The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its strike group are heading toward the Red Sea to help support a limited U.S. strike on Syria if needed, defense officials told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.
The officials emphasized that the Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked.
It was not immediately clear when the ships would enter the Red Sea, said one official.
"It's about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed," said the official.
The U.S. Navy has doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region. The five destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, officials say.
The Nimitz carrier group had been in the Indian Ocean, supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan, but was due to sail east around Asia to return to its home port in Everett, Washington, after being relieved in recent days by another aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, reported Reuters.
Given the situation in Syria, U.S. military officials decided to reroute the Nimitz and send it west toward the Red Sea, and possibly the Mediterranean, officials said.
The United States has delayed its military strike on Syria for now, with President Barack Obama announcing that he plans to wait for Congress' approval before deciding whether to intervene in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry was confident on Sunday that Congress will approve the attack on Syria.
“I can’t contemplate that Congress would turn its back on Israel and Jordan and the allies of the region,” Kerry said on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that lawmakers had a duty to act to uphold international norms against using chemical weapons. Kerry stressed that it was important to send a tough message to other nations pursuing weapons programs, like Iran and North Korea.