The carrier strike force led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is in the Indian Ocean after seven months in the Middle East. Iran reported that vessels of its Revolutionary Guard harassed the ships as they departed. Photo by MCS3 Jeremiah Bartfelt/U.S. Navy/UPI
Dec. 16 (UPI) -- As a carrier strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln left the Middle East, Iran reported its Revolutionary Guard vessels approached the U.S. ships.
U.S. defense officials said Monday that the carrier and its escort vessels are currently in the Indian Ocean after seven months in the Middle East.
The USS Harry S. Truman, another aircraft carrier with unspecified escorts, entered the area of the U.S. 7th Fleet on Dec. 13, through the Suez Canal, as a replacement force. The Lincoln has patrolled the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman since May.
The Lincoln has been in the area since it was deployed to the Middle East earlier this year after then-National Security Advisor John Bolton called for an increased presence in the region. The vessel and its strike group, however, have spent the last several months in the North Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, with occasional port calls to Duqm, Oman.
The move comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and Iran, but Navy officials stressed that the passage was uneventful as well as "safe and professional."
Iranian state media reported last week that 20 small vessels of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard escorted and "harassed" the Lincoln's carrier strike group, which includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut, as the ships transited the Strait of Hormuz. Some of the Iranian craft came within 400 yards of the U.S. ships.
It is the latest of a number of incidents involving Iranian and Western interests in the area. In August, Iran dispatched a destroyer and helicopter carrier to the Gulf of Aden to protect its trade ships. A Dec. 3 rocket attack which struck al-Asad airbase, used by Iraqi and U.S. troops, was blamed on Iran.
"We are in a period of heightened risk with respect to Iran," Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman told lawmakers last week, adding that "restraint in this particular situation is an appropriate response."