U.S. Navy Launches New Task Force for Red Sea Maritime Security
The U.S. Navy has launched a new task force for maritime security in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, providing extra attention to an area threatened by attacks from Yemen's Houthi rebel faction.
The new CTF-153 will be headed up by the U.S. Navy during its formation, but will be passed over to the control of an allied partner in short order, 5th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told Military Times. Adm. Cooper did not name the Houthi threat specifically, saying only that the new task force will strengthen the allied Combined Maritime Force, which operates out of 5th Fleet's Bahrain base and helmed by Adm. Cooper.
The patrol area was previously covered by CTF-150, which handled all Middle Eastern waters between Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Oman (but not the Persian Gulf). CTF-150's region will now be reduced to the Gulf of Oman and the Northern Arabian Sea, and CTF-153 will cover all of the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden east to the Yemeni border with Oman.
CTF-153 will be run by staff aboard the 6th Fleet flagship, the command ship USS Mount Whitney, under the command of 5th Fleet's surface force commander Capt. Robert Francis. The new force may incorporate new unmanned assets, like those currently in testing by 5th Fleet's Task Force 59 in the Persian Gulf.
Among other missions, CTF-153 will tackle smuggling in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden - a perennial area of illegal activity in the region. Traffickers move narcotics and weapons through the area regularly, fueling instability in Yemen and Somalia.
Though Houthi activity in the naval domain was not named, it is a primary factor in maritime security in the region. In January, Houthi forces captured the UAE-flagged ro/ro Rwabee off Ras Isa, and they claimed to have seized a chache of weapons belonging to their Saudi-led opponents on board. Saudi Arabian media described it as a shipment of medical equipment.
Houthi forces have previously used naval mines, anti-ship missiles and remotely-controlled bomb boats in attacks against Saudi coalition forces and Saudi-connected merchant shipping. They have also launched repeated attacks on Saudi oil, gas and refining infrastructure, including attempted strikes on the giant Ras Tanura oil terminal complex.