UPDATE 1-U.S. extends carrier deployment after Syria attack
(Adds background on Syria)
By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - The United States has decided to extend the deployment of the George H.W. Bush carrier strike group to provide options to policymakers after last week's deadly attacks in Syria by Iran-backed forces, U.S. military officials said on Friday.
The decision likely means the Bush strike group and its more than 5,000 U.S. forces, which are now in the European Command operational area, will not be returning to home port in the United States on schedule.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesperson Colonel Joe Buccino confirmed the carrier group's extension, which was first reported by Reuters.
"The extension of the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group, inclusive of the USS Leyte Gulf, the USS Delbert D. Black, and the USNS Arctic, allows options to potentially bolster the capabilities of CENTCOM to respond to a range of contingencies in the Middle East," Buccino said in a statement.
Buccino also noted a scheduled, expedited deployment of a squadron of A-10 attack aircraft to the region.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Bush strike group was expected to remain in the European Command area of responsibility.
News of the deployment came a day after the Pentagon doubled its tally of the number of American troops wounded in last week's attacks in Syria to 12, following the diagnosis of six U.S. military personnel with traumatic brain injuries.
The attacks also killed an American contractor and injured another.
President Joe Biden warned Iran last week that the United States would act forcefully to protect Americans. The Pentagon has estimated eight militants were killed during retaliatory U.S. air strikes against two Iran-linked facilities in Syria during the tit-for-tat exchanges triggered by the first March 23 attack against a U.S. base near the Syrian city of Hasaka.
The White House said on Monday that the incidents would not trigger a U.S. pullback from the nearly eight-year-old U.S. deployment to Syria, where American troops and local Kurdish-led partners are battling the remnants of Islamic State.
Still, the United States has formally prioritized in its national security policies Russia, Ukraine and the Asia-Pacific above the Middle East after two decades of U.S. intervention in the region during its global war against terrorism.
That has led to an overall decline in U.S. military personnel and assets in the Middle East. (Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)