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MANAMA, Bahrain — Participants from 41 countries have gathered in Bahrain for a two-week international mine countermeasure exercise scheduled to begin early next week. Navy officials touted the drills, which will include 35 ships, 18 unmanned underwater vehicles and more than 100 explosive ordinance divers, as the largest of its kind in the region.

“The focus is to build the capacity of a group of nations to counter the threat of mines and maritime hazards,” said Cmdr. Jason Salata, U.S. Navy 5th Fleet spokesperson. There are six choke points to maritime shipping and navigation in the world, and three of them are located in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, said Salata explaining the importance of conducting the exercise in this region.

If either the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Bab al Mandab, or Suez Canal were blocked by mines, it could pose a threat to the global economy. The exercise aims to counter the threat if such a scenario were to unfold.

The drills come at a time of increased tensions with Iran over its nuclear program. The United States and other nations in the region are concerned about Iran’s ability to disrupt shipping in the Straits of Hormuz — just 39 kilometers (24 miles) wide at its narrowest point — in the event of a conflict.

The upcoming exercise is similar to one held last September, but this year, Navy officials announced the exercise will include new scenarios involving shipping escort, and visit, board, search and seizure operations.

simoesh@stripes.com Twitter: @hendricksimoes


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