U.S. Military Says Middle East Exercise Is ‘Purely Defensive”

An international air, sea and underwater exercise in the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf, is “purely defensive” and not preemptive tactics for an attack on Iran, the U.S.’s top military commander in the region said.

Marine Corps General James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, told sailors on the 684-foot long USS Ponce the 12-day exercise is focused on clearing mines at sea. He spoke yesterday on the vessel located about 80 miles from the Iranian coast and 280 miles north of the Strait of Hormuz.

“Here we have navies from six continents working together -- every continent except Antarctic is represented here -- and we are going to make certain we can work together,” Mattis said. “This is a wholly defensive exercise.” The drill is “just about mines and how we get rid of them if they get in the water.”

More than 30 nations are participating in the exercise that’s taking place in three locations from the mid-Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman to Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden. Vessels being used include those from the U.S., U.K., Japan and Iraq. Countries participating or acting in observer roles include Yemen, Jordan, New Zealand, Estonia, Italy, Singapore and Australia.

In reply to a question on whether the demonstration was meant to send a signal to Iran not to interrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, Mattis said it wasn’t targeted at any specific country. A fifth of the world’s traded oil flows daily through the Strait.

The Ponce is a 41-year-old amphibious transport vessel recommissioned and refurbished earlier this year after Mattis requested in December a floating command center that can act as a base for a wide variety of missions, including supporting U.S. and allied mine-clearing operations and Navy SEAL missions.

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