U.S. Navy Sends Two Aircraft Carriers to the Med in Throwback to Iraq Invasion

U.S. Navy Sends Two Aircraft Carriers to the Med in Throwback to Iraq Invasion

The Obama administration has deployed two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The ships are expected to launch strikes on the Islamic State across Syria and Iraq — the very country President Barack Obama promised to disentangle the United States from when he was running for office in 2008.

The returning double punch brings some much-needed firepower against the Islamic State as U.S. aircraft back up Iraqi forces in reclaiming the cities of Fallujah and Mosul, and Sunni rebels and Kurdish fighters who are battling it out with the Islamist group across northern Syria.

The presence of two carrier strike groups will “support European allies and partners, deter potential threats and are capable of conducting operations in support of the counter-ISIL mission,” Lt. Col. Dave Westover, U.S. European Command spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday. ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State.

Thirteen years ago, the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Theodore Rooseveltbombed Iraqi army targets from the Med in the opening days of the U.S. invasion. They were part of a force of six U.S. carriers in Mideast waterways for the battle. Now the Truman is back in the Med, where it was joined Wednesday by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which U.S. defense officials expect will soon begin striking the Islamic State.

The Truman left the Persian Gulf last week after a seven-month tour and was stationed in the eastern Mediterranean by Friday. Over the weekend, it began hitting Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, and its aircraft have flown 40 sorties and dropped 35 bombs on insurgent positions, a Navy official told Foreign Policy. The Truman is scheduled to head back to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, in July. The Eisenhower, meanwhile, will take over theTruman’s mission, but based in the Gulf.

During its tour in the Gulf, the Truman contributed about 25 percent of the firepower in the ongoing air war, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters at the Pentagon last month. It was so critical that earlier this year, the Navy extended its deployment by 30 days, which it is now finishing up with its handoff to the Eisenhower.

The two ships operating together comes just months after Washington ran out of flattops to send to the fight. After the Roosevelt left the Gulf in October, there was a two-month gap — the first since 2007 — between carrier deployments there. Navy officials said the gap was necessary to shorten sailors’ deployments after years of extending them, and to do critical repairs and refitting that were prevented earlier by requirements to have two carriers continuously stationed in the Persian Gulf between 2011 and 2013.

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