A squadron of U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthogs have arrived in the Middle East and more American forces are expected to follow this week as part of an increase in the region following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, a senior defense official told reporters on Thursday.
“Let me again reiterate one of the main messages that this rapid increase in posture is intended to send to both state or non-state actors,” the senior defense official said during a Thursday Pentagon news briefing. “The United States is unequivocally in its support for the defense of Israel and is sending a warning to any entity that would consider taking advantage of this conflict and this war to escalate violence: one word, quite simply – don’t.”
U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, announced on Oct. 8 that additional A-10s, F-15s, and F-16s were deploying to its theater of operations along with the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and its strike group, which arrived on Tuesday in the Eastern Mediterranean.
On Thursday, the 354th Fighter Squadron out of Davis–Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, arrived in the CENTCOM region, said the senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under rules established by the Pentagon.
“We expect to see more posture increases flowing in over the next week,” said the senior defense official, who did not specify what U.S. military forces would arrive in the region. “The [CENTCOM] announcement of the posture increases on Sunday are extremely significant and sizeable, and it’s going to take a couple days to get all those augmentations in place.”
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Since its surprise attack on Israel, Hamas has taken an unknown number of Israelis and Americans hostage.
U.S. military officials assigned to the American embassy in Israel are also providing the Israel Defense Forces with advice on hostage rescue operations, said the senior defense official, who stressed that the Pentagon currently does not have any intention of sending American ground forces to Israel.
Meanwhile, the Ford and its strike group will be conducting a variety of missions in the Eastern Mediterranean including intelligence and maritime support, the senior defense official said. Although the Ford’s strike group has the ability to conduct long-range strikes, that is not an option that the Defense Department is considering.
U.S. government officials have not yet decided whether the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group, which left for a deployment to Europe that was planned before the Oct. 7 attacks, will join the Ford in the Eastern Mediterranean, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
The first U.S. shipment of small-diameter bombs and other munitions arrived in Israel earlier this week, the senior defense official said on Thursday. Future deliveries of military equipment to Israel are expected to include air defense systems, artillery shells, Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, other precision-guided munitions, and interceptors for its Iron Dome system.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is scheduled to travel to Israel on Friday, where he is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Israel’s war cabinet, the senior defense official said.
Marine Corps Times has reported that the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently left Kuwait earlier than scheduled. A spokesperson for the unit told the newspaper that the 26th MEU had departed Kuwait “as a result of emerging events.”
The senior defense official declined to say whether the 26th MEU is being positioned for a possible non-combatant evacuation operation.
“We are constantly moving our Marine and naval assets around the theater, based on what the requirements are,” the senior defense official said.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller announced on Thursday that the U.S. government will arrange for charter flights for American citizens in Israel who have been unable to leave the country on commercial airlines starting on Friday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is vying for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, has also announced that he had authorized state authorities to launch their own rescue and evacuation operations to bring Americans home from Israel.
As of Thursday, 27 American citizens had been killed as a result of the fighting in Israel and another 14 remain missing, said Kirby.
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