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Report: SECDEF Austin orders US carrier remain near Europe instead of Middle East

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maxwell Higgins)
December 28, 2021

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Carrier Air Wing 1, and escort ships of the Truman Carrier Strike Group to remain in the Mediterranean Sea this week amid Russia’s ongoing military buildup along the Ukrainian border.

USNI News first reported Tuesday on the Truman Carrier Strike Group’s extended Mediterranean deployment, citing a defense official with knowledge of the decision. The strike group was scheduled to deploy to the Middle East before Austin ordered it to remain near Europe.

The reported extension of the Truman Carrier Strike Group’s deployment in the Mediterranean comes as Russia has been gathering troops near Ukraine for weeks. Last week, Ukrainian defense officials reported that around 265,000 Russian troops are now positioned within 250 miles of the Ukrainian border, including 122,000 troops within 125 miles of the border.

The defense official said the Truman Carrier Strike Group’s extended Mediterranean deployment was meant to reassure European allies of U.S support for regional security. The official reportedly made no specific mention of the ongoing Russian military buildup near Ukraine.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), recently issued a statement condemning Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

“We are gravely concerned by the substantial, unprovoked, and unjustified Russian military build-up on the borders of Ukraine in recent months, and reject the false Russian claims of Ukrainian and NATO provocations. We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, pursue diplomatic channels, and abide by its international commitments on transparency of military activities,” NATO said in a Dec. 16 press release.

Capt. Bill Speaks, spokesperson for European Command (EUCOM) confirmed to USNI News that the Truman Carrier Strike Group is operating in the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s area of command. The Sixth Fleet is a component of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, which covers approximately half of the Atlantic, including from the Arctic Ocean and the Adriatic, Baltic, Barents, Black, Caspian, Mediterranean, and North Seas.

Speaks did not offer further comment on the Truman Carrier Strike Group’s operations as “these deployments are dynamic in nature and due to our operational security policy.”

On Thursday, the Sixth Fleet did disclose that ships from the Truman Carrier Strike Group conducted interoperability drills with elements of the Tunisian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea on Dec. 20 and 21. That disclosure gives some context as to the USS Harry Truman’s recent location.

The Mediterranean Sea connects to the Sea of Marmara, which then connects to the Black Sea through the Bosporos Strait in Turkey. The Black Sea touches the southern edge of Ukraine as well as the eastern edges of NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria. The presence of a carrier strike group in the Mediterranean Sea could allow for a relatively quick response to Russian actions in eastern Europe.