US to send 'mothership' to Middle East
The United States amphibious assault ship USS Ponce sails through the Suez Canal in March 2011 (file photo).
The US military plans to deploy a large floating base, unofficially dubbed the “mothership,” for commando teams to the Middle East amid recent developments in the region.
The Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos in response to requests from the US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.
The floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by the United States Navy's Sea, Air, and Land Teams, commonly known as Navy SEALs.
Lieutenant Commander Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command, declined to elaborate on the floating base's purpose or to say where exactly it will be deployed in the Middle East.
There are indications that the Pentagon will send the vessel to the region by early summer, and Navy documents show that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf.
The deployment of the floating base to the Middle East marks a return to maritime missions for SEAL teams, who have been engaged in ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade.
The US Navy had earlier planned to retire the amphibious assault ship USS Ponce and decommission it in March 2012 after 41 years of service. The warship was sent to the Mediterranean Sea last year to provide military support to NATO air strikes on Libya.
The USS Ponce will be instead transformed into what the US military calls an Afloat Forward Staging Base.