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February 3, 2012 12:32 pm

The 5th Fleet: Inside the U.S. Armada That Will Check Iran

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Aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and USS John C. Stennis sail in formation during a turnover of responsibility in the Arabian Sea. Photo: US Navy Central Command

The United States Fifth Fleet is currently responsible for naval operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea, following a long line of U.S. naval operations in the Middle East.  Due to the international pressures facing Iran over its nuclear program, and the threat of confrontation over its continuation, The Algemeiner found it timely to inform its readership about the world’s most substantial deterrent against immediate Iranian backlash following a unilateral or multi-lateral strike – the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

From 1950 until 1971 – the year Bahrain gained its independence – the U.S. Navy leased office space from the British naval complex in Juffair, and following the British departure, extensive new base facilities were constructed in Bahrain, including a 128,144-square-foot, $25 million complex completed in January of 2004 by the U.S. Navy.

The Fifth Fleet was formally reactivated on July 1, 1995, almost 50 years after it’s deactivation in 1947.

It is usually comprised of at least one Carrier Strike Group equipped with ships and aircraft, with approximately 25,000 people serving afloat and 3,000 support personnel ashore. At the time of publication, there are two aircraft carriers operating within the Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR).

The USS Abraham Lincoln arrived in the AOR on January 19, 2012, escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George, two US destroyers, a British frigate and a French vessel. It joined the USS Carl Vinson which had been in the theater since January 9, 2012.

Prior to its arrival in the Gulf,  Iranian army chief Ataollah Salehi threatened military action if a US carrier returned to the area saying “I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf. … We are not in the habit of warning more than once”.  The USS Abraham Lincoln arrived without incident after Iran backed away from the earlier threat.

Both ships, the Abraham Lincoln and the Carl Vinson are Nimitz-class super-carriers which displace more than 100,000 tons of water, carry approximately 6000 crew and 90 aircraft. The corpse of Osama Bin Laden was buried at sea in May 2011 from the deck of the USS Carl Vinson.

Historically, the U.S. has engaged Iran off its shores.  During the Iran-Iraq war several United States’ warships and merchant ships were damaged by Iranian sea mines and were fired upon. In response the U.S. Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis on April 18, 1988, destroying half of Iran’s operational navy. When the Iran-Iraq war ended, U.S. Naval forces along with European and Arabian Gulf allies, accomplished the mission of protecting vital gulf tanker traffic. These types of operations would be heavily supported by the Fifth Fleet.

Recently, despite rising tensions between Iran and the United States, the Fifth Fleet rescued 4 Iranian civilian vessels in distress so far in 2012. Following these events, the two aircraft carriers are expected to “simultaneously conduct operations in different areas of the AOR, to adequately provide support operations requirements and other security commitments in the region.”

In the event of an Iranian blockade of major shipping routes through the Strait of Hormuz, the United States and its allies would consider it to be a breach of international law which guarantees rights of passage. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the strait is the “most important choke-point” for the world’s oil tankers.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet is responsible for maintaining the stability of that choke-point.

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