Thousands of Marines and sailors are headed to the Middle East this week, in response to attempts by Iran to seize commercial ships in recent weeks. 

The deployment consists of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, the amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde, and the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall. 

“These additional forces provide unique capabilities, which alongside our partners nations in the region, further safeguard the free flow of international commerce and uphold the rules-based international order, and deter Iranian destabilizing activities in the region,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command in a statement on Thursday. 

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The 26th MEU and Navy ships departed the east coast on July 10.

The deployment follows multiple recent attempts by Iran to hijack commercial vessels. On July 5, an Iranian Navy vessel approached an oil tanker sailing through the Strait of Hormuz before being deterred by a Navy destroyer. A few hours later, a second Iranian Navy ship approached another oil tanker in international waters off the coast of Oman and even opened fire on it with small arms before departing with the of that same U.S. Navy vessel.

In April, Iran seized an oil tanker with a helicopter-borne raid, footage of which was shown on the country’s state television networks. 

Since 2021, more than 20 commercial vessels in the region have been attacked, harassed, or seized by Iran, according to the Navy. 

The latest deployment comes less than a week after the Department of Defense announced the deployment of F-15 and F-16 fighters, along with the guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, to the region. 

So, while the military’s focus is largely shifting to Europe and the Pacific, there is still plenty happening in the Middle East and Africa. The same day that those two oil tankers were almost seized, U.S. Africa Command announced that it had carried out an airstrike in Somalia, “in a remote area near Hareeri Kalle,” killing five al-Shabaab terrorists. 

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