Eye On Africa, Navy’s New Ship Homeports in Crete

As Russian fighters fly in Libya and Turkey steps up operations in the region, the US just put its new sea base capable to surging Marines and commandos ashore into Crete

WASHINGTON: America has a new military homeport in the Mediterranean, as a US warship will call a small outpost on the Greek island of Crete home, signaling Washington’s deep concerns over the eastern Mediterranean and Russian and Chinese activities in Africa.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited the base earlier this week, said: “it’s literally the perfect choice in light of the facility’s strategic location. And it’s symbolic of a defense partnership that will continue to expand and to grow.” Security cooperation with Greece “is especially important as Russia continues to destabilize the region, especially in Libya.”

The USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, the second of a new class of sea-basing ships, will “look south” toward Africa to conduct “partnership training with all of our allies, participate in exercises, and make port calls all around the continent of Africa,” Cmdr. Kyle Raines, spokesman for the 6th Fleet, told me this morning.

While Navy and Coast Guard ships regularly train with allies in Africa, the Williams will be the first ship dedicated to working the coasts of the continent. The deployment comes as Russia and China have made big investments across the continent, tensions between Greece and Turkey escalate, and the threat of terrorism continues to spread across the Sahel.

Raines added that “this will be the first ship that’s solely dedicated to the Africa mission set.”

Crete also provides a quick jump-off point to Libya, where a bloody civil war continues to rage with Russia, Turkey, and Egypt all supplying arms and support to various sides. Africa Command (AFRICOM) issued a series of releases earlier this year detailing the presence of at least 14 Russian fighter aircraft based out of Al Jufra and Al Khadim airfields in Libya being flown by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group.

The Naval Support Activity Souda Bay has long served as a naval logistics hub for the Sixth Fleet, and has docked US aircraft carriers and submarines in the past and provided refueling for American aircraft in the region. No major upgrades were required at the port for the Williams to call it home, as sailors will be flown from Norfolk, Va. to the base to swap out crews on a regular basis.

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