This image provided by the US Navy shows Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Yuudachi leading a formation of ships during Exercise Malabar 2007 in the Bay of Bengal. More than 20,000 naval personnel from the navies of Australia, India, Japan, the Republic of Singapore, and the United States are taking part in the exercise. (AP Photo/US Navy - Juan Antoine King)

Camp Lejeune (North Carolina)- With beach landings, 25 naval ships and an air assault, the US and eight other countries are staging a major amphibious exercise on the US East Coast this week, fighting a fictional enemy that bears more than a passing resemblance to Iran.

After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years”, said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.

About 20 000 US forces and hundreds of British, Dutch and French troops as well as liaison officers from Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Australia are taking part in the exercise along the Atlantic coast off Virginia and North Carolina.

An American aircraft carrier, amphibious assault ships including France’s Mistral, Canadian mine sweepers and dozens of aircraft have been deployed for the drill, which began on January 30 and runs through mid-February.

On Monday was D-day for Bold Alligator, with US marines stepping on to the beach from hovercraft near the Camp Lejeune base in North Carolina.

Amid rising tensions with Iran and threats from Tehran to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, naval officers and military planners are keenly aware of the Islamic Republic’s arsenal of mines and anti-ship missiles.

The Pentagon opened the drill to allied forces for the first time this year. – Sapa-AFP