An MH-60S helicopter conducts flight operations in 2014.

An MH-60S helicopter conducts flight operations in 2014. (John Philip Wagner Jr./U.S. Navy)

STUTTGART, Germany — Five U.S. service members were killed when their aircraft went down during a training mission in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. military said Sunday.

The crash occurred during a routine air refueling operation on Friday evening, U.S. European Command said in a statement. Search and rescue efforts began immediately after the incident and involved U.S. aircraft and ships operating in the area, EUCOM said.

The troops were Army Special Operations soldiers flying aboard a MH-60 helicopter when it went down off the coast of Cyprus, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

In response to Israel’s war with Hamas, the Pentagon has dispatched teams from the Joint Special Operations Command, including the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, to Cyprus, the Times reported. Their role is to be on alert in the event Americans need to be evacuated from the region.

The Times said that the helicopter crew members who died were aviators assigned to transport special operators for secret missions.

EUCOM said it was withholding the names of the troops until 24 hours after next of kin notifications have been completed.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen,” EUCOM said. “An investigation into the crash is underway.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said in a statement Sunday that he and the Pentagon “mourn the tragic loss of five U.S. service members.”

“We will remember their service and their sacrifice,” he said.

In an earlier statement on Saturday, EUCOM emphasized that the mishap happened during training and that there wasn’t an indication of hostile activity.

The incident comes during a time of high tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, where the Pentagon has moved substantial forces in the aftermath of Israel’s war with Hamas. Just last week, two Navy aircraft carriers, involving some 11,000 U.S. personnel, launched aircraft and practiced missile defense during a three-day exercise in the area.

EUCOM did not identify the type of plane involved in the crash, but the KC-135 Stratotanker is the military’s main air refueling aircraft.

It wasn’t clear whether the air refueling exercise was related to carrier group activities in the region.

In addition to Navy warships, the U.S. has also moved an array of ground defenses into the Middle East in an effort to defend U.S. forces in the region and deter a wider war.

The hostilities in Gaza have had indirect repercussions for U.S. forces elsewhere.

Since mid-October, militant groups aligned with Iran have repeatedly targeted U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, resulting in more than 50 American troops being injured, according to the Pentagon.

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