The US has sent special forces to Israel to assist in finding hundreds of hostages held captive in the Gaza Strip by Hamas, a senior Pentagon official reportedly said Tuesday.
Though the US has previously said it has sent military advisers to help Israel in its war on the Hamas terror group, Christopher Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, indicated that commandos have also been deployed, according to the report.
“We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things,” Maier said at a special operations conference in Washington, The New York Times reported.
The comment came a day after Israel freed one of its soldiers who had been held by Gazan terror groups, though it was unclear what role, if any, the American commandos had in the rescue of Pvt. Ori Magidish.
Magidish was one of at least 245 people abducted when thousands of Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel in a devastating October 7 attack that also killed some 1,400 people. Most of those being held captive are civilians, and several hold US citizenship.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and free the hostages, while diplomats from Qatar and other countries have attempted to negotiate their release.
Maier, who is the Pentagon’s senior special operations policy official, told the conference a key objective for the US personnel is to “identify hostages, including American hostages.”
“It’s really our responsibility to do so,” he said.
Maier said the US commandos have not been given any combat roles but were discussing with Israeli forces the situation in Gaza for “what is going to be a very complex fight going forward.”
Though Maier would not reveal how many special operations forces are in Israel the NY Times cited other unnamed US officials as saying several dozen have been sent in the past few days. There was already a small team in Israel on October 7 for previously arranged training.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper that the commandos were joining FBI, State Department and other US hostage-recovery specialists who are working with Israeli counterparts.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin is known to be holding near daily discussions with Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in which he has reportedly stressed that any ground incursion into Gaza must be carefully handled due to the complexity of fighting in a tightly populated urban area, further complicated by the networks of tunnels Hamas has dug under the Strip to hide and moves its forces.
“We will work with them as much as possible to help advise them on those types of activities,” Maier said.
Vice President Kamala Harris said in an interview aired Sunday that Washington would not send troops to Israel or Gaza, amid domestic worries that the US could get entangled in another costly conflict in the Middle East.
According to the NY Times, several other Western nations have also quietly moved small teams of special forces closer to Israel where they are ready to help with a rescue operation or support a major evacuation of their citizens from Israel or Lebanon.
Maier said the US special forces are also ready “to help our own citizens get out of places and to help our embassies be secure.”
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as terrorists seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.
Israel is still tallying the number of people it believes were taken captive, but last week it said that over half — 138 — have foreign passports from 25 countries. Over 200 foreigners or dual nationals were killed or abducted in the onslaught.
Thirty-one Americans died, according to the White House, and 13 have been listed as missing. US President Joe Biden has said that there are Americans among the hostages. Four people have been freed by Hamas, including an American woman and her daughter.
The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed more than 8,500 people have been killed in the enclave, a figure that cannot be independently verified. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and it also does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives. The terror group has pushed back against such claims, releasing an unverified list of names it says represent those killed. Some of the dead are believed to be victims of Palestinian terrorists’ own misfired rockets.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties and urging the civilian population to evacuate to southern Gaza. Troops are already operating on the ground in Gaza.