WASHINGTON — US warships protecting American-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz may extend assistance to other countries’ vessels, officials said Friday, after reports of Iranian forces harassing shipping.
The expanded US naval presence is intended to signal to Iran that Washington is ready to safeguard shipping along the vital corridor, even at a moment of delicate diplomacy with Tehran over its nuclear program, experts said.
American warships started “accompanying” US-flagged vessels in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday in response to two incidents in less than a week in which commercial vessels were coerced or harassed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter approved the operation and “this is going to continue for an indefinite period of time,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said.
US Central Command, which oversees forces in the Middle East, said it was possible the assistance could be offered to other merchant ships sailing through the maritime chokepoint, a crucial route for the world’s oil.
“Our current plans are for accompanying US-flagged ships, although there are discussions with other nations to include their vessels as well,” Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters.
Officials did not say what other countries might take up the offer.
The USS Farragut, a guided-missile destroyer, and three coastal patrol craft — the Thunderbolt, the Firebolt and the Typhoon — are operating in the area.