Does War in Middle East Endanger U.S. Troops?

U.S. troops
American soldiers | Image by Bumble Dee

As the Israel-Hamas conflict touched off by the terrorist organization’s brazen attack on October 7 shows no signs of abating, there is a distinct prospect that U.S. troops could be drawn into the conflict, with some Hamas allies reportedly already targeting American troops in the region.

U.S. troops and defense contractors have been attacked by Iranian-backed militants using drones and rockets some 32 times since the conflict began, reported The Hill. Since this past weekend, the number of incidents jumped to 38, including 20 attacks in Iraq and another 18 in Syria.

Thus far, 46 U.S. troops have reportedly been injured, according to Politico, but there have been no confirmed deaths.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told ABC’s This Week, “We’re concerned about potential escalation. In fact, what we’re seeing is … a prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region.”

The United States currently has 45,000 troops and contractors stationed in nearly every country in the Middle East, according to Axios. The largest deployments are in Kuwait with 13,500, Bahrain and Qatar with 9,000 and 8,000, respectively, and 3,500 in the United Arab Emirates. Another 2,700 troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. interests from threats emanating from Iran and its proxies. About 1,000 soldiers are stationed in Turkey, primarily at two air bases near Adana and Izmir.

Thousands of American troops have been in Kuwait since the first Gulf War. Bahrain hosts NSA Bahrain, the headquarters of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Qatar is home to the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command at Al Udeid Air Force Base, the largest U.S. military installation in the Middle East.

Qatar has a complicated relationship with Hamas, which has an official presence in the country and is financially supported by the Gulf state to the tune of millions of dollars a month, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. In recent days, the United States has been leaning on Qatar to cut ties with Hamas, reported The Washington Post.

The Pentagon says U.S. troops have come under fire in Iraq and Syria at least 10 times over the last two weeks alone, with the only casualties consisting of minor injuries, per Axios. Iraq still hosts 2,500 U.S. troops, though those forces no longer have a combat mission there and instead train, advise, and provide intelligence for the Iraqi Armed Forces as they continue to fight the remnants of ISIS.

The approximately 900 troops the United States has in Syria are there to confront what remains of ISIS but also to support the Free Syrian Army against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s government claims the U.S. military presence on Syrian soil is illegal.

An unknown number of U.S. troops are in Israel, Axios reported. However, during an appearance on Judge Napolitano’s November 2 podcast, retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, former advisor to the secretary of defense in the Trump White House, claimed his sources have told him that U.S. special operations forces are on the ground working with the IDF. These U.S. special forces “have been involved in the fighting, and I’m told that we’ve taken casualties,” Macgregor claimed.

The Biden administration has stressed that it does not have plans to send U.S. troops to fight in Israel.

“There is no intention or plan to put American troops on the ground in Israel — there’s no desire by the Israelis for that outcome,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communication, told CNN.

The Dallas Express reached out to the Pentagon for comment regarding Col. Macgregor’s claim. The Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon replied with a short denial, stating, “This claim is false.”

On Sunday, the Defense Department announced it was sending a nuclear-powered Ohio-class submarine to the region. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder described the move as intended to “further support our deterrence efforts in the region,” per Politico.

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