In the wake of three additional ship hijackings by Somali pirates, the likelihood of another year full of maritime instability and danger remains high. These hijackings over the last 48 hours serve as a strong indicator that current international policies toward Somalia are not working, especially Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 which after the recent round of attacks appears incapable of providing security in the Gulf of Aden, where the CTF was originally chartered to operate. Another strong indicator of failed US policy is the 21 December State Department release, which does little more than provide watered-down talking points for senior leadership. This State Department release seemingly highlights the fact that the US lacks any kind of enduring plan in regard to Somalia.
Looking forward into 2010, the international community should:
1. Adjust the follow-on to UN Security Council Resolution 1846 to allow for offensive operations against pirates from land, sea and air. This includes targeting those individuals identified as sponsors of piracy. The follow-on Resolution must also ban all foreign nations from fishing inside Somali territorial waters, and actually implement some form of penalty to those nations that choose to break the law. This will eliminate the moral justification Somali pirates rely upon for their operations.
2. CTF 151 must be re-molded into a fully integrated and combined/joint/inter-agency effort, with the US Navy serving as the leaders of this effort:
a. A full intelligence fusion cell must be stood up to fight the piracy network in a full-time capacity. Each US Government entity should provide specialists to contribute to the effort. Army and Marine Corps Intelligence Officers, Soldiers and Marines should be provided who have operational network-based targeting experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Network-based targeting constructs and expertise would serve this new CJTF well.
b. The USAF should continue to expand UAS/UCAV (unarmed and armed) operations in support of this task force (as discussed in my 24 October post).
c. Continue combined “sea denial” operations. The UN needs to get on the ball and provide some clear guidance for what constitutes hostile intent in international waters. This guidance should already be resident within Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Once hostile intent or action has been demonstrated, we cannot continue to wait for permission from higher authority to take action. The on-scene commander must have the tools to take immediate action to repel an attack. If a ship is boarded, it is obvious that responding international maritime forces are already in a position of significant tactical disadvantage.
d. Ground-based operations should be covertly expanded into Northern and Central Somalia from neighboring Djibouti, where a US contingent already exists. The forays into neighboring Somalia should be executed with the intent of building human intelligence networks into the Puntland-based piracy networks with the ultimate aim of disrupting pirate operations at their bases. The trick would be to correctly map out tribal and clan-based affiliations in and around the cities of Eyl and Bosaaso.
3. This new task force must begin to identify methods for isolating pirates from the population. One solution, albeit a risky solution, may lie in this report from al Jazeera:
How do we identify the pirates as morally corrupt without swaying the populace toward the opposite end of the spectrum? In other words, how do we eliminate the allure of piracy, showing them as something akin to godless heathens, without playing into the hands of a group like al Shabaab? The obvious answer lies in a strong federal government that has the capacity to reign in terrorists and pirates alike. Unfortunately, the Somali Transitional Federal Government’s sway falters outside of a few Mogadishu city blocks. On the bright side, the democratically elected President of the autonomous Somali State of Puntland is a willing recipient of any assistance he can muster. His efforts have been recognized by a variety of Western nations, but efforts to raise funding through the World Bank and other organizations have proved problematic due to bureaucratic fumbling by various international organizations and governments, including the US.
Whatever approach for eliminating the piracy threat is implemented, it must be part of a broader East African strategy. And a broader East African strategy must be executed by AFRICOM. It means little that the attacks are taking place in CENTCOM-controlled waters, what matters more is where the attacks originate. Somali instability is threatening to drag its neighbors into chaos as well. Al Shabaab recently seized Kenyan territorial islands on 23 December, and Kenya responded by closing its borders on 25 December. The UN imposed sanctions against Eritrea on 23 December for supporting groups like Hizb-ul-Islam in Somalia. These actions all highlight the threat Somali instability plays on East Africa, and serve as prime examples of the need for AFRICOM to take over the Horn of Africa and Somalia mission responsibilities; assuming, of course, that the US Government can develop and implement a comprehensive long-term strategy for engagement in Africa.