Approximately 2,000 U.S. troops have been ordered to be ready to deploy in response to the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Pentagon officials announced Tuesday.
The “prepare to deploy” order by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “increases DoD’s ability to respond quickly to the evolving security environment in the Middle East,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said in a release Tuesday. “No decisions have been made to deploy any forces at this time. The Secretary will continue to assess our force posture and remain in close contact with allies and partners.”
If preparations do lead to a deployment, U.S. personnel from various units based across the Middle East and Europe are expected to assume support roles. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the potential deployment.
The Pentagon did not specify how many troops, if any, would be deployed inside Israel’s borders or whether personnel would occupy locations outside the country. Direct involvement in combat by U.S. infantry is not expected at this time, according to the WSJ.
Austin’s orders come as droves of Palestinians continue to flee south from the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion, one aimed at eliminating Hamas in retaliation for the group’s Oct. 7 attack in Israel that killed 1,400 people, the majority of whom were civilians.
Numerous aid groups, meanwhile, continue to warn that the impending invasion could compound what is quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land — between Israel and Egypt — home to approximately 2.3 million people.
The attack by Hamas, a militant group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, kicked off what quickly became the bloodiest conflict between Palestine and Israel since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. More than 4,000 people have now died in the conflict, with the Gaza Health Ministry claiming 2,750 Palestinians have been killed and 9,700 wounded.
In addition to the 1,400 Israelis killed in the attack, at least 199 others, including children and elderly citizens, were captured by Hamas and taken as hostages into Gaza, Israeli officials have reported.
With support from U.S. Navy warships and air assets, Israeli forces have been amassing along Gaza’s border and drilling for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group. A week of blistering airstrikes in Gaza by Israeli aircraft have demolished entire neighborhoods, but have failed to prevent further rocket attacks into Israel by Hamas.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has renewed pledges of American support for Israel in its war against Hamas, and discussed U.S. efforts with the U.N. and others to provide hostage rescue assistance as well as humanitarian aid for civilians.
The White House announced Monday that President Joe Biden is expected to travel to Israel on Wednesday “to demonstrate his steadfast support for Israel in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack and to consult on next steps.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.