WASHINGTON: The U.S. Navy has deployed a fifth destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean, a defense official told AFP on Thursday, as expectations grow of an imminent strike on Syria.
The USS Stout, a guided missile destroyer, is "in the Mediterranean, heading and moving east" to relieve the Mahan, said the official, who said both ships might remain in place for the time being.
Other destroyers in the region -- the Ramage, the Barry and the Gravely -- criss-cross the Mediterranean and could launch their Tomahawk missiles toward Syria if so directed by US President Barack Obama.
The defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say how long the Mahan would stay in the area before returning to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, which it left in December 2012.
It is normal for three destroyers to patrol the Mediterranean under the authority of the US Sixth Fleet, primarily in an anti-missile defense role.
The U.S. Navy keeps as a closely guarded secret the number of Tomahawk missiles that each ship carries but it is estimated to be 45.
The U.S. defense official also indicated that the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its escorts remain in the area of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which extends from the Red Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, currently on a week-long trip to Southeast Asia, told the BBC that U.S. forces were in place and "ready to go" if Obama gives the order but no such decision has yet been made.
A second defense official, however, said that while the Nimitz is being held, such a move should not not be linked to potential Syria options at this time.
Syria came up in a meeting between Hagel and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, with both men voicing grave concern about the use of chemical weapons, a U.S. defense official told reporters.
Hagel told Kim that gross violations of international law cannot go "unanswered", the official said.