WASHINGTON DC - An armed build-up of military assets in the Middle East gives every sign the United States is preparing for a war with Iran.
The only thing missing is any sign of aggression, let alone drums of war coming from Tehran. U.S. President Donald Trump has poured pressure on Iran since coming to office, reneging on an international treaty that was designed to bring Iran back into the international fold, imposing crippling sanctions which have all but collapsed the Iranian economy, and sent its currency spiralling; he has threatened other countries not to do business with Iran, ended waivers allowing certain countries from buying oil from Iran, and even designated Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.
Tehran has been silent as the U.S. has stepped up its sabre-rattling. In an advisory note issued on Thursday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) said since early May there had been an increased possibility of Iran or its regional proxies taking action against U.S. and partner interests.
Potential targets include oil production infrastructure, MARAD said, noting that Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of oil produced is shipped.
"Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf," MARAD said.
"Reporting indicates heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and interests."
Notwithstanding the validity of any threat, the Pentagon is beefing up its presence in the Gulf with orders for the amphibious warship USS Arlington and elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to join the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, in response to alleged threats from Iran, a statement on Friday said.
"USS Arlington is a San Antonio-class ship that transports U.S. Marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft with the capability to support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions," said the statement.
"Arlington also provides a high-quality command and control capability and improved interoperability with our allies and partners in the region."
The Lincoln CSG left the Mediterranean Sea to join the U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of operation, "in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests," said the Pentagon statement
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton spoke about a week ago about a "number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings."
CENTCOM Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie then asked for the Lincoln CSG and a detachment of B-52 Stratofortress bombers to be sent to the region
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), the Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez (F 104), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) departed the Mediterranean on Thursday and transited the Suez Canal the same day, officially entering the U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Central Command area.
ABECSG 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 (CENTCOM) 'to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region,' a statement from the U.S. Navy said. ABECSG will be positioned by CENTCOM where, the Navy says, it will best be able to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region and to deter any aggression.
"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, Carrier Strike Group Twelve said. "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."
Carrier strike groups are inherent maneuver forces that offer commanders the ability to flexibly respond to a wide variety of missions and contingencies, and are capable of being redeployed rapidly across U.S. combatant command boundaries.
"One of our strengths as a strike group has been teamwork, led by Rear Admiral Wade’s positive emphasis on ‘team of teams,’" Capt. Sean R. Anderson, commodore, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2 said. "We really have the planning and coordination foundation in place that reaches well beyond our strike group, to aid our success."
ABECSG has executed a rigorous training and readiness phase, developing and perfecting the warfighting capabilities of all strike group units through scenarios of increasing complexity and intensity designed to improve interoperability and engagement with allies and partners, and demonstrate the combat power and flexibility of naval forces, the U.S. Navy statement said.
The Suez Canal is a 120-mile long narrow channel that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. The expedited transit of ABECSG through the Suez and into the 5th Fleet area of operation showed the flexibility of a multinational, multi-platform unit to respond whenever and wherever is required.
ABECSG provides a wide range of mission capabilities to include maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, security cooperation, and humanitarian assistance
A U.S. Army Patriot missile battery has also been ordered to U.S. Central Command as part of the request for additional forces which was made earlier this week.
"A Patriot battery is a long-range, all-weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft," read the Pentagon statement.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the Patriot deployment on Friday.
"The Acting Secretary of Defense has approved the movement of USS Arlington (LPD-24) and a Patriot battery to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) as part of the command’s original request for forces from earlier this week," a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense released on Friday said.
"These assets will join the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force bomber task force in the Middle East region in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests."
"The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies. Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces," the Pentagon statement said.
"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region."