Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border?
File that one under "headlines that least deserve an above-the-banner" link from Drudge.
The referenced article, from Russia's Novosti news agency, is basically a hash of long-reported events and ill-informed conjecture. Deployment of the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis to the Persian Gulf was first announced back in January; the vessel and its escorts have already arrived in the region, and are conducting maneuvers with the Eisenhower carrier battle group, which has been on station since December. Readers will note that Novosti claims that the Stennis is still enroute to the Gulf, suggesting that Russian intelligence isn't what it once was, or (more likely) the wire service reporter simply reprinted what his sources told him, no questions asked.
A Russian security sources also tell Novosti that he see preparations for an "air and ground offensive against Iran," although the timing for such an attack has not been determined. He claims that the U.S. is looking for a way to bring Iran to its knees, at minimal cost.
While the U.S. is apparently keeping its options open on Iraq, I certainly don't see any preparations for a ground attack. The five additional brigades arriving in Iraq (as part of the recent troop surge) are aimed at defeating the insurgency, not attacking Iran. And, beyond the 80 aircraft embarked onboard the Stennis, the number of U.S. aircraft in the region has remained fairly constant. Any attack against Iran would be preceded by a major build-up of U.S. airpower in the region, although current basing issues could make that problematic. According to the India News, the United Arab Emirates has said that its territories are off limits to anyone for staging military or intelligence operations against Iran. Access to airfields in the UAE has long been considered essential for any potential air campaign against Iranian targets.
At this point, I would describe U.S. military preparations in the region as prudent, but not necessarily indicative of a pending strike against Iran. However, one key indicator of how Washington views the situation will be revealed in the coming weeks. The Eisenhower is scheduled to leave the gulf in early April; an extension of its tour--or replacement by another carrier group--would indicate that the U.S. plans to sustain current force levels in the region. Additionally, the next round of the Air Force's Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotations to the Middle East begins in about a month. Delaying the return of currently-deployed AEF units could be used to temporarily bolster U.S. airpower in the region, providing another indicator of possible military moves.
While I don't see anything significant in the Novosti article, there are sufficient reasons to keep an eye on our forces in the Persian Gulf, particularly over the next month or so. By remaining flexible in our military deployments and force structure, we can certainly keep Tehran guessing, and that is hardly a bad thing.