The USS Independence, the first American aircraft carrier to enter the Persian Gulf in 16 years, headed out of the waterway Thursday after a brief show of force.

The carrier and its battle group entered the waterway on Tuesday.The 79,000-ton Independence left through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow outlet of the gulf, in the early afternoon.

The carrier and its battle group were sailing out to the Arabian Sea, said a U.S. military source in the region.

In Washington, a Defense Department public affairs officer, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lundquist, confirmed that the Independence and its crew had left the gulf because "they completed their operation there."

The carrier, with at least 70 aircraft aboard, had been inside the gulf on a training mission.

The Independence was "not meant in any way to increase regional tensions," Lt. Cmdr. Mark Walker, a Navy spokesman, had said earlier. He said its presence was "a visible demonstration of the operational capabilities of a carrier battle group to our friends and allies in the region."

The Independence had been in the northern Arabian Sea since July, before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.