US nuclear submarine crosses Strait of Hormuz, sending message to Tehran

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

The USS Georgia nuclear submarine transits the Strait of Hormuz December 21. [Photo courtesy of US Navy]

The USS Georgia nuclear submarine transits the Strait of Hormuz December 21. [Photo courtesy of US Navy]

A US nuclear submarine crossed the Strait of Hormuz Monday (December 21) in a new show of force directed at the Iranian regime as the anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani approaches.

The USS Georgia became the first US nuclear submarine in eight years to cross the strait -- on the surface, to maximise visibility and to convey US resolve. The USS Florida preceded it in 2012.

In September, a US aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, crossed the strait, a key maritime route that is essential for the passage of global energy supplies. It has been patrolling Gulf waters since late November.

"USS Georgia (SSGN 729) is supporting routine maritime security operations in the region," the US Navy said in a Monday statement.

"The US Navy, alongside our partners, maintain a constant state of vigilance to ensure the critical waterways remain safe for the free flow of commerce."

The Georgia can carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 66 special forces soldiers, according to another statement from the US Navy.

The Navy illustrated that statement with photos showing the Georgia at the surface, escorted by the cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea, in the strategic strait that the Iranian regime regularly threatens to block.

The Georgia's presence "demonstrates the US commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities to remain ready to defend against any threat at any time", the Navy warned.

Rapid deployment of forces

Earlier this month, a pair of US Air Force B-52H Stratofortresses conducted a short-notice, non-stop mission into the Arabian Gulf, along with other US Air Force and regional partner aircraft.

The December 9 show of force and solidarity was preceded by a similar long-range mission into the region on November 21 that US military personnel said was intended to deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies.

The two Air Force missions were intended to highlight "the robust and varied US Air Force capabilities that can be made rapidly available", 9th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot said at the time.

"The ability to quickly move forces into, out of and around the theatre to seize, retain and exploit the initiative is key to deterring potential aggression," he said.

The mission underscored the US military's commitment to its regional partners and its ability to rapidly deploy combat power anywhere in the world, said Gen. Frank McKenzie, US military commander in the Middle East.

"Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression," he said.

Fateful anniversary nears

Soleimani was killed by a US strike in Baghdad on January 3 after months of escalating misbehaviour by the Iranian regime and its proxies, including a day-long siege of the US embassy in Baghdad last December 31.

As the anniversary approaches, the US has been preparing for any Iranian attempts at vengeance. In addition, it has sought to convey its resolve to protect freedom of navigation.

"We are prepared to defend ourselves, our friends and partners in the region, and we are prepared to react if necessary," McKenzie said Sunday.

A rocket salvo on Sunday targeted the US embassy in Baghdad, causing damage but no casualties.

The attack was the third against US military and diplomatic facilities since an October truce with Iran-aligned Iraqi militias ended a year-long series of attacks on foreign facilities across Iraq.

Western and Iraqi officials have blamed hardline groups, including Iran-aligned Kataib Hizbullah, for the attacks.

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