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By Alex Johnson
The United States is sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a “clear and unmistakable message” to Iran, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, announced Sunday night.
While he said the United States wasn’t seeking to go to war with Iran, “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”
“Any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
Bolton said the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and an unspecified bomber task force were being sent to U.S. Central Command’s region of responsibility, which covers the Middle East. According to the Navy, the strike group left Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on April 1 on a regularly scheduled deployment. The strike group consists of the Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier; the USS Leyte Gulf, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; Carrier Air Wing Seven; and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two.
In a brief statement, Bolton didn’t say what specific actions or provocations the United States was responding to, but the announcement comes two days after the Trump administration imposed new limits on Iran‘s nuclear activities and as violence is worsening in the Gaza Strip. Trump said last month that the United States would no longer exempt any nation from U.S. sanctions if it buys Iranian oil.
Iran is widely reported to fund Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the Israeli government has blamed for instigating the latest round of violence by shooting and wounding two Israeli soldiers Friday.
NBC News has previously reported that Bolton, who has long been considered a hawk on Iran, has clashed with officials at the State Department who favor maintaining all of the waivers.
Last month, the Trump administration designated the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the first time the United States has placed the designation on part of another country’s government. The designation categorizes Iran’s military alongside groups like ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas.