US orders more troops to prepare to deploy to the Middle East as conflict in Gaza intensifies
Stars and Stripes October 22, 2023
The U.S. military is telling more troops to prepare to deploy to the Middle East and is sending a second aircraft carrier and additional air defense assets to the region as Israel prepares for a ground invasion of Gaza.
The moves are due to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an online statement Saturday.
“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel,” Austin said in the statement.
The defense secretary said he ordered an unspecified number of troops to receive “prepare to deploy” orders to prepare them ready to leave quickly if needed. The Pentagon had said Tuesday that 2,000 U.S. troops from a variety of units have been given a prepare to deploy order.
The U.S. will be sending air defense assets including a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot battalions to bases in the region, Austin said Saturday.
Rocket and drone attacks have targeted U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, as militant groups respond in the aftermath of Israel’s military response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
The attacks led to the death of a U.S. defense contractor in Iraq Wednesday due to a heart problem that happened while scrambling for cover during an alert warning, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman.
U.S. troops also received “minor injuries” in the attacks, which targeted bases with U.S. troops in Baghdad, northern and western Iraq, and eastern Syria.
Two aircraft carrier strike groups, A-10 attack aircraft and F-15 fighter jets also have been sent to the region in the past two weeks.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group has been redirected to the Middle East, officially joining the USS Gerald R. Ford currently operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Austin said Saturday.
Defense officials say those assets are meant to deter groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iran-backed groups from escalating the conflict with Israel.
Militias backed by Iran are said to be planning attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East under the slogan of “Revenge for Gaza,” a report by the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
Austin said in Saturday’s statement that he may consider “deploying additional capabilities as necessary.”