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Tracking the US military build-up today in the Middle East

Tracking the US military build-up today in the Middle East

An up-to-date accounting of the Pentagon’s response to the Israel-Gaza conflict so far.

Reporting | Middle East

Editor's note: Last updated on Nov. 28 at 8:02 a.m.

The U.S. has significantly increased its military presence in the Middle East in the nearly three weeks after Hamas launched attacks against Israel and took hundreds of hostages on Oct. 7. Among other things, the Pentagon has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups as well as a range of fighter aircraft to the region.

The official reason for the new deployments is to deter Hamas’s allies, including Iran and Hezbollah, from launching attacks against Israel and sparking a wider regional war. That logic will be put to the test in the coming days if Israel follows through on its planned ground invasion of Gaza, which is sure to face sharp condemnation from throughout the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has accused Iranian-backed militias of carrying out a series of attacks against the roughly 3,400 U.S. forces that remain in Syria and Iraq; 24 U.S. personnel have been injured so far. In total, reports say there are currently about 35,000 U.S. troops throughout the region, though most are stationed at bases in the Gulf, far away from the fighting.

Below is a full timeline of new, publicly reported deployments of U.S. troops and military assets to the region since October 7. RS will continue to update this tracker as the crisis continues.

Nov. 26

The Houthis, a Yemen-based militant group, fired two ballistic missiles in the direction of an American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden, though a Pentagon spokesperson later played down the news and argued that it is "not clear to us who they were targeting exactly." The missiles, which missed their purported target by about 10 nautical miles, were apparently a response to the Navy's arrest of Somali pirates who had attempted to seize an Israeli-owned tanker.

Nov. 21

The Pentagon said U.S. forces bombed Iran-backed militants who had fired a ballistic missile at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, injuring eight people and causing minor damage to infrastructure. The U.S. retaliatory attack killed three of the militants, marking the second lethal response to such attacks by U.S. troops, who have now killed at least 9 fighters belonging to Iran-affiliated militias over the past month. American soldiers have come under fire in Iraq and Syria 66 times since October, according to the Defense Department.

Nov. 20

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, landed in Israel today "for talks with senior Israeli officials on preventing a war between Israel and Lebanon," according to Axios. Hochstein is reportedly hoping to persuade Israel to tone down its strikes against Hezbollah, which some U.S. officials worry is an attempt to "create a pretext for a wider war in Lebanon that could draw the U.S. and other countries further into the conflict."

Nov. 19

Defense Department officials are growing increasingly frustrated with "what they consider an incoherent strategy for countering the Iranian proxies" who have continuously attacked U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria over the past month, according to the Washington Post. The Post's reporting suggests that some officials want the Biden administration to strike back more aggressively against these groups, while the White House says that its more careful approach has helped prevent further escalation in the Middle East.

Nov. 15

A U.S. Navy destroyer shot down a drone in the Red Sea that was "heading in the direction of the ship," according to a Pentagon official who spoke with Al-Monitor. The projectile was originally fired from Yemen, likely by the Houthis, who are aligned with Iran and have fired missiles at Israel in recent weeks.

Nov. 12

U.S. Central Command announced Sunday that it had carried out airstrikes against two IRGC targets in eastern Syria, more specifically, "facilities near the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin." The New York Times reported that Air Force F-15E fighter jets struck several buildings in Abu Kamal "used for training and storing munitions," and "a safe house in Mayadin used as a command headquarters."

On Saturday, the Pentagon said U.S. troops have come under 48 attacks in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 7, leaving 56 U.S. personnel injured.

Nov. 8:

The Pentagon announced that it carried out an airstrike against a weapons store in eastern Syria that the U.S. says belongs to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and its partners in the region. The bombing, which was conducted by two F-15s, was done in response to recent attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed groups.

An American MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down off the coast of Yemen, and U.S. officials are "assessing the incident," according to a Pentagon official who spoke with the BBC.

Nov. 6:

Since October 17, 38 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria have injured 45 U.S. soldiers, the Department of Defense revealed today. Most of those injuries, which are reportedly minor, came from a pair of attacks on the al-Tanf base in Syria on October 18.

Nov. 5:

CENTCOM announced that an Ohio-class submarine entered into its area of responsibility but did not share details about the vessel's exact location.

Nov. 3:

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq — an apparent cover group for Iran-linked militias in the country that has emerged since Hamas's attack — claimed to have hit an American base in Erbil. The Pentagon has yet to comment on the alleged strike.

Nov. 2:

The Pentagon is actively flying surveillance drones over the southern Gaza Strip in an attempt to help with hostage recovery efforts, according to the New York Times. Officials told the Times that these drones have been doing surveillance missions in the area for much of the past month, suggesting a deeper level of direct U.S. involvement in the conflict than has previously been revealed. The sources denied that the drones are providing any assistance to Israeli ground operations.

Oct. 31:

American special operations commandoes are working on the ground in Israel to help find hostages held by Hamas, according to an assistant secretary of defense. The soldiers are not directly participating in hostilities but are helping "advise" the Israel Defense forces on their operations in Gaza.

The Pentagon announced that it will send an additional 300 soldiers to the Middle East, specifying only that they are not going to Israel. A spokesperson for the Defense Department also said that U.S. forces have now faced 27 separate attacks in Iraq and Syria since October 17.

Earlier in the day, armed drones attacked America's Ain Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq, marking the 23rd strike on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17. The attack did not result in any injuries.

Oct. 30:

Jordan requested that the U.S. send it additional Patriot missile batteries to bolster the country's border defenses amid ongoing tensions in the region, according to a spokesperson for the Jordanian military. The comment appears to confirm previous reports that the Pentagon has dispatched troops and missile defense systems to support Amman, a potentially controversial decision given widespread pro-Palestine views in the country. A spokesperson for the Jordanian Armed Forces also denied that the Department of Defense was using Jordan's territory to transport weapons to Israel.

Oct. 27:

The Pentagon said it struck "two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups" following recent attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department insisted that the strikes "are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict."

Oct. 26:

900 additional U.S. troops are headed to the Middle East under CENTCOM command, the Pentagon told Politico. These soldiers will operate the additional air defense equipment that the Defense Department has moved into the region in recent weeks. The report also noted that the U.S. is sending two more Iron Dome missile defense systems to Israel.

Politico reported that 19 of the service members injured by attacks in Iraq suffered traumatic brain injuries. The diagnosis can include a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. All injured soldiers have since returned to duty.

Oct. 24:

The Pentagon announced that the U.S. is sending an additional squadron of F-16 fighter jets to the Middle East to “further enhance the ability of U.S. forces to defend themselves.” The Department of Defense also noted that it has put a variety of units on “prepare-to-deploy orders” ahead of potential future movement of troops to the region.

“Our message to any country or group thinking about trying to take advantage of this situation to widen the conflict is: Don't,” warned Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder.

On the same day, the military confirmed that 24 U.S. personnel had been injured in at least 13 attacks in Syria and Iraq since October 17.

Oct. 23:

The U.S. sent a Marine general and several other military officers to Israel in order to advise the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on their ongoing campaign of airstrikes in Gaza, according to Axios. The American officers are not expected to remain in Israel following the invasion of Gaza, the report continued.

Oct. 22:

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group was redirected to CENTCOM's area of responsibility after initially being sent to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to join another American aircraft carrier in the region, according to the Pentagon. The statement did not say exactly where the carrier would be based, but CENTCOM covers the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and other waters near the Arabian Peninsula.

Oct. 21:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that the Pentagon is sending an additional THAAD missile defense battery and several Patriot missile defense battalions to the Middle East. While Austin did not reveal the locations of these deployments, the Wall Street Journal reported subsequently that the THAAD battery is headed to Saudi Arabia, while the Patriot systems are being sent to Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Oct. 19:

The USS Carney shot down three missiles launched by the Houthi militant group in Yemen. The missiles appeared to be headed toward Israel, though their exact targets remain unclear.

Oct. 18:

The Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq came under attack from drones that were most likely launched by Iran-backed militias. U.S. forces shot down some of the drones, while others hit their targets and caused minor injuries.

Oct. 17:

CENTCOM Gen. Michael Kurilla visited Israel and held a series of meetings with Israeli military officials. “I'm here to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself, and am particularly focused on avoiding other parties expanding the conflict,” Kurilla said.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that the U.S. is sending an additional 2,000 Marines to a location off the coast of Israel in a further attempt to deter Hamas’s regional allies from joining the fight. The rapid response unit is on the USS Bataan, which had previously been in the Gulf of Oman.

“Taken together, the moves are aimed at forestalling a wider regional war,” CNN reported. “But they also risk deepening the US’ involvement in a conflict in which the Biden administration is trying to avoid direct military action.”

Oct. 14:

The Pentagon announced its decision to move a second aircraft carrier strike group into the eastern Mediterranean as “part of our effort to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas's attack on Israel.”

The group, led by the USS Eisenhower, also includes a cruiser and two destroyers as well as numerous fighter aircraft.

The U.S. also said that it has moved additional F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft to the region.

Oct. 13:

Defense Secretary Austin visited Israel, where he held a series of meetings with Israeli political and military leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Hamas attacked at a time of global challenge, but the United States is the most powerful country in the world, and we remain fully able to project power and uphold our commitments and direct resources to multiple theaters,” Austin said in response to concerns that the U.S. military is stretched thin by the wars in Israel and Ukraine. He also noted that American security assistance is “already rapidly flowing into Israel.”

Oct. 10:

The USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier strike group arrived in the eastern Mediterranean, where it will help with intelligence operations and planning for efforts to rescue hostages, according to Al Monitor. The strike group also includes five smaller warships and a number of fighter aircraft.

Oct. 8:

Austin announced that the United States will move the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean. He also promised that the Pentagon “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,” Austin added.

CENTCOM also said that it has “taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons” in the Middle East.

Oct. 7:

President Joe Biden said the U.S. is offering “all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel” and warned regional actors from “seeking advantage in this situation.” CENTCOM said that it was tracking the situation in the region.
Photo credit: Bow view of USS Gerald R. Ford, via Wikimedia Commons
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Israel-Gaza Crisis