U.S. Navy ships move closer to Lebanon

Mike Mount
CNN
Friday, February 29, 2008

The U.S. Navy has moved the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The deployment comes amid a political standoff over Lebanon's presidency, but the Navy would not say whether the events are linked.

"It's a group of ships that will operate in the vicinity for a while and as the ships in our Navy do, the presence is important," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.

"It isn't meant to send any stronger signal than that," he said. "But it does signal that we're engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that's a very important part of the world."

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The Cole was badly damaged by an al Qaeda bombing during a port call in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors. It returned to service in 2002.

The destroyer and two support ships are close to Lebanon but out of visual range of the coast, Pentagon officials said. Another six vessels, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau, are close to Italy and steaming toward the other three, the officials said.

Mullen would not say whether the deployment has anything to do with the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary vote on a new president, which was postponed for a 15th time earlier this week. But he said the vote was "important," and Washington was waiting for it to take place.

Full article here.

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