US aircraft carrier Gerald R Ford to leave region after extended deployment

Ford carrier group first deployed to provide security for Israel as it launched war in Gaza

The USS Gerald R Ford sails alongside a refuelling tanker in the Mediterranean. US Naval Forces Central Command / US 6th Fleet / Reuters
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The USS Gerald R Ford aircraft carrier strike group will be heading home after months of extra duty at sea providing protection for Israel, the US Navy said on Monday.

The aircraft carrier and its accompanying warships will be replaced by the amphibious assault ship the USS Bataan and its accompanying warships, the USS Mesa Verde and the USS Carter Hall. The three vessels had been in the Red Sea and have been sailing towards the Eastern Mediterranean over the past few days.

The Ford will sail for home “in the coming days”, said the US 6th Fleet, the European-based US naval command that is responsible for ships sailing in the Mediterranean.

The vessel was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean to be within striking distance of Israel the day after Hamas's October 7 attacks. The carrier stayed in the Eastern Mediterranean while its accompanying warships sailed into the Red Sea, where they have repeatedly intercepted incoming ballistic missiles and attack drones fired from areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Since it was extended in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Ford and the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier have been part of a two-carrier presence maintained by the amid US concerns that the Gaza conflict will widen.

The Eisenhower has recently patrolled near the Gulf of Aden, at the mouth of the Red Sea waterway where commercial vessels have come under attack in recent weeks.

On Sunday, helicopters from the Eisenhower and its destroyer the USS Gravely responded to a distress call from the container ship Maersk Hangzhou, which was under attack by Houthi boats. The boat crews fired at the helicopters, which returned fire, sinking three of the four boats and killing their crews, US Central Command said.

The repeated attacks on the commercial ships have led some companies to suspend transits through Bab Al Mandeb, the narrow strait which connects the Gulf of Aden to the southern Red Sea and then the Suez Canal.

The Bataan's accompanying warship, the Mesa Verde, is a transport dock ship, carrying about 2,000 marines “capable of supporting a wide range of missions”, the 6th Fleet said.

The Carter Hall is a dock landing ship that carries amphibious landing craft and their crews. Both vessels and the Bataan can support rotary aircraft; the Bataan can also carry and support the Marine Corps' F-35 vertical take-off fighter aircraft.

Updated: January 01, 2024, 8:00 PM