Report: Pentagon plans floating military base in Mideast

The amphibious assault ship Ponce is seen in this Dec. 2, 2011 file photo. The ship had arrived at Norfolk Naval Station to be decommissioned after a 40-year career. But reports are now coming it that it might be sent to the Mideast as a floating base for commando operations. AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot

As tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear ambitions, the Pentagon is preparing to bring a decommissioned assault ship back into duty for possible deployment to the Mideast

The plan, first reported in the Washington Post, would create a floating base for commando teams who might deployed against Somali pirates, and other threats. The action is also a possible counter move for Iran's continued threats to shut down a key oil pipeline, the Strait of Hormuz.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports the Navy is planning to convert a decommissioned amphibious ship, the Ponce, to be used as the mothership. It is expected to be ready to head to the area by June 1.

The amphibious assault ship Ponce had been scheduled to be decommissioned after a 40-year career. In December, it returned to Norfolk Naval Station for the decommissioning. The Ponce was led by 28 commanding officers, crewed by more than 18,400 sailors, and has transported more than 24,500 Marines.

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Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command, declined to comment on the report to the Washington Post.

The move comes on the same week after a Navy SEAL operation that freed two Western hostages in Somalia. Analysts say such covert operations are representative of the Obama administration's pledge to build a smaller, more agile military force that can carry out surgical counterterrorist strikes to cripple an enemy.

The amphibious assault ship Ponce is seen in this Dec. 2, 2011 file photo. The ship had arrived at Norfolk Naval Station to be decommissioned after a 40-year career. But reports are now coming it that it might be sent to the Mideast as a floating base for commando operations.
The amphibious assault ship Ponce is seen in this Dec. 2, 2011 file photo. The ship had arrived at Norfolk Naval Station to be decommissioned after a 40-year career. But reports are now coming it that it might be sent to the Mideast as a floating base for commando operations.
AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot

That's a strategy much preferred to the land invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost so much American blood and treasure over the past decade. The contrast to a full-bore invasion is stark: A small, daring team storms a pirate encampment on a near-moonless night, kills nine kidnappers and whisks the hostages to safety.

Special operations forces, trained for such clandestine missions, have become a more prominent tool in the military's kit since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Pentagon leaders outlined a plan Thursday for absorbing $487 billion in defense cuts over the coming decade by shrinking U.S. ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter and retiring older planes and ships.

In a bid to pre-empt election-year Republican criticism, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the plan shifts the Pentagon's focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and in cyberspace. More special operations forces like the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden will be available around the world, he said.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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