World Bulletin/News Desk
A U.S. navy ship that had been slated for decommissioning has been sent instead to the Gulf to help mine-clearing operations, the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain said, the latest move in a gradual U.S. build-up as tensions with Iran smoulder.
A fleet spokesman in Manama said the USS Ponce, described as a "afloat forward staging base" (AFSB), had arrived on Thursday after undergoing refitting for its new mission.
"Ponce's primary mission is to support mine countermeasures operations and other missions, such as the ability to provide repair service to other deployed units," the spokesman said in a statement. "Additionally, Ponce also has the capability to embark and launch small riverine craft."
Vice Admiral John Miller, commander of regional navy forces, said the Ponce boasted "enhanced capability to conduct maritime security operations, and gives us greater flexibility to support a wide range of contingencies with our regional partners".
Four U.S. minesweepers arrived in the Gulf last month to bolster the Fifth Fleet and ensure the safety of shipping routes in a waterway through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports flow.
They arrived amid a flaring war of nerves between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear energy programme and Iranian threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, the slender oil shipping channel out of the Gulf, in retaliation for a new European Union ban on its oil exports.
The four minesweepers were ticketed for a seven-month deployment in an area of operations that includes the Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Tensions have simmered in the Gulf with big-power diplomacy to ease the nuclear dispute at an impasse and Israel renewing veiled threats to attack Iran from the air if sanctions and negotiations fail to curb Iran's nuclear advances.
A string of hawkish Iranian statements - including a renewed threat to close the Strait and destroy U.S. bases in the region "within minutes" of an attack - over the past week helped thrust benchmark Brent crude oil prices above $100 for the first time since June.
Iran has repeatedly warned of reprisals for any Israeli or U.S.-led strike on its nuclear installations.
Ground fighting and air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition killed 12 rebels in Daleh province, military sources say; four loyalists were also killed
Declaration comes after the head of International Atomic Energy Agency said a report into the possible military dimensions of Iran's activities would not be 'black and white'
'There was a slight intrusion a mile deep by a Russian plane from Syria into our airspace, but it was immediately resolved and the Russian plane returned towards Syria,' Israeli defense minister says
Protest by the kingdom appeared to refer to remarks posted on Khamenei's Twitter account accusing Bahrain's 'tyrant minority' of 'desecrating' things sacred to the Shiite majority
Policemen died when the assailants fired on their vehicle in an area between the famed Giza pyramids west of Cairo and the Saqarra pyramids to the south
A new oil contract will replace a buy back programme and new joint ventures with international companies once the sanctions are lifted next year
At least five Russian airstrikes have targeted humanitarian aid trucks coming from Turkey to aid Syrian refugees in the past two days
Turkmen factions have launched a ground offiensive and have made noticable advances against Assad regime forces
Israeli Foreign Ministry director visits United Arab Emirates' capital Adu Dhabi to finalize opening of mission
Five people are killed when Russian warplanes strike targets in opposition-held area of Syria's northwestern Idlib province
At least 180,879 civilians have been killed by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria since March 2011, Syrian Network for Human Rights says
Saudi Arabia has long been deeply suspicious of Hezbollah, a close ally of its regional rival Iran
Thousands of Turkmen reportedly displaced by ongoing assaults by regime and Russian warplanes in Syria's predominantly-Turkmen Bayirbucak region
A dozen people killed in separate bombings and shooting attacks across war-torn Iraq, local sources report
'Next week, I expect to provide my final assessment on all past and present outstanding issues,' International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano says
Syrian Network for Human Rights says 20,000 women have been killed in the Syrian conflict, wıth almost 95 percent of them by Assad regime