Civil War Fronts: Gadhafi on the West, Rebels on the East, U.S. Assault Ships in the Mediterranean Sea

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced he ordered to the Mediterranean Sea the USS Ponce and the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious-assault ship that typically carries infantrymen and troop-transport helicopters. The ships currently have 800 marines, in addition to 400 U.S.-based Marines who will be airlifted to meet the ships. He said the ships would be ready to perform evacuations and humanitarian relief.

The area around Ajdabiya and Brega was the scene of fighting between pro and anti-Gadhafi forces on Wednesday.

USS Ponce (LPD-15), is an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico and European discoverer of Florida. It is a large ship with a large stern opening that embarks, transports, and lands elements of a landing force for expeditionary warfare missions. The ships are generally designed to transport troops into a war zone by sea, primarily using landing craft, although invariably they also have the capability to operate transport helicopters. The ships consist of flight deck for helicopters and a well deck that can be ballasted and deballasted to support landing craft or amphibious vehicles.

The action comes as Libya’s opposition is increasingly seeking U.S. military support to push out Col. Gadhafi. A convoy of armed rebel youth headed west through Ajdabiya and toward Sirte.