A US aircraft carrier and other warships are headed to the Persian Gulf to bolster troop withdrawals in the region, a defense source told CNN, insisting the deployment is unrelated to the recent murder of a top Iranian scientist.

The Nimitz carrier strike group – led by the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and backed by several guided-missile destroyers – will soon resume operations in the Persian Gulf region, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported on Friday, citing an anonymous Pentagon official.

The ships will provide “combat support and air cover as US troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan” by mid-January under orders from President Donald Trump, moving a sizable arsenal into the region just months before he is set to leave office.

The official added, however, that the movement was decided before news emerged of the scientist’s assassination near Tehran early on Friday morning, suggesting the events are not connected. Nonetheless, they said the deployment would send an “increased deterrence message” to the Islamic Republic, which has vowed a “severe” response to the murder.

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The Nimitz strike group departed the Persian Gulf earlier this month to conduct training exercises in the Indian Ocean with Australia, India and Japan – which make up an informal security coalition known as the “Quad.” With those drills wrapped up, the US warships will now return to Iran’s backyard, where Washington has maintained a significant presence throughout Trump’s term.

Despite the defense official’s assurances that the movements of the Nimitz group have no links to the assassination, Tehran’s envoy to the United Nations warned his country would respond to any “adventuristic measures” by Washington or Tel Aviv, vowing to take “all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests.”

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