Carrier Strike Group Deployment a Response to ‘Credible Threat’ by Iran, Pentagon Chief Says

May 6, 2019 Updated: May 7, 2019

The Trump administration’s deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East is a response to a “credible threat” by Iran, said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

He wrote on Twitter on May 6 that he approved the deployment on May 5, calling it “a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation,” he added in a following tweet. “We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”

The administration declined to specify what prompted the deployment, but tensions between the two countries have been rising as the United States applies pressure on other countries to comply with sanctions on the Islamic regime.

The deployment was first announced on May 5 by national security adviser John Bolton, who said the intention was “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told media on May 6 that “it is absolutely the case that we’ve seen escalatory action from the Iranians,” but he also said he couldn’t be more explicit.

“I don’t want to talk about what underlays it, but make no mistake. We have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions that they may take,” he said.

He did clarify, though, that the reason is separate from the recent rocket attack on Israel from the Gaza strip.

The strike group, headed by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, departed on April 1 from Norfolk, Virginia, and was on its way to transition from the Atlantic to the Pacific fleet, which means it would have eventually ended up passing through the Middle East anyway. Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on timing of the strike group deployment. It’s not clear whether the administration hastened or modified the planned deployment.

Last year, the administration dropped the previously permanent carrier deployment to the Persian Gulf, only sending a strike group intermittently, the Military Times reported. The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group just left the Middle Eastern region in April, joining the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group for operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Stennis is on its way to Norfolk, switching home ports with Lincoln, which heads for San Diego.

Bolton also spoke of “a bomber task force” deployment “which suggested the Pentagon is deploying land-based bomber aircraft somewhere in the region, perhaps on the Arabian Peninsula,” said the Military Times.

Pressure Up

President Donald Trump has been increasing pressure on Iran’s leaders, especially since he quit the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and gradually reimposed sanctions on the country in an effort force the Islamic regime to change a plethora of activities the administration finds unacceptable.

The administration demands that Iran halts not only its nuclear technology development, which the Obama administration’s nuclear deal attempted to delay, but also its ballistic missile program, support for terrorists and militias in the region, and other destabilizing activities.

In April, Trump announced he would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization—the first time the United States has marked a branch of a foreign country’s military as such.

Trump also announced in April that the government won’t renew waivers from the sanctions for countries importing Iranian oil in an effort to completely shut down Iranian oil exports, which are a lifeline of the regime.

Threats

Iran says its missile program is only defensive, but has repeatedly threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States tries to throttle Iranian oil exports. The strait is a major choke point between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman through which about a fifth of the world’s oil shipments passes.

In November 2018, an IRGC commander threatened that U.S. bases in Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf were within range of Iranian missiles.

In July 2018, Saudi state oil company Aramco stated that two of its tankers had been attacked by Yemen-based Houthi militia, who are backed by Iran and suppressed by the Saudi military.

Pompeo made clear that the United States will hold “Iranian leadership directly accountable” for “attacks on American interests” by Iranian proxies, be it the Houthis, a Shia militia group, or the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Update: The article has been updated with additional information about the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group deployment.

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