The United States tentatively expects to complete its mine-sweeping operations in the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea in the next 10 days and, barring unexpected developments, will leave the area, State Department officials said yesterday.
Although 17 ships in the region have been damaged by explosions since early this summer, no mines have been discovered in the operations being conducted by U.S., British, French and Italian forces at the request of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. U.S. efforts have involved four Navy helicopters operating from the amphibious transport dock Shreveport in the Gulf of Suez and three helicopters aboard the Navy vessel La Salle in the Red Sea near Saudi Arabia.
U.S. officials said that once the U.S. forces complete operations in their assigned areas, they will be withdrawn. Saudi Arabia already has said its waters have been found free of mines, and the operation being conducted in the Gulf of Suez at the request of Egypt is expected to be finished in about 10 days.
Failure to find any mines has left the explosions a mystery. However, most speculation focuses on Libya, which is known to have purchased mines from Italy and which earlier this summer sent a supply ship to Ethiopia.