U.S. warplanes from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower have already flown intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia while their aircraft carrier deploys off the wartorn African nation's coast, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The U.S. military sent the USS Eisenhower to join three other U.S. warships conducting anti-terror operations off the coast of Somalia, and planes from the carrier have begun flying over the country, said U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown in Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based.
The development places U.S. warplanes until recently flying missions over Afghanistan directly along the coast of Somalia in case "the situation should require air power," the Navy said.
Brown said he did not know how long the redeployment would last. "We'll be there as long as required," he told The Associated Press.
The announcement came after U.S. warplanes launched a strike against several suspected members of Al Qaeda in Somalia on Monday. The U.S. military could not immediately comment on whether Eisenhower-based warplanes took part in these attacks.
Soldiers loyal to Somalia's U.N.-backed government and Ethiopia's military late last month drove out a radical Islamic group that had been in control of the country for six months.
"Due to rapidly developing events in Somalia," the U.S. Central Command sent the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean coastal waters of Somalia, the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet announced in a prepared release.
Brown said the Eisenhower will join the guided missile cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Anzio and the amphibious landing ship USS Ashland, which are patrolling the Somali coast in search of Al Qaeda members thought to be fleeing Somalia in the wake of Ethiopia's December invasion.
Navy crews aboard the Bunker Hill, Anzio and Ashland have been halting, boarding and searching commercial ships off the Somali coast, Brown said. No terror suspects have been found aboard any of the ships, he said.
"That's a sign that what we're doing is working," Brown said. "We're trying to deter the terrorists from using the sea. If we haven't detained anyone, that shows us that it's working."
The four warships fall under command of U.S. Rear Adm. Al Myers, aboard the Eisenhower, and are not under part of the multinational task force conducting anti-piracy and anti-terrorism operations in the region, Brown said.
The Eisenhower was sent from the Arabian Sea, where its compliment of F/A-18 Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft and E-2C Hawkeye airborne command-and-control craft had been operating over Afghanistan, Brown said. The Eisenhower also carries H-60 helicopters.
"The addition of Eisenhower to Navy ships already operating in international waters off the coast of Somalia is a prudent step that enhances the (maritime security operations) capabilities that are being employed to deter individuals with links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations the use of the sea as an escape route," the Navy said.
The Eisenhower's air wing's capabilities includes command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance, aerial refueling, and precision bombing "that can support emergent contingency operations if the situation should require air power," the Navy said.