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SLUG: 2-316337 Pentagon/West Africa (L)
TITLE=PENTAGON/WEST AFRICA (L-ONLY)
INTRO: The U-S Navy is expected to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group for exercises in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa for the first time later this year. More from V-O-A Pentagon Correspondent Alex Belida [in this exclusive report].
TEXT: A senior military official says the Pentagon will announce on Tuesday (June 1) that seven aircraft carrier strike groups will be deployed in the next few months to five regions worldwide. It is intended to be a massive demonstration of the Navy's global quick deployment capability, and it is expected that one of the groups of U-S naval vessels will visit the Gulf of Guinea.
The senior military official and other Pentagon sources, speaking to V-O-A on condition of anonymity, have confirmed plans for the exercises. They stopped short of identifying specific destinations for the carrier strike groups, but said the waters off West Africa were likely to be visited by one of them.
A clearer indication of Africa's inclusion came from the Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. During an appearance in Washington last week, in which he mentioned the coming exercises, Mr. England said the Navy was looking to enhance its operations in what he termed "the ungoverned areas of Africa."
In that context, the Navy Secretary said, quoting now, "the Gulf of Guinea, for example, is an area where a Navy presence would constitute a strong message."
Earlier this year, the Chief of Staff of the armed forces of Sao Tome and Principe, a tiny island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, said his country would hold what he described as joint navy maneuvers with the United States this year.
But U-S officials questioned about his comments said they were unaware of any such plans, and would be unable to discuss them in any event for security reasons.
While it is still not known which vessels might be sent into the Gulf of Guinea, an aircraft carrier strike group typically includes, in addition to an aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine and a supply ship.
For its part, Sao Tome has a small number of patrol boats.
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Defense officials have recently spoken of the need for security and stability in the Gulf of Guinea, in part because of the growing number of offshore oil operations there.
The senior U-S military officer involved in African affairs, General Charles Wald, has likened Sao Tome in potential strategic importance to the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a key staging base during recent U-S military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
He also told reporters last year, Sao Tome could be an ideal site for one of the Pentagon's so-called Forward Operating Locations, bases available for temporary use by American forces in the event of a crisis.
However, facilities on Sao Tome are lacking at the moment. That is not an issue for the self-sustaining carrier strike groups.
The U-S Trade and Development Agency is now financing feasibility studies for the development of a deepwater port and expanded airfield facilities on Sao Tome to enhance trade and travel to the island. (SIGNED)
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