U.S. Plans to Send 'Floating Commando Base' to Mideast, Documents Show

Washington Post cites military order to hastily convert an aging battleship into a special forces 'mother ship' that could be sent to Persian Gulf.

The United States plans to send a converted battleship to the Middle East that will serve as a "floating base" for commando operations in the region, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Want to know more about U.S. operations in the Mideast? Join Haaretz.com's official Facebook page

USS Ponce - US Navy - 11.10.2011
U.S. Navy

The report comes following recent tensions between Washington and Iran over Iranian threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway in the global distribution of crude oil, if the West goes ahead with threats to target its oil sector with new economic sanctions.

According to the Washington Post report, a naval base in the region could also tackle al-Qaida forces in Yemen as well as Somali pirates that have been plaguing the Horn of Africa.

U.S. military documents obtained by the Washington Post show that the U.S. Navy is working on a warship it had planned to decommission and turning it into what would be a makeshift base for commando operations in the Mideast.

USS Ponce - U.S. Navy
U.S. Navy

The documents indicated that the floating base would be able to facilitate the kind of high-speed boats and helicopters used by U.S. special forces, such as the Navy SEALs.

A spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command declined to elaborate on the Washington Post report. Other Navy officials, however, confirmed that U.S. forces were hastening complete the conversion and send the so-called "mother ship" to the Mideast by early summer.

While the base's destination could not be determined, a market survey proposal from the Military Sealift Command posted online and cited by the Washington Post, stated that the floating base needed to be delivered to the Persian Gulf.

According to the Post report, a rush request by the Military Sealift Command revealed that the navy was seeking to retool the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport ship.

The ship would be modified into what the U.S. army is calling an Afloat Forward Staging Base, which Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka said would be used to support mine-cleaning ships as well as patrol vessels.

Earlier this month, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said hat Tehran had never tried to block the Strait of Hormuz but warned its neighbors against putting themselves in a "dangerous position."

"We want peace and tranquility in the region, but some of the countries in our region, they want to direct other countries 12,000 miles away from this region. I repeat that Iran has never tried to hinder this important route," Salehi, in Turkey on a visit, told Turkey's NTV broadcaster.

"I am calling to all countries in the region, please don't let yourselves be dragged into a dangerous position."

Salehi added the United States should express it is open for negotiations with Tehran without conditions, referring to a letter Iran says it has received from the U.S. government about the Strait of Hormuz situation.

Salehi spoke a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the U.S. military is fully prepared to deal with any threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, adding that no "special steps" were being taken at this point to bolster American forces in the region.

Asked at a Pentagon news briefing whether Iran's threats had prompted a repositioning of U.S. forces in the region, Panetta said: "We are not [taking] any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation."