US Navy conducts Maritime exercise in Middle Eastern Waters
US Navy conducts Maritime exercise in Middle Eastern WatersReuters

The U.S. Navy is leading a 30-nation maritime exercise across Middle Eastern waters which it says will help protect international trade routes against possible threats, including from the Islamic State group and al Qaeda.

The exercise, which is partly being held in the Arabian Gulf, comes as tensions run high between Gulf Arab countries and Iran over its role in the region, including its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war, for the Houthis in the Yemen conflict and for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) started Monday with a symposium in Bahrain where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, in part as a bulwark against Iran.

Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said Saturday the exercise was designed to stop militants from causing disruption to shipping, as "we know that they want to disturb trade lines."

"This region provides a strong training opportunity for nations worldwide as three of the six major maritime chokepoints in the world are here: the Suez Canal, the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz," Donegan said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had Thursday praised security cooperation with Bahrain during a visit to the Gulf monarchy, calling it a "critical security partner".

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend April 21 a summit in Riyadh with the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain — on Iran's role in the region.