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11 - Operation Southern Guard

The War in the Gulf was not far from the AFSOUTH area of responsibility and, at least emotionally, everybody in the Southern Region felt affected. NATO as such was not involved but the chances for an eventual involvement could not be ruled out.

As a matter of fact, on that occasion the Alliance - by a decision taken by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe - took the first ever initiative linked, however indirectly, with an event occurring outside of the area covered by Atlantic treaty. The authorisation to extend the routine training activation of the Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean, so as to be able to operate it in the Eastern Mediterranean also as a compensation for the absence of NATO units deployed to the Persian Gulf area, was a further sign of the continuing and changing role NATO was to play in its southern European flank.

For the first time in its 40 year history AFSOUTH conducted or co-ordinated a large number of activities to assure the deterrence needed to prevent extension of a conflict into the Treaty area or to respond promptly should deterrence fail. The attention of NATO commanders had been high since 2 August 1990 but of course the apex was reached in middle January 1991 when it became clear that only by force was it possible to obtain from Iraq acceptance of the enforcement of the many decisions taken by the United Nations to restore international legality.

A number of NATO decisions without precedents marked the beginning of 1991. As early as 2 January, the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) decided to deploy to the air component of the Allied Mobile Force (AMF) to Southeast Turkey. The AMF consisted of aircraft from the Belgian, German and Italian air forces, "to demonstrate the collective solidarity and determination of the Alliance in the face of any potential threat to allied territory and thus contribute to deterrence and defence." Never before had the AMF been deployed for reasons different from training.

Meanwhile, the NATO Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean had been kept activated by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for what already was its longest ever activation. When military operations started in the Gulf, this force was ordered to return at sea to conduct "training and surveillance;" again another "first" operational mission for a NATO force.

The DPC also decided to send mine counter measure vessels of the Standing Naval Force Channel to the Central Mediterranean, "to protect the safety of shipping and freedom of navigation in this vital area." At that time STANAVFORCHAN consisted of ships from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

These were the more visible of several collective alliance efforts through which AFSOUTH contributed to deterrence against any potential threat to allied territory or interest. The name given to these activities was "Southern Guard" - the first ever NATO operation - and its goal was to put in place prudent, effective measures able to provide valuable responses to a wide range of potential threats. From Gibraltar to Eastern Turkey, NATO and national forces created a friendship chain conducting extensive training. At the same time they were monitoring traffic of interest, at sea or in the air, where the NATO Airborne Early Warning E-3A aircraft almost continuously provided their extended monitoring capability.

The AMF(A) deployed 42 aircraft with more than 300 personnel to Diyarbakir and Erhac, Turkey. Later on, air defence assets strengthened the air defence of those bases. Germany deployed I-HAWK and Roland missile systems, while I-HAWK and Patriot systems were brought in from The Netherlands. In addition, command and control, communication, surveillance and civil defence capabilities in Southern Turkey were improved.

Maritime surveillance was conducted throughout the Mediterranean, where Southern Region NATO forces were augmented by several units from the German Navy and by STANAVFORCHAN. Early in February there were as many as 17 German ships in the Mediterranean, all under NATO operational control. These included a task group with four combatants and two auxiliaries, a mine counter measures force with five minehunters and one oiler, plus two ships each in NAVOCFORMED and STANAVFORCHAN, for a total of about 2000 men.

STANAVFORCHAN entered the Mediterranean early in February and soon reached an area South of Sicily where it started conducting preventive anti-mine surveillance. A similar activity was also conducted elsewhere by Mine Counter Measures (MCM) forces from France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey; all under NATO co-ordination.

As a necessary complement of the ships' surveillance capability, a number of Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) also were used. MPA aircraft from Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Turkey and the United States operated directly under NATO's operational control; while MPAs from France, Spain and the United Kingdom co-ordinated their missions with NATO.

Finally, all navies and air forces from NATO nations present in the Mediterranean contributed to Southern Guard. This included British, French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and U.S. forces, with their component of embarked naval aviation. All together, several thousand people were on continuous watch to demonstrate NATO's solidarity and determination to defend Alliance territory and interests. This complex deterrent required extended, effective management. Most of the NATO headquarters in the Southern Region contributed to what Adm. Jonathan Howe; their Commander in Chief termed as "Exercise Dragon Hammer," "Display Determination" and all our routine exercises combined altogether."

The achieved results -- there was no specific hostility act against NATO -- were reflected in the motto selected for the AFSOUTH 40th anniversary: "1951-1991: the triumph of freedom." In the words of SACEUR, Gen. John Galvin, Operation Southern Guard was."...the symbol of the new emerging NATO strategy of flexibility, multinationality and the capability to act in a crisis."

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