Military to Conduct Airdrops of Humanitarian Aid into Gaza as Concern for Palestinian Civilians Mounts

by Braxton Taylor

The Biden administration has announced that it will conduct military airdrops of humanitarian aid in the coming weeks into Gaza amid growing concern for civilians trapped in the grinding war.

“The United States will carry out airdrops of aid into Gaza in coordination with our international partners, particularly Jordan,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Friday at a press conference. “We’re also going to redouble our efforts to open up a humanitarian maritime corridor to move … humanitarian assistance by sea — hopefully, large amounts by sea.”

The move comes amid growing political pressure on President Joe Biden not only from supporters of the Palestinians but also members of Congress, who have been pushing him to offer more aid and assistance in recent days.

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Kirby stressed that the plan, which will involve multiple drops, requires significant planning and is not without risks.

“It is extremely difficult to do an airdrop in such a crowded environment as is Gaza,” he explained, before adding that the area is “very very densely populated” with “a lot of people confined to small spaces.”

“You want to do it in a way that you can get it … as close as you can to the people in need, but not in a way that puts them in any danger,” he added.

He noted that airdrops will not replace moving in aid by ground — a process that has become slow and increasingly fraught over the past several weeks.

Kirby’s announcement of the plan comes just a day after reports of Israeli troops opening fire on a crowd of Palestinians who were trying to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza. The resulting chaos left more than 100 people dead.

Kirby sidestepped questions whether that incident precipitated the airdrop announcement but did say that it “underscored for the president … the need to continue to find alternative routes and alternative means of getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”

“The idea of airdrops is not a new one,” he said. “It’s something that we have floated in the interagency before.”

Few specifics were offered during the announcement, with some military officials in the Pentagon saying they learned of the airdrop and maritime corridor plans only as they were being made public.

When asked about a timeline for the first drop, Kirby said that it would happen “certainly [in the] coming weeks,” adding that “I can’t get too predictive right now.”

Meanwhile, Navy officials said they were unaware of any plans involving the service or the proposed maritime channel, directing to the Army’s Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore program.

Those same officials, however, said that the Navy is ready to support any orders, should they receive them, speculating that conversations may be occurring at higher levels.

“We’re much further along in terms of being able to execute airdrops than we are a maritime corridor,” Kirby noted.

The announcement comes as Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza has become an increasingly apparent political liability for him as he seeks a second term in this year’s presidential elections.

In Michigan, which has one of the largest Arab American and Middle Eastern populations in the country, a call for Democratic voters to choose “uncommitted” over Biden in the state’s primary election Tuesday in protest of his position on the war drew a stronger-than-expected response, with the “uncommitted” option garnering more than 100,000 votes.

Democrats in Congress have also increasingly urged Biden to be more aggressive in pushing Israel toward a cease-fire, using U.S. leverage to ensure Israel follows the laws of war and seeing to it that Israel allows humanitarian aid to get to Gazans.

For example, more than a dozen Senate Democrats pushed to include conditions on arms sales to Israel in a national security funding bill the upper chamber approved last month, and more than half of the Senate Democratic Caucus supported an amendment to restrict “emergency” arms sales that Biden has used to expedite sending weapons to Israel.

Top Democrats applauded Biden’s announcement Friday about the impending airdrops.

“Tragic incidents like yesterday show that the Netanyahu government must do more to protect innocent life and increase humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement. “Not only is it the right thing to do morally, it’s in Israel’s best strategic interests.”

Meanwhile, Reed and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, announced Thursday that they sent a letter to Biden urging him to deploy a Navy hospital ship to the region.

The Navy maintains two hospital ships — the USNS Mercy based in San Diego and the USNS Comfort based out of Norfolk, Virginia. However, the Mercy just returned from a deployment in mid-February, and Navy officials told that the Comfort is in a maintenance period.

But Navy officials told that they have other assets they could utilize if the service is asked to support such a mission.

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