The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group transited the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, after it was ordered by the White House to rapidly deploy to the Mideast to meet heightened threats from Iran.
The U.S. Navy says the Lincoln entered the strait as it steamed towards the Persian Gulf. The carrier left Norfolk, VA, in April and was diverted to the Middle East in May, but it had remained in the Arabian Sea, avoiding passage through the contested waters that border Iran.
American aircraft carriers have for decades sailed through the international oil shipping route in what the U.S. describes as “defensive” operations aimed at keeping the strait open.
The Trump administration deployed the Lincoln to the Persian Gulf after a spike in tensions with Iran in May.
This came as the U.S. declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization, effectively isolating the organization financially as well as diplomatically. In response, Iran issued a number of perfunctory but ineffectual declarations that the U.S. armed forces are also terrorist organizations.
Iran further warned U.S. forces to cease any further advance into the Persian Gulf, predicting catastrophic outcomes if they do not retreat.
An Iranian cleric specifically cautioned the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group it could be destroyed with ease.
“Their billion [-dollar] fleet can be destroyed with one missile,” Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai Nejad was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency after Friday prayers in Isfahan, according to Reuters.
The USS Abraham Lincoln is a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1989, it has berthing to carry over 6,000 officers and enlisted sailors. At 332 meters (1,092 feet), it is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall.
The carrier has a 4.5-acre flight deck that carries F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and other aircraft.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has launched a maximum-pressure campaign against Iran, reimposing sanctions suspended under the controversial Iran nuclear deal in 2015 and intensifying other restrictions. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Obama-negotiated nuclear pact.
The last armed naval confrontation between Iran and the U.S. was in 1988.
AP contributed to this report