The Pentagon Press Secretary, Brig Gen Pat Ryder, recently confirmed that the USAF has been carrying out “unarmed [unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)] flights over Gaza” since October 7 in support of “hostage recovery efforts”.
On November 3, Ryder acknowledged: “In support of hostage recovery efforts, the US 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. These UAV flights began after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.”
Pentagon officials have confirmed that UAVs have been conducting surveillance over the Gaza Strip since October 8 – one day after the Israel-Hamas War started – and these have been ‘seen’ on flight tracking websites operating over the area, typically flying three-hour missions at an altitude of approximately 25,000ft (7,620m) and mainly focusing on the southern part of the Gaza Strip. These UAVs seem to have operated from NAS Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, and perhaps also from Crete, Greece, and other US operating locations in the Gulf region. The New York Times has revealed that at least six MQ-9A Reapers have been involved in the surveillance effort.
The officials have said that this was the first time that US drones had operated over Gaza, adding that they were searching for signs of life and transmitting the information to rescue teams in Israel and were not supporting the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) offensive. Many analysts believe that this is improbable, and that the imagery and intelligence being gathered is likely to be accessible by the Israeli military, probably in real-time, augmenting Israel’s own frequent reconnaissance flights over Gaza.
Hamas militants captured approximately 200 hostages during its attack on Israel on October 7, ten of whom are said to be from the US. The attack resulted in the horrific deaths of more than a thousand Israeli civilians and provoked the ongoing war in Gaza, with airstrikes that are said to have resulted in the death of more than 9,200 people, including over 3,800 children, according to figures released by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.