The U.S. Navy on Tuesday began its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by a pair of aircraft carriers and backed by warplanes flying simulated attack maneuvers off the coast of Iran.
The maneuvers bring together two strike groups of U.S. warships and more than 100 U.S. warplanes to conduct simulated air warfare in the crowded Gulf shipping lanes.
The U.S. exercises come just four days after Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines who Iran said had strayed into Iranian waters near the Gulf. Britain and the U.S. Navy have insisted the British sailors were operating in Iraqi waters.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors — nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic Republic, whose navy operates in the same waters.
He declined to specify when the Navy planned the exercises.
Aandahl said the U.S. warships would stay out of Iranian territorial waters, which extend 12 miles off the Iranian coast.
A French naval strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, was operating simultaneously just outside the Gulf. But the French ships were supporting the NATO forces in Afghanistan and not taking part in the U.S. maneuvers, officials said.
Overall, the exercises involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel on warships and aircraft making simulated attacks on enemy shipping with aircraft and ships, hunting enemy submarines and finding mines.
"What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security," Aandahl said. "These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."