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We'll fight terrorists.

Byline: GEOFFREY BEW

DANISH navy officials yesterday played down suggestions that they could be sitting ducks for terrorists, shortly after taking command of a multinational force that patrols the region's waters. Al Qaeda's Egyptian leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu Al Yazid, earlier this month promised to "exact revenge" for the publication of infamous Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

That came after eight people died in a bomb blast outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, in June that Al Qaeda officials said was directly connected to publication of the cartoons.

However, Danish Royal Navy Commodore Per Bigum Christensen said he was unconcerned about taking the lead role in policing the region's waters.

"This command and the Danish government sending a ship here have absolutely nothing to do with the cartoon incident," he told the GDN.

"I can tell you personally and I can speak for most of the Danish people that we are sad that this occurred and we would do anything to build up relations again.

"We are prepared for any contingency, whether it is pirates or terrorist attacks.

"The reason why we are here is fighting terrorism and we are prepared."

Commodore Christensen, who is based onboard HMS Absalon, was speaking during a change of command ceremony in which Denmark took control of Combined Task Force 150.

The handover took place onboard the Canadian ship HMCS Iroquois, which was docked at Mina Salman.

It is only the second time a Danish vessel has operated in the Middle East after warship HDMS Thetis took part in a United Nations World Food Programme exercise off the coast of Somalia earlier this year.

US Fifth Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney, was among those attending the ceremony, along with other senior coalition officials.

Established in 2002, CTF 150 is a coalition of around 15 countries that patrols the Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea as part of maritime security operations.

Commodore Christensen expects his main focus to be piracy, drug smuggling, breaking up terrorist networks and rescue missions at sea.

However, he called on the region's governments to do more to tackle piracy at sea.

"I think the number is rising because there is no willingness to come up with a long-term solution," he said.

"This problem cannot be solved by military presence at sea.

"There needs to be solutions ashore, otherwise it is simply too easy for pirates to operate.

"It does not matter how many ships flow into the area, they will still be able to hijack ships if they are able to operate ashore."

Canadian Commodore Bob Davidson, who handed over the reigns yesterday, revealed Marines had made 190 visits to vessels in the CTF 150 area during his two-month command of the taskforce and carried out four operations.

"Every time ships go to sea, we are always there to help in terms of rescue," he said.

"We were involved in nine different rescue efforts coalition-wise that resulted in the saving of around 116 lives.

"We have also been involved in maritime security in the Gulf of Aden."

Meanwhile, Commodore Davidson said he did not think Iran would carry out its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz.

"I don't think anyone should overact to statements by the Iranians," he said.

"If they feel threatened they are going to make threatening comments. I don't think we should take these things out of context.

"Iran has its own perspective on the region and I don't think it is in their interests to shut the Strait and I cannot imagine them doing it because of the impact it would have on their economy and community."

geoff@gdn.com.bh

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Sep 16, 2008
Words:633
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