Essex Amphibious Ready Group Now in Middle East, Iwo Jima ARG Heading Home

September 13, 2021 7:02 PM - Updated: September 14, 2021 12:07 PM
Sailors render honors to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) from the flight deck of the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS-1) on April 12, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group entered the U.S. 5th Fleet after quietly deploying from California last month, Navy officials confirmed to USNI News on Monday.

USS Essex (LHD-2), amphibious transport dock USS Portland (LPD-27), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) left San Diego on Aug. 12 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked and entered the North Arabian Sea on Sunday. The ARG took a direct route across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean before crossing into the 5th Fleet after joining in the Large Scale Exercise 2021 on the West Coast.

The 11th MEU, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., is comprised of Battalion Landing Team 1/1, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 (Reinforced), Marine Attack Squadron 214, and Combat Logistics Battalion 11.

Meanwhile, the Iwo Jima ARG has begun to transit back toward the East Coast after supporting the U.S. military exit from Afghanistan since entering 5th Fleet in June.

The group left the East Coast in late March and operated extensively around the U.K. before transiting the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal.

As of Monday, USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and USS San Antonio (LPD-17) with the embarked 24th MEU was heading toward the Bab el-Mandeb strait, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.

About 2,000 Marines from the 24th MEU were moved from the ARG to Kuwait and then to Kabul for the non-combatant evacuation operation from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. A Marine from the MEU — Sgt. Nicole Gee — was killed in an Aug. 26 ISIS-K attack, along with 10 other Marines, a soldier and a sailor.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.based 24th MEU is made up of the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24 and the Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced, as well as a Light Armored Reconnaissance detachment.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group has been in U.S. 5th Fleet since late June to support the Afghanistan withdrawal. The U.S. has kept a carrier on station, mostly in the North Arabian Sea, since May of 2019 at the request of the U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Kenneth
McKenzie. The Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was shifted to the region rather than its typical patrol area in the Western Pacific.

How long a carrier will remain in the Middle East is an open question. Following the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, the Pentagon has pledged an “over the horizon” capability for counterterrorism strikes in the region. Some of those assets, manned and unmanned, would be flown from U.S. bases near the Persian Gulf in addition to strikes a carrier.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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