The US has significantly strengthened its military posture in the Middle East amid concerns about the war between Israel and Hamas triggering a wider regional conflict.
It has moved roughly 1,200 US service members to the region, alongside thousands of others aboard Navy carrier strike groups and a Marine Expeditionary Unit roughly 2,000 people strong.
The move of significant firepower to the region aims to send a clear deterrence message to US adversaries. There have been frequent low-level attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed groups, but the US is aiming to make it crystal clear that wider attacks would provoke a major response.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this month that the additional forces in the region were meant to “bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel.”
“We will do everything and take all necessary measures to protect US forces and our interests overseas,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on October 23. “Again, no one wants to see a widening conflict, and that is our primary goal, but we will also never hesitate to protect our forces.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group is currently in the eastern Mediterranean after deploying last month.
Included in the strike group are 6,000 sailors, the USS Gerald R. Ford — described by a Navy spokesperson as the “most adaptable and lethal combat platform in the world” — the Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), and Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Carney (DDG 64), and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80).
The strike group also includes Carrier Wing 8, which is made up of nine squadrons, including a helicopter maritime strike squadron, four strike fighter squadrons, and an electronic attack squadron.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group entered the Mediterranean Sea last weekend after being re-routed from the European theater. It is currently in the eastern Mediterranean, but it will soon makes its way to through the Suez Canal to the Middle East.
The group, led by the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, includes 6,000 sailors, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Gravely (DDG 107). It also includes Carrier Air Wing Three, which is made up of nine squadrons including four strike fighter squadrons.
The Eisenhower provides the ability for “maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, information operations, security cooperation and counter-proliferation,” a Navy spokesperson said.
The USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, carrying the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are currently in the Red Sea.
Included in the Bataan ARG are 4,000 sailors and Marines aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship the USS Bataan, which can carry more than 24 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
The Marines and sailors in the Marine Expeditionary Unit — roughly 2,000 of the 4,000 troops total in the ARG — are one of the US military’s primary crisis response forces, able to conduct “amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations, to include enabling the introduction of follow-on forces and designated special operations,” according to a Navy spokesperson. The Marine rapid response force is also trained to assist in evacuation operations.
A total of 1,200 US service members have been deployed or are deploying to the Middle East. Among that group are service members assigned to THAAD and Patriot batteries which were announced on October 21 to be deploying to the region, though it’s unclear where specifically they’ll be going.
The Patriot and THAAD batteries are coming from Fort Liberty, North Carolina, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Bliss, Texas. The Pentagon announced this week that another 300 troops would also be deploying, providing explosive ordnance disposal, communications, and other support capabilities for troops in the region.
An unclear number of the troops deploying were in the original 2,000 service members put on prepare to deploy orders earlier this month.
Among the force posture changes was the “rapid movement” into the US Central Command area of operations for US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets, and F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.
It’s unclear how many each of aircraft are in the region. Air Force Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, commander of Air Forces Central, said in a release this month that by “posturing advanced fighters and integrating with joint and coalition forces, we are strengthening our partnerships and reinforcing security in the region.”
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