The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group have returned to the Persian Gulf region amid rising tensions with Iran over the killing of a top nuclear scientist, the Pentagon and the U.S. 5th Fleet said Friday.
In statements, both the Defense Department and a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the return of the Nimitz was to provide security for the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The announcement of the carrier's presence came as Iran vowed retaliation for the ambush east of Tehran Friday that killed nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The deployment of the Nimitz "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" in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.
"There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group," Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, said in a statement.
The Nimitz and its strike group arrived in the region in July. Earlier in November, left the Gulf area for naval exercises with India, Australia and Japan, according to the Navy.
In a message Saturday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei called Fakhrizadeh a martyr and ordered "the definite punishment of those who perpetrated and ordered it," Iran's Fars news agency reported.
Without naming those responsible, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), said "harsh revenge and punishment is on the agenda for them," Fars reported.
Other Iranian officials blamed Israel and its Mossad spy agency for the attack.
In a Cabinet meeting Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country would "respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time," Iran's Tasnim news agency reported.
"The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos," Rouhani said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.