The USS Nimitz is headed home to the West Coast after a 10-month deployment in the Middle East. The Nimitz was scheduled to be home in early December, but tensions with Iran and its support of troop movement out of Somalia extended its deployment.
The Department of Defense published an official release on December 31, confirming Nimitz’s return to the United States. Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller ordered that the carrier return directly home.
On behalf of the acting secretary, Jonathan Rath Hoffman Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs said, “The Secretary appreciates the hard work, commitment, and flexibility of more than 5,000 Sailors and Marines of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group who repeatedly demonstrated operational excellence in providing air support to combat operations against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and ensuring maritime security in critical waterways.”
“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 U.S. Central Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command areas of responsibility.”
“They conducted themselves admirably throughout the deployment despite the many challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic,” Hoffman added.
“The sacrifices and services of the Sailors, Marines, and their families is greatly appreciated by the entire Department of Defense and were in the finest traditions of the U.S. naval service. We are glad that we can conclude 2020 by announcing these warriors are headed home.”
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the USS Nimitz is leaving the theater at a time when tensions with Iran are high.
According to the Navy Times, military officials have anonymously reported that intelligence is showing that Iran may be planning to attack American or allied assets in Iraq or somewhere else in the Middle East. On Wednesday, the U.S. responded to these threats by dispatching two B-52 bombers, which flew from the U.S. directly to the Persian Gulf, as a sign of force and deterrence.
These events come after an Iranian-supported Shiite militia group attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with rockets, on December 20.
President Trump has acknowledged that the U.S. is aware of Iran’s potential plans to attack. In a tweet on December 23, the president stated, “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over. We hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
January 3 will be the one-year anniversary of the American airstrike that killed General Qassem Soleimani. This is another contributing factor to rising tensions with Iran.
With the Nimitz headed home and without another aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, this may be a sign that there are differing opinions within the Defense Department on whether Iran is a formal threat.
The upcoming shift in U.S. administration could also change the landscape and dynamic of the fragile relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
President Trump has emphasized his desire to move U.S. troops out of combat zones and to bring many of them home. The return of the USS Nimitz and the movement of troops out of Somalia seem to be an accurate reflection of Trump’s foreign policy.
Since May of 2019, the U.S. has maintained a continuous deployment of aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf. It will be interesting to see if another carrier will soon return to the region.