Austin: US sees no indications of intent to hurt US troops building Gaza pier

Washington — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said late Thursday he does not see signs that Hamas is going to attack U.S. forces who are building a pier off the coast of Gaza to deliver aid to the war-torn strip by sea.

“I don’t see any indications currently that there is an active intent to do that,” Austin told reporters at a press conference in Hawaii.

Austin stressed that the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, CENTCOM chief Gen. Erik Kurilla, has put several security measures in place to keep the troops who are building the pier and helping with aid distribution safe.

“Our allies are also providing security in that area as well, and so it’s going to require that we continue to coordinate with them very closely to ensure that if anything happens that, you know, our troops are protected,” Austin said.

The new port is just southwest of Gaza City. Last week a mortar attack targeted the port site but officials said no one was hurt.

“This is an accident, a very serious accident waiting to happen,” Bradley Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA.

Bowman, who is also a U.S. Army veteran, said Thursday that efforts to feed those in desperate need are “laudable,” but security concerns since the inception of this U.S. mission appear to remain unanswered while some of the plans are still being developed.

“The kind of terrorists, the kind of person – I hesitate to use that term – that would … wage the October 7 terror attack, use human shields and hold innocent men, women and children as hostages, those are the very same people that will not hesitate to attack those trying to bring food and water to hungry and thirsty people,” Bowman said.

Crews from the USNS Roy P. Benavidez and several Army vessels started building the floating platform for the operation last week, according to a senior military official. Next will come construction of the causeway, which will be anchored to the shore by the Israel Defense Forces.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said they hope to complete construction and begin operations this month.

The senior military official told reporters the Pentagon expects deliveries to “begin at about 90 trucks a day … and then quickly increase to 150 trucks a day.”

Aid has been slow to get into Gaza because of long backups of vehicles at Israeli inspection points. The U.S. and other nations have been air-dropping food into Gaza, but each military plane only holds about one to three truckloads of food, a U.S. official told VOA.

Aid organizations have said several hundred truckloads of food are needed in Gaza each day.

Israel attacked Hamas in Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 terror attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people and saw hundreds more taken hostage. In the nearly seven months since the attack, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to Gazan health officials.  

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