The United States says it is working to form a military coalition to protect commercial shipping off the coast of Iran and Yemen amid heightened tensions in the region following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.
Under the proposal, a coalition of nations would patrol strategic waters in the Gulf area and the sea between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday.
“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” said Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dunford said the Pentagon had developed a specific plan, and that he believed it would be clear within a couple of weeks which nations were willing to join the effort.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has blamed Tehran and its proxies for several attacks on tankers in the Gulf in the past few months.
A fifth of the world’s oil exports passes through the area.
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Washington DC, said that Trump has said “the US should not pay for this, it should be an international military force”.
“But the move presents the potential for conflict with Iran. After all it’s only weeks after the US almost launched military strikes on Iran,” Hendren said.
The downing of a US surveillance drone by Tehran almost brought the two foes to the brink of war. Trump had authorised military strikes on Iran in retaliation but pulled back from launching them.
Washington slapped new sanctions on top Iranian leaders, including the supreme leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei, in the wake of the drone shootdown.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have grown since last year when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal that put a cap on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.