BREMERTON, Wash. - After an extended deployment, the Pentagon has ordered the Bremerton, Washington-based USS Nimitz to return home.
"We want to thank all the men and women aboard the ships in that strike crew and the squadrons who supported Central Command now for more than 270 days, ensuring our national security and deterring conflict in a very critical region of the world," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
In January, the aircraft carrier was ordered home from the Persian Gulf area, then sent back.
The highly unusual Nimitz flip-flop by the acting secretary of defense at the time, Christopher Miller, seemed to undercut U.S. Central Command’s efforts to convince Iran that it would not pay to launch an attack on U.S. forces.
The huge vessel, with a complement of attack and support aircraft, was leaving the region when it received word to turn around and head back.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) passes Mount Rainier while transiting the Puget Sound. Nimitz is currently underway conducting routine operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Olivia Banmally Nichols/Released)
Sending the Nimitz home had been on the table for weeks, since the carrier was on a lengthy deployment and was scheduled to be home by the end of 2020. Its tour was extended by a few weeks to provide backup for U.S. troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. But as tensions with Iran rose in mid-December, Central Command wanted to keep the Nimitz nearby. Instead, on Dec. 31, Miller announced that he had ordered it to return home. Three days later, he reversed himself and said it would stay.
Canceling the go-home order for the Nimitz took some defense officials by surprise, suggesting that the decision may have been made at the White House rather than as a result of new arguments from military officers.
The move means that there will be no US carrier operating in the Central Command area, according to the Pentagon. But Kirby said the US continues to have "a robust presence in the Middle East" and has more than enough airpower if necessary.
The Nimitz and supporting ships have been deployed for 10 months which is longer than typically required, they said.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) transits the Pacific Ocean during a composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) as part of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG). COMPTUEX is an intensive exercise designed to fully integrate units of the CSG,
The Associated Press contributed to this report.