The Pentagon abruptly ordered an aircraft carrier on its way home from the Middle East to turn around as it warned Iran

USS Nimitz
USS Nimitz

  • The Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller on Sunday abruptly ordered an aircraft carrier on its way home to change course and return to the Middle East as a warning to Iran.
  • He said that the move was in response to Iranian threats against the president and other government officials.
  • The order, which reportedly came from President Donald Trump, follows a flurry of US military activity in the area in the final weeks of the Trump administration.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Pentagon on Monday unexpectedly ordered an aircraft carrier that was on its way home to turn around and head back to the Middle East to deter Iran.

Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller announced on Thursday, Dec. 31, that the US Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was returning to its home port to wrap up a lengthy 10-month deployment.

On Sunday evening, he announced that he ordered the Nimitz to “halt its routine redeployment,” explaining that the carrier will “now remain on station” in the Middle East. The move, Miller said, is a response to “recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials.”

“No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” he said in his statement.

Miller’s decision to send the aircraft carrier home, a decision that went against the advice of senior military advisors, was intended to de-escalate tensions with Iran. 

The sudden changes made on Sunday to the Nimitz’s orders came from President Donald Trump, CNN reports.

The president recently threatened Iran on Twitter after a large rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-backed militia forces. Writing that there has been “chatter” of more attacks, he said: “If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible.”

Sunday marked the first anniversary of the US drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a prominent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a Iranian-backed militia leader, in Iraq.

Soleimani’s death led Iran to unleash a barrage of ballistic missiles on US and coalition forces in Iraq a few days later. In the weeks leading up to the first anniversary of the general’s death, there has been some concern that Iran might act aggressively.

Ahead of the anniversary, there was a flurry of US military activity in the region.

The US military sent B-52H Stratofortress bombers on a deterrence flights through the Persian Gulf three times from late November to late December.

CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said at the time of the second flight on Dec. 10 that “potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression.”

Commenting on the B-52 bomber flights, a senior military official told NBC News that tensions with Iran were running high. “We want to ensure that if they are contemplating some sort of an aggressive act, that they would they would think twice about it before they did it,” the official said.

On Dec. 21, the Navy announced the presence of the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia and the guided-missile cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea in the Persian Gulf.

The rare statement, the first in eight years to announce that a guided-missile submarine was in the Persian Gulf,  emphasized the submarine’s combat capabilities, specifically the 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles on board.

The Navy said in its statement that USS Georgia’s “presence demonstrates the United States’ commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities to remain ready to defend against any threat at any time.”

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Iran seizes a South Korean ship after the USS Nimitz does a U-turn

warplane refuel B-52
A U.S. Air Force B-52 from Minot Air Force Base is aerial refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility Dec. 30, 2020. The B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, heavy bomber that is capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet and can carry nuclear weapons.

  • Iran seized a South Korean tanker and arrested its crew in the Persian Gulf on Monday as the US military reversed itself and ordered the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to remain in the region.
  • The reversal of the Nimitz’s orders over the past five days alarmed several NATO officials who have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they see as erratic US national security moves post-election. 

  • “I suspect they will say there was new information or a new threat and that the Nimitz was needed to stay in the area but there will be widespread suspicions that Trump overruled the redeployment for his own political or emotional concerns,” a NATO official told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Iran seized a South Korean tanker and arrested its crew in the Persian Gulf on Monday as the US military continued an on-again, off-again military build-up around its border. The maneuvers came days after the first anniversary of the US assassination of a top Iranian general.


The seizure – which Iran described as related to environmental pollution in a statement reported by the Associated Press – came just one day after the Pentagon abruptly reversed a decision to move the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz out of the region just three days prior.

Little more was known about the seizure of the Korean ship on Monday morning.


ships
Routine ship traffic around the Gulf of Oman.

The US and Iran have been flexing their military and rhetorical might over the past few weeks around the one-year anniversary of the US drone killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3, 2020. Iran has threatened revenge for the targeted killing of the country’s most powerful military official.


Last month the US Navy announced it was moving a cruise missile-armed submarine into the Persian Gulf for the first time in nearly a decade. Long-range US Air Force bombers conducted 30+ hour patrols over the region on several occasions from their bases in the United States. At the same time, increased rocket fire on US diplomatic and military compounds in Iraq – believed to have been conducted by Iranian proxy groups – forced the evacuation of non-essential personnel from several facilities. That led to another round of threats and counterthreats by US and Iranian officials in the Trump administration’s last days.

National security advisors convinced Trump not to conduct a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities last November, according to a New York Times report, despite strong encouragement from Israel. The Israeli government fears the incoming Biden administration will take a softer line on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has responded angrily to the provocations, which included last year’s assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist reportedly by Israeli operatives. 


The reversal of the Nimitz’s movements over the past five days alarmed several NATO officials who have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they see as erratic US national security moves post-election. 


“I feel like my briefings are on a 24-48 hour delay,” said a NATO official in Brussels, who asked not to be named criticizing a close ally.


“What we believe is that after weeks of pushing additional material and warships into the Gulf region to pressure Iran, it was decided to send the Nimitz home after a mission off the coast of Somalia in an effort to reduce tensions,” said the official. “NATO supported this de-escalation because tensions were dangerously high and there’s more than enough military firepower in the region to deter Iran.”


When asked why such an immediate reversal, the NATO official admitted that it was too early to tell. 


“I guess I need a briefing,” said the official. “I suspect they will say there was new information or a new threat and that the Nimitz was needed to stay in the area but there will be widespread suspicions that Trump overruled the redeployment for his own political or emotional concerns.”


The New York Times reported that Trump vetoed the redeployment of the Nimitz over concerns it made him look weak. 

Nimitz
The void among commercial ships possibly shows civilian craft giving a wide berth to the USS Nimitz and its entourage.

A former US national security official, who is expected to join the Biden administration and thus asked not to be identified, said that the previous overflights of the region by long-range bombers – which the official described as not particularly useful for defensive operations – might have inflamed regional allies enough that the Pentagon concluded the Nimitz had to go, only to be overruled by Trump three days later. 


“The B-52s [sent from US bases] are useful on the first day of a major war because they can target command and control centers and anti-aircraft defenses from range with cruise missiles,” said the former official. “It’s an offensive threat and so long as they were over the Gulf, Iran would have been convinced of an imminent attack. But they go home after a few hours, the Nimitz can stay and support a much wider range of operations. So it’s an operational mistake to have tried to send it home at all but maybe this was forced by the outcry over the B-52s. Now there’s double confusion everywhere.”

The USS Nimitz – one of the world’s most powerful warships with dozens of attack and support aircraft – had been operating off the Horn of Africa in support of US forces deployed in Somalia as recently as Dec. 28, according to the US Navy. It is believed to be returning to a patrol position in the northern Gulf of Oman. 


For its part, Iran announced just minutes after that it had detained the South Korean tanker that it finds South Korea sanctions unreasonable and planned to discuss the sanctions and the detained ship with the South Korean deputy foreign minister, who is due in Iran this week for talks. 

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