Tuesday, July 16, 2024

U.S. military fails to reconnect Gaza pier, says mission will end soon

U.S. military fails to reconnect Gaza pier, says mission will end soon

The U.S. military has failed to re-anchor its humanitarian pier to Gaza, the Pentagon said Thursday, and soon will “cease operations” on a project beset by challenges from almost the moment President Biden announced it four months ago.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a spokesman, said in a statement that U.S. troops tried to reconnect the floating pier to the shoreline Wednesday but were unable to do so because of “technical and weather-related issues.” The pier and its support vessels were taken back to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where they had sheltered amid the latest spell of rough waves, and will remain there until further notice, Ryder said.

“The pier will soon cease operations, with more details on that process and timing available in the coming day,” he said.

Ryder’s statement does not make clear whether U.S. forces will try again to reattach the pier to Gaza’s shore. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to a the operation, said that commanders considered attempting it again on Thursday but decided against doing so due to concerns the sea state.

U.S. personnel moved the structure to Ashdod late last month citing worries that rough waves, which had earlier caused extensive damage to the structure, could jeopardize it once again.

Defense officials have said repeatedly that the pier’s deployment is temporary and dependent on calm seas to enable aid delivery, while noting that optimal seasonal conditions could end soon. The floating structure is connected to land by a steel causeway, and is limited to operating in waves that are no more than three feet high, according to past assessments in U.S. military journals.

The operation has delivered nearly 20 million pounds of food ashore since it began on May 17. It’s a fraction of what humanitarian groups say is needed as Palestinians trapped by the fighting between Israel and Hamas face starvation and Israeli officials resist U.S. and international demands to let more aid into Gaza via land routes.

Moreover, distribution from the pier has been challenged by aid groups’ fears for their workers’ safety as the war’s staggering number of civilian casualties continues to climb. Until recently, arriving supplies were left to pile up in a staging area along the beach. A U.S. defense official familiar with the issue, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss recent developments, said a significant amount of that aid has been moved to other locations, leaving room for new deliveries if the pier can get up and running again.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which coordinates with the humanitarian groups working in Gaza, will continue to use all available routes into the territory to get food and medicine to Palestinian civilians in need, an official there said. Those groups have begun using the port at Ashdod, north of Gaza, for additional aid deliveries, the official said.

The on-again, off-again maritime mission has been a source of controversy in a polarized Washington, with administration officials defending the effort despite its numerous setbacks while other Democrats have said it underscores President Biden’s failure to compel Israeli leaders to prioritize civilians’ safety and well-being.

Several Republicans have called repeatedly for the pier’s permanent removal, citing safety concerns for the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops involved in the mission.

The project was announced by Biden in March, with administration officials forecasting that the pier would enable delivery of up to 2 million meals per day to starving Palestinians. Officials forecast that deliveries would begin in early May, but in what would become a recurring theme, strong waves altered the plan, pushing back the pier’s initial anchoring until the middle of the month.

On May 25, days after initial shipments began flowing, heavy seas and high winds tossed four Army vessels onto the Gaza shore and broke the pier into pieces, prompting suspension of the mission. Pentagon officials estimated that the pier incurred at least $22 million in damage.

U.S. troops reassembled it at Ashdod and then towed it back into place June 8. It was removed six days later again because of weather concerns. Before its most recent removal at the end of June, the pier had facilitated steady deliveries for about a week, with 10 million pounds of aid brought ashore, the Pentagon said.

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