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Monday, November 5, 2007       Free Headline Alerts

U.S. Fifth Fleet in Gulf exercise for possible war in Iran

ABU DHABI The U.S. Navy launched a series of exercises in the Gulf to enhance skills required in any war with Iran which, according to British press reports, could occur in early 2008.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet conducted a crisis response exercise that included amphibious, air and medical forces. The five-day exercise by the USS Wasp, led by Commander Task Force 59, was scheduled to end on Nov. 5.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet has been operating two strike groups in the Gulf. The USS Enterprise and USS Kearsarge have also been training in the region.

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Britain plans to send an aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, to the region in early 2008. Illustrious would be accompanied by the Type 42 destroyer HMS Edinburgh and the Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster.

A British Defense Ministry spokesman said the Royal Navy deployment was not linked to the emerging Western crisis with Iran. But the London-based Daily Telegraph asserted that the ships might be preparing for war with Teheran in the first half of 2008.

"The purpose of the exercise is to continually improve the Fifth Fleet skills in completing complex missions that require capabilities broader than one ship or unit," U.S. Fifth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff said. "Naval forces deployed here contribute to building stronger relationships that in turn help underwrite security and stability."

Officials said the exercise would evaluate the capability of the USS Wasp to respond to oil spills or damage to a coalition ship in the Gulf. Under the scenario, the Wasp, an assault vessel, would rush personnel and supplies to a targeted area within 72 hours.

"The scenario is challenging but prepares us for a real-world event," CTF planning officer Cmdr. Jay Chambers said. "From the table-top discussions, which drew up plans for how our forces will assist, to turning those plans into action, this exercise allowed us to examine the best way to proceed, and to proceed quickly, with providing assistance to any requesting nation."

The U.S. Navy also said it would deploy the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group in the Middle East. The navy said the Truman would be accompanied by the guided missile destroyers Oscar Austin and Winston S. Churchill as well as the guided missile cruiser San Jacinto and the submarine Montpelier.

Britain and Canada would also join the U.S. strike group, the navy said.

"Observers believe that the spring is the last possible moment for President George W Bush to order military strikes against Iran's nuclear programme," the Telegraph said. "The imminence of America's presidential election may make it impossible for Washington to carry out an attack any later."


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