The U.S.’s new international naval coalition will serve as a "highway patrol” to protect shipping in the Red Sea from attacks by Iran-backed Houthi militants even though it won’t escort individual vessels, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The force, announced Monday, will patrol "the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to respond to and assist as necessary commercial vessels,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a phone interview Friday. He said he didn’t want to understate the challenge but said the effort will be enough to "reassure global shipping and mariners that they can safely transit the Red Sea area.”

The world’s major container and oil shippers announced they would route their vessels away from the Red Sea after a series of attacks by Houthi militias in the weeks since Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with punishing airstrikes. The Houthi attacks roiled shipping markets and helped push up oil prices.