A key NATO maritime group has begun flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean as it sets off from Istanbul with a mission to combat terrorism in the sea.
The task of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is “to give a clear message to terrorists in the region that NATO is on duty,” German Rear Adm. Thorsten Kahler told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. Germany recently took over the leadership of the mission from Turkey.
The group will conduct its mission in the eastern Mediterranean at a time of increased tensions in the area following the recent downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces and continued energy exploration off Greek Cyprus’ southern coast that has upset Turkeyand Turkish Cyprus.
This anti-terrorism mission is “the only Article 5 mission of NATO so far, coming from Sept. 11 of course, and [it has been] making the Mediterranean a safer place and preventing terrorism,” Kahler said.
Under Article 5 of the NATO convention, an armed attack against one of the alliance’s members is considered an attack against them all, effectively necessitating a combined response.
“Terrorism is not dead and we have to make sure that the message of NATO is understood. People and especially NATO are not willing to accept terrorism coming to the Mediterranean. We have to publish that message clearly,” Kahler said.
Rear Adm. Kahler said the group would be heading further into the Mediterranean on July 7.
“We are not telling our whole schedule, but we will stay in the region.” Asked whether there was such a lack of security in the region that an anti-terrorist mission was necessary, he said NATO did not know how many terrorists there were around the world. “So what we have to make sure is to tell the terrorists to be careful; we are here and providing security for NATO member states,” he said.
He also said they were in Istanbul “to say thank you” to Turkey, which is one of the biggest providers of ships. The group was handed over in a ceremony held at the Aksaz Naval Base in the southwestern district of Marmaris on June 15. The maritime group consists of three frigates registered under three different countries. Turkey’s Gediz, France’s Courbet and Germany’s Bayern have 545 sailors on board in total.
The frigates also have their own choppers and helicopter landing sites, as well as ship-to-ship and ship-to-air missiles, automatic light naval guns and 100- 76- and 27-mm guns.
According to official information from the alliance, Mark 46 torpedoes, which are designed to attack high-performance submarines, are also included among the group’s armaments.
Rear Adm. Sinan Azmi Tosun, the previous Turkish commander of the group, said they had
conducted operations against 10 pirate ships, arresting 175 suspected pirates.