16 February 2011

Unrest in MidEast to Affect US More Directly?

One place to pay attention during the current uprisings, Bahrain - home to 5th Fleet and CENTCOM Forward.

Unrest surging through the Arab world has so far taken no toll on the American military. But that could change if revolt washes over the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain — longtime home to the U.S. Navy's mighty 5th Fleet and arguably the Middle East anchor of U.S. defense strategy.
The discontent that has spilled into the streets of Bahrain's capital, Manama, this week features no anti-American sentiment, but the U.S. has a lot at stake in preserving its dominant naval presence in the Gulf.
In announcing that it is "very concerned" about violence linked to the protests, the State Department on Tuesday underscored Bahrain's strategic importance as a U.S. partner.
"The United States welcomes the government of Bahrain's statements that it will investigate these deaths, and that it will take legal action against any unjustified use of force by Bahraini security forces," said department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We urge that it follow through on these statements as quickly as possible."
The 5th Fleet operates at least one aircraft carrier in the Gulf at all times, along with an "amphibious ready group" of ships with Marines aboard. Their presence is central to a longstanding U.S. commitment to ensuring the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping an eye on a hostile Iran and seeking to deter piracy in the region.
Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast defense specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bahrain has security services capable of handling protesters and potentially backed by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of banner-waving protesters took over a main square in Manama Tuesday in a bold attempt to copy Egypt's uprising. The demonstrations capped two days of clashes that left at least two people dead, and the king made a rare address on national television to offer condolences for the bloodshed.
"It is a serious problem, but whether it's going to flare up any more seriously this time than all the other times is hard to say," Cordesman said. "The question is whether they can shake the security structure of the state."
The implications for U.S. foreign policy and national security from the pro-democracy movements that have arisen in the Arab world — highlighted by Egypt's stunning revolution — is likely to be a topic Wednesday when Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.
Bahrain became a more prominent partner for the Pentagon after the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq; since then it has granted U.S. forces increased access, plus permission to store wartime supplies for future crises.

By: Brant

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