ABU DHABI (Reuters) - The USS Abraham Lincoln and its accompanying battle group crossed the vital Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, joining the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Gulf waters, amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, US officials said.

The US Navy said in a statement Tuesday that the presence of the aircraft carrier in the Gulf waters is "evidence of the commitment of the United States and its partners to ensure freedom of navigation in the region and ensure the flow of commercial traffic across the Strait."

It said the carrier's transit of the strategic strait - which separates Iran and the United Arab Emirates into the Gulf and through which about a third of the world's seaborne oil production - passes was planned without incident.

The group includes the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln as well as a number of ships and aircraft. A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said contacts between US forces and Iran's coast guard were "professional."

It was the first time a US aircraft carrier group had crossed the strait since Iran shot down a US drone in the region last June.

Tensions have surged in the Gulf since attacks on oil tankers this summer, one off the UAE coast and a major attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Washington has accused Iran of being behind the attacks, but Tehran denies this.

The commander in charge of the US Navy in the Middle East told Reuters in May he would send an aircraft carrier to pass through the Strait of Hormuz if necessary.

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Additional forces
On the other hand, the United States deployed thousands of additional military forces in the Middle East, including air defense personnel, as well as bombers, in order to deter in the face of what Washington calls Iran's provocative actions.

The latest move coincided with protests in Iran since Friday over rising gasoline prices, during which protesters demanded the departure of the rulers of the clerical establishment.

US President Donald Trump stressed that sending armed forces to the Middle East is to protect US interests and forces in the region from "hostile actions by Iran and its proxies."

In a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives, Trump said Iran continued to threaten regional security by attacking oil and gas facilities in Saudi Arabia last September.

Trump said the deployment of additional US troops in the Middle East was aimed at reassuring Washington's partners, deterring what he called Iran's provocative behavior, and strengthening regional defense capabilities.

With the arrival of these forces, the number of US military personnel in Saudi Arabia will increase to about 3,000, and they will remain there until the completion of these tasks.