The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and four other ships in its strike group moved into the Red Sea early on Monday, U.S. defense officials said, describing the move as “prudent planning” in case the ships are needed for military action against Syria.
The officials said the Nimitz entered the Red Sea around 6 a.m. EDT, but the strike group had not received any orders to move into the Mediterranean, where five U.S. destroyers and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, remain poised for possible cruise missile strikes against Syria.
Moving the Nimitz into the Red Sea was aimed at putting more U.S. assets in place if they are needed to support what U.S. officials still describe as a limited attack against Syria after it used chemical weapons against civilians.
“It does place that strike group in a position to respond to a variety of contingencies,” said one official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The nuclear-powered Nimitz is accompanied by the Princeton, a cruiser, and three destroyers – the William P. Lawrence, Stockdale and Shoup, according to the officials.
They said there had been no change regarding six U.S. Navy ships now in the eastern Mediterranean, but military planners were reassessing the situation given a delay in the cruise missile strikes that had been expected this past weekend.
President Barack Obama on Saturday backed off imminent strikes by the destroyers off the coast of Syria until Congress had time to vote its approval. Defense officials said the delay gave them more time to reassess which ships and other weapons will be kept in the region — and whether some may be allowed to leave. Congress returns to Washington September 9.
The U.S. Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region, and diverting the San Antonio, which carries four massive CH-53 helicopters and 300 Marines, from another mission.
Two of the destroyers were due to be relieved but are now serving along with the ships that were to replace them.