United States is moving forward with plans to form a military coalition to safeguard strategic shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen amid raised tensions with Iranian leaders.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on July 9 told reporters that the Pentagon would provide command and surveillance assets for the coalition.
Allied nations joining the coalition would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags through the heavily traveled waters between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
"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 told reporters following a meeting with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"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."
Dunford did not discuss how many partners he expected to attract to the coalition, but said its efforts could be adjusted depending on the number of participants.
"This will be scalable. 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.
U.S. officials have publicly discussed plans to safeguard the water lanes, but Dunford's remarks that the coalition would also seek to bolster security in the Bab al-Mandab off Yemen appeared to be a new element.
The narrow Bab al-Mandab connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
Washington blames Tehran and fighters aligned with Iran for recent attacks on shipping in the region. Iran denies it was involved in the attacks, which caused damage to shipping of several nations.
Iran has long threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, if it is unable to export its oil.
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero as a means of pressuring Tehran to agree to talks on its nuclear program.
Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with six world powers, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.