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Monday, July 16, 2007

Third U.S. carrier group in Gulf replaces other two; No U.S. 'change in commitment'

WASHINGTON The United States has pledged to reduce its naval presence in the Gulf but officials said the rotation did not represent a change in strategy.

Officials said the Defense Department plans to remove two carrier strike groups from the Gulf over the next two weeks. They said this would leave one carrier group by August.

"This change in carrier presence does not reflect a change in commitment or concern for the region," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said on July 12. "Carrier presence is but one means by which the U.S. engages in the region."

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In mid-July, the U.S. Fifth Fleet maintained as many as three carrier strike groups in the Gulf. This included the return of the USS Enterprise, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that was last in the region in November 2006, Middle East Newsline reported.

In August, officials said, the USS Enterprise would represent the sole carrier strike group in the Gulf. They said the redeployment of the two other groups did not reflect a change in U.S. security policy.

In January 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the deployment of a second aircraft carrier group in the Gulf near the Iranian coast. The two strike groups held exercises in the Straits of Hormuz and off the coast of Iran in what was regarded as a show of force to assure Gulf Arab allies of the United States.

Officials said the U.S. Navy could no longer maintain such a huge force in the Gulf. They said rotation and maintenance schedules would reduce the naval presence to one strike group and remove most of those ships by 2008. For his part, Whitman would not discuss deployment timetables.

"The removal of the strike groups is routine and reflects a rotation schedule drafted nearly a year ago," an official said.

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