WEB SPECIAL - War on Terror Update

WAR ON TERROR UPDATE NOV 2004

Maritime Attack On Usa 'Just A Matter Of Time'

According to a top US Air Force general, maritime terrorism is now one of the biggest threats currently facing America.

A US Coast Guard patrol boat helps protect the American homeland against the terrorist threat. Photo: USCG.

The man making the claims last month (Sept) was none other than General Ed Eberhart, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and US Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

He is the military commander tasked with the defence of the US Homeland. Gen Eberhart revealed he believes that, post 9/11, American security measures on the ground and in the air have been so successful that terrorists have been forced to direct their efforts against America's allies. However, the threat from maritime terrorism against the US is a completely different matter.

"I believe that it is just a matter of time until the terrorists try to use a seaborne attack, a maritime attack against us," General Eberhart, recently told a press conference at his Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center. He stated that the American nation has "a long way to go" to shield itself from seaborne attacks.

As commander of NORAD, Eberhart is ultimately responsible for protecting the nation against internal and external threats, including terrorism. As commander of NORTHCOM, he is responsible for homeland defence and co-ordinating military assistance to civilian authorities during a presidential-declared emergency or disaster situation, such as 9/11.

According to General Eberhart seaborne attacks are possible because the nation's intelligence picture of the high seas is: "...not as mature, not as sophisticated, or as elegant as awareness of air space." He assesses that a maritime attack could come in any form, from terrorists sailing into harbour with High Explosives or a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

He believes they could also launch an unmanned aerial vehicle or cruise missile from a distance. Despite deploying law-enforcement officers to check cargo ships before they depart their ports of origin, and an increased level of collaboration and co-operation between the Joint Harbor Operations Centers in San Diego, Calif., and Norfolk, Va, Eberhart believes complacency is still a risk.

"The minute we say, 'The status quo is good,' we become predictable," said the general. "The enemy is going to out-flank us and sock us in the eye again."

The threat from terrorists conducting asymmetric warfare has led to the US Navy seeking asymmetric solutions. Most notably it has recently created a counter-terrorist unit to act as the fleet's Mobile Security Force (MSF). This new squadron is equipped with 25-foot long speedboats that are on four-hour standby to be deployed anywhere in the world.

The USN has also trebled the number of armed sailors mounting watch on its warships in an effort to prevent a repeat of the USS Cole attack. The US Coast Guard has also formed Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST) that range in size from 70-100 members, which are deployed in Seattle, San Pedro in Southern California and, Hampton Roads, Va. and in Houston/Galveston. The intention is to have up to a dozen MSSTs, which are equipped with 25-foot Defender boats powered by twin Honda 225hp outboards, capable of 40 knots and armed with M-60 machine guns.

Chillingly, while Gen Eberhart believes terrorists are still planning a maritime attack on the nation that they hope will make "a big splash" he thinks the threat is even greater against targets overseas. "I don't wish terrorist attacks on anyone overseas," said General Eberhart. "...not to our friends and neighbours or even to anyone who is not our friend or neighbour... because of what we have done since 9/11, you have not seen a follow-up attack in the USA, but you have seen attacks elsewhere."

Fallujah Follies?

Marines from Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., prepare to join the battle at the Wadi Al Salam cemetery in An Najaf.Photo: US Marines.

The ma n who led the US Marines to victory in the Iraq War and who has since served two terms as a commander of stabilisation forces, has reportedly criticised the strategy on the ground. According to the UK-based Daily Telegraph newspaper, Lieutenant General James Conway believes that the situation in and around the Sunni hotbed of Fallujah has been badly bungled. Firstly, the US Marines were asked to go in too quickly, and too hard, after the killing and mutilation of four US defence contractors in the city last April. But then, the political chiefs in Washington D.C. compounded the error made by senior officers in Baghdad, by ending the USMC assault on insurgents in Fallujah, just as it appeared on the brink on a successful conclusion. General Conway is reported as saying: "When you order elements of a marine division to attack a city, you need to understand what the consequences will be and not perhaps vacillate in the middle of something like that. Once you commit you have to stay committed." The Daily Telegraph claims that other marine commanders in Iraq have labelled the decision to send in a 'Fallujah Brigade' of local troops as a "fiasco". It has been claimed that weapons, radios and even vehicles given to the 'Fallujah Brigade' have been handed over to insurgents for use against the US Marines. Fallujah is currently one of a number of 'no-go' cities where Coalition ground troops are pulling their punches, even though airpower is being used to hit insurgent targets within their environs.

Sattler Is New Boss

Lt General Conway was probably speaking to the Daily Telegraph after handing over command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt General John F. Sattler.

The latter commanded US Marines conducting counter-terror operations in the Horn of Africa 18 months ago and is now in charge of 30,000 marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen, currently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Prior to his Iraq field command Lt General Sattler was Director of Operations, US Central Command (CENTCOM).

Lt General Sattler said of the challenges that lie ahead for the US Marines in Iraq: "We will continue to turn the heat up on those thugs, criminals and terrorists who must use intimidation and murder to accomplish their goals because they can't accomplish them legally." During the change of command Lt General Conway was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal, for his role in leading the US Marines in taking Baghdad in the Iraq War.

Assault Carriers Swop

In the Arabian Gulf, the amphibious assault ships USS Essex, foreground, and USS Belleau Wood sail side-by-side during cross decking. Photo: US Navy.

The amphibious assault ships USS Essex (LHD 2) and USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) converged in the northern Gulf to carry out a complex cross-decking procedure. Its aim was to share supplies, personnel and equipment without having to pull into a port. It was the first time the Essex and Belleau Wood had traded supplies in such a way. Meanwhile, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was embarked in the Essex, preparing to go ashore and take part in the campaign against insurgents.

Comstock Acts As Fob

USS Comstock (LSD 45) has been carrying out duties as Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) in the northern Gulf.

Her role is to support sailors and marines providing security for Al Basrah Oil Terminal (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT) in the northern Gulf.

This includes delivering food and water three times a day by small boats to Navy Mobile Security Force Detachment 21 (MSF Det 21). Comstock's role also includes the supplying fuel to Coalition ships, the first time the assault ship has acted as a delivery ship in underway replenishment.

Campbeltown Sent On Gulf Deployment

HMS Campbeltown leaving Plymouth. She is now on station in Arabian waters. Photo: Dennis Andrews.

The Royal Navy Type 22 frigate HMS Campbeltown departed Plymouth last month (Sept) bound for a three-and-a-half month deployment as part of the Royal Navy's presence in the Middle East. Prior to deploying, Campbeltown (F 86) underwent a four-week maintenance period. During her time in the Gulf she will operate alongside the Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset (F 82) and other Coalition naval vessels. It is expected that part of her deployment will involve carrying out maritime surveillance and boarding operations. Campbeltown was sent to relieve sister ship HMS Cumberland (F 85) which has been on station in the Middle East for some time.