The US over the next two weeks hopes to enlist allies in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford said on Tuesday.
Under the plan, the US would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition. Allies would patrol waters near those US command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.
Dunford articulated those details to reporters following meetings on Tuesday with Acting US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” Dunford said. “And so I think probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that’ll support that.”
Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost one-fifth of the world’s oil passes, if it was unable to export its oil, something US President Donald Trump’s administration has sought as a way to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a deal on its nuclear program.
However, the US proposal for an international coalition to safeguard shipping in the Strait has been gaining momentum since attacks in May and last month against oil tankers.
Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami yesterday declined to comment when asked about Dunford’s comments.
“We are quite concerned about mounting tensions in the Mideast, and guaranteeing safe passage in the Hormuz Strait is vital to our nation’s energy security, as well as to the peace and prosperity of international society,” Nogami told a news conference in Tokyo.
Although US officials had publicly discussed plans to safeguard the Strait, Dunford’s disclosure that the coalition would also seek to bolster security in the Bab al-Mandab off Yemen appeared to be a new element.
The US, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have long fretted over attacks by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in the narrow Bab al-Mandab waterway, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
Nearly 4 million barrels of oil are shipped daily through the Bab al-Mandab to Europe, the US and Asia.
Dunford said the US would provide “command and control” ships, but added that the goal would be for other nations to provide vessels to patrol waters between those command ships.
The third part of the mission would involve coalition members escorting their countries’ commercial vessels.
“The expectation is that the actual patrolling and escorts would be done by others,” he said.
The size of the campaign could be adjusted based on the number of countries that commit to it, Dunford said.
“This will be scaleable, right? So with a small number of contributors, we can have a small mission, and we’ll expand that as the number of nations that are willing to participate identify themselves,” he said.
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