Prepared by Costas Ioannou exclusively for SouthFront; Edited by Yoana
On June 3, the U.S. Navy’s Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group launched combat sorties from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in support of Operation Inherent Resolve over Syria and Iraq.
The carrier strike group transited the Suez Canal on June 2 and on the next day flew multiple combat sorties in an effort to degrade the resources and leadership capability of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The Truman strike group consists of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman; embarked Carrier Air Wing 7; Commander, Carrier Strike Group 8; the guided missile cruiser USS Anzio; Destroyer Squadron 28; and guided missile destroyers USS Bulkeley, USS Gonzalez and USS Gravely. The Carrier Strike Group brings multi-mission capable platforms to the Eucom area of responsibility and the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations with strike, ballistic missile defence and intelligence.
After conducting operations in the 5th Fleet area of operations, which includes the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean, the strike group’s deployment was extended to support dismantling and pushing back terrorist networks from the 6th Fleet area of operations before it returns to its home base to Norfolk.
On June 3, the U.S. Central Command announced in a news release that the U.S. military conducted a strike against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, on May 19 in the Shabwah Governorate in central Yemen that killed four al-Qaida operatives.
This is the ninth counterterrorism strike conducted by the U.S. military against AQAP in Yemen in 2016. The U.S. Defence Department previously announced a strike conducted March 22 against an AQAP training camp in Yemen that is assessed to have killed 56 AQAP operatives.
On May 6, U.S. Centcom also announced four strikes conducted between April 23-28 against AQAP, which killed 10 al-Qaida operatives and injured one. Centcom officials also confirmed three additional and previously unannounced counterterrorism strikes against AQAP in Yemen:
- A strike Feb. 3 that killed six al-Qaida operatives in Shabwah Governorate in central Yemen.
- A strike Feb. 29 that killed three al-Qaida operatives in Hadramawt Governorate in east Yemen.
- A strike March 30 that killed two al-Qaida operatives in the vicinity of Azzan in central Yemen.
U.S. officials stated that AQAP remains a significant threat to the region, the United States and beyond.
Also on June 3, U.S. Central Command spokesman Air Force Col. Pat Ryder stated that the fights started last week, aimed at taking control of two major cities in Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are expected to have a degree of difficulty. Ryder said local forces in Iraq and Syria, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, are allowing movement to retake Fallujah in Iraq, and Manbij City in Syria.
Since last week, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of Fallujah operations, the city has been further isolated and Iraqi forces continue operations to clear the outskirts of the city supported by coalition airstrikes.
Fallujah is situated 43 miles west of Baghdad and is the second-largest city in the Anbar province. Covering an area of 53,476 square miles. Anbar is the largest province in Iraq and shares borders with Syria, Jordan and Kuwait.
There are three factors motivating ISIL’s continued fight to hold control of Fallujah:
- Fallujah is the first Iraqi city over which ISIL took control. The terrorist group seized the town in January 2014 and it remains one of their last major strongholds in the Anbar province.
- Anbar’s population centres are a source of ISIL money and the organization’s operations base.
- Anbar’s road networks, which stretch from southern and central Syria to Baghdad and other parts of Iraq are connecting ISIL- held territories.
The U.S. coalition has supported the Iraqi-led operation with 65 airstrikes in the Fallujah area, striking 20 weapons caches and more than 300 enemy fighters. The Iraqis have met with heavy ISIL resistance as its fighters use networks of trenches and tunnels, homemade bombs, suicide bombers, heavy machine guns and small-arms fire.
In Syria, operations to expel ISIL fighters from Manbij city and surrounding areas began May 30, with U.S.-led coalition forces operating in support of Arab counter-ISIL forces largely comprised of local leaders and fighters.
Since the Manbij offensive began, more than 55 coalition airstrikes have supported Arab-led forces as they secured western lodgements on the Euphrates River, and extended the forward line of troops over 38.6 square miles.
The liberation of Manbij will push further into ISIL’s held territory and take out its key route to hinder the Islamic terrorists from moving fighters, finances, weapons and supplies in and out of Syria and Iraq.
On May 31, the U.S. Third Fleet Public Affairs announced that: 27 nations, 45 ships, 5 submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise scheduled June 30 to Aug. 4, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
This is the world’s largest international maritime exercise and will help participants foster and sustain their interests on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2016 is the 25th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
The participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and will demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces. These capabilities range from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting. The relevant, realistic training program includes amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defence exercises, as well as counter-piracy, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.
This year’s exercise includes forces from Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and People’s Republic of China, Peru, and the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
This is the first time that Brazil, Denmark, Germany, and Italy are participating in RIMPAC. Additional firsts will involve flexing the command and control structure for various at sea events and incorporating a submarine rescue exercise. This year will see amphibious operations in the Southern California operating area, feature a harpoon missile shoot from a U.S. Navy littoral combat ship and highlight fleet innovation during the Trident Warrior experimentation series.
The Department of the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet yearlong initiative will also play a major role in RIMPAC. The initiative highlights global operations using energy conservation measures and alternative fuel blends to demonstrate how optimizing energy use increases resiliency and operational readiness. During RIMPAC, almost all participating units will operate using an approved alternate-fuel blend.
Hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, RIMPAC 2016 will be led by U.S. Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet (C3F), who will serve as the Combined Task Force (CTF) Commander. Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Scott Bishop will serve as deputy commander of the CTF, and Japan Maritime Self Defence Force Rear Adm. Koji Manabe- as the vice commander. Other key leaders of the multinational force will include Commodore Malcolm Wise of the Royal Australian Navy, who will command the maritime component; Brig. Gen. Blaise Frawley of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who will command the air component; and the amphibious task force will be led by the Royal New Zealand Navy Commodore James Gilmour.
On June 1, the 22nd annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations began.
CARAT Malaysia will take place on the ground in Sandakan and in the waters and airspace of the Sulu Sea. The Malaysian Armed Forces have participated in CARAT since the exercise series began in 1995 and this year’s exercise reflects more than two decades of training ashore, at sea and in the air.
The harbour phase for CARAT Malaysia will feature an amphibious landing, as well as explosive ordnance training, medical and dental capabilities seminars and a civil -engineering project. At sea, flight operations, coordinated gunnery drills and surface warfare manoeuvres will highlight an exercise that continues the trend of increasing complexity each year.
U.S. ships and units participating in CARAT Malaysia include the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48), the expeditionary transfer dock USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1), a P-3C Orion, staff from CTF-73 and CDS-7, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 4, Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1, and Marines from 3rd Marine Division.
Following CARAT Malaysia, additional bilateral phases of CARAT will occur from June through November 2016 with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
Phases vary based on exercise locations, mutual training goals and participating assets. Many CARAT phases feature a broad range of naval competencies including surface warfare; undersea warfare; air defence and amphibious warfare; maritime security operations; riverine operations; jungle warfare; and explosive ordnance disposal; combat construction; diving and salvage; search and rescue; maritime patrol and reconnaissance aviation; maritime domain awareness; military law; public affairs and military medicine; and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
CARAT 2016 will be the most complex series to date. Its continuing relevance for more than two decades speaks to the high quality of exercise events and the enduring value of regional cooperation among U.S. allies and partners in South and Southeast Asia.
As U.S. 7th Fleet’s executive agent for theatre security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia, Commander, Task Force 73 conducts advanced planning, organizes resources and directly supports the execution of maritime exercises, such as the bilateral CARAT series, the Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) with Vietnam, and the multi-lateral Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.