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US Sending 2nd Carrier To Mideast For 1st Time Since 2003 January 16, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News.
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DUBAI (AP)–A second U.S. aircraft carrier will arrive in the Middle East in about a month, a U.S. Navy official said Tuesday, the first time since the U.S.-led Iraq invasion in 2003 that the U.S. will have two carrier battle groups in the region.

The increase in U.S. forces is a show of strength by Washington in the face of Iran’s growing regional assertiveness and a perception among U.S. adversaries that the U.S. is vulnerable in Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.

The USS John C. Stennis is scheduled to sail Tuesday from its homeport of Bremerton, Washington.

The Nimitz-class carrier, with approximately 3,200 sailors, will stop off in San Diego to pick an air wing of more than 80 planes, including F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers.

After a monthlong voyage across the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Stennis will join the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is already tasked to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, said Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the Fifth Fleet.

Once in Middle East waters, the second aircraft carrier will significantly boost U.S. air power in the region and serve as a reminder of U.S. firepower to Iran. Its arrival will give the Pentagon two U.S. carriers in the region for the first time since 2003, Aandahl said.

“This demonstrates our resolve to do what we can to bring security and stability to the region,” Aandahl said. “That’s obviously to dissuade others from acting counter to our national interest.”

The arrival of the nuclear-powered Stennis comes in addition to an additional Patriot anti-missile battalion that Gates said will be sent to a U.S. allied Gulf Arab country, as well as an additional 21,500 U.S. troops that President Bush said were part of an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq.

The Pentagon hasn’t said exactly where the Patriots will be based.

The Stennis was previously in line to deploy to the Pacific, where a key concern is North Korea. Instead, the carrier battle group will focus on Iraq, Afghanistan or join the Eisenhower-led task force on its current mission, off the coast of Somalia, Aandahl said.

Washington will maintain two carriers in the Middle East “as long as the situation demands it,” Aandahl said. A typical carrier deployment lasts six months.

The U.S. maintains nearly 40,000 troops in Gulf countries other than Iraq, including about 25,000 in Kuwait, 6,500 in Qatar, 3,000 in Bahrain, 1,300 in the United Arab Emirates and a few hundred in Oman and Saudi Arabia, according to figures from the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

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