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USS Nimitz carrier group heads to Syria 'should we be needed'

USS Nimitz carrier strike group, with four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but has rerouted toward Syria to be available if orders come.

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A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet aircraft takes off from the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, May 23, 2013. The Nimitz carrier group has not received orders to move to the Red Sea, but the carrier group has rerouted that direction anyway, in case orders should come.

Edgar Su/Reuters

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The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its strike group are heading west toward the Red Sea to help support a limited US strike on Syria, if needed, defense officials said on Sunday.

The Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked.

"It's about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed," said the official.

"We try to reduce the physics of time and space so we can be as ready as possible should we be needed," said a second official, cautioning that decisions about ship positioning in the Mediterranean were still being finalized.

President Barack Obama on Saturday delayed imminent cruise missile strikes by five destroyers off the coast of Syria until Congress had time to vote on the issue, effectively putting any military action on hold for at least nine days.

The delay gives military planners more time to reassess which ships and other weapons will be kept in the region – and which may be swapped out – before the military launches what defense officials say is still intended to be a limited and narrowly targeted attack on Syria.

The US Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region.

The destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, but officials say a limited strike on Syria could be accomplished with half that number.

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