In a strategic move amplifying the presence of the U.S. military in the Mediterranean, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), known as a rapid response force, is currently on its way “to the waters off of Israel,” according to a defense official with knowledge about the military’s planning.
The latest move comes as tensions continue to rise with the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas that ignited earlier this month after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel. According to Military.com, the Pentagon’s decision to redirect the 26th MEU from its training in Kuwait is in conjunction with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s orders to enhance military capabilities in the region.
Among the skill sets of the 26th MEU are amphibious operations and crisis response. As the 26th MEU approach Israel’s waters, the precise mission remains ambiguous, though the Pentagon has hinted at the potential mobilization of other U.S. military assets to the region.
“The 26th MEU is currently headed to the waters off of Israel. Should they be ordered, they could participate in some type of operation in support of Israel,” a defense official told Military.com on Monday. This boost in maritime force is a testament to the U.S. commitment to deterrence and is the most significant show of force in the Mediterranean since last year’s events in Ukraine.
The MEU, distributed across three Navy ships — the USS Bataan, USS Mesa Verde, and USS Carter Hall — will join the USS Gerald R. Ford strike group, which includes the aircraft carrier, four accompanying destroyers, and a cruiser. Additionally, Austin has confirmed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, escorted by its cruiser and two destroyers, will join theUSS Gerald R. Ford off Israel’s coast.
Further showcasing the United States’ strengthened position in the region, additional F-15E Strike Eagle and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft were deployed in the Middle East last week. The Defense Department, while bolstering its presence in the region, has remained focused on deterrence rather than direct combat.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh reiterated the Biden administration’s focus on deterrence in the Middle East, leaving questions of legal authority to President Joe Biden and adding that the military’s current focus is “to strictly be in a position to deter.”
A military spokesperson confirmed to Military.com that the 26th MEU’s recent termination of its training in Kuwait was directly linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Capt. Joe Wright, a spokesperson for Marine Corps Forces Central Command, remarked that the early end to the training was “a prudent measure to remain ready and alert.”
According to Military.com the 26th MEU was previously deployed in the Middle East to help deter Iran from intimidating commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf. It recently was given the designation of “special operations capable” after an intensive pre-deployment training program.
Col. Dennis Sampson, the unit’s commander, highlighted the collaborative potential between special operators from Naval Special Warfare or MARSOC. “They can support us, we can support them, we can work together in support of a mission,” Sampson said.
While the Pentagon has not yet indicated whether special operations forces will be utilized in roles outside the bounds of intelligence-gathering and advising, Singh told reporters it is possible that U.S. special operations forces could assist in intelligence-gathering, if Israel initiated a ground incursion.
“If Israel were to launch a ground incursion … they would be engaging in hostage recovery — of course we’re going to be providing intelligence for them to do so,” Singh said.
This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.