Carrier Lincoln Enters Red Sea After Speeding Up Transit to Middle East

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Suez Canal on May 9, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow)
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Suez Canal on May 9, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow)

A Navy carrier strike group has entered the waters around the Middle East, four days after U.S. officials announced they were dispatching a show of military strength to the region in response to threats from Iran.

The Abraham Lincoln Strike Group transited the Suez Canal on Thursday, passing from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the 120-mile channel, Navy officials announced.

The Lincoln, which deployed in late March from its Norfolk, Virginia, homeport, brings with it the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Leyte Gulf and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Bainbridge, as well as a Spanish frigate, the Mendez Nunez.

"[The Lincoln Strike Group] has been conducting operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations for several weeks, but expedited their transit to U.S. Central Command to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region," Navy officials said in a statement. "[The strike group] will be positioned by CENTCOM where it will be best able to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region and to deter any aggression."

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National Security Adviser John Bolton released a statement May 5 announcing that the U.S. was "deploying" the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, along with a task force of B-52 bombers, to CENTCOM to "send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."

Officials have not clarified the nature of the perceived threat, but the move does come amid ramped-up tensions between the U.S. and the Iranian regime.

President Donald Trump last year withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement limiting Iran's ability to acquire and develop nuclear weapons, after asserting many times that it was a bad-faith deal.

Last month, the U.S. took the unprecedented step of designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, a move that Trump said "recognizes the reality" that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

The Iranian government promised retaliation, and responded within days by passing a measure labeling all U.S. military forces as terrorist.

The Lincoln Strike Group joins the Navy's Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in the Middle East. The Kearsarge was previously positioned in the Persian Gulf as part of routine deployed operations.

It's not clear how much faster the Lincoln, which had always been bound for the Middle East, arrived in the region. While in the 6th Fleet and en route to the Red Sea, the Lincoln hosted NATO representatives from nations including Finland, Germany, Greece, the Kingdom of Denmark, Poland, the Republic of Bulgaria, Spain and the United Kingdom on May 7, according to a military news release.

"Our Navy exists to deter conflict, ensure freedom of the seas, preserve our strategic interests and those of our allies, and respond to crises around the world," Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of the strike group, said in a statement. "We have trained hard and worked diligently to ensure we are prepared and ready to conduct a whole host of missions wherever and whenever required."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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