‘I personally made calls’: Longtime allies rejected pleas to help to counter Iran, Esper says


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When Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked U.S. allies to help counter Iran’s attacks on shipping earlier this year, the allies turned him down, Esper told Congress on Wednesday.

The rejections came in response to the Pentagon’s creation of a maritime coalition after Iran attacked foreign ships and Saudi oil fields earlier this year.

“I personally made calls to many allies in both Asia and Europe and asked for assets and was told either ‘not possible’ or ‘we’ll think about it.’ And you can see how many are there right now,” Esper told Democratic Rep. Bill Keating during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

“I can see how many who aren’t there too, that usually are there. And that’s a concern I have,” Keating said.

So far, only six partners have signed on to the maritime coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The coalition’s goal is to escort its vessels in the Persian Gulf region and to improve intelligence and surveillance operations. Of particular concern is the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which 30% of the world’s sea-traded oil passes.

In June, Iranian forces are suspected of having attacked two foreign oil tankers with mines and shot down a U.S. drone. One month later, Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker and its 23 crew members. Another British ship also temporarily was seized. In August, Iran captured an Iraqi tanker accused of smuggling oil. Tensions reached a new high in September when U.S. officials claim Iran engaged in a coordinated attack on a Saudi Arabian oil field, temporarily halting half of Saudi crude oil production.

The Trump administration has been engaged in a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran in an attempt to curb the country’s malign behavior and seek a new nuclear agreement. Several European allies have criticized the campaign and created a work-around for sanctions Trump reimposed on Iran.

Despite the non-response from U.S. allies, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley emphasized the importance they play in military operations.

“We, the United States of America, depend upon — for access, basing, and other things in military operations — allies. And we want to keep allies close,” Milley said.

Esper did not name the allies who turned down his pleas for help.

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