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U.S. sends aircraft carrier group to eastern Mediterranean in response to Hamas attack on Israel

Hamas militants launch attack on Israel
Hamas militants launch complex and coordinated attack against Israel 02:23

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Sunday that he has ordered American military ships, including an aircraft carrier and additional aircraft, to move closer to the eastern Mediterranean in response to Hamas' unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel. Several U.S. citizens were among those killed in the attacks, a National Security Council spokesperson confirmed Sunday after Austin's announcement. 

"Today, in response to this Hamas attack on Israel, and following detailed discussions with President Biden, I have directed several steps to strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts," Austin said in a news release. 

The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group includes the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, which is the largest warship in the world, in addition to the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy and four Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers — USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.

The USS Gerald R. Ford was in the western Mediterranean when it received orders to deploy. Depending on its precise location, it could have to travel over a thousand miles.

Austin also announced steps to augment U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. USAF aircraft are going into bases in the Middle East where they will be available for operations against Iran.  

The munitions the U.S. will be sending over are being airlifted. 

Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday "to express support for the people of Israel and to receive updates on Israel's operation to restore security and safety from Hamas' terrorist attack," Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Gallant and Austin will "remain in close contact in the days and weeks ahead," Ryder added.

The announcement came shortly after the White House confirmed that President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke again Sunday morning. The two leaders discussed Hamas' taking of Israeli hostages, with Mr. Biden assuring Netanyahu that U.S. assistance for the Israel Defense Forces was on its way to Israel, with more to follow over the coming days.

American aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford is seen from the air anchored in Italy in the Gulf of Trieste on September 18, 2023.
American aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford is seen from the air anchored in Italy in the Gulf of Trieste on September 18, 2023. Andrej Tarfila/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

"The President emphasized that there is no justification whatsoever for terrorism, and all countries must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities," the White House readout of the call said. 

"President Biden updated the Prime Minister on the intensive diplomatic engagement undertaken by the United States over the last 24 hours in support of Israel," the readout added.

Austin confirmed that the first movement of U.S. security aid to the IDF will begin moving Sunday and arrive in the coming days. 

"My team and I will continue to be in close contact with our Israeli counterparts to ensure they have what they need to protect their citizens and defend themselves against these heinous terrorist attacks," Austin said.

Israeli officials confirmed early Monday that over 700 Israeli civilians and members of the military had died since Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel from Gaza early Saturday morning. Another 2,150 were wounded. 

Many Israelis, both civilians and security forces, have been taken hostage. Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday he is under the impression that there were Americans taken hostage, but he didn't have details. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on "Face the Nation" that the U.S. investigating reports that Americans were among those taken hostage.

There is not yet any serious planning for the evacuation of American citizens, U.S. officials said. At least four Americans had been killed as of Sunday night, according to a statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Gaza Ministry of Health said Sunday that 370 Palestinians have died and 2,200 were wounded.    

—Eleanor Watson contributed to reporting.

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