White House: On-the-Record Press Call on U.S. Military Operations in the Middle East

The following was sent to the Bloomingtonian:

February 2, 2024

Via Teleconference
5:43 P.M. EST
MODERATOR:  Good evening, and thank you all for joining the National Security Council press call on U.S. military operations.
As a reminder of the ground rules of this call, it is being held on the record with no embargo.
We will take some questions in a moment and I’ll ask everyone to use the “Raise Hand Feature” on Zoom to indicate if you have a question.
I’ll turn it over to John Kirby for some opening remarks.
MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.  Good evening.  Sorry we’re a little bit late.
As you all no doubt know, today, in response to the continued attacks on our troops and facilities in Iraq and Syria, and in particular the attack that killed three of our soldiers in Jordan, wounding dozens of others, U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets at seven facilities utilized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the militant groups that they sponsor.  Three of the facilities are in Iraq, four of them are in Syria. 
Numerous aircraft, including B-1 bombers, dispatched from the United States were involved in this operation, firing more than 125 precision-guided munitions over the course of about 30 minutes.
Target facilities included command and control centers, as well as headquarters buildings and intelligence centers; rocket, missile, and drone storage facilities; and logistics ammunition supply chain facilities.
These targets were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on clear, irrefutable evidence that they were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.
The Department of Defense is in the early stages of battle damage assessment, but we believe that the strikes were successful. 
We do not know at this time if or how many militants may have been killed or wounded.  All U.S. aircraft are now out of harm’s way. 
The President has been kept informed throughout the afternoon. 
The United States does not seek conflict with Iran or in the broader Middle East.  But as President Biden has made clear, we will not hesitate to defend our people and hold responsible all those who harm Americans, at a time and a place of our choosing.  That began tonight, but it will not end tonight.
And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Lieutenant General Sims, the Director of the Joint Staff, for a little bit more detail on the operation itself.
General Sims.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Thank you, sir.  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. 
Just to add quickly to what Mr. Kirby briefed, we did, in fact, strike at seven different facilities.  Within each of those facilities, there were a number of targets.  All told, as Mr. Kirby mentioned, 85.  They were struck with multiple U.S. aircraft — those aircraft from the U.S. Central Command, as well as, as mentioned, the B-1s that flew from the United States.
This has been in the planning since we were asked to look at it.  This was designed around the weather, when we had our best opportunity as it related to the weather.  That presented — good weather presented itself today.  And as a result, this took place.
As mentioned, it was seven different locations.  Of those locations, four of them were in Syria and three of them were in Iraq.
And I will — I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR:  Thank you, General Sims. 
For our first question we’ll go to Phil Stewart from Reuters.  Phil, you should be able to unmute yourself.
Q    Yes, hi.  Could you please explain to us: Why did you feel the need to use bombers that came all the way from the United States?  You know, what were the facilities in Iraq?  The Iraqis are also condemning this operation.  If I could get a political reaction from the U.S. official.  Thank you.
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll let General Sims take the first question, Phil, and then I’m happy to take the second one on Iraq.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  First of all, I would tell you the beauty of the American bomber is we can strike anywhere in the world at a time of our choosing.  We’re not limited to just the aircraft that are in the Central Command, as was the case in this situation, and we’re able to employ those bombers from the United States.  It also limits the requirement to have a number of forces forward.  We can, again, conduct this from home turf, so to speak.
I’ll pass it to Mr. Kirby.
MR. KIRBY:  And on Iraq, Phil, we did inform the Iraqi government prior to the strikes occurring.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Kelly O’Donnell from NBC.  Kelly, you should be able to unmute yourself.
Q    Are there any components of this initial operation that are from the cyber realm?
MR. KIRBY:  Kelly, the operations that we can speak to this evening are the operations that we laid out in the opening statement and what you saw from the President and Secretary of Defense.  That’s the operation that occurred today and that we can speak to.
As I’m not going to, nor would I ever, preview or get ahead of any future potential operation one way or the other.
Q    Understood.
MR. KIRBY:  But as I said, these responses began tonight, but they’re not going to end tonight.
Q    Could I then ask: Do you expect that there will be any video component to these strikes that may be released at a certain point?  Or how long would you anticipate the battle assessment about what you’ve accomplished?  How long would that typically take for these kinds of strikes?
MR. KIRBY:  I’m going to turn it to the General on the BDA question. 
We’re still looking at imagery to see what can be made publicly available.  We’ve done it before, as you know.  We’re certainly going to take a look at the imagery available.  And if we can — we’ll make whatever public that we can, but we’re still working our way through the imagery.
And I’ll turn it over to General Sims on the time horizon for the BDA.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Thanks.  I think, again, we’ll let the sun come up, and we’ll be able to start to make some better determinations in terms of battle damage assessment.  We feel pretty confident.  As we mentioned, it was 85 individual targets within each of these locations.  We feel really confident about the precision of those targets and the fact that those were strong military targets.
We did — as you would imagine, we are able to see a good portion of those through our collection methods.  And the initial indications were that we hit exactly what we meant to hit with a number of secondary explosions associated with the ammunition and logistics locations that were mentioned by Mr. Kirby earlier.
Q    Thank you for taking my question.
MODERATOR:  Thank you, Kelly. 
Next question is Aamer Madhani from the AP.
Q    Thanks, Sean.  Just a follow on the B-1.  Was the B-1 meant to send a signal to Iran specifically, reminding Tehran that the U.S. is capable of striking high-value targets inside Iran, including its nuclear facilities?  And why was it not — was it decided not to strike targets inside Iran?  Thank you.
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll let General Sims take a crack at that first one.  And I’m happy, General, if you want, to take the second.
Sir, we’re not trying to send a signal to anybody other than those who mean Americans harm.  And in this case, we struck targets that got after exactly that.  As we mentioned before, IRGC-related targets, targets that are holding locations for munitions that have been used against our men and women located in the region, as well as locations that have been providing command and control and intelligence collection in those strikes against Americans.
And the B-1 allowed us to do that, again, from the United States.  It enables us to do so at a time that we choose and with a significant number of munitions.
I’ll pass it back to Mr. Kirby.
MR. KIRBY:  Aamer, as I said in my opening statement, we do not seek conflict with Iran.  These targets were chosen, as we said, to degrade and disrupt the capabilities of the IRGC and the groups that they sponsor and support.
As the General said, we believe that these targets fell into exactly that criteria.  And the goal here is to get these attacks to stop.  We are not looking for a war with Iran.
I’ll leave it at that.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Mary Bruce with ABC.
Q    Hi there.  Do you expect the Jordanians to participate in this at all?  There’s some reports that Jordanian aircraft are also slated to join in the operation as a sign of solidarity. 
And just to be clear, are the strikes for today completed?  Should we expect any more action tonight?
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll take the first one and kick it to the General on the second.
I have nothing for you on that one, Mary.  We’re here to talk about U.S. actions against the IRGC and the groups that they support.
And I’ll kick it to the General for the second.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Ma’am, can I just confirm the second part of your question?  I’m sorry.
Q    Just wondering if there’s — if we should expect any more strikes today and tonight.  I mean, I know, obviously, in the coming days we’re likely to see something.  But are strikes for today completed?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Yeah, Mary, I would just say we have — you know, right now, all of our aircraft are out of harm’s way.  I’m not going to provide any particulars as it relates to timing on future strikes.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Tamara Keith with NPR.
Q    Thank you.  And, Kirby, you sort of addressed this, but I’m hoping you can expand upon it, which is what the signal you’re trying to send with these particular strikes to the IRGC and to Iran more broadly, and why you think this particular targeting avoids a wider Middle East conflict.  Like, what about this targeting?
MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  The signal is: The attacks have to stop.  The attacks have to stop. 
And these targets were chosen because, as I said in my opening statement, all these facilities were connected to and being used by the IRGC and their proxy groups to conduct attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.  Carefully chosen targets for that purpose.
So the signal is — to the IRGC and to these groups: The attacks have got to stop.
And they’re also not just a — it’s not just — this wasn’t just a message-sending routine tonight.  This was about degrading capability; taking away, in a more robust way than we have in the past — taking away capabilities by the IRGC and the militant groups.
And I want to repeat, again, what I said in my opening comments: These responses began tonight; they’re not going to end tonight.  So there will be additional responses.  There will be additional action that we will take, all designed to put an end to these attacks and to take away capability by the IRGC.
And when you ask, “Well, how does this comport with not wanting a broader conflict?” — because if you’re taking away capability of an adversary who’s trying to kill your troops and act against your interests in the region, if you’re trying to take away their capability, then you are by default working to deescalate the tensions.  And that’s the approach that we’re taking.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to MJ Lee with CNN.  MJ, you should be able to unmute yourself.
Q    Hi, thank you.  You were clear that weather was a big factor in the timing.  Were there any other significant factors for the decision to start (inaudible) tonight?  And is there anything you could say on whether (inaudible)?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Ma’am, I heard the first part of your question on weather.  You came in garbled there at the end.
Okay.  So I understood your question as to be our timing associated with the weather.  We — as you would expect, we were hoping to have better weather.  Our munitions can, as you know — our munitions are very precise and don’t take a lack of cloud cover.  We can issue those or conduct those with good cloud cover.
In an interest of ensuring that we’re hitting all the right targets and that we’re avoiding unnecessary casualties, it’s good for us to have clear weather to allow us to see those targets as we develop them.  That all came together for us as we were planning this.  The weather did turn today to allow us to conduct these strikes.  And as a result, we’re very confident in the targets that we struck today.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg.
Q    Thank you.  I know you can’t say when we’ll see additional strikes, but are you able to say if they might be seen over days or will it be weeks?  And will you tell us when it’s over?
And then, two other things.  Is there any other details you can share on the ordnance used or anything more on the other aircraft other than the long-range bombers?  Anything else you can detail about the aircraft used?
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll take the first one and then kick it to the General.
Obviously, we’re not going to telegraph future operations one way or the other, JJ.  As I said, there will be additional response actions taken in coming days.  And I think that’s about as specific as I want to be about it.
And today, we saw the first set of responses.  It will not be the last set of responses that you see.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Ma’am, I would — in terms of munitions and the B-1, in terms of the flight — I think is what you said there at the beginning — I won’t go into the particular munitions used.  I would tell you it was more than 125, all of them precision, all of them designed to hit the exact spot that we mean to hit.
In terms of the flights from the United States, a single non-stop flight for the cruise, from the B-1s, all of that enhanced by our transportation command and our ability to gas and go along the way without any issues or incidents from the United States there and where they’re at now.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with David Sanger from the New York Times.
Q    Thanks very much.  John, in addition to the signaling that you do by hitting 85 sites, there’s the conversations that have always taken place through backchannels with Iran.  This week, we saw the Iranians send a few signals of their own.  They didn’t want to have a direct conflict either.  Was there any advanced messaging to them saying, “Look, you’re going to get hit because three people got killed, but we don’t want to escalate this” — something that would give them enough understanding to get their people out of the way and that they were going to lose some facilities, but that if they calmed it down, this would be the end of it?
MR. KIRBY:  No, David.
Q    No conversations at all?
MR. KIRBY:  There’s been no communications with Iran since the attack that killed our three soldiers in Jordan.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Nick Schifrin from PBS.
Q    Hey, guys.  Thanks very much.  I appreciate it.  The question that you probably won’t be willing to answer, John, but can you say anything more about what you mean or what the administration means when it says “first tier” of multitier?  Can you talk at all about any plans or any part of what’s happening tonight that might target leadership of these groups separately than what’s already happened tonight and perhaps any targeting of Yemen?  Thanks.
MR. KIRBY:  I’m sorry, I missed the last part there.  Any targeting of what?
Q    Yemen.  Yemen was the last — very last part.
MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, well, you nailed it, Nick.  I’m not going to get into any speculating about future operations and options available to us.  I think you can understand — I think, hopefully, everybody can understand why we simply are not going to do that.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Missy Ryan from the Post.
Q    Hi.  Thank you very much.  I just want to follow up on Nick’s question, actually, and ask whether or not you were aiming to target any sort of senior figures from IRGC or militia groups in these strikes, you know, like occurred on January 3rd.  And if not, can you talk about whether or not there — or either way, can you talk about whether or not there was an impact from this sort of period of anticipation about these strikes and the reports that Iranian — that IRGC and militias were able to move people around?  Was that a factor in the decision — if you didn’t target leadership — in the decision not to do that in this first wave?
MR. KIRBY:  The targets were carefully chosen as facilities that we knew were involved and used by the IRGC and these militant groups in attacks against U.S. personnel.  They were all carefully selected for that purpose.
As I said, this is just a first set of responses.  I’m not going to talk about any potential future operations one way or the other.
And then, for the second part of your question, I’m happy to defer to General Sims in terms of, you know, whether and what degree, you know, they saw preparatory movements by these groups before these strikes.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Ma’am, I can’t give you any particulars about people moving from any of those locations. 
I would say — and, you know, it’s (inaudible) — I’m not going to speak for the Iraqi — or the Iranian-aligned militia groups here.  But my guess is, based on the fact that they took the shot at us and have taken multiple shots at us now, that they were anticipating a response.  And, you know, their defenses were likely to move people around.  We’re pretty confident that the locations we got, as Mr. Kirby mentioned, were pretty significant in degrading capability.  And we will know better, in terms of what that BDA looks like, tomorrow.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Alex Ward from Politico.
Q    Thanks for doing this.  One question.  Was there any — and I know you said that you don’t know yet the assessment of militants — but was there an intention to kill militants as part of this operation?
And secondly, understood that there will not be any strikes inside Iran as part of any of this, but were any options presented to the President to strike inside Iran?  Thank you.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Sure.  I’ll speak to that first part now and then I’ll pass to Mr. Kirby.
I would tell you that we know that there are militants that use these locations — IRGC, as well as Iranian-aligned militia group personnel who use these locations.  We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities.
MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to talk about the details of the options that were presented to the President.  I hope you can understand why, Alex. 
But I’ll just go back to what I said at the top and what the President has made clear: We are not seeking a war or conflict with Iran.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Nadia from Al Arabiya.
Q    Hi.  Thank you for doing this.  Just to add to all the questions that have been asked, can you specify if the militia that ordered the attack, that killed the three U.S. servicemen, were targeted?  Or was it just a blanket target against IRGC facilities in that location, either in (inaudible) or Bukamal?
MR. KIRBY:  General, you want to answer that?
So I would tell you, ma’am, that we struck against a number of targets tonight that kind of cross — that move across many different aspects of the Iranian-aligned militia groups in Iraq and Syria.  And I would tell you I feel that we confidently struck targets that will impact their ability to conduct future strikes against Americans.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Patsy from VOA.
Q    Hi, thank you for taking my question.  So, is your understanding that there will be more strikes on various groups?  And at this point, can you specify which groups?  I know these have been asked before, but which specific groups were targeted?
And then, just to follow up on MJ’s question, which I think wasn’t really asked: Was the timing, other than the weather, was there any significance to the fact that the President today has just finished participating in the dignified transfer of the remains of the three soldiers?  Thank you.
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll take the second one.  And I’ll defer to the General, although I think his answer to Nadia seemed to get at your first question, Patsy.  But I’ll defer to General Sims on that, on the first one.
The timing of the strikes tonight were — for all the reasons that General Sims put forward in terms of all the many factors that go into being able to do this in the most effective way, to include considerations of the weather, it had no connection, none whatsoever, with the timing of the dignified transfer today at Dover Air Force Base.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  And then, ma’am, on that first part: You know, we see all these groups — not all, certainly, but a good portion of these groups now that are working together, communicating together with one another in this Islamic Resistance of Iraq, so to speak.  And so, again, we feel confident that the strikes tonight made a good impact or had a good impact on that group of militants.
Q    So is that the reason why you did not specifically say it was Kataib Hezbollah that was behind the strikes that killed the American soldiers but the umbrella group instead?
MR. KIRBY:  I’ll try briefly, General.  But please feel free to jump in.
As we said, Patsy, it was the intelligence community’s assessment, and that they were most comfortable with, which was that those attacks in Jordan were carried out by the umbrella group, Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a group that is supported by Kataib Hezbollah.  Kataib Hezbollah is one of the participants.  And that was the intelligence community’s best assessment.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Aurelia from AFP. 
Q    Hi, and thanks for taking my question.  You said that you are pretty confident that the strikes have significantly degraded the striking capabilities of these groups.  Is it to say that once the whole operation is over, you are also confident that there will be no strikes whatsoever from Syria — in Syria and Iraq against U.S. positions?
MR. KIRBY:  We don’t want to see a single more attack or strike on U.S. personnel or facilities in the region.  We don’t want to see a single one. 
The response actions that we took tonight, which are only the first of more to come, are meant to degrade and disrupt the capabilities of these groups to conduct these attacks supported by the IRGC. 
And I’m not going to get ahead of future targets and what we will or we won’t do.  We want the attacks to stop.  We want them to stop right now.  And I think I just need to leave it at that.
MODERATOR:  For our next question we’ll go to Phil McCausland from BBC.
Q    Hi all.  Thanks so much for answering these questions. Just curious, is there any evidence or concern that, you know, like, this delay — or not delay, but waiting a few days on the strikes allowed targets to be hardened or moved?
And then secondly, I’m just seeing some Arab news organizations reporting that there’s been some retaliation on their side.  I’m wondering if you all are seeing anything regarding strikes in eastern Syria from them.  Thanks.
MR. KIRBY:  I think General Sims already dealt with the question about any pre-strike reactions by the IRGC.  But, General, feel free to elaborate if you feel the need to.  And I’ll defer to you, too, sir, on the second question about any retaliation tonight by the groups.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  I’m not tracking any retaliation in eastern Syria right now.
And as to your first one, I’d agree with Mr. Kirby.  I mean, again, I won’t speak for the IRGC or the Iranian-aligned militia groups in terms of what orders they gave their people to move around or to harden beforehand.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Kimberly from Al Jazeera.
Q    Hi.  You said that your targets were selected to avoid civilian casualties and you had clear and irrefutable evidence that the targets were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.  Can you tell us what that clear and irrefutable evidence was?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  Ma’am, I’m not going to get into our intelligence collection.  I would just say we spent a good amount of time discerning the appropriate targets here.  And in this case, we’re confident that we got after targets that were associated with the continued attacks against Americans.
Q    How do you expect, sort of, the American public to trust the intelligence?  Do you just expect them to take your word for it?
Q    Do you feel that the American military has a good track record when it comes to —
MR. KIRBY:  We’re going to move on to the next question.  Thank you.
Q    Okay.  I just — everyone else has had a chance to finish.  I just want to double check.  Will you be making any of this public in any way?  Or will you have a chance for reporters —
MR. KIRBY:  Kimberly, that’s what we’re doing right now.  It’s what we’re doing right now, ma’am.  We are sitting here talking to you guys on the record.

Q    Excuse me —
MR. KIRBY:  We’re going to move on. 
Q    Okay.  So you will give reporters —
MR. KIRBY:  We’re going to move on.  Thank you.
Q    — the chance to see the evidence?
MR. KIRBY:  We are talking to you tonight and we are sharing with you everything we possibly can at this early hour.
And as the General has made clear, we’re going to go through the battle damage assessment and we’ll learn more.  And I have every expectation that the Defense Department will share with you what they can, as appropriate.  But we’re not going to share anything that’s going to prejudice or be — or make our job difficult, because we have additional options here ahead of us and additional responses to take.  But we’ll be as transparent as we can be.  My goodness, that’s what we’re doing on this call here on a Friday evening.  And we need to move on.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Howard Altman with The War Zone.
Q    I actually have several questions.  One, can you please tell us the additional airframes that took place in this attack?  Will there be additional force structure additions to the region given what’s going on?
And have there been any attacks against U.S. allies in the region in the wake of these strikes?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIMS:  So, on the first one, I would just say it was a number of U.S. fighter aircraft from the Central Command AOR, in addition to the bombers.  I won’t get into the particular types and numbers.
In terms of force structure, no conversation now about adjusting forces in the area of operations.  And again, as demonstrated by the B-1s, not a reason to have to bring a bunch of extra stuff there when we have the ability to strike from the United States.
And then, on your last one, I have not been provided any information since the strikes on any attacks in any of the region since — or any other nations in the region since the strikes tonight.
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  This concludes our press call for this evening.  Again, as a reminder of the ground rules, this call was held on the record under no embargo.
We appreciate everyone taking the time to join us on this Friday evening.  Hope everyone has a good weekend.  And if you have any follow-up questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
6:14 P.M. EST

Rate this post

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Bloomingtonian on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!