Iran tensions escalate with carrier deployment

Tensions with Iran escalate beyond war of words

By Rebecca Kheel

Washington spent Monday digesting Sunday night’s announcement from national security advisor John Bolton that a carrier strike group and a bomber task force are headed to the U.S. Central Command area in response to unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

Other administration officials also spoke Monday about a threat from Iran without getting any more specific.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the deployment “represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation,” Shanahan tweeted. “We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly told reporters traveling with him in Finland that the United States has “continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there’s escalation that may be taking place.”

Routine or not?:

The carrier strike group that’s being sent is the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Navy first announced the Lincoln was deploying in early April, sailing around the world from Norfolk, Va., to its new home in San Diego, Calif.

On Monday, fleet trackers such as the U.S. Naval Institute showed the carrier was still operating in the central Mediterranean Sea in the U.S. European Command region.

That led to questions about whether the administration was just hyping a routine deployment that would eventually get to the Persian Gulf as previously scheduled.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson confirmed the Lincoln’s deployment was planned “for some time now.”

But he also suggested the carrier’s movement to the Middle East is being sped up.

“At the direction of @AmbJohnBolton and @ActingSecDef ABE CSG will transit to CENTCOM AOR,” Richardson tweeted. “This is the beauty of having a dynamic force. The @USNavy can easily maneuver to protect national interests around the globe.”

Lawmaker reaction: Iran hardliners in Congress cheered the deployment and warned against any attack on U.S. forces.

“We will not distinguish between attacks from Shia militias in #Iraq & the #IRGC that controls them,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Monday. “Any attack by these groups against U.S. forces will be considered an attack by #Iran & responded to accordingly.”

Critics, though, suggested threats against U.S. forces were inevitable after President Trump’s terrorist designation against Iran’s Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).

“The Trump Administration knew that naming the Iranian IRGC as a terrorist group would lead to increased threats against U.S. troops in Iraq. That’s why Bush and Obama didn’t do it. They concluded the benefits did not outweigh the risks,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted Monday.

“When I was in Baghdad last month, our diplomatic and military leaders were almost unanimously opposed to the designation because of its practical impact on our objectives in Iraq,” he continued.

“Drawing a hard line on Iran in Iraq might sound good on paper, but it might end up w our troops getting kicked out of Iraq again, opening the door for ISIS,” he added in another tweet. “That would be much more disastrous than the inconvenience of leaving the IRGC off the list of terrorist groups.”

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