As tensions heighten in the Middle East amid the escalating Israel-Hamas war, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced late Saturday that the U.S. will redeploy one of its strike groups to the Persian Gulf, as well as send additional air defense systems to the region.
Austin also said that he has placed additional U.S. forces on “prepare to deploy orders,” but did not detail how many. Austin earlier this week ordered 2,000 troops to be prepared to deploy to the Middle East.
The latest decision followed “detailed discussions with President Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East,” Austin said in a statement.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group — which last weekend Austin had announced was being deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to join the USS Gerald R. Ford — will instead be heading to the Persian Gulf, Austin disclosed Saturday.
Austin also said he ordered a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery, and Patriot missile defense system battalions, to the Persian Gulf as well.
The moves come as U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria have seen an increase in attacks by Iran-backed Shia militia groups in the days since Hamas militants invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7.
The USS Gerald R. Ford and its strike group was deployed from the western to eastern Mediterranean two days after that attack.
Before reversing course Saturday, Austin last weekend said the Eisenhower strike group would join it in the eastern Mediterranean in an effort to “deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’ attack on Israel.”
Hamas’ attack on Israel left at least 1,400 people dead and 3,500 wounded. More than 200 people were taken hostage, included several Americans, two of whom were freed Friday.
The death toll from Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza is at least 4,385, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, with more than 13,000 wounded.
U.S. officials have said Iran provides financial support and backing to both Hamas and the militant group Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon.
— David Martin, S. Dev, Kathryn Watson and Khaled Wassef contributed to this report.