The United States Navy adds a new task group to monitor the Red Sea

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United States United statesAccording to the commander of US Navy troops in the Middle East, the US would deploy a new multinational task force to monitor the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Fifth Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper informed reporters by phone from his headquarters in Bahrain that Task Force 153 of the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) will patrol the waterway between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, via the Bab al-Mandeb Strait to the seas near the Yemen-Oman border.

The new task force will consist of two to eight boats at any given time, and while Cooper does not anticipate it to increase the number of ships patrolling Middle Eastern waterways, he believes it will improve patrol efficiency. The CMF’s fourth joint task force will be Combined Task Force 153, which was formed in 2002 as a multinational naval coalition to combat drug trafficking, terrorism, and piracy in the region.

CTF-152 patrols the Persian Gulf, whereas CTF-150 has been deployed to Middle Eastern maritime routes outside of the Gulf until recently (CTF-151 focuses specifically on piracy). The new unit will allow CTF-150 to concentrate its operations in the northern Arabian Sea’s open seas. Why it Matters: The restructure comes as Iran shows no signs of abandoning its backing for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and as US strategic adversary Russia makes gains with Sudan’s military regime, where Moscow is awaiting a possible deal for a Red Sea naval facility.

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The Houthis are now in a tenuous truce with the Yemeni government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition and is looking for a way out of the conflict. In the past, the rebels have fired explosives-laden remote-controlled boats into the Red Sea to assault Saudi objectives, and only last month, they launched missiles into Saudi Arabia from Yemen. Iran, according to US sources, supplied the Houthis with drone and missile technology. Cooper did not say if CTF-153’s patrols would explicitly target smuggling destined for the Houthis on Wednesday, but US-led operations have struggled in recent years to intercept such supplies.

Cooper said today that the task force’s formation “reflects a regional consensus on the importance of maritime security in these bodies of water,” noting that it will combat the smuggling of arms, drugs, humans, and coal, the latter a reference to a once-dominant revenue source for Somalia’s al-Shabaab jihadist group. Cooper’s mention of human trafficking comes as migrants from the Horn of Africa try to reach the Gulf of Aden. “The area is so huge that we just can’t do it on our own,” he added, “therefore we’ll be at our best when we combine” with regional navies.

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