Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde to the Persian Gulf Monday to provide U.S. commanders with additional strike options should President Obama order military action in Iraq.
The USS Mesa Verde is carrying 550 Marines along with five MV-22 Ospreys and several land craft air cushions (LCACs) on board offering heavy vertical-lift and logistical transport support to the region along with the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush.
"We routinely operate in the region. It is prudent for us to be prepared. We can't speculate on what she (USS Mesa Verde) may be called upon to do," a Pentagon official said.
In a recent speech, Obama ruled out the potential use of ground troops to quell the rise of violent Islamic militants who have taken over territories in parts of Iraq and continue to attack the U.S.-trained Iraqi Security Forces.
The Marines on board are from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"They give the combatant commander a sea-based expeditionary force that can be used for a range of missions," a defense official said.
For example, if there are evacuations ordered for U.S. personnel still based in Iraq, the USS Mesa Verde and its Ospreys could provide critical assistance.
The Mesa Verde is part of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, in February and is operating in the region on a routine deployment to support maritime security operations. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, confirmed the Mesa Verde has completed its transit through the Strait of Hormuz.
The amphibious transport dock ship "provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them," Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
The Mesa Verde has a well-deck and several LCACs to support ship to shore amphibious operations, although those are seen as less likely after Obama said he would not send additional ground combat troops to Iraq.
"USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations," Kirby said.
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