The US Navy announced that the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, currently stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, will head for a new deployment in the Middle East. The carrier, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and destroyers USS Arleigh Burke, USS Bulkeley, USS Forrest Sherman and USS Farragut, will head out for its new designation on April 11.
According to the US Navy, two more destroyers, the USS Jason Dunham and USS The Sullivans, will join the strike group later. It was also reported that the German frigate FGS Hessen will accompany the group during the first half of the deployment.
US Navy representative Lt. Chloe Morgan noted that this is a "planned redeployment," but refused to disclose the date of the strike group's arrival and the length of its stay in the region. The group will act in the zone of operational responsibility of the 5th and the 6th US fleets. The 5th fleet is responsible for the western part of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, while the 6th fleet operates in Mediterranean.
Earlier the Wall Street Journal reported that the US Navy may send the destroyer USS Porter in addition to another (the USS Donald Cook) currently stationed in the eastern Mediterranean.
What Happened in the Region?
The carrier group's redeployment comes shortly after accusations were made by Washington against the Syrian government, accusing them of using chemical weapons in Douma that allegedly led to civilian casualties. US President Donald Trump accused Russia and Iran of helping Syrian President Bashar Assad and promised to decide on his response to the incident within 48 hours, noting that the military operation is not off the table.
Damascus and Moscow, whose troops operate in the country under the authorization of the Syrian government (unlike US and its coalition, who also do not have a UN mandate), have dismissed the accusations. The Russian Foreign Ministry described them as a pretext to justify military intervention in Syria in order to help the remaining terrorist groups, which are losing the war against legitimate Syrian government.
Russia's military chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, announced on March 13 that Moscow is aware of the planned provocations using a mock-up chemical attack by the militants in Eastern Ghouta. Concerns were again raised by Russia just hours before the alleged attack took place.
What Were the Reactions of Damascus and Moscow?
Damascus sent a formal invitation to OPCW experts to visit Douma and investigate the allegations. The OPCW confirmed that it has received the request and has asked the Syrian government to make all necessary preparations for the upcoming visit of their expert group.
Moscow sent out a team of chemical experts to the area of the alleged attack, but found neither traces of the chemical weapons, nor those, who had allegedly suffered in the result of the attack.
What Did Happen After That?
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the incident in Syria. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, said that the UN is unable to verify the fact of the attack and attribute responsibility for it to someone for the moment and urged all parties to avoid further escalation of tensions. The Syrian envoy to the UN reminded that his country works in "unlimited cooperation with the OPCW," following the CWC rules and no longer possess chemical weapons.
The next day two aircraft, later identified by Russia as Israeli, performed an airstrike on the Syrian Arab Air Force's (SyAAF) Tiyas airbase near Homs, also known as the T-4 airbase. The attack was slammed by Damascus, Moscow and Teheran. Israeli officials haven't confirmed or denied the information.