US leaders promise security for Gaza dock mission amid threat concerns

by Vern Evans

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. CQ Brown said he is confident that U.S. troops working to provide humanitarian aid to residents of Gaza will be protected from violence in the region. Brown’s comments come amid concerns from Senate Republicans that the mission could cost American military lives.

“Force protection is at the top of our list any time we put our forces in harm’s way,” Brown told reporters during a press event on Thursday. “There will be our own capabilities to protect our forces, the Israelis have also committed to help protect our forces in the area, and have other nations that are also part of this as well.

“So, as that capability is starting to move … that has given us time to work with allies and partners to start looking at not only the force protection piece but all the other parts that have to come together.”

Following President Joe Biden’s call to increase humanitarian outreach to Palestinians amid weeks of Israeli military action in Gaza, Defense Department officials announced they will send three Navy cargo ships and five Army vessels to build a floating dock in an effort to ease delivery of aid to the region.

More than 1,000 American service members will be involved in the effort, working near active fighting between Israel Defense Forces and Hamas militants.

That reality drew concern from Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week. In a letter led by committee ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the lawmakers voiced “strong reservations” about the mission because it “entails a significant risk to U.S. personnel.”

“This decision appears to ignore force protection issues entirely against an enemy that tries to kill Americans every day,” the group wrote. “We are gravely concerned that the Department of Defense has given too little consideration to the likelihood that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other U.S.-designated terrorist organizations operating in Gaza would attempt to attack the U.S. personnel that will be deployed to this mission.”

White House officials in recent weeks have said that American forces will not be on land for the work, and have emphasized that protecting U.S. troops and ships will be their primary focus while conducting the effort.

Brown echoed that sentiment on Thursday, noting that top U.S. Central Command officials have been in the region for the last week surveying the situation and making sure both troops and refugees will be able to safely access the floating dock once it is built.

The Joint Chiefs chairman also said he met with Israeli defense officials this week to hear about their plans to attack Hamas battalions that have fled to the southern city of Rafah, an area with more than one million Palestinian civilians.

Brown said U.S. officials are monitoring the situation closely, to understand the possible ramifications for additional violence in the region in coming weeks.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe” and said outside countries need to dramatically increase the amount of assistance getting into the region.

Earlier this month, Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that military leaders expect the pier will be operational in less than two months and help provide more than 2 million meals to refugees on a daily basis. American military personnel are already conducting food drops in Gaza to provide aid right away.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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