US considers moving 2nd aircraft carrier into eastern Mediterranean
Stars and Stripes October 11, 2023
WASHINGTON — The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower could soon be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, a defense official said Tuesday, a move that would position a second U.S. aircraft carrier in the region as fighting rages between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorists.
The Eisenhower, along with other ships and aircraft that make up its strike group, is scheduled to depart Norfolk, Va., this week. The aircraft carrier has long been scheduled to deploy and operate near Europe, Air Force Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to the region as part of the U.S. response to the Hamas attack on Israel. The Ford, also based in Norfolk, was already operating in the Mediterranean. That carrier strike group had been conducting naval exercises last week with Italy in the Ionian Sea.
The Ford arrived in the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The Ford strike group includes eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers — USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.
“The arrival of these highly capable forces to the region is a strong signal of deterrence should any actor hostile to Israel consider trying to take advantage of this situation,” said Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, which oversees operations in the Middle East.
The Pentagon did deploy two aircraft carriers to the Middle East in March 2020 amid heightened tension with Iran, Politico reported. At the time, the Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman operated in the Arabian Sea.
A senior defense official, who spoke with reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity, said the Ford has the potential for long-range strike capabilities, but moving ships into the region was to deter groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-backed groups from escalating the conflict with Israel.
“These posture increases were intended to serve as an unequivocal demonstration in deed and not only in words of U.S. support for Israel’s defense. ... Those adversaries should think twice,” the defense official said.
The death toll in the war between Israel and Hamas continues to rise, four days after Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza, a Palestinian territory along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that more than 1,000 civilians were killed in Israel, including at least 14 Americans. He said American citizens also are among those being held captive by Hamas, which controls Gaza and has long been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
“In this moment, we must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel. We stand with Israel,” Biden said. “And we will make sure Israel has what is needed to take care of its citizens, take care of itself and respond to this attack. There’s no justification for terrorism. There’s no excuse.”