By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
May 1, 2008 - The presence of two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, interpreted by some as an indication of an imminent attack on Iran, is just a routine rotation, two senior military officers told Pentagon reporters here yesterday. "Obviously, we're constantly rotating our forces, including the maritime forces. So it's not particularly unusual to have two carriers in the CentCom area of responsibility," said Army Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Joint Chiefs of Staff director for operations. CentCom is the U.S. Central Command, with headquarters in Tampa, Fla., which overseas operations in the Middle East.
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln recently joined the USS Harry Truman in the gulf. Ham said the two ships would conduct routine operations over a one- to two-day period.
Having two carriers operating close together in that part of the world is not unusual, Ham pointed out, noting the ships can practice joint mission tactics and procedures. "So, again, I wouldn't read more into this than there is," Ham said. "It is two carriers deployed for a very, very short period of time for those purposes."
Although the Pentagon makes plans for possible contingencies, there has been no heightened activity for a military campaign against Iran, Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, who accompanied Ham at the news conference, told reporters. Sattler is the Joint Chief's director for strategic plans and policies.
There has been "no order or stepped-up effort to plan anywhere, and I'll just leave it at that," he emphasized.
The generals' statements mirrored recent comments by Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, who was accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during an official visit to Mexico City. "Let me make this abundantly clear," Morrell told reporters in Mexico's capital yesterday. "There are no new directives, no new plans in the works, no efforts to plan for a possible war with Iran."
The United States is focusing on using diplomatic and economic tools to persuade the Iranian regime to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs, Morrell said.
Iran is still suspected of aiding illegal militias operating in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City sector and in some other areas of Iraq, Ham said, despite a declared commitment by the Iranians to stem the flow of insurgent fighters and military material from Iran into Iraq.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also believes the best way to modify Iran's behavior toward Iraq "is not through military means," Ham said. -