The ‘USS Nimitz’ turns around: US 100,000-ton message to Iran

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Just prior to the new year, the USS Nimitz, a massive aircraft carrier that anchors US power in the Middle East, was told to come “directly” home. US Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller thanked the carrier and the 5,000 sailors and Marines of its strike group for their work. Ninety-six hours later, the Nimitz got another order to “halt its routine redeployment” and remain on station in the area of US Central Command.

“No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” Miller said. For the people that are part of the aircraft carrier, designated CVN-68, the orders must have been confusing. The move is interpreted as part of US deterrence in case of Iranian attacks around the anniversary of the killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. But the US knew the anniversary was over the last several days, so it’s unclear why the carrier was given mixed messages.

The messages came from the top. The Pentagon released the statement about coming “directly” home on December 31. “The Nimitz team provided persistent air cover during the troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and conducted operations and exercises that strengthened enduring partnerships and alliances in the US Central Command and US Indo-Pacific Command areas of responsibility,” the statement said. Then days later the US said that “due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) to halt its routine redeployment.”

In general, there has been chaos at the Pentagon after secretary of defense Mark Esper left in November 2020. He didn’t have a very long stint there either, taking office in July 2019. Patrick Shanahan had been at the helm from January to June of 2019. Before him, Jim Mattis, now a vocal critic of US President Donald Trump, had been America’s chief warrior.

So what to make of the Nimitz. It is 100,000 tons of power. Laid down in 1968, it is one of the largest American warships. The US Navy wants to expand its power to some 500 ships in coming years to keep up with China’s naval expansion. It is one of 10 similar ships in its class: the Eisenhower, Vinson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington, Stennis, Truman, Reagan and Bush.

US Naval Institute News says that the Nimitz was operating off Somalia with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group when it got the order first to go home and then go back. The US has been carrying out air raids on extremists in Somalia.

The Nimitz had several ships with it, including the USS Makin Island, an amphibious transport ship, the USS San Diego and 2,500 Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Group. There is a squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard also. According to reports, the unit also has a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the “Death Rattlers” from Miramar in California. Apparently this will be the “last Hornet squadron to deploy as the Marines convert legacy squadrons to the new F-35C variant,” USNI News says.

This is a big fist that the US can deploy in case of any problems with Tehran. Iran has been threatening the US with retaliation, putting its IRGC fast boats and rowboat-like navy on alert in the Persian Gulf. A US aircraft carrier could destroy Iran’s navy in an afternoon if called upon to do so. What worries the US is militia attacks by Iran’s proxies in Iraq or Yemen, or some kind of attack in the Gulf like the 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia. Iran has claimed there are “false flag” plots afoot to bring the US and Iran to war. It’s not clear if the F-18s will get to have one last mission before they return.

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