I have in the past expressed specific concerns on the situation along the Somali coastline and made specific recommendations to improve security of the sea-lanes in international waters. While the UN eventually gave a limited mandate to naval coalition forces operating in the area, this does not seem enough, now that a super tanker was captured way off the Kenyan coast recently.
The rules of engagement have to be changed, as the pirates and their supporters continue to have safe haven in Somalia and have now spread their work deeper into international waters, as the capture of another freighter off the Yemeni coast during the week amply demonstrates.
Coalition forces moved into the area, with a major base in Djibouti, following the 9/11 attacks to prevent the free flow of terrorists and sympathizers from the Arabian peninsula to Africa and vice versa. Latest reports link al-Qaida and their supporters to the advance of their Somali militias towards the Somali capital Mogadishu, now once again controlling much of the lawless country after having initially been put on the run by Ethiopian troops, which invaded to remove a clear and present danger to their own national security. Money seems to have found their way from the pockets of pirates to the Islamic militants, making ransom a major source of funding for the purchase of weapons, ammunition and other supplies and keeping the civil war in Somalia going at full speed.
While global attention towards Africa is focusing right now on the Congo situation, things clearly have slipped in Somalia, where Uganda incidentally remains the main contributor of troops to an African Union peace keeping force, which however is now in charge of less and less territory.
The coalition naval forces need to be given fresh rules of engagement to be able to seek out and destroy the pirates‚ nests along the Somali coast. Once their land bases are destroyed the pirates, or should one not call them terrorists, will find operations more difficult if not impossible.
Shock and awe was the favorite military strategy when going into Iraq in 2003, against much of the world opinion at the time it must be stressed. The war on terror in Afghanistan suffered greatly as a result, and a new front has now opened along the Horn of Africa, providing training camps, safe haven and shelter to terrorists and their supporters, not much different of what Afghanistan was under the Taliban.
A fresh UN mandate must include the ability of the coalition forces for search and destroy missions inside Somalia and as amply demonstrated in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the hardware exists to monitor and then hit targets. Aerial surveys of the ocean and the Somali coast need to be intensified and more naval ships need to be deployed under one command and for one purpose. The French have on several occasions used Special Forces to free their captured nationals, providing a good example of what can be achieved by determined action.
The pirates’ egos have clearly been boosted by their recent successes but it is time to give them a taste of shock and awe‚. General security but also the safety of the sea-lanes is a matter of concern not just to the East African countries, bordering Somalia and beyond, but it must be a matter of serious concern to the rest of the world too. Certainly we in Eastern Africa do not need a second Afghanistan in our own back yard. Cut out the cancer now before the disease‚ spreads any further.