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
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
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