MANAMA - The commander of US Naval Forces Central Command has acknowledged the contribution of Pakistan Navy to ensuring maritime peace in the region, saying the United States cannot succeed without the support of Pak Navy.

“We cannot be successful in this region, without the contribution of the Pakistan Navy,” Vice Admiral John W Miller, commander, US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), told a group of Pakistani media during a visit to its headquarters here in Bahrain’s capital.

Vice Admiral Miller who has spent a majority of his operational career in the US Central Command area of responsibility said ties between the naval forces of Pakistan and the United States were better than ever before. “We are quite fortunate to have Pakistan as part of our team, and they are not only just great team mates but also good friends,” he said. The headquarters of the US Naval Central Command and US Navy Fifth Fleet are co-located at the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain and ensure maritime security in an area spreading over 2.5 million square miles of the ocean.

The headquarters also coordinates and conducts combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Admiral Miller congratulated Pakistan for assuming the command of Combined Maritime Task Force 151 for the sixth time from Thailand. Commodore Asif Hameed Siddiqui SI (M) from the Pakistan Navy is now commanding the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) on counter-piracy operations. Miller said he had been at the US Navy’s Central Command Headquarters for three years and most of the time one of the two task forces had been under the command of a Pakistani naval officer. He said it was a significant achievement and something for Pakistan to be proud of.

“No nation has contributed more to command our task forces than Pakistan, so we are really proud of the relationship that we have with the Pakistan Navy,” he said. Recalling his visit to Pakistan Navy’s War College in Lahore recently, Miller said he was impressed by the quality of the officers who were well educated and trained. “They are a delight to work with, quite professional and their ships are very well maintained.” When asked to comment on the operation Zarb e Azb, Vice Admiral Millar said counterterrorism operations being carried out anywhere in the world were very important to stop terrorists activities.

“It is equally important to go after the ideology to curb terrorism as it does not matter what they call themselves whether ISIS, Daesh, ISIL or Al Qaeda,” he said.

Vice Admiral Miller who also looks after combat operations in Iraq and Syria said over 2,800 airstrikes had so far been conducted from the two aircraft carriers.

Currently, two aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson and French Charles de Gaulle, are positioned in the area to launch combat aircraft against targets of ISIL. President Obama described ISIS as ISIL which refers to the undefined region around Syria, historically referred to as the Levant and roughly includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

The vice admiral said a lot of strikes, particularly in Syria, were designed to destroy the oil infrastructure, currently being used by the ISIL fighters. “It not only destroys one of their funding sources, but also their mobility.” Without giving any timeline for routing out ISIL, he said last June its fighters seemed to be operating like a regular army; they were mobile and able to capture large tracts of land quickly. But today it was like a terrorist organisation and it was very hard for them to move about with less access to funding and ability to conduct new operations. He said Iraqis were fighting back and had taken back their lands.

Vice Admiral Miller, also commander of the Combined Maritime Force (CMF), said it was a very unique organisation comprising 30 countries working together voluntarily. He said on any given day, there were around 40 to 45 US ships in the region, and combined with the CMF members and others the total rises to around 70 ships, working in coordination to ensure maritime security in the region. He said the region was witnessing unstable time, however, the maritime environment was calm; oil was flowing out while goods and services were entering the region without any incident, as many countries in the Gulf get 80 percent of food and other goods through the sea.

Commodore Asif Hameed Siddiqui SI(M) who is now commanding the 30-nation Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 said Pakistan was playing an active role in keeping international merchant shipping lanes safe from attacks by pirates and terrorist activities, through constant vigilance.