The US announced on Thursday it is sending additional warships and thousands of Marines to the Middle East to increase security in the wake of Iranian attempts to seize commercial ships there, The Associated Press reported.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the deployment of the USS Bataan amphibious readiness group and the 26th Marine Expeditional Unit to the Gulf region, said US officials. The readiness group consists of three ships, including the Bataan, an amphibious assault ship. An expeditional unit usually consists of about 2,500 Marines.
In an announcement, US Central Command said the deployment will provide "even greater flexibility and maritime capability in the region.” The announcement did not name the ships, but US officials detailed the units involved in the deployment on condition of anonymity.
Along with the Bataan, the group includes two other warships, the USS Mesa Verde and the USS Carter Hall. The group left Norfolk, Virginia, earlier this month. It was unclear Thursday if all three ships would continue into the Gulf region.
The move comes after a senior defense official said last week that the US would be beefing up its use of fighter jets around the strategic Strait of Hormuz to protect ships from Iranian seizures.
On Monday, the Pentagon said that the United States will send additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, along with a warship to the Middle East.
The US decided to beef up its presence in the region comes after Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strait last week, opening fire on one of them.
Officials have said that, in the past two years, Iran has harassed, attacked or interfered with the navigational rights of 15 internationally flagged commercial vessels.
In late April, Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet as it traveled in the Gulf of Oman. Six days later, it seized a second ship, the Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker as it left a dry dock in Dubai.
The Strait of Hormuz, a crucial waterway for global energy supplies, has often been a site of tense encounters between Americans and Iranian forces.
In early December, an Iranian patrol boat tried to temporarily blind US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz by shining a spotlight toward the vessels and crossing within 150 yards of them.
Last August, an Iranian ship seized an American military unmanned research vessel in the Gulf but released it after a US Navy patrol boat and helicopter were deployed to the location.