MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet is taking further steps to increase security in and around the North Arabian Gulf oil terminals attacked April 24 by terrorists attempting to damage Iraqi infrastructure.
Two U.S. Navy Sailors and one Coast Guardsmen were killed during the coordinated attacks against the Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) and Al Basrah (ABOT) oil terminals, located roughly 19 miles from Iraq's main port of Basrah. Thanks to their efforts, as well as the efforts of the Iraqi security forces stationed on the terminals, the terrorist attacks failed.
Despite the insurgents' failure, Navy and coalition officials decided it was in the best interest of all personnel to strengthen the security posture associated with protecting the terminals. Results of that review include modifying the zones around the terminals, revising procedures associated with maritime security operations and reinforcing security teams on the terminals.
Prior to the attacks, each terminal was surrounded by a two nautical mile (approximately 3,700 meters) security zone. Now, both terminals have two zones extending from the outer edge of the terminal structures - the 3,000-meter warning zone and the 2,000-meter exclusion zone. The new zones permit coalition vessels to protect and enforce security around the terminals, but at the same time allow ample time to warn and redirect legitimate traffic. If vessels ignore warnings, coalition forces will destroy suspect vessels before they are able to threaten the terminals. The new zones establish a reasonable security structure that can work in harmony with legitimate commerce inside Iraqi territorial waters, and still allow access to the vital ports in Southern Iraq.
"The zones around the terminals allow our coalition personnel to concentrate their efforts," said Capt. Kurt Tidd, commander of the coalition maritime security forces operating in the North Arabian Gulf, "but still give us enough time to communicate with, and if necessary, destroy hostile vessels before they can threaten the terminals."
The 3,000 meter warning zone allows vessels to traverse the zone en route to another destination without having to change course, or to proceed to the terminal, as in the case of a scheduled oil tanker. The 2,000 meter exclusion zone is for authorized vessels proceeding to the terminals only. All vessels in the area are required to contact coalition maritime forces in the area in order to identify themselves, state their intentions, and if necessary, request permission to enter the zones. If a vessel has not checked in, coalition maritime forces will actively seek to contact the unidentified vessel through all means available. If the vessel then enters the warning and/or exclusion zone without having made contact, coalition vessels will exercise a continuum of different responses that include disabling or even destroying the suspect vessel.
"Our goal is still the same - to protect the terminals at all costs given their vital importance to the future of the Iraqi people," Tidd said. We are continuing to train and work with the Iraqi security forces on the terminals; our aim is to protect the lives of coalition and Iraqi people conducting maritime security operations in the area," Tidd added.
The Iraqi security forces on the terminals provide the last, vital layer of defense in protecting the terminals in case hostile vessels do manage to get past coalition maritime forces. Given the importance of the terminals to the future livelihood of the Iraqi people, they remain top targets for terrorists looking to discredit U.S. and coalition efforts to help the Iraqis. More importantly, destroying or even damaging the terminals could result in catastrophic environmental damage to Iraq's neighbors, especially Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the decision was made to enhance Iraqi security forces by deploying a reaction platoon of Marines from the Interim Marine Corps Security Force (IMCSF) company.
"The Marines of the IMCSF are working hand-in-hand with Iraqi security forces on the terminals to enhance the Iraqi forces already on board," said Marine Maj. Mike Thomas, IMCSCF commanding officer. "They're specially trained in providing expeditionary force protection and security to vital naval assets, so they're well prepared to assist the Iraqi's in protection of the terminals."
Both oil terminals - originally named Khor Al Abdullah and Mina Al Bakr - were secured by U.S. Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) and Polish Special Forces during the opening hours of Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 2003. ABOT then reopened for business July 2003, and KAAOT opened February 28 of this year, and have since pumped more than 385 million barrels of oil to more than 235 tankers, resulting in more than U.S. $10 billion in revenue for the Iraqi people.
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