Defense secretary: ‘Possible’ US troops setting up pier off Gaza get shot at

Defense secretary: ‘Possible’ US troops setting up pier off Gaza get shot at

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said it is “possible” that the U.S. troops setting up a floating pier off the coast of Gaza could be shot at, and that they have the right to shoot back.

“Typically, all of the deployed service members carry guns, and they have the ability to protect themselves if challenged,” Austin told House Armed Services Committee lawmakers while testifying before the panel.

As many as 1,000 American service members are helping set up a floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. The structure — which will consist of an 1,800-foot-long causeway that will be attached to the shore — is meant to support the U.S. government and its partners in getting humanitarian aid to civilians in the territory.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly emphasized that the Israeli military would provide force protection on and around the pier, known officially as the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, (JLOTS), with no American troops on the ground in Gaza.

But asked by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) about the likelihood that someone from land might shoot at U.S. service members on the pier, Austin replied, “That’s possible, yes.”

“So if someone from land and Gaza shoots at our service members who are on the $320 million pier that we’re building, you’re telling me our service members can shoot back?” Gaetz also asked.

“They have the right to return fire to protect themselves,” Austin said.

The Defense Department on March 8 first announced the plan for JLOTS, with work beginning last week.

The structure, expected to be operational in early May, comes as the United Nations and humanitarian organizations in Gaza have warned that the region has fallen into famine due to a severe lack of access to food and medical supplies. More than 34,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza as Israel fights a war against the militant group Hamas.

U.S. Central Command on Monday released new images of the pier’s construction. Once completed, it’s expected to initially support 90 daily truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

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