The order does not mean that the troops definitely will deploy, or that any will serve in a combat role if they do go to Israel, officials said.
But Austin’s decision has shortened the time the identified troops will have to prepare for a deployment if they are ordered to go, officials added.
The order to be ready for potential deployment comes as the US military is bolstering its presence in Middle East, including deploying a second aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean Sea sending Air Force fighter jets to the region.
Austin issued the order on Sunday night and asked the services and combatant commands to report back how many troops they can provide and from where.
US officials have made clear there are no plans for US troops to become directly involved in any Israeli military operations against Hamas.
Asked about the possible movement, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh stated on Monday: “I don’t have more to provide at this time. I might be able to give you more details later, but at this time I just don’t have anything more specific to add to.”
The Pentagon is trying to be careful about how it talks about the potential deployment of US troops to Israel, officials said, since it does not want to give the impression that American forces could become directly involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Officials stressed that the US servicemembers would not take part in the war between Israel and Gaza, which Israeli officials have warned could be prolonged and difficult. But it does suggest the type of assistance the US could provide in an ongoing conflict, including managing logistics away from the front lines and offering medical support.
The preparations come just days after Austin ordered that a second aircraft carrier be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, as Israel fights a war against Hamas. The first carrier strike group, led by the USS Gerald R. Ford, arrived off the coast of Israel last week.
In addition, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a rapid reaction force capable of conducting special operations, is making preparations in case it is ordered closer to Israel to bolster the US force posture there, multiple US officials told CNN.
The unit, which is on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, is composed of more than 2,000 Marines and sailors and would be capable of supporting a large-scale evacuation. Among the mission essential tasks for a Marine Expeditionary Unit are evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance.