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Alarming lack of detail in military's Gaza aid project

Alarming lack of detail in military's Gaza aid project

Is the 60 day timeline too optimistic? Will private contractors provide the security? The DoD won't say.

Analysis | QiOSK

There is no way that the floating causeway the U.S. military wants to build connecting to the beach at Gaza won’t require “boots on the ground” say experts, putting another major question mark on the humanitarian surge project announced by the administration last week.

Details have emerged in recent days that the Pentagon plans to build a floating “trident” style causeway out of modular pieces that are en route from Ft. Eustis, Virginia, to Cyprus as we speak.

But according to experts like Sal Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner, professor, and host of the “What’s Going on with Shipping” podcast, the floating causeway project is going to be a massive endeavor to build and will require daily maintenance from personnel on the beach once put into place.

“The problem with this one it is not as durable (as a permanent non-floating elevated causeway system) and it has to be maintained. You can’t just set it up and leave it alone, you got to be constantly monitoring it, resetting anchors on it. It takes a lot to keep this system up and running. It is not something you just set up and walk away. You also got to have people ashore for it,” he said on an earlier podcast before the Trident floating option was actually confirmed by the Pentagon.

“I’m not sure how the DoD is going to get away with this without having people on the beach,” he continued. “There’s got to be some interaction here. You can have some people maybe do it for you, but I’m telling you, to do this right, and professionally, you got to put people ashore.”

There have been numerous reports that private contractor Fog Bow has been tapped to help “organize the movement of aid after it arrives on the Gaza shore.” This has not been confirmed by the DoD and the press office did not return a request for comment by RS. Fog Bow, which is run by retired Marine Corps Lt. General Sam Mundy, and Mick Mulroy, former CIA and Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East under the Trump administration, has been mentioned in several stories as talking with the Biden administration (if not already on board), and already raising money to start assisting with both private and government aid deliveries to Gaza.

Looking at its team page, Fog Bow certainly has the background for providing logistics and even security for deliveries, but the question remains who might be providing the construction and maintenance support for the floating causeway on the beach that Mercogliano mentioned in his podcast.

Another big question mark is the timing. As Mercogliano mentioned, there are are series of Army cargo watercraft sailing what will be an arduous journey from the U.S. to Cyprus. The craft are weighed down with supplies for the construction and will take at least 30 days to arrive (the clock started ticking on March 12). There are two massive Army ships called Landing
Support Vehicles
(Besson and Loux) which are traveling at about nine knots to Cyprus and are being accompanied by three smaller Landing Craft Utility ships carrying equipment (most likely the modules) and a roll-on roll off vessel that can also serve as a “mother ship,” according to Mercogliano. Timing for the project depends on the ships with the slowest speeds and those are the big LCVs.

Once the ships get to Cyprus, they will have to be inspected no doubt before the construction process — for the floating pier two miles off the Gaza coast, and then the floating causeway at the beach — can take place.

Then there are the security issues, which Mercogliano says are real and haven’t been fully accounted for in any Pentagon briefing. Right now there is no guarantee that Hamas will not attempt to attack the pier and no clear answer of who, if U.S. troops won’t be on the ground, will be providing that security. Fog Bow? Another private contracting outfit?

Biden said last week that Israel was to provide the security but that has yet to be confirmed by Israeli officials. Then this report Friday indicated that Israel was also exploring the use of private security contractors, with the U.S. Neither side would confirm that.

It makes one ask, why all the trouble? Why not get the Israelis to open up and let in the upward of 2,500 aid trucks waiting at the Al-Arish gate in Rafah (as witnessed by Gen. Michael Kurilla, US. Central Command, on March 7)? Why wait 60 days or more to build structures and create new security dilemmas when the population in Gaza is slipping into famine as each day goes by?

“It is not easy. It's going to take a long time to do we're talking about weeks if not months to set this up. It's going to be expensive," said Mercogliano. "This is going to be millions of dollars to go ahead and get this up, let alone the food supply. And then there's the security issue, the risk, because even though you heard (DoD spokesman) Gen. Ryder say they're not gonna put American, you know, boots on the ground, they're gonna be right there There's a lot of issues associated with this.”

Interestingly, both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were raising concerns last week about the lack of information provided by the military.

“I hate to say it, but I think this decision was politically driven by the president after Michigan,” said Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said noting the president's poor showing in the primary elections there. “And he’s trying to be forward-leaning to try to do something to help the folks in Gaza from a humanitarian standpoint, but this is moving really fast and nobody can explain how it’s gonna work.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, senior Democratic member of the committee from Connecticut, said he is “convinced that this kind of humanitarian effort is absolutely necessary,” but he has “very serious questions about how the construction will be done, with the assurance of safety to our troops.”

Nonetheless, hundreds of Army soldiers from the 7th Transportation Brigade, left on Mar. 12, from Newport News, Virginia. The orders came as a “shock” to families.

Chief Warrant Officer Three Jason West shared what he told his three children, ages 15, 9 and 6. "We told them that we're going to provide humanitarian aid for people that are in need. And that we're going across the ocean. We'll be back as soon as we're done."

U.S. Army Soldier from the 331st Transportation Company, 11th Trans. Battalion, 7th Trans. Brigade (Expeditionary) walks down the causeway pier before while anchors are being laid out on deck, March 09, 2020.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Travis Teate)

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