Brian M. Wilbur/U.S. Naval Forces(WASHINGTON) — The USS Abraham Lincoln is currently the most-watched aircraft carrier in the world. Since its expedited deployment to the Middle East last month, the ship has become the focal point of tense U.S.-Iran relations.
The Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force of B-52s were deployed to the region in response to U.S. intelligence that indicated Iran or its proxies were planning to attack U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and Syria, as well as at sea.
ABC News was among the first group of media outlets permitted aboard the ship since its arrival in the Middle East, getting a first-hand look at operations that U.S. officials say have deterred Tehran from direct attacks against American interests.
“I’m just here to do what has been asked of me and that is to deter Iranian aggression, ensure free flow of commerce through the important strait and narrow waterways, and then to ensure that our forces are protected and defended if required,” said Adm. John Wade, commander of Strike Group 12.
“The threats are credible, and that’s why we are here,” Wade told ABC News.
On Saturday, the Lincoln carried out joint exercises with a B-52 bomber and F/A-18s from the carrier. The bomber is one of four that the U.S. deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of the mission to deter Iran, along with 1,500 additional U.S. troops and Patriot missile batteries.
Navy officials would not reveal to ABC News how close the carrier was to Iranian shores, but the Lincoln’s commanding officer, Capt. Putnam Browne, said the ship was “close enough” to provide a presence without threatening Tehran.
It also remains to be seen whether the carrier will transit through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
“Anytime you go through the straits you have higher levels of security, any straits. So we would elevate our level of security,” Browne said.
But he added that Iranian forces have been “fairly professional in the last couple of years” which he expects to continue “should and if” the Lincoln goes through the straits into the Persian Gulf.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, nearly $20 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz every day and keeping the waterway open and navigable is a top priority for the U.S. Navy.
In the past, Iranian gunboats have shadowed American ships as they pass through the strait — which at its narrowest points can be just 2 miles across.
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