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US trains Navy sailors, Marines for possible boarding to help ships near Iran

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A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter casts a shadow on the USS Bataan during their arrival for Fleet Week 2022, as seen from the Intrepid Museum on May 25, 2022, in New York City. (Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images/TNS)

Tony Capaccio

Bloomberg News

U.S. Navy sailors and Marines are in training for a possible mission to board merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz to counter Iranian aggression, according to a U.S. military official familiar with the plan that’s awaiting formal requests from shipping companies.

As envisioned, armed 20-member teams of sailors and Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the region would board vessels if requested and remain during the transit of high-risk areas in and through the Strait, the official said. The personnel on board would work in coordination with U.S. aircraft flying overhead such as F-35s, F-16s, A-10s and drones, according to the official, who asked not to be identified ahead of a public announcement.

Preparations have advanced from initial consideration of the idea, which was reported earlier Thursday by The Associated Press, to planning its execution if the boarding is requested, including training on the ground in Bahrain of Navy-Marine security teams, the official said.

The possible escort mission reflects increased tensions with Iran after encounters between American and Iranian vessels.

Although White House and Pentagon spokespeople declined to confirm the ship-boarding plan, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that “the Strait of Hormuz is a vital seaway that has a huge impact on seaborne trade around the world, including 25% of global crude oil transiting through that strait. So it’s a critical choke point in the maritime world. And we have seen threats by Iran to affect that choke point.”

Earlier, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered deployment of an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit to the region as well as a destroyer and F-35s.

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(—With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs)

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