US aircraft carrier 'Nimitz' ordered to stay in Gulf after Iran threats
Aircraft carrier was told to return home last week despite rising tension over killing of Qassem Suleimani one year ago
The US has reversed a decision to bring an aircraft carrier home from the Arabian Gulf, with the Pentagon saying that owing to recent threats by Iran the USS Nimitz would stay in position.
The Nimitz has patrolled Gulf waters since late November, but in a statement issued on December 31, acting US defence secretary Christopher Miller ordered the vessel to “transit directly home to complete a nearly 10-month deployment”.
The New York Times, quoting US officials, said the move was part of a “de-escalatory” signal to Tehran to avoid a conflict in President Donald Trump’s last days in office.
But on Sunday, Mr Miller issued a new statement, changing course.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” he said.
“The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the US Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America.”
The decision came as Iran and its supporters marked one year since a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Suleimani and the Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis.
Thousands of Iraqi mourners chanted “revenge” and “no to America” on Sunday.
The anniversary of the drone strike was also marked in recent days across Iran and by supporters in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime, reimposing and reinforcing crippling sanctions.
The two countries have twice come to the brink of war since June 2019, once after Suleimani was assassinated.
Days after Suleimani’s death, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops.
Mr Trump refrained from any further military response.
Updated: January 4, 2021 11:37 PM