MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants joining us from the Middle East and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the Commander of U.S. Transportation Command. General Van Ovost will discuss her recent visit to the Middle East, USTRANSCOM’s recent security assistance and humanitarian aid deliveries, and share how her command supports the U.S. military’s cooperation with our partners and allies around the world. General Van Ovost will make opening remarks and take questions from participating reporters.
We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation for this briefing in Arabic. We request that everyone keep this in mind and speak slowly.
I will now turn it over to General Van Ovost for her opening remarks. General, the floor is yours.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thank you, Sam, and thank all of you who have joined us virtually via Zoom and via telephone.
Let me start by offering my deepest condolences for the tragic loss of life and those affected by the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. The United States will continue to work urgently with our Turkish allies and others to rush assistance to those in need after this terrible tragedy.
I have the honor of leading United States Transportation Command, which is made up of a team of dedicated men and women who provide capabilities that enable the United States to quickly respond to crisis and sustain humanitarian and military operations throughout the world. In our profession, nothing is more noble than delivering humanitarian aid to those in need. Every day, the USTRANSCOM team, with the support of our allies and partners, showcase that ability and validate our reputation for logistics and transportation excellence.
Last week, I was able to visit dignitaries, servicemembers, and students in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait to discuss how important their hard work, intellect, and relationships are to together further peace, promote stable economies, and deter aggression in this vital region.
One thing is more evident now than ever: Our partnerships and working military relationships matter. The complexity of the region requires multidimensional, multi-partner solutions. We are unequivocally stronger together, so we must continue to deepen our relationship and capabilities with our key allies and partners.
We’ve seen how crucial close partnerships have been in enabling the United States and the broader international community to provide rapid humanitarian assistance for earthquake recovery and relief efforts in Türkiye and Syria. Our collective efforts have been equally important in sustaining support to the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend themselves from Russia’s unjustified invasion.
Relations throughout the Middle East are just as important, as we work to counter Iran and its proxies; to defeat ISIS; and to slow Russia’s push to expand their overseas military presence and further destabilize regional security.
I was able to talk with my counterparts and assure them that with their continued support, we will retain the ability to respond wherever and whenever our allies and partners need us.
Throughout the visit, I had multiple opportunities to discuss how we can enhance regional security together. We’ll be able to move faster and more efficiently across the entire spectrum of operations and overcome challenges posed by adversaries if together we continue to leverage technological innovation and innovation of thought, concept, and process.
We must place increased emphasis on improving partners’ collective defensive capabilities by building and maintaining sustainable multilateral constructs, such as prioritizing the development of the Regional Security Construct, the Middle East Air Defense initiatives, and executing the International Maritime Security Construct.
During this visit, I was particularly impressed by our regional partners’ ongoing efforts at economic diversification. I’m cognizant, however, that their expanded integration into the global digital economy brings with it enhanced data security challenges, particularly from the People’s Republic of China. The United States stands ready to help our regional partners address these new challenges and safeguard their economies.
I returned from my visit confident that our partnerships and alliances provide the necessary platform through which we can find solutions and ensure peace and security for the people of the region.
Again, thank you for joining us today. I look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, General. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. Questions submitted in advance have been incorporated into the queue, and we did get a number of good pre-submitted questions today, many from our callers among the Arabic journalists who are listening in our Arabic interpretation room, and so I will try to ask as many of those as I can.
We’ll start with one of those pre-submitted questions, and that comes from Tarek Hussein from Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper. And General, Tarek asks if you could describe more about what TRANSCOM has done to help and to provide assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake in Syria and Türkiye. Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thank you, Tarek. At Transportation Command, we are very familiar with supporting international humanitarian crises. In this case, the United States Government is deploying emergency humanitarian assistance to Türkiye and Syria to respond to the devastating impacts following last week’s earthquake.
Since February 6th, our partners have been working tirelessly to assess the needs on the ground and coordinate the delivery of life-saving assistance. Immediately we dispatched, within 24 hours, two urban search and rescue teams, which consisted of dog teams and about 160 personnel and about 77,000 kilograms of equipment to begin the desperate search for survivors. We’ve also deployed United States Army helicopters to begin to airlift medical personnel to the areas that are the hardest hit.
In addition, Türkiye has allowed us to use Incirlik Air Base as a hub for international humanitarian operations, and so far we have facilitated over 2,000 airlift sorties delivering aid and personnel, offloading 5.4 million kilograms of international aid. The United States, through USAID, has pledged a beginning pledge of $85 million, and we will continue to assist Türkiye and Syria in their time of need.
Thank you for the question.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much, General. We’ve got a few more pre-submitted questions that I’d really like to get through before we go to some live questions. And we got a question about one of the stops along your recent visit. As you noted, you were in Kuwait and Bahrain and Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and we have a question from Samira Frimeche from Kuwait’s Annahar newspaper. And Samira asks, “General, after your meetings with representatives of civil society organizations in Kuwait and others, how do you see the future of Kuwaiti women’s participation, especially in their military institutions?” Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thank you, Samira. I was energized by my meeting with several ladies’ groups across the region. In Kuwait, how amazing was it that I could spend time with women in civil society who are making a difference across Kuwait. When I think about what they have done for and what they’re doing for the economy and for national security, we have come certainly a long, long way. And the fact that they are supporting each other and mentoring each other and empowering others to become educated and to engage in the society really is inspirational. And several of the militaries are beginning to integrate women into the military in different fashions, and I’m fully supportive of the talents that they will bring to national security.
So the entire Middle East region, the vision that the bold leadership has across the GCCs are really coming to fruition and I’m very supportive of what the women have done there.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. Let’s go to the live queue, and I’m going to go a journalist from Egypt, Haidy Eldesouky from Al-Akhbar newspaper. And Haidy, if you just give me a second, I will open your line. Okay, Haidy, you should be able to pose your question now.
QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Hello. Yes, Haidy, I can. Thank you.
QUESTION: About the – what is the most problems or crisis you are facing or is (inaudible) the Middle East and globally?
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Haidy, you were – you’re broken up. Let me just repeat. What are the key problems or crises we’re facing in the Middle East and across the globe; is that your question?
QUESTION: Ma’am, yes, it’s my (inaudible).
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Okay. As I understand, what are the biggest crises? Again, when I think about the Middle East, which was the focus of this trip and my job to ensure that we can respond anytime, anywhere to meet and support our allies and partners, my biggest concern are the threats emanating from Iran. Right. Their aggressive and dangerous policies continue to destabilize the nation. We – and we have to face this challenge collectively, right, because that’s how we can deter, when we can sense and see the threats together and then together we can respond.
So as I spoke to the different regions, I encouraged the different multilateral partnerships so that we can have an integrated air and missile defense to defend against those drones that Iran produces and launches. They have had hundreds of strikes in the region and of course the ballistic missile technologies. So having an integrated air and missile defense capability is critical for this time-sensitive defensive need as well as having an integrated maritime construct so we can see the threats that come across the water. And we must keep the free flow of economic goods throughout the Gulf because that is critical to the nations, to their livelihood, their economy, and the world economy. Thank you, Haidy.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, General. I’m going to go back so some of the pre-submitted questions we received, and we’ll go to a question just widening out the aperture a little bit. We’ll go to a question on a slightly wider topic, turning to Ukraine and Russia. Our colleague Anas Alqassas from Egypt’s Roayah News Network asks, “General, since USTRANSCOM plays a crucial rule in the strategic mobility and military logistics, how would you describe the logistical flow of U.S. military aid to Ukraine? And what kind of challenges do you face?” Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Yes, thank you for that question. As the command responsible for sustaining operations and providing security cooperation aid around the glove, the unique problems of delivering to Ukraine are something that we are looking at every day. It’s so important that not just us, over 50 nations are contributing to the support of Ukraine, whether that’s military security support or humanitarian support. And it’s very important that we keep what we call these lines of communications, the ground nodes and the aid nodes moving forward to provide aid into Ukraine, so they can defend themselves against these unjust acts by Russia.
But it does take the entire coalition, and we could not do it without our allies and partners who provide us unprecedented access. They allow the United States to use their seaports and airports and land routes to gain aid into that nation. Much like when I look to the Middle East, our partners have been very helpful in providing us access, basing, and overflight so we can get where we need to get very quickly to stand by our allies and partners to deter and, if necessary, defeat any of our enemies.
So it is a big load that we are taking as we continue to support Ukraine, but we are not alone. And we will continue to stand by Ukraine in this time of crisis.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. I’d like to turn back to one of the stops along your recent trip to Bahrain, and our colleague Waleed Sabry from Bahrain’s Al-Watan newspaper asks, “Can you tell us more about the existing cooperation between Bahrain and the United States in terms of security, the delivery of humanitarian aid in the region, and other issues where the U.S. cooperates with Bahrain?” Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Yes, thank you for that question. I was pleased to visit Bahrain. Bahrain is a major non-NATO ally and a gracious host to our U.S. naval forces in the area – that’s NAVCENT. I tell you, our shared security commitment, including their ability to host the International Maritime Security Construct, consisting of over 34 nations, is critical. Bahrain has paired with us what’s called Task Force 59, which is providing an innovative solution for the Maritime Security Construct – in other words, the network to be able to understand what’s happening, the threats coming from the water and into our ports. So they have partnered with us on these innovative ways, and shared in our concerns, and again, hosted all these other nations in this maritime construct.
So they are definitely what I call punching above their weight with respect to supporting the maritime force, and frankly, protecting the waterways and the ports from all – from threats. So we are pleased to continue the partnership with them. Our partnership goes very deep with Bahrain, and it was wonderful to meet and see all the new things that they’re doing to strengthen this partnership.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. We’ll now go to a question from one of our live participants. And we’ll go to Abdulhalim Suleiman from Independent Arabia. Abdulhalim is based in Syria. And I’m going to go ahead and open your line, Abdulhalim, and you should be able to pose your question now.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, sir, General Jacqueline. I want to ask you that CENTCOM announced the coordinating of efforts with their partner in Syria – I mean SDF. What is form of this cooperation, and how you reach your aids to Syria? Thank you.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thank you. Thank you, Halim. I first, again, provide my condolences to the people of Syria during this terrible, terrible time. As you know, we have been in partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is a diverse coalition of Arab and Kurdish Syrian fighters, which have been our combat-credible partners when it comes to the fight against ISIS. And what we have been doing is using our relationships and existing connections in Syria to provide humanitarian aid through our international nongovernment organizations to provide this aid to the people of the north and northwest Syria in the hardest-hit areas.
So we are using our existing connections to get aid into Syria. It is important that we continue, and we are assessing daily the needs that the Syrian people have, and looking at multiple ways to continue to flow that aid into Syria to support them.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. We have time for just a couple more questions. We’ll now go to another question from our live queue, to JP Lawrence from Stars and Stripes. JP, just give me a second and I’m going to open your line, and you should be able to pose your question.
QUESTION: Yes, hello, ma’am. Are there any specific projects in which TRANSCOM is looking into AI and automation in the Middle East?
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thanks for that question, JP. Absolutely. We have two major task forces that are multilateral in nature. Task Force 59 is out there in Bahrain and working with the GCC to use – and you may have heard of these – those sail drones. We’re using underwater and on-surface drones to tag up with all of the other maritime assets to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in the Persian Gulf to ensure the free flow of the economic goods back and forth in that area, and to protect the GCC nations. So they are coming up, they are looking with AI through the sensors using drones to characterize the threat and then to transmit that by data-sharing to the GCC so that everyone has this common picture of the threat and what options we have to deter or defeat that threat.
As you probably know, with video and signals intelligence, that’s a lot of data. So they’re using AI to sift through and understand what those signals means, and to alert personnel to the critical areas as they develop. So – and even to provide forecast data based on what they see or intentions and previous, if you will, previous data that has been looked at as far as what the intentions mean to be able to predict what might happen.
And in Qatar, along with the GCC, our AFCENT lead has Task Force 99, which is using drones and creating that mesh network and the integrated air-and-missile defense that’s necessary to counteract Iranian drones and ballistic missiles – one, to characterize any activity and then share it with the GCC’s, and then again, determining how we’re going to take collective action against these threats. Using AI, again, helps us sift through data and not only characterize threats but predict where threats may pop up based on common maneuvers that we’ve seen before in advance of threats.
So it’s very promising work, it is innovative work that we have – we’re seeing our great partners in the GCC provide information on, to include advanced technological capabilities from other nations like Israel that we’re weaving into the Regional Security Construct.
So it’s a journey, but we’re very – it’s very promising what we’re seeing out there, JP.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. We’ve got a question from Jared Szuba from Al-Monitor. Jared, let me open your line and see if you want to go ahead and just pose that question yourself. Otherwise I can read it.
All right, well, I’m not sure if Jared has his microphone on, so I’ll go ahead and read his question, General. And Jared asks – he asks, General, if you can go into some further detail of your meetings in the Middle East, and specifically he’s interested in knowing if the U.S. is seeking any additional basing access, and how your visit relates to enabling the DOD’s priority of being able to quickly respond to threats anywhere in the world. Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Thank you, Jared. I appreciate you talking about the DOD’s priority of being able to sense and respond around the world at a time and place of our choosing. That’s exactly what we’re thinking about and the reason that we need these deep relationships with our allies and partners, because you can’t just fly over another nation without getting permissions. And we have had such great partners in the Middle East to allow us to get that, again, the access to civilian ports, to military ports. Those seaports and airports provide us that unfettered ability to be where we need, when we need, with the equipment that we need from around the globe.
So that is our priority that we focus on every day. And with respect to what I see in the Middle East, as I spoke about with the threats that – countering Iranian activity in the area, we’re looking at the ballistic missile threats and we want to ensure that we can get equipment and personnel where we need and when we need. So we are looking at what’s called the Western Access Network and the Trans Arabian transportation Network to try to look at – the west side, the Red Sea, Red Sea ports in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and actually offloading some equipment there and then running across the Trans Arabian Network around the road and rail networks to approach the Gulf states from the west.
In times of conflict and concern in Persian Gulf, we may not be able to get the supplies that the nations need up through the Straits of Hormuz. So we need to have other options like through the UAE, through Oman, and through the Red Sea. So we are exercising that, and Jordan and Saudi and Oman and UAE have been so gracious to allow us to have these multimodal ports, these airports and seaport combinations that allow us to get access such that if one way is shut off, if one road is shut off, if one seaport is shut off, we have multiple options to get the equipment and the resupply to the nations there.
So that is something that we’re working on very hard with Central Command and the entire region. And we have just been so fortunate to have an open door with our allies and partners that allow us such great access so that we can meet everyone’s needs.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you, General. We have time for just one last question. And what I’d like to do, since we had so many good pre-submitted questions, is I’m going to combine two pre-submitted questions we have. And I’ll read them both, and they’re kind of in the same area.
And one was a question from Abdulhadi Habtor from Saudi Arabia’s Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, and Abdulhadi asks: “Are there discussions with your allies in the Middle East and the Gulf to establish a missile defense system to confront external threats?”
And then our colleague Mohamed Maher Mahara from Al-Ain News of the United Arab Emirates asks: “Can you tell us more about the Middle East Air Defense alliance?” So maybe we can combine these questions, General, if you can talk a little bit about that whole area of missile defense and the Middle East Air Defense alliance. Over to you, General.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Yes, thank you so much. As I spoke about, it’s so important to have these multilateral constructs where we can combine the strengths of our nations and the technologies and innovations of our nations to together increase regional security, and no more so than against the flagrant aggression by Iran and the hundreds of attacks they have made on your critical infrastructure, on ships and the free flow of commerce throughout the Gulf. How is it that our strikes will – can deter and defeat Iran so they cannot achieve their objectives?
So the Central Command, the Air Force lead has been creating this single picture using multiple regional affiliates and sharing the data across everyone so that everyone can see the threats even though you may not have a Patriot system or you may not own that radar. They essentially share the radar picture, share the Patriot picture so that everyone has a comprehensive picture up and down the Gulf of what’s going on. And then inside our operations center, we have – share liaison officers that sit next to each other from the different nations, and also hotlines so we can ensure that people are paying attention to the threat as it’s developing. And so that’s one thing is to sense the threat and to understand the threat.
The next thing is to weave in the actual defensive systems, whether it’s layered UAV defenses for the small UAVs or large UAVs, or it’s the ballistic missile defenses, the short-range, medium-range, and long-range. So having the nation’s being able to, if you will, knit together their defensive capabilities allows us to choose which nations should shoot and defeat the threat so that we’re not wasting assets having four nations shoot at the threats, if you will. So this is a better understanding of the best asset to defeat the threat and decisions and authorities that allow the nations to act together.
And again, the more the nations come together and knit together their capabilities and share, share the data and share the common picture of the threat, the more deterrence value. In other words, it makes it not worth it for Iran to try to strike because they know that we’re going to defeat it and we’re going to call them out as the aggressors that they are. Thanks for that question.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much, General. And now, General Van Ovost, if you have any closing remarks, I will turn it back over to you.
GENERAL VAN OVOST: Yeah, thank you very much. Thanks, Sam, to you and your team for putting this together, and for each of you who joined us virtually. You each have an important job in ensuring true and accurate information is communicated to the public, and as demanding as the job can be, it is vital in the overall effort to foster regional stability. I’m confident that if we, as allies and partners, continue working together and sustain a focus on people, partners, and innovation, we will enable peace and security in the region.
Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, General. That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the Commander of U.S. Transportation Command, for joining us, and thank all of our colleagues from the media for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you and have a great day.