CAMP LEMONIER, DJIBOUTI -- Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) recently welcomed significant additions to the pool of assets it draws from to fight the Global War on Terrorism across the region with the arrival in the Gulf of Aden of the three-ship USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), along with the guided missile frigate USS Gary.
The ARG brings nearly 2,000 sailors total to the Horn of Africa region aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) and USS Nashville (LPD-13), and the USS Carter Hall (LSD-50), home-ported in Little Creek, Va. Additionally, the presence of the ARG makes more than 2,100 Camp Lejeune, N.C.- based Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) available for the fight against terrorism as well.
The USS Gary, out of Yokosuka, Japan, compliments the capabilities of Combined Task Force-150, the German-led maritime coalition flotilla currently patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Having been repositioned within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, USS Gary most recently supported operations in and around the Persian Gulf.
In addition to escorting duties, the Gary brings a variety of missile, gun and anti-air early warning radar technologies to existing Horn of Africa plans, which encompass an operating area defined as the total airspace, land areas and coastal waters of Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen.
The 26th MEU (SOC) will operate in and around the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, having previously supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, seeing action in Northern Iraq near the town of Mosul. Prior to arrival in the Gulf of Aden aboard the Iwo Jima ARG, the expeditionary force participated in exercises with the Ministry of Defense for Albania in May.
A Battalion Landing Team built around the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (BLT 1/8) forms the core ground combat element for the 26th MEU (SOC). BLT 1/8 has a full compliment of infantry forces and weapon systems and is reinforced with light armored vehicles (LAV), artillery and amphibious assault vehicles (AAV).
The MEU also brings a composite squadron with a headquarters element from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (HMM-264). The aviation combat element has a contingent of helicopters including the CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-46 Sea Knight, UH-1N Huey command and control platform and AH-1W Cobra attack gun ship.
For fixed-wing sorties, the MEU has AV-8B Harriers, boasting an all weather, day/night attack capability. Given its ability for vertical take-off and landing, the Harriers complement the capabilities of F-15C/D, F-16C/D, E-3C and RC-135 aircraft currently operating in the Central Command area. The MEU also has its own air traffic control squadron and low altitude air defense capability, both of which can be land-based in forward operating positions.
To support operations in remote, expeditionary environments, the MEU employs a combat service support group to address site preparation and force sustaining activities.
The 26th MEU (SOC), having previously participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from November 2001 to February 2002, follows both the 22d and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) who previously trained and supported counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa region.
The Iwo Jima ARG, in addition to its force transport and sea-based aviation platform role, offers a variety of capabilities to commanders in the region. The at-sea headquarters includes communications suites capable of providing simultaneous offshore, ashore and aerial command and control of operations, as well as both air and sea search capabilities via an integrated radar system network.
The CJTF-HOA headquarters, formed specifically to oversee operations in the Horn of Africa for U.S. Central Command in support of the Global War on Terrorism, has a focused mission - to detect, disrupt and defeat transnational terrorist groups in the region and support Coalition partner efforts to deny the opportunity for reemergence of terrorist networks in the Horn of Africa.