Sakhr Al-Makhadhi on board ITS Mount Etna / Al-Jazeera.net – 2005-10-16 23:00:49
SARDINIA, Italy (October 16, 2005) — The failure to fully conduct the naval war games off the coast of Sardinia, which concluded on Friday, has angered many Nato officers, and prompted Sardinia’s president to take the issue to the Italian minister of defence.
Operation Destined Glory/Loyal Midas was designed as a two-week training exercise for Nato’s Reaction Force.
Over 8500 servicemen and women from 10 nations participated in the operation which employed aircraft carriers, helicopters and tanks to recapture a chunk of the island being controlled by fictional terrorists in what some are calling one of the biggest exercises for years.
The exercise required the closure of parts of Sardinia’s coastline to civilian boats. The town of Capo Teulada, 400km south of Rome, has been the hardest hit, where local fishing boats have been pushed aside for the multinational exercise.
Locals are angry that they lose their fishing rights three times a year and get little in return. One local told Aljazeera.net that the town would be better off without them: “Nato troops rarely come into Capo Teulada, and when they do, they don’t spend much money”.
Taking on Nato
On 4 October, a group of small boats entered a closed military area to block the Nato vessels’ activities.
*The two-week exercise was to be the biggest in many years
Within 10 days, the protest had grown to include some 50 fishing boats which amassed on the day scheduled for Nato’s land assault.
Commanders insisted the exercise would go ahead, and naval vessels came within 1km of the protesters, but called it off at the last minute, throwing away a year’s worth of planning.
Communications Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Juan Pablo Mackinlay was furious: “It’s disappointing; our core team of marines is still inside [the ships]. We came here to exercise and we couldn’t.”
Instead, just 286 military personnel were taken to land by helicopter, missing the ship-to-beach landing, and leaving behind most of their equipment, tanks and vehicles.
Nato’s retreat from insisting on conducting the amphibious landing attracted the attention of Sardinia’s president, Renato Soru, who met the protestors in Sant’Antioco harbour.
Soru courted controversy in September when he called for the closure of a US submarine base in the north of the island. Now he has promised to take the concerns of the Capo Teulada fishermen to Italy’s minister of defence.
Admiral Cooke (L) saw the protest
as a useful challenge to the forces Rear Admiral Salvatore Ruzittu, the second-in-command of the whole exercise admits it is a controversial area: “We use [Capo Teulada] many times a year, sometimes we have a problem, sometimes we have no problem. This is how it is.”
But Admiral Andrea Toscano, who is in charge of the exercise, insists the area is essential for Nato’s rapid reaction force: “All Nato forces desperately need [Capo Teulada]. Without practice it’s difficult to stay on a high level of readiness.”
One of Nato’s chiefs, Admiral David Cooke, visiting the exercise, sees the protest as a useful challenge for the forces: “The protests are very real, in the real world we have to expect difficulties – here it’s fishermen. It’s very good training.”
Commander Mark Arata, head of logistics, the man who has had to deal with the change of plans, agrees: “Being flexible and adapting is a key element for Nato … [In Sierra Leone] we had to extract personnel, but the beaches weren’t suitable for a [ship-to-land] beach landing, so we used the helicopter option.”
The latest impediment marks the second year running that Nato has had to face angry Sardinians, and civilian-military cooperation officer, Commander Vito Minaudo, thinks Nato might have had as much as it can take.
“If you pay money and go in somewhere and there is turmoil, you may try again another time, but two times, three times, then try something else.”
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