Picture of American soldiers praying predates Israel-Hamas war

An image is spreading across platforms with claims it shows American soldiers knelt in prayer before deploying to defend Israel in its war on Hamas. But the picture is misrepresented; it has been online since at least 2017, years before the Palestinian militant group's bloody October 2023 attack plunged the region into conflict, and Pentagon officials have said there are no plans to send US troops into combat on Israel's behalf.

"American soldiers praying for their country, for Israel before being deployed to defend Israel. If you believe God answered their prayers say amen," says a November 3, 2023 Facebook post sharing the photo.

<span>Screenshot from Facebook taken November 7, 2023</span>
Screenshot from Facebook taken November 7, 2023

The image racked up thousands of engagements and also spread to X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

Israel said November 8, 2023 it was tightening the "stranglehold" around Hamas, whose fighters launched an unprecedented attack one month earlier that according to Israeli officials killed 1,400 people, including mainly civilians.

Israel's relentless air strikes targeting Hamas have killed more than 10,500 people, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said there will be no ceasefire or fuel delivered to Gaza unless the more than 240 hostages seized by the Palestinian militant group are freed.

A key ally of Israel, the United States has rushed military equipment to the country while also bolstering its forces in the region and supporting hostage rescue efforts.

<span>Graphic showing US warships in the two naval carrier strike forces, the USS Gerald R Ford and USS Dwight D Eisenhower sent to Middle East region </span><div><span>Jonathan WALTER</span><span>Sabrina BLANCHARD</span><span>AFP</span></div>
Graphic showing US warships in the two naval carrier strike forces, the USS Gerald R Ford and USS Dwight D Eisenhower sent to Middle East region

American forces in Iraq and Syria have also been attacked dozens of times with rockets and drones since mid-October, a spike Washington has blamed on Iran-backed forces that could risk drawing the United States into a broader conflict.

But the picture of praying American troops is unrelated to the war -- it predates the recent fighting by at least six years.

Reverse image searches indicate the shot has circulated since at least October 2017, with the earliest posts on Facebook and X saying it shows a chapel service at Fort Benning, a US Army military base in the state of Georgia now known as Fort Moore (archived here and here).

AFP could not independently verify the location or origin of the photo, which was previously misrepresented after Russian invaded Ukraine. Fort Moore said it could not confirm the picture's validity.

No US combat plans

US officials have said since the war declaration October 8 that it will aid Israel, but without American forces in combat on the ground.

A senior Pentagon official told a briefing October 12:  "We have no intention of putting US forces on the ground at this time, but we are providing advice, and we will continue to consult with our Israeli partners about their security assistance needs."

AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war here.