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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Largest U.S. Fifth Fleet exercise focuses on threat to Straits of Hormuz

ABU DHABI The U.S. Fifth Fleet has begun an unannounced exercise off the Iranian coast, the largest since 2003. Officials said two carrier strike groups, with more than 100 aircraft, moved through the narrow Straits of Hormuz and practiced marine landings on Wednesday.

Officials said this was the largest daytime exercise in the straits. Most U.S. Navy movements in the passage have taken place at night.

"There's always the threat of any state or non-state actor that might decide to close one of the international straits, and the biggest one is the Straits of Hormuz," Rear Adm. Kevin Quinn, the group leader, said.

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"What is special about this is that you have two strike groups," Quinn said. "Everybody will see us because it is in daylight." The carrier groups were identified as the USS John C. Stennis and USS Nimitz. The groups were joined by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and its own strike group. In all, more than 17,000 sailors were participating, including members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Officials said Iran was not notified of the exercise. Officials said this would be one of a series of exercises to demonstrate the U.S. ability to protect shipping throughout the Straits of Hormuz. The 42-kilometer passage contains about 30 percent of global oil exports. In all, nine U.S. warships entered the Straits of Hormuz, with aircraft scheduled to conduct training. Officials said the surface vessels would operate submarines and conduct anti-mine warfare exercises. In March, the Fifth Fleet held an exercise comprised of two carrier strike groups. The previous exercise, with 20,000 sailors, lasted two days and took place near the Iranian coast. The March exercise, however, contained fewer warships than in the current maneuvers. "We do maritime security operations here to reassure friends in the region of our commitment, and certainly this is a viable commitment and a visible one that helps security and stability in the waters here," U.S. Fifth Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said.

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