The aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its carrier strike group waded into the waters of the South China Sea Monday — marking the first time it has done so during its 2021 deployment.

The carrier strike group is completing maritime security operations, flight operations, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units while in the South China Sea, according to the Navy.

The Navy reiterated its vow to maintain freedom of navigation in the contested region.

“The South China Sea is pivotal to the free flow of commerce that fuels the economies of those nations committed to international law and rules based order,” Rear Adm. Will Pennington, commander of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, said in a Navy news release.

“It is both a privilege and a pleasure to work alongside our allies, partners, and joint service teammates to provide full spectrum support to key maritime commons and ensure all nations continue to benefit from a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Pennington said.

The Reagan is set to head to the Middle East this summer to support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The Reagan is expected to move from the Asia-Pacific region to U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of operations and stay there for as many as four months, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. The Reagan would replace the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is currently deployed in U.S. 5th Fleet.

Cmdr. Kimberly Brubeck, a NAVCENT spokesperson, said the command does not discuss ship movements in response to a request for comment from Navy Times about the report.

CENTCOM says the U.S. has completed more than 50 percent of the retrograde process in departing Afghanistan, according to estimates updated on June 14.

The Reagan’s carrier strike group includes Carrier Air Wing 5, the embarked staffs of Task Force 70 and Destroyer Squadron 15, the guided-missile cruiser Shiloh, and the guided-missile destroyer Halsey.

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