US carrier moves from Gulf to back up Afghan operations

WASHINGTON (AFP) A US aircraft carrier has moved to the Arabian Sea to support military operations in Afghanistan, leaving the Gulf without a carrier, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The shift by the USS Abraham Lincoln over the weekend comes amid stepped up insurgent violence in Afghanistan where US combat casualties have been on the rise even as they have dropped sharply in Iraq.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the move was ordered by the acting chief of the US Central Command, General Martin Dempsey.

"I think he felt that providing some additional combat support in Afghanistan was something he could do without any cost to the mission in Iraq," Gates told reporters during a visit to Fort Lewis, Washington.

Gates denied that it signalled an escalation of the US military effort in Afghanistan, but acknowledged that the violence there has grown in intensity.

"And I think it's just part of our commitment to ensure that we have the resources available to be successful in Afghanistan over the long haul," he said.

Last week, the Pentagon announced it would extend what was supposed to have been a seven month deployment of some 2,200 marines who are fighting with NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.

The marines were supposed to be out in October, but will now leave a month later in November.

June was the bloodiest month for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, with 49 dead. In Iraq, 31 foreign troops, including 29 Americans, were killed during the same period, according to icasualties.org.

A US Navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, emphasized that the repositioning of the Abraham Lincoln was unrelated to tensions with Iran, which Tuesday announced that the Revolutionary Guard forces were kicking off a new round of war games.

"This is not a move in preparation for an attack on Iran. We're simply repositioning the capabilities to support the commanders on the ground down there," the official said.

The operations in Afghanistan and Iraq "are extremely dynamic and sometimes we have to adjust the posture of forces so we can we can take advantage of certain opportunities that are there," the official said.


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