U.S. sending sailors, Marines toward Israel, defense officials say – Lifotravel

The United States is sending an amphibious task force of thousands of U.S. sailors and Marines toward Israel, where they will be positioned aboard warships in case the conflict there with Hamas expands.

Two defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss planned military movements, said Monday night that the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, numbering more than 4,000 sailors and Marines, will join a growing American fleet off the coast of Israel that will include two aircraft carriers and their associated escort ships.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is deployed with the amphibious task force. The Marine unit is trained for a wide array of missions, including some special operations. The USS Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, two of the warships carrying personnel for the unit, were in the Gulf of Oman on Monday, having left Kuwait recently after Hamas’s unprecedented cross-border attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The third ship associated with the unit, the USS Mesa Verde, was in the Mediterranean Sea and was to head near the Israeli shore, defense officials said.

The deployment is the latest show of Washington’s support for Israel, where 1,400 people have been killed and more than 4,100 injured since the start of the attack by Hamas militants. The deployment also reflects U.S. officials’ concerns about a wider war as clashes with Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant and political force, intensify along Israel’s northern border, and Tehran threatens unspecified “preemptive action” to deter an Israeli assault on Gaza.

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Israel, which declared war on Hamas in Gaza and has been bombarding the enclave with airstrikes, is preparing to launch what is forecast to be a hard-hitting ground offensive. Palestinian officials said at least 2,700 people have been killed and 9,900 wounded in Israeli strikes since the attack, and international groups are warning of an escalating humanitarian crisis. The White House announced that President Biden would travel to Israel on Wednesday in a show of solidarity for the U.S. ally and as part of a trip that will include meetings with Arab leaders in Jordan.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week that the United States had “no intention to put U.S. boots on the ground,” meaning combat forces. A small contingent of U.S. troops are at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, advising Israeli officials.

Is the U.S. getting involved as Israel fights Hamas in Gaza? What to know.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, on Monday and reiterated the U.S. commitment to “continue expediting security assistance and preventing conflict escalation,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said in a readout of the call.

Last week, the Biden administration deployed the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier strike group to the region, and announced on Saturday that it also is sending the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group from Virginia. Combined, the deployments will likely place more than a dozen warships off the coast of Israel, in a rare concentration of American firepower explicitly intended to deter Hezbollah from attacking Israel.

Last week, Biden denounced the attack by Hamas as “sheer evil” and said the United States would “make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack.”

Bloody assault on Israel sparks fears of a wider Mideast conflict

Ben Brasch, Michael Birnbaum, Liz Sly, John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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