05 Nov 2010

The Ships Were Already Nearby

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There was pushback from the Pentagon press office, and in a piece by Jonathan Weisman in a Wall Street Journal blog, pooh pooh’ing yesterday’s report from two major Indian media outlets, the Press Trust of India (PTI) and New Dehli Television (NDTV), that an entire US carrier group of 35 ships had been dispatched to hover off Mumbai to inderdict sea lanes and potentially provide air cover for the presidential visit.

The Pentagon press officer characterized the reports in the Indian media as absurd.

I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy — some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier — in support of the president’s trip to Asia,” said Morrell at today’s Pentagon briefing. “That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.”

The US Navy does not provide on the Internet direct indications of the present location of US carrier groups. But general news reports indicate that at the present time there are, in fact, two US carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in the US 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility.

Thus, 20% of the American carrier force was already in the neighborhood.

It would not be completely surprising if one of the two groups was tasked in addition to its normal duties with operating special patrols looking for terrorist ship traffic approaching Mumbai and assigned air patrol duties in connection with the Obama visit.

Wikipedia says: “On October 17, 2010, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) arrived off the coast of Pakistan to support the coalition troop surge in landlocked Afghanistan”

If you have a carrier group “off the coast of Pakistan,” it is indeed in a suitable position to interdict the sea lanes off Mumbai and to provide air support in the region of that city.

How reasonable presidential security measures are, and how justifiable their cost, is inevitably a matter of opinion. A recent video taken in Seattle during a campaign visit just before the recent election by President Obama gives some indication of the scale of ordinary domestic security measures. Watch the video and tell me you don’t think they’d put a carrier group on alert.

Theo Spark labels this video “Obama Goes for Pizza,” but the French source merely says that Obama Has Quite an Escort.

The video’s British title, referring to going for pizza, like the Indian press reports, may feature an element of exaggeration in phraseology. Obama may simply have been traveling anywhere in Seattle or leaving for the airport. The carrier and its 34 escort ships were clearly already somewhere not terribly far away.

But all you have to do is look at the video and read about the tunnel and the removal of coconuts and you know that, give or take a shade of self-indulgent reportorial emphasis, the substance of the story was not wrong.

Obama didn’t “take” a carrier group with him. It was already in the general area, but New Dehli and Mumbai are not Republican strongholds. The Indian media has no dog in domestic American political fights, and if they felt moved to poke fun at the scale and expense of security measures going on in their own backyard for the presidential visit, their reaction was not partisan or contrived. They really were amused.

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