WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has sent two aircraft carrier strike groups into the Mediterranean Sea to conduct operations with NATO allies, with the added benefit of reminding Russia they are being watched.
“Two carrier strike groups operating simultaneously, while also integrating and advancing interoperability with our highly capable NATO allies and partners, provides an unprecedented deterrent against unilateral aggression, as well as combined lethality,” Adm. James Foggo, head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, said in a statement.
“It also should leave no doubt to our nation’s shared commitment to security and stability in the region,” he said.
The two carriers are the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John C. Stennis. The combined fleet has more than 130 aircraft, 10 ships and 9,000 sailors and Marines, the Navy said in the statement. Carrier strike groups include attack submarines, guided missile cruisers and destroyers, and supply ships.
They linked up Tuesday night.
On Monday, Russia announced plans to further deepen its use of the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea. It signed a 49-year lease with Syria in 2017 to use the port.
In 2011, the Russian Navy began using port facilities at Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa. Spain is a member of NATO.
News reports have said that Russia is also seeking to lease an oil storage facility at the Tripoli, Lebanon, port and basing rights in Cyprus.
The last time two carriers were in the Mediterranean Sea simultaneously was in 2016. Then it was the Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman carrier strike groups.
The news release also said that Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, visited the USS Abraham Lincoln on Tuesday and noted that “each of the carriers operating in the Mediterranean at this time represent 100,000 tons of international diplomacy.
“Diplomatic communication and dialogue coupled with the strong defense these ships provide demonstrate to Russia that if it truly seeks better relations with the United States, it must cease its destabilizing activities around the world,” Huntsman said in the release. “When you have 200,000 tons of diplomacy that is cruising in the Mediterranean — this is what I call diplomacy, this is forward operating diplomacy — nothing else needs to be said.”