Tag Archives: Indian Ocean

Who Defeated the Somali Pirates?

Ships from CTF-150, one of the mult-national naval force conducting maritime security operations off the Horn of Africa

The New York Times published a piece last week describing the “sharp” decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia  It cited data provided by the US Navy demonstrating that attacks had significantly fallen off in 2012 compared to 2011 and 2010.  The decline was attributed to industry having implemented better security measures, the large-scale participation by forces from many world navies in counter-piracy operations in the region, and raids conducted to rescue hostages.

Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of how events ashore may have impacted piracy.  The only mention in the piece as to how actions on land are related to piracy was that “renewed political turmoil” or “further economic collapse” could cause more Somalis to pursue piracy as a livelihood.

In June Matt Hipple made his case in this blog that international naval operations had little or nothing to do with the current decline in piracy.  He argued that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia and continued operations by the multi-national forces of AMISOM, as well as armed private security forces onboard commercial vessels were the decisive factors behind the recent drop in pirate attacks.  Another June piece by the website Somalia Report attributed the decline to internal Somali factors, primarily declining financial support by Somali investors in the pirate gangs, and increased operations of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

A basic principle within the social sciences and statistics is that “correlation is not causation.”  Just because the U.S. and other world navies applied military force at sea to combat Somali pirates does not mean that maritime operations caused the piracy decline, particularly when there are so many other independent variables have contributed to piracy, especially those ashore driven by Somalis themselves.  Until this year the only group with real success at stopping piracy over the last decade was the Islamic Courts Union (forerunner to al-Shabab), who stopped it when they controlled southern Somalia for most of 2006.  Piracy came back when the Ethiopians invaded and forced the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and the pirate strongholds at the end of that year.

It is possible that a debate over who defeated the Somali pirates could mirror the similar debate over the effectiveness of “the Surge” in Iraq.  U.S. Army Colonel Gian Gentile has been one of the most outspoken advocates of questioning the conventional wisdom assuming that the 2007 U.S. troop increase in Iraq and the adoption of the Counter-Insurgency doctrine were what caused violence to fall.  He instead argues that Iraqi-driven variables such as Sunni insurgent groups accepting U.S. money to switch sides and Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s decision to stop attacks were what made the difference.

Both the deployment of ships and other assets by the world’s navies, as well as changed behavior by the maritime industry, have played some role in the drop in pirate attacks.  To assume that those were the decisive factor, however, with no consideration given to what has actually happened in Somalia over the past few years, is shortsighted and ignores the larger reasons for why the phenomenon of Somali piracy started in the first place.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Indian Maritime Security After Mumbai

 

Captured Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab

Last week the Indian government announced that it had arrested Abu Jindal, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba leader accused of masterminding the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai which killed at least 160 people.  His capture was only the most recent of a series of arrests and trials in India, Pakistan, and the US of people involved in planning or participating in the attack.  Those events spurred a major re-evaluation of India’s maritime security posture, but the efforts that India has undertaken to improve those capabilities demonstrate some of the inherent difficulties of applying the concept of Maritime Domain Awareness to missions like counter-terrorism.

Following the attack the Indian Navy was designated as “the authority responsible for overall maritime security which includes coastal security and offshore security,” effectively relegating the Coast Guard from its primary coastal security role.  Organizationally, a series of Joint Operations Centers were established with responsibility over the various coastal regions, with the intent to institutionalize information sharing between the Navy, Coast Guard, and local agencies.  The Navy and Coast Guard began acquiring long and medium range surveillance aircraft and UAVs for a new “three-tier aerial surveillance grid.”   The Navy also set up a new coastal security unit, the Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB), with the mission of  day/night operations and “seaward anti-terrorist patrols.”

Despite these efforts, it does not seem like India’s improved maritime security framework has been successful.  In 2011 the Indian Comptroller and Auditor General issued a highly critical report stating that the Coast Guard “remains ill-equipped to discharge its enhanced role and meet the challenges of today… Post 26/11, the response of ICG and government has been ‘ad hoc’ as can be witnessed by increased patrolling, increased funding, fast tracking procurements.”  The most embarrasing instance was when a ship originally abandoned off the coast of Oman escaped detection by India’s new “multi-layered coastal security” system and washed ashore in Mumbai during July 2011.  Even though Indian authorities claimed that patrols have increased, as of 2011 the planned Command & Control network, radars, and AIS receivers enabling them had yet to be fielded as planned.  Only 250 or so of the 1000 SPB billets had been filled, and none of the planned 80 interceptor craft had been purchased.

 Whether or not India’s efforts at improving Maritime Domain Awareness and interagency cooperation between the Navy and Coast Guard are successful, it still remains unclear how either entity would have been able to act against the attackers.  It was later revealed that the US had provided warnings to the Indian government warning of a seaborne attack and that hotels were potential targets in Mumbai.  It is unclear whether those warnings were disseminated to Navy or Coast Guard units at the tactical level, or whether that would have even made a difference.

 According to the lone culprit captured alive after the attack, the attackers left Karachi on the ship “AL HUSSEINI,” and then hijacked a fishing trawler named “KUBER” in Indian waters.  They killed all the crew but the captain, who was then killed after guiding them to Mumbai.    The attacker claimed that the fishing trawler that they had hijacked had been detected by an Indian Navy or Coast Guard vessel, but that Navy or Coast Guard patrol did not stop the trawler.  Being detected was the event that spurred the attackers to leave the trawler and start their final movement ashore in small inflatable boats.

Assuming that story is true and the trawler was seen by the Navy or Coast Guard, there still is not necessarily a reason that those authorities would have had to justify them interdicting and boarding the suspect trawler.  It is plausible that they could have been ordered to stop all suspect vessels, but it is not clear that the trawler full of terrorists would have met the criteria of a suspect vessel at first glance (it was just a fishing boat heading to Mumbai).  Without a good description or location of the boat, how would the Indian Navy or Coast Guard target it?  This instance demonstrates the difficulty of both achieving something like total Maritime Domain Awareness, and then applying that knowledge to drive successful operations.

How often did Indian intelligence and/or the various maritime security agencies get warnings of this type, and if so, would the operational result of that be instructions to interdict all vessels in a certain area?  How would the boundaries of such a search area defined?  How would “suspect” vessels be identified without an accurate description of the target?  How long could any maritime force sustain widespread interdiction of suspect vessels?  Even an unlimited number of maritime platforms and ship-tracking sensors will not make any difference in terms of differentiating the bad guys from the rest of the civilian traffic if the bad guys are able to blend in.  Realistically, the only way that the Indians would have been successful in stopping the attackers would have actionable indicators derived from analysis or penetration of those illicit networks such as the location or description of a specific boat.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Diego Garcia…Not yet Cause for Alarm

 

Bombs away or bombs to stay?

In 2016 America’s 50-year lease on the island of Diego Garcia expires. Under the current terms of the agreement, the option to extend leasing rights for a further 20 years must be agreed upon by both the U.S. and Diego Garcia’s owner, Britain, no later than December 2014. On June 8th, likely spurred on by the looming deadline, the prime ministers of both Britain and Mauritius met to discuss the future of the island. At issue is the question of sovereignty.

 

Mauritius, located 1200 miles to Diego Garcia’s southwest, is typically grouped into African international associations and has only tenuous connections with Diego Garcia’s Chagos Archipelago. Prior colonial rulers Britain and France at various times lumped the island chains together administratively. Once it became a self-governing colony in 1959, Mauritius retained control of the Chagos archipelago until it sold the islands back to Britain in 1965, the same year Mauritius voted for complete independence. Britain then proceeded to depopulate the newly formed British Indian Ocean Territory, sending (both voluntarily and not) the approximately 2,000 inhabitants to the Seychelles and Mauritius, to make room for an American military build-up.

 

Now, it appears there is a good chance Britain may transfer sovereignty back to Mauritius to extract itself from the fallout of forthcoming legal rulings. Originally I wasn’t going to post on this situation because, while interesting, I didn’t feel the saga was likely to change much of the Asia-Pacific’s strategic make-up. However, a couple widely read maritime blogs and a National Review Online article have sounded alarms over fears raised by The Guardian‘s coverage of the topic. Namely, the assumption that if the British give up their sovereignty the Americans will lose their ability to use the base for strategic Pacific purposes (no irony intended).

 

The “footprint of freedom’s” long-range assets.

This fear is misplaced for a couple of reasons. First, Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam has taken pains to assure Washington that while “The objective of 2014 is to reassert sovereignty,” there is “without question” a need for the West to maintain a base on Diego Garcia. And there’s reason to believe him. There’s little other economically profitable activity the island and surrounding waters can sustain. In all cynical likelihood, the great interest Mauritius has taken in “regaining” control of Diego Garcia is precisely to be the recipient of American rent for its operations there.

 

Second, setting aside the moral issues stemming from the deportations, upcoming legal rulings at the U.N. and E.U. Court of Human Rights might force Britain’s hand if it holds on to the islands (although the matter of enforcing the ruling might leave its effects in limbo). If Mauritius gains control over the archipelago, a ruling in favor of the Chagossians could be mitigated by the powers Mauritius exerts over its own citizens, forcing them to accept additional compensation in exchange for perhaps occasional visits, or a token designated area of inhabitation.

 

Don’t say your goodbyes just yet.

Third, strengthening ties with Mauritius fits in to the strategic architecture not only in the Asia-Pacific, but also for the western Indian Ocean and Africa. As a democracy with a strong Western tilt and Indian ties, Mauritius represents a stable base from which to make inroads into critical areas along maritime trade routes. In a further act of signaling to reassure, Prime Minister Navichandra took the opportunity of visiting Downing Street to also sign an anti-piracy agreement with the U.K., opening up Mauritius as a destination for the prosecution and jailing of pirates. For its part, the U.S. has good relations with the country and helps to train its military in counter-terror and other missions.

 

In some regards the Cassandras of the Chagos are right to worry about the outcome. It’s hard to imagine a more ideal military outpost and waypoint than the current setup at DG: no neighbors to complain about the noise or pry into operations, cheap pay for imported labor, excellent diving (if you don’t mind the sharks). The only real drawback is perhaps its slightly too-distant location from hot spots in Southeast and Northeast Asia, but it can’t be everywhere at once. If Mauritius does come into ownership, the U.S. may pay more for its continued use of the basing, pay more for labor and have to hire former islanders or their descendents, and put up with a few inhabitants and the complications that they bring. All in all, however, such changes would be mostly superficial. 

 

Yes, Mauritius could always change its mind on basing rights in the future. But there’s not yet cause for alarm. 

 

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

 

Forward from the Sea…and Land

The EU agreed in March to conduct counter-piracy on land.

On the east coast of Africa and along the southern Arabian Peninsula, the U.S. has been waging a campaign against pirate and terrorist targets from naval forces offshore. Early reports today detail European militaries’ first counter-piracy operation ashore. A helicopter from EU Naval Force Somalia’s Operation Atalanta struck a pirate base camp in Somalia’s Mudug region and destroyed several pirate skiffs and other supplies stowed on a beach.

Britain’s The Telegraph gives a detailed account:

The dawn raid, launched from one of nine European warships patrolling off Somalia, was aimed at “making life as difficult for pirates on land as we’re making it at sea”, an EU military official said.

A helicopter flew low along the beach with a door gunner on mounted machine gun troops firing at the targets below.

The operation was ordered after weeks of surveillance from maritime patrol aircraft and other surveillance aircraft circling above the pirates’ known hideouts.

Best not to leave your things unattended.

Five small attack boats with powerful outboard engines were “rendered inoperable” and pirates said that the strike also hit drums of diesel and a weapons store.

The attack involved troops from several of the European navies including seven frigates currently patrolling off Somalia, from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Officials said it was “a European mission” and would not specify from which warship the strike was launched.

But not all efforts against piracy and terrorism in the region involve strikes from the sea. In addition to the use of U.S. Navy SEALS, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, naval vessels and naval aviation assets, the U.S. is also using land-based air power. A report in The Aviationist (h/t Danger Room) describes the role of the Air Force and an F-15E squadron in augmenting the drone strikes in the region. The ring around the Indian Ocean is proving to be a perfect test bed of low-intensity power projection concepts and technologies.