WASHINGTON: The US military on Tuesday ordered 2,000 personnel to prepare for deployment to the Middle East as a show of force amid the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the deployment would allow the United States “to respond more quickly” to the crisis, while the White House stressed it did not intend to put US combat forces on the ground.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said preparing the troops for deployment “is really about sending a signal of deterrence.”
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“We don’t want to see this conflict escalate and widen,” Kirby said on CNN. “There are no plans or intentions to put US boots on the ground in combat in Israel.”
The move comes as President Joe Biden heads to Israel on Wednesday to underscore Washington’s support for its close ally.
But Biden also hopes to prevent the escalating war in Gaza from spilling over into a wider Middle East conflict.
So far, the White House has seen no signs of a deepening engagement by Iran in the conflict, according to Kirby.
“Outside of the rhetoric..., no we haven’t,” Kirby said.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the Islamist group’s fighters broke through the heavily fortified Gaza border on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking at least 199 people hostage.
Israel has responded with air strikes that have killed more than 2,700 people, also mainly civilians, as well as imposing a crippling siege on Gaza, and deploying tens of thousands of troops to the border in preparation for a ground offensive.
The United States has already deployed two aircraft carriers to the region “to deter hostile actions against Israel,” Austin said last week.
US media reported the troops being readied for deployment would cover support roles, such as medical assistance and handling explosives.