Erdogan is urging US and NATO help to halt the Syrian-Russian offensive in Idlib, and elsewhere Libya is also turning into a full-blown major conflict involving external powers, notably also Turkey which is providing military support to Tripoli against Gen. Haftar’s offensive. Turkey and Syria are currently downing each other’s aircraft over Idlib province in a major escalation.
And now the Marine Traffic maritime information portal has identified along with other international reports that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (or “Ike”) crossed through the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea late Friday into Saturday, accompanied by multiple support ships.
So far the White House has remained cool toward pledging military support to Turkey, however, if the carrier strike group eventually moves closer to the Syrian coast this week, it could be a worrisome sign of Washington’s intent to once again get involved militarily against Russia and the Syrian Army.
This also as Russia’s Interfax news agency reported additional Russian warships currently en route to the eastern Mediterranean, including the frigate “Admiral Makarov” and “Admiral Grigorovich” which have consistently participated in operations off the Syrian coast.
The US carrier group’s movements are ostensibly in support of a large US-European military exercise, being described as the first of its kind since the Cold War.
The following ships passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea last night
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower(CVN-69)
USS San Jacinto(CG-56)
USS James E. Williams(DDG-95)
USNS Robert E. Peary(T-AKE-5) pic.twitter.com/xCDbZJOLm7
— Nick Morse (@n_morse9927) February 29, 2020
The strike group’s main role thus far was to clear a path through the “contested” Atlantic for a group of cargo ships en route to Europe.
Business Insider described the joint naval build-up as follows:
The Defender-Europe 2020 exercise will be the largest deployment of US-based forces to Europe in 25 years, with some 20,000 soldiers deploying from the US to join another 17,000 troops from 17 other countries.
The exercise will take place in April and May, and to get some of those soldiers and their gear to Europe, the US Military Sealift Command cargo ship USNS Benavidez, US-flagged merchant vehicle carriers MV Resolve and MV Patriot, are already sailing across the Atlantic, escorted by guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf.
However, analysts are interpreting its quick entrance into Mediterranean waters after its Atlantic mission as likely in response to escalating events over Idlib.
Crucially there’s also an emerging refugee crisis as Erdogan has announced Turkey has “opened the gates” on Syrian refugees fleeing Idlib and wishing to make it to Europe.
The @TheCVN69 Carrier Strike Group is conducting operations in @USNavyEurope to support maritime security operations in international waters alongside our Allies and partners: https://t.co/CmawI2PK9a pic.twitter.com/1Z8ZXcJcVP
— U.S European Command (@US_EUCOM) March 1, 2020
Last week the US Navy issued a press statement about Ike’s movements and operations, noting the strike group was “conducting operations in the US 6th Fleet to support maritime security operations in international waters, alongside our allies and partners.”
On Sunday US European Command reiterated its ongoing European operations in a new statement. Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti, commander of the Sixth Fleet, earlier underscored that “The deployment will also serve to demonstrate commitment to our allies and partners in Europe and Africa.”
But it remains unclear the extent to which Washington is willing to go to bat for its “partner” and NATO ally Turkey amid Erdogan’s adventurism in northwest Syria.