Task Forces Bolster OIF, OEF Maritime Security
By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2006 Three years ago, U.S. Navy SEALs secured the Basra and Khwar Al Amaya oil terminals and started maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. Today, the U.S. Navy and its coalition partners continue operations there and have expanded the range of the maritime mission, but continue to support operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
A utility landing craft and an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter provide assistance to a distressed vessel off the coast of Kenya Jan. 31 while conducting maritime security operations in the Indian Ocean. Naval forces supplied the ship with 10 days of food and water to use while the ship waited for a tugboat to pull it into port. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew King, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Maritime security operations in the North Arabian Gulf support OIF by protecting two critical Iraqi infrastructure nodes, which represent a significant portion of Iraq's economy," Navy Rear Adm. John W. Miller said. "By helping to protect the two offshore oil terminals and working to provide security and stability in the maritime environment, U.S., Iraqi and coalition forces are helping to set the conditions that will provide the Iraqi people the best opportunity for self-determination," he said.
Miller is the deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
"MSO," as it is called by the sea services, has three maritime combined task forces that conduct security and stability missions both inside and outside the Arabian Gulf, Navy officials said. Combined Task Force 58 is in the northern Persian Gulf protecting oil terminals. Combined Task Force 152 patrols the central and southern Persian Gulf. And Combined Task Force 150 patrols the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
"Maritime security operations help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment as well as complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations," Miller said. "MSO deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material. We conduct fully integrated operations with a diverse coalition and at the same time, conduct coordinated operations with our regional friends and allies."
Made up of forces from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Iraq, Combined Task Force 58 is led by a Royal Navy officer and directly supports Operation Iraqi Freedom, officials said.
Combined Task Forces 152 and 150 both support Operation Enduring Freedom and include forces from France, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Italy and the United Kingdom, Navy officials said. A Dutch officer commands Combined Task Force 150, and a U.S. officer commands Combined Task Force 152, which has only U.S. forces assigned to it.
About 45 ships and 20,000 personnel from various nations are patrolling more than 2.5 million square miles of international waters. The forces conduct integrated and coordinated operations to preserve the free and secure use of the world's oceans by legitimate mariners.
All three task forces report to the Combined Maritime Forces component commander, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh. He also commands U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet, U.S. Navy officials said from Bahrain.
Although the United States has committed forces from the Navy, Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard to the region, one-third of the assets are non-U.S. coalition resources and personnel, officials in Bahrain said.
"The greatest impact of MSO is the ability for a coalition to work so well together to help provide security and stability in the maritime environment," Miller said. "Along with our regional friends and allies, we share a common goal against a common enemy.
"All people, from any civilized society, share the same basic wants and needs," he continued. "We each want to have security and stability in our lives and have the best opportunity to prosper either socially, spiritually or economically. MSO directly contributes to fostering security and stability."
But that security has come with sacrifice. On April 24, 2004, terrorists attacked an Iraqi oil terminal in the Persian Gulf just offshore of Iraq's port of Umm Qasr. Using three "dhows" -- vessels unique to the Middle East -- full of explosives, terrorists detonated their floating bombs as coalition forces intercepted them, officials said from Bahrain. It was the first attack against oil infrastructure since Operation Iraqi Freedom had begun on March 19, 2003.
The attacks were similar to the Oct. 12, 2000, USS Cole al Qaeda-led bombing in Yemen, where 17 U.S. sailors died. Iraqi and U.S. personnel on the terminals and on ships and small boats near the terminals successfully thwarted the 2004 attacks, but two U.S. sailors and one U.S. Coast Guardsman were killed, officials said.
"We do not want to overstate the threat at sea, but it is still there," Miller said. "We can never afford to be complacent. Our forces never know for certain what they will face during each boarding. ... The enemy continuously look for opportunities, so we must continue to make it difficult for them to achieve success."
However, the maritime forces also bring relief and assistance to those in need. On Feb. 4, the French Navy frigate FS Jacoubet, operating as part of a Dutch-led maritime task force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, rescued 50 Somalis whose small boat had been disabled as they attempted to cross the Gulf of Aden, U.S. Navy officials in Bahrain said.
Jacoubet, part of Combined Task Force 150, discovered the dhow drifting, suffering from engine failure and with no food or water aboard. About half of those aboard were women and children.
And after Pakistan was devastated by earthquakes in October 2005, the USS Pearl Harbor, assigned to Task Force 150, took a break from searching vessels at sea to deliver nearly 300 tons of heavy equipment and relief supplies to the port city of Karachi, officials said.
A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane assisted search-and-rescue operations for survivors of a sunken Egyptian ferry in the Red Sea, Feb. 4. The ferry, carrying an estimated 1,400 passengers, sank Feb. 3 off the coast of Egypt. The Navy crew flew for almost 15 hours to assist in the search efforts. Ordinarily, the P-3 Orions provide over-the-horizon eyes and ears for the operational commanders both on land and at sea, officials said.
It is this spirit of cooperation among nations that U.S. Navy officials said is critical to the success of maritime security operations in the Middle East.
"We could not effectively conduct MSO without our coalition," Miller said. "We have made enormous progress within the maritime coalition to eliminate seams in command and control and interoperability. The art of coalition operations today is to leverage the unique capabilities and strengths of each member of the combined force, and nowhere is that done better than in the Central Command Combined Maritime Force."
Navy officials said that the Iraqi navy and marines are fully integrated in maritime security operations in the northern Arabian Gulf. Iraqi marines are working and training alongside U.S. Navy security personnel on the oil terminals. The Iraqi navy's five patrol boats conduct integrated patrols and train with coalition forces and will assume control of their territorial waters when they're ready.
"It is their country, their future, and it is up to the Iraqi people to determine what Iraq will look like," Miller said. "If the conditions are right, the Iraqi people can achieve anything."