Navies of more than 30 countries in region for minesweeping exercises



ABU DHABI // The US navy will team up with more than 30 other nations on Sunday in the largest anti-mine exercise ever in the region.

Described as an effort to work co-operatively with the international community, the naval exercises will target the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman.

Lt Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said the exercise was "not being conducted in response to any specific threat".

"Mines and waterborne improvised explosive devices are a threat to life, and they are a threat to the freedom of navigation," Lt Raelson said.

"The international community is unified on this issue."

Some experts said the move was a message to Iran, which has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 per cent of the world's oil passes.

"Any time there is an exercise by the West or Iran, it is always about posturing or the control of the Strait of Hormuz," said Dr Theodore Karasik, director of research and consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

"What is really interesting will be how seriously the Iranians take this as a threat to their national security."

This year, the US navy moved four more minesweepers to the Arabian Gulf, bringing the total to eight.

Last week, Rear Admiral Kenneth Perry, the vice commander of the Naval Mine Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, said all nations "have a stake in keeping sea lanes open for maritime traffic".

"Mines are indiscriminate," Rear Admiral Perry said. "They pose a threat to all maritime traffic, regardless of nationality or purpose.

"Mines and waterborne improvised explosive devices are not only a threat to warships but a threat to commerce and the world economy."

Britain, France, Japan and more than two dozen other nations are expected to participate in the exercises, which will continue until September 27.

The UAE is not one of the confirmed participants.

The US navy is inviting the public to follow the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise on its Facebook page at facebook.com/IMCMEX12 and the official Navy blog at navylive.dodlive.mil/

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