US boosts Middle East air defences in response to 'escalation by Iran'

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin says activation of more missile defence systems is to protect US troops

The Pentagon said it was deploying additional battalions of its Patriot missile defence system to protect its forces in the Middle East. dpa via AP
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The US has stepped up its military readiness in the Middle East, ordering air defences throughout the region to be activated and alerting additional forces that they may be needed soon.

The moves follow “detailed discussions with President Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East”, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said in a statement released by the Department of Defence on Saturday.

Bases in the region hosting American troops have faced a series of drone and rocket attacks after the US promised to support Israel's military response to deadly raids by Iran-backed Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip.

The attack in southern Israel on October 7 killed at least 1,400 people, while more than 4,300 people have died in Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian territory since then.

Mr Austin said he had “activated the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence battery as well as additional Patriot battalions” to increase protection for US forces.

The attacks on US bases, along with repeated firing from Lebanon into northern Israel by the Hezbollah group have raised fears that the latest Israel-Gaza war could escalate into a wider conflict involving Iranian proxies across the region.

The Pentagon said on Friday that a US warship intercepted cruise missiles and drones launched from Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group.

Mr Austin said he had put more US forces on standby for deployment “as part of prudent contingency planning, to increase their readiness and ability to quickly respond as required”.

The Pentagon chief said he also redirected the movement of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower carrier strike group to the US Central Command's area of responsibility.

“This carrier strike group is in addition to the USS Gerald R Ford carrier strike group, which is currently operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. It will further strengthen our capabilities and ability to respond to a range of contingencies,” Mr Austin said.

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Updated: October 22, 2023, 7:27 AM