The lack of a second carrier in the Persian Gulf limits the ability of the U.S. to deter Iran but the U.S. retains enough combat power in the region to to deal with any aggression by Tehran, Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of Central Command, told Congress Tuesday.
“Obviously, it’s more difficult for me to reassure our friends and deter Iran” without the second carrier Mattis told the Senate Armed Services committee.
The U.S. military cancelled the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman in order to cut the budget following the onset of sequestration and the potential extension of the continuing resolution. Navy officials said they had prepared to deploy the carrier to the Gulf, but lacked the funding.
Existing U.S. forces in the Mideast “can buy time” for a second carrier to deploy, Mattis said.The Marine four-star told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was on board the Truman two weeks ago and the carrier’s commander assured him that the ship and its air wing would be prepared if called.
However, Iran still remains a threat, Mattis said. He noted Iran’s potential nuclear threat, its maritime threat to regional sea lanes, its cache of short– and medium-range ballistic missiles, its network of illicit activities throughout the Middle East, and its growing malicious cyber activities.
“Despite significant economic sanctions and increased diplomatic isolation within the global community, Iran continues to export instability and violence across the region and beyond,” Mattis said.
Mattis warned against any potential enemy trying to take advantage of the United States’ reduced aircraft carrier presence in the Middle East. The Pentagon has opted to keep one carrier, instead of two, in the region in order to meet budget demands.
“That would be very ill-advised,” Mattis said. “It would be their longest and their worst day.”