The USS Nimitz carrier strike group is heading into the Indo-Pacific region after serving an extended period in the Middle East. The group had served more than 270 days in the Central Command and was moving into the Indo-Pacific region, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. The Indo-Pacific region includes the world’s busiest international sea lanes including the South China Sea.

The Nimitz was conducting flight operations in the Arabian Sea last week. The strike group has spent the past six-months in the Middle East as tensions between Iran and Washington simmered after the US boosted its military presence from May. On December 31, former acting defence secretary Chris Miller ordered the strike group to head home, but the call was overturned in early January with threats from Iran around the time of the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani by the US.

The tensions between Iran and the US eased as US President Joe Biden pledged to renew nuclear program negotiations with Tehran. The Pentagon said the departure of the Nimitz meant there was no US carrier operating in the Central Command area of operations. Kirby said Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin believed America had “a robust presence in the Middle East”.

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Last week, a US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas”, triggering strong reactions from Beijing. The People’s Liberation Army sent more than a dozen aircraft into the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s air defence zone, monitoring the movements of the carrier strike group.

During this incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone on January 23, Chinese military aircraft simulated missile attacks on the US aircraft carrier. The bombers and some of the fighter aircraft involved were conducting an exercise that used the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group as a mock target. Some analysts had interpreted China’s incursion as an attempt by China to ascertain how the new administration will respond to such behavior.

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