By VADM John Miller
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
U.S. Fifth Fleet
Combined Maritime Forces
As the New Year began in 1991, Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait threatened the world’s energy supplies and the security of the region. A day after the deadline set by United Nations’ Resolution 678 — January 16, 1991 — the United States and a coalition of 34 nations began air operations to drive out the invading Iraqi army. Operation Desert Storm, the campaign to liberate Kuwait was underway.
In preparation for this war, the United States and our partners set the stage for an extraordinary alliance. It was a coalition of the willing with no formal treaty binding the parties together.
The U.S. alone could not win this war. While our forces and their counterparts conducted precision air strikes against Iraqi ground targets, coalition ground forces amassed on the Saudi Arabian border to Kuwait in preparation for a counter-offensive. In late February, these ground forces, supported by Naval and land-based air power, began pushing the occupying forces back into Iraq. Just weeks after it began, on February 28, 1991, President George H.W. Bush declared a ceasefire and the liberation of Kuwait.
This conflict sowed the seeds of mutual security cooperation that continue to grow and thrive in the region today.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, stands at the center of the U.S. Navy’s Middle East presence, continuing to build and maintain the relationships that began in Operation Desert Storm, and that are fundamental to our nation’s ability to play a decisive role in today’s conflicts in the Middle East such as Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Maintaining regional security in a region that is home to 20 countries and three of the world’s six major sea lane choke points would be impossible without our coalition partners.
These partnerships are continued through bilateral and multi-lateral exercises, as well as the establishment of the Combined Maritime Forces, currently representing the navies of 30 countries from around the world. The CMF was established in February 2002 as a naval partnership aimed at promoting security in some of the world’s most important waterways. Not unlike the Desert Storm era “Coalition of the Willing,” the CMF has no elaborate international treaty binding its members together but is a voluntary organization of nations who understand the importance of the region and are willing to commit forces and personnel to ensure the maritime security of the Middle East.
Together, the forces of NAVCENT/C5F and the CMF conduct more than 50 naval exercises each year to build partner capacity and continually improve each other’s ability to ensure maritime security and the free flow of goods, people and commerce throughout the region.
A great example is the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise last held in October and November 2014. This exercise was the world’s largest maritime exercise based on the number of participating nations with more than 40 navies taking part across expanses ranging from the Red Sea, to the Arabian Sea and throughout the Arabian Gulf. Industry partners also strove to ensure that commercial enterprise was prepared to work with our military forces should the regional sea lanes ever be threatened.
Beyond training, one well-known CMF mission is its counter piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa. Working closely with the European Union and NATO, the CMF’s counter piracy mission has been a resounding success yielding a decrease in pirate attacks from 42 in 2008 to zero since mid-2012. As piracy around the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa consumed more than 350 million dollars in ransom payments and cost the world’s economy more than 18 billion dollars a year when it was left unchecked, the value of this operation is clear.
Today, the U.S. Navy and our coalition partners – a coalition that grew from the relationships developed in Operation Desert Storm — remain committed to the Middle East region. We do this because our nations recognize that our globally connected world depends upon the free flow of commerce through this part of the world.
Whether through combat operations, deterrence, exercises, the delivery of humanitarian aid, or maritime search and rescue, our Navy operating forward in the Middle East continues to strive for peace, stability and prosperity throughout this region and the world. This massive area of operations accounts for 2.5 million square miles. It’s too large for any one nation or navy to do all these jobs alone, thus this special partnership that began on January 16, 1991, must, and will, live on.
*Interested in learning more about a surface action in Desert Storm that resonates with the surface force of today? Check out this post at the Naval History Blog: http://www.navalhistory.org/2015/01/15/surface-force-in-desert-storm-uss-nicholas-leads-a-distributed-lethal-attack-on-enemy-troops