WASHINGTON // The US Department of Defence yesterday denied reports that it was considering moving its Fifth Fleet from Bahrain.
A spokesman, via e-mail, said there are no intentions to move the fleet and that reports suggesting otherwise "do not reflect the views of the Defence Department."
A report in The Times newspaper in London yesterday said the US administration was mulling relocating the fleet in part because its continued presence in Manama could be seen as condoning the government crackdown on opposition parties.
The move, according to an unnamed source quoted by the newspaper, was first raised in February, when demonstrations gathered force. The idea has gained ground in recent months. The US military is reported to be against a move allegedly promoted by the US State Department.
However, a State Department official yesterday also denied the report, saying the US has "no intention to relocate the Fifth Fleet".
There is no obvious alternative to Bahrain as the fleet's host in the short term. In The Times's report, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar were touted as the most likely alternatives, though it would take years before either had ports equipped to host a fleet of the size currently based in Manama.
The fleet comprises some 30 vessels and 16,000 US Navy personnel. It operates in the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa.
It patrols oil shipping lanes considered crucial to US interests, functions as a staging point for conflicts in the region and has been involved in identifying suspected terrorist targets in the region. It also is involved in combating piracy.
Bahrain has been considered an important US ally for years. A US navy base was first established there in 1971, immediately after the country gained independence.
But the presence of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain has been a source of criticism in the US since February, when demonstrations calling for greater political freedoms erupted in the kingdom.