It marks an abrupt reversal after acting defense secretary Christopher Milller said last week that he was sending the vessel home, a move that had been met with intense opposition by senior military officers.
In changing his mind, Miller cited in his statement that “recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials,” without elaborating.
“I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” Miller said. “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.”
The update comes amid heightened tensions with Iran. Nearly a year after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who was in charge of the shadowy Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani suggested during a press briefing that the region will avenge the top Iranian general’s killing.
“Trump will be ousted, not only from power, but also from life; he will be a disgraced person in history for his crimes,” Rouhani told reporters on Dec. 31.
Iran’s state media has also alleged that other countries, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Germany, and Britain, had played a role in Soleimani’s killing.
Soleimani’s death prompted Iran to fire a barrage of missiles at American bases in the region. Soleimani was blamed by U.S. officials for killing hundreds of American soldiers and civilians in the region over the years, and was accused of plotting more attacks.
In recent days, U.S. officials have said that they are on heightened alert for a potential Iranian attack on U.S. forces or interests in the Middle East.
— Cale Brown (@StateDeputySPOX) December 31, 2020
Iran is believed to have been behind an attack earlier this month on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, killing at least one Iraqi civilian, according to officials.
Trump then issued a warning to Iran on Twitter.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” he wrote on Dec. 23.
Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq… pic.twitter.com/0OCL6IFp5M
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2020
The United States has maintained a near-continuous aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region since the USS Abraham Lincoln was sent in May 2019 amid concerns that Iran was considering attacking U.S. interests in the region. The United States also sent additional land-based attack planes and reestablished a troop presence in Saudi Arabia.
The Nimitz deployed from the United States in April and was due to return before the end of 2020. In early December, its planned return was postponed, in part out of concerns about potential Iranian threats. More recently, it was ordered to provide support off the coast of Somalia for the movement of American forces out of the country.
Jack Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.