U.S. Navy replaces Persian Gulf carriers
By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The U.S. Navy said Sunday that it was maintaining a stepped-up military presence in the Persian Gulf by keeping two aircraft carriers in the area amid tensions with Iran.
The USS Nimitz and the ships in its strike group were expected within two days to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, said Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet.
The San Diego, Calif.-based Nimitz will join aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, now on patrol in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
Both carriers, with about 160 aircraft and more than 5,000 sailors and marines between them, are backing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as assisting U.S. inspections of civilian vessels in search of smugglers.
The February arrival of the Bremerton, Wash.-based Stennis marked the first time since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that America had two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region.
Aandahl said most carrier deployments in the Persian Gulf last six to eight months, meaning the U.S. will keep two carriers in the region at least through the summer.
Many see the increased military buildup as a way to impress on Iran that the four-year stay in Iraq has not made America vulnerable.
"It's to tell Iran, we'll continue to monitor you," said Adullah al-Shayji, a security expert at Kuwait University.
The U.S. maintains nearly 40,000 troops in Persian Gulf countries other than Iraq, according to figures from the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.
Arab governments have signaled their unease with the aggressive U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf, fearing any U.S. attack on Iran would bring reprisals against countries that host American bases.
Persian Gulf leaders also remain deeply worried about Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is aimed at bolstering its electricity supply, but Washington suspects is cover for weapons development.
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