US carrier's exit from Gulf sparks concern as Russian ships enter to join Syria fight

(US Navy)The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is heading to its new home in San Diego, California, according to US Navy sources.

The US government has withdrawn its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt from the Persian Gulf just as Russian warships have entered the Gulf to join in the Russian air assault on enemy targets in Syria.

This marked the first time that the US would be left with no carrier in the Gulf since 2007, officials said.

US officials said the move to pull the USS Theodore Roosevelt out of the Persian Gulf was planned as early as July, adding that the ship was scheduled to undergo maintenance. The ship is home to about 5,000 service members and 65 combat planes, according to NBC News.

Its absence in the region worries some US Navy officials, saying this could potentially hamstring US military operations in Iraq and Syria.

"Without that carrier, there will be a detriment to our capability there," Adm. John Richardson told a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The absence of a US carrier in the Gulf, which is expected to last for two months, comes as Russia is escalating its actions in the region as it continues to pound targets in Syria with airstrikes. Russian officials have ostensibly declared that their goal was to "obliterate" the Islamic State. However, the US and its allies maintained that Moscow was hitting rebel fighters who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Russian ally, instead of ISIS positions.

"Russia remains a wild card in the region — and the absence of an American aircraft carrier is being noticed,'' said Peter Daly, a retired Navy vice admiral and CEO of the US Naval Institute.

"The most important thing you need a carrier for is for what you don't know is going to happen next," Daly told NBC News.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt played a major role during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said. In the past, the US Navy often had two carriers operating in the region. The combat planes from the carriers can fly into war zones and act as a show of force to Iran and other nations during tense standoffs, the officials said.

The US newspaper Navy Times earlier reported that the USS Harry S. Truman, which is based out of Norfolk, Virginia, is expected to take over from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf.

Daly meanwhile said the US can still opt to launch its planes from bases in coalition nations like Turkey and Qatar, which have joined the fight against ISIS.

"The biggest value to those carriers is that they are huge, and you have capability to go from one stop to another, and we don't need a permission slip from another nation when we want to fly planes," he said, referring to the Navy's fleet presence in the Gulf.

"You can make exceptions anytime, but if you make it every time, it catches up with you," he added.