Speculation was rife in the media about the deployment of the US Navy Destroyer USS Donald Cook in possible military operations against Syria, a day after the ship departed from the port of Larnaca.
According to US 6th fleet’s website, the USS Donald Cook – which is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles – left Larnaca on Monday after completing a scheduled port visit.
“The visit served to enhance US-Cyprus relations as the two nations work together to strengthen regional security and stability. The ship’s presence in the Mediterranean is a demonstration of our continued commitment to regional security,” the website said.
“These types of visits help build long lasting relationships, which are crucial to our mission,” said the warship’s Command Master Chief Jeremy Douglas.
He added: “Strengthening partnerships during the port visit to Larnaca builds enduring relationships and emphasizes our shared commitment to promoting security and stability within the region, while seeking opportunities to enhance our interoperability as UN members.”
The website said the US 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.
Although the USS Donald Cook is on routine operations in the eastern Mediterranean, foreign media speculated that the ship might be deployed in strikes against the Syrian government as a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, the last town held by ‘insurgents’ in the Eastern Ghouta region.
The last remaining pocket in Douma is held by the Western-sponsored Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction.
Citing a Navy source, the Washington Examiner said “the US has a number of ships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region, including the USS Donald Cook, a guided-missile destroyer that has just completed a port call in Cyprus, and got underway in the eastern Mediterranean within range of Syria Monday.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing sources at the US Pentagon, said a second US Navy destroyer could be entering the Mediterranean over the next few days.
“The US already has one guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the eastern Mediterranean, where it could take part in any strike on Syria, according to US defence officials. A second, the USS Porter could get there in a few days,” the newspaper wrote.
Other reports on Tuesday said the USS Donald Cook had sailed within 100km of Tartus, the Russian naval base in Syria.
Turkish daily Hurriyet said that Russian warplanes had allegedly buzzed the USS Donald Cook at least four times, but the report was later denied by the Pentagon.
Earlier, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters he was not ruling out “anything right now,” when asked about the possible US response.
“The first thing we have to look at is, why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all the chemical weapons?” Mattis said.
Syria and Russia have denied the allegations that chemical weapons were used by the Assad government.
Russia’s foreign ministry has issued an explicit warning to Washington that any “military intervention” in Syria would be “unacceptable” and would lead to the “most serious consequences.”