While U.S. officials have insisted that the Israel Defense Forces will take the lead on rescuing hostages taken from Israel to Gaza on Oct. 7, the Pentagon acknowledged on Friday that U.S. forces have launched reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles over Gaza as part of the search.

The flights began following Oct. 7, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

“In support of hostage recovery efforts, the U.S. is conducting unarmed UAV flights over Gaza, as well as providing advice and assistance to support our Israeli partner as they work on their hostage recovery efforts,” he said.

On Thursday, Ryder reiterated during a briefing, “Just to be crystal clear, that it is [Israel’s] operation, they’re running their operation” when it comes to strikes on Gaza. But the U.S., Ryder said, is helping with planning and intelligence for hostage recovery.

Senior officials have said since the days following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas that the U.S. would not be sending combat troops to Israel, nor would it be sending its own forces into Gaza to recover American hostages.

“The Israelis have made it very clear that they don’t want foreign troops on their soil, that they want to prosecute these operations on their own,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a briefing Oct. 12. “The Israelis have made it clear that they would not welcome [foreign involvement] in any event.”

The U.S. has repositioned troops to other parts of the Middle East, however.

Two carrier strike groups, an amphibious ready group with embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit, several Air Force fighter squadrons and 300 support troops have all been tapped to deter further escalation of the Israel-Hamas war and to increase U.S. force protection in U.S. Central Command.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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