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.
The United Nations' International Labour Organization rarely creates this type of probe, known as a Commission of Inquiry. The last case was launched against Zimbabwe in 2008.
Terrorist group still appears to maintain ‘sleeper cells’ in parts of Iraq, including Saladin, Diyala
Trump seeks more funding from kingdom; says 'they're going to give the United States some of that wealth'
Trump told reporters at the White House he had spoken with Putin, two days after the Russian strongman sailed to a fourth term as president, and with ties strained by the Cold War-style intrigue over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain.
At least seven others injured in attack near border with Colombia, army says
Terrorists were plotting attack, says Turkish military
The rare Senate vote addressing American war powers aims to shut down US military involvement in Yemen within a month unless Congress formally authorizes continued involvement.
The meeting of the world's leading economies in Buenos Aires comes days before US tariffs on steel and aluminum are due to come into force on Friday for all countries except Canada and Mexico.
Meeting cancelled after Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Bolivia voted ‘no’
'Despite the oppression they face, Iranians are fighting to reclaim their rights,' U.S. president says
Nearly 800 FARC militants assumed to be in Guaviare district where air force carried out strike
Two civilians and one security officer dead, another two officers wounded
Elor Azaria, who killed an injured and unarmed Palestinian in 2016, is now set for release on May 10
The French Embassy in Tel Aviv says it was taking the case 'very seriously'
The ISIL terrorist was responsible for taking by force houses of security members in Mosul