ABU DHABI // The UAE Navy yesterday took command of a multinational task force in the Gulf famed for its battles against terrorism and against the trafficking of people and drugs. The Navy will be in charge of the Task Force 152 fleet that includes frigates, support ships and patrol boats from the UK, the US and GCC states, among other nations.
The Navy, which is headed by Rear Admiral Ahmed al Tunaiji, will lead the force for the next three months, taking command from the British. The command is possibly the biggest undertaking in the UAE Navy's history in terms of the body of water covered and the diversity of personnel manning the fleet. Ships and men also come from Australia as well as Asian countries including Japan and South Korea.
The task force, founded in 2004, is part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a coalition of 24 countries that conduct operations over a 2.4-million-square-mile expanse of water that includes, besides the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. The CMF has two other forces. One, code-named CTF150, is a counter-terrorism force operating in the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea and in areas as far as the Seychelles. The other, CTF151, is mainly focused on countering Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
"We know that a lot of the narcotics that come out of Afghanistan - transit into the Gulf and also transit down further out into the Indian Ocean," said Commodore Tim Lowe, the deputy commander of the CMF and the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) in Bahrain. "So, by intercepting that activity we are directly hitting one of the funding streams for the terrorists. With the human-smuggling side, we are conscious that there may be terrorists moving as part of that grouping as well, so we're constantly on the lookout for that sort of activity."
Taking command of the force means the UAE Navy's officers will oversee such missions on a daily basis. Among the vessels that fall under their command is the UK frigate HMS Monmouth, which is the seventh ship to take this name; the first was an eight-gun yacht built in 1666; the sixth was an armoured cruiser that was sunk in 1914, during the First World War. Commodore Lowe, who handed over command to the UAE at a ceremony at Abu Dhabi's naval operations centre yesterday, said having such a force in the Gulf was vital.
"The Gulf area is a very complex," he said. "Lots of potentially illegal maritime activity, a lot of maritime infrastructure oil wells, gas heads, water [and] being an absolute critical area, of course." "In case of terrorist attack or environmental disaster [the region] will need protection and, therefore, CTF152 is focused on creating a coherent grouping of nations that could work together in case crisis occurs - and that crisis could be anything."
The force has been commanded for the past five years either from sea or from Bahrain. Among the nations that have taken command are the US, the UK, Italy and Bahrain, which was in command during the summer of last year. Commodore Lowe said that the CMF left it to its member navies to decide whether they wanted to take part in taking command. "One of my key roles - is to help [GCC navies] build their command-and-control capabilities," he added.
He said that since the UAE navy is less than four decades old, "looking to command a multinational task force is a quite a big thing". The UAE command will be focused on its territorial waters but "is also looking all the way up to the northern Gulf; to Iraqi and Kuwaiti territorial waters and then all the way out to the Strait of Hormuz". The UAE has regularly contributed one patrol boat to the CMF command, according to Commodore Lowe.
For specific exercises, the UAE had provided larger ships as well as helicopters. Commodore Lowe also said he felt "a great sense of pride for the UAE, for the UK and the Combined Maritime Forces and for the US in that we've helped work together, we supported it and we deliver this change of command".