- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2016

The White House’s decision to extend the deployment of a U.S. carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf was not driven by the need for additional American air power in the fight against Islamic State, but rather part of a larger effort to maintain regional stability.

U.S.-led military operations to flush Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, from its bastions in Iraq and Syria were the “lever” that persuaded the Obama administration to extend the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group by one month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Monday.

The White House “has made very clear that this is a priority,” Adm. Richardson said of the group’s extended mission in the Mideast, “and we were pretty expeditious about … turning that around.”

The Navy fighter jets based in the strike group comprises roughly 25 percent of all U.S. air power being leveraged against Islamic State targets in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region, he said.

“But there is so much more to it,” Adm. Richardson told reporters at the Pentagon, noting the group’s extended presence in the Gulf would aid U.S. efforts to maintain security in one the busiest maritime shipping waterways in the world.

The strike group’s presence would also aid U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM] operations to monitor the Iranian Navy’s activities in the region.

That said, Adm. Richardson also noted the sea service’s long-awaited investigation into a January incident where 10 U.S. sailors were apprehended and detained by Iran is nearly complete. Navy officials plan to release the findings of their inquiry at the end of this month, he said.

The sailors, part of the San Diego-based Riverine Squadron 1, were attached to the Truman strike group at the time of their apprehension by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

The sailors were reportedly conducting a routine mission when their vessel suffered a mechanical failure off Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s.

The sailors were eventually released back to U.S. forces several days after their capture, but not after IRGC released images of the U.S. sailors in Iranian custody.

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