Third American aircraft carrier goes to Middle East

The United States is sending a third aircraft carrier to the Middle East in a move that bolstered U.S. military capability at a time of tension with Iran and stepped-up operations in Iraq.

The Navy confirmed the departure of nuclear-powered USS Enterprise from it's home port of Norfolk, Virginia, with about 5,500 sailors and marines.

The Enterprise will provide "power to counter the assertive, disruptive and coercive behavior of some countries, as well as support for our soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Vice Admiral Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff, the commander of the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet.

Cosgriff did not specify which nations he was alluding to, but the carrier's move came amid heightened tensions with Iran, which lies along the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

"The complex operational environment, especially during these challenging times, requires a strong presence in the region," Cosgriff said, adding that the Enterprise "provides us with the right assets at the right time."

Cosgriff said the Enterprise transports about 70 attack, fighter and detection planes, as well as four helicopters. These will "contribute to stability" and ensure the "free flow of commerce in the region," he said.

Iran's hardline Islamic government has repeatedly threatened of disruptions along the world's busiest oil route in the narrow Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula if the U.S. attacked Tehran over it's nuclear program.

Officers at the Naval Forces' Central Command in Bahrain declined to say whether the Enterprise and the ships in its strike group would replace either the USS John C. Stennis or the USS Nimitz Carrier currently patrolling the zone.

The U.S. has maintained two carriers in the region since February to patrol in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean with 15,000 sailors and marines between them.

Until now, the arrival of a new carrier and strike group spelled the departure of one of the two on patrol in the region's restless seas, which also include critical waterways such as the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb off the coast of Yemen.