US moves carrier group to Middle East as Israel-Gaza fighting continues

The U.S. military will also send additional equipment and munitions to Israel after a weekend of violence.
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GAZA CITY, GAZA - OCTOBER 08: Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza on October 08, 2023. (Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The United States military is sending the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier group as well as additional assets to the eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel, as fighting between Israeli forces and terrorists in the Gaza Strip continues. The move comes on the second day of the violence, with hundreds of civilian casualties in Israel and the Gaza Strip reported. 

“My thoughts continue to be with the people of Israel and the many families who have lost loved ones as a result of the abhorrent terrorist attack by Hamas,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “Today, in response to this Hamas attack on Israel, and following detailed discussions with President Biden, I have directed several steps to strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, led by the titular aircraft carrier, is on its way to the Eastern Mediterranean near Israel. The group had previously been near Italy. In addition to the aircraft carrier, the group includes four guided missile destroyers: the Arleigh-Burke-class USS Thomas Hudner, the USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt plus a guided missile cruiser, the Ticonderoga-class USS Normandy. 

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Austin also said the Pentagon has “taken steps to augment” military aircraft in the Middle East, including F-15, F-16, and F-35 fighter jets as well as A-10 Warthogs, but did not go into detail on what that entails. 

The stated goal behind the move of the carrier group is “deterrence.” There is no indication that American forces will directly engage in the fighting. 

The fighting started on Saturday morning, with a large wave of rocket attacks into Israel, followed by terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks on military and civilian sites. Several Israelis were taken hostage. The attack is the biggest on Israeli territory in decades and is seen as a major intelligence and security failure by the Israeli state. In response, Israel launched several air strikes into the occupied territory. In addition to Hamas targets, strikes have killed civilians in the densely packed Gaza City. Medical sites have also been hit. Attacks on civilians and hospitals may be considered war crimes if there is no legitimate military target present. 

navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford oslo norway
Aircraft attached to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 sit on USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck as the ship steams through the Atlantic Ocean, April 13, 2022. Ford is underway conducting carrier qualifications and strike group integration prior to operational deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Riley McDowell)

On Sunday, the Israeli government said that it was in a “state of war.” Violence has also spread to the occupied West Bank, with at least eight people reported dead. Borders inside the Gaza Strip remain closed, with no indication that Israel or Egypt will open borders for a humanitarian corridor for civilians. As of press time, there does not appear to be any serious talks between the warring parties to declare a ceasefire or de-escalate the situation. 

The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting today about the violence. Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors to the U.N. have given separate statements today. 

Separately, Austin said that the U.S. “will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions,” but did not go into detail on what those include. Austin said that equipment and resources are expected to arrive in the coming days. The first security assistance will begin moving today and arriving in the coming days.

As of 10 p.m. local time in Israel, at least 700 Israelis have been killed, both civilian and military. At least 413 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, with 2,300 injured. Eight people have died in the West Bank. Children are reported to have died on both sides of the war. 

08 October 2023, Israel, Sderot: Military vehicles are seen after Palestinian militants launched more rockets at Israeli border towns on the second day of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/dpa. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Israeli forces have moved vehicles and ground troops within Israel, but have not launched ground operations into the Gaza Strip. 

The United States military has several bases in the region, and the move of the carrier group comes only months after the U.S. sent additional assets to the Persian Gulf. That included the USS Thomas Hudner. The additional aircraft and ships were meant to deter Iranian forces from harassing and seizing commercial oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran itself is a supporter of Hamas, but both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior Biden administration officials have said there is no direct evidence pointing to Iranian involvement in Hamas’ operations this weekend.

This is a developing story.

Update: This story was edited after publishing to change ‘militants’ to ‘terrorists’ as the description of who attacked Israel.

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