Middle East

Sixth US warship enters the eastern Mediterranean as assault on Syria looms

Sixth US warship enters the eastern Mediterranean as assault on Syria looms
The guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage. Photo: REUTERS
Published: August 31, 12:46 PM
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‘History will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye,’ says US’ Kerry

WASHINGTON — A sixth US warship is now operating in the eastern Mediterranean, near five US destroyers armed with cruise missiles that could soon be directed against Syria as part of a “limited, precise” strike, defence officials said late yesterday (Aug 31).

They stressed that the USS San Antonio, an amphibious ship with several hundred US Marines on board, was in the region for a different reason and there were no plans to put Marines on the ground as part of any military action against Syria.

One of the officials said the San Antonio’s passage into the Mediterranean was long-planned, but officials thought it prudent to keep the ship in the eastern Mediterranean near the destroyers given the current situation.

“It’s been kept there as a precaution,” said one of the officials, who was not authorised to speak publicly.

The San Antonio transited through the Suez Canal on Thursday from the Red Sea, and received new orders on Friday to remain in the eastern Mediterranean, near the destroyers, according to defence officials. It is one of three ships that are carrying 2,200 Marines who have been on a six-month deployment in the region around the Arabian peninsula.

The Obama administration released evidence yesterday that it said demonstrated the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians. It made clear on Friday that it would punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the “brutal and flagrant” attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus last week.

“History will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a briefing to reporters at the State Department in Washington.

Officials cautioned the operation under discussion involved a limited, precise set of targets that would be of a short duration, unlike the broader campaign against Libya in March 2011.

The US Navy generally keeps three destroyers in the Mediterranean, but kept two additional destroyers there at the end of their deployments as the situation evolved in Syria over the past week.

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