ABOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER JOHN C. STENNIS IN THE PERSIAN GULF — A U.S. aircraft carrier sailed into the Persian Gulf on Friday, becoming the first since America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May and breaking the longest carrier absence in the volatile region since at least the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The arrival of the John C. Stennis comes as Iranian officials have returned to repeatedly threatening to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels shadowed the Stennis and its strike group, at one point launching rockets away from it and flying a drone nearby.
The long absence of a carrier, however, could become a standard practice here as now-outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to shake up naval operations and American air bases spanning the region can scramble fighter jets and drones.
“We are trying to be more operationally unpredictable,” said Lt. Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for U.S.’ Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. “Now we’re switching it up because our adversaries are watching closely. We want to be operationally unpredictable to our enemies, but strategically predictable to our partners.”