Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pivot to the Gates of Tears

The clash between radical Islam and modernity manifesting itself in the littorals of the Indian Ocean is an interesting subject. Recently, one of my friends currently patrolling the Indian Ocean invited my attention to book on this very topic by Camille Pecastaing, a professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS.

The title and cover jacket (a photo of a lone Aegis cruiser) of Jihad in the Arabian Sea are a bit misleading; navalists looking for a detailed account of terrorism on the high seas might be disappointed, with only one chapter really devoted to al Qaeda’s activities on the water along with a quick treatment of Somali piracy. Those interested in understanding the reasons behind AQ's operations at sea can save some time and read a more concise account of that subject here.

That said, I'd strongly recommend the book anyone involved in researching the region or preparing to deploy there. The book provides a wealth of context on the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula’s importance to al Qaeda. Detailed chapters on the violence and chaos endemic in Somalia and Yemen for decades give the reader a greater understanding of the conditions that allowed terrorism to take root there. Knowing the history and geography of areas in which policy makers and strategists are trying to devise solutions seems like common sense, but is often dismissed in favor of combing over the latest intelligence reports for "ground truth."

Rob Farley (and others) have written about the coming “pivot” of US defense focus to the Asia-Pacific. The reality is that a pivot has already occurred, especially in naval focus. As al Qaeda’s core has been decimated in South Central Asia, the network has dispersed to safe havens around the Indian Ocean and Africa where it can parasitically latch onto other insurgencies and unrest. Yet terrorism is just one of the problems driving US national interests in the region.

As Pecastaing writes, “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the challenges for the countries on the littoral of the Arabian Sea are civil war(s), piracy, radical Islamism, transnational terrorism, and a real risk of environmental and economic failure on both sides of the [Bab el-Mandeb] strait.” Since the demise of Saddam Hussein, attention of the US Navy has shifted from the Arabian Gulf to the Indian Ocean in response to those challenges. While ground forces remain locked in a protracted nation-building effort in Afghanistan, since 2005-ish, the US Navy has dealt with a range of irregular threats from the Mediterranean to Pakistan’s Makran Coast. Quiet, but platform-intensive counter-terrorism operations, coalition piracy efforts over millions of square miles of ocean, large scale humanitarian assistance operations, and support to regime change in Libya are just a few of the missions that have driven demand and PERSTEMPO sky high for Naval and Marine Corps units of all types. Although in the long term, forecasters of a pivot to East Asia are likely correct, in the mid-term, we should expect continued requirements for naval presence in and around the Gates of Tears.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

blog comments powered by Disqus

site stats