With tensions escalating between Turkey and Greece, the U.S. has announced it will be moving the massive new USS Hershel “Woody” Williams Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ship to Souda Bay, a joint U.S.- Greek base six hundred miles from Turkish shores. The recently commissioned ship is assigned to the U.S. Africa Command.
This vessel is the latest of these new, special purpose-built ships.
These special platforms with their huge flat-top landing pads can host helicopters as well as V-22 Osprey V/STOL tilt-rotor aircraft, and are designed to support amphibious, special forces and mine countermeasures operations at sea, as well as launching helicopter strikes, and more.
Its sister ship, the USS Lewis B. “Chesty Puller, is deployed in the Persian Gulf and has been used to train allied special forces from the region, as I have previously written.
This deployment, along with a visit to the base from U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, could be a message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the U.S. is growing weary with his hostile actions in the area. Turkey has been increasingly belligerent with Greece, Cyprus, and other regional neighbors, as well as intervening in Libya, Syria, and now possible Azerbaijan.
Earlier this year Turkey sent survey and drilling ships to search for gas not far from Souda Bay. Meanwhile, as I recently wrote, Ankara has developed a new “blue homeland” naval doctrine that according to David Romano at the Missouri State University, “envisions Turkey ignoring the internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying exclusive claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas.”
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held a series of meetings and tours at Souda Bay with Pompeo where they discussed the dispute with Turkey. While U.S. frustration with Turkey appears to be growing, the NYT points out the serious dilemma the Trump administration faces:
The widening rift puts the United States in an unenviable position, and not only because it risks being torn between two fellow NATO states. The U.S. alliance with Turkey is central to the Trump administration’s campaign to rout Shiite militias and other Iranian-backed efforts in Syria, where Iran supports the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The United States also has a massive air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where it stores tactical nuclear weapons.
However, with the new ESB ship deployment, along with Pompeo’s visits to Greece and Cyprus, the U.S. may be showing Erdogan that despite its desire to work with Turkey, its patience is wearing thin.