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.

6 thoughts on “Forward from the Sea…and Land”

  1. The transitional government in Yemen may not be in power long enough to help make a difference in fighting AQAP. It’s whoever gets into office in 2014 that will determine if this secret war goes public. In the meantime, the most friendly Somali tribes are the northeners living on the Aden coast, but they’re too few in number to politically influence events on the ground. This is shaping up to be a long-term engagement, and Africa Station appears to be slowly but surely getting all the attention and most of the useful assets.

    The helo raid is symptomatic of current thinking. None of the traditional NATO alliance have the stomach for another ground war anytime soon. The emphasis of “no boots on the ground” language speaks volumes. Tactically, it may be visceral and satisfying that we’re hitting back against their capabilities, but nothing will change until we go after the loose command structure that represents the organized portion of the piracy movement. Take away their abilities to coordinate and communicate (heavy dependence upon cell and satphones), and money (where it’s hidden and spent). On the flip side, increase the ability of friendly nations like Puntland to police their EEZ and start making everyone accountable to respect the environmental rights of Somalia. Give those fishermen a good reason to think about picking up nets again instead of RPKs.

    1. Good points. I’m assuming you mean in the Puntland/Somaliland areas the government is “too few in numbers?” Or at least in many cases doesn’t stomach a squabble with the pirates operating in their territories.

      Agree – illegal fishing was a root cause of the problem, and continues to plague the area. However, as most problems go, piracy has taken on a life of its own with its own economic incentives that would remain even if fishing recovered. The struggle to persuade Afghan farmers to switch from the lucrative poppy crop to more benign, but less profitable products, illustrates that even with the viability of an alternative the demonstrated possibility of quick riches and entrenched crime syndicates would keep the pirate trade going strong.

      Illegal fishing should be stopped on its own merits. It might even help set the conditions for an end to piracy, but at this point it would not play a major role in its eradication.

      If Somalia ever gets a functioning government (or the defacto countries in the north declare their own independence) a model for success might follow the example of an employment scheme in Nigeria. This took former rebels of the MEND and employed them as quasi-coast guard officials. This could create jobs in the crucial period when fishing stocks would not yet have fully recovered. Alternately such a force could be funded by donors.

      How would you suggest the dependence on cell and satphones be exploited without crippling other legimitate enterprises in the region?

  2. Satphones (to my jaundiced and layman eye) lends itself to more localized and therefore more accurate targeting. Since the region already suffers from a general lack of commo infrastructure to begin with, there aren’t too many alternatives if we start finding good targets who use their phones with no thought of emcon. Just based on the insights from Bin Laden’s papers, modern insurgency fighting with assymmetric capabilities sees commo technology as a double-edged sword. OBL’s obsession with avoiding use of any high-tech is partly due to the effectiveness of ELINT combined with drone strikes in lopping off his couriers and close associates. The same could be done in Somalia. In the same breath, the use of Twitter, Facebook and other persistent social media has already been identified as legitimate channels being used by pirates and their backers to coordinate actions. That would be a more difficult piece to close off, but again – with a lack of infrastructure, there aren’t too many legitimate fishermen or farmers roaming the territory with a high-bandwidth Internet BGAN suitcase. Start looking for those usage patterns and you’ll likely end up finding the folks who need to be actioned first.

    1. Very true. You’re talking about using signals to disrupt pirate networks via targeting. I thought you were talking about jamming, that concerned nations could just blanket jam cell phone signals without disrupting legitimate commerce and daily life. While few fishermen or farmers carry internet suitcases, cell phone use is still an important part of commerce in the country:

      Of course if there are any unique parts of the spectrum used soley by pirate command and control, simply blocking that would be a low-hanging fruit in terms of execution, but much more problematic to sustain.

      Interesting how pirates use not only cell and sat phones, but also open source reporting on shipping blogs and pirate-operated radar to locate their prey.

      No doubt someone is looking at exploiting these means for targeting, but I’m not certain many governments are yet comfortable with targeting to kill rather than just destroy supplies:

  3. May want to consider other maritime forces operating in the area….

    “For counter-piracy campaigns to be effective, we should probably move beyond the ocean and crash their bases on the land… It is important that we target not only the operators, those on the small ships or crafts conducting the hijacking activities, but also the figureheads”
    -PLA Chief of General Staff Chen on May 18, 2011 during visit to the USA (

    1. True, and it would be a good opportunity to build upon the budding Western-Chinese military cooperation already developing at sea in the region. Additionally it would afford the Chinese an opportunity to test their own power projection capabilities in a globally sanctioned way. Time will show if their actions follow their words.

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