Washington seeks to form a coalition to protect maritime navigation in the Gulf News -

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wants to form a military alliance within two weeks or so to protect strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington has blamed Iran and fighters for supporting attacks, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Danford said.

Under the plan, which has only crystallized in the last few days, the United States will provide command ships to the military alliance and lead its surveillance and reconnaissance efforts.

Danford explained the details to reporters following two meetings on the coalition today, one with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the other with Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo.

"We are now in contact with a number of countries to determine whether we can form an alliance that guarantees freedom of navigation in both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab Straits," Danford said.

"So I think we are likely to determine in the next two weeks the countries that have the political will to support this initiative and then we will work directly with the armies to determine the specific capabilities that will support that," he said.

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which supplies about a fifth of the world's oil, if it can not export its oil, something sought by the administration of President Donald Trump as a means of pressure on Tehran to renegotiate its nuclear program.

The US proposal to form an international alliance to protect navigation in the Strait of Hormuz has been a driving force since attacks in May and June on tankers in Gulf waters. Iran this month dropped a US aircraft near the strait, prompting Trump to order an air strike in retaliation before retreating at the last minute.

Although US officials have publicly discussed plans to protect the Strait of Hormuz, Danford disclosed that the alliance would also seek to bolster security in the Bab al-Mandab Strait off Yemen, apparently a new element.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long been concerned that Huthi-allied fighters with Iran have launched attacks in Bab al-Mandab.

About 4 million barrels of oil a day pass from Bab al-Mandab to Europe, the United States and Asia as well as commercial goods.

Danford said the United States would provide "command and control" vessels, but said the target was for other countries to provide ships to patroll those command ships.

The third part of the mission will include members of the alliance to escort their country's merchant ships. "We expect others to patrol and escort," said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The size of the campaign could be determined by the number of participating countries.

"It will be possible to develop, with a small number of shareholders, we can have a limited task, and we will expand it with the announcement of countries that want to participate," Danford said.

HZ / WB (AFP / Reuters)

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