The United States will continue operating two aircraft carriers in the Middle East for the first time in nearly a decade amid a dramatic spike in tensions with Iran, US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Kenneth McKenzie told reporters on Friday.
“I have asked and the Secretary has granted my request to continue to operate two aircraft carriers strike groups in the region, which is the first period of extended dual US carrier operations in the US Central Command since we believe, around 2012”, McKenzie said.
The commander also noted that the Pentagon is still “some days away” from activating the Patriot missile defence systems that it is currently deploying in Iraq, adding however that the weapons systems would not protect US forces from Katyusha rockets, which were used in a deadly attack against coalition forces in the country earlier this week.
The US military is moving the Patriots into Iraq now and the systems have already been put in place along with preparatory materials, he added. “That will allow us to establish Patriot positions inside of Iraq”, McKenzie said.
This statement comes after two US servicemen and one UK soldier died during a rocket attack against the coalition base in Camp Taji, which also injured over 10 people. In response, the US conducted “defensive precision strikes”, stating they were aimed at “Iranian-backed Shia militia groups”. Tehran, however, stressed it has nothing to do with the attack on the US forces in the region.