NATO-Kuwaiti naval drills come to further ICI — NATO commander


Kuwait : NATO’s naval drills with the Kuwaiti side send a message that the organization is very interested in furthering cooperation with the member states of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), said Vice Admiral Maurizio Gemignani, Commander of the Allied Maritime Component Command Naples, on Tuesday.

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Speaking to reporters on board the FGS Karlsruhe, which docked at Shuwaikh Port this morning, he said, “These scheduled naval exercises are a clear message to ICI countries that NATO is very interested in carrying this initiative further.” He explained that there was a “tactical significance” to these exercises, one year in the making, because they allowed for a better understanding of the level of performance when NATO and Kuwaiti units worked together.

“What is most important to us is that (these exercises) are the beginning of a growth of confidence between the two sides,” he added.

Orginally, seven ships were supposed to dock in Kuwait as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), but only three actually arrived to take part in the exercises after the remaining ships were redeployed to an escort mission allowing safe passage of vessels of the World Food Program (WFP), delivering assistance to Somalia.

“We were able to plan the escort operation in one week … it is not an easy task because we are not familiar with this area,” added the vice admiral.

He noted that although NATO would probably not be able to put an end to piracy, its ships could “provide some detterance” and allow safe passage of WFP aid to the African country.

Asked whether this drop in the number of NATO vessels would affect the planned training exercise, he said, “This will not hamper the training exercises, but it is a pity because seven units are more impressive than three.

” He noted, however, that the most significant of the vessels had docked in Kuwait and that thus there would be no impact on the naval drills.

In response to what action NATO would take should Iran carry out its threat of closing down the Hormuz Strait, the commander described this as a “fantasy hypothesis” and said that this was an international waterway and thus could not be closed down by anyone.

“This is a vital passageway for the whole world … I don’t think they can close it … but our forces are ready to fulfill any mission tasked by our civilian authorities,” he said.

The SNMG2 ships will be in Kuwait till November 4 within the framework of the ICI. SNMG2 is currently deployed in the Gulf region to promote practical military cooperation with countries that are involved in NATO’s ICI program.

The visit program will include a series of training exchanges between NATO and Kuwait military personnel. At its completion Kuwaiti military units will conduct a “passing exercise” at sea with the NATO force.

Six Kuwaiti navy officers sailed with the USS The Sullivans during the transit to the Gulf to familiarize with the procedures applied by the integrated allied multinational force.

The SNMG Task Group visiting Kuwait comprises USS The Sullivans (destroyer DDG68, USA), FGS Karlsruhe (frigate F212, Germany), and FGS Rhon (auxiliary A1443, Germany).

ICI members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. The initiative aims to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering countries of the broader Middle East region practical bilateral security cooperation with NATO.

The ICI focuses on practical cooperation in areas where NATO can add value, notably in the security field, and is an integral part of NATO’s adaptation to the post-Cold War security environment, as well as an important component of the Alliance’s policy of outreach and cooperation.

Kuwait was the first country in the Gulf region to sign the ICI in 2004. Since then, Kuwait has participated actively in promoting NATO’s cooperation with interested countries in the field of security in this region. It also hosted several NATO cooperative activities in the framework of ICI.

The NATO Public Diplomacy Division and the Government of Kuwait co-sponsored in December 2006 the International Conference: “NATO and Gulf Countries: Facing Common Challenges through the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.”