US troops depart for mission to build Gaza aid port

AFP , Tuesday 12 Mar 2024

Four US Army vessels departed a base in Virginia on Tuesday carrying about 100 soldiers and equipment they will need to build a temporary port on Gaza's coast for urgently needed aid deliveries.

US Army soldiers
US Army soldiers load an AC unit aboard the USAV Monterey at the pier of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis during a media preview of the 7th Transportation Brigade deployment in Hampton, Virginia. The Brigade is deploying to the Middle East to assist in the multinational humanitarian aid corridor for Gaza. AFP


The first, a hulking gray-painted watercraft known as a Logistics Support Vessel, slowly churned away from the pier at Joint Base Langley-Eustis as "The Imperial March" from "Star Wars" played over its loudspeaker system.

It was followed by three smaller vessels that will also make the roughly 30-day trip to the eastern Mediterranean for the port mission, part of US efforts to boost assistance for Gaza as Israel delays deliveries of aid by ground.

The new facility, which will consist of an offshore platform for transshipment of aid from larger to smaller vessels and a pier to bring it ashore, is expected to be up and running "at the 60-day mark," US Army Brigadier General Brad Hinson told journalists.

"Once we get fully mission-capable, we will be able to push up to two million meals, or two million bottles of water, ashore each day," he said.

US officials have said the effort will not involve "boots on the ground" in Gaza, but American troops will come close to the beleaguered coastal territory as they construct the pier, which has to be anchored to the shore.

Crisis in Gaza 

"I'm not going to go into the specifics of who we're working with to anchor the pier but we will have some assistance," said Hinson, who also declined to discuss security measures.

A total of some 500 troops from the 7th Transportation Battalion (Expeditionary) will take part in the operation, he said, describing it as "the premier watercraft unit in our Army."

"They can provide sustainment support over the water in austere environments. They are trained to do this, and they've gone on many exercises to be ready to provide this capability," Hinson said.

Gaza has faced relentless bombardment by Israel since October 7 that has killed 31,184 Palestinians, 70% of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The latest toll also includes 72,889 wounded people.

The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during five months of the war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water, and medicine.

The United States has carried out a series of airdrops to deliver aid this month, but the number of people in need of assistance in Gaza is much greater than can be fed by drops alone.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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