U.S. sending additional air defense systems to Middle East - Pentagon

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Khan Younis
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. will send a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defense missile system battalions to the Middle East, the Pentagon said on Saturday, in response to recent attacks on U.S. troops in the region.

The United States has sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.

Washington is on heightened alert for activity by Iran-backed groups as regional tensions soar during the Israel-Hamas war.

"Following detailed discussions with President (Joe) Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East Region, today I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense posture in the region," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

Austin said he was placing additional troops on prepare-to-deploy orders, but did not say how many. The Pentagon has already placed some 2,000 troops on a heightened state of readiness in case they need to deploy to the region.

"These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel," Austin added.

The deployments come two years after Biden's administration withdrew air defense systems from the Middle East, citing a reduction in tensions with Iran.

The Patriot, considered one of the most advanced U.S. air defense systems, is usually in short supply, with allies around the world vying for it.

The THAAD system has a powerful radar. U.S. deployment of the system to South Korea in 2016 angered China, which believed it could peer into its airspace.

There has been a spike in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza broke out. Last week, a U.S. warship shot down more than a dozen drones and four cruise missiles fired by Iranian-backed Houthis from Yemen.

Israel started its "total siege" of Gaza after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel by militants of the Islamist movement killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in a shock rampage that has traumatized Israel.

Gaza's Health Ministry said on Saturday that Israel's air and missile strikes had killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, with more than a million of the tiny territory's 2.3 million people displaced.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by William Mallard)