Pentagon deploys additional 300 troops to Middle East as more attacks reported at US bases
Stars and Stripes October 31, 2023
WASHINGTON — An additional 300 troops will deploy to the Middle East as militant groups carry out more attacks against U.S. bases in the region and the conflict between Israel and Hamas worsens, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
“We have strengthened our force posture across the region to deter any state or non-state actors from escalating this crisis,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave pre-deployment orders earlier this month to about 2,000 troops, informing them that they might be called for a mission to the Middle East. Last week, 900 of those troops were deployed and a second group of 300 has now been activated, Ryder said.
“These additional troops will provide capabilities in explosive ordnance disposal, communications and other support enablers for forces already in the region,” he said.
Ryder said the new deployments will come from bases in the United States but did not specify where the troops would deploy.
“I can confirm they are not going to Israel,” he said. “They are intended to support regional deterrence efforts and further bolster U.S. force-protection capabilities.”
The Defense Department has previously said none of them will go into Gaza, the small Palestinian territory controlled by the militant group Hamas and home to more than two million civilians. Israeli forces have repeatedly bombed Gaza and sent ground forces in Friday as part of its response to a Hamas attack on Oct 7.
Tensions in the region exploded when Hamas unexpectedly crossed into Israel and killed more than 1,400 people and took more than 200 hostages. U.S. and Israeli officials are trying to free hostages as Israel intensifies its attack on Gaza.
“We are coordinating closely with Israel to help secure the release of every man, woman and child seized by Hamas,” Austin said Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We have no higher priority.”
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared before the Senate panel to ask for new aid for Israel and Ukraine, which is still trying to fight off Russian forces after 20 months of war.
Ryder said there have been more attacks against American forces stationed in Iraq and Syria as part of the U.S. operation to defeat Islamic State terrorists. Since Oct. 17, U.S. bases in the two countries have been attacked at least 27 times by Iran-backed militant groups, he said.
“Sixteen in Iraq, 11 in Syria,” Ryder said. “In some cases, they didn’t strike anything. To my knowledge, [there were] no injuries, no damage to infrastructure [in the latest attacks.].”
Some U.S. troops have suffered minor injuries in the attacks, though an American contractor did die of a heart attack while preparing for one of the strikes in Iraq, the Pentagon said.
“We know these groups are funded, trained, sponsored by the Iranian government,” Ryder said. “And we hold the Iranian government responsible.”
Hamas, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon are three prominent groups in the region aligned with Iran. A U.S. warship in the region shot down several Houthi rockets fired toward Israel on Oct. 19 and Israel also has been fighting smaller battles with Hezbollah in recent days along its northern border.
“We swiftly strengthened our force posture in the region to deter any state or non-state actor from escalating this crisis beyond Gaza,” Austin said. “All this underscores the president’s clear warning: No government or group that wishes Israel harm should try to widen this crisis.”
President Joe Biden’s administration is asking Congress for roughly $105 billion in a supplemental funding package, which would make $10.6 billion in military aid available for Israel, $44.4 billion for Ukraine and $50 billion for the U.S. defense industrial base. The Pentagon still needs Congress to authorize more funding for Ukraine in 2024 because there’s no money left in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and only $5.4 billion in presidential drawdown authority left from 2023, Ryder said. The drawdown authority allows the U.S. to take weapons directly from Pentagon stocks and send them to Ukraine on an emergency basis.