Washington: The USS Nimitz set sail to relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which took part in Gulf war games last week with a third US carrier, the Pentagon said.
The new battle group will be in position by “late-to-mid April”, but there will be no overlap with the Eisenhower’s presence in the Gulf, so the number of US carriers there would stay at two, a navy official said on condition of anonymity.
The nuclear-powered Nimitz and its flotilla of destroyers, cruisers and missile-carrying frigates has weighed anchor in San Diego, California.
“It’s already departed,” the navy source said on condition of anonymity.
The Nimitz is to support US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Navy said, amid a spike in tensions over Iran’s seizure of 15 British marines and sailors and an ongoing standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The Eisenhower took part this week in war games in the Gulf with the carrier USS John S. Stennis. The Stennis and the Eisenhower wound down their show of force involving 15 warships in the Gulf on Thursday.
The two-carrier deployment in the Gulf was the highest level US naval presence in the strategic oil shipping channel since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The navy said it would deploy no more than two carrier groups to the Gulf.
“If anything, there would be a point where there is only one in the region,” an official said last week, on condition of anonymity.
The Nimitz will support operations in Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan, the navy said in a press release.
The Stennis had been operating in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea but entered Gulf waters on Tuesday.