5th Fleet defends US naval capabilities in Bahrain

A helicopter flies over the water off the coast of Bahrain on Oct. 3, 2016, where an explosive ordnance disposal technician is taking part in cast and recovery operations.


By SANDEEP SINGH GREWAL | Gulf Daily News | Published: December 2, 2016

MANAMA, Bahrain (Tribune News Service) —American naval forces in Bahrain are fully equipped to tackle emerging regional challenges posed by rogue nations and terrorist groups, the U.S. 5th Fleet said in response to a new report published by Washington-based think tank The Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation report claimed the U.S. military was only “marginally able” to meet the demands of defending America’s vital interests in the region as it faced looming threats from Iran and terrorist groups.

The 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength detailed the ability of the U.S. military to operate in key regions and the threats it faced.

It said the existing U.S. military force was capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict and other engagements, but was ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies.

The report ranked the U.S. Army “weak” while other branches of service including the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and nuclear were described as “marginal."

It backed its findings based on several factors including decline in funding, shrinking of the force and other operational deployments.

However, a U.S. 5th Fleet spokesman told the GDN that American forces were well prepared to deal with threats in the region.

“U.S. Naval Forces Central Command is prepared for a variety of threats from both state and non-state actors,” he said yesterday.

“Our sailors, Marines, servicemembers and personnel stationed throughout the region are well-trained, well-prepared and work around the clock to ensure maritime security and the uninterrupted free flow of commerce by keeping the sea lanes open and safe for legitimate use.

“The U.S. Navy is by its nature a highly adaptable, flexible and mobile force that will continue to evolve its capabilities and capacity to tackle any threat that challenges the freedom of legal maritime commerce.”

The report warned that Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities posed a major threat to “U.S. bases and interests” in the Middle East.

“Iran poses a major potential threat to U.S. bases, interests and allies in the Middle East by virtue of its ballistic missile capabilities, continued nuclear ambitions, long-standing support for terrorism and extensive support for Islamist revolutionary groups,” stated the Middle East section of the report.

Threats posed by Iran’s behavior are ranked “aggressive,” and its capability is ranked “aspirational” by an international think tank

The report also warned that GCC countries face “continued threats from Iran as well as rising threats from Islamist extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and Houthi militias in Yemen”. 

It described the Middle East region as one of the most “complex and volatile threat environments” faced by the US and its allies, with Iran having a long record of “sponsoring terrorist attacks” against American interests.

“Tehran has supported groups that launched terrorist attacks against Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Yemen,” the report stated. 

“It sponsored the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, a surrogate group that plotted a failed 1981 coup against Bahrain’s ruling family.

“Iran also has long backed Bahraini branches of Hezbollah and the Dawa Party.”

It highlighted the interception of several Iranian weapons shipments to Bahrain that aimed to create instability.

“Bahrain has intercepted several shipments of Iranian arms, including sophisticated bombs employing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs),” it said. 

The report claimed that Tehran provided at least $100 million financial support to Hezbollah, which some experts estimate could run as high as $200m, annually to stock up expensive arsenals and fund sleeper cells in the Middle East and beyond.

“Hezbollah launched numerous terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which extended strong financial support to Iraq’s war effort, and participated in several other terrorist operations in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates,” added the think tank. 

Bahrain cut all diplomatic ties with Iran in January this year and suspended all flights following Tehran’s continuous blatant interference in internal affairs, the GDN earlier reported. 

In September, Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa warned of Iran’s constant policy of interference in domestic affairs, with 124 hostile statements released from January to August this year.

He also said Iran continued to shelter fugitives accused of terror-related crimes in Bahrain.

©2016 the Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Visit the Gulf Daily News at www.gulf-daily-news.com
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