Warships to Yemen provide US with options, Pentagon says

Obama administration claims move is to protect "free flow of commerce" through the Gulf of Aden, Mandeb Strait.

April 21, 2015 21:51
2 minute read.
US aircraft carrier

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt operates in the Arabian Sea conducting maritime security operations in this US Navy photo taken April 21, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – The US government confirmed reports on Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has been sent to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen.

But reasoning for the ship movement differed as provided by the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, as US military officials acknowledged the movement of an Iranian armada toward the same coast at the same time.

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US officials fear that Iran’s warships may be carrying lethal arms to Shi’ite Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen. The United Nations Security Council recently passed a resolution prohibiting the delivery of arms to the group, which is allegedly funded by Tehran, and is currently under assault by the government in Riyadh.

Pentagon Press Secretary Col. Steve Warren said on Tuesday that Iran’s movement of nine ships toward Aden, a port city now under the control of Houthi fighters, was “certainly one of the factors” in deciding to move the Roosevelt toward the coast.

Before its movement, the Roosevelt had been operating in a different war theater, against Islamic State fighters, from the Arabian Gulf.

“They are there – the Teddy Roosevelt along with other US vessels – in the Gulf of Aden because of the deteriorating security situation in Yemen,” he said, adding that the movement provided the US with “options” as the war progresses.

But at the State Department, acting spokeswoman Marie Harf rejected any connection between the US warship’s movement and Iran’s own activities as “blatantly untrue.”

“This discreet movement of US assets is for a discreet purpose,” Harf told reporters in a daily press briefing. “The purpose is not to do anything in terms of those Iranian ships.”

Previous media reports, which Harf called speculative at best and false at worst, suggested the US might be preparing to board ships under Iranian flags to inspect for weapons shipments.

“I want to be very clear,” Harf repeated. “They are not there to intercept Iranian ships.”

She and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest instead contend that the Roosevelt was repositioned to ensure the “free flow of navigation and commerce” in the gulf and the Mandeb Strait.

The Roosevelt joins eight US warships already positioned in the gulf, alongside forces from India, Saudi Arabia, France and China, among others.

The United States last publicly threatened to board and inspect ships carrying Iranian arms in 2014, when a vessel under a Panama flag was sailing toward Gaza.

Israel volunteered to board the ship, instead, and arrested its crew.

In 2011 and 2012, US President Barack Obama also sent two aircraft carriers through the Straits of Hormuz and into the Arabian Sea in response to threats from Tehran to close the strait, one of the most important waterways in the world for the flow of oil.

As part of Riyadh’s campaign against the Houthis, dubbed “Operation Decisive Storm,” Saudi Arabia has enforced a naval blockade of Yemen’s coast. The Saudi government declared much of that operation complete on Tuesday, but is expected to maintain the blockade.

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