MANAMA: The Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command has acknowledged the contribution of Pakistan Navy for ensuring maritime peace in the region and said United States cannot succeed without support of Pakistan Navy.
“We cannot be successful in this region, without the contribution of the Pakistan Navy,” Vice Admiral John W. Miller, Commander, US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) told a group of Pakistani media during a visit to his Headquarters here in the Bahrain’s capital.
Vice Admiral Miller, who has spent a majority of his operational career in the US Central Command area of responsibility, said the ties between the naval forces of Pakistan and the United States were better than ever before.
“We are quite fortunate to have Pakistan as part of our team, and they are not only just great team-mates, but they are also good friends,” he said.
The headquarters of the US Naval Central Command and US Navy Fifth Fleet are co-located at the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain and ensure maritime security in an area spread over 2.5 million square miles of ocean.
The headquarters also coordinates and conducts combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Admiral Miller congratulated Pakistan for assuming the command of Combined Maritime Task Force 151 for the sixth time from Thailand.
Commodore Asif Hameed Siddiqui SI(M) from the Pakistan Navy is now commanding the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) on counter-piracy operations.
Miller said he has been at the US Navy’s Central Command Headquarters for three years and most of the time, one of the two task forces has been under the command of a Pakistani Naval Officer.
He said it was a significant achievement and something for Pakistan to be proud of.
“No nation has contributed more to command our task forces than Pakistan … so we are really proud of the relationship that we have with the Pakistani Navy,” he said.
Recalling his visit to Pakistan Navy’s War College in Lahore recently, Miller said he was impressed by the quality of officers, who were well educated and trained.
“They are a delight to work with, quite professional and their ships are very well maintained.”
When sought for comments on the Operation Zarb e Azb, Vice Admiral Millar said counter-terrorism operations being carried out anywhere in the world were very important to stop terrorists activities.
“It is equally important to go after the ideology to curb terrorism as it does not matter what they call themselves – whether ISIS, Daesh, ISIL or Al Qaeda,” he said.
Vice Admiral Miller, who also looks after combat operations in Iraq and Syria said so far over 2800 air strikes had been conducted from the two aircraft carriers.
Currently two Aircraft Carriers – USS Carl Vinson and French Charles de Gaulle are positioned in the area to launch combat aircraft against targets of ISIL.
President Obama described ISIS as ISIL which refers to the undefined region around Syria, historically referred to as the Levant and roughly includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Vice Admiral said a lot of strikes, particularly in Syria were designed to destroy the oil infrastructure, currently being used by the ISIL fighters.
“It not only destroys one of their funding sources, but also their mobility.”
Without giving any time-line for routing out ISIL, he said last June its fighters seemed to be operating like a regular army -were mobile and able to capture large tracts of land quickly.
But today it was like a terrorist organization, where it was very hard for them to move about, with less access to funding and ability to conduct new operations. He said Iraqis were fighting back and had taken back their lands.
Vice Admiral Miller, also the Commander of the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) said it was “a very unique organization” comprising 30 countries working together voluntarily.
He said on any given day, there were around 40 to 45 US ships in the region, and combined with the CMF members and others the total rises to around 70 ships, working in coordination to ensure maritime security in the region.
He said the region was witnessing unstable time, however on the contrary, the maritime environment was calm; oil was flowing out, while goods and services were entering the region, without any incident, as many countries in the Gulf get 80 per cent of food and other goods through the sea.
Vice Admiral Miller recalled the beautiful Margalla hills flanking the capital Islamabad and said he wished he had more time from his official engagements, so he could just walk around.
When asked about his favourite Pakistani dish, he mentioned Lamb Biryani as very tasty despite the fact that it was very spicy for the American taste buds.
Commodore Asif Hameed Siddiqui SI(M) of Pakistan Navy who is now commanding the 30-nation Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 said Pakistan was playing an active role in keeping international merchant shipping lanes safe from attacks by pirates and terrorist activities, through constant vigilance.
“Pakistan’s continuous presence in the area has made our region safe,” he told the visiting Pakistan media team.
It is for the sixth time that Pakistan has assumed the command of Combined Task Force 151, while it has commanded the Combined Maritime Task Force 150 for seven times. Commodore Siddiqui becomes one of the 13 Pakistan Navy officers who commanded one of the two naval task forces – CTF 150 or the CTF 151.
Commodore Siddiqui said Pakistan has put in phenomenal resources in the task forces under the CMF and was one of the first countries to join.
“We know our coast, seas and the region much better and it is in our interest that we patrol our own area,” he said.
He said the task-oriented mandate allows sharing of experiences, capacity building, improved training, besides providing a good learning experience.
He said the force was also playing a key role in checking flow of illegal immigrants and helps check the money trail that can go to fund terrorist activities.
He said if any vessel carrying illegal immigrants is spotted, the Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan or in other cases the authorities of coastal states are informed.
Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) was one of three task forces operated by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) with a mission to promote maritime security, counter terrorist acts and related illegal activities, which terrorists use to fund or conceal their movements.
CTF-150’s area of operation includes some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, spanning over two million square miles, covering the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman excluding the Arabian Gulf.
Over 23,000 shipping movements per year are recorded and includes main shipping routes from the Far East to Europe and the US with over one third of the world’s oil passing through the Area of Operation (AOR) each year.
The area also contains three narrow waterways, know as `choke points’, where vessels are required to pass closely between two shorelines, with limited maneuverability and are more vulnerable.