Pentagon sends destroyer, fighter jets to Middle East to beef up security amid Iranian ‘threat’
Stars and Stripes July 17, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is sending a warship and fighter jets, including F-35s and F-16s, to the Middle East to provide extra security amid a rise of threatening actions by Iranian forces there, defense officials said Monday.
The ship and the jets are being sent to the region near the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman to “defend U.S. interests” and “safeguard freedom of navigation,” said Sabrina Singh, Pentagon spokeswoman. The USS Thomas Hudner, a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is the ship being deployed.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command, decided extra security is needed near the key global shipping channel, she said.
“We have seen Iran continue to harass vessels in the Strait of Hormuz,” Singh said. “So [they] felt it was appropriate to move more assets into the region.”
The Air Force already has A-10 Thunderbolts, also known as “Warthogs,” in the area, and they have been patrolling for several days since Iranian naval forces on July 5 attempted to seize a couple of oil tankers near the waterway, even opening fire on one of the vessels. Iran backed off after the U.S. Navy intervened and the ships continued through the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.
“We are working to ensure that there’s adequate air cover, that there’s adequate maritime surface presence in order to deter Iran,” said a senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity and noted the F-16s began patrolling the area this past weekend. “We will see if it’s deterrent enough.”
U.S. military officials have said they are becoming increasingly concerned about recent maritime activity from Iran and its possible cooperation with Russia and Syria. Those three countries are aligned in the ongoing Syrian civil war between Syrian Democratic Forces and others fighting the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. On Friday, a Russian surveillance plane hovered over a U.S. base in southeastern Syria trying to collect intelligence, U.S. defense officials said, and a Russian fighter jet intercepted an American MQ-9 drone over Syria in an “unprofessional” manner. Roughly 900 U.S. service members are based in Syria to support operations against the Islamic State group and train partner forces.
The U.S. military has said Iranian forces have harassed many commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz in recent years, some of them carrying crude oil to international markets. Iranian state television aired footage of the capture of a U.S.-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman in April, claiming the ship had hit a fishing vessel. In the past two years, Iran has seized at least five commercial ships, according to the U.S. Navy.
The Pentagon said it’s not yet known how long the Hudner, which entered service in 2018, or the fighter jets will patrol the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.
“We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce,” Singh said.