The US-led multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) has established a new task force to train partner navies and improve operational capabilities for countries in the Middle East region, with likely a key focus on maritime security in the Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and Red Sea.

During a ceremony at US 5th Fleet headquarters at Mina Salman in Bahrain to stand up Combined Task Force (CTF) 154, it was stated that the force would lead multinational maritime training at locations across the Middle East to enable more CMF partner nations to participate in training opportunities “without ships or aircraft”.

CTF 154 is commanded by a US Navy captain who will build and lead a multinational staff, while another nation will assume command in Q3/4 this year. CTF 154’s core staff will be augmented by CMF partners during training opportunities, revealed a US Navy Central Command (NAVCENT) release on 22 May.

In recent days, CTF 154 is hosting Exercise Compass Rose in Bahrain, with more than 50 participants from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UK and US began arriving to attend courses on first aid and vessel boarding procedures.

According to the DoD CTF 154 will organise training events around five core areas: maritime awareness, maritime law, maritime interdiction, maritime rescue and assistance, and leadership development. Each training opportunity will be tailored to meet partner requests ranging from basic to advanced levels.

CMF is the largest multinational naval partnership in the world, with 38 nations committed to upholding the international rules-based order at sea.

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CMF’s other task forces include CTF 150 that focuses on maritime security in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean; CTF 151, which leads regional counter-piracy efforts; CTF 152, dedicated to maritime security in the Arabian Gulf; and CTF 153 in the Red Sea.

Maritime security issues focus on Iran

The US maritime presence in the Gulf region is centred on the US Fifth Fleet, based out of Mina Salman in Bahrain, with countries such as the UK also maintaining a naval operating base in the tiny Gulf state.

A key threat identified by the US and UK forces operating in the region is that of Iran, which utilises its paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as an asymmetric counterweight to the conventional naval power of the US Fifth Fleet.

In early May, the IRGC Navy (IRGCN) seizes an oil tanker in transit through the Strait of Hormuz, coming days after a previous seizure of a Marshall-Islands-flagged vessel in regional waters.

Situated at the entrance to the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz is a narrow choke point through which a significant proportion of the world’s oil and gas passes through each day, with countries such as Qatar and the UAE heavily dependent on the route. The route narrows so that the territorial waters of Oman and Iran meet, with recognised transit corridors maintaining the flow of traffic.

The oil tanker had departed Dubai and was heading towards Fujairah, on the other side of the strait in the Arabian Gulf when, according to NAVCENT, “a dozen fast-attack craft swarmed the vessel”, and the IRGCN subsequently “forced the oil tanker to reverse course” and head towards the Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran.