Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder

Press Briefing on Iran's Launching of Airborne Threats Against Israel

delivered 15 April 2024, Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Arlington County, Virgina

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All right, good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your flexibility today, a little bit later. Just a few things and then we'll get right to your questions.

First of all, as you saw over the weekend, at the direction of the President and in support of Israel's defense, U.S. forces in the Middle East intercepted dozens of missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles after Iran and its proxies launched more than 300 air threats on the evening of April 13 and the morning of April 14 from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in route to Israel, to include over 110 medium-range ballistic missiles, over 30 land attack cruise missiles, and over 150 UAVs.

U.S. Central Command highlighted in their press release that CENTCOM forces supported by the U.S. Navy destroyers, USS Arleigh Burke and USS Carney, currently assigned to the European Command AOR, successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack UAVs and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen.

This included a ballistic missile on its launcher vehicle and seven UAVs destroyed on the ground in Iranian-backed Houthi controlled areas of Yemen prior to their launch.

Secretary Austin is grateful for the professionalism and skill of the brave U.S. troops who took part in the defense of Israel and who continue to stand guard to prevent further conflict or escalation.

Throughout the weekend and into today, Secretary Austin has held multiple calls with international partners and allies, as well as with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff, Senior DOD leaders and the CENTCOM and EUCOM commanders to actively monitor the situation and reinforce U.S. and international resolve in the face of Iranian aggression.

Secretary Austin has also been in frequent contact with his Israeli counterpart, Minister Gallant, speaking to him three times over the weekend. During their most recent call yesterday, the two leaders reviewed the successful combined operation by the United States, Israel and their partners to defend Israel from these unprecedented attacks by Iran and its proxies. And emphasized that, while the United States does not seek escalation, we will continue to take all necessary action to defend Israel and U.S. personnel.

Shifting gears, Secretary Austin welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani to the Pentagon today to discuss the strategic nature of the U.S. Iraqi bilateral defense relationship and Iraq's role as a leader in ensuring regional security. Upon conclusion of the meeting, which is occurring as we speak, we'll issue a full readout.

Finally, of note, Secretary Austin also spoke today with his counterparts from Germany, Kuwait and Qatar. Readouts from these calls will be published later today on Defense.gov.

With that, be glad to take your questions. We'll go first to Associated Press, who I believe is on the phone, Lita Baldor.

Question: Thanks, Pat. I was wondering if you were able, at this point, to provide any more details on the U.S. response? Including, do you have the number of U.S. aircraft involved, tankers and things like that? Anymore granularity on U.S. response?

And I know it's early, but is there sort of an estimated cost of the U.S. response?

And then I have one just on the meeting with Iraq today. Did the Secretary discuss the ongoing issue of the U.S. reducing its troop presence in Iraq? And does what just happened in Israel and the fact that some U.S. forces in Iraq were involved in the response, does that -- was that discussed as far as the need to maintain any U.S. forces in Iraq?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Lita. Taking your last question first. As mentioned, the meeting is ongoing right now. So, of course, we'll have a readout of that meeting. You know, as you know, there is ongoing discussion through the higher military commission as it relates to the U.S. support for Iraq, as it relates to the international coalition to defeat ISIS and what that relationship -- what that longer term bilateral relationship will look like. So, certainly not going to get ahead of that process. But we'll have much more to readout following today's meeting.

As it relates to U.S. forces and the response over the weekend, you know, as you know, as a matter of operational security, we're not going to be able to go into the specifics in terms of the numbers of fighters involved at this time, other than to say, again, U.S. fighters were involved in the response and participated in taking down, as I highlighted, over 80 UAVs that were one-way attack UAVs that were enroute to Israel.

Thank you, Jennifer.

Question: General Ryder, were you given a heads-up about the scope and scale of this attack?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: So, I think what you're asking was did Iran give us a heads up? No, they did not.

Question: But were you given a heads up through allies?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: We were not given specifics by Iran. And to my knowledge, any specifics in terms of exact times, dates. You know, we obviously have a robust intelligence network that provides indications and warning. But to answer your specific question, no, Iran did not tell us when and where they were going to attack.

Question: And just in terms of -- is the U.S. concerned that U.S. forces in the region would be jeopardy if Israel retaliates for Saturday night? And is that why the U.S. is not participating in a potential retaliation?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Well look, I don't want to get into hypotheticals at this point, whether or not Israel responds to Iran's attack, of course, is something for Israel to discuss and to decide.

As Secretary Austin has said, both publicly and privately, we don't want to see escalation, but we, obviously, will take necessary measures to protect our forces in the region. And as was demonstrated over the weekend, we'll take necessary measures to defend Israel. Thank you. Reuters?

Question: I think officials have said last week that additional asset -- U.S. asset, military assets have been sent to the region. Are those assets still in place or have they been moved out now?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: As of right now, those assets are still in place.

Question: And you talked previously about Iran not seeking conflict with the United States. Is that still accurate? Do you today believe that Iran is not seeking conflict with the United States or Israel?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Are you asking me if Iran is speaking? I'm not going to speak for Iran. I mean, certainly from the United States, we do not seek conflict with Iran.

Question: Conflict before, so today. Is that statement still accurate?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Again, I'm not going to speak for Iran. Thanks. Will?

Question: Two questions on the Middle East. Has Israel informed the Pentagon if it plans to respond to the Iranian attack? And what is -- does DOD have any message on a potential response in terms of -- to Israel? And second, given the number of drones and missiles that were shot down, is the Pentagon concerned about stocks of either U.S. or Israeli air defense munitions in the region?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yup. Thanks, Will. So on your first question, you know, again, I'm not going to speak for Israel or any potential response. Again, that's a decision for them to make. As we demonstrated this weekend, we remain focused on the defense of Israel and on the protection of U.S. forces that are in the region. And we've been clear from the very beginning that we don't want to see a wider regional war. And we continue to work hard in consulting with our partners and our allies throughout the region to ensure that there is not a larger regional war.

And then on your other question, again, I'm not going to get into the specifics in terms of U.S. and partner readiness levels. Again, as we demonstrate this weekend, we have the capability and the capacity to defend Israel and to defend our forces in the region. Fadi?

Question: Thank you, General. I have two questions. How critical was U.S. support to defend Israel against this response by Iran?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Well, I think as our actions demonstrated, the U.S. support for the defense of Israel is robust. And it also demonstrates the longstanding security cooperation -- relationship that the United States has, not only with Israel but with countries throughout the region when it comes to addressing regional threats. And those kinds of things don't happen overnight that those kinds of relationships and the ability to work together, to interoperate together, all played out and saved many lives.

Question: And second question, this is not hypothetical. The Chief of the General Staff of Israel, General Halevi, made it clear today that Israel will respond. The Secretary made it clear, the U.S. is not seeking escalation. The President made that clear as well. When Israel responds, do you think this will be counterproductive to your efforts for de-escalation? And will the U.S. support an Israeli response?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Fadi. We take slight exception with your question because to my knowledge right now, there has been no Israeli response, so that is a hypothetical. So again, you know, we're going to continue to stay in close consultation with our Israeli partners as we have done throughout the weekend. Again, we don't seek a wider regional conflict. And I'll just leave it there. Lara?

Question: So, Saturday night was biggest aerial attack of this magnitude we've seen [in] quite some time. It's the first big test of this collective integrated air and missile defense system that we seem -- that we've been work -- that DoD has been working on with its allies in the region. Can you talk about any lessons that were -- we learned from this attack about Iran's capabilities, about our own capabilities? And were there any surprises?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Lara. Now, to your point, we will learn a lot from this. And we have learned a lot from this. As I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to be in a position to do an after action report from the podium today other than to say, it's pretty telling that Iran launched over 300 air threats, as I highlighted. And 99 percent of those were knocked down. So it is demonstrative of that close coordination and synchronization between the United States and coalition partners when it comes to addressing air defense threats in the region.

So again, we'll obviously continue to look at this and study this. Importantly, we'll continue to work closely with Israel when it comes to the defense of Israel and threats from countries like Iran going forward. But I'm sure we'll have much more to learn. Yes, sir?

Question: Yes, is the Pentagon talking to other state[s] in the region, like the Saudi, Qatar, and the Jordan in case Israel will go for retaliation, and that we need military support from those countries, including the U.S.? Are the U.S. ready to use force?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Well, yeah, again, as I mentioned, you know, our focus right now remains on the defense of Israel and on the protection of U.S. forces. If you take a step back and you look at U.S. force presence in the region writ large, we have been focused for a very long time on regional security and stability. And that -- that's not going to change. When it comes to discussions that we have with our partners in the region, you know, of course, those are opportunities again to reassure U.S. commitment towards working towards regional security and stability, and our appreciation for the ongoing open communication and the ability to consult with leaders throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

Question: Will you use force in cases where Israel will need military support?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Again, you know, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. What you saw happen over the weekend was an incredible and extraordinary response by the U.S., and Israel, and coalition partners when it came to defending Israel. And I think we've been pretty clear that we don't want to see escalation into a wider regional war. And I'll just leave it there. Janne?

Question: Thank you, General. Russia and North Korea, Russia said that it would increase the deployment of strategic assets around the Korean peninsula to keep the U.S. in check and increase military cooperation with North Korea. What is the U.S. position on that?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, look, we've been working closely for a very long time with our ROK, and Japanese allies, and other allies and partners throughout the region when it comes to addressing issues like security, stability, prosperity, and to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. And so that will continue to be our focus.

Question: North Korea also, they're considering participating in the China-Russia's military exercises soon. How [concerned are you] about this?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to speak for North Korea today. Let me go back over here.

Question: Thanks, Pat. There have been reports that are saying that half of the ballistic missiles that were fired by Iran either failed to launch or hit short of the targets. Can you confirm that? And then to follow up on that, did some of them land in allied territories like Jordan and Iraq?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Carla. I don't have any information to provide on that from the podium. I'm certainly not going to get into intelligence from the podium. I would say, in terms of failures, I would just point to the fact that, again, over 300 air threats launched to targets in Israel, 99 percent of which were taken down.

Question: Follow up on addresses question if I may. So is there going to be a deployment of additional forces into the region? Does the U.S. Feel that they have the appropriate forced posture in the Middle East right now?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to read out or announce today in terms of forced posture. Of course, you know, as a matter of course, we're constantly looking at U.S. forces around the world and where we need capabilities and assets. But don't have anything to announce today. Joseph?

Question: Thanks. Can you talk about who from the Middle East helped in these operations, these counter Iranian operations over the weekend? And then can you talk about -- did you guys provide -- did the U.S. provide any assurances that if they were to take part in these, then the U.S. would, you know, help defend any potential responses from Iran? Because we saw Iran did threaten some of these countries that reportedly took part.

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Joseph. I appreciate the question. As you know, we're going to allow any partners to speak for themselves, so I don't want to speak for them when it comes to any participation. I'll just leave it there.

Question: Sorry, just to push you on that. I mean, you guys have said the French and the British help in these. So you can't talk about any other country that help?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I think the French and the British have publicly acknowledged their participation. But again, I'd refer you to them to talk about their specific operations. Let me go back here and then, yes, ma'am.

Question: Thanks, General. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Kuleba seems to suggest that if Ukraine received seven more Patriot batteries, they might be willing to stop attacking Russian oil refineries, which has been criticized by U.S. officials. Is that something that's being into the -- taken into consideration by DOD and the Administration, or is it subject of discussions with allies?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: You know, I don't have anything to announce as it relates specifically to Ukrainian aid other than two things. One, we need Congress to pass the Supplemental. And two, we're going to continue to consult closely with Ukraine and our allies and partners when it comes to their most immediate needs to defend themselves from Russian aggression. Yes, sir?

Question: Thank you, General. The Iraqi Prime Minister is here at the Pentagon today. Can you tell us what they discussed about the President's U.S. troops in Iraq? And how important to you are relations between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces as well? And I have a following question.

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Sure. As mentioned earlier, the meeting is ongoing right now, so we'll have a readout following that meeting which we'll provide some additional insight into the discussions. As it relates to our views on the value of Iraqi security forces to the U.S. Iraqi relationship, I mean, we've been working very closely together for many years now. And we value Iraq as a partner. And we greatly appreciate the work and support that we've done with the Iraqi security forces to include Peshmerga forces. Luis? Oh, sorry.

Question: As you said, General, missiles from Iraq were fired at Israel. Can you tell us from where in Iraq and which group was responsible?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I can't. I don't have any information to provide in terms of point of origin, other than one of those missiles was a ballistic missile that was taken down in the vicinity of Erbil that was enroute toward Israel. And then that's all the information I have to provide. Luis?

Question: Sir, yesterday, the White House put out that President Biden had made a congratulatory call to two Air Force units. Were those two units involved in the shoot down of these drones that you talked about earlier?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yes.

Question: Can you -- were those units forward deployed in response where it have -- I mean, this part of the movement of assets that we were heard about last week, then possibility of an intervening, retaliatory attack?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: We had deployed some additional fighter units into the region. But I'd have to refer to CENTCOM, whether or not those units were already in the AOR, whether they were additional units that had been deployed in support of bolstering our efforts there. Thank you. Yes, sir.

Question: Thank you, sir. As far as these wars are concerned, finances are affected of the millions of people around the globe. And now many, many finance ministers are in town for the World Bank and IMF meetings. My question is that as far as this war is concerned, are we heading to a bigger war and maybe involving many other nations? And also where do the UN, United Nations, and the NATO stands as far as these conflicts are concerned?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. For NATO and the UN, as I'm sure you can appreciate, I'd refer you to them. I'm not going to speak for them. And look, from a U.S. Department of Defense standpoint, one of the things we come to work every day, working hard to do is to prevent broader regional or global conflict as evidenced by our efforts in the Middle East region. And we're going to continue to stay very focused on that. Let me go to the phone here. Chris Gordon?

Question: Thanks, Pat. Was the location of the U.S. aircraft, and I'm not asking you to say where the aircraft were, coordinated with allies? And I'm not asking you to name which allies in terms of where to operate to be best prepared to defend against this attack? And roughly, how long did this engagement go on with U.S. assets defending Israel?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. You know, in terms of the duration, I think, you know, as you probably saw most real time and social media, it -- you know, we were looking over probably several hours here that this occurred, as I mentioned to my topper, you know, the evening of 13 April into the morning of 14 April. As it relates to the positioning of U.S. forces in the region, as you highlighted in your question, I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of where those forces are based. But just as a matter, of course, not only in central command, but in any command, one of the things that we're constantly looking at is forced posture, forced presence to be able to address the most likely threats to be able to be prepared to respond to a range of contingencies. And this was no different in this case.

And so obviously, a lot of planning and coordination that goes into -- ensuring that we're ready to respond. And I think the results speak for themselves as what you saw this weekend. Jennifer?

Question: A senior defense official had said that 50 percent of Iran's missiles failed en route. Was there sabotage involved in that or are they just very bad missiles?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Again, I've seen those reports. I don't have anything to provide from the podium. You know, again, other than the fact that I think it's notable that 99 percent of the aerial threats that Iran launched toward Israel were taken down. Carla?

Question: I have a China-Russia question, if I may. The AP is reporting that about 90 percent of Russia's microelectronics are coming from China last year, which Russia has used to make missiles and tanks, etcetera, used in the war against Ukraine. Can you confirm that? What more can you tell us on that?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I can. You know, as you've probably seen, we have indications that the PRC is supporting Russia's war effort by helping to ramp up its defense production with significant quantities of machine tools, microelectronics, optics, UAV, cruise missile technology, which Russia is using to make propellants for weapons. And so this support is actively enabling Russia's war in Ukraine and poses a significant threat to security -- international security, so Iíll just leave it there.

Question: And that 90 percent number, 90 percent of their microelectronics, can you confirm that as well?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I cannot. I don't have that.

Question: Will this be raised by Secretary Austin and his call tomorrow?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to announce at this point or read out. Any other questions? Let me take one more from Fadi?

Question: Yeah. I mean, I asked you a question and you said, I mean, Admiral Hagari said this today from an Israeli air base that there will be a response. General Halevi said that very clearly. So your response to my question, was that because you haven't been notified?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: No, I apologize. But what you said was, if they respond, will the U.S. do something? They've said that they intend to respond. But to my knowledge, there has been no response. So I'm not going to talk about a hypothetical about what they may or may not do if something has not been done.

Question: OK. And that -- so if you acknowledge that they said that, you think these statements contribute to what this Administration is trying to do in terms of the escalation in the Middle East?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Again, you know, we are in regular contact with our Israeli partners to include over the weekend, as you saw U.S. and Israeli forces bat down this unprecedented Iranian strike. Certainly, when it comes to any type of Israeli response, and again, I'm not going to speak for the Israelis, that is a decision for them to make in terms of what they do, if they do it, and how they do it. But again, from a U.S. standpoint, you know, we continue to make very clear that we don't seek a wider regional war and we'll continue to work towards that result. Let me -- yes, sir.

Question: Thank you. Ukraine is saying they're running low on air defense interceptors. What is your current assessment? How long will it take until they run out? And what will be the impact when they run out?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, certainly, you heard General Cavoli's testimony recently talking about the situation in Ukraine, so I'd point you to those remarks. Look, it's a dire situation right now in Ukraine. You've got Russian forces that are making some gains on the front line. And it's absolutely essential that we get Ukraine what they need to include air defense capabilities so that they can check Russian aggression, defend their territory, and ultimately, take back their sovereign territory. So we're going to continue to work very hard towards that end.

But the most important thing that could happen right now is that Congress pass the Supplemental so that we can ensure Ukraine gets the volume and level of support that they need to sustain that fight.

Question: Are we talking weeks or months until the air defense interceptors run out?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Look, I'm not going to get into the specific timeline other than it's just urgent that we get them that capability. Mike ?

Question: Yeah, can you confirm these reports that Secretary Austin specifically asked his Israeli counterpart to give them a heads up in the event Israel does decide to launch an attack against Iran?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah. As I highlighted in the top of my remarks, Secretary Austin did have the opportunity to discuss the successful combined operation by the U.S., Israel, and our coalition partners to defend Israel from these unprecedented attacks by Iran and its proxies. You know, when it comes to the operations themselves, he praised the extraordinary defensive measures and strong cooperation that was undertaken to defeat these threats.

But beyond that, Mike, I'm going to have to refer you to my readouts. Thank you. Tony?

Question: Speaking of strong cooperation, can you talk a little bit about what impact the Juniper Oak exercise last year that you actually announced from the podium, the largest ever U.S.-Israeli exercise, and air defense, and command and control. What impact did that have a year later in terms of the operation over the weekend?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so a couple things, Tony. So, you know, I alluded earlier to the importance of understanding how our ongoing efforts over many years to strengthen interoperability and coordination -- you see the fruition of that over the weekend.

But to your point, Juniper Oak can -- and for those that aren't tracking, it's a combined joint all-domain exercise that really works to improve our ability to work with Israel on land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace -- and so it was notable that the exercise series included U.S. and Israeli command and control and air interdiction, both of which were critical on defending Israel Saturday night.

And just again, as a reminder, this exercise took place in January of 2023, it included 6,400 personnel, 1,100 IDF personnel, 100 U.S. aircraft, six ships, live fire exercise, 180,000 pounds of live munitions, just to give you a sense of the scale. And it's this kind of strategic cooperation and combined training that allows us to do what we did together on Saturday night. Joseph?

Question:: Can you talk about the -- the drones, at least the ones that the U.S. took down, if they were armed or if they had any type of munition attached to them?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: My understanding is these were one-way attack drones. So, you know, explosive drones.

Question: Second, does the -- does the -- does DOD assess that Iran has more sophisticated weapons that it could deploy in the event of any other attack on Israel or a similar attack?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: I'm -- you know, Iran has demonstrated the capability to launch significant threats, in terms of their UAVs, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, but I'm not going to be able to go into further details.

Let me go to Heather, USNI.

Question: Hi, thank you so much. To go back to the attack on Saturday night, a senior military official said the aircraft came from land and sea. I just wanted to see if you could confirm the sea aspect of that?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: That is correct. You know, there were both land-based and sea-based aircraft -- U.S. aircraft involved. And, last question.

Question: There were some words that the State Department, not officials, about a potential coordination of the U.S. in case of retaliation towards Iran from Israel. So my question is are the U.S. again ready to coordinate, as they did on Saturday, support to the Israeli in case they need?

MAJ. GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, you know, kind of just taking a step back here. And just as a matter, of course, the U.S., to include the Department of Defense, we maintain a very robust set of relationships throughout the region and throughout the world.

And we're going to continue to stay in close consultation with our allies and partners when it comes to threats in the Middle East region and beyond, to, again, focus on regional security and stability. You've seen that play out over the weekend, and that will continue to be the case going forward.

Thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.


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