This post has been updated with an April 3, 2021 statement from U.S. 5th Fleet.
The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is in the Middle East via a Suez Canal transit after operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, U.S. 5th Fleet announced on Saturday.
According to ship spotters, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) had approached the Port Said entrance to the canal on Friday morning local time. A defense official confirmed the transit to USNI News on Friday afternoon.
The Eisenhower strike group and Carrier Air Wing 3 had been launching air missions in support of the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve in the Eastern Mediterranean earlier this week.
The transit comes days after the Suez Canal was reopened after it had been blocked by the massive container ship Ever Given for the better part of a week.
“We appreciate the Government of Egypt and Suez Canal Authority’s efforts to ensure the safety of navigation in this critical waterway for all ships, and in allowing the IKE CSG to transit so quickly,” said Vice Adm. Samuel Paparo, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces said in a statement.
IKE’s arrival in the Red Sea is the first time a U.S. carrier strike group has been in U.S. Central Command since the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group left the region in January.
The transit follows the departure of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and its detachment of F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters from U.S. Central Command earlier this week. The three-ship amphibious ready group embarked with the 15th MEU is wrapping up a Middle East and Western Pacific deployment.
In the meantime, French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) is currently leading U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50.
IKE and its escorts deployed from the East Coast in February for its second deployment in a year.
The U.S. has maintained a near-constant carrier presence in CENTCOM since May 2019, when the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group moved to the region after provocations from Iran.
Eisenhower entering the Red Sea comes as the Biden administration is making moves to pull U.S. military forces from the Middle East.
“We’ve made decisions in the past and gapped the carrier in the Middle East, and as we do that, we do things to make sure that we have resources in the right place to ensure that we can respond to contingencies as they arise,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in late February. “There’s going to be gaps at periods of time. And again, we’re going to look at ourselves and make sure our resources are in alignment with our priorities based on our strategy going forward.”
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon is pulling back three Patriot missile defense batteries it moved to Saudi Arabia in 2019 as part of a larger effort to direct more forces to the Pacific.