|MINA SALMAN, Bahrain, April 24, 2006 Pakistan today became the first regional country to command a combined task force in the Middle East in the war on terror. |
Pakistani Rear Adm. Shahid Iqbal received command from Dutch Commodore Hank Ort during a ceremony aboard the HNLMS De Zeven Provicien in the harbor here. Iqbal will command the force for the next six months.
American, French, German, British, Dutch, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Portuguese ships have participated in the force. Japan has provided logistical support to the effort.
"I, my team, and the Pakistan navy, feel elated and honored for being entrusted with this important, professional responsibility," Iqbal said during his acceptance speech. "Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon which has become an enormous challenge for the international community. Given the transcending nature of terrorism and its magnitude, it's not within the capacity of one single country or force to address this issue.
"(We require) a joint approach to address this menace," he said. "Command of Task Force 150 is a challenge, (but) I and my team are confident that, with the support of our coalition and regional partners, ... this challenge can be converted into opportunities for the benefit of all."
Iqbal said he was looking forward to the challenges of commanding the task force. "I'm sure during my tenure our sincere efforts will add positively in achieving aims and objectives of the task force," he said, "and will bring more stability and peace in the region."
Ort, who commanded CTF 150 since mid-December, stressed the importance of the task force. "Our mission contributes to regional maritime security by making sure that terrorist cannot use our area either as a venue or an enabler," he said. "In doing so, the military contribution is a key enabler for structural work in the political and economical arena," Ort said.
The command patrols the waterways of the Middle East from the Gulf of Oman to the southern border of Kenya and includes the Red Sea. It extends out to Pakistan's border with India. The task force has ships from 15 to 17 nations, and support from other nations.
It is configured to provide maritime security for 2.5 million square miles in the region and complements counterterrorist activities on land. "The international community today shares a common goal against a common enemy -- an enemy of peace, an enemy of stability and an enemy of prosperity," said U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander of combined maritime forces in the region.
"To succeed in this critical important mission over the expanse of the ocean, we need an approach to leadership that develops one team to blend the individual contribution from an international array of unique maritime capabilities," Walsh added.
Al Qaeda and other extremists are the primary enemy in the region, he said. "Al Qaeda has already showed itself all too eager to attack at sea," Walsh said during a short press conference. "They attacked the motor vessel Limburg in 2002; they targeted economic infrastructure with attacks on oil platforms in 2004; and they attacked the USS Cole in 2000."
Dutch forces led the command as the organization's emphasis shifted to combating crime on the sea and piracy. Smugglers will transport anything for the right amount of money, command officials said, and there is no reason to believe that they will stop with drugs, people or electronics.
The Pakistani navy's cultural and regional knowledge will help combat crimes upon the sea, Walsh said. He explained that Pakistanis understand the maritime domain in the region. "That means understanding intelligence, understanding what activities are legitimate on the water, and what are not," he said. "So as I stand side by side with (the unit's new commander, Iqbal), who do you think has a better understanding of what's going on off the Gulf of Aden -- me, who comes from northern Fairfax County, Virginia, or my partner from Karachi (Pakistan)?"
Speaking directly to Iqbal, Walsh said, "Pakistan has played a strategic role and partnership in CTF 150. We look forward to your insight, judgment and leadership in maritime security operations in the coming months. Teach and guide our team well with an approach that is collective in character, shared in responsibility and postured for the future."
He said Pakistan taking over represents another aspect of coalition strategy in the region -- getting regional partners to take on the security mission. "Pakistan is a strategic partner in the war on terror," the admiral said.
Since the announcement that Pakistan was to take command, several regional countries have expressed interest in participating in Combined Task Force 150 in some way, Walsh said.
The ships in the task force - usually 14 or 15 in number -- employ state-of-the-art communications and intelligence analysis to deter or disrupt attacks at sea, Walsh said. This allows the force to capitalize on assets. "The approach we are trying to take here is where we share intelligence and we can posture ourselves to sustain the coalition presence over time," he said. "That means managing and posturing assets in strategic locations throughout the area of operations."
For example, the task force has changed its posture to maintain a sustainable presence off the Horn of Africa for an indefinite period of time. Merchant vessels currently steam hundred of miles off the coast of Somalia to avoid incidents. The coalition presence does two things, Walsh said. First, it combats piracy. And second, it confronts the fact that Somalia is an ungoverned area.
"The lesson we have learned is that we can no longer step away and turn a blind eye to an area, because that is exactly the sort of area that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations thrive in," he said. "We will not let that happen again."
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Carolla Bennett is assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet.)