It was strange to watch news reports filter in on Tuesday afternoon, and several hours later it is still very much unclear what happened, or what is happening. Before we get caught up in current events, this Guardian article reviews recent events to explain why fear is gripping Northern Kenyan coast.
On Saturday morning a 66-year-old disabled French woman was kidnapped from her beach house in the Lamu archipelago by Somali gangsters who bundled her into a speedboat and escaped to mainland Somalia. The attack came two weeks after a British woman was abducted while on holiday further up the coast in Kiwayu, close to the Somali border. Her husband was killed. She is still missing.On Tuesday events became very difficult to follow as fear apparently struck the region again. It began with Sky News reporting that evacuations were underway on Manda Island in Northern Kenya due to reports of approaching skiffs from Somalia filled with armed men. According to TV news reports from Sky News, authorities were evacuating tourists from the regional resorts due to threats from armed attackers by the sea, and those reports included details like 5 skiffs with 5-7 armed men in each skiff. Given the recent kidnappings and murders from the resorts, such a report on Sky News sent a panic through the resort region as foreigners fled.
It is worth noting that advisories of closings like this one are popping up online for resorts along the Lamu Archipelago. It is also worth noting that there has been no confirmation yet that 5 skiffs filled with armed men even existed, because this could be nothing more than a rumor spread through fear.
Regardless, the UK Foreign Office issued the following travel to Kenya warning on Tuesday. The US State Department has not issued a similar warning, but this US State Department warning on Kenya from December 2010 remains in effect.
The use of the sea to circumvent the Army at the border between Somalia and Kenya is not new, but the recent leverage of the sea by those in southern Somalia to raid and kidnap foreign tourists right off the beach has sent fear through the area completely disrupting the tourism season just as it is beginning in northern Kenya. It is very much unclear if Kenya has the Coast Guard and Navy resources to protect their northern shoreline, but it is very probable the nation does not.
What I believe is important to watch for here is whether we are seeing the early stages of Al Shabaab naval operations, specifically in the form of amphibious raids., or if these are random attacks. The kidnapping of the French elderly woman was reportedly done by the Marehan clan under the leadership of Aadan African. The hostage was reportedly originally being held captive between Dhobly and Kismayo, but there are reports that a French special forces team failed in a recent attempt to rescue her and her whereabouts are now unknown. As she is disabled and thought to be in poor health, it is unclear how long she is expected to survive.
While I completely agree with CDR Chris Rawley's assessment that simple solutions are the best approach to maritime problems off Somalia, it is worth noting that the problems are getting more complex with each season. The monsoon season is over, and while it is true that fewer ships are being hijacked per attack, it is also true that 2011 is on pace to be another record year for number of piracy attacks in the region. For examples of everyday events I encourage folks to keep an eye on the IMB Live Piracy Report, for example, which highlights no shortage in the number of attacks and has become an activity log regarding the true value of security forces on merchant shipping in the region.
Something else worth noting... NATO has redesigned their piracy site yet again for Operation Ocean Shield (the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia) and this time is giving a daily briefing of updated threat information. Consider today's briefing.
Recent ActivityThe terminology has changed rapidly. It was only 3-4 years ago I would blog about an attack as an uncommon event and describe the simple tools and techniques exploited, but now we actively discuss operational and tactical details like the last known locations of multiple pirate action groups, motherships, amphibious raids, geographic distribution, time of day tactics, and even the color of camouflage paint being used in specific areas for specific purposes. The biggest difference between then and now though was that back then, nobody was getting killed. Now death is much more common, although I think people are generally desensitized from it.
The monsoon season is over, resulting in pirate activities noticeably increasing.
There is a mothership approx. 300nm due east of Socotra Island, and two recent attacks within 200nm of the mothership off Socotra Island within the past week. A whaler Pirate Attack Group (PAG) has been reported approx 200nm off the Southern Somalia/Kenya coast. Masters are advised to proceed with extreme caution when transiting these areas and report any suspicious activity to UKTMO.
Due to the favourable conditions for small boats, the Bab Al Mandeb (BAM), Southern Red Sea (SRS) and the Gulf of Aden (GOA) remain Areas of Concern. Three alerts in this region over the last week (Alert 219, 220, 223) confirm the presence of pirates in these areas.
A Shu’ai type dhow with a brown fibreglass hull, the FV DEER, was reported pirated off the north east tip of Somalia, and is likely being used as pirate mother ship in the Arabian Sea and / or the northern Somali Basin. We assess that 3 dhows are operating as mothership in the Arabian Sea and the Somali Basin.
The weather in the Central Somali Basin/Arabian Sea has improved, and previously pirated dhows are operating in this area as motherships. There was a piracy attack against a fishing vessel on 03 October in position 04-59N 058-00E. Shots were fired from the skiffs before the fishing vessel evaded being pirated (Alert 225). This attack occurred within 120nm of a previous attack (Alert 222) and indicates there may be a PAG working in this region. Masters are advised to proceed with extreme caution when transiting in the Arabian Sea, especially in the region of 060 E and west towards the Somali Coast.
At least one Jelbut style dhow is believed to be operating in the central Somali Basin, and is described as having a red and brown hull with white superstructure. Any information or photography regarding this dhow can be sent to the NATO Shipping Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org for improved warnings to other ships in the area.
As the weather improves, more attacks are expected. Increasing activity along the coast also indicates that additional pirated dhows and whalers are preparing to head out into the central Somali Basin. It’s assessed that there are 3 dhows operating as mother ships in this area, one of which may be the FV DEER (see picture).
At least 2 or 3 PAGs are operating off the coast of Kenya (Mombasa/ Dar es Salaam approaches). A whaler PAG is in this region, in vicinity of 01-50S 044-54E (approx 200nm off the Southern Somlia/Kenya coast), and at least one Jelbut dhow is acting as a mothership for one of these groups.
Latest reports from vessel that have been attacked indicate that some of the pirates make use of sunrise/sunset to approach from the direction of the low sun (skiffs may also be painted dark blue) in order to gain extra time for surprise.
If Masters encounter suspicious activity (such as stationary radar contacts or skiffs laden with ladders or other piracy equipment), please report as much detail as possible, including photographs of skiffs and possible mother ships, to UKMTO Dubai or NATO Shipping Centre.
Given the evolution in maritime activities we have seen off Somalia over the last 3-4 years, what should we expect in 3-4 years from now should policy not change?
I don't know what to make of these comments by David Ignatius.
But in recent weeks a subtle limit has emerged in drone policy: Despite calls by some U.S. officials for drone attacks against the training camps of AQAP and al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, neither has been targeted. That’s a deliberate policy decision — aimed partly at preventing the spread of a Taliban-style insurgency to new theaters, such as Yemen and Somalia.He goes on to frame it like this.
A senior administration official explains the policy this way: “If individuals target us, if they are in the chain of command for attacks against Americans,” then the United States will authorize “direct action” — putting such individuals on the “capture or kill” list that triggers a drone attack. But, the official cautions, “We don’t want to get involved in a domestic confrontation inside Yemen or Somalia, or increase anti-U.S. sentiment” in those places.If this is such an informed comment, then why was the biggest news over the last week a drone strike in Yemen? Why has STRATFOR (and other sources) been reporting consistent drone strikes (by the US) in Somalia over the last two weeks? David Ignatius appears to have swallowed someone's political spin on the rules of engagement in the US global drone war.
There is a deterrence formula implicit in this policy: So long as Somalia’s al-Shabab remains an insurgent movement fighting the Transitional Federal Government, the United States — while supporting the Somali authorities — won’t use drones. That weapon is reserved for those who directly threaten the United States.
The argument that drone warfare target selection criteria is tied to a master deterrence theory doesn't appear very credible to me. Drone warfare is many things, starting with a politically low risk, offensive form of warfare intended to strike key leadership and infrastructure of the enemy. With all due respect to a number of scholars who have suggested or still believe otherwise, the network theory that suggests surgical strikes at leadership and infrastructure can't destroy disconnected networks appears to have been thoroughly discredited in Iraq where bomb makers and popular resistance leaders were targeted by SOF and taken out. In both Afghanistan and Yemen, where popular leaders of Al Qaeda have been taken out, Al Qaeda has lost much of their capacity and most of the violence in those areas is now led by domestic organizations with domestic objectives.
The Bush administration perpetuated the myth that you couldn't kill leaders to disassemble an Al Qaeda disconnected network, but the Obama administration has provided ample evidence that simply isn't true. As it turns out, in an era of globalization there is really no such thing as a disconnected network; we simply never had a good enough understanding of the links between different networks to fully understand the impacts of targeting leadership and infrastructure within those networks prior to doing it.
My sense is Admiral Mullen recognized that the network theories that argued against targeted strikes on leadership were inaccurate late in his term when he called out the ISI as the source to target for dealing with the Taliban.
I am certainly not a big fan of the global drone war being conducted by the United States, but I do admit the more I observe it used in various theaters the more convinced I am that it is remarkably effective at destroying the enemy networks being targeted. With that said, I sense there are legitimate and serious political and economic costs to conducting a global drone war that are going to come back and haunt us in the future, because our nations drone war approach to terrorism is like trying to kill a hydra by chopping off heads.
Indeed, we are chopping off the heads of terrorist organizations globally with our nations global drone war, but chopping off heads isn't how one kills a hydra. Chopping off the heads of a hydra may look like some skillful and intelligent deterrence theory to people speaking to David Ignatius, but to me, our nations global drone war looks more like short term solution to contain - not solve - a long term problem that we appear to believe can only be solved through generational development.
Which takes me back to Somalia. The US doesn't use drones for dealing with pirates, as drones are too busy dealing with true threats in the region like Al Shabaab. To be totally honest, the US Navy rarely has more than one drone (if that many ) for maritime surveillance in that region.
However, just because we do not use drones for anti-piracy doesn't mean we couldn't use them. Drones are not going to solve the piracy problem nor the Al Shabaab problem, but like every other theater - drones can contain those problems more effectively while we look for actual solutions. I'm not saying nations should fly armed drones around the Gulf of Aden blowing holes in any skiffs that are hauling guns and ladders, but I am saying armed drones would be an effective way to contain the problem of piracy by blowing up pirate skiffs (like it has contained the problem of terrorism in other places) while we continue to look for a way to employ a real solution.