The Pentagon has notified approximately 2,000 U.S. troops to prepare to deploy in response to the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal.
If preparations do lead to a deployment, U.S. personnel from various units in the Middle East and Europe are expected to assume support roles, with those working in medical, explosive ordnance, and security capacities prioritized, one official told the WSJ.
The Pentagon did not specify how many troops, if any, would be deployed inside Israel’s borders or whether personnel would occupy locations outside the country. Direct involvement in combat by U.S. infantry is not expected at this time, the report said.
The Pentagon’s orders come as droves of Palestinians continue to flee south from the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion, one aimed at eliminating Hamas in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack in Israel that killed 1,400 people, the majority of whom were civilians.
Numerous aid groups, meanwhile, continue to warn that the impending invasion could compound what is quickly becoming a devastating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land between Israel and Egypt where approximately 2.3 million people live.
The attack by Hamas, a militant group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, kicked off the bloodiest conflict between Palestine and Israel since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. More than 4,000 people have now died in the conflict, with the Gaza Health Ministry claiming 2,750 Palestinians have been killed and 9,700 wounded.
In addition to the 1,400 Israelis who were killed, at least 199 others, including children and elderly citizens, were captured by Hamas and taken as hostages into Gaza, Israeli officials have reported.
With support from U.S. Navy warships and air assets, Israeli forces have been amassing along Gaza’s border and drilling for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group. A week of blistering airstrikes in Gaza by Israeli aircraft have demolished entire neighborhoods, but have failed to prevent further rocket attacks into Israel by Hamas.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has renewed pledges of American support for Israel in its war against Hamas, and discussed U.S. efforts with the U.N. and others to provide hostage rescue assets as well as humanitarian assistance for civilians.
President Joe Biden has been invited to Israel and is considering a trip in the coming days, though no travel has been confirmed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.