Thousands of sailors and Marines assigned to the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are operating in the Red Sea after transiting the Suez Canal, according to the U.S. 5th Fleet.
The announcement comes days after The Associated Press reported the military is contemplating placing armed personnel on commercial ships transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, in response to Iran seizing and harassing civilian vessels in the region.
The Associated Press reported that no final decisions were made on the matter, and officials said the Marines and Navy sailors would provide the security only at the request of the ships involved.
Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, declined to confirm to Navy Times whether the deployment was connected to reports of arming personnel on commercial ships. However, he said that the ships’ presence aims to “deescalate regional tensions caused by Iran’s harassment and seizures of merchant vessels earlier this year.”
The amphibious assault ship Bataan and dock landing ship Carter Hall got underway with more than 3,000 sailors and Marines from Norfolk, Va., last month. The Pentagon said the deployment was in response to Iran’s recent attempts to “threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters.”
“Bataan ARG/26th MEU units bring to the region additional aviation and naval assets, as well as more U.S. Marines and Sailors, providing greater flexibility and maritime capability to U.S. 5th Fleet,” the Navy said in a statement Monday.
The Bataan and Carter Hall join assets including Air Force F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, and the destroyer Thomas Hudner, sent to the Middle East last month to thwart Iran’s actions.
Those assets were deployed after Iran tried to seize two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman on July 5, according to Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. The U.S. Navy destroyer McFaul intervened in both instances, prompting the Iranian vessels to depart the scene.
“One attempt included an Iranian navy ship firing upon the merchant vessel,” Singh said during a press briefing last month. “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.”
In total, U.S. Central Command claims that Iran has attacked or seized approximately 20 vessels since 2021.
“We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway, of which the world depends on for more than 1/5 of the world’s oil supply,” Singh said last month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.