The Iraqi Navy is on track to assume full command of protecting Iraq's vital offshore platforms within the next two years, outgoing US Navy 5th Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said Monday.
'We are working very closely with the Iraqi Navy and within two years we will be ready to turn over the entire mission of protecting their two offshore oil terminals to them,' Gortney told the German Press Agency (DPA) on Monday.
He made the remark following a change of command ceremony where he handed command of the Manama-based US Navy 5th Fleet to Vice Admiral Mark Fox.
Gortney said he was very pleased with how the Iraqi Navy had been developing and performing so far alongside coalition forces which have been protecting the off-shore facilities since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein's regime.
Fox downplayed prospects of a maritime confrontation with Iran, but asserted that the coalition was ready for any contingency.
'I certainly do not expect a clash. We are not in the business of looking for trouble, but if trouble appears we know how to deal with it,' Fox said.
Both commanders stressed that the coalition is continuing to grow as more nations join the naval efforts to combat maritime threats in the region, including that of rising piracy off the Somali coast.
The 5th Fleet area of operation is the most engaged theater of operation supporting military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as carrying out counter-terrorism and counter-piracy efforts.