Even as the Pentagon looks for ways to cut its Middle East ground force of 168,000 troops, the Navy's top officer has pushed aggressively to find more shore-based roles for his sailors so they can fill in for soldiers and Marines.
“It's very clear that the ground forces have been in a very tough rotation over the last several years,” Adm. Michael Mullen, the chief of naval operations, said at a Pentagon news conference last month. “If we can pitch in and help relieve some of that, we're going to do that.”
Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Navy's shore-based presence in the Persian Gulf numbered 1,500. Most of these sailors served with the 5th Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.
That number has swelled to 10,000, with sailors serving from Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa. About 4,000 of them are in Iraq, the Navy said.
Next year, Mullen is planning to boost both figures by about 2,000 each. The Navy's total force worldwide is about 356,000.
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