The United States Navy is leading the largest maritime exercise in the Middle East with 30 countries participating in the event. The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) aims to protect international trade routes against possible threats posed by terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda, according to US officials. The exercise was organized by US Naval Forces Central Command and began Monday in Bahrain, home to the US 5th Fleet. On Saturday, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan highlighted the importance of the exercise in protecting shipping routes, saying, "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. The IMCMEX, which ends on April 26, focuses on operations such as mine countermeasures, infrastructure protection, and maritime security operations to protect civilian shipping. In addition, new technologies such as unmanned underwater vehicles and the expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County are being demonstrated. “(Militants) are well aware of the vulnerability of shipping and when it’s confined to choke points, ports, and channels,” Commodore William Warrender, the British deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces told reporters in Bahrain. “And also, the disproportionate media attention that perhaps a spectacular maritime attack would generate.” In addition to this exercise, the United States launched another drill Monday in waters near the South China Sea, areas of which are the subject of a territorial dispute among regional states including China. The 12-day annual drills, dubbed Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), began with the participation of some 5,000 US troops, 4,000 Filipino soldiers, and 80 Australian forces. The United States has recently increased its military presence in the Middle East as well as in the Asia-Pacific region.