The Chandler couple, abducted by Somali ocean terrorists well over a year ago off their yacht in international waters, incidentally with a UK naval unit passively standing by and watching the capture, have finally been freed last weekend and since returned via Nairobi, Kenya to the UK. Their yearlong ordeal came to an end after reportedly ransom was paid through intermediaries, as neither special forces units nor the Somali government and local authorities were able to get them out of the hell hole Somalia has become over the years.
While this troubling episode is now finally over with the safe return home of the Chandlers, the threat on the ocean off the Horn of Africa continues and has in fact spread and only recently was a record ransom paid to the ocean terrorists to free another ship, only encouraging them to try it again and again. Presently over 500 crew members of the 23 vessels known of to be still held are at the mercy of the terrorists, held in atrocious conditions often with water, food, and medical supplies at the verge of running out.
Meanwhile, Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, has once again called for more troops to be injected into Somalia, saying what is long now an open “secret” and has been repeatedly stated here, too – it will have to be troops on the ground ending the insurgency and keeping Al Qaida out of Somalia and not naval forces. Uganda presently has already thousands of troops in Somalia under an African Union peace-keeping force, a gross misnomer as there is no peace to keep at right now in Somalia, necessitating a bold change of the troop’s mission mandate and their rules of engagement. For months now, calls have been made unsuccessfully to impose a complete sea and air embargo on Somalia’s lawless territory, and then robustly take down the pirate infrastructure on land, denying them access to the sea while effectively shutting down their retreats and safe havens on shore.
It is a known fact that some of the ransom money has found its way into the Somali offspring of Al Qaida, Al Shabah, and there are more and more indications that there is a regular and increasing flow of those Islamic militants and terrorists between Yemen, located only a couple of miles across the narrow sea strait from Somalia. The latter is, of course, a failed state since the early 1990s and has become a conducive breeding, training, and assembly point for internationally-wanted terrorists from where they plan and instigate acts of terror against the rest of the world.
The freeing of the Chandlers should be a final wake up call to members of the naval coalition, which undoubtedly has done much good so far but not delivered safe passage to ocean traffic, to review their own commitments to the overall mission, and join Ugandan and Burundian troops on the ground to cleanse the country from all pirates and terrorists before helping the many innocent Somalis to elect a legitimate government which can then be supported under a “Somali Marshall Plan” to rebuild the country from its present ruins and reclaim its place in the family of nations.
Only a combined sea and air blockade, with the support of stronger troop levels under clear combat rules, can solve the problem of Somalia. Left only and entirely to “us proxies” Uganda (and Burundi) will not very likely bring an early conclusion to piracy and terrorism nor bring peace to the county’s long suffering population. We, in Uganda, have already suffered twin bombings when Al Shabab hit the city on the eve of the World Cup final and only the extreme vigilance of our security forces, supported by such friendly organizations as the FBI, British, and other security services, have prevented more such incidents. Airlines in Uganda were also warned last week to be extra vigilant, as Al Shabab threats again emerged against the aviation sector, and Uganda should not be left alone to shoulder the burden of a fight which has global dimensions, considering the limited resources we can muster and afford.
Trade, shipping, and relevant to the tourism industry the valuable cruise operations, have all been affected along the Eastern African seaboard, from the Mozambique Channel across the Indian Ocean islands to the Gulf of Aden and beyond towards the Arabian Sea, evasion and protection measures have driven transportation and insurance costs up, making imports and exports more expensive and yet not seeing the piracy, aka ocean terrorism problem, brought under control. Until and unless their land bases and safe havens are being robustly and decisively cleansed of these elements, and Somalia at large be rid of any Al Qaida affiliates, this festering problem will not go away and in fact become worse, should the Islamic radicals begin to infiltrate their neighburs to create new fronts and new theatres of war as they have now started to threaten.