US sees European initiative as complementary to its Operation Sentinel

US Marine General Joseph Dunford has said that a proposed European initiative to increase maritime security in the Gulf of Oman would complement the continuing US efforts there, rather than being a stand-alone operation

In June the US defense ministry proposed a multinational effort, open to all allies, that would enable vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz without fear of Iranian apprehension. However, the terms of the proposal looked too much like an engagement with US military for several countries, and there were no positive takers. This month the US rephrased its terminology, emphasizing that it would not be a military operation.

Under a plan set out on July 9th, the US would provide coordinating ships and would lead surveillance efforts, while participants in the coalition were patrolling nearby waters and escorting any commercial vessels sailing under that nation’s flag.

The United States would not escort other nations’ commercial vessels.

This week the (now ex-) foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the strait. This met with a modestly positive response from France and Germany, but raised questions as to where it would sit with the US proposal.

Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, said that his discussions “right now would not indicate that that’s a stand-alone effort that’s separate from ours. I view that as a European contribution to maritime security that would be complementary, if not integrated, with what the US is doing,” he told a small group of reporters travelling with him in Afghanistan.

He did not say whether he had discussed the matter directly with the UK.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the UK proposal for a European-led initiative was seen by at least one diplomat as easier to rally around than the US proposal.

The US Defense ministry officials has also sought to distance itself from the President’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. They stressed that the US was not creating a coalition to confront Iran militarily and said that Operation Sentinel would not be operational in the way that the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had been.

The JCS said that it was about increasing intelligence sharing, surveillance and international presence to deter more attacks on tankers in the waterway. “This is not related to the pressure campaign on Iran. It’s focused on freedom of navigation,” Dunford said.

Dunford said that the initiative was already underway on a small scale. “We shared intelligence in the two British operations that have taken place over the last 10 days,” he said.