US moving ahead with coalition to protect Persian Gulf

The United States is moving ahead with plans to build a coalition of nations to monitor and deter Iranian threats against commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf area and in a heavy trafficked waterway between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said Tuesday.   Dunford said the Pentagon has developed a specific plan, and that he believes it will be clear within a couple of weeks which nations are willing to join the effort, reported The Associated Press.   Dunford added he discussed the matter with Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and that plans are coming together.   “We’re getting ready now to move out,” he told a small group of reporters at Fort Myer, Virginia. “We have a pretty clear concept of what we want to do.”   He said the US military’s main role would be to provide “maritime domain awareness” – intelligence and surveillance information – to the ships of coalition partners that would conduct patrols in vulnerable waterways like the Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman, as well as the Bab el Mandeb, a heavily trafficked strait between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Any escorting of commercial ships would be done by military ships sailing under the flag of the commercial vessel, he said.   The initiative comes amid ongoing tensions with Iran, which regularly holds drills at the Strait of Hormuz, which is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes.   The Islamic Republic has threatened more than once to close the Strait of Hormuz. In the last few years there have been several close encounters between Iranian and American vessels in the area.   More recently, tensions were exacerbated by a series of attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf which were blamed on Iran.   In another incident, Iran shot down a US drone, claiming it violated Iranian airspace near the Strait of Hormuz.

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