The most powerful carrier strike group to operate in the Middle East in years is pounding the Islamic State group in Syria, where it is still seen as a serious threat to the region.
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman has been launching around-the-clock sorties this week from its location in the eastern Mediterranean to bomb remaining ISIS militants, who are confined mostly to two small pockets of the Middle Euphrates River Valley, comprising about 2 percent of the territory in Syria and Iraq that they once occupied.
Although ISIS has been severely depleted, the Navy has deployed one of the largest strike groups in the region since Desert Storm to deal with the remnants.
“This is the biggest one that’s sailed from the East Coast for quite some time,” Rear Adm. Gene Black, carrier strike group commander, said Tuesday. “It’s a pretty potent force with lots of capabilities the Navy can put to sea.”
The strike group includes the destroyers USS Farragut, USS Forrest Sherman, USS Bulkeley and USS Arleigh Burke, along with the missile cruiser USS Normandy and several aviation and support squadrons. A German frigate is also part of the force, and the destroyers USS Jason Dunham and USS The Sullivans will join later.
The strike group, which began launching sorties on May 3, is operating in a politically tense region.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday withdrew the U.S. from a nuclear agreement with Iran, a longtime ally of Syria. Russia, which has a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, has condemned the U.S., France and Britain for launching a joint attack on suspected Syrian chemical weapon sites in April.
Capt. Nick Dienna, the Truman’s commander, said all the encounters with Russian warships so far have been professional.
This strike group’s firepower harkens back to the battle groups the U.S. deployed in the Mediterranean during the Cold War to face down Russia’s naval forces, said Jim Holmes, professor of strategy at the Naval War College.
“It feels like 1973 again,” Holmes said, referring to the U.S.-Soviet naval confrontation during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. “Yes, we want to support our regional allies and attack our common ISIS enemies, but the great power show is the main show and Syria is the sideshow.”
Both Black and Dienna said a show of force is a key objective; however, Dienna noted that the primary mission still is to eliminate terrorists in the region.
“Fundamentally, I would say there’s not a whole lot that’s really different,” he said.
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