U.S. May Cut Back To One Aircraft Carrier In The Persian Gulf Region

Tuesday, July 10th 2007, 3:42 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After a much-publicized military buildup in the Persian Gulf, the United States is now planning to have only one aircraft carrier in the region for part of this year.

In what officials have said was partly muscle-flexing toward Iran, the Navy has maintained two aircraft carrier battle groups in area since early this year and twice held major exercises in the Gulf.

But the force could be reduced to one carrier in the coming weeks unless one now there is ordered to stay beyond its planned homecoming or another is rescheduled to go there early, three defense officials said Tuesday.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak on the subject for the record. The military tries to say as little as possible about ship movements for security reasons.

Ships currently in the region are the USS John C. Stennis and USS Nimitz, and both are expected to leave soon. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise left Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia over the weekend to head to the area and will replace one of the carriers, the U.S. 5th Fleet announced Tuesday.

As plans stand now, the Enterprise would be alone in the region for roughly three months because the USS Harry S. Truman isn't scheduled to deploy until the fall, two officials said.

The Pentagon could decide to change the scheduling _ keeping the Nimitz in the region longer or sending the Truman there early, one official said.

Officials declined to comment on whether the expected reduction in carriers in the region was a matter of scheduling or funding. They also pointed out that the norm is for one carrier to be deployed there.

The 5th Fleet said the Enterprise carrier group is fully capable of performing any mission.

``Enterprise Carrier Strike Group provides us with the right assets at the right time,'' Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of Naval forces for the region, said in a statement from 5th Fleet. Its area includes about 2.5 million square miles of water, the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.

``Enterprise presence provides Navy power to counter the assertive, disruptive and coercive behavior of some countries, as well as support our soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan,'' Cosgriff said.

Bush administration officials have said the U.S. buildup in the Gulf was intended to impress on Iran that the four-year war in Iraq has not made America vulnerable and to assure allies of the U.S. commitment to the region.

Iran has been in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program and U.S. allegations that Tehran is involved in supplying weapons that insurgents use in neighboring Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis.

In late March, with the two carrier groups assembled in the same place, the Americans held maneuvers with 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft in the Gulf. While they would not say when the war games were planned, U.S. commanders insisted they were not a direct response to the seizure days earlier of 15 British sailors and marines by Iranian naval forces.

Also, in late May, ships packed with 17,000 sailors and Marines moved into the Persian Gulf as the U.S. Navy staged another show of force off Iran's coast just days before U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad.