Exclusive: USS Nimitz carrier group rerouted for possible help with Syria

Sun Sep 1, 2013 6:51pm EDT
 
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its strike group are heading west toward the Red Sea to help support a limited U.S. strike on Syria, if needed, defense officials said on Sunday.

The Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked. It was not immediately clear when the ships would enter the Red Sea, but they had not arrived by Sunday evening, said one official.

"It's about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed," said the official.

President Barack Obama on Saturday delayed imminent cruise missile strikes by five destroyers off the coast of Syria, and sought approval from Congress, a move that effectively put any strike on hold for at least nine days.

The delay gives military planners more time to reassess which ships and other weapons will be kept in the region - and which may be swapped out - before the U.S. military launches what defense officials say is still intended to be a limited and narrowly targeted attack on Syria.

The U.S. Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region. The five destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, officials say.

The Nimitz carrier group had been in the Indian Ocean, supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan, but was due to sail east around Asia to return to its home port in Everett, Washington, after being relieved in recent days by another aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.

Given the situation in Syria, U.S. military officials decided to reroute the Nimitz and send it west toward the Red Sea, and possibly the Mediterranean, officials said.   Continued...

The USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which is currently supplemented by biofuel, sails about 150 miles north of the island of Oahu during the RIMPAC Naval exercises off Hawaii July 18,2012. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry