The United States (US) Navy has sent an amphibious transport ship anew to the Mediterranean where five warships have already taken position for running possible missile attacks on Syria.
A defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the USS San Antonio, with several helicopters and hundreds of Marines on board, is “on station in the Eastern Mediterranean” but “has received no specific tasking”, report agencies.
Unlike the destroyers deployed in the area, the San Antonio carries no Tomahawk cruise missiles but can ferry up to four helicopters and is designed to bring Marines ashore by chopper or landing craft.
There are five destroyers off the coast of Syria, the USS Stout, Mahan, Ramage, Barry and Graveley that are ready to fire cruise missiles if Obama shows green light.
In a surprise move, Obama on Saturday delayed threatened missile strikes against Damascus that had appeared imminent, saying he first would seek formal approval from the US Congress.
Obama puts off the decision of any military action until at least September 9, when US lawmakers reconvene after their summer break.
When the US prepares for a possible military strike on Syria, Russia is sending a reconnaissance ship (spy ship) to the eastern Mediterranean, reports Interfax news agency.
The reconnaissance ship earlier left Russia’s naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol late on Sunday for the mission “to gather current information in the area of the escalating conflict,” the agency quoted an unidentified military source as saying.
The Defense Ministry declined to comment immediately but Interfax said the vessel, the SSV-201 Priazovye, would operate separately from a Russian navy unit already stationed in the Mediterranean.
Last week, the ministry said new warships were being sent to the Mediterranean but described this as a routine rotation of ships under a permanent deployment which Moscow says is needed to protect national security interests.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said at the time that Moscow did not intend to be dragged into any military conflict over Syria.
Russia reiterated on Monday that the United States had not proved its allegations and that the chemical attack may have been staged by Syrian rebels to provoke outside intervention in the more than two-year-old civil war.
Some analysts said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would benefit from the delay, as it would give his regime more time to disperse military hardware that would targeted in any missile strikes. But another defense official insisted the delay would not undercut the effect of US military action, if and when Obama issues the order to go ahead.
“Our intelligence and targeting capabilities offer the president and the nation tremendous advantages,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
“While providing advance warning to the Syrian government of a US strike may add some complexities, it does not translate into protection to their military resources,” the official told an agency.
The American military will “continue to update our targeting options,” he added.
Russia is one of Assad’s biggest arms suppliers and has a naval maintenance facility in the Syrian port of Tartous. Moscow opposes any military intervention in Syria and has shielded Damascus from pressure at the U.N. Security Council.
Russia and China to block three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions to press Assad to end the bloodshed, saying Moscow and Beijing “act on principle on all issues, including the Syrian crisis”.