The recent arrests in Australia of several Somali-born Australian citizens once again demonstrate the global reach of this festering problem originating from the Horn of Africa. The entire east African region is under increasing threat by Islamic militants who congregated in the war-torn country, following in the footsteps of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.
The piracy problem was long underestimated or played down, and the covert involvement of Eritrea in supplying arms, ammunition, and other supplies – no involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict has been proven yet – has the alarm bells ringing with the African Union and the coalition partners based in Djibouti.
Earlier in the week, a German vessel being held hostage was released after a reported US$2.5+ million was dropped onto the ship from a light aircraft, and similar payoffs reportedly also helped to free other ships.
What is often overlooked, however, is the use of such money beyond the individual greed of the pirates. Much of the funds so extracted are rumored to find their way into the coffers of the militants to help them to buy arms, ammunition, and other supplies, beyond what is provided freely by their political godfathers and supporters, based in countries known to continue to sponsor and support terrorism.
A few weeks ago, German Special Forces were called back over emerging issues about rules of engagement, while they were already in the air towards their intended targets. These special commandos were reportedly well on the way to take the held ship by force and free the hostages before returning to their base inside Kenya.
Some participating nations with the coalition naval forces that are now patrolling the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, and the Red Sea continue to operate under orders not to arrest pirates spotted unless they are fired upon, or only if the pirates are suspected to have captured a vessel operating under their own home flag.
It is time now to enter into a more robust forward defense against these pirates and terrorists, giving the naval forces clearer and more aggressive operating parameters, and effectively blockade Somalia and Eritrea to stop the flow of illegal arm shipments. At the same time, neighboring countries need logistical and intelligence support to secure their land borders with Somalia to halt the potential flow of terrorists into those countries where they could wreak havoc in revenge.
Ethiopia reacted some time ago to these threats against their national security and continues to play an important role in the fight against militants and terrorists, in spite of having withdrawn their initial fighting forces back into their own territory. Yet, they remain under attack, and it is understood, from usually well-informed sources, that they may re-enter the conflict, and if so, hopefully with an international mandate.
Uganda is already the largest contributor of troops for the AU “peace-keeping” mission, itself a misnomer considering that the Islamic militias are not at all interested in the type of peace the international community intends to propagate and for which purpose the AU sent forces in the first place.
Hence, Somalia could well become another Afghanistan in the making, and the sooner this is recognized, the better. East African economies are already said to have lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of piracy, and still the pirates enjoy safe havens in their hideouts along the coast line of the Indian Ocean.
How long can the world afford to just watch things from the sidelines before some serious action is taken against pirates and terrorists in Somalia? Does it really take another major successful terror attack in Europe, North America, Asia, or Australia? The Jakarta bombings should be the final wake-up call that the world continues to face a real and present danger, originating also from Somalia, and not just Afghanistan and their border regions with Pakistan or other known terrorist breeding grounds and hotbeds. The global anti-terror alliance is already present in Djibouti, and the time to act is now, not when it is too late. Eastern Africa, and the rest of the world, will be grateful, even if they don’t know it yet.
Maybe US State Secretary Hillary Clinton’s presence in Nairobi this week for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA Summit will aid in discussing the Somalia issue with the regional leaders to come up with a better strategy and way forward. The hopes and aspirations for peace of tens of millions of east Africans depend on it.