U.S. Watches Bahrain

by Matthew Shaffer

The small nation is important to U.S. strategic interests. The Defense Department is watching the protests in Bahrain with close interest — and hopefully with more foresight than in Egypt: 

 

The Pentagon said on Thursday that it was closely monitoring unrest in Bahrain, the base of operations for the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

The tiny Persian Gulf nation has occupied a strategic place in the global structure of the American military for decades. The Navy has had a presence there for more than 60 years, well before it took over a British army base east of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in 1971, when the country achieved full independence.

The 100-acre naval base is in the suburb of Juffair six miles from the capital’s central Pearl Square, where thousands of antigovernment protesters were attacked by security forces early Thursday morning. The base is home to 4,800 service members and their families and 1,300 contractors and civilians working for the Department of Defense, according to a spokeswoman for the Navy.

Tens of thousands of sailors are deployed around the region on the fleet’s ships…

 

The mission of the Fifth Fleet is broad and includes counterterrorism, air support for the war in Afghanistan, antipiracy efforts around the Gulf of Aden and military exercises with regional allies, including Bahrain. The United States and Bahrain signed a 10-year defense pact in 1991 that includes American training of Bahraini forces; it was renewed in 2001, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

“We work with their militaries to build their skill sets and to build partnerships with countries in the region,” said Lt. Frederick M. Martin, a spokesperson for the fleet.

The fleet monitors 2.5 million square miles of water that touch 20 countries along the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.