Three US troops injured off the coast of Gaza during humanitarian pier operations

Three US servicemembers suffered non-combat-related injuries during the Gaza pier operation, a senior US general said Thursday, as criticism of the pier meant to help the flow of badly needed humanitarian aid into Gaza mounted.

United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Deputy Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters that the injuries were minor and two servicemembers returned to duty. The third troop was medically evacuated to a local Israel hospital for further treatment. Cooper declined to elaborate further, but a US official later said that the servicemember was in critical condition.

Frustrated by the lack of Israeli cooperation to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, US President Joe Biden ordered the construction of a temporary pier in what US officials said was a bid to “surge” assistance to Palestinians.

Biden’s order to build the pier, issued in March, was completed last week. However, the aid delivered so far has fallen significantly short of the requirements outlined by officials and the United Nations. This has raised concerns among US lawmakers and critics, who question the project’s effectiveness and estimated cost of over $300 million in American taxpayer funds.

Senator Roger Wicker has been vocal about his opposition to the project since the beginning. In a statement to Al Arabiya English, Wicker said the absence of a delivery plan underscored the futility of this mission.

“This primetime directive has been nothing but a failure. So far, the only accomplishment has been an increase in cost and risk for the 1,000 US deployed troops,” said the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Wicker added: “President Biden has put them into harm’s way with nothing to show for it.”

A child plays on the coast of Gaza as a ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built pier, May 21, 2024. (AFP)
A child plays on the coast of Gaza as a ship transporting international humanitarian aid is moored at the US-built pier, May 21, 2024.

As of Tuesday, 569 metric tons of aid had been delivered across the pier. However, none of the aid had reached Palestinians as the aid was sitting in assembly areas onshore. NGOs will be responsible for taking assistance from the coastline and delivering it to Palestinians in need.

Cooper said that 820 metric tons of humanitarian aid had reached Gaza via the pier, and 506 metric tons of that had finally been delivered to those in need inside the enclave.

Daniel Dieckhaus, the director of USAID’s Levant Response Management Team, said this was enough to feed “tens of thousands of people for a month.”

The Pentagon initially said it wanted to see close to 90 trucks per day delivering aid into Gaza, eventually increasing to 150 trucks. According to the UN, closer to 500 trucks a day are needed.

Over the weekend, some of the trucks were intercepted. NGOs have made their own security arrangements as they have said they do not want the Israeli military escorting the trucks. Israeli military operations have killed aid workers, including seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen last month.

Since the initial holdup of aid reaching Gazans via the new US-built pier, US defense officials say there have been discussions to look at alternate routes to ensure the cargo is safely delivered.

“And again, it’s also important to remember that this is a combat zone and that it is a complex operation,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday.

US troops within range of fire

US officials have repeatedly stated that no American boots will be on the ground in Gaza, including when it comes to the operation of the temporary pier. Yet they have acknowledged that US troops could be hit.

Around 1,000 US servicemembers are involved in the construction and operation of the temporary port.

During a House Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said it was possible that US troops could come under fire from land. Austin said the US forces had the right to return fire to protect themselves, sparking further backlash from Republican lawmakers opposed to the plan.

“He needs to cut his losses, pull up the pier, and turn our men and women around before there is a catastrophe,” Wicker said in his statement . The statement was provided before news of the injured US troops was announced.

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