Op Prosperity Guardian will be third naval task force in African waters

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A third naval task force will in the not too distant future be patrolling the seas off Africa – the world’s second largest continent.

Operation Prosperity Guardian is, according to United States (US) Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, a response to “recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating in Yemen” on Red Sea shipping.

The attacks, according to a statement, threaten the free flow of commerce, endanger innocent mariners and violate international law.

“The Red Sea is a critical waterway essential to freedom of navigation and a major commercial corridor that facilitates international trade. Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor launching ballistic missiles and ‘uncrewed’ aerial vehicles (UAVs) at merchant vessels from many nations lawfully transiting international waters.”

Austin termed the events in the north east African body of water linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Suez Canal “an international challenge demanding collective action”.

“Therefore, today (18 December) I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea.”

Operation Prosperity Guardian will join two European Union naval task forces operating off Africa’s east and north coasts.

Operation Atalanta was set up in 2008 to initially provide protection for World Food Programme (WFP) ships carrying much-needed nutrition to east African countries labouring under the twin assaults of drought and warfare. Its mandate and area of operation was extended to include the Gulf of Aden in anti-piracy operations as well as curbing arms, drug and human trafficking.

Mediterranean Sea-based Operation Irini has as its primary task enforcement of a United Nations (UN) arms embargo on Libya. Irini has been operational since 2020, succeeding another EU naval operation – Sophia – which had as it main tasking the prevention and stopping of human smuggling and trafficking.

Prosperity Guardian will “bring together multiple countries to address security challenged in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden”. The “goal” of the new naval task force, Austin said, is to ensure freedom of navigation for all countries and bolster regional security and prosperity.

He named nine countries that will seemingly be part of Prosperity Guardian. They are Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK).

The Austin statement gives no detail of when Prosperity Guardian is expected to be operational or what platforms (aerial and maritime) can be expected to be deployed.