Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on Monday that he had approved sending a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East because of indications of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.
“[It] represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” Shanahan said on Twitter.
“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests,” he added.
Shanahan in his tweet provided no details on the threat.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a message to Iran.
Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s supreme national security council, said on Monday that Bolton’s statement was “a clumsy use of an out-of-date event for psychological warfare”.
Tasnim news agency quoted Khosravi as saying that Iranian armed forces had observed the carrier entering the Mediterranean Sea 21 days ago.
Bolton “lacks military and security understanding and his remarks are mostly meant to draw attention to himself”, Khosravi added.
Three US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters News Agency on Monday that “multiple, credible threats” picked up by intelligence were primarily against US forces in Iraq by Iran and its proxy forces. They said there was also concern about US forces in Syria and in the waters nearby.
One of the officials said the intelligence was specific enough that it detailed the locations of potential attacks against US forces and the timeframe within which it could occur. The official added that the threat was not only against US forces in Iraq but those coming in and out of the region. There are currently about 5,200 US troops in Iraq and under 2,000 American forces in Syria.
The US action marked the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump‘s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran in recent months.
The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Finland where he was attending the Arctic Council meeting, said on Monday the United States has seen activity from Iran that indicated a possible “escalation”, one day after the United States said it would send a carrier strike group to the Middle East to counter a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
Last month, Trump announced the US will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and US treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey. The US also recently designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist group”, the first ever for an entire division of another government.
In response, Iran said it has mobilised all its resources to sell oil in a “grey market”.
Amir Hossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy oil minister, told state media on Sunday that Iran would continue to export oil despite the US sanctions, which he said were neither just nor legitimate.
“We have mobilised all of the country’s resources and are selling oil in the ‘grey market’,” state news agency IRNA quoted Zamaninia as saying.
“We certainly won’t sell 2.5 million barrels per day as under the [nuclear deal],” he said. “We will need to make serious decisions about our financial and economic management, and the government is working on that.”
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the country to “resist and unite” against US pressure in what he called a “war on hope” waged against the Islamic Republic.
“America will only let go of this game when it realises it cannot achieve anything. We have no way but to resist and unite,” Rouhani said in a televised speech on Saturday.
“Our war today is the war on hope. They want to break our hope, and we have to break their hope.”