The US Department of Defence is working on “a series of moves” to bolster Washington's defensive posture in the Arabian Gulf, the White House announced on Friday, as tension with Iran escalates in the critical waterway.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Washington “will seek to increase co-ordination and interoperability of the International Maritime Security construct and European Maritime awareness in the Strait of Hormuz” in the coming weeks.
Central Command will provide additional details later, and operations will fall under the leadership of US Naval Forces, including its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, Mr Kirby said.
Centcom said on Friday that it was working to increase the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
“Iran’s unwarranted, irresponsible and unlawful seizure and harassment of merchant vessels must stop,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
“US Fifth Fleet and our partners are committed to protecting navigational rights in these critical waters.”
The announcement comes after Iran commandeered two oil tankers in the Gulf earlier this week, as tension with the West grow over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme.
Iran also seized the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet, which was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil bound for US energy firm Chevron Corp, on April 27 in the Gulf of Oman.
Tehran claimed the vessel had struck another ship, a claim unverified by tracking data.
Iran seizes oil tanker after it leaves Dubai port
Mr Kirby called the rise in Iranian seizures an affront to “navigational rights and freedoms in international waters and strategic waterways of the region”.
“The United States strongly condemns actions that threaten and interfere with commercial shipping in the Middle East … there's simply no justification for these actions,” Mr Kirby told reporters.
“The United States does not seek conflict or escalation with Iran.
“We are committed to responding to Iranian aggression, together with our global allies and partners in the Middle East region to ensure the freedom of navigation to the Strait of Hormuz and other vital waterways.”
The seizure of ships began after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal, through which saw Tehran drastically limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions relief.
The seizures have continued under President Joe Biden and as diplomatic efforts at finding a way back to the accord have reached a stalemate.