The Defense Department said that beefed-up U.S. forces adding critical protection for merchant vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz “continue to see harassment” from Iran and the threat level remains unchanged.

Asked whether the Pentagon has seen a decrease in that Iranian threat and if there is a timeline yet on drawing down forces in the region, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday that “as long as there remains a need for these forces to be in the region, they’re going to stay there.”

“They are there to deter any threats or unprofessional or unsafe behavior from IRGC-backed groups, and I’ll just have to leave it at that,” Singh said.

Pressed on whether the “temperature has dropped” in the commercial shipping threats, Singh replied that “we continue to see harassment.”

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen harassment from IRGC-backed groups over commercial ships. And so as that continues, that’s why we moved our forces into the region as we did,” she said. “We have not seen that threat drop, I would say, so we haven’t seen a reason to move our forces out. So until there is a change — you know, I’m just going to leave it at that.”

After an increase in Iranian forces seizing merchant vessels, U.S. forces increased sea and air patrols in the Strait of Hormuz in May. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces Commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper met via video with nearly a dozen shipping industry representatives to discuss Iran’s seizures and the increased U.S. presence.

On July 5, U.S. forces prevented the Iranian Navy from seizing two commercial ships in international waters near the coast of Oman. In the first incident, shortly after 1 a.m., an Iranian naval vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker TRF Moss but left after the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul arrived. About three hours later, the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager sent out a distress call because another Iranian naval vessel was less than a mile away and ordering the ship to stop. Personnel on the Iranian navy vessel fired weapons at the tanker. No crew members were injured yet several rounds struck the hull near their living quarters. Once USS McFaul arrived the Iranian vessel left the scene.

Fifteen days later, the Defense Department announced that it ordered “the deployment of a portion of the BATAAN Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) composed of the USS Bataan, USS Carter Hall, and its associated personnel and equipment into the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR), in addition to the recently approved forces comprising F-35s, F-16s, and a guided missile destroyer, the USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116)” as an action “demonstrating commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation and deterring Iranian destabilization activities in the region.”

After the DoD announcement, Iran’s Defense Ministry declared it had mass-produced Abu Mahdi — their first long-range naval ballistic missile — and delivered them to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s regular army. Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani said Iran had “employed artificial intelligence within the software of the naval missile’s trajectory planning.” The range of Abu Mahdi is 620 miles, the defense minister said, while the country claims to be working on missiles with double the range.

“The Islamic Republic is capable of reciprocating any mischief by the Americans … including through seizure of their vessels in reciprocation,” IRGC spokesman Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif said earlier this month, adding that “the security of the Persian Gulf has to be maintained by the littoral states there.”

Source » express