Middle East

US moves forces closer to Israel and Lebanon amid concerns of escalating cross-border fire

By Oren Liebermann and Haley Britzky, CNN

CNN  — 

The US is moving forces closer to Israel and Lebanon amid concerns of escalating cross-border fire, according to two US officials, including forces able to carry out an evacuation of American citizens.

The USS Wasp and its Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which includes the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), moved into the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, the Navy said. The deployment was part of a “long-planned effort,” one official said.

But the concerns of escalation between Israel and Hezbollah led the US to move the ships further into the eastern Mediterranean, the second official said, as Israeli officials have said they are prepared for “intense action” in southern Lebanon.

On Thursday, the State Department once again urged American citizens to “strongly reconsider travel” to Lebanon, warning that the “security environment remains complex and can change quickly.” The US has not ordered an evacuation of US citizens from Lebanon – called a non-combatant evacuation – but the White House has planned for the possibility.

The Wasp ARG, which deployed at the beginning of June, includes the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, and dock landing ship USS Oak Hill. The Oak Hill was already in the region after transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on June 18, the Navy said Thursday.

NBC first reported the movement of US forces.

The 24th MEU, which operates from the USS Wasp, is capable of carrying out special operations, and one of its mission essential tasks is its ability to execute an evacuation.

In 2006, during the last war between Israel and Hezbollah, the State Department ordered a non-combatant evacuation for American citizens in Lebanon, ultimately evacuating approximately 15,000 Americans in about two weeks.

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