- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2021

After spending almost a year at sea in the Middle East, America’s most senior aircraft carrier is finally heading home and a new mission for future deployments.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gave the order to send the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) back to its home port of Bremerton, Washington, near Seattle. It has been gone since April 2020.

The Nimitz, commissioned in 1975 as the first in its class of aircraft carriers, had been operating in the Persian Gulf region in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security. Now it will support U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific region, Pentagon officials said.

A 10-month deployment causes wear and tear on both ships and sailors, officials said. Mr. Austin also was well aware of the larger geostrategic picture in the Middle East when he approved the change in mission for the Nimitz, said chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“It’s a decision driven by a frank assessment of the operational needs and the threats in the area,” Mr. Kirby told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday. “This particular carrier in the strike group has been at sea for quite some time — a much longer deployment than it typically required.”

Mr. Kirby said he had no information about whether another carrier would be replacing the Nimitz in the Middle East. He wouldn’t characterize the decision to send the carrier home as a response to any particular threat or event.

“It is very typical for us to move naval assets from one area of responsibility to another,” said Mr. Kirby, a retired Navy admiral. “Naval assets are mobile, they’re agile and they’re flexible. They don’t need permission slips to operate in certain parts of the world.”

Mr. Kirby wouldn’t say whether a change of administration in Washington had anything to do with the decision to redeploy the Nimitz and refocus its attention on the Pacific region.

“The bulk of our treaty alliances are there,” in the Indo-Pacific area, Mr. Kirby said. “We’ve got serious security interests (there) that we intend to meet.

Just because the Nimitz will be heading to the Pacific next, that doesn’t mean the U.S. is taking its eye off the ball in the Middle East, officials said.

“The Secretary [of Defense] believes we have a robust presence in the Middle East,” Mr. Kirby said. “We certainly have legitimate requirements for naval power in both areas (and) there is a finite number of aircraft carriers available. This is a constant balancing act.”

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