US to pull aircraft carrier from Middle East amid tensions with Iran

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The military is bringing back the lone Navy aircraft carrier operating in the Middle East amid simmering tensions with Iran, Defense Department officials said Thursday.

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller “has directed that the USS Nimitz will transit directly home to complete a nearly 10 month deployment,” according to a Pentagon statement.

The aircraft carrier had been in the region to provide air cover during troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Somalia.

The decision to pull it from the Middle East comes a day after the U.S. military flew two B-52H bombers over the Persian Gulf in an effort to deter Iran from any attack on U.S. troops in the region. That was the second time this month that the Pentagon flew a such a mission over the region.

A senior U.S. military official has also told reporters that intelligence reports indicate that Iran may want to avenge the killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani with an attack on the one-year anniversary of his death. President Trump ordered a drone strike on Soleimani near Baghdad’s airport on Jan. 3.

But returning the Nimitz to the United States seems to back off on the recent U.S. show of force, indicating that there may be a split within the Pentagon as to how much of a threat Iran poses to the United States and its interests.

Iran is suspected to be behind the Dec. 20 rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which included 21 missiles that killed at least one Iraqi civilian and damaged the embassy compound.

The strike, the largest such attack on the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone in a decade, prompted Trump to threaten Iran via tweet. 

“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” he wrote on Twitter on Dec. 23. 

Officials now fear that Iran may be planning additional attacks, which Tehran has pushed back on, accusing Trump of trying to create a “pretext for war” with the B-52 flights.

“Instead of fighting Covid in US, @realDonaldTrump & cohorts waste billions to fly B52s & send armadas to OUR region. Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to FABRICATE pretext for war,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Thursday. “Iran doesn’t seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests.” 

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