AP NEWS

Spain withdraws frigate from U.S. Mideast mission amid soaring Iran tensions

May 14, 2019

Spanish naval commanders have pulled the country’s warships from the U.S.-led fleet dispatched to the Persian Gulf, reportedly to counter imminent Iranian threats to American forces in the region.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Monday the NATO ally would withdraw the Mendez Nunez, a Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group en route to the Middle East.

The Spanish frigate was part of a small European contingent attached to the Lincoln strike group, which had been initially assigned to a peacekeeping operation, before being reassigned to the Persian Gulf by U.S. commanders. The last-minute change to mission was a “decision [made] outside of the framework of what had been agreed with the Spanish Navy, said Mrs. Robles, Reuters reports.

But the Spanish defense chief said the country would continue to “act as a serious and reliable partner as part of the European Union and within NATO,” despite the withdrawal.

The Spanish withdrawal from the strike group mission is the most recent example of how the U.S.S. Lincoln’s redeployment was a complete surprise to American allies and senior U.S. defense officials alike.

The U.S.S. Lincoln strike group and an Air Force bomber task force were sent to the Persian Gulf last Sunday was in response to viable threats by Tehran to American troops attached to U.S. Central Command.

But the announcement, made by National Security Adviser John Bolton, effectively sidelined the Pentagon’s new policy of keeping its combat deployments largely under wraps.

Mrs. Robles on Tuesday appeared to try to walk back Madrid’s decision, telling reporters the frigate’s withdrawal was made for “technical reasons.”

“The United States government has embarked on a mission that wasn’t scheduled when the agreement was signed,” she told reporters during an official trip to Brussels.

European allies have reacted with alarm to the rising tensions in the Middle East in the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, an accord leading EU powers still support.