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Helping fight terror

A MARITIME task force made up of 29 nations based in Bahrain has been credited with helping to fight the global war on terror by thwarting drug smugglers.

Its daily operations, including intercepting illegal consignments of heroin and hashish on the high seas, has considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region in the last 10 years, says Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) director of operations Captain Robert Slaven.

He said the most effective way of preventing a terrorist attack was by targeting narcotics smugglers along well-known smuggling routes, effectively cutting off their financial aid.

"There is a well-established link between terrorism and narcotics and since January this year we have already seized six tonnes of heroin from well-known drug smuggling routes in our area of operation, which includes the Gulf of Aden, the North Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf," said Capt Slaven, a Royal Australian Navy Captain.

"These operations are directly stopping heroin being sold on a street in London and helping to fight the war on terror.

"For example, in the last 10 years we have seen only two terrorist attacks on ships in the Gulf region and one attempted attack, so by attacking their funding source we are stopping them carrying it out.

"But we are also here to respond to any terrorist attacks if they happen and we are able to turn military overnight if we have to."

The CMF was formed in 2001 in response to the heightened threat of terrorism following the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Operating in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa areas, they intercept huge narcotics hauls often travelling well-known routes known as 'the hash highway', which travels from the Gulf of Oman to the North Arabian Sea, originating from Afghanistan and ending up in Yemen.

They also intercept drugs hauls on what is known as the 'smack track' from Afghanistan to the East African area.

Early last month, HMCS Toronto from the Combined Maritime Sources seized 154 bags of heroin in the Arabian Sea, weighing more than 180kg, about 500 miles off the Horn of Africa.

The CMF is a non-political organisation made up of a collective of 29 nations, with a further three set to join soon.

The task force has been based at the US Navy Base in Bahrain since its formation.

As well as dealing with the narcotics trade, it tackles the smuggling of oil from criminals in Iran, where sanctions make it a valuable commodity, and people smuggling, which continues to be a problem in the region, as well as counter-piracy.

The CMF is working on empowering and stabilising individual nations who will then be able to tackle their own issues without international help.

"The whole idea is for the wider global community to help empower nations so they can regulate themselves and we can all go home," said Capt Slaven.

"This is known as 'capacity building' and is part of our long-term goal here. We want to empower local nations so they can look after themselves.

"We are here as good global neighbours but we don't want to outstay our welcome.

"I hope that in 20 years' time we will no longer need to be here and hopefully there will be a Bahraini sitting in my seat instead of me." frances@gdn.com.bh



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