Operation Active Endeavour
Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) was the only Article 5 operation on anti-terrorism that NATO has ever had. It was initiated in support of the United States immediately after 9/11. It aimed to demonstrate NATO's solidarity and resolve in the fight against terrorism and help deter and disrupt terrorist activity in the Mediterranean.
The deployment was one of eight measures taken by NATO to support the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, following the invocation of Article 5, NATO’s collective defence clause, for the first time in the Alliance’s history.
The deployment started on 6 October and was formally named Operation Active Endeavour on 26 October 2001. Together with the dispatch of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to the United States, it was the first time that NATO assets were deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.
Operation Active Endeavour was NATO's maritime contribution to fight international terrorism. The operation's mission was to conduct naval operations in the Eastern Mediterranean to actively demonstrate NATO's resolve and solidarity. Operation Active Endeavour was one of the measures resulting from NATO's decision to implement Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, expanding the options available in the campaign against terrorism.
The Operation was conducted by Commander, Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe (COMNAVSOUTH) from his headquarters in Naples, Italy, through a Task Force deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean, named Task Force Endeavour (TFE). TFE was prepared for a prolonged operation through rotation of NATO's Standing Naval Forces and use of facilities made available by member states in the region.
Following the North Atlantic Council's decision on implementation of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty as a consequence of the 11 September attacks against the United States, on 09 October 2001 NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED) was ordered to deploy to the Eastern Mediterranean to provide NATO presence in the area while demonstrating NATO's resolve and solidarity. STANAVFORMED was part of NATO's immediate reaction forces. Its primary mission was to be able to deploy rapidly to an area of tension or crisis. It also forms the nucleus around which to build a more versatile and powerful naval force, whenever required.
Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (SNFM) began Operation Active Endeavour in early October 2001, and in that time the eight ships established contact with more than 1,000 merchant vessels and conducted 32 replenishments at sea to allow continuous maritime operations in the area. Shipborne helicopters had flown more than 1,000 hours. Elements of SNFM also visited Souda Bay, Crete and Aksaz, Turkey.
As of November 2001 Task Force Endeavour was commanded by Commodore Angus Somerville, UK Navy, and was comprised of: HMS Chatham, frigate, UK (Flagship); FGS Bayern, frigate, Germany; HS Formion, destroyer, Greece; ITS Aliseo, frigate, Italy; HNLMS Van Nes, frigate, The Netherlands; SPS Santa Maria, frigate, Spain; TCG Giresun, frigate, Turkey; USS Elrod, frigate, US.
On 6 December 2001 Vice Admiral Luigi Lillo (Italian Navy), Commander of Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe, announced that NATO's Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL) had arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean to replace Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (SNFM), continuing Operation Active Endeavour.
Standing Naval Force Atlantic (SNFL), which usually operates under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT), assumed responsibility for Eastern Mediterranean operations effective 6 December 2001 while SNFM units return to national ports for home leave, maintenance and the changeover of some force elements. SNFL was commanded by Commodore Fernando Melo Gomes, Portuguese Navy, from his flagship the NRP CORTE REAL. The force comprised 12 ships from 11 nations and includes an oil tanker.
SNFL was, in turn, replaced by SNFM in mid-January 2002. Subsequently, these two forces rotate approximately every three months for the duration of the operation.
NATO's Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT) returned to the Eastern Mediterranean under the control of the Commander Naval Forces Southern Europe (COMNAVSOUTH) on 15 April 2002 for a second tour of duty as Task Force Endeavour, replacing the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED) as NATO's maritime contribution to the fight against international terrorism. The flagships of both NATO forces, HMS Sheffield, United Kingdom, and SPS Canarias, Spain, were berthed at Molo Angioino, Naples, from 11 to 17 April for the handover of Command and staff briefings.
STANAVFORMED, commanded by Commodore Angus Somerville, Royal Navy, had conducted operation Active Endeavour since 14 January 2002. During this period the Task Force, which has included 11 warships and a submarine, has patrolled the operational area encompassing the Mediterranean east of Sicily, conducted a busy training schedule and visited ports in Turkey (Antalya and Aksaz), Greece (Souda Bay in Crete) and Italy (Augusta in Sicily). In coordinated operations with elements of the US Sixth Fleet, Task Force Endeavour monitored shipping lanes and exchanged intelligence information.
In March 2003, OAE was expanded to provide escorts through the Straits of Gibraltar to non-military ships from Alliance member states requesting them. This extension of the mission – Task Force STROG (Straits of Gibraltar) – was designed to help prevent terrorist attacks such as those off Yemen on the USS Cole in October 2000 and on the French oil tanker Limburg two years later. The area was considered particularly vulnerable because the Straits are extremely narrow and some 3,000 commercial shipments pass through daily. In total, 488 ships took advantage of NATO escorts until this mission was suspended in May 2004. Forces remained ready to move at 30 days’ notice.
One year later, in March 2004, as a result of the success of OAE in the Eastern Mediterranean, NATO extended its remit to the whole of the Mediterranean.
What happened in practice was that merchant ships passing through the eastern Mediterranean were hailed by patrolling NATO naval units and asked to identify themselves and their activity. This information was then reported to NATO’s Maritime Commander in Northwood, the United Kingdom. If anything appeared unusual or suspicious, teams of between 15 and 20 of the ships’ crew boarded vessels to inspect documentation and cargo. Compliant boarding could only be conducted with the consent of the flag state and/or the ship’s master. NATO personnel could otherwise convey this information to the appropriate law enforcement agency at the vessel’s next port of call. The suspect vessel was then shadowed until action was taken by a responsible agency/authority, or until it entered a country’s territorial waters.
NATO forces hailed over 128,000 merchant vessels and boarded some 172 suspect ships. By conducting these maritime operations against terrorist activity, NATO’s presence in these waters benefited all shipping travelling through the Straits of Gibraltar by improving perceptions of security. NATO helped to keep seas safe, protect shipping and control suspect vessels. Moreover, this operation also enabled NATO to strengthen its relations with partner countries, especially those participating in the Alliance’s Mediterranean Dialogue.
In the revised Concept of Operations – approved by the North Atlantic Council on 23 April 2009 – the Military Committee highlighted two considerations: the need to further enhance information-sharing between NATO and other actors in the region; the fact that in some cases, the operation was hampered by the lack of consent to conduct compliant boarding of suspect vessels.
In addition, the Operational Plan – approved in January 2010 – shifted OAE from a platform-based to a network-based operation, using a combination of on-call units and surge operations instead of deployed forces; it also increased cooperation with non-NATO countries and international organisations in order to improve Maritime Situational Awareness. All options for future changes in the operation’s mandate were considered on the basis of the Alliance Maritime Strategy, adopted in January 2011. OAE fulfilled the four roles outlined in this strategy: deterrence and collective defence; crisis management; cooperative security; and maritime security.
In February 2013, as a result of the reform of the military command structure initiated in 2011, the operation changed command. Initially, OAE was under the overall command of Joint Force Command (JFC), Naples, and was conducted from Allied Maritime Component Command Naples, Italy (CC-Mar Naples). From 22 February 2013, it came under the command of, and was conducted by, Maritime Command Headquarters (HQ MARCOM), Northwood.
As the Alliance refined its counter-terrorism role over the years, the operation’s remit was extended and its mandate regularly reviewed. In addition to tracking and controlling suspect vessels to keep the seas safe, it also aimed to build a picture of maritime activity in the Mediterranean. To do this, the ships conducted routine information approaches to various vessels in order to reassure and inform mariners on the efforts to keep the maritime community safe.
OAE was terminated in October 2016 when Sea Guardian became operational. At the Warsaw Summit in July 2016, NATO leaders agreed to create a broader maritime operation in the Mediterranean. Sea Guardian is a flexible maritime operation that is able to perform the full range of maritime security tasks, if so decided by the North Atlantic Council. It is currently performing three tasks in the Mediterranean Sea: maritime situational awareness, counter-terrorism at sea and support to capacity-building.
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