U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he has ordered American military ships, including an aircraft carrier and additional aircraft, to move closer to the eastern Mediterranean in response to Hamas’ unprecedented, multi-fronted attack on Israel.
At least four U.S. citizens were among the more than 700 people killed in Israel amid Hamas assault, according to a Sunday night statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Today, in response to this Hamas attack on Israel, and following detailed discussions with President Biden, I have directed several steps to strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts,” Austin said in a news release.
The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group includes the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, which is the largest warship in the world, in addition to the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers — USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.
The USS Gerald R. Ford was in the western Mediterranean when it received orders to deploy. Depending on its precise location, it could have to travel over a thousand miles.
Austin also announced steps to augment U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. USAF aircraft are going into bases in the Middle East where they will be available for operations against Iran.
The munitions the U.S. will be sending over are being airlifted.
Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday “to express support for the people of Israel and to receive updates on Israel’s operation to restore security and safety from Hamas’ terrorist attack,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Gallant and Austin will “remain in close contact in the days and weeks ahead,” Ryder added.
The announcement came shortly after the White House confirmed that President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke again Sunday morning. The two leaders discussed Hamas’ taking of Israeli hostages, with Mr. Biden assuring Netanyahu that U.S. assistance for the Israel Defense Forces was on its way to Israel, with more to follow over the coming days.
“The President emphasized that there is no justification whatsoever for terrorism, and all countries must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities,” the White House readout of the call said.
“President Biden updated the Prime Minister on the intensive diplomatic engagement undertaken by the United States over the last 24 hours in support of Israel,” the readout added.
Austin confirmed that the first movement of U.S. security aid to the IDF will begin moving Sunday and arrive in the coming days.
“My team and I will continue to be in close contact with our Israeli counterparts to ensure they have what they need to protect their citizens and defend themselves against these heinous terrorist attacks,” Austin said.
Israeli officials said early Monday that over 700 Israeli civilians and members of the military had been killed since Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip early Saturday morning. Another 2,150 were wounded.
The Gaza Ministry of Health said Monday that more than 400 Palestinians had been killed and 2,200 more wounded in Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza since Saturday.
Many Israelis, both civilians and security forces, have been taken hostage. Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he was under the impression there were Americans taken hostage, but he didn’t have details. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on “Face the Nation” that the U.S. investigating reports that Americans were among those taken hostage.
There is not yet any serious planning for the evacuation of American citizens, U.S. officials said.