Posts by Somalia Report

Timid, Reactive Approach Continues
Infamous Pirate Den of Hobyo
©Somalia Report
Infamous Pirate Den of Hobyo
It has been six weeks since four U.S. citizens were brutally murdered during botched hostage negotiations between FBI and pirates. The resultant hard threats by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have resulted in a surprisingly limp response. Perhaps her confused desire to "support AMISOM" as a method of defeating piracy should have been the clue. AMISOM is nowhere near the piracy bases along the coast, nor does it have a mandate to much other than keep the crumbling TFG alive.

Clearly the United States does not have a functional policy regarding piracy because it is lacking the basic knowledge to even begin to formulate a simple, land-based, long-term approach to ending piracy.

In short, expect little more than finger-wagging, private hand-wringing and muted cheering from the bleachers as the U.S. continues to adopt the status quo in anti-piracy. Essentially, U.S. anti-piracy policy is to disrupt pirates at sea. Firefighting rather than fire prevention.

Shapiro did mention that they would task their "assets in the region". There is Task Force 151, a token attempt at maintaining a presence out of Djibouti. U.S.-backed NATO, through EUNAVFOR, has done a good job of keeping the Gulf of Aden corridor under control, but has pushed piracy out into the Indian Ocean.

Perhaps the public should be better aware of the assets in the region. There are numerous warships offshore, U.S. Marines practice beach landings and even abduct suspected pirates by helicopter. There are numerous air assets in the region gathering photo, electronic and map-based intelligence, the Americanized TFG leadership meets on a regular basis with U.S. diplomats, CIA assets formed almost 15 years ago regularly provide updates and military, information operations and logistics forces on the ground in Mogadishu.

There are plenty of civilian sources ranging from security contractors like Bancroft, which has lucrative and growing support contracts for intelligence gathering and training. Aegis, the controversial British security company, has a contract to guard the UN and the airport is full of Americans and British men in 5.11's moving in and out. Somalia is littered with NGOs who, for minor funding, can provide the information required to understand solutions to piracy.

Currently Ethiopia's proxy militia ASWJ insists they will continue their offensive from the Ethiopian border to pirate dens like Hobyo and Al Shabaab-held strongholds like Haradhere. This might be a game changer but yet to happen. Currently it appears that Al-Shabaab is doing more to scare off pirates than the tough talk of the west. Recently, the group arrested over 50 pirates in Haradhere and has forced them to move their pirated ships northward.

The hot, arid world of Somali pirates is a far different world than the calm enclave of Washington D.C. or behind hardened walls at the Pentagon, where policy on Somalia is constructed. It may be even more revealing that currently four non-profit groups track pirates and their victims at a more granular level than the U.S. does.

Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, gave some insight into the new strategy in a speech at International Institute for Strategic Studies. This alone signals the importance the U.S. puts on piracy in their foreign policy mix. Shapiro pointed out that the U.S.has history with piracy, that it is increasing and blames 20% of ships not following "best management practices" for the piracy incidents. Although it is convenient to put the onus on sailors to defeat pirate attacks, the pirates have simply adjusted from their old skiff swarms to using massive mother ships crewed by gangs of 30 or more pirates firing down on targeted ships and their terrified crews.

Best Management Practices essentially pushes the burden of anti-piracy on the ship and crew, who are not in the business of fighting pirates but rather sailing ships.

The other three solutions provided by Shapiro were providing emergency response, shutting down the money flow of pirates and finally more prisons and courts. None of these have been proven effective to prevent piracy. Armed guards are an expensive proven method of preventing boarding who's cost is simply passed on to the consumer. Some very simple solutions are not even mentioned. Why not crack down on the money flow generated primarily by western ransom payments? Why not work with the existing coastal nations like Puntland and Somaliland to bolster their existing security forces? Sailing warships around the ocean only burns money and provides a thin attempt at security. The same money could be used to put some force behind the words of elders and businessmen who want the pirates out of their coastal towns. The weekly operating budget of just the USS Enterprise could provide jobs for the 10,000 at risk, unemployed Somali youths who live in pirate havens. But even the presence of these mighty warships has hindered, not helped some. Emergency response, as in the case of the SV Quest and other incidents, has proven deadly to their own citizens they are trying to protect.

It is Somalia Report's opinion that the U.S. needs to fund robust but vastly cheaper programs to support land-based development, support of governance and keep pirates off the seas. Keeping the world's navies steaming around the Indian Ocean is not a viable solution, nor is building prisons and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep teenage pirates in jails.

Somalia Report is of the opinion that the solution to ending piracy lies in the following:

1) Fund and support community governance efforts in coastal Puntland and Somaliland to increase presence and deter and offer economic alternatives.

2) Outlaw commercial payment of ransoms.

3) Rescue hostages and seize ships currently held by pirates.

4) Maintain a vigorous regional coast guard to patrol and maintain domain over the EEZ.

5) Link naval forces and Somalia commercial interests to patrol and rebuild the fishing and cargo industry that once supported these areas.

We encourage dialog and sharing on the above issues and welcome submissions to further explore simple land-based solutions to piracy.


Stray Mortars From Both Sides Claiming Lives

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has released a new video, entitled "Somalia: In Harm's Way" highlighting the plight of traders in Mogadishu's Bakara Market caught in the crossfire between militant Islamist group Al Shabaab and Transitional Federal Government troops backed by the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM.

Mogadishu residents have long lamented the near daily shelling of the market, an insurgent stronghold, which they say exacts a bloody toll in civilian lives. AMISOM is often accused of indiscriminately firing shells into the market with no thought for civilian casualties as it responds to attacks on government positions from insurgents dotted among the traders.

In recent months, AMISOM has begun to acknowledge some incidents that have caused civilian casualties, thanks to the efforts of Albany Associates, a PR firm hired to improve the image of the peacekeeping force. However, AMISOM's top brass continues to deny Ugandan peacekeepers fire shells into packed civilian areas, despite witness testimony to the contrary, such as that presented in the UNCHR film, and repeated accusations by human rights' bodies.

Ali Muse, who runs Mogadishu's only ambulance service, said in October that 4,200 civilians had been killed over a two-year period, many of them in Bakara market.

"All of those victims are civilians killed either by stray bullets or hit by mortars or by artillery shells," the Associated Press quoted Muse as saying. "About 80 percent of them died at Bakara market, which is the main target of the African Union peacekeepers."

When AMISOM was accused of causing such civilian deaths in late March, Force Commander Major General Nathan Mugisha issued the usual denial.

"AMISOM forces do not fire mortars or artillery indiscriminately or without just cause," he said. "Indirect fire weapons are authorized by our Rules of Engagement but we do not use them unless there is a legitimate military target which we can identify and confirm."

However, AMISOM insiders privately acknowledge that peacekeeping forces lack the technology - such as radar systems designed to track the trajectory of an enemy shell and pinpoint the mortar - to accurately locate an enemy position, and often resort to simply guessing the originating point and firing in that general direction. Given that the insurgents often employ hit-and-run tactics, many say that by the time AMISOM fire comes back it only succeeds in killing civilians. Unless AMISOM stops responding to insurgent shells, or carries out the tough task of seizing Bakara, accusations of civilian deaths are sure to be repeatedly leveled at the peacekeeping force.

Second Aggressive Anti-Piracy Action In Two Days
Marines Surround Escaping Skiff
©Netherlands Defence Ministry
Marines Surround Escaping Skiff

The Dutch navy has shot dead two suspected Somali pirates and arrested 16 in an operation to free an Iranian dhow, the ministry of defence said in a statement.

The navy said marines on two rigid-hull inflatable boats launched from the HMS Tromp were fired upon as they approached a fishing boat in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday. The marines returned fire, following which ten Somalis attempted to flee in a skiff. After a volley of warning shots, the skiff stopped and the suspects surrendered. Two Somalis were found shot dead on the boat, and a total of sixteen, including ten in the skiff, were arrested. There were no other casualties.

The incident came one day after the United Arab Emirates launched an operation to retake the bulk carrier MV Arrilah-I, owned by Abu Dhabi National Tanker Company, which was taken off the coast of Oman is sailed to Dubai. Special forces were roped onto the ship from specially modified UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to surprise and overcome the pirates.

The HMS Tromp, part of European Union naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden to fight piracy, in April last year freed the MV Taipan, a German container ship, hours after it was seized.

Pirates Surrender to Dutch Marines
©Netherlands Defence Ministry
Pirates Surrender to Dutch Marines

Stiff Sentences Show No Effect On Piracy
Dutch marines capture a group of pirates - File photo
©Netherlands Defence Ministry
Dutch marines capture a group of pirates - File photo

A US Court has sentenced a Somali man to 25 years in prison for piracy, but such sentences are only cracking down on failed pirates, rather than piracy itself.

39-year-old Jama Idle Ibrahim yesterday joined 2,297,400 other prisoners in America's jails when the US District Court for Columbia decided he should serve the maximum penalty of five years in prison on a piracy conspiracy charge, and another maximum penalty of 20 years for firearm conspiracy charge.

The sentence was a foregone conclusion. After being captured in a failed attempt to hijack a warship, Jama pleaded guilty to previously holding the MV CEC Future and its crew from November 7, 2008, to January 16, 2009, successfully collecting $1.7million in ransom for the ship's release.

This was Ibrahim's second conviction, following on from a November, 2010 30-year sentence in Eastern District of Virginia, which came when he pleaded guilty to a very dumb April 10, 2010 attack on the USS Ashland, in the Gulf of Aden. The warship fired back, sinking his skiff. Ibrahim’s “defence” was that the pirates attacked the warship because the vessel they were using to smuggle people sank and they needed a new one. Such candor is refreshing but probably not the best legal strategy.

The sentence from the District of Columbia is to run concurrently with the sentence from Virginia, but it is clear that Ibrahim, if kept in a US penal facility, will be a very expensive guest of the US government for the rest of his useful life.

Jail for pirates all the rage

Ibrahim's sentence is another indication that tough sentencing for pirates in Western courtrooms is becoming the latest legal “must have” to show countries are cracking down or getting tough on piracy. They are not, of course - although such sentences get the headlines. They are getting tough on failed pirates not on the actual crime of piracy.

Somali teenager Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse is another ineffectual pirate who will cost the US taxpayer money in the name of fighting piracy halfway across the world. He is looking forward to 33 years and nine months in a US prison. Muse pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from his role in the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama and the kidnapping of the ship's captain in the Indian Ocean.

His crime was no different than an ugly bank robbery or botched kidnapping. Five-foot-two Muse, one of 12 children, was only 16 when he boarded the Maersk Alabama and terrorized the crew. His father is a pastoralist herder and his mother sells camel milk. Bemused by the attention on his arrival in America, he sobbed when the actual impact of spending most of his life in prison hit home. Not really the profile of a lifer.

There are over 860 pirates currently being held or on trial for their crimes around the world. A new prison has opened up in Somalia (in the semi-autonomous Somaliland, which has taken the UN's dollar and then refused to accept pirates from outwith its own region) and an earnest attempt to shape and enforce laws that deal with the effects of piracy is ongoing.

Ransoms, financiers remain out of the spotlight

However, there is little attempt to make the payment of ransoms illegal, nor is there much publicity about the real beneficiaries of piracy: the financiers. Piracy is not a singular activity. It requires intelligence networks, maritime and land crews, support networks, financing and negotiation. There has yet to be an act of piracy that is not directly linked to the pirates' expectations of large financial payments from insurance companies or ship owners.

Harsh prison sentences have done little to reduce the ardor of pirates and just like steaming large warships in the vast Indian Ocean, they continue to deplete taxpayers money with little demonstrable benefit. It will cost about $210 a day (based on New York State prison costs) to keep Muse in jail. If he completes his full sentence, that will be over $2.5 million dollars at today's costs - not including his trial. Multiply that by the number of pirates on trial and soon to be on trial, and you have a stunningly disproportionate cost when looking at the fixing the root causes of piracy versus prosecuting the after-effects of this singular regional phenomenon.

That is not to say that the sea-going and corporate victims of piracy should not expect swift interdiction and harsh punishment by their governments. It means that we should view the cost and success of every action and in the correct light. For example, the recent sight of the world's most powerful nuclear aircraft carrier and other warships being used against pirates in botched hostage negotiations and the ultimate murder of four Americans on the hijacked SV Quest should give pause to those who assume that swatting one fly with a hammer will prevent other flies from buzzing around the honeypot.

The prevention of piracy lies in a harsh response on the ocean and a realization that much more impact can be achieved with intelligent, cost-effective solutions aimed at the source of the problem. The goal should be to ensure that no Somali sets sail with the intention of armed piracy.

Will “The Boys” Join the Pirates and Hit The Third Rail?
Insurgent in Mogadishu displaying little interest in piracy
©Somalia Report
Insurgent in Mogadishu displaying little interest in piracy

AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter F. Ham recently touted the old line that there are links between militant Islamist group al-Shabaab and piracy, but there is little evidence to support such assertions and the actions of the group seem to point in the opposite direction.

Ham can be excused, since the General has been in the AFRICOM saddle less than a month, but US policy heads commonly drop in a casual mention about the link between piracy and terrorism. Johnnie Carson mentioned that piracy was becoming a transnational problem when he discovered that Yemenis were among the pirates who killed the four American yachtsmen on the SV Quest. He seems to have forgotten the proximity and common linkages between mariners of both neighboring nations.

Despite quips that seem to convey confirmation of “the third rail”, Ham has his sights on the right target.

“There has to be a whole-government approach,” he said, “to deal with their finances and to deal with their activities on shore.”

Carson also has a firm grip on the realities of the Somali situation by pulling back from the TFG and engaging more-successful, less-time consuming political partners in the troubled country. But these off-hand comments seem to be attempts to tie ideological, political or religious terrorism to a crime that is driven purely by profit.

Evidence thin on the ground

The most “conclusive” evidence of an al-Shabaab was presented in December of 2009, when Canadian Intelligence was convinced the group was arming and training pirates in exchange for a slice of the pie.

The Top Secret report by Integrated Threat Assessment Centre maintained that there was a “Islamist extremism-piracy nexus” with al-Shabaab providing “weapons, combat training and local protection” to the Mudug pirates of southern Somalia. In exchange, al-Shabaab was to receive a percentage of the ransoms.

The concept is questionable considering that the locations, skillset and purpose of piracy requires very specific maritime hostile-boarding skills, coastal access and sailing history (al-Shabaab recruits primary from inland camps and southern areas) and also patient ransom negotiation skills with insurance companies or ship owners. Sure, some pirate new hires may have learned how to shoot a gun in al-Shabaab camps, but they can get the same training from the TFG, Puntland Marines, foreign countries and other training programs. The ideology does not transfer, even if the skills do.

Al-Shabaab is neither a maritime-based group nor do its leaders knows anything about the dark secrets of negotiating ransoms with insurance companies. This skill was nurtured in Bosasso during a maritime security training program that fell apart in 2000. If al-Shabaab had these skills, and evidence could be presented, it would make the venerable British maritime insurance providers direct supporters of terrorists and subject to numerous financial, travel and criminal sanctions.

The rumor of links between pirates and terrorists first surfaced in 2008, when al-Shabaab demanded weapons from the hijacked MV FAINA and were rebuffed, then again in 2009 upon the release of a Jane’s Defense report. It also came up in 2010 when al-Shabaab tried to take over Haradhere, but were repelled. In September 2010, Sheikh Mahad Omar Abdikarim, head of Bay and Bakool regions, was reported to have made a call for a “sea jihad” and called upon fighters to attack American ships.

"We have to retaliate against them by sea or by land,” an anonymous source quoted him as saying.

Residents of Kismayo and Barawe insist they saw armed al-Shabaab fighters heading out to sea. Six months later, the lack of any action or proof makes the story seem as foolish as it originally sounded.

Al-Shabaab's supposed slice of the pie

But back to the genesis of this rumor. It comes from no other than Ambassadorial level. Specifically, the very experienced Ambassador David Shinn, now an adjunct professor at the Elliot School of International Affairs at Washington University. It appears that Ambassador Shin ignored his many years in Somalia and adopted this report in a number of Somalia-related public presentations.

He insisted in his speeches that al-Shabaab requires pirates to pay a protection fee of 5 to 10 per cent of any ransom money collected. Additionally, he maintains that if al-Shabaab helps to train the pirates, they receive 20 per cent. He goes on to say that al-Shabaab's share can be as high as 50 per cent if they financed the operation.

These “facts” actually comes from a Jane’s Defense Weekly report, and in reality Ambassador Shinn does not believe there is a direct link between the two groups. His exact quote is: “Let me begin with two caveats. First, all of my information comes from open sources; those of you with access to classified information on this subject may be disappointed with some of the lacunae in my presentation. The best open source reporting I have seen on this topic comes from Jane’s Intelligence Review.”

In the same speech, the ambassador claims a reverse connection: that the pirates actually provide weapons to al-Shabaab using their Yemeni connections: “There is increasing evidence that the pirates are assisting al-Shabaab with arms smuggling from Yemen and two central Asian countries.”

In January of this year Vice Adm. Mark Fox , commander of the Navy’s Bahrain-based Central Command fleet, stated that "al-Shabaab is responsible for a lot of training activity and camps and that sort of thing in Somalia.”

He neatly broke piracy in to eight “action groups”, each with a mother ship and pirates.

“There cannot be segregation between terrorist activity, in my mind, and counter-piracy. We can't be passive and hopeful it doesn't happen. I’m not advocating we suddenly just come out with guns blazing and just change everything,” said Fox. “But I would advocate that we used the same techniques that have been successful in our counter-terror that we have not heretofore used in our counter-piracy.”

Thankfully he does point out that piracy is currently being treated as a law- enforcement activity.

It would appear that the pirates and al-Shabaab are everywhere.

Insurgent group most-effective piracy deterrent

The reality is that local militias like Ali Osman Atto provide land security and the few weapons that are needed by pirates (they are usually rusted and old) are shipped and purchased through the al-Shabaab controlled port in Kismayo.

The real relationship is best defined by the April 8, 2011 attack on Haradhere by al-Shabaab, which drove the pirates north to Hobyo. Those pirates that didn’t flee were arrested by the Islamic group. Al-Shabaab views the pirates as corrosive to their main source of income, which is the port taxes and shipment of goods in Kismayo. The pirates view al-Shabaab as the third rail that will bring down the wrath of America’s well-oiled terrorist killing machine.

The truth is that al-Shabaab has been the only effective land-based deterrent to piracy and the one group that has actively driven them out of pirate ‘dens’ like Haradhere. Not only have they forced the pirates to move their ships far north of Kismayo and Mogadishu, but they have arrested at least 50 pirates in Haradhere - a direct contrast to more apocryphal media stories about al-Shabaab demanding that they have at least two fighters on every pirate ship to ensure fair payment.

Opposing goals

Does al-Shabaab get money from pirates? Yes and no. Al-Shabaab is a divided, diverse group that holds sway in the vacuum of any functioning Somalia government. There can be no doubt that at some point pirate money crosses al- Shabaab hands. But does al-Shabaab dictate, control or fund piracy? Somalia Report has seen no evidence of this, and believes that the two groups are mutually toxic to each other’s existence. The insurgents exist to rid Somalia of outsiders, criminals and western influence. Pirates rely on outsiders, criminals and western influence.

We continue to investigate, probe and keep an open mind, but to date we have found no proof of piracy linked with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab or terrorism. Could the act of piracy be redefined as a terrorist act? Possibly, since the mass kidnapping of innocent multinationals and now the murder of four Americans is terror, but no political, ideological or religious demands have ever been made by pirates. They want money. Pure and simple.

Then there is the very real threat that any hard linkage of piracy to terrorism could unleash the full impact of the US anti-terrorism forces in the region. The US has not been shy about shelling, bombing, shooting and hunting down anyone linked to al-Qaeda. For now, the pundits' favorite fantasy of supertankers being steered by khat-addled suicidal jihadis is still in the realm of Hollywood scriptwriters.

Al-Shabaab not invited to the party

Piracy can only survive as a embarrassingly amoral relationship between ransom payers and ship takers. Each party dutifully maintains a false sense of purpose to condone their acts. The pirates insist they are protecting the seas and the insurance companies insist they are ensuring the safe delivery of crew, ship and cargo. But they both make profits by dancing with the devil. Al-Shabaab has not been invited onto the dance floor.