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Exercise Focuses on WMD Traffickers

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2003 – A Japanese-flagged commercial merchant vessel is suspected of carrying items related to weapons of mass destruction. Military and law enforcement assets from Australia, France, Japan and the United States trail the vessel. The Japan coast guard, working with its French, U.S. and Australian law enforcement counterparts, boards the vessel on the high seas and conducts a search.

This is the scenario for Pacific Protector, a three-day exercise now under way in international waters off northeastern Australia. The exercise, which began Sept. 12 and continues through Sept. 14, is the first of 10 planned through early 2004 under the Proliferation Security Initiative.

President George W. Bush unveiled the initiative in a May 31 speech in Krakow, Poland. Bush said the United States and its PSI allies would pursue new agreements under the initiative to "search planes and ships carrying suspect cargo and to seize illegal weapons or missile technologies."

The initiative currently includes the United States and 10 other nations committed to working together to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials worldwide.

Bush said the partnership would expand over time "as broadly as possible to keep the world's most destructive weapons away from our shores and out of the hands of our common enemies."

A senior defense official explained that in the first PSI training exercise, the United States, Australia and France are contributing military assets. Japan, Australia and the United States are contributing law enforcement assets. Other PSI partners, taking part as observers, are Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In the exercise scenario, to move into full swing on Sept. 13, the U.S. Motor Vessel Pvt. Franklin J. Phillips, one of 13 maritime prepositioning ships in Military Sealift Command's prepositioning program, will serve as the target vessel for the first exercise. Also participating is the USS Curtis Wilbur, which is a guided missile destroyer home ported at Yokosuka, Japan, and a U.S. Coast Guard technical observer and boarding detachment.

Future exercises, which the defense official said will increase in complexity and broaden in scope, will focus on improving air, ground, and maritime interdiction operations. These exercises will take place in several areas around the world that have the most trafficking in weapons of mass destruction: the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

The exercises do not target any specific state or organization, the defense official emphasized. "PSI is about interdicting shipments, whoever is proliferating," he said. "It is about weapons, delivery systems and related materials, and the intent here is to halt, and if we can't halt, to slow the trade in these items."

Although countries participating in the PSI have already demonstrated their capability to conduct interdiction missions, the defense official said Pacific Protector and other exercises to follow will enable them to improve their ability to work together toward a common cause.

"It's a confidence builder," the official said. "It's a team-building effort for the PSI partners to get to know how to work with one another so that when we find an interdiction case, we have a familiarity that helps us to do it much more effectively and efficiently."

Just as importantly, he said, the PSI training exercises send a clear signal to countries and organizations that traffic weapons of mass destruction. "Part of this," he summarized, "is to send a message out to countries that proliferate to say, 'Hey, we're out there now. And we're taking more proactive measures to try to stop this trade.'"


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