The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Nimitz will remain in the Gulf due to "recent threats" by Iran, the Pentagon said on January 3.
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller issued a statement saying he had ordered the Nimitz to “halt its routine redeployment,” citing the threats, which he said had been “issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials.”
The New York Times reported a day earlier that the Nimitz, which has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November, was returning home.
U.S. officials quoted by the Times said the move was part of a "de-escalatory" signal to Tehran to avoid a conflict in Trump's last days in office. But Miller made clear in his statement that the ship would stay in the Gulf.
"The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
His statement came on the first anniversary of the twin assassinations by U.S. airstrike of a top Iranian general and a leader of an Iraqi powerful Shi’ite militia.
The drone strike near Baghdad airport killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi militia, along with several other Iran-allied militiamen.
Thousands of Iraqis converged on central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on January 3 to mark the anniversary. Many of the demonstrators were holding posters of Soleimani and al-Mohandes. Some people demanded the expulsion of U.S. troops from Iraq and others cried "revenge" and "no to America."
Iran has vowed to avenge the killing, and for weeks U.S. officials have suggested Iran or allied Iraqi militia could carry out retaliatory attacks around the anniversary.
Security measures have been tightened in Iraq in the vicinity of Baghdad's Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.