Task Force 74
The US Task Force 74 was a US Navy task force of the United States Seventh Fleet that was deployed to the Bay of Bengal by Nixon administration in December 1971, at the height of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Led by the Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the deployment of the task force was seen as a Show of force by USA in support of the beleaguered West Pakistani forces, and was claimed by India as an indication of US "tilt" towards Pakistan at a time that Indian forces were close to capturing Dhaka. The Task Force withdrew from the Bay of Bengal after reports of Soviet submarines dispatched to shadow the fleet. The Task Force number is now used by the Seventh Fleet's Submarine Force.
The Indian Ocean had, in the post-colonial cold-war situation in the 1960s, a strong British Royal Navy presence which projected Western interests in the region, and carried out peacekeeping and security operations, as well as a deterrence against Soviet overtures in this area. The US navy's role at this time was confined to a limited presence in Bahrain.
By the mid-1960s, with a failing economy, Britain began to roll back her role in the region. In a situation of political instability in the region, the Soviet Union also began a strong diplomatic initiative in the littoral states and initiated limited naval deployments, prompting fears that withdrawal of a western peacekeeping role would allow the Soviet Navy to fulfil its aspirations in the region, threatening western economic and military interests in the region and leading to loss of this area from the western sphere of influence. This lent a strong voice to the proponents of a strong US naval presence in the Indian Ocean, among them Elmo Zumwalt, as a diplomatic as well military deterrence against Soviet moves. US security interests in the Indian Ocean were, however, initially restricted to the countries of Ethiopia, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The superpowers in the sub-continent
Both the United States and the Soviet Union had attempted to establish strong links with India following the Sino-Indian war of 1962, much to the disturbance of Pakistan especially since she was already in military alliance with the United States. India had obtained substantial military and economic assistance from the United States towards the end of the conflict, but remained committed to the Non-aligned movement. Following the end of the conflict, Soviet offers of MiG fighter aircraft, as well as offers for transfer of technology and production facilities for military hardware confirmed India's preference for Moscow in terms of long-term security collaboration. In 1963, the US Navy deployed its first Carrier group in the Indian Ocean close to the Indian coast. However, since this was within a year of the end of the Sino-Indian conflict, where the US and Britain had offered substantial help to India, this was not interpreted as a diplomatic pressure or a show-of-force, and was in all probability training exercises to familiarise the navy with the Indian ocean area. India had also at this time allowed the US to install intelligence gathering devices in the Himalayan peaks close to China, on the conditions of intelligence-sharing.
By the end of the 1960s, the Vietnam War became the focus for the United States, with the Indian Subcontinent receiving much less attention. Peace in the region was assumed by the US to be the responsibility of the regional powers of Pakistan, India and China.
The Bangladesh crisis brought the Indian subcontinent back into the focus of the cold-war confrontations. The crisis had its roots in the economic and social disparities between the Eastern and Western wings of Pakistan and a dominance of the Eastern wing by the west since the creation of the nascent state in 1947 that increasingly divided the two wings through the 1960s During March 1971 Pakistan Army aided and advised by Bhutto and the army stopped political negotiation with East Pakistan's Sheikh Mujib, whose party Awami League won a landslide victory and majority seats in the Pakistan Parliament, and started a massive crackdown on the civilians and paramilitary police of the Eastern wing. By the last quarter of 1971, Pakistan was in a state of civil war, its eastern arm locked in a ferocious battle for independence from the west. The crisis precipitated in March 1971 when rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by Yahya Khan with what has come to be called Operation Searchlight. The majority of East Pakistan's political leadership, including Mujibur Rahman, were arrested and, following brief confrontations and bloody battles between Bengali nationalists and some 40,000 strong Pakistani military, political order was forcibly and temporarily reimposed by the end of April amidst strong protests from India, the Soviet Union and other countries against the atrocities against the Bengali civilian population. The West Pakistani army aided by paramilitaries from West Pakistan and local non-Bengali and some Islamic minded-Bengali political parties were killing large numbers of East Pakistanis. Depending on the source, the total death toll of the predominately Bengali East Pakistanis during these events were either up to 500 000 people (according to independent researchers) or 3 million people (according to the government of Bangladesh). The massive and disproportionate crackdown by West Pakistan forces engendered a sea of refugees (estimated at the time to be about 10 million, 13% of the entire East Pakistani population) who came flooding to the eastern provinces of India. Facing a mounting humanitarian crisis, India started actively aiding and re-organising what was by this time already the nucleus of the Mukti Bahini.
In the months before the war, both Pakistan and India attempted to shore up diplomatic support. On 9 August 1971, India signed a twenty-year co-operation treaty with the Soviet Union, followed by a six-nation tour of Europe and USA by Indira Gandhi in October. This tour was intended to demonstrate India's professed neutrality despite the Indo-Soviet treaty, as well as to highlight the refugee problem faced by India. Pakistan came under increasing criticism from India, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Europe as the plight of the refugees and their impact on the Indian economy were highlighted by Indira Gandhi in the UN and on a number of global tours. However, the United States and China showed little interest in the crisis and actively opposed aid, intervention or support to the Mukti Bahini Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at this time led a high level delegation to Beijing to obtain commitment from China of support in case of Indian intervention while Pakistan pressed at the UN for an International Peacekeeping Force for the India-East Pakistan border. The Pakistani efforts at the UN were however blocked by the Soviet Union in the Security council. India's aid to the Mukti Bahini continued unabated, and fighting between the Mukti Bahini and the Pakistani Forces grew increasingly vicious.
Third Indo-Pak war
The Indo-Soviet treaty had provided India with cover against any possible Chinese intervention in aid of Pakistan if and when the conflict precipitated. To the Pakistani leadership, it became clear that armed Indian intervention and secession of East Pakistan was becoming inevitable.
On 3 December, Pakistan launched Operation Chengiz Khan, marking the official initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The Indian response was a defensive military strategy in the western theatre while a massive, coordinated and decisive offensive thrust into the Eastern theatre. On 5 December, United States began attempts for a UN-sponsored ceasefire, which were twice vetoed by the USSR in the security council. India extended her recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December. On 8 December, Washington received intelligence reports that India was planning an offensive into West Pakistan. It was in this situation that the United States dispatched a ten-ship naval task force, the US Task Force 74, from the Seventh Fleet off South Vietnam into the Bay of Bengal.
US diplomatic initiatives
With intelligence reports indicating the Indian cabinet was discussing the scopes of offensive into West Pakistan, on 10 December, the decision was taken by US to assemble a task force at Malacca strait, spearheaded by USS Enterprise. The force was to be capable of overshadowing the four Soviet ships already in the Bay of Bengal.
Deployment of the Task force
The Task force was to be headed by USS Enterprise, at the time and still the largest aircraft carrier in the world. In addition, it consisted of amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LPH-10), carrying a 200 strong Marine battalion and twenty five assault helicopters; The three guided missile escorts USS King (DDG-41), USS Decatur (DD-936), and USS Parsons (DD-949); four gun destroyers USS Bausell (DD-845), USS Orleck (DD-886), USS McKean (DD-784) and USS Anderson; one ammo ship USS Haleakala (AE-25); and a nuclear attack submarine. The Enterprise was assigned by the Central authority, while the other ships were assigned by local commanders. Enterprise was at this time at the Tonkin Gulf area. Recovering her airborne aircraft and transferring personnel who were required to stay to the USS Constellation (CV-64), she prepared to head off. The task force was delayed while the support ships refueled, it held off East of Singapore, and was ordered into the Indian ocean on 14 December. crossed Malacca straits on the nights of 13–14 December and entered the Bay of Bengal on the morning of 15 December. The group was required to proceed slowly, averaging a speed of 15 knots, both to conserve fuel as well as to allow advance information on its heading.
The US government announced at the time that the task force may help evacuate Pakistani forces from East Pakistan following a ceasefire.
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