War on Terror Special report 29th June 2006
Two Royal Navy Special Forces soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan
as back home in the UK, their comrades-in-arms in the Royal Marines begin
preparation for a deployment to the same war zone. Although the Ministry
of Defence has refused to indentify the men or their unit, it has been
widely reported in the British media that the two dead men belonged to
the Special Boat Service.
According to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement the two soldiers were killed 'during a planned operation in the Sangin valley, northern Helmand province, in the early morning of 27 June.' It continued: 'A UK patrol came under attack. One further soldier was seriously wounded. His injuries are not thought to be life threatening.' Next of kin were informed and the MoD explained that the names of the dead men would not be released. The soldier injured in the same gun battle was said to have belonged to one of the UK's new Special Forces support units, which draws its members from all three Armed Forces, including the Royal Marines. The last time an SBS marine was killed he was eventually identified and a photograph released by the MoD. Corporal Ian Plank was killed in Iraq three years ago during an operation with US forces in the dangerous 'Sunni Triangle'.
Meanwhile, units belonging to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines are preparing to take over from the British Army's 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan at the end of this year. WARSHIPS IFR has learned that the deployment will involve battlegroups built around 45 Commando and 42 Commando. The last time the Royal Marines deployed to Afghanistan, in 2002, they failed to find contact with Taliban fighters. This time around combat contact is expected. New Viking Armoured Fighting Vehicles and BOWMAN communications and command system, allied with superb fitness and fighting skills well suited to Afghanistan's rugged and inhospitable terrain, are said by RMs insiders to make the commandos confident they meet every challenges.
The Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) Commodore Peter Lockwood, supported by a staff of 21 specialist RAN personnel, has been appointed Coalition naval forces in the northern Gulf. Cdre Lockwood is in charge of Task Force 158 (TF158), a naval force of around 10 warships and up to 2,000 personnel. Included in the force as he took command in June was the Australian Anzac Class frigate, HMAS Ballarat, which had been on station in the Gulf since March 2006. Cdre Lockwood is exercising command from a United States Navy (USN) warship and is responsible to the Coalition Forces Maritime Component. It is only the second time the coalition naval elements have been under the command of Australians. HMAS Ballarat, commissioned on June 26 2004 is on her first deployment to the Middle East. The ship's duties include oil platform protection, maintaining Iraqi borders, humanitarian assistance and watching out for illegal trade.
The shooting down of a British helicopter in Basra in May has, according to some defence sources, highlighted Iran's growing threat to Coalition efforts in Iraq. It has been speculated the 847 Naval Air Squadron helicopter was brought down by a missile supplied to insurgents by Iran, which killed UK service personnel. All five casualties - Wing Commander John Coxen RAF, Lieutenant Commander Darren Chapman RN, Flight Lieutenant Sarah Mulvihill RAF, Captain David Dobson AAC and Marine Paul Collins - were part of the Joint Helicopter Command. Missile casings were found on the third floor of a building close to the crash site and although its type has not been formally identified for security reasons, sources say it was of Russian design, quickly transportable and able to be fired by one person with little training. It was previously believed that Lynx AH-7 helicopter had been destroyed by a lucky shot from a RPG-wielding militiaman.
British military chiefs will be concerned that the Iranians may now be taking an even more active role in de-stabilising Coalition efforts. The funerals of the CHF personnel took place in the UK at the end of June. The service for Royal Marine gunner Collins was held at the Commando Training Church at Lympstone, Devon, on June 28. Colonel John McCardle, the Commanding Officer of the CHF, said after the funeral: "Marine Paul Collins was an outstandingly gifted individual. He overcame adversity to join the Royal Marines and possessed all the qualities required of a marine - he was mentally very fit, physically robust and had the desired determination to get the job done. He transferred to the Commando Helicopter Force because he was dedicated to wanting to fly. But he was only with us a tragically short time. His colleagues in the helicopter force are still out in theatre and have a grim determination to succeed, especially after this tragedy." Royal Marines spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Price added: "Marine Collins was the epitome of a Royal Marine: Utterly professional, extremely fit and totally dedicated to the Royal Marines. His loss to his family and the Corps is a devastating blow. From an early age Paul had been determined to follow his father into the Royal Marines and against all the odds, following a serious motorbike accident, he managed to fulfil his dream. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his friends and his colleges, most of who are still on operational service in Iraq." Marine James Bloom, a colleague and former school friend of Marine Collins, said: "Paul was a friend from school and we stayed friends during our careers. He was a very professional soldier and well respected. He also knew and appreciated the dangers of Iraq. Socially he was the life and soul of the party." The Second Sea Lord and Commander in Chief Naval Home Command, Vice Admiral Adrian Johns was the senior Royal Naval Officer present.
With investigations into an incident involving US Marines allegedly
gunning down innocent civilians at Haditha, Iraq, still on-going, the
Pentagon announced on June 21 that seven US Marines and a sailor had
been charged with kidnapping, murder and conspiracy in connection with
the death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, Iraq, in late April. Officials
announced the charges, which also included making false official statements,
larceny, assault, housebreaking and obstruction of justice, during a
news conference at Camp Pendleton, California. Marines charged in the
incident were: Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III; Cpl. Trent D. Thomas; Lance
Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson; Pfc. John J. Jodka; Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate
Jr.; Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda. Navy
Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a hospital corpsman, was also
charged. All eight were assigned to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th
Marine Regiment. Local Iraqis brought the incident to the US Marine
leadership's attention. Following a preliminary inquiry by Multinational
Forces West in Iraq, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched
an investigation May 7.
Ten Marines and the sailor alleged to have been involved were removed from their unit on May 12 and reassigned to the battalion headquarters at Camp Fallujah. They were restricted to their living quarters until their redeployment to Camp Pendleton. Seven of the Marines and the sailor were placed in pre-trial confinement in the Camp Pendleton Brig on May 24. Marine Colonel Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, declined to discuss details about the other four Marines, saying the matter is still under investigation. Navarre said the Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating them. "The Marine Corps prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions," he said. "We are absolutely committed to holding fair and impartial proceedings in full compliance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said. In the meantime, Navarre emphasized, the accused are presumed innocent. "I am confident that the military justice system will ensure a fair result in each case," he said.
Proving a new concept in Royal Navy deployment patterns, the British assault ship HMS Bulwark has participated in a bilateral amphibious planning and landing exercise with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) naval and marine forces. It was all part of a groundbreaking deployment for Royal Navy, for Bulwark has carried out a wide variety of missions stretching from the Horn of Africa to the northern Gulf. Under the umbrella of Maritime Security Operations (MSO), Bulwark has helped deter pirates off Somalia, protected Iraqi oil facilities and worked with a multi-national counter-terrorist task group in the Arabian Sea. Having completed her duties protecting the vital Iraqi oil platforms, the ship's rendezvous with the UAE forces was a chance for the ship to refresh her commando assault role. Already carrying a company from 40 Commando and other specialist elements from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, Bulwark embarked officers from the UAE Navy and a company of UAE marines. Following live firing exercises for the troops in the desert, HMS Bulwark was joined by three UAE landing ships, taking charge of the amphibious task group to conduct training and a final night landing and cliff assault. Thereafter, Bulwark was due to resume MSO in the Gulf and Arabian Sea, with her landing craft stretching a security net up to 200 miles along regional trade routes. It was anticipated she would work in co-operation with the Pakistan-led CTF-150. A Royal Navy spokesman explained Bulwark's objectives: "With most of the UK's trade travelling by sea, it is vital shipping continues unhindered and regional security is bolstered to prevent harm to the UK economy. HMS Bulwark and 40 Commando are working with regional allies to enhance local security capabilities." Bulwark deployed to the Indian Ocean and Middle East in January and is due to return to the UK in mid- summer.
Italian Navy Rear Admiral Salvatore Ruzittu has relieved Rear Admiral Ray Spicer as commander of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, marking the first time all three of the major maritime CTFs in the region have been commanded by officers from nations other than the USA or United Kingdom. The change of command also marks the first time a non-USN officer has held command of CTF-152, which conducts MSO in the central and southern Gulf. Rear Admiral Shahid Iqbal of the Pakistan Navy and Commodore Peter Lockwood of the RAN (see above) currently command the other two major task forces - CTF 150, which operates outside the Gulf, and CTF 158.
Having recently deployed to the Gulf as the USA's on-call carrier, replacing the USS Ronald Reagan, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) took time to host a special delegation of high ranking Pakistani military officers. CTF-150 commander Rear Admiral Shahid Iqbal was among those who toured Enterprise and observed flight operations. The party also met with Commander, Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, Rear Admiral Ray Spicer, and toured Big E's navigation bridge, flight deck control tower, and hangar bay.