The U.S. is sending two amphibious warships and thousands of Marines to the Middle East to bolster regional security after Iranian forces threatened commerce in and out of the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Amphibious warship USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the two ships are being dispatched to the U.S. Central Command on orders of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“Through these actions, the United States is demonstrating commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation and deterring Iranian destabilization activities in the region,” reads a Department of Defense statement.
The announcement comes days after the U.S. sent additional warships and fighters to the Middle East to deter Iranian forces from interfering with merchant traffic.
On July 5, the Iranian corvette IRINS Bayandor (81) fired on the merchant tanker Richard Voyager in an attempt to seize the ship off the coast of Oman.
“In light of this continued threat and in coordination with our partners and allies. The department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the Strait and surrounding waters. We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters during a press briefing on July 17.
Iran has attempted to seize 20 flagged ships since 2021. The most recent attacks follow Iran taking control of two tankers within a week of each other this year, USNI News reported
The U.S. currently has three destroyers in the region – USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60) and USS McFaul (DDG-74). Hudner and McFaul are assigned to the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
As of Thursday morning, the three-ship Bataan Amphibious Ready Group is currently transiting the North Atlantic in U.S. 6th Fleet. It could be several days between the announcement and when Bataan and Carter Hall transit the Suez Canal and enter the Red Sea and U.S. Central Command. The two ships along with amphibious warship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) deployed on July 10.
Prior to the announcement, the U.S. has minimized its naval footprint in the Middle East following the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Amphib USS Essex (LHD-2) was the last U.S. capital ship to operate in U.S. CENTCOM when it departed in early 2022. The last carrier in the region was Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), which departed the Middle East in 2021 after the Afghanistan withdrawal.