The US suddenly pulled the USS Nimitz — its only aircraft carrier in the Middle East — out of the region ahead of Sunday’s one-year anniversary of the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, despite weeks of rising tensions with Iran.
The move was reportedly a “de-escalatory signal” aimed at avoiding a crisis with less than three weeks left in President Trump’s term.
The change came as Iranian leaders threatened revenge against President Trump and military leaders for Soleimani’s death. “Do not presume that someone, as the president of America, who appeared as a murderer or ordered a murder, may be immune from justice being carried out. Never,” the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, said at a gathering to commemorate the anniversary.
The Nimitz’s departure also comes days after the US flew strategic bombers over Iran as a show of force, and a week after Trump warned the Iranian government that it would be held responsible for attacks targeting Americans in Iraq.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller ordered the USS Nimitz, which was operating just off the coast of Somalia in the midst of a 10-month deployment that started in September, to return to its Washington State homeport. The Pentagon’s decision was made over the objections of top military advisers, according to The New York Times.
US intelligence officials have seen growing indications that an Iranian attack on American forces is “imminent,” NBC News reported. Iran denies plotting an attack, and even accused its arch-enemy Israel of planning to kill US service members in a setup designed to provoke Trump into responding against Tehran.
The US still has multiple other Navy vessels in the region.
Separately, Iran said it was ramping up its enrichment of uranium to levels not permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew the US from in 2017 but President-elect Biden aims to rejoin.
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