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NEWS | Oct. 25, 2023

F-16s head to Middle East to help protect U.S. troops

By C. Todd Lopez DOD News

The Pentagon announced that a squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft has arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility today. The aircraft will work alongside an array of capabilities the Defense Department has sent to the region in recent days to further enhance the ability of U.S. forces to defend themselves.

Since Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, militia groups backed by Iran have, on more than a dozen occasions, attacked U.S. forces conducting counterterrorism missions in both Iraq and Syria. 

"We know that the groups conducting these attacks are supported by the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian regime," Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing Oct. 24. "What we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel across the region, in the very near term, coming from Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran." 

In response, this past weekend, the department deployed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to CENTCOM, and directed to the region a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery from Fort Bliss, Texas, and additional Patriot missile battalions from both Fort Liberty, North Carolina, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. 

The aircraft movement announced today involves F-16s from the New Jersey Air National Guard's 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. 

A variety of military units have been put on prepare-to-deploy orders, though none of those have yet been activated, he said.

The effort to protect U.S. forces in the region is one of three primary objectives the department has focused on since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Ryder said the department is also focused on supporting Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks and deterring a broader conflict in the region. 

To assist Israel in its defense he said the U.S. has rushed in security assistance to enable Israel Defense Forces to restore security and protect the Israeli people. 

"As we've highlighted, this includes capabilities requested by Israel, to include precision guided munitions, small diameter bombs, artillery, ammunition, Iron Dome interceptors and other critical equipment. We continue to stay in close contact with our Israeli partners on their defense needs and remain committed to the security of Israel," Ryder said. 

The department has also provided advisors to Israel to help officials there mitigate civilian casualties as they conduct their military planning. Those advisors, Ryder noted, have deep experience in urban combat. 

"Since [the] Hamas terrorist attack, we've also been crystal clear that we do not want to see the situation in Israel [widen] into a broader regional conflict," he said. "Our message to any country or group thinking about trying to take advantage of this situation to widen the conflict is: Don't."