This story has been updated to clarify USS Nimitz’s (CVN-68) deployment to U.S. 5th Fleet.
Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is now back in the Middle East after conducting an exercise series with the Indian Navy, a spokesperson with U.S. 5th Fleet told USNI News on Monday.
A spokeswoman for 5th Fleet confirmed that Nimitz entered the area of operations on Nov. 25 but denied speculation that the carrier moved into the waters as a result of any regional threats. The Pentagon pointed to an upcoming troop withdrawal as a reason for wanting a carrier presence in the region.
“There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement. “The return of Nimitz is centered on maintaining [U.S. Central Command]’s ability to remain postured and prepared to help preserve regional stability and security.”
The carrier moved back to 5th Fleet just days before reports emerged that an Iranian scientist was killed inside Iran. On Nov. 27, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near Tehran, according to a report in The Associated Press.
In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused Israel of taking part in the assassination.
“This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators Iran calls on int’l community—and especially E.U.—to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror,” Zarif wrote in the tweet.
The Pentagon in a statement explaining Nimitz’s move to 5th Fleet cited President Donald Trump’s push to decrease troop numbers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“During the change in force posture, the DoD felt it was prudent to have additional defensive capabilities in the region to meet any contingency. Therefore the USS Nimitz has been redeployed to the CENTCOM AOR,” the Defense Department said in a statement. “The USS Nimitz had been in the CENTCOM are of responsibility earlier this fall but had transitioned to the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] AOR. This action ensures we have sufficient capability available to respond to any threat and to deter any adversary from acting against our troops during the force reduction.”
Nimitz had been operating in the Persian Gulf for nearly two months, but left earlier this month to drill with an Indian aircraft carrier for the annual Malabar exercise. The carrier had been operating in 5th Fleet since the end of July.
The U.S. had consistently maintained a carrier presence in 5th Fleet since May 2019. Carrier operations in the Middle East increased 20 percent this year compared to last year, according to USNI News carrier deployment data.