Repositioning Some Forces for Libya – Carrier Moved Back to Red Sea

By Kristina

Feb 28, 2011 12:23pm

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:

Update at 5:29pm ET: ABC News has learned that the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge in the Red Sea is expected  to transit soon through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, putting it closer to Libya, put more options on the table for President Obama

U.S. officials said the repositioning of the Navy ship puts it in position for a potential "show of force" to the Ghadafi regime.

The USS Kearsarge has helicopters and harrier jets aboard, as well as a complement of around 700 Marines from the 26th MEU – Marine Expeditionary Unit. 

It had a larger complement of Marines aboard, but the majority of the marines from the 26th MEU  were diverted to Afghanistan a month ago. 

The movement of the USS Kearsarge into the Mediterranean is part of the repositioning  of forces described below.  One US official says it’s all about giving the President options.  No decisions have been made about what role the ship will play off the coast of Libya.

However, one phrase being used is that it could be seen as a  “show of force” to the Qaddafi regime.

Original Post at 12:23pm ET: DOD spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters this morning that U.S. military planners are working on contingency planning for whatever options might be needed with respect to Libya that includes repositioning some forces in the region.  

Lapan said that as part of that planning, the Pentagon is repositioning some naval and air forces in the area to provide flexibility for options.  He says it’s just planning in case they’re needed for a “full range of options.”  He added, “those forces can be used in any number of ways,  repositioning provides that flexibility that so they can be used if needed.”

ABC News has learned from US officials that as part of that planning late last week the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise re-entered the Red Sea, but it has not been given orders to transit back through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea.   The US also has military assets in the Mediterranean region, but Lapan would not provide specifics about what is there right now.

The carrier had just transited through the canal a few weeks ago from the Mediterranean on its way to serve a six month deployment in the Centcom area.   Its first action was to assist with the pirate attack on the yacht S/V Quest.   When that incident ended in the deaths of four Americans, the ship was located south of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.  The 15 pirates detained in that incident and the remains of the four Americans were taken aboard the carrier. 

The remains were taken to Djibouti for transportation back to the US, the pirates remain aboard the carrier.

US officials say that late last week,  the carrier transited through the strait of water separating Yemen and Djibouti and re-entered the Red Sea.  It has remained there since then awaiting further orders which it has not received.

A US official says the carrier could potentially carry out several missions including the enforcement of a No-Fly zone or a humanitarian mission.  Carrying out either mission would be made easier if was stationed  off the waters of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea, but officials say it could also remain in the Red Sea and carry out those missions from there if the US obtains overflight permissions.  

The carrier has not received any further orders other than to remain in the Red Sea.

So far the United Nations and NATO have not decided to enforce a No-Fly Zone over Libya after reports that the Libyan Air Force was targeting civilian targets in eastern Libya held by anti-Qaddafi rebels.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week in an interview that the Italians or French might be in a better position to put in assets more quickly than the US if a No-Fly Zone had to be enforced. 

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