Blair & Bush send more warships to Gulf


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 21, 2006

U.S. and Britain to Add Ships to Persian Gulf in Signal to Iran

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 ‹ The United States and Britain will begin moving additional
warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region in a display of 
military resolve toward Iran that will come as the United Nations continues to 
debate possible sanctions against the country, Pentagon and military officials 
said Wednesday.

The officials said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was expected this week
to approve a request by commanders for a second aircraft carrier and its 
supporting ships to be stationed within quick sailing distance of Iran by early 
next year.

Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed 
as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged 
that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might 
well call the growing presence provocative. One purpose of the deployment, they 
said, is to make clear that the focus on ground troops in Iraq has not made it 
impossible for the United States and its allies to maintain a military watch on 
Iran. That would also reassure Washington¹s allies in the region who are 
concerned about Iran¹s intentions.

The officials said the planned growth in naval power in the gulf and surrounding
waters would be useful in enforcing any sanctions that the United Nations might 
impose as part of Washington¹s strategy to punish Iran for what it sees as 
ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. And the buildup would address another 
concern: that Iran could try to block oil shipments from the gulf in retaliation
for United Nations sanctions or other American-led pressure.

Steps are already being taken to increase the number of minesweeping vessels and
magnetic ³sleds² carried by helicopters to improve the ability to counter 
Iranian mines that could block oil-shipping lanes, Pentagon and military 
officials said.

As part of future deployments after the first of the year, the British Navy 
plans to add two mine-hunting vessels to its ships that already are part of the 
international coalition patrolling waters in the Persian Gulf.

A Royal Navy news release said the ship movements were aimed at ³maintaining 
familiarity with the challenges of warm water mine-hunting conditions.² But a 
senior British official said: ³We are increasing our presence. That is only 
prudent.² Military officers said doubling the aircraft carrier presence in the 
region could be accomplished quickly by a shift in sailing schedules.

As opposed to ground and air forces that require bases in the region, naval 
forces offer a capacity for projecting power in parts of the world where a large
American footprint is controversial, and unwanted even by allies. Many of the 
ships could be kept over the horizon, out of sight, but close enough to project 
their power quickly if needed.

Vice Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander of naval forces across the military¹s 
Central Command, said that while ³Iranian tone and rhetoric creates an 
environment of intimidation and fear,² the United States ³must be careful not to
contribute to escalation.² In an interview from his headquarters in Bahrain, 
Admiral Walsh declined to discuss the specifics of future deployments. ³To 
assure our friends, we have to have capabilities to secure the critical sea 
lines of communication,² he said.

³They need reassurances that we expect to be part of the effort here for the 
long term, that we will not run away from intimidation and that we will be part 
of the effort here for security and stability at sea for the long term,² he 
added. ³Our position must be visible and it must have muscle in order to be 
credible. That requires sustained presence.²

Other military and Pentagon officials did describe specifics of the planned 
deployments in order to clarify the rationale for the movement of ships and 
aircraft, but they would not do so by name because Mr. Gates had not yet signed 
any deployment orders.

Pentagon officials said that the military¹s joint staff, which plans operations 
and manages deployments, had recently received what is called a ³request for 
forces² from commanders asking for a second aircraft carrier strike group in the
region, and that a deployment order was expected to be signed by the end of the 
week by Mr. Gates. That specific request was mentioned in various news accounts 
over the past few days.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group ‹ including three escort 
ships, an attack submarine and 6,500 sailors in all ‹ entered the Persian Gulf 
on Dec. 11 after a naval exercise to practice halting vessels suspected of 
smuggling nuclear materials in waters across the region. A carrier had not been 
inside the gulf since the Enterprise left in July, according to Pentagon 
officials. The next carrier scheduled to sail toward the Middle East is the 
Stennis, already set to depart Bremerton, Wash., for the region in late January,
Navy officers said.

Officials expressed doubt that the Stennis and its escorts would be asked to set
sail before the holiday season, but it could be ordered to sea several weeks 
earlier than planned. It could then overlap for months with the Eisenhower, 
which is not scheduled to return home until May, offering ample time to decide 
whether to send another carrier or to extend the Eisenhower¹s tour to keep the 
carrier presence at two.

Doubling the number of carriers in the region offers commanders the flexibility 
of either keeping both strike groups in the gulf or keeping one near Iran while 
placing a second carrier group outside the gulf, where it would be in position 
to fly combat patrols over Afghanistan or cope with growing violence in the Horn
of Africa.

But these same officials acknowledge that Iran is the focus of any new 
deployments, as administration officials view recent bold moves by Iran ‹ and by
North Korea, as well ‹ as at least partly explained by assessments in Tehran and
North Korea that the American military is bogged down in Iraq and incapable of 
fully projecting power elsewhere.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, has made the case that the 
United States should seek to create ³a thousand-ship Navy.² That would be 
impossible for the United States alone given current budgets, so instead it 
would be accomplished by operating more closely with allied warships to better 
cover critical areas like the Persian Gulf.

He said that such a cooperative naval concept would be a ³global maritime 
partnership that unites navies, coast guards, maritime forces, port operators, 
commercial shippers and many other government and nongovernment agencies to 
address maritime concerns.²

As an example, at present there are about 45 warships deployed in the Persian 
Gulf and waters across the region from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, with a 
third of those supplied by allies, which this month include Australia, Bahrain, 
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan and Britain.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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