U.S. military operations now increasingly begin and end at sea — aboard a growing fleet of vessels that the Pentagon has specifically outfitted as floating command facilities, barracks and launch pads.
The daring U.S. commando raid into Libya to capture Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the Benghazi terror suspect, opened a window into Washington’s new approach to war and counterterrorism. The Navy warship New York was central to the military’s mission in seizing Khatallah and transporting him to the United States for trial.
New York and other “sea bases,” as the military calls them, are more mobile, better defended and potentially cheaper than long-term U.S. facilities built on foreign soil. These ships sail and anchor in international waters, so they offer legal and diplomatic advantages over former land bases.
Some sea-base ships are high-profile military projects costing billions of dollars. Others are civilian vessels that the Defense Department quietly charters, modifies and staffs with non-military crews to function as secretive special operations bases on classified missions.
The capture of Khatallah demonstrates what this could look like. When U.S. Special Operations Forces seized him on June 15, the commandos and an accompanying FBI team reportedly traveled by car and then boat to deliver the suspected terrorist to the New York, waiting off the Libyan coast. The 690-foot vessel, which has steel salvaged from the World Trade Center forged into its bow, then set course for the United States.