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Thousands of U.S. Troops Arrive in Red Sea in Response to Tanker Tensions

Tensions are ratcheting up in the Red Sea. The United States alleges that Iran seized—or tried to seize—nearly 20 internationally flagged civilian ships in the past two years, and the U.S. military is responding by sending more than 3,000 personnel into the area.

“The deployment adds to a growing U.S. military buildup in tense Gulf waterways vital to the global oil trade and led Tehran on Monday to accuse Washington of inflaming regional instability,” Al Jazeera reported.

The troops transitioned to the Red Sea through the Suez Canal on 6 August onboard two ships, according to a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. The move provides “greater flexibility and maritime capability” to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the statement added. The deployment comes after the U.S. military said its forces blocked two Iranian attempts to seize commercial tankers in international waters near Oman on 5 July.

Last week, the U.S. military said it was considering placing armed military personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz to discourage Iran from harassing merchant vessels. Officials noted that Marines and Navy sailors would provide security only at the request of the ships involved—and possibly also with the approval of the country (or countries) under which the ship is flagged and the owner is registered. The effort has not received final approval yet, The Washington Post reported, but the shift in military personnel in the region signals that this move has broad support.

Iranian officials have voiced skepticism about the motivations behind the move, as well as the necessity of “foreigners” providing security in the Gulf.

“The U.S. government’s military presence in the region has never created security,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani in a press conference on Monday. “Their interests in this region have always compelled them to fuel instability and insecurity.”

The Strait of Hormuz is a vital waterway for global trade, particularly for transporting crude oil. The straight connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the open ocean, the Post noted. At least 20 percent of the world’s crude oil is moved through this waterway.

Since 2019, though, tensions have been on the rise in this area. Iran has seized a series of ships in the straight as part of its efforts to pressure Western nations in negotiations regarding its collapsed nuclear deal, the Associated Press reported.

Iran is responding to the troop movements with its own ramp-ups. The nation’s Revolutionary Guard launched a surprise military drill on 2 August on disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, coordinating swarms of small, fast boats, paratroopers, drones, and truck-launched surface-to-sea missile systems, according to the AP. Iran has also equipped its navy with drones and more precise 600-mile (1,000-km) range missiles, Al Jazeera reported.