Two American warships with over 3,000 newly deployed US military personnel between them have entered the Red Sea, new statements confirm Monday, as part of the Pentagon's efforts to thwart Iranian seizures of international vessels in regional waters.
The US Fifth Fleet announced Monday the ships have transited the Suez Canal with the fresh deployment of sailors and Marines. The Bahrain-based command said the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall warships provide "greater flexibility and maritime capability" in ensuring the safety of global shipping in the Gulf and Mideast area of operations.
The statement further said the new troops and warships will seek to "deter destabilizing activity and de-escalate regional tensions caused by Iran’s harassment and seizures of merchant vessels." Both US warships are amphibious assault-style vessels with rapid deployment capabilities of both Marines and helicopters, and other assets.
It comes after the Pentagon has tallied that over 20 internationally-flagged tankers have been either seized or harassed by Iran's military over the last two years, particularly in the vital Strait of Hormuz.
Last week the Pentagon announced an unconventional and controversial plan to "deploy a security guard composed of Marines on board commercial tankers passing through and near the Strait of Hormuz, to form an additional layer of defense for these ships," according to Fifth Fleet spokesman Tim Hawkins.
But there are legal questions and hurdles to such a proposal, still reportedly being mulled - given the US Marines would be dealing with various foreign vessels, and presumably some would not give permission for them to board. It further remains unclear whether the Marines would only provide security details on US-flagged tankers, or among other close Western allies such as British-flagged vessels.
In response to recent US announcements which previewed the additional forces being sent to the region, Tehran launched surprise naval drills last week in a bit of muscle-flexing.
Last Thursday, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) launched exercises across the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, Naze'at, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb.
The purpose was to "display the IRGC Navy's might as well as combat and defense preparedness in protecting the Persian Gulf's security and the Iranian islands," according to Iranian state media.