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Thousands of Marines enter Persian Gulf with USS Bataan’s amphibious readiness group

MANAMA, Bahrain — The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan transited the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf Wednesday, becoming the first U.S. Navy “big deck” to enter these strategic waters in 2020.

“Our passage through this important strait and continued presence in the area plays a critical role in maintaining the freedom of navigation key to regional security and stability here,” said Capt. Lance Lesher, the group’s commodore in a statement.

Bataan and its amphibious readiness group comprises 2,500 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the transport dock ship USS New York and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, the statement said.

Also traveling with the group is the destroyer USS Carney and cargo ship USNS McLean.

The last big deck to transit the strait before the Bataan was the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, which departed last November during its record-breaking 10-month deployment.

The 96-mile-long Strait of Hormuz is bounded to the north by Iran and to the south by Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Around a fifth of the world’s oil passes through the strategic shipping route, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.

Bataan’s passage through the strait was to “reassure allies” and ensure “stability and security essential to maritime commerce,” skipper Capt. Greg LeLand said.

“Our continued commitment to our partner nations lends to the strength of nations here in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region,” LeLand said.

The transit comes after a month of tension in the region following the January killing by the U.S. of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and retaliatory rocket attacks on an airbase in Iraq that left more than 100 U.S. service members with traumatic brain injuries.


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US & Taliban reach reduction of violence deal that ‘could lead to troop withdrawal’ – official

The United States has reached a reduction of violence agreement with the Taliban that could lead to a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Reuters quoted a senior administration official as saying on Friday.

The agreement for a seven-day “reduction in violence” to be followed by the start of all-Afghan peace talks within 10 days is “very specific” and covers the entire country including Afghan forces, AP reported.

The developments come as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met Friday in Munich, Germany with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. They spoke on the sidelines of an international security forum.