US pulls last aircraft carrier from Gulf in signal to Iran

After Biden administration’s latest move, there are now no U.S. aircraft carriers in Gulf waters.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has been ordered out of the waters near Iran and is on its way to the Pacific Ocean, most likely returning to its home port on the west coast.

“The Nimitz’s departure means there is no U.S. carrier operating in the Central Command area of operations,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, adding that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III believes America has “a robust presence in the Middle East.”

“U.S. service members are based in many nations in the Persian Gulf and there is more than enough airpower to counter any adversary,” the statement added. The CENTCOM region covers the Middle East, including Israel, with American air, naval and ground forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and other countries.

Although the Nimitz had been initially ordered to return to its home port in December, the Trump administration ordered the carrier to remain in the Gulf region as tensions rose with Iran in advance of the first anniversary of the U.S. assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in January of 2020.

The Nimitz had remained in the region as a deterrent after Iran promised to avenge Soleimani‘s death, going so far as to offer an $80 million reward for the assassination of President Trump.

“Every decision that we make with military forces — air, ground or naval — and certainly, decisions that you make with respect to a capital asset, like an aircraft carrier and its associated, supporting Strike Group is a decision driven by a frank assessment of the threats in the area, and also a frank consideration of the capabilities themselves,” Kirby said.

“So, absolutely, the secretary was mindful of the larger geostrategic picture when he approved the movement of the Carrier Strike Group from the Central Command area responsibility.”

The aircraft carrier with a crew of about 5,000 has been at sea for more than nine months. It is expected to sail to its home port of Bremerton, Washington, where families of the crew have not seen them since the Nimitz sailed out on its current mission last April.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said that the U.S. is on track to keep a carrier force in the region for the foreseeable future, but it is unclear which carrier strike group will replace the Nimitz, the U.S. Naval Institute website reported.

The USS Eisenhower and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, both of which are being redeployed, are candidates to take the Nimitz’s place. The largest U.S. Navy group currently deployed near Iran includes the three ships of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group — equipped with a squadron of Marine F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters — that is currently operating off of Somalia, USNI News noted.

“The question continues to arise whether the CENTCOM-deployed Air Force bomber squadrons and Navy amphibious ready groups with embarked Marines are enough to either deter or respond to Iran’s threats,” the Military Times reported.