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War games begin in Persian Gulf

The massive exercise by the U.S. is intended as a message to Iran.

March 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS — American warplanes screamed off two aircraft carriers Tuesday as the U.S. Navy staged its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launching a mammoth exercise meant as a message to the Iranians.

The maneuvers involve 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft. Iran has frequently condemned the U.S. military presence off its coast and is in a face-off with the West over its nuclear program and its capture of a British naval team.

Although U.S. commanders would not say when the war games had been planned, they insisted that the exercise was not a direct response to Tehran's seizure of the 15 British sailors and marines last week. At the same time, they made clear that the flexing of the Navy's military might was intended as a warning.

"If there is strong presence, then it sends a clear message that you better be careful about trying to intimidate others," said Capt. Bradley Johanson, commander of the Stennis.

"Iran has adopted a very escalatory posture with the things that they have done," he added.

The exercise began four days after Iranian forces detained the Britons, asserting that they were in Iranian waters near the northern end of the gulf. U.S. and British officials say the team was properly searching cargo vessels in Iraqi waters.

The carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower also took part in the drills.

At the headquarters of the Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the maneuvers would last several days. He said U.S. warships would stay out of Iran's waters.

A French naval strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, was operating just outside the gulf in the Arabian Sea. But the French ships were supporting North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan and not taking part in the U.S. maneuvers, Aandahl said.

It is the first time two U.S. aircraft carriers have operated in the gulf since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Aandahl said.

Each carrier includes an air wing of F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet fighter-bombers, EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft, S-3 Viking refueling and antisubmarine planes, and E-2C Hawkeye airborne command-and-control aircraft.

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