The U.S. military is moving an aircraft carrier strike group and military aircraft closer to Israel as a show of support, and it will also begin supplying Israel with munitions and other military supplies immediately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
Austin said Sunday afternoon that he had directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to go to the eastern Mediterranean. The group includes the carrier, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, and four Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.
“We have also taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region,” he said. “In addition, the United States government will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions. The first security assistance will begin moving today and arriving in the coming days.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford embarks on a sea trial from Newport News, Va., in 2017.Ridge Leoni / U.S. Navy via AP file
“Strengthening our joint force posture, in addition to the materiel support that we will rapidly provide to Israel, underscores the United States’ ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people,” Austin said. “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.”
U.S. Central Command said later Sunday afternoon that it had begun moving the strike group.
“USCENTCOM stands firmly with our Israeli and regional partners to address the risks of any party seeking to expand the conflict,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the commander of Central Command.
Two U.S. officials familiar with the planning said the assets, specifically the ships, will not be in place for several days.
The U.S. is also working through plans for a possible noncombatant evacuation — helping Americans get out of Israel, the officials said. Nothing has been decided or ordered, but officials are working through options, including one that would involve putting some Americans on the Navy ships to get them to safety.
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.