ABU DHABI // The British royal navy is strengthening its presence in the Arabian Gulf after it took command of US Task Force 50 – the first time it has led a US force in the Middle East.
The force, which has assisted in battling ISIL in Iraq and Syria, plays an important role in the region because it allows free passage of trade throughout the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz. The British took over command in November.
“There is a threat from extremism in the region,” said Lt Gen Tom Beckett, senior defence adviser to the Middle East at the UK ministry of defence.
“One of them is in Iraq and Syria and there is an extremist threat. We work with regional countries to contain those threats.
“We’re clear-eyed about the threat of Iran and a stable Gulf is important to us.”
The UK is returning to a permanent presence to the Gulf, with the opening last year of its first permanent naval base in the Middle East since 1967, in Bahrain.
“It will be an opportunity to consider a base for a destroyer or a frigate in the region rather than rotate them the way we do at present,” said Cmdre Will Warrender, deputy commander of the combined maritime forces.
“That is far more efficient and will also ensure a more permanent presence.” It has also started developing a land training centre in Oman and permanent navy base in the country’s port of Duqm.
“We’re also in discussion with a regional country about how to enhance our air presence,” Lt Gen Beckett said. “We also want to train more of our Gulf friends because it is beneficial for us but it is also capability development for our partners, including the UAE.”
A strenuous two-week joint military exercise is planned between the UK and the UAE to train local land forces next month.
“We are going to do a very demanding, long-range exercise from Abu Dhabi down to the western desert and back to Ras Al Khaimah with UK and UAE vehicles,” said Wing Cmdr Mike Woods, air attache at the British embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Other regional exercises involve Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar. “We hope that by operating together, both of us raise our standard to face those threats,” Lt Gen Beckett said.
“If you can present a strong front then the threats dissipate because you convince the opponent that he shouldn’t really be trying. If we work together, Gulf countries can rest assured and we will live by that commitment.”
The UAE is a vital partner in deterring regional threats and is capable of sending maritime, land, air, special forces and logistics together, he said.
“When you are countering threats, you need to be able to put that package together and this is what true power is about.”