WASHINGTON – The aircraft carrier Nimitz is finally returning home.
Last month, the Pentagon ordered the warship to remain in the Middle East amid Iranian threats against President Donald J. Trump and other U.S. officials, just three days after announcing the ship was returning home as a signal to defuse the growing tensions with Tehran.
As those immediate tensions appear to ease a bit and President Biden seeks to resume talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal from which Mr. Trump has withdrawn, three Defense Department officials have said Monday that the Nimitz and her 5,000 crew members were ordered on Sunday to return to the ship’s home port of Bremerton, Wash., after a 10-month longer-than-usual deployment.
The Pentagon had been engaged for weeks in a muscle-building strategy to deter Iran and its Shiite proxies in Iraq from attacking US personnel in the Persian Gulf to avenge the death of Major General Qassim Suleimani. General Suleimani, commander of the elite Iranian Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in January 2020.
The Pentagon then claimed last month – without presenting any evidence – that it detected new intelligence that Iran was targeting Mr. Trump in the weeks leading up to the inauguration. So the Nimitz and its wing of attack aircraft were ordered to stay close to the Persian Gulf, just in case.
Biden’s aides felt soon after taking office that it was time to send Nimitz home. Army Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said last week that U.S. firepower in the region has most likely helped deter Iran and its proxies from any attacks in recent years. days of the Trump administration.
“Overall, they were able to tell them now is not the time to start a war,” General McKenzie said, according to Defense One, who was among the publications traveling to the region with him. “All of this is probably not the result of the military component. I’m sure there is a political calculation in Iran to get a new administration and see if things change.
Indeed, Robert Malley, a veteran Middle East expert and former Obama administration official, was chosen last week to be Biden’s special envoy to Iran. He will be tasked with trying to persuade Tehran to put the brakes on its nuclear program – and to stop enriching uranium beyond the limits imposed by a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – and to agree to new negotiations beforehand. that the United States lift its punitive economic sanctions against Iran.
This prospect angered important regional allies. Israeli military leader Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi last week warned the Biden administration against joining the nuclear deal, even if it tightened the terms of the deal. Gen. Kochavi also said he had ordered his forces to step up preparations for possible offensive action against Iran in the coming year.
No decision has been made on whether to send another carrier to the Middle East to relieve the Nimitz, the three Pentagon officials said on Monday. But the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, now in the Atlantic and bound for the Mediterranean, or the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific, could be dispatched in the weeks or months to come.
The Air Force is also expected to continue to send B-52 bombers on periodic round-trip US show-of-force missions to the Persian Gulf. Two B-52s flew a 36-hour mission from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana last week – the first under the Biden administration and the third in total this year – 10 days after a similar tandem of bombers flew through the same route from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“It is still a tense time,” said Vice Admiral John W. Miller, who is a retired commander of the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet and who recently visited the Persian Gulf region.