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Second carrier group sought for Gulf region

Seen as warning to Syria and Iran

WASHINGTON -- The US command responsible for Middle East operations has asked the Pentagon to add a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf region as a warning to Syria and Iran and to help it carry out other operations, a senior defense official said yesterday.

The war-fighting Central Command wants the carrier strike group and its warplanes by the end of March for "deterrence" and to increase "flexibility," including for potential noncombat operations, said the official who asked not be to be named.

"It gives them [the Central Command] the flexibility to move around," she said. "And it does send a message."

No final decision on the matter has been made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Defense Department, which must approve it, the official added.

The request from Central Command chief General John Abizaid is now under review by the joint staff and Navy "to determine the best way to meet the requirements," she said. It is expected to reach the chairman of the joint chiefs, Marine General Peter Pace, by the end of this week.

In a report today, The New York Times cited Pentagon and military officials as saying that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to approve the request for the second carrier this week.

The Times also said the British Navy was planning to add two mine-hunting vessels to its ships that already are part of the international coalition patrolling waters in the Persian Gulf.

CBS News reported Monday that a projected naval buildup was intended to discourage what US officials view as increasingly provocative acts by Tehran as it presses its nuclear program and support for Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

Syria was also a factor in the request, the official told Reuters, "in the vein of deterrence." In addition, the Central Command considered it useful for dealing with possible contingencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

"Iran and Syria are undermining the government of Iraq's political process by providing both active and passive support to anti government and anti-Coalition forces," the Defense Department said in its latest quarterly report to Congress, released Monday.

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