WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama will not be protected by a vast armada of 34 US warships when he visits Mumbai this weekend, officials said, calling reports from India on security preparations “comical.”
The claim that many of the 288-ship US naval fleet would be deployed to waters off Mumbai was “absolutely absurd,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters on Thursday.
US officials usually decline to discuss details about security precautions for the president, but the media accounts circulating out of India were so off the mark that press officers at the Pentagon and the White House said they felt compelled to speak up.
“I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy — some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier — in support of the president’s trip to Asia,” Morrell said.
“That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done,” he said.
Although the United States is known for taking elaborate precautions when it comes to presidential trips, the accounts out of India described a massive naval fleet steaming towards Mumbai and an astounding price-tag of 200 million dollars a day for security.
The White House bluntly dismissed the cost estimate, and said that the price tag for security was similar to trips for previous presidents, without offering a specific figure.
“I think there’s been a lot of creative writing that’s been done on this trip over the last few days. I’ve seen other reports with some astronomical figures in terms of what it costs to take these trips,” Morrell said.
India’s NDTV website ran a report claiming a 34-ship security detail, citing the Press Trust of India, which was in turn picked up by the popular US website, Drudge Report.
The report, without citing sources, said that Obama “will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday.”
The report said the devastating attacks on Mumbai two years ago, which were launched by militants who arrived by boat, prompted the naval presence.
Referring to the Mumbai assault, Morrell said it “should not come as a surprise to anyone” that Obama would require security during his visit to the city.
While a huge show of US naval power was not in the offing, municipal authorities in Mumbai said they had removed coconuts from trees around the city’s Gandhi museum — where Obama is due to visit — just in case.
“The coconuts were falling off, so we requested the local authorities here to remove the remainder,” the executive secretary of Mani Bhavan, Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, told AFP.