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.
Nearly 2,500 Palestinian pilgrims expected to cross terminal during two-day period
Extremist group takes responsibility for Monday’s deadly car-bombing that left at least 10 dead in Iraq's Basra province
Opposition groups call Russian intervention in Syria tantamount to ‘occupation’ of country
Russian warplanes have bombed targets in and around the Syrian city of Palmyra in Moscow's first strikes against the ISIL group-controlled area
Meeting comes after Israeli PM and Russian president held talks last month related to Syria
Gen.Secretary Ban Ki-moon calls for Iran to exercise its influence in promoting a political solution
Cluster bombs, banned by over 100 countries are being used by the Russian army on civilians in Syria.
State-run council denies any 'systematic torture' at notorious Al-Aqrab prison
'Prime Minister Khaled Bahah is in good health and was not harmed,' says Nayef al-Bakri, the minister of youth and sports
Stephane Dujarric urges world powers to focus on finding political solution to Syrian conflict
'This is the time to have massive support for these countries, benefiting both refugees and host communities,' UN's Guterres says
Peace and stability can only be brought in Syria through regime change, says Erdogan
Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria last week in major escalation of its ongoing support for Assad regime
German foreign ministry also stresses that Berlin sees no military solution to Syrian conflict
Ashton Carter says by carrying out bombing in Syria, Russia had only worsened the four-year conflict
Group’s assertions come following Russian airstrikes in Syria, which Moscow says target the Daesh militant group