— -- The Pentagon has extended the seven-month deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group by 30 days to keep it in the fight against ISIS and for counter-terrorism missions. Since December, the aircraft carrier has been operating in the Persian Gulf, where its fighter aircraft have targeted ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved a request by U.S. Central command to extend the carrier strike group's ongoing deployment. The extension will also affect the cruiser USS Anzio(CG 68) and the destroyers USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) and USS Gravely (DDG 107).
"This decision is central to our ongoing effort to dismantle and roll back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said today. "Accelerating the fight against ISIL is the president's number one priority and the Truman strike group plays an important role as we work to destroy ISIL and continue to go after the remnants of al Qaeda." ISIL is the term the Pentagon uses to describe ISIS.
The extension is seen as another of the "accelerants" recommended by Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to intensify the U.S. military's capabilities to target ISIS. The announced deployments last week of 217 more American troops to Iraq and 250 more Special Operations forces to Syria fall under the same category.
"Terrorist organizations remain a significant threat to U.S. interests. The superb efforts of the men and women of the Truman strike group have and will continue to be instrumental in winning this fight," Richardson said.
"The contributions we're making in the maritime environment are key to ensuring regional stability," said Rear Adm. Bret Batchelder, commander of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 8. "Our sailors' commitment and professionalism has been significant, and as a strike group, we're at peak operational effectiveness; so we're going to stay in the fight a while longer. I want the sailors and their families to know how proud I am of their continued efforts and dedication to this fight."
When the Truman strike group left its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, last fall, it was slated to complete the first seven-month deployment in years. The shorter deployment has been a Navy goal following years of longer deployments to meet a need for a constant U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the region at a time that the size of the carrier fleet was temporarily reduced from 11 to 10.
Last year, a shortfall in available carriers due to scheduled long-term maintenance resulted in "a carrier gap" in the Persian Gulf, where there was not a direct hand-off in carrier responsibilities. That carrier gap last November lasted several weeks until the Truman arrived in the Gulf, another gap was scheduled when its deployment came to an end.
The 30-day extension will delay a presence gap in CENTCOM this spring, but also represents a setback for the Navy's overstretched flattop force. The Middle East was without a carrier for several weeks in 2015 in the middle of the ISIS fight because the carrier Theodore Roosevelt departed without a relief. Truman filled the gap in December when it arrived in the Middle East.
"Before deviating from our seven-month deployments, we consider each Combatant Commander's request to ensure the readiness of our naval forces," Richardson said. "We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact on our families and execute planned seven-month deployment lengths going forward."
Two weeks ago, the F/A-18 aircraft aboard the carrier set a new record for carrier-based ordnance used during Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 has completed 1,407 combat sorties, delivering 1,118 precision-guided munitions equally over 580 tons of ordnance, military officials said.