| Showdown Looms in Persian Gulf as US Sends 2nd Aircraft Carrier |
15:00 Jan 16, '07 / 26 Tevet 5767
by Gil Zohar
|Is the United States gearing up for an attack on Iran?|
The deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region has analysts speculating that President Bush means to stop Tehran's nuclear ambitions by force if necessary.
The USS John C. Stennis is scheduled to sail Tuesday from its homeport of
Bremerton, Washington. When the second carrrier arrives in the Middle East next month, this will be the first time since the U.S.-led Iraq invasion in 2003 that the United States will have two carrier battle groups in the region, according to a U.S. Navy official.
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 United States is vulnerable in Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.
The Stennis is a Nimitz-class carrier, with approximately 3,200 sailors. It 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 sheikhdom 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.
"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."
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.
In a related matter, the U.S. recently deployed a Patriot air defense missile battalion to the Middle East.
As well, at least 16 US F-16 fighter aircraft arrived January 12 in Turkey's strategic Incirlink air base for the first time in three years. According to local Cihan News Agency, the F-16s were accompanied by an early warning system AWACS airplane and tanker airplanes from an American base in Germany. An official at the US embassy in Ankara said the planes had arrived for joint exercises with the Turkish military.
On Thursday, US forces in Iraq detained five suspected members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards operating out of the northern Iraq town of Irbil in Kurdistan.