In a sign that the United States is ratcheting up pressure on the Islamic State, the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, began launching sorties from the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, according to an announcement by the Navy.
It is the first time a U.S. aircraft carrier has struck targets in the Middle East from the Mediterranean since the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003. It is unclear if the targets were in Iraq or Syria.
According to the Navy, the Truman passed through the Suez Canal on June 2.
“While the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is in the 6th Fleet area of operations, they continue to project power ashore against terrorists and violent extremists,” said Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, in a statement.
The Truman and its complement of ships, known as a carrier strike group, arrived in the Persian Gulf at the end of 2015 and immediately began striking in Iraq and Syria alongside its French counterparts launched from the carrier the Charles de Gaulle. Recently, the Truman strike group had been supporting a limited U.S. intervention in Yemen to support efforts to wrest key coastal cities from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.
The Truman’s presence in the Mediterranean brings it significantly closer to an area in Syria where U.S.-backed local forces have recently made inroads into long-held Islamic State territory, including near the group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa.
In the past week, heavy U.S. airstrikes have pummeled areas around Manbij in northern Syria, where a coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters is conducting a two-pronged attack against the Islamic State-held town.
While the United States maintains a contingent of aircraft at the nearby Incirlik airbase in Turkey, a complement of carrier aircraft nearby will allow for a higher tempo of sorties over multiple battlefields. The Truman, and its associated squadron of aircraft, known as Carrier Wing Seven, supports more than 40 F/A-18 multi-role fighters along with its complement of electronic attack jets and early warning aircraft.
Earlier this week, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its carrier strike group left from Norfolk. According to a Navy release, the carrier will support operations in the 5th and 6th Fleet’s areas of operations, meaning that besides replacing the Truman in the Mediterranean, the carrier group will also likely transit back into the Persian Gulf.
In October, after the aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt left the Gulf, the United States did not have a carrier in the region until the Truman arrived that winter. The two month gap in carrier coverage was a first since 2007. With the Truman now in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf is once again absent a U.S. carrier group.