On December 7th, travelers near the Suez Canal witnessed an incredible sight as the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R 91) led a flotilla of warships from France, Belgium and Germany on a southbound transit into the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations, a crossing many of these vessels have made before at various times over the years. But Monday’s crossing held a special significance.
That’s because after completing the transition into the Red Sea, the admiral commanding this multi-national battle group, French Navy Rear Adm. Rear Adm. René-Jean Crignola, took command of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50, which plans and conducts naval strike operations in the region, and is the primary executor of the U.S. Navy’s support to Operation Inherent Resolve — the fight to destroy the ISIL terrorist organization. This is the first time an American ally has held command of this task force.
Just before the battle group entered the Suez, France’s President Francois Hollande addressed the crew when he visited while Charles de Gaulle was off the Syrian coast, “In a few days you will be deployed in a new zone and will take command responsibilities of our allies in the framework of the coalition. After the cowardly and terrible attacks on our country, I decided to intensify the battle against Daesh … that means intensifying strikes,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.
The French naval aviators from Charles de Gaulle now join our own Marine Corps naval aviators flying anti-ISIL strike missions from the deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) from its station in the Arabian Gulf.
Besides bringing much-needed firepower to the fight – and returning carrier based naval aviation to the mission for the first time since October when USS Theodore Roosevelt departed Fifth Fleet — Charles de Gaulle’s presence underscores the firm resolve of our French allies to fully integrate into our operations. This partnership allows both of our navies to expand the boundaries of interoperability, making us an ever more formidable alliance and fighting force.
The enduring forward presence of the U.S. Navy in the waters of the Middle East and the resulting continual interaction with our allies and partners played a critical enabling role allowing France to seamlessly join our command structure.
Interoperability is the measure of the degree to which various organizations or individuals are able to operate together to achieve a common goal. Our goal in this case is to apply naval strike power to the effort to degrade and destroy ISIL by fully integrating the forces of many nations into a common command and control structure. The ability of the French forces to join our U.S. structure in a command role has literally been decades in the making, even if over the years those working toward this day could not have foreseen the form all of the training, exercises, deployments, concepts and system development would take here in this part of the world — in this particular fight — against this common enemy of civilization and humanity.
I fully expect that we will learn a great deal from having France command Task Force 50. We will take these valuable lessons and keep moving forward, improving the process and increasing our effectiveness as a combat team.
Despite the turmoil ashore throughout the region, our Naval forces along with those of our partners, are performing an incredible job keeping the maritime reaches open and secure every day. That’s important when you consider that 40 percent of the energy vital to the global economy passes through this region that includes three of the world’s most strategically important maritime chokepoints on its way to market.
The challenges in this region are great but not impossible. Our resolve is firm and our strategy is true. With the help of allies like France, willing to step up and lead, I have no doubt that we will achieve our objectives in this current campaign and come out a stronger, more capable force for having worked though this together.