Good morning. Thank you all for coming today.
First and foremost I want to express my condolences to the family and friends of a number of recent casualties that we have tragically lost in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
Two Marines were killed in mountainous territory in Northern Iraq in an advise and accompany mission with our Iraqi partners during a mission against the remnants of ISIS.
A third Marine was killed in a vehicle accident in the United Arab Emirates during exercise Native Fury.
Finally, a U.S. Army soldier and a U.S. Air Force airmen, and a medic from the United Kingdom were killed during a rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia, Katib Hizbollah, on Camp Taji, which is an Iraqi base that hosts coalition forces engaged in the fight against ISIS.
Beyond those killed, we want to recognize the 18 servicemembers and civilians wounded in action including five coalition servicemembers, as well as two other injured servicemembers from these three incidents.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of those killed and wounded, and we wish a speedy and full recovery to the wounded and injured.
Next, I wanted to brief you on last night’s defensive strikes on 5 Iranian-backed Katib Hizbollah advanced conventional weapons storage sights.
Up front, we have information that confirms Katib Hizbollah conducted the rocket attacks on Camp Taji on March 11th that killed three coalition members and injured fourteen others. We assess that Katib Hizbollah has launched 12 rocket attacks against coalition forces in the last six months.
In response to this attack on an Iraqi base that hosts coalition forces supporting the Iraqi fight against ISIS, we have carried out precision defensive strikes to degrade and destroy advanced conventional weapons that have been provided to Katib Hizbollah by their Iranian backers.
The slide shows the five Katib Hizbollah locations that are known to have stored Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons that we struck at 6 p.m. on March 13, East Coast time, and on March 14 in Iraq. We assess that each location stored weapons that could enable lethal operations against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. We also assess that the destruction of these sights will degrade Katib Hizbollah’s ability to conduct future attacks.
While we faced significant weather issues that prevented clear photos and videos of the effects of our strikes, we are confident that we have effectively destroyed these facilities and expect that they no longer contain the type of advanced Iranian-supplied weapons that were used in the Katib Hizbollah attacks on the Iraqi base at Camp Taji that hosts coalition forces.
The strikes were all conducted by manned fighter aircraft that recovered safely at the completion of their mission.
I want to reiterate that these defensive strikes were designed to destroy Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons, and that the United States acted in self-defense in response to a direct and deliberate attack on an Iraqi base that hosts coalition service members. We are in Iraq to support the people of Iraq in their fight against ISIS, however, we reserve the right to defend our forces whenever they are attacked or threatened.
Finally, I would caution Iran and its proxies from attempting a response that would endanger U.S. and coalition forces or our partners. U.S. Central Command is well postured to defend our forces around the region and to respond to any further aggression against our forces. In fact, the Secretary granted my request to continue to operate two carrier strike groups in the region, which is the first period of extended dual U.S. carrier operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility since April 2012.
We have the flexibility, capability and will to respond to any threat.
With that, I will take your questions.