Lawmakers Move to Defund US Military's Gaza Aid Pier After Torrent of Problems

June 17, 2024
Humanitarian aid reaches Gaza via the temporary Trident Pier

Amid being battered by rough seas and weathering international logistical headaches, the U.S. military’s humanitarian aid pier in Gaza is facing another obstacle: Congress.

A pair of bills advanced last week in the House seeks to end the mission that was billed as the Biden administration’s flagship effort to aid Palestinian civilians on the brink of starvation after months of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in its war against Hamas.

While possibly more symbolic than practical — the bills in question are not likely to become law for months when the pier effort may already be over — the moves are the strongest sign yet of Congress’ frustration with a mission that has been plagued by issues almost from the start.

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“From a purely cost-based analysis, investing in a pier off the coast of Gaza is an inefficient use of our defense budget,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said in a statement last week. “The pier project has proven to be a logistical nightmare, with significant challenges and costs far outweighing any potential benefits. Our taxpayer dollars should be dedicated to projects that directly enhance our national security.”

The annual defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that the full House approved Friday included two separate amendments from Mace and Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, that would prohibit Pentagon funding from going toward building or maintaining a pier in Gaza. Both were approved by a voice vote as part of a bipartisan package of amendments.

Meanwhile, the fiscal 2025 Pentagon spending bill that was advanced by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday included a similar amendment from Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., barring funding for the Army’s Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, or JLOTS, capabilities or any other pier-like structure in or around Gaza. JLOTS is the system being used for the pier now.

The amendments come after the pier has faced logistical hurdle after logistical hurdle since shortly after President Joe Biden announced the mission during his State of the Union address in March.

Ships deployed to help build the pier hit trouble en route to the Mediterranean Sea, including a Navy vessel that had to turn around and go back to port after suffering a fire in its engine room.

Once the pier was finally up and running, efforts to distribute the aid were complicated by desperate Palestinians overrunning aid convoys shortly after they moved out of the secured area around the port.

Later in May, three U.S. soldiers involved in the pier mission were injured, including one critically, in a non-combat incident. Then, on May 28, the pier broke apart and was damaged by rough seas. Three Army boats were also beached by the sea conditions.

The pier was repaired and operational again last week. But bad weather forecasts forced the U.S. military to dismantle it again this weekend and relocate it to the Israeli port of Ashdod to prevent structural damage, U.S. Central Command said in a statement Friday.

United Nations World Food Programme director Cindy McCain also announced last week that the organization had paused distribution of aid from the pier. The group is reviewing whether it can safely continue after Israeli forces used the beach by the pier to evacuate Israeli commandos and rescued hostages after an operation that also killed more than 270 Palestinians. Pentagon officials have stressed that the pier itself was not used in the Israeli military operation.

Since May 17, about 3,500 metric tons of aid has been delivered over the pier, the equivalent of less than 200 truckloads, Central Command said in its Friday statement. Even in the best conditions, the pier was expected to handle up to 150 truckloads of aid per day, far short of the 500 truckloads Gaza received daily before the war.

The Pentagon said last week the pier is expected to cost $230 million, down from its $320 million price estimate in April.

Defense officials have also stressed that the pier is meant to be only a temporary measure. Sea conditions are expected to worsen as fall approaches, and the cost estimate projected just 90 days of operations.

During the House Appropriations Committee’s debate about its amendment last week, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., also noted the mission is slated to end in August with no plans for the operation to continue into fiscal 2025.

“Has it been as successful as we hoped it would? Absolutely not,” McCollum, the ranking member of the committee’s defense subpanel, said while speaking in opposition to the amendment. “But do you ever stop trying to provide children food? I don’t think in this country we do that.”

But those who supported the amendment argued the pier is not worth the risk to U.S. troops.

“The continued operation of this pier risks escalating tensions in the region by putting U.S. service members in harm’s way and into the crosshairs of America’s enemies,” the amendment’s sponsor, Clyde, said in a statement read at the committee meeting by Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas.

Both the NDAA and appropriations bill still have multiple steps before becoming law and will need to be negotiated with the Democratic-controlled Senate. The final NDAA is expected to pass by December. Lawmakers also anticipate that the appropriations process will again drag on past the end of the fiscal year in September.

One of the most vocal opponents of the pier has been Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Most recently, after the pier was reattached earlier this month, Wicker released a statement saying the operation “needs to end immediately.”

But the Senate’s version of the NDAA does not appear to go as far as the House. The text of the bill has not yet been released, but a summary released Friday notes only that the bill “directs the DoD inspector general to conduct a report on the Gaza pier.”

Related: US Soldiers Were Stuck in Beached Boats Along Gaza After Storms Broke Apart Aid Pier

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