- The US Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier is no longer in the Pacific.
- USS Ronald Reagan is moving into the Middle East to support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
- Some questioned whether the move shows the US isn’t focused enough on countering China.
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The Japan-based US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has left the Pacific and is now moving into position in the Middle East to cover the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The aircraft carrier, which is home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan in the 7th Fleet area of operations, has entered the 5th Fleet for the first time since 2012.
This is the first time that a Japan-based carrier has been sent to the Middle East since the USS Kitty Hawk deployed to the region in 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq, according to USNI News.
The carrier is accompanied by the cruiser USS Shiloh and destroyer USS Halsey and will “provide airpower to protect US and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations from Afghanistan,” the Navy said Friday.
The US military is currently in the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, where it has been fighting for nearly two decades, in accordance with an agreement with the Taliban negotiated during the last administration and upheld by the Biden administration.
US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said this week that the military has completed more than 50% of the retrograde process, which involves pulling out personnel and equipment and turning over bases and other facilities to the Afghan military.
The Pentagon’s plans to relocate the Ronald Reagan to support the withdrawal were first reported in late May by the Wall Street Journal, which argued in a later editorial that the move “highlights the US Navy’s dearth of ships to meet its military missions,” an important topic as the Biden administration thinks about what the future fleet should look like.
Questions have also been raised about whether or not the decision to relocate the Ronald Reagan sends the wrong message, one that contradicts US assertions that the strategically-significant Indo-Pacific region and China are top priorities, but the Pentagon has said this is not the case.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters in early June that the US military wants to make sure that it has “the ability to keep this a safe and orderly withdrawal.”
“And there are ample, I would say, military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region aside from the Ronald Reagan to meet our security commitments to our allies,” he added.
The US military still has a carrier in the Pacific, specifically the USS Carl Vinson, which has been conducting carrier air wing qualifications in the vicinity of Hawaii.
The commander of US Third Fleet said recently that the Vinson, as well as the other ships in the strike group, were “positioned to respond if called.”