities struck included command-and-control operation centers, intelligence centers, rockets, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicle storage and logistics and munition supply chain facilities.  In Iraq, the targets were located in the vicinity of Al-Qaim and Akashat.  In Syria, they were in the vicinity of Al-Baum, Deir Ezzor and Al-Mayadeen.

Although we continue to evaluate, we currently assess that we had good effects and that the strikes destroyed or functionally damaged more than 80 targets at the seven facilities.  The number of casualties is still being assessed.

As Secretary Austin highlighted in his statement, this is the start of our response, and there will be additional actions taken to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces.  We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but attacks on American forces will not be tolerated and we will continue to take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our forces and our interests.

Separate and distinct from the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria are the multinational actions we took on Saturday as part of ongoing international efforts to respond to increased Iranian-backed Houthi destabilizing and illegal activities in the region.  On February 3rd, the militaries of the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand, conducted additional strikes against military targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.  These strikes were intended to further disrupt and degrade Houthi capabilities to conduct their attacks against U.S. and international vessels lawfully transiting the Red Sea.

Coalition forces targeted 13 locations, striking 36 Houthi targets associated with the Houthis' deeply-buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems and radars, all capabilities Houthi militia have used to attack international merchant and naval vessels in the region.

As Secretary Austin said, this collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks.  The U.S. has also taken unilateral action in self-defense to destroy missile launchers loaded to be fired and unmanned surface vessels prepared for employment by the Houthis which posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region, as well as intercepting missiles and attack drones fired at ships in the Red Sea.

Again, the U.S. does not want escalation, and these strikes are directly in response to the actions by the Iranian-backed Houthis.  However, we will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways.

Shifting gears, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks presided over the U.S. Northern Command Change of Command Ceremony today in Colorado Springs to honor General Glen VanHerck for his three decades of military service and leadership, and to welcome General Greg Guillot as the next commander of USNORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.  She was accompanied by Canadian Minister of National Defense, the Honorable Bill Blair, who oversaw the NORAD change of command, as well as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General CQ Brown, Jr., and chief of the defense staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, General Wayne Eyre.

Together, NORTHCOM and NORAD are central to our strong military and ability to defend the homeland.  Whether it's joint training, education, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, maritime domain awareness, or cyber defense, the NORTHCOM and NORAD unified command enhances our common security and deepens our ties to our closest neighbors.

Also, U.S. Space Command will host the Global Sentinel annual two-week capstone event starting today through February 16 at Vandenberg Space Force Base California.  Global Sentinel is U.S. Space Command's premier security cooperation effort designed to strengthen and grow international partnerships, improve operational collaboration, and promote responsible behavior in the space domain.

Space operators from 25 nations around the world will collaborate during the two weeks, with each participating nation embedded in a regional space operations center while maintaining national command and control of their sensors for planning, tasking, and analysis.  For questions on the exercise, I'd refer you to U.S. Space Command Public Affairs.

And finally, February marks the beginning of Black History Month, which provides a unique opportunity for the department, our service members, and our nation to celebrate the contributions, achievements, and brave service of black Americans.

Our military and civilian workforce is strong, diverse, and always ready to defend our nation, our allies, and our interests against modern threats.  This month and throughout the year, we reflect upon and honor the service and sacrifice of black Americans who continue to lead, impact, and shape our nation's rich history and future.

With that, I'll be glad to take your questions.  We'll go to Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q:  Thank you, Pat.  It's been three days since the strikes on Iraq and Syria.  Can you at least give us some general assessment as to whether there were indications that there were enemy combatants at those sites that could have been killed or injured in — I mean, there's got to be at least some sort of at least initial assessment that says there were people at those places or there weren't.

And then just secondarily, I think Jake Sullivan yesterday talked about seen and unseen U.S. military responses to the — U.S. responses to these ongoing attacks.  Can you say whether or not any of the unseen responses have already occurred?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Lita.  On your first question, I don't want to get ahead of Central Command's assessment.  I think it is fair to conclude that there likely were casualties associated with these strikes, but to ensure that we're providing accurate information, we need to allow time for Central Command to continue to conduct its assessment.  And certainly, we'll keep you updated as we have new information to provide on that front.

As it relates to actions that we're taking, again, I'm not going to have anything to provide for you beyond what we've put out in our statements.

Q:  And then were any of these attempts to get HVTs in — in any of those locations that you think may or may not have been successful?

GEN. RYDER:  Lita, what I would tell you is that what we've put out in our press releases is what I have to provide on that front.


Q:  Pat, there have been three attacks by Iranian proxy forces in Syria since Friday.  You say that the assessment is that the strikes on Friday night had good effects.  How can you say that when there's three more attacks?  What will the response be?  And are the troops at those bases, those outposts allowed to leave the base and to pursue those who are firing rockets and drones at the bases?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so a couple of things, Jennifer.  So first of all, on your last comment, our forces will always maintain the inherent right of self-defense.  So if they need to take appropriate actions to defend themselves, they will, and you've seen us do that in the past.

In terms of attacks in Iraq and Syria since we took these strikes on Friday, I'm actually only tracking two incidents.  There was one attack on Saturday, February the 3rd.  That was two rockets that were fired at MSS Euphrates in Syria with no injuries or damage reported.  And then I'm aware of one yesterday, February 4th.  This was a one-way attack drone that landed several kilometers from MSS Green Village, also in Syria.  Again, no reported U.S. injuries or damage to those facilities.

Again, the strikes that we took on Friday were in response, as I highlighted in my topper, to the attacks on U.S. forces at Jordan.  And again, we'll take necessary action to defend our forces.

Q:  But Pat, I believe that there was a third strike that killed six SDF Kurdish fighters ...

GEN. RYDER:  I think the one you're referring to is the latter one that I highlighted, and that — and I am aware of those reports of Syria Democratic Forces killed in that strike, but I'd have to refer you to them to talk about that.

Q:  ... not on a base where U.S. forces were.

GEN. RYDER:  It was in the vicinity of Green Village.

Let me go to Dan, then I'll come to Carla.

Q:  Could you tell us, in the Red Sea, does Iran continue to supply weapons and intelligence to the Houthi forces in Yemen?

GEN. RYDER:  So Dan, I don't have any specific intelligence to read out to you here, other — nor would I — other than to say that we know that — that Iran of course provides resources to the Houthis, to include training, funding, equipment.  And so again, you know — and they're not the only ones, right?  I mean, they have proxies throughout the Middle East.

So again, we recognize that and we're going to continue to call on Iran to cease supporting these types of actions that we're seeing from proxies, and again, we'll continue to take appropriate action to protect our forces.

Q:  Just related to that, there was the ship called the Behshad — I'm sure you've heard of it — in the Red Sea and Iran issued a warning, saying the U.S. should not target this ship.  They claim its a counter-piracy mission ship but it's widely believed that is actually a spy ship effectively, providing electronic intelligence to the Houthis to help them spot targets.  Is that — is that a target that's off-limits?

GEN. RYDER:  So first of all, I'm not aware of the U.S. targeting the Behshad.  We are very well aware of the Behshad.  As you've heard NAVCENT talk about before, it's pretty standard for Iran to have a ship in the Red Sea conducting operations, as you've highlighted.  So that, in and of itself, is not unusual.

And again — so I'm — we're there, again, to support freedom of navigation, to work with the international community to ensure that vessels can safely transit this waterway.  We are not there to seek confrontation or war with Iran, but if our forces are threatened, we will take appropriate action.

I'm sorry, let me go to Carla and then I'll come to you, Tom.

Q:  A few follow-ups.  I am aware of a single rocket attack that happened today in Syria, MSS Euphrates.  If you could take that to confirm that to us following this briefing, I would greatly appreciate it.

I have one follow-up on Jen's question about the attack at Omar oil field.  How close were U.S. forces?  Were there any U.S. forces that were with the SDF when they came under attack?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, I think I answered that.  So I'm not aware of any U.S. forces that were with the SDF at the time.  And this one-way attack drone landed several kilometers from Green Village.

Q:  OK.  And then the — is it safe to say that at this point, no militant commanders were killed in any of the strikes over the weekend in Iraq and Syria?  I know you're still doing an assessment — assessment but ...

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so Carla, again, I don't have any information to corroborate that, but again, we're continuing to assess.

Q:  OK.  And then finally with the two self-defense strikes that happened in Yemen, where there were anti-ship missiles ready to launch with the three attacks or two attacks with clearing that up, in Syria since the attacks in Iraq and Syria that the U.S. conducted.

GEN. RYDER:  Sorry.

Q:  Yes.  That's...

GEN. RYDER:  You're crossing the streams here.

Q:  ... (inaudible) attacks.  Is it safe to say (inaudible)...

are you talking about Iraq and Syria or Yemen?

Q:  ... All of them.  Is it safe to say that deterrence against Iranian-backed proxies in Yemen, and Iraq and, Syria is not working at this point because there were two rounds of strikes and both of those proxy sets are still striking, American forces are still trying to strike American Forces and international shipping lanes.

GEN. RYDER:  OK.  So as it relates to Iraq and Syria, again I'll just take it — allow me to take a step back here again.  Our Forces are there to conduct the Defeat ISIS Mission.  If our Forces are attacked we — and in this case when our Forces were killed, we will take appropriate and necessary action.  And as I highlighted in my topper our responses are not complete.  Again I'm not going to telegraph or discuss what that may be other than we'll conduct that at a time and place of our choosing.  That is our focus.

When it comes to the Red Sea our focus is on working with international allies and partners to ensure that mariners can transit the Red Sea safely.

Our focus when it comes to striking Houthi targets is to disrupt and degrade their capabilities.  We don't seek an escalation with the Houthis.  We're not at war with the Houthis.  We're not seeking to go to war with the Houthis.  But if they continue the attacks, we will continue to disrupt and degrade their capabilities.

So, they have capability.  It would not be surprising to anyone if they attempt to conduct attacks in the future.  But when they do, again we'll take appropriate action as we have been doing.  And when we see an imminent threat to mariners, we will also take appropriate action as in the case of the self-defense strike.

So let me go to Tom, then I'll come...

Q:  (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  ... I need to get some other questions.

Q:  ... You had 13 locations, 36 targets.  Five hours later the Houthis fired a missile and then more followed the following day.  So what does that say about the effectiveness of U.S. strikes? And what are the consequences because they're already firing after your efforts.

GEN. RYDER:  Well, the Houthis live in the same physical plane that we do and they have a finite amount of capability.  And the question is how much of that capability they want to sacrifice to a doomed cause because again we'll continue to diminish and disrupt that capability in the sake of working with international allies and partners to ensure that mariners can safely transit.

Q:  (inaudible) doomed cause because they're still striking.

GEN. RYDER:  Well I'll leave that to the Houthis to address but again they do have a finite amount of capability.  And how much do they want to continue to sacrifice that capability for the sake of achieving something which ultimately will fail.

Let me go to Missy.

Q:  Thanks Pat.  I have two process requests.  And then a question.  On the — on the process is it possible to you know, CENTCOM has been putting out the report that Houthi attacks when they do their — but we haven't got — unless I'm missing it we're not getting the same for the Iraq, Syria, request regularly — excuse me, attacked by America — by militants on American personnel or facilities in Iraq and Syria.  Would be great if we could get the same on that.

And also just a request again to see if we can get — the strikes, it — on Yemen and then on Iraq and Syria, just get in the vicinity of locations because that makes it a lot easier for us to cross check stuff that we're hearing from the region.

And then my question for you is can you talk a little bit about how the Department is — seeing the fact that you know, you're conducting these strikes in Iraq and Syria and against these Iranian-linked militants.  But those militants are on the payroll of the Iraqi government, how are you guys approaching that fact.  They're you know, officially part of Iraqi security forces.

Some of the sites that you're hitting are described as you know, joint facilities that are used by these you know, — officially again part of the Iraqi security forces.  How are you all thinking about that? And what's the dialogue with the Iraqi government about that? Obviously they've made their unhappiness known.

GEN. RYDER:  So you know, recognizing some of what you have probably seen in regional reporting and social media, what I would tell you is that as we conduct these strikes we are very focused on Iranian-backed proxy groups and not PMF.  Again that is our focus.  It's not on striking ISF or Iraqi security forces or personnel that are part of the legitimate Iraqi security forces, so that includes groups like Kataib Hezbollah, Han which we've talked about, and again folks or militants that are associated with the IRGC.

And so as we conduct our planning and our targeting and our operations it is very deliberate and it is very carefully calculated to strike those capabilities.

What was the second part of your question?

Q:  How do you draw that line? Because my understanding is that at least a good part of those groups are part of the PMF which is officially now part of the Iraqi government.

GEN. RYDER:  Again we're striking terrorist groups that are supported by the IRGC.

Q:  Well that doesn't make sense — which I think also are part of the PMF though?

GEN. RYDER:  Again...

Q:  (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  ... I'm going to...

Q:  ... have high level positions in the Iraqi government who are designated terrorists.  I just (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  ... as I understand it, the folks that we're striking are not part of the PMF.

Q:  So can I just follow up on what she's asking? Because the Prime Minister of Iraq went to visit wounded militants who were injured in attacks by the U.S. Military and they were part of the PMF.  Or, if that was not the case that's what the statement from the Iraqi government was.  If they were not, he was visiting what you're calling sort of Iranian proxies that are (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  I can't...

Q:  ... (inaudible)...

GEN. RYDER:  ... I can't speak to the Iraqi Minister of Defense.  Again we've been very clear in terms of what we're — the groups that we're targeting and the capabilities that we're targeting that are associated with the IRGC and Iranian-backed proxies, who are facilitating and conducting attacks on U.S. Forces.  And that is our focus.

Obviously when it comes to the Iraqis, and Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government, Iraq is a valued partner, we continue to work closely with Iraq on counterterrorism efforts.  And I'll just leave it at that.


Q:  Thanks General.  Iraq is a valued partner.  Why didn't you tell them ahead of time that this strike was coming? Have — has that fact strained bilateral relationships and particularly in the context of the ongoing talks?

And then I had a second shorter question.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  Thanks Tom.  You know, again I won't speak for Iraq.  As I highlighted they're a valued partner.  We'll continue to work closely with them, consult with them closely.

We have consistently communicated to the Iraqis and others that we reserve the right to defend our personnel from attacks by Iranian-backed militants in Iraq which is what you saw on Friday.

And I'm sorry, your second question?

Q:  Yes.  Just going back to Friday's strikes.  I know that — we were told that the most of the capability came from B-1 Bombers from the U.S. Was there any — were there any jets launched from the Middle East? Was it all from the U.S.?

GEN. RYDER:  No.  There were U.S. fighter aircraft that participated

from within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.  But for both operations security reasons and diplomatic reasons I'm just not able to go into more detail.  Thanks.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  (inaudible)?

Q:  In — on Iraq, the Iraqi government talking about that you targeted the Iraqi security forces.  This is what they say.  So — and they summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad and gave a letter in protest of that attack.

So also they say that there were attacks on the residential buildings and citizens property and casualties were civilians included.  So based on your initial assessment how have you targeted any residential buildings of citizens property? And also were any civilians killed in that attack?

GEN. RYDER:  So again, I'm not going to speak for the Iraqi government.  I think we've been very clear in terms of what we targeted.  And these were facilities that have been used or are being used by the IRGC and affiliated militias to attack U.S. Forces.

And I spelled out very specifically what we targeted, command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicle storage, and logistics and munition supply-chain facilities.  And so again our focus here is on attacking capability that have been used by these groups.

Q:  And today they were meeting between the U.S. Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs with a delegation from Iraqi Kurdistan.  So have you touched that issue with them and what was the main discussion of that (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  I just don't have any insight to provide on that.

(Sir ?)?

Q:  Thank you, General.  You just touched on but you your (strikes ?) in Iraq like in —- like anger and condemnation by the Iraqi government.  So the Secretary or any guys from the Department of State talk to Iraqi officials and their — your counterparts in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  I can't speak for State Department.  I'd refer you to them.  Obviously you know, we have a U.S. Embassy there.  I'd refer you to State to talk about that.

And again look you know, Iraq as I highlighted is a valued partner.  Our Forces have been attacked in Iraq and Syria, and now Jordan, and we have been very clear that we will take necessary and appropriate action to respond, and we will continue to protect our Forces.

Let me go to the phone here.  J.J. Green WTOP.

Q:  Yes.  General thank you for this.  Considering how the Houthis and the Islamic Resistance umbrella groups have been responding to the strikes that the U.S. has launched in response not just to what took place in Jordan but in response to what's been happening in the Red Sea and other places, how are these continued attacks impacting the U.S. plans to launch strikes? We've been hearing that there isn't a wider conflict.  You don't want one but it looks as though they're trying to push that towards — push this conflict — push it — push everything towards a wider conflict.

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks J.J.  Well, I mean I think you're right in the sense that we do see these groups attempting to exploit tensions in the Middle East to serve various ends.  In the case of Iraq and Syria as I've highlighted before, we know that these groups have a stated goal of compelling the United States to leave the region.

Again U.S. Forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq, and our Forces in Syria, both of our — you know, both locations we’re there to support the lasting defeat of ISIS.  And that will continue to be the focus.

In the Red Sea, we've seen the Houthis continue to conduct strikes against international shipping and naval vessels, affecting over 50 nations.  And so we have a duty to respond to that and ensure that mariners can safely transit this waterway in the name of freedom of navigation.

And so again we'll continue to stay focused on that but it should be very clear that our goal here in both situations is to ensure security and stability in those regions.  We're not seeking to escalate.  But if our Forces are threatened as I've highlighted we will respond appropriately.

Let me come back into the room.  Ashley?

I wanted to follow up on the analysis into what happened at (Tower 22 ?).  Where does that stand? Have you identified a group? How did the drone get in?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  So I'd refer you to CENTCOM for any updates in terms of their review into the attack.  As has been highlighted we know — according to our intelligence community the Islamic resistance in Iraq is you know, the umbrella group is responsible but again you know, bears the hallmarks of a group like Kataib Hezbollah.  But again that continues to be a review.

Q:  The counter sort of offensive in Iraq and Syria right now.  Could you sort of broadly lay out what are the goals and the measures of success?

GEN. RYDER:  In terms of our response? Yes?

So, our goal is to conduct the Defeat ISIS mission in a way that's safe and secure for our Forces that are in the region.  As I've highlighted, if we continue to be attacked we'll take appropriate action to defend our Forces.

Q:  With the counterattacks coming back.  I mean is that success?

GEN. RYDER:  Again you know, we're going to take necessary actions to protect our Forces.  It's not unusual.  I mean you've been following this for a very long time.  You know, whenever we conduct strikes, it's not unusual to see some type of immediate reaction whether it's lobbing a mortar into the air just to say they did something.  That said, again it's dangerous and it's provocative and it's destabilizing.  So if our Forces are threatened, we'll take appropriate action.

But to be clear our goal is not to OK game on.  Let's just do this and go you know, full scale war against Iranian-proxy groups in Iraq and Syria.  That's not what we're there for.  We're there to conduct the mission in support of the defeat of ISIS.

Q:  So again I've already highlighted what our focus is.


Q:  You can tell us did any Iranians die in the attacks on Friday?

GEN. RYDER:  So, Lara as I understand it, CENTCOM is continuing to assess, but initial indications are — we're not aware of any Iranians killed but again we'll continue to analyze.  And as we have updates, we'll let you know.


Q:  A couple of questions.  The U.S. officials have said there will be more or the response will be continuing to the attack in Jordan.  Are you the Pentagon planning for a long-term campaign in Iraq and Syria?

GEN. RYDER:  So, no.  You know, as I understand it that's not the case. But again I'm not going to get into specifics on what future operations could look like other than to say they will be at a time and place of our choosing.


Q:  You’ve now conducted three joint strikes on Houthi targets with the U.K. and a growing number of unilateral strikes.  Given that Houthi attacks continue, can you say what the assessment is on what — how much of their weaponry you've been able to take away at this point?

And then just one question CENTCOM said on Saturday or after the strikes on Yemen, that they struck facilities deep underground.  Can you say what type of munition was used in that case? And if it's the first time we've seen that?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Oren.  On your latter question, no.  I'm not going to get into the specific weaponeering for our targeting.

And then in terms of the degradation of capability, I don't have any statistics to pass along to you today but certainly understand the interest in that.  And as we have that information to provide, we certainly will.

All that to say, as you highlighted, you know, the three coalition strikes, plus, at this point, 14 U.S. unilateral strikes in self-defense, all add up to what we believe is degrading a significant amount of capability, again, toward the end of disrupting and degrading their capability to conduct these kinds of attacks.

So let me do a couple from the phone here.  Howard Altman?

Q:  Hey, thanks, Pat.  A couple things.  Are — are you tracking any civilian casualties in the strikes from Friday night? 

And then is the U.S. plussing up or — or adding troops to Syria from Iraq as — as these attacks continue?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Howard.  I'm not aware of any — well, I don't have anything to announce in terms of force posture changes at this time. 

And then in terms of civilian casualties, again, CENTCOM continues to assess, and as we have more information to provide, we'll be sure to let you know.  Again, as we conducted these strikes, as always, we took significant measures to minimize or mitigate any potential civilian harm, but again, as we have updates, we'll be sure to provide those.

Let me go to Heather, USNI.

Q:  Hi, thanks so much.  Just to follow up on the strikes with — on — on Yemen, it seems that every time that the — the U.S. is constantly striking Yemen and then Yemen — or the Houthis then strike back on ships.  So is the United States having any effect on deterrence?  It seems like the Houthis have come out and said that they were going to continue to do this until Israel stops bombing Gaza.  So I guess what — what are the next steps here with the Houthis?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, Heather, the focus here is on disrupting and degrading their capabilities to conduct these kinds of attacks.  So we do assess that we are having an impact on their capability.  Certainly, everyone would like to see the Houthis stop these attacks, and we will continue to call on them to stop immediately, but if they don't, we will continue to take appropriate actions to not only defend international shipping and mariners transiting the Red Sea but also continuing to degrade and disrupt their capabilities.  Thank you very much.


Q:  So in the wake of January 28th attack on — on the outpost in Jordan, has the U.S. military taken any steps in particular to improve safety of U.S. troops there or at other bases in the region?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Phil.  So, you know, broadly speaking, we're always going to take steps to protect our forces.  As I'm sure you can appreciate, for operation security reasons, I'm just not able to go into specifics on what that may be, other than to say I can assure you that this is top of mind not only for the Secretary of Defense but also for General Kurilla.

Q:  I'm not asking for any specifics, I just asked whether you've done anything.

GEN. RYDER:  We've taken appropriate measures but that's about as specific as I can get.

Q:  OK.  And then you — you said to Lara that the — that — that this was not an open-ended campaign, but I think a lot of people are wondering whether we're talking about a period of days or weeks or whether or not we'll even know when the — when this — when this — this counter-attack is over.  What can — what clarity can you provide?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, we've been very clear that we are going to take appropriate action in response to the deaths of three of our service members, multiple wounded, and that we will hold those accountable.  Again, for operation security reasons, I'm just not going to go into timelines or forecast potential actions, again, other than we will conduct those operations in a time and manner of our choosing.

Let me go to Konstantin, we'll do a couple more.

Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Just to follow up on Phil's point, I mean, so when these attacks all began in October, you know, you — yourself, you announced that, you know, we were sending units of Patriot and the THAAD batteries to bolster air defenses in reaction to those strikes.  Now, you know, we're not getting any specifics.  Is there a reason for that shift in messaging?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, especially as we've seen these attacks, I just don't want to telegraph and highlight capabilities at these individual installations, especially when we have forces in harm's way.  And as you'll recall, when we announce those deployments, those were coming from the United States into theater, but what we didn't tell you was specifically where those capabilities are going and, you know, how they were going to be employed.

And so again, you know, if I'm one of those troopers on that base, I don't want to necessarily broadcast widely what capabilities we have, what capabilities we don't have.  Also, those announcements included a significant number of forces associated with them, which is why we announced those deployments.

Q:  And then just one last, quick follow-up — do you — does the Pentagon feel that it has sufficient anti-drone capability in the theater right now?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get into readiness levels, other than, you know, we obviously understand that counter-drone is a significant requirement and something that I can assure you is taken very, very seriously.


Q:  Just to follow up on the questions on the — on the duration of the strikes in this campaign, is — will the U.S. strikes continue as long as there are attacks on American personnel?  Is — is that — is that kind of — is — is that the end game to — to get this to zero?  What — how — how is that defined really?

GEN. RYDER:  Will, we're going to take whatever necessary actions are required to protect our forces.  Again, I don't want to get into hypotheticals, I don't want to predict the future.  You know, you have U.S. military forces that are there focused on the Defeat ISIS mission.  If those forces are threatened or harmed, we will take appropriate action, and I'll just leave it at that.


Q:  Thank you, General.

GEN. RYDER:  Then Mike.

Q:  I want to go back to the Iraqi government statement that they put out.  They called or described the — the strikes as "act of aggression."  They talked about the loss of 16 martyrs, including civilians, and 25 injured, damage to residential buildings and citizens' property.  Can you confirm from the podium that no civilian harm occurred in these strikes in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Fadi.  I think I've answered that.  We're continuing to assess.  We always will take any reports of civilian casualties seriously and we will provide you updates as it becomes available.

Q:  ... you can't rule out this ...

GEN. RYDER:  Again, CENTCOM's continuing to assess it.

Q:  And then — so the same statement said that an international coalition has become a reason for endangering security and stability.  Despite this — protests from the Iraqi government and their assertion that what happened on Friday was targeting security forces, the same security forces that the Iraqi Prime Minister visited in the hospital, and despite the warning that these actions endanger the stability of Iraq, are you saying that the U.S. will continue strikes inside Iraq?

GEN. RYDER:  Fadi, again, I can't speak for the government of Iraq.  I'd refer you to them obviously.  When it comes to our operations and what we targeted and what we struck, I think I've been very clear what that is.  And again, I'll emphasize that we greatly value Iraq as a partner.  Their security and stability is vital to the broader region. 

And we'll continue to work closely with our Iraqi partners and continue to consult closely with them, but as we've said before, if our forces are threatened or harmed, we have to take appropriate action and will take appropriate action going forward.

Let me go to Mike, then I'll come to Wafa.

Q:  Yes, sir.  Thanks, Pat.  Have you noticed any improvement in the commercial shipping situation in Aden, the Red Sea, since the United States has been conducting these retaliatory strikes against the Houthis?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, Mike, I don't have any data in front of me in terms of commercial shipping rates.  I'm sure that, you know, commercial firms could provide that.  You know, I will tell you that NAVCENT regularly communicates with those shipping houses to ensure that we understand what their needs are, what their concerns are — as we conduct Operation Prosperity Guardian.

I am aware anecdotally of reports, as you know, of — of some companies choosing not to transit the Red Sea, but for those that do, Operation Prosperity Guardian, which is a defensive coalition, is there to ensure that there is joint security patrols in the vicinity should there be a requirement to defend those ships.  So that will continue to be what we stay focused on.


Q:  Thank you, General.  I have follow-up on Iraq and then a different question.  Has the HMC held any meetings since Friday strikes?

GEN. RYDER:  So Wafaa, what I would tell you is that, as I understand it, the U.S. embassy and CJTF-OIR continue to remain focused on working with our Iraqi partners regarding, you know, the HMC, but in terms of timelines and for meetings, I know that they'll continue to stay focused on that but I just don't have any updates to provide, in terms of when those actual meetings will occur.

Q:  So Jake Sullivan yesterday ruled out the — or didn't rule out actually strikes inside Iran.  Is this an option that's being considered as part of the response to the January 28th attack?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I'm not going to speak for Mr. Sullivan.  I think his words speak for themselves.  As I highlighted earlier, you know, we're not going to talk about or forecast any potential future operations, other than to say there will be additional responses and that those will be at a time and place of our choosing.  I would also again emphasize that we are not seeking escalation in the region, just the opposite, but that we won't hesitate to protect our forces.

Q:  (Inaudible) when it comes to Iran, red lines cannot be crossed because the risk of ...

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, I think I've been very clear what our focus is, and — and I think we've been very clear from this podium that we, the United States, the Department of Defense, do not seek war with Iran but if our forces are threatened or attacked, we will take appropriate action.

Time for a few more.  We'll go to Jared and then we'll finish here with Janne.

Q:  Thanks.  On a — separate efforts in Iraq and Syria and then, on the other hand, with the Houthis in Yemen, not to belabor the point but if I can ask it a different way, is the department sufficiently confident in its intelligence on Houthi materiel and supply lines, that these strikes can successfully attrit their capabilities in the coming months?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so Jared, what I would tell you — so first of all, I'm not going to talk about intelligence.  Second of all, our goal is not to completely eliminate the capabilities of Houthi forces.  Our goal is to disrupt and degrade their ability to conduct these attacks, OK? 

And as it relates to ensuring that international shipping, naval vessels, mariners can transit the Red Sea safely and securely, in accordance with freedom of navigation, that will continue to be our focus.

Q:  (Inaudible) split hairs here but is that precisely the same approach the department is taking in Iraq, or, you know, if these attacks in Iraq continue, do you anticipate perhaps an expansion of the scope of — of U.S. strikes?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, look, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations, other than our focus is on the Defeat ISIS mission.  If our forces are threatened or attacked, we will take appropriate action.

Last question, Janne?

Q:  Thank you, General.  As you know, the — North Korea continues to launch cruise missiles.  How is the information sharing between the United States, South Korea, and Japan working now?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, as you know, we have excellent relations between — an excellent relationship between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and we will continue to share information as it relates to regional security and stability, and I'll just leave it there.

Q:  You also completely tracking North Korea's missile launches?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, I'm not going to get into intelligence, but clearly, you know, we keep a very close eye on the region, and as always, we will continue to consult closely with our allies and our partners in the region.  Thank you.

Thanks very much, everybody.