White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Sunday that the US had deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”. He said that the US wants to send a “clear and unmistakable” message to Iran that any attack on US interests or allies would be met with “unrelenting force”.

Bolton said: “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.”

Meanwhile, a Defense Department official said that the US has detected “a number of preparations for possible attack” on US forces and that there appeared to be “more than one avenue of attack”.

Last month, Donald Trump announced that the US would be ending sanctions waivers on Iranian oil, thus cutting off a huge chunk of Iranian income, as well as listing the Iran regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group. After that, US intelligence began hearing chatter about Iran-backed militias in Iraq attacking Americans, which is worrying because over 5000 US troops are stationed there.

The Lincoln could be headed to the Arabian Sea or the Persian Gulf, but there are currently no American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that this was not a sudden move and had, in fact, been planned for some while.

He said: “It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests. If these actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah, we will hold the Iran regime’s leadership directly accountable for that.”

He continued: “I don’t want to talk about what underlays it but make no mistake, we have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions they may take.”

The US has a “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran as part of an attempt to bring the mullahs back to the table for a new deal to address all of their malign behaviours. Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last May, citing Iran regime’s cheating, and reimposed punishing sanctions across the board.