WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering what resources to send next to the Middle East and Persian Gulf areas in the wake of the latest attacks on two cargo ships, off the coast of Iran.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who heads U.S. Central Command, on the next round of reinforcements, all while Washington tries to build an international coalition for action.
“We obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate, but we also need to broaden our support for this international situation,” Shanahan told Pentagon reporters Friday.
“As you can tell, we have an international situation there in the Middle East. The focus… is to build international consensus to this international problem,” Shanahan said.
He said part of that effort includes “the big push in the last 24 hours to continue to get information out (and) continue to share intelligence … as part of building the international consensus.”
Shanahan said any reinforcements are part of the Pentagon’s “role to set the conditions for diplomacy.”
On Friday, Germany’s foreign minister said the video released by the Pentagon is not enough evidence to prove Iran was behind attacks. “We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Oslo, according to news reports.
On Thursday, Central Command said one of two attacked ships, the Japanese oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, had an “unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.”
Shanahan said Friday that “I don’t have a sense of the timing” when the Pentagon will be able to prove the mines allegedly used are of Iranian origin. However, he said the process to determine that origin is “absolutely” underway.
The Japanese owner of the Kokuka Courageous said the vessel was struck by a projectile and not by a mine. “We received reports that something flew towards the ship,” Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo, said at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday. “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship.”
Pentagon officials said the USS Bainbridge has returned the crew of Kokuka Courageous to their ship and that a tug boat is towing it to the United Arab Emirates.
However, they also said the crew of the Norwegian ship Front Altair, the second ship attacked, remains in Iranian custody. That ship was reported to be still on fire and Iranian naval vessels are preventing two tugs from connecting to the Altair, according to Voice of America.
The two cargo ships were near the Strait of Hormuz when they were attacked Thursday morning. In April Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz as a counter strike to the U.S. decision to end waivers on reimposed sanctions for companies that export oil from Iran. The strait, which separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, is passage for 25-30% of seaborne crude oil.