Sources: US aircraft carrier, fighter jets shadowing Iranian convoy near Yemen – Fox News
A U.S. aircraft carrier and its warplanes are shadowing an Iranian convoy approaching Yemen, Pentagon sources told Fox News, amid suspicions that the ships may be carrying weapons for rebel fighters.
Sources told Fox News that the USS Theodore Roosevelt is not only tracking the convoy, but also launching F/A-18 Hornets to conduct “manned reconnaissance” of the estimated nine ships in the Iranian convoy.
The movements escalate a standoff in the waters off Yemen, even as the U.S. and other world powers are trying to hammer out a diplomatic deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Already, the U.S. and its allies are engaged in a proxy war of sorts with Iran, backing a coalition trying to beat back the Houthi fighters as Iran allegedly provides support to those rebels.
Navy officials confirmed Monday that the USS Theodore Roosevelt — along with her escort ship, the USS Normandy, a guided-missile cruiser — had been dispatched to the Arabian Sea to help enforce a blockade of any Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Iranian convoy consists of a mix of freighters, suspected of carrying those weapons, and warships.
The convoy is about to cross over from waters off the coast of Oman to those off the coast of Yemen, in the Arabian Sea. The Iranian convoy is steaming toward an unknown port in Yemen.
The Iranian Navy ships are characterized as “smaller than destroyers,” according to a Pentagon official with knowledge of the convoy. Asked what type of weapons the freighters are carrying, one Pentagon official said, “they are bigger than small arms.”
The U.S. Navy has been steadily beefing up its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Arabian Sea amid concerns about the Iranian convoy. There are now nine Navy warships, and three support ships, in the region.
The deployment comes after a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last week imposed an arms embargo on rebel leaders. The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.
It remains unclear how far the U.S. would go to enforce the embargo. The U.S. Navy generally conducts consensual boardings of ships when needed, including to combat piracy around Africa and the region. So far, however, U.S. naval personnel have not boarded any Iranian vessels since the Yemen conflict began.
A senior defense official at the Pentagon on Tuesday pushed back on reports that the White House has made a decision about boarding the suspected ships.
“The White House is not even close to making a decision,” the official with close ties to the administration said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was peppered with questions at Tuesday’s briefing about the possibility of a confrontation in the Arabian Sea. Earnest said only that the U.S. is concerned about “protecting the freedom of navigation” and is also “serious” about the Iranians “not providing weapons” to the rebels.
With the U.S. Navy’s only aircraft carrier now out of the northern Persian Gulf, the Navy’s contribution to the air campaign against the Islamic State also has been temporarily halted.
The U.S. Air Force has conducted 70 percent of the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to date. A spokesman from the U.S.-led coalition said from its headquarters in Kuwait that, “We have plenty of resources [to strike ISIS], and we are not concerned about a loss of effectiveness.” But he admitted, “More is certainly better.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.