The US is deploying air defenses and 900 troops to the Middle East for “protection”
The US military will deploy 900 soldiers to the Middle East to bolster its “force protection capabilities,” officials said. The personnel will operate new air defense batteries sent to the region amid a string of attacks on US troops in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder said some of the soldiers had already arrived in the Middle East, while the rest would soon depart from their bases in the United States.
“The [Defense] Department remains squarely focused on supporting Israel’s defense needs in the wake of Hamas terrorist attacks, deterring a broader regional conflict and ensuring force protection for our troops serving in the region,” he said, referring to a deadly assault by the Palestinian armed group earlier this month.
The Pentagon also confirmed at least three more attempted drone and rocket attacks on US bases across Iraq and Syria, following a series of strikes in recent weeks, including one that left 20 soldiers with “minor injuries,” according to US Central Command.
Most recently, US forces were again targeted in Iraq, but according to Ryder the attack failed. Since October 17, US troops have been targeted a total of 16 times, with officials pinning blame on groups “supported by the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian regime.”
The 900 troops will man a variety of air defense systems recently stationed in the Middle East, including a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, Patriot missile platforms and Avenger air defense systems, Ryder said.
While he did not specify the soldiers’ destination, Ryder said they would not be deployed to Israel or take part in hostilities there, adding that the move is instead meant to “support regional deterrence efforts.”
The wave of attacks on US military outposts comes amid a new round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, triggered after a Hamas terrorist attack claimed some 1,400 lives. Israeli forces have pounded the Palestinian enclave with airstrikes in the weeks since – killing more than 7,000 people, according to local officials – and are now preparing a ground invasion.
US officials previously announced a deployment of 2,000 marines and sailors to waters off Israel’s coast as part of a “show of force” in the region, and dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Mediterranean. The moves were meant to “send a message of deterrence to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah,” an unnamed official told CNN.
Washington currently maintains around 2,500 troops in Iraq, and up to 1,000 in Syria, where they continue to occupy key oil fields and Euphrates river crossings with the support of Kurdish-led militias. Though Baghdad allows US forces to remain in Iraq, the government in Damascus has repeatedly condemned their presence as illegal under international law.