US speeds aircraft carrier, fighter jets to region in show of support for Israel

Munitions and other aid also promised as IDF retaliates for brutal Hamas assault; four Americans thought killed and seven missing, official says

File: The USS Gerald R. Ford, one of the world's largest aircraft carriers, arrives in Halifax on October 28, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP)
File: The USS Gerald R. Ford, one of the world's largest aircraft carriers, arrives in Halifax on October 28, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday he has ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel after the attack by the Hamas terror group that has left more than 700 dead. Americans were reported to be among those killed and missing.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, and its approximately 5,000 sailors and deck of warplanes will be accompanied by cruisers and destroyers in a show of force that is meant to be ready to respond to anything, including possibly interdicting additional weapons from reaching Hamas and conducting surveillance.

The large deployment, which also includes a host of other ships and warplanes, underscores the concern that the United States has in trying to deter the conflict from growing. Israel’s government formally declared war Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders had backed Israeli freedom of action to retaliate.

Preliminary reports indicate that at least four American citizens were killed in the attacks and an additional seven were missing and unaccounted for, according to a US official.

The numbers were in flux and could change as a more complete accounting is compiled, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss initial reports received by the US embassy in Jerusalem. Most, if not all, of those reported dead or missing are dual US-Israeli citizens, the official said.

Reports in Israel have put the death toll at 700 or more, with another estimated 100 believed taken hostage inside Gaza.

Along with the Ford, the US is sending the cruiser USS Normandy, destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt and the US is augmenting Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.

“The US maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this deterrence posture if required,” Austin said in a statement.

File: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meet in Brussels on June 15, 2023. (Elad Malcha/Defense Ministry)

In addition, the Biden administration “will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions. The first security assistance will begin moving today and arriving in the coming days,” Austin said.

Briefing reporters later in the day on condition of anonymity, a senior Defense Department official said Hamas has carried out “ISIS level savagery” against Israeli civilians.

“We are working as fast as possible to provide critically needed munitions of various types and other equipment. We’re also contacting US industry to gain expedited shipment of pending Israeli orders for military equipment that otherwise may have been considered routine for movement,” the official said.

“We’re also working across the DOD enterprise, including with US Central Command, to assess what munitions and other equipment are in US inventory that can be made quickly available for Israel. All of this are actions we’re undertaking within our existing authority and appropriations,” the senior defense official added.

Congressional support for aid to Israel is up in the air amid chaos in the House of Representatives after speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted last week.

The Ford, a Virginia-based carrier strike group was already in the Mediterranean. Last week, it was conducting naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. The carrier is in its first full deployment.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a telephone call Sunday, discussed “the taking of hostages by Hamas terrorists, including entire families, the elderly, and young children,” according to a White House statement describing their conversation.

Biden stressed that all countries “must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities.”

The president updated Netanyahu on US diplomatic efforts and said additional assistance for Israeli forces was on the way, with more to come in the days ahead, the White House said.

They also discussed ways “to ensure that no enemies of Israel believe they can or should seek advantage from the current situation.”

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