WASHINGTON / TEHRAN
Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS James E Williams are seen. AFP photo
The United States and about 20 other nations will conduct a major anti-mine operation near the Persian Gulf in September, the Pentagon said on July 17, receiving an immediate reaction from Tehran.
The maneuvers will be held Sept. 16-27, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. “It’s a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in international waterways in the Middle East,” Little said. The U.S. has deployed the USS Ponce to serve as logistical backup in the anti-mine effort. ‘US can’t clear Gulf of mine’
It has also doubled to eight the number of minesweepers in the Gulf, and sent in four MH-53 Sea Stallion anti-mine choppers, as well as underwater drones, Agence France-Presse reported. “This is not an exercise that’s aimed to deliver a message to Iran,” Little said. “This is an exercise that’s designed to ... increase our capabilities and cooperation.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guards yesterday scoffed at Washington’s announced plans for the multinational anti-mine operation. “The Americans boast a lot about many things, but they are facing problems in practice,” General Mahmoud Fahimi, deputy chief of the Guards’ naval forces, told the Fars news agency.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta immediately responded to the remarks from Tehran yesterday, Reuters reported. The U.S. will hold Tehran directly responsible for any attempt to disrupt shipping in the oil-rich Gulf region, Panetta said. “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat, if they make a decision to do that.”