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As Syria crisis fades, U.S. ships remain within striking distance

Oct. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sailors from the aircraft carrier Nimitz participate in a search-and-rescue drill in the Red Sea last month. The ship is in its seventh month of deployment.
Sailors from the aircraft carrier Nimitz participate in a search-and-rescue drill in the Red Sea last month. The ship is in its seventh month of deployment. (MC3 Raul Moreno Jr. / Navy)
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The simmering Syrian crisis is driving fleet operations higher as a strike force of two flattops and 11 ships stand by in case the disarming of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons breaks down.

The Navy has amassed and maintained a considerable flotilla in the five weeks since the crisis first broke. The threat of imminent strikes brought Syria and its international partner, Russia, to the negotiating table and led to the present agreement, where United Nations weapons experts oversee the destruction of chemical weapons caches.

With the strikes no longer imminent, the Navy has sent home ships that had been close to the end of their deployment, while still leaving a sizable force nearby. Indeed, the crisis has ticked the fleet’s operations pace temporarily higher, with two carriers patrolling in or near 5th Fleet — a pace that has strained the fleet in recent years.

The aircraft carrier Nimitz is patrolling the Red Sea in its seventh month of deployment, while four of its escorts are headed home: the cruiser Princeton and destroyers William P. Lawrence, Stockdale and Shoup. Nimitz is now escorted by the cruiser San Jacinto and destroyer Mason, said a defense official, adding that the aircraft carrier’s deployment was extended “for the foreseeable future.”

Five ships — the destroyers Barry, Gravely, Ramage and Stout, and the amphibious transport dock San Antonio — remain in the Mediterranean.

The aircraft carrier Truman is patrolling the North Arabian Sea along with the cruiser Gettysburg and destroyer Bulkeley.

Big-deck amphibs are also in the region and ready. The amphibious assault ship Kearsarge — which has elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as does the San Antonio — is in the Red Sea, and Boxer is expected to enter 5th Fleet this weekend.

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