Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

US aircraft carrier trailed by Iranian boats as it enters Arabian Gulf

USS John C Stennis arrives amid heightened US-Iran tensions over nuclear deal pullout

Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats shadow the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz on December 21, 2018. AP Photo
Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats shadow the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz on December 21, 2018. AP Photo

Iran's Revolutionary Guard launched war games near the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, a day after its boats shadowed the US aircraft carrier John C Stennis through the strategic waterway.

State TV said the annual war games dubbed "The Great Prophet" would see Guard forces use combat helicopters and drones around Qeshm Island at the mouth of the strait.

About 30 Revolutionary Guard boats trailed the US John C Stennis and its strike force on Friday as it sailed through the strait into the Arabian Gulf.

Guards speedboats fired rockets but a US Navy spokeswoman said they were pointed away from US vessels.

"We believe it was part of their naval exercise," said Lt Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet.

Iran's Fars news agency tweeted footage of the Guard vessels trailing the carrier.

The Stennis is the first US aircraft carrier to pass through the narrow strait since President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May, leading to increased tensions between Washington and Tehran.

"We certainly strive to support our Gulf allies and let them know that we are going to continue to be committed to this area and to equal access to international waters," said Capt Randy Peck, commander of the Stennis.

The US withdrawal from the dnuclear eal and reimposition of sanctions on Iran prompted Tehran threaten to block the Strait of Hormuz if its oil exports were affected. In August, Iran test-fired a short-range anti-ship missile during naval drills in the strait in what US officials said was intended as a message to Washington.

In an apparent comment on the arrival of the aircraft carrier, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, told state television: "They've come, pretending to ensure the [Arabian] Gulf states' security ... But it is Iran which has to provide security for the Strait of Hormuz, the [Arabian] Gulf and our friends and brotherly countries on its southern coast."

Speaking to the state news agency IRNA, he said: "Hopefully, with these exercises, our enemies will realise more than ever how devastating our response would be to any move by them."

About one third of the world's oil shipments pass through the waterway connecting the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, with only 39km between the Iranian and Omani coasts at its narrowest point.

Besides the Arabian Gulf, the 5th Fleet's operations cover the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean, an area of about 6.5 million square kilometres that includes 20 countries and three critical choke points — the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Bab Al Mandeb waterway off the southern tip of Yemen.

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Updated: December 22, 2018 06:29 PM

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