MANAMA (AFP) -A second US aircraft carrier has arrived in Middle Eastern waters as promised by US President George W. Bush in January amid an escalating crisis with nearby Iran over its nuclear programme.
The USS John C. Stennis and its accompanying strike group joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Sea of Oman but has not yet entered Gulf waters, the US Fifth Fleet said Tuesday from its base in Manama.
The Stennis “entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations… to conduct maritime security operations in regional waters, as well as to provide support for ground forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said a US statement.
Bush on January 10 unveiled his new strategy for Iraq which included deploying a second aircraft carrier group and a Patriot anti-missile defence system “to reassure our friends and allies.”
Washington accuses arch-foe Tehran of stoking the insurgency in Iraq and of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, charges denied by the Islamic republic.
Days after Bush’s announcement, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the Stennis’s redeployment was a signal to Iran, which, he said, has a “very negative” attitude.
Iran has also been carrying out military exercises in the region, including test-firing missiles and building drones that military commanders boasted could hit the US Navy.
The White House has repeatedly insisted it has no plans to strike Iran, and downplayed the significance of reinforcing the US military presence in the Gulf region.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the US military build-up in the Gulf, saying it did not fit in with Washington’s Iraq strategy.