On Sunday evening, acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller halted the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) aircraft carrier’s plans to leave the Middle East, citing rising threats from Iran.
Miller said, “Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment. 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.”
Miller’s statement comes as Iran has increasingly called for revenge on the U.S. for the one-year anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday a consequence of Trump ordering the Jan. 3, 2020 strike on Soleimani is that “Trumpism has ended” adding “in a few days, the life of this criminal will end and he will go to the dustbin of history.” It is unclear if Rouhani was making a threat against Trump’s life or if he was referring metaphorically to Trump’s loss in the 2020 U.S. election. Those remarks may have spurred Miller’s decision to keep USS Nimitz in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.
USNI News reported the USS Nimitz has been operating in the Persian Gulf, North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman since July. All three areas run along Iran’s coastline.
The decision to retain the USS Nimitz is not the first move to bolster U.S. defenses in the Middle East amid Iran’s new threats. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Navy also announced it sent a guided-missile submarine and two guided-missile cruisers through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Persian Gulf. On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force dispatched two B-52 bombers to the Middle East to make a “deliberate appearance” in the region.
After the B-52s flew over the Middle East, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the U.S. and Trump of seeking to fabricate a “pretext for war” with Iran.
The U.S. has also taken precautions to reduce the risk diplomatic personnel might face from an attack. The Trump administration withdrew some staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of a “de-risking” period around Soleimani’s death.
U.S. intelligence officials recently said they had observed Iran-backed militias in Iraq in a “heightened level of preparation,” suggesting they may be part of a possible attack. One official who spoke with CNN in recent weeks said those militias already have all the weapons “capability” they need for a potential attack.