US Army's little-known 'navy' to build Gaza aid pier

About 1,000 soldiers will be posted off the enclave's coastline as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians face starvation

A 7th Sustainment Brigade Soldier guides a lorry on a floating pier during the Joint Logistics Over the Shore exercise in the US. Photo: US Army
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The US said on Friday that about 1,000 soldiers would be posted close to Gaza’s coastline to build a floating pier to send aid to the shores of the heavily bombarded enclave.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in besieged Gaza face starvation after highly stringent and slow inspections of aid lorries by Israeli forces at land crossings, chiefly Rafah on the Egypt-Gaza border. For months, aid deliveries have been a fraction of the strip's food requirements.

Air Force Maj Gen Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the pier construction could take anywhere from weeks to 60 days.

The pier, known as a Trident, forms part of the Joint Logistics Over the Shore capability, or JLOTS, and will be built by the US Army, rather than the Navy. JLOTS refers to the US military's requirement to rapidly access land with supplies in regions hit by war or disaster, where ports are not functioning.

US plan to build temporary pier in Gaza will take several weeks

US plan to build temporary pier in Gaza will take several weeks

The US Army operates a fleet of about 134 ships – almost the size of the Spanish navy – under its Transportation Corps.

The EU and UAE will also play a central role in bringing aid to Gaza by sea through Cyprus, with trial operations expected to start within days.

One issue is that Gaza’s port is damaged and lacks the capacity for large-scale aid operations. Gaza needs about 4,000 tonnes of food a week, the World Food Programme said, but the tonnage of required supplies could be significantly higher, when including medicine, tents and blankets.

In the coming Gaza operation, the 7th Transportation Brigade will, the Pentagon said, send “a floating pier, an approximately 1,800-foot-long causeway that will be attached to the shore, and a group of logistic support vessels and barges that will transport the aid from the pier to the causeway”.

The use of the US Army in a maritime aid operation represents a departure from more common US aid operations at sea, that utilise ships from the US Marine Corps, which have delivered aid in disaster zones from the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to Japan, during the 2011 earthquake.

By contrast, the huge JLOTS logistical system has seldom been used in humanitarian operations, although the Pentagon said the most recent posting was Exercise Talisman Sabre, a large-scale joint defence exercise between Australia and the US.

In armed conflicts, JLOTS was posted during the 1991 Gulf War between US-led coalition forces and Iraq, following the invasion of Kuwait, and the 2003 Iraq invasion.

It was considered for humanitarian operations in Somalia, but rough seas and a long journey for aid resupply halted its use.

The system came into its own following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when Port-au-Prince was severely damaged, leaving about 1.6 million homeless people in urgent need of aid and medical assistance, but with no rapid route for aid agencies to assist.

The US government said “8,400 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEU) were offloaded”, by the temporary pier, each with a 24 ton capacity. Half of that – 100,000 tonnes – was food aid.

The Haiti operation, Unified Response, was hindered by the large distance between the devastated island and US ports, but US amphibious vessels were able to land on the beach and deliver aid and equipment while the port was under repair.

That will not be possible in Gaza, where the US has stressed it will not be posting forces on the shore.

When operational, the pier will be able to handle thousands of tonnes of aid a day. Much of that may come from an aid hub in Larnaca, Cyprus, which has an aid storage capacity of 200,000 tonnes.

Updated: March 09, 2024, 4:16 PM