Sources: Fifth Fleet abandons base in Bahrain; Navy denies evacuation underway
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 E-Mail this story Free Headline Alerts
ABU DHABI — The U.S. Navy has begun to vacate its facilities in Bahrain, diplomatic sources said. However a statement by the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command denied that an evacuation was underway.
Western diplomatic sources said many or most of the navy's Fifth Fleet has left Manama. They said many of the U.S. naval personnel were transferred to Oman, where a naval exercise was taking place.
"There is a skeleton crew left," a diplomatic source said.
The sources said only several hundred U.S. Navy personnel were left at Fifth Fleet headquarters, Middle East Newsline reported. They said U.S. warships were no longer patrolling the coast of Bahrain.
The statement by the Fifth Fleet Public Affairs Office said that while the departure of family members and "non-essential civiliar personnel living in Bahrain" had been authorized, operations "at U.S. Fifth Fleet and NSA Bahrain remain normal, and U.S. service members and family members are not being evacuated."
The sources said the administration of President Barack Obama appeared to be preparing for the collapse of the Sunni kingdom in Bahrain. They said Washington does not intend to protect the regime of King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa.
"The Americans have written off Bahrain and are believed to be working out some arrangement with the Iranians that will protect the Americans from the mobs," the source said.
As late as 2010, the Fifth Fleet based about 3,000 personnel in Bahrain. The fleet had conducted exercises to respond to a mass-casualty insurgency strike by Al Qaida or Iran, but the sources said did not envision the current Shi'ite unrest.
On March 12, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain to review the security situation and the American naval presence in the Gulf Cooperation Council state. The sources said Gates warned Bahraini leaders not to use U.S. weapons to quell the Shi'ite protests.
"Gates said the U.S. equipment was meant to counter external threats and hinted that if Bahrain violates this, then Washington could block aid," the source said.
On Feb. 25, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the Fifth Fleet and was briefed on security arrangments. Mullen was told of security operations by the Marine Corps.