Iran launches major military exercise as US orders Nimitz to stay in region

Pentagon cancels order for aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to return home as tensions with Iran mount.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Iran launched a large-scale drone combat exercise Tuesday as the United States reversed an order for one of its aircraft carriers to return home from the region.

The Iranian military said a major military exercise would involve hundreds of UAVs used by its ground, air and naval forces “in real combat conditions,” Iran’s Mehr news agency reported as tensions in the region remain high.

“The flight of naval drones from a vessel in southern waters of the country, long-range flight of pinpointing suicide drones to destroy sensitive and vital targets in depths of enemy’s land and territory will be one of the drone combat exercise plans,” said Deputy Chief of Operations, Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi.

In Washington, the Defense Department announced it was reversing a decision last week to bring the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz back to its home port at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state near Seattle.

“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller.

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“The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” Miller added.

A Defense Department official told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Nimitz will take the lead in military drills “with its regional partners” in an area of the U.S. Fifth Fleet that is based in Bahrain. Regional partners usually refers to the Gulf Arab states close to Iran where the U.S. military operates ground, air and naval bases.

Iran and its allies marked the first anniversary Sunday of the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump.

Iran has repeatedly threatened that it would avenge Soleimani’s death at the time and place of its choosing.

On the weekend Iran also announced that it had broken its commitment to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and was beginning to enrich uranium to a level of 20% purity, widely perceived as a step towards producing nuclear weapons.

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi issued a statement late Monday condemning Iran and calling the enrichment “a wake-up call to all those who advocate for appeasement towards Iran.”

“I call on the international community not to tolerate Iran’s defiant acts and to view this step as a red line that requires a decisive and immediate response,” Ashkenazi said. “Israel will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”