War on Terror Special report 6.3.06
UK Marines Return to Afghanistan
British Assault Ship Takes Charge In Gulf
US Marines Go On Offensive In Iraq
First Strike For Reagan
Russians Join Naval Counter-Terror Fight
Amsterdam In Arabia
Ballarat Heads To Crisis Zone
Canada Steps Up
Asians Upgrade Terror Defences
New US Marine Corps Anti-Terror Formation
French And USN Together
Following in the footsteps of British commando forces sent to keep the peace in Afghanistan during the summer of 2002, elite Royal Marines are once more on the front line in one of the world's most dangerous troublespots. The men of 42 Commando Royal Marines are based in a region known to local tribesmen as the 'Desert of Death'. Their outpost is 12 hours drive away from Kandahar and the nearest Coalition forces and the territory between them is largely controlled by bandit gangs and insurgents. Colonel Gordon Messenger, who commanded 40 Commando RM during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, heads a 260-strong force - including the 42 Cdo troops - which is preparing the military infrastructure in Helmand Province. Once UK patrolling starts in earnest this May, Colonel Messenger is anticipating that a "myriad of ne'er do wells will have a go and test us out early."
Shortly before his marines' departure from the UK, Lieutenant Colonel Ged Salzano, the Commanding Officer of 42 Commando said: "This deployment is typical of the expeditionary nature of Royal Marines' business. The Company Group will be the first British combat troops into the Helmand area as part of the NATO expansion and are robust enough to look after themselves and protect the engineers. Conditions are expected to be tough but 42 Commando is well prepared for the task." In 2002 45 Commando RMs, supported by 7 Battery of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, led a force of 1,700 green beret British troops into Afghanistan in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the USA. The Americans had specifically requested 45 Commando because of its expertise in mountain warfare, but despite several search missions the British troops failed to record any contact with either Al-Qaeda or Taliban elements. However, Afghanistan remains unstable and Helmand is a source of trouble.
The UK's 3 Commando Brigade RMs, of which 42 Cdo is a key element, forms part of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force and retains a Lead Commando Group (currently 42 Cdo) ready to deploy at five days' notice anywhere in the world. Britain has been partly obliged to send more troops to Afghanistan because of a shortfall in international peace-keeping forces. The men of 42 Commando are the first additional NATO combat troops to deploy to southern Afghanistan following a decision to commit around 3,300 British troops as part of a planned expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), from 9,000 to about 16,000 troops this summer.
The UK will also be deploying the Headquarters Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, to take command of ISAF for nine months from May. These forces are needed to help restore order in six south-central Afghan provinces: Daikondi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Oruzgan and Zabul. Despite ongoing American-led security operations in these areas they are still stricken by violence. For example, on February 13 four American soldiers were killed when a suspected improvised explosive device struck their vehicle in Deh Rahwod, Oruzgan Province. At the same time as the British troops deploy into Afghanistan, there will be a substantial naval presence in the Gulf and Arabian Sea.
Aside from the assault ship HMS Bulwark (see below), with other elements of 3 Cdo Bde embarked, the Royal Navy Fleet Flagship the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will also be deploying to the waters of the region. Naval forces continue to play a key role in enabling, and supporting operations by ground troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
John Reid, the UK's Secretary of State for Defence, said in a recent statement that the dangers of military action in Afghanistan paled in comparison to the risks Britain would face if the international community allowed the country to become a sanctuary for international terrorism again. He said that abandoning Afghanistan was simply not an option, but the British face a tough task. Helmand Province Governor Mohammad Daoud, interviewed on Radio Free Afghanistan warned in February: "This province has a 160-kilometre border with Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. In reality, armed people armed terrorists, from the other side of the border cross into Helmand. They carry out attacks and return back. It is a serious problem in Helmand that within our borders there is neither tribal good will, nor are there are special military or security measures to prevent enemies from crossing back and forth." He added: "Drug smugglers also use the border for their own purposes. They have opened markets on the border and process opium there."
But the Marines are confident in their own abilities. ''They're welcome to have a go at us because we're ready for them,'' said 32-year-old Corporal Carwyn Lewis of 42 Cdo. ''It's fair to say we're apprehensive but we're not nervous. The Taliban are hardened fighters who aren't scared of anything and they've been taking on different people for years but there's nothing they can throw at us that we can't handle - we're100 per cent focused and prepared for it.''
The operation is under constant surveillance from hostile forces and RMs company commander Major Steve Lee said: ''I'd be a fool to suggest the bad guys aren't watching us. In fact I hope they are - so they can see how professional we are and the sort of tools we have brought to the party.''
The men of Juliet Company have nicknamed their base 'Camp Alamo' and the analogy is apt. The camp is situated on an isolated plateau devoid of vegetation and roads and surrounded on all sides by danger.
Report based on material provided by UK MoD and also Pool Reports.
The British assault ship HMS Bulwark (L15) took command of a key anti-terrorist task group in the Gulf on February 28. She relieved the American cruiser USS Cape St. George as flagship for Royal Navy staff leading Combined Task Force 58 (CTF 58), a multi-national force conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO). While in the northern Gulf, Bulwark will help maintain security around two Iraqi oil platforms, the Al Basra Oil Terminal (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal (KAAOT), which contribute significantly to the Iraqi economy.
CTF-58 currently includes American sailors belonging to Mobile Security Detachment 31 aboard the oil terminals, as well as other ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, US Navy and US Coast Guard. Bulwark will also work closely with the Iraqi Navy and US Marine Corps.
As Bulwark was entering the Gulf, in the western Al Anbar Province of Iraq four helicopters carrying Iraqi soldiers and US Marines broke a pre-dawn silence and inserted into the small town of Akran, signalling the start of a counter-insurgency operation. Marines from K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, along with Iraqi Army soldiers took part in the week-long Operation Pit Bull - a battalion-wide mission designed to quash insurgent operations east of the Euphrates River.
Their mission was to secure Sakran and ensure insurgents no longer used it as a logistical base for launching attacks on the town's much larger neighbour Barwanah. In the past, weapons caches and bomb-making material have been found here, prompting marines and Iraqi troops to clear the town. The Camp Pendleton, California-based US Marines and the Iraqi soldiers have spent almost six months in Al Anbar conducting counter-insurgency operations and providing stability for the towns of Haqlaniyah, Barwanah and Haditha. The battalion will be replaced by the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines this month (March).
F/A-18E Super Hornets assigned to the "Eagles" of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 115 became the first aircraft launched from the flight-deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) to drop ordnance on enemy targets. They were unleashed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on February 22. Reagan is the US Navy's newest Nimitz Class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and is currently on her maiden deployment. Commissioned in 2003, the San Diego-based carrier is part of a routine rotation of US maritime forces in the US 5th Fleet area of operations. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG) comprises Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 and Destroyer Squadron (Desron) 7. The latter is composed of the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57), guided-missile destroyers USS Mccampbell (DDG 85) and USS Decatur (DDG 73). The CSG also includes the fast-combat support ship USS Rainer (T-AOE 7), and Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit 11, Det 15.
Away from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the closer integration of Russian naval forces this year into NATO's counter-terrorist naval task group in the Mediterranean would seem to suggest that terrorism on the high seas is a 'clear and present danger.' It was revealed in February that a team of NATO experts would embark in Russian naval units to help oversee their introduction into the alliance's Operation Active Endeavour (OAE). The five-strong NATO team went aboard the cruiser Moskva at Sevastopol, in the Crimea, on February 5. A NATO statement observed: "They will co-ordinate the training of personnel from the Black Sea Fleet headquarters and ships that will be deployed in the Mediterranean to support NATO in OAE."
The Moskva duly sailed to Messina, Sicily, to enable underway training to take place, and a second phase of training took place in port during which, according to NATO sources, "secure military communications with NATO ships were established for the first time ever." Senior NATO officials and naval officers visited the Moskva while she was in port at Messina. On departing Messina, two warships from the Standing NATO Response Force Maritime Group 2 - Spain's SPS Navarra and the UK's HMS Nottingham - joined RFS Moskva in the Ionian Sea for another phase of training at sea. The Russian participation is a result of an Exchange of Letters between the Russian Federation and NATO in December 2004, which paved the way for the joint training activities. It is hoped that the Black Sea Fleet deployment in support of Operation Active Endeavour will occur within the next few months.
The Dutch fast combat support ship, HNLMS Amsterdam (A 836), has passed the half way mark of its deployment as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, which conducts MSO in and around the northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, parts of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Naval forces from Germany, Pakistan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States make up CTF 150, which was established near the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Royal Netherlands Navy Commodore Hank Ort currently leads the task force, the first time a Dutch naval officer has done so.
The Royal Australian Navy has deployed the ANZAC Class frigate HMAS Ballarat (155) to the Gulf, to take over duties from HMAS Parramatta (154) in supporting the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq. It is Ballarat's first deployment to the Gulf and the thirteenth rotation of RAN ships to the region as part of Coalition operations since 2001.HMAS Parramatta began operations in the Gulf in November 2005. She carried out 86 boardings and 76 security patrols. HMAS Parramatta was also involved in training other Coalition warships as well as the Iraqi Navy, which involved Iraqi Officers spending considerable amounts of time on board Parramatta.
Canada is also likely to step up its contribution to the global War on Terror. The new head of the Canadian Navy has revealed that, after a period in which it rested its ships and sailors, his fleet is about to send a frigate back into the front line. Vice Admiral Drew Robertson, Commander of Maritime Command, said in his inaugural speech as head of the Canadian Navy: "A deployment of a frigate to participate in the campaign against terror in southwest Asia is under consideration for the fall. 'One of the options for this deployment would see our ship operate with a US amphibious expeditionary group, gaining more practical experience with the conduct and support of operations from sea to the shore."
South East Asian countries are upgrading naval capability to counter terrorist and asymmetrical threats to economically vital sea lanes. Speakers at the RAN Sea Power Conference in Sydney canvassed the need for close cooperation to secure trade routes, especially the South-East Asian archipelago sea lanes such as the Malacca Straits that are piracy hot spots. Director of the Sea Power Centre - Australia, Captain Richard McMillan, said that the Conference provided an opportunity for senior Defence Force officials, academics and military strategists to discuss and debate the challenges confronting navies worldwide. Captain McMillan said that navies were increasingly called upon to secure important trade routes as well as undertake constabulary operations that protect maritime industry and commerce. Speakers at the Conference stressed that one of the key challenges confronting decision makers was the need to upgrade technology and enhance capability and inter-operability.
The United States Marine Corps is about to stand-up a Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) to join the celebrated ranks of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). USSOCOM's mission is to plan, direct and execute special operations in the conduct of the War on Terrorism in order to disrupt, defeat, and destroy terrorist networks that threaten the United States, its citizens and interests worldwide. It also organises, trains and equips Special Operation Forces (SOF) provided to geographic combatant commanders, American ambassadors and their country teams. Since USSOCOM's creation in 1987, the Marine Corps have been a factor in helping it accomplish these missions, but not an official part of the Special Forces 'family'. Now having their own Special Forces component, Marines will directly support current SOF missions and begin new missions with different purposes. The key tasks of MARSOC will be: Direct action; special reconnaissance; foreign internal defence; counter-terrorism; information operations and unconventional warfare. According to the mission statement, MARSOC will train and provide a fully capable Marine Special Operation Force to USSOCOM for worldwide deployments, to execute assigned missions. The MARSOC units will be capable of 'task-organising' responsive special operations units from sea-based platforms as well as from United States locations.
The French frigate FS Courbet (F 712) momentarily joined forces with the American assault carrier USS Nassau (LHA 4) in the Indian Ocean last month (Feb) for a Replenishment at Sea (RAS). The link-up happened when the two vessels crossed paths during counter-terror patrols. The Nassau was on deployment as the flagship for Expeditionary Strike Group Eight (ESG-8), tasked with supporting MSO in the 5th Fleet area of operations.
Reports based on material provided by US DoD, Canadian DND, UK MoD, NATO, Australian MoD, US Navy, US Marines, Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Canadian Navy, US CENTCOM, US 5th Fleet.