US orders US aircraft carrier to remain near Israel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and another warship to remain in the Mediterranean Sea for several more weeks to maintain a two-carrier presence near Israel as its war with Hamas escalates. U.S. officials said.

It would be the third time the Ford deployment has been extended, underscoring continued concerns about volatility in the region during Israel’s war in Gaza. The United States has two aircraft carriers in the region, a rarity in recent years.

Multiple U.S. officials confirmed the longer deployments approved this week for the Ford and the cruiser USS Normandy on condition of anonymity because they have not yet been made public. Other ships in the Ford strike group had already seen their deployments extended.

The Pentagon stepped up its military presence in the region following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks to deter Iran from expanding the war into a regional conflict. In the months since, Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria have taken advantage of the war to carry out regular rocket, drone and missile attacks on US military facilities in those countries.

At the same time, American warships in the Red Sea have intercepted incoming missiles fired toward Israel from areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. They have also shot down one-way attack drones aimed at ships and responded to calls for help from commercial vessels that have been the target of persistent Houthi attacks near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

As of Friday, there were 19 US warships in the region, seven of them in the eastern Mediterranean and 12 more in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.

Austin ordered the Ford and its strike group to sail for the eastern Mediterranean on October 8, a day after the Hamas attack that sparked the war.

The decision to keep the Ford – the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier – in the region comes as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that it will take months to destroy Hamas, predicting a protracted war.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli leaders to discuss a timetable for reducing major fighting in Gaza, but they reiterated their determination to keep fighting until Hamas is crushed.

The approximately 5,000 sailors on the Ford have been awaiting a decision from the Pentagon on whether they would be able to return home for the holidays. The ship set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, in early May to deploy to US European Command, and according to her original schedule, she would have returned home in early November.

The original plan was for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group to replace Ford in the region. But Sabrina Singh, at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 17, said Austin had decided to expand Ford’s deployment and have both Eisenhower and Ford covering waters from southern Europe to the Middle East.

US military commanders have long touted the effectiveness of US aircraft carriers as a deterrent, including against attacks, hijackings and other aggressive behavior by Iran and its ships, including attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea by the Houthis.

Officials said the plan is to keep the Ford there for several more weeks.

The Eisenhower is in the Gulf of Oman and has been patrolling in the Middle East along with the USS Philippine Sea, a Navy cruiser. And three warships – the USS Carney, USS Stethem and USS Mason, all Navy destroyers – have moved daily through Bab el-Mandeb to help deter and respond to Houthi attacks.

Other ships that were part of Ford’s strike group were the destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.

Although the United States regularly maintained two aircraft carriers in the Middle East during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in recent years, it has sought to direct its attention and naval presence toward the Asia-Pacific.

Lolita C. Baldor