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Bahrain protests a worry for US and its fifth fleet

American naval presence in the Gulf is headquartered in the capital, Manama, where deadly clashes are taking place
The Guardian
17 February 2011
Mark Tran
The US will be watching developments in Bahrain anxiously as it is the headquarters of the US navy's fifth fleet, which operates at least one aircraft carrier in the Gulf at all times, along with an amphibious group of ships with marines aboard.
The fleet's presence is aimed at ensuring the free flow of oil through the Gulf, as well as monitoring Iran and deterring piracy.
US navy officials have said there is no sign that crowds intend to direct their hostility toward the roughly 4,200 service members who live and work there.
"The protests are not directed at the US military presence," Jennifer Stride, a spokeswoman for US Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain, told the Stars and Stripes, the official paper of the US armed forces. The protests were not taking place in the vicinity of the naval base, she said.
NSA Bahrain occupies 24 hectares (60 acres) in the centre of Manama, the capital. It has 2,250 personnel and civilians who live off the base. There are no plans to withdraw them to the base.
Bahrain has been the headquarters of US naval activity in the Gulf since 1948, with the fifth fleet's area of responsibility covering the Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, parts of the Indian Ocean and several important shipping lanes. During the 1991 Gulf war US and Bahraini aircraft flew thousands of sorties against Iraq. At the start of the Afghanistan war Bahrain provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for US aircraft, and the Bahrain monetary agency moved quickly to restrict funds controlled by suspected terrorists.
In 2003, Bahrain was named by George Bush as a major non-Nato ally. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Manama in December, called Bahrain "a model partner", not only for the US but other countries in the region.
"I am impressed by the commitment that the government has to the democratic path that Bahrain is walking on," Clinton said. "It takes time; we know that from our own experience. There are obstacles and difficulties along the way. But America will continue working with you to promote a vigorous civil society and to ensure that democracy, human rights and civil liberties are protected by the rule of law."
Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
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| Ander Nieuws week 8 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |