By Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 25, 2009 - The guided-missile frigate USS Thach has helped to protect Iraq's critical infrastructure since arriving on station in mid-July. The ship, assigned to Commander, Task Group Iraqi Maritime, is providing security for the Al Basrah Oil Terminal, an Iraqi oil platform that accounts for a significant percentage of the country's gross domestic product.
"We're providing security here to help make sure that oil is able to flow freely from the platform to help Iraq's economy to continue to improve and flourish," said Navy Cmdr. David Haas, Thach's commanding officer. "If that stops, up to 80 percent of their [gross domestic product] could go away, and we cannot allow that to happen."
Thach brings "unique capabilities" to the area, including a flight deck and two helicopters, "which we can use for logistics, surveillance and for response to contingencies," said Navy Capt. Pete Driscoll, task group commander.
Task Group Iraqi Maritime operates in the Northern Arabian Gulf and is primarily responsible for defending critical Iraqi infrastructure located in the area, as well as for protecting the sovereignty of Iraqi waters.
"We have sufficient capabilities out here to do the mission, but the Thach certainly enhances what we can do in several areas," Driscoll said. "It provides us with flexibility, and it provides us a visible deterrent as well."
Thach and the task group also are training Iraqi forces on maritime security operations.
"The big mission here is to defend and deter against attack, but also to transition control of the defense of [the oil terminal] back to Iraqi control," Haas said. "We do that by training their navy and marine corps on point defense and picket defense."
Thach's inherent visit, board, search and seizure capabilities are key to its ability to support the task force and help defend the terminal.
"We conduct security sweeps of vessels going into [the terminal]," said Navy Lt. j.g. Julio Alarcon, a member of Thach's visit, board, search and seizure teams. "We check for any contraband, weapons and explosives that might be on board."
Thach's presence and the increased maritime security it provides help to increase knowledge of the maritime picture in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
"Our [visit, board, search and seizure] teams will do interaction patrols with local fishermen, developing good will and rapport with the locals," Haas explained. "We ask them about conditions at sea for them and their difficulties, any criminal activity, piracy, or any other nations that are harassing them."
Thach is part of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which is on a routine deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet are focused on reassuring regional partners of the United States' commitment to regional security, which promotes global economic stability and local prosperity.
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac serves aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.)