In Reversal, Pentagon Proclaims Plane Provider Nimitz to Stay in Center East
WASHINGTON – The Pentagon announced Sunday that it had ordered the aircraft carrier Nimitz to remain in the Middle East over Iranian threats against President Trump and other American officials, just three days after the warship was sent home to ease mounting tensions Tehran.
Acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher C. Miller, abruptly overturned his previous order to reinstate the Nimitz, which he had done against the objections of his top military advisors. The military had been preoccupied with a muscle-building strategy for weeks to prevent Iran from attacking American personnel in the Persian Gulf.
“Due to recent threats by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to cease its routine redeployment,” Miller said in a statement on Sunday evening.
United States intelligence agencies have observed for months that Iran is trying to target high-ranking American military officers and civilian leaders to avenge the death in an American of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Drone attack a year ago.
However, it was unclear what the new urgency of these threats led Mr. Miller to cancel his previous order to send the Nimitz home. In the past few days, Iranian officials have been stepping up their fiery messages against the United States. The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, said that anyone involved in the assassination of General Suleimani would not be able to “escape from law and justice” even if they were an American president.
It was unclear last week whether Mr. Trump was aware of Mr. Miller’s order to send the Nimitz to its homeport in Bremerton, Washington, after a longer than usual 10 month deployment.
Some Trump administration officials suggested on Sunday that with a controversial political week – the Georgia Senate runoff on Tuesday and the House and Senate meeting on Wednesday to win President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. confirm – the look of the aircraft carriers steaming from the Middle East did not suit the White House.
Whatever the reason, the mixed news surrounding the airline’s movements is raising new questions about coordination and communication between an inexperienced Pentagon leadership and the White House in the dwindling days of the Trump administration.
Some current and former Pentagon officials have criticized the decision-making process at the Pentagon since Mr. Trump dismissed Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and several of his top advisors in November and replaced them with Mr. Miller, a former counter-terrorism adviser to the White House. and several Trump loyalists.
Officials said Friday that Mr Miller ordered the redeployment of the Nimitz in part as a “de-escalation” signal to Tehran to avoid falling into a crisis at the end of Mr Trump’s administration that would land in Mr Biden’s lap in office.
In the past few weeks, Mr Trump has repeatedly threatened Iran on Twitter, and in November senior national security aides advised the president against launching a pre-emptive strike against an Iranian nuclear facility.
The Central Command of the Pentagon had published several violent demonstrations for weeks to warn Tehran of the consequences of an attack on American troops or diplomats.
The Nimitz and other warships arrived to provide air cover to American forces withdrawing from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The Air Force dispatched B-52 bombers three times to fly within 60 miles of the Iranian coast. And the Navy announced for the first time in nearly a decade that it had commanded a cruise missile submarine into the Persian Gulf.
American intelligence reports indicated that Iran and its deputies may have been preparing a strike last weekend to avenge the deaths of General Suleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, who was at the same time United States drone strike in Baghdad last January killed.
American intelligence analysts have discovered Iranian air defenses, naval forces and other security units on high alert in the past few days. They also noted that Iran brought more short-range missiles and drones into Iraq.
But senior Defense Department officials admit they cannot say whether Iran or its Shiite proxies in Iraq are ready to beat American troops or prepare defensive measures if Mr Trump orders a pre-emptive attack against them.