Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
The U.S. military has two aircraft carriers operating in the Middle East, marking the first extended dual use of carriers in the region since 2012, a U.S. combatant commander said in a statement Friday.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command said that he “would caution Iran and its proxies from attempting a response that would endanger US and coalition forces or our partners.”
He stressed that his command is “well postured to defend our forces around the region and to respond to any further aggression against our forces,” noting that the secretary of defense has given him two aircraft carriers to support CENTCOM missions.
“We have the flexibility, capability and will to respond to any threat,” he added.
The Secretary granted my request to continue to operate two carrier strike groups in the region, which is the first period of extended dual U.S. carrier operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility since April 2012. pic.twitter.com/o8sT0ehiN6
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) March 13, 2020
The two aircraft carriers that are current in the CENTCOM area of responsibility are the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman. “We're going to keep them for a while,” McKenzie said at a Pentagon press briefing Friday.
“The beauty of the aircraft carrier is this. It has enormous offensive capabilities, it has enormous defensive capabilities, and it has mobility,” he explained. “The carriers are very important to us, and we know the Iranians watch them very closely too.”
The Truman recently relieved the USS Abraham Lincoln, which was deployed to the region in May of last year to deter Iranian aggression.
The carrier, according to former White House national security adviser John Bolton, was deployed “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
In late December, Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia group in Iraq, launched a rocket attack on a coalition base, killing a U.S. civilian contractor. The U.S. retaliated with air strikes, which triggered a violent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The U.S. then responded by killing Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the IRGC Quds Force, in a drone strike, a move that brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war and pushed the Iranian military to launch a barrage of ballistic missiles at US and coalition forces in Iraq.
Reigniting tensions, Kata'ib Hezbollah launched a deadly rocket attack on Camp Taji Wednesday that killed three coalition personnel — British Army Reservist Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, U.S. Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts.
At least a dozen others were wounded in the attack.
The U.S. retaliated Thursday, conducting precision strikes on militia installations across Iraq, the Pentagon said in a statement. “You don't get to shoot at our bases, and kill and wound Americans, and get away with it,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned before the strikes.
McKenzie said that the threat from Iran and its proxies remains high.
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