Maritime Ops in Middle East Have Deterrent Effect
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, April 27, 2006 Maritime operations in the Middle East are all about anti-terrorism activities, the deputy commander of coalition forces serving with Naval Forces Central Command said here.
British Royal Navy Commodore Simon T. Williams said maritime operations have an active and passive deterrence role in what Americans call the Central Command area of operations. "The main effect is trying to change the risk calculus for terrorists," he said in an interview.
The command, which has ships from 17 different nations, has task forces covering the seas from the southern border of Kenya to the Pakistan-India border. It includes such hot spots as the Persian Gulf and the coast of Somalia. Different task forces and nations cover different areas.
Combined Task Force 150, for example, covers the area from the Gulf of Oman to Kenya's southern border. Combined Task Force 152 covers the Persian Gulf. Combined Task Force 58 defends Iraq's oil platforms at the head of the Persian Gulf.
CTF 58 is more tied to Operation Iraqi Freedom, while the other two are tied to Operation Enduring Freedom.
The maritime environment is complex in the region, and this calls for different strategies and tactics for different areas, Williams said. But the bottom line is the command conducts operations to send terrorists the message: "If they do attempt to use the sea the likelihood of success is extremely low," Williams said.
The command does this actively in the north with defenses of the oil infrastructure and more passively in the rest of the region with presence patrols and observation.
"It's really no different than civil-military contacts in Baghdad or Ramadi (Iraq,) or Kabul (Afghanistan,) -- people get out in the streets there and meet with the populace," Williams said. "Same here. But on land there are houses and streets (specialists can visit).
"At sea, the houses are fishing grounds. The streets are the traditional sea lanes, and much of our effort is identifying those and then positioning ourselves so we can have the right forces in the right areas."
The coalition vessels, he said, act as cops on the beat: They know the neighborhood; they know the people; and they know when something is out of place. In the five years the effort has run, coalition personnel now have the experience and knowledge they lacked in the first years. This knowledge is aided by cooperation from Gulf states and regional powers, such as Pakistan, which just took over command of CTF 150.
The Horn of Africa could be a haven for terrorists once the smoke settles in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Central Command officials said. Somalia is the largest "ungoverned area" in the region, and some local groups are emulating the Taliban while others have an "al Qaeda cast" to them, officials said.
Porous borders and thousands of years of smuggling confound the problem in the region. Smugglers see no difference between taking "washing machines from Dubai into Iran" or taking terrorists to safe havens, Williams said. This is why coalition vessels counter smugglers. "Because to them it is not smuggling, it is commerce," he said.
The presence of coalition vessels cause smugglers to think and, hopefully, decline from smuggling terrorists, Williams said. They have to decide they will not smuggle terrorists because the chances of being stopped and prosecuted is just too great.
"The smugglers know there is a line they cannot cross," Williams said. "They may not know where it is, but they know there is a line somewhere which if they cross it consequences will surely follow."
Coalition vessels check dhows, fishing vessels and merchant ships in the region. Each stop yields more information about traditional sea lanes, fishing waters and the people who ply the sea.
"We talk with them, and it has an effect," Williams said. "If you are doing something and there is someone on board who is out of place, we will find them. In the past five years, we have gotten much better at detecting who is out of place.
"We stop them and search," he continued. "We speak with them. Later, if we stop them and they are carrying someone they accepted a large bundle of cash to transport, there's a chance they are going to get fingered. And if he gets fingered, then the whole crew will get lifted. That's where the whole concept of risk calculus comes in."
The number of ships the coalition stops varies according to weather, time of year, and the prosperity of the areas. There are three types of operations: full-out boarding, a visit, and "approach operations." The last is the most common.
Coalition vessels also give fishermen and mariners such items as medical supplies, food, water and working gloves. Each item has a phone number they can use if they have something to report, Williams said.
The strategy is having an effect. The coalition has seen some pattern changes in the region, "but the smugglers stick to pretty traditional routes. The pattern shift causes us to notice something is out of place and investigate."
In addition to ships, coalition forces use aircraft in their traditional maritime patrol function.
Smugglers may use different routes and travel further to avoid coalition vessels. "But that will drive up the price (to terrorists) and drive up the level of chatter, because if someone is going to change where he is going, it will force him to communicate that he is doing something different," Williams said.
Maritime operations in the region are aimed at creating a safe and stable area. They are deterring smugglers and having an effect on piracy around the Horn of Africa, Williams said. The one constant in the effort has to be vigilance. Williams said this will be a long-term effort that requires cooperation from the nations of the region and the world.