The U.S. military will protect American commercial vessels transiting the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, newly-installed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Wednesday.
The aim of the U.S. naval and air presence in the Gulf theater is to deter Iran from threatening to stop or seize any American commercial ship, Esper told journalists on his first day on the job.
Earlier this month the U.S. had discussed with its allies the formation of an international naval escort for oil tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab on either side of the Arabian Peninsula, where much of the global crude oil traffic passes.
The new Pentagon chief, sworn in to his post at the White House on Tuesday after being confirmed by the Senate earlier in the day, said that dealing with the issue of Iran would be one of the first on his list of priorities.
The U.S. Navy said last week it destroyed one Iranian drone – and “engaged” a second – as it threatened the amphibious assault ship Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.
READ: UK Raises Threat Level After Iran Seizes British Oil Tanker
Also last week – on Friday – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commandos boarded and seized the UK-flagged SW Stena Impero oil tanker, forcing it out of the Gulf of Oman and into Iranian territorial waters. The U.S. Central Command said it began to deploy extra aerial patrols shortly after.