By Arshad Sharif
MANAMA, Apr 24 (Reuters) Pakistan today took command of a multi-national naval force patrolling waters around the Arabian Peninsula to stop terrorism and piracy, and search vessels suspected of smuggling arms or material used for making nuclear weapons.
Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) is one of several naval units operating within a US-led coalition that are policing one of the globe's tensest regions.
''We feel that the fight against terrorism in any of its forms is a noble act and we consider it our moral obligation to continue this war,'' Vice Admiral Muhammad Haroon, Vice Chief of the Pakistan Navy, said at a ceremony in Bahrain to mark the transfer of the mission from Dutch command.
The mission oversees the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman through which almost a quarter of the world's oil is transported from the Gulf.
While two other units handle the Gulf itself, CTF-150's 15 vessels also patrol all the waters west as far as the Red Sea and as far south as the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
''It's like searching a needle in a haystack -- we watch out for what ships are in the areas based on intelligence received from shore,'' Commodore Hank Ort of Royal Netherlands Navy said as he passed the command to Pakistan's Rear Admiral Shahid Iqbal.
The Pakistan Navy has assigned a destroyer, PNS Babur, to the task force.
The United States, Britain, France, Italy Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Pakistan all contribute to the maritime component of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Launched in the wake of al Qaeda's attack on the United States on September. 11, 2001, the multi-national operation now has to contend with fallout from an ongoing insurgency in Iraq and heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Two US sailors and a coastguard were killed preventing a suicide attacker from steering a motor boat laden with explosives into an Iraqi oil terminal in mid-2004, while Somali pirates were being hunted off the Horn of Africa.
REUTERS PR BST1809