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Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
America and maritime piracy in SomaliaThe maritime piracy acts off the Somali coast have since 1991 started to gradually spread from the coasts to the high seas and deep oceans. It has also been noticed that these piracy operations are not initiated and concluded in the whole of Somalia, but in the area close to the coast of Puntland, specifically the Port of Eyl, located in a very remote mountainous region. After it succeeded in separating Somaliland from the rest of Somalia in 1991, Ethiopia, supported by the US, incited some of the heads of the tribes in the Puntland region, under the leadership of Abdullahi Yusuf (the current Somali president) and provided them with the funds and weapons they needed, to help achieve the project of separating Puntland from the unified Somalia in 1998. Ethiopia, supported by the CIA and under the pretext of fighting terrorism, continues to train the militias, provide them with weapons and pays the security officers in the Puntland in order to maintain the status quo. Piracy has never reached this worrying level, nor did it ever manifest itself in this fashion throughout the 30 years of Somalia’s existence. In fact, when the Islamic courts seized the reins of power between June and December 2006, they managed to destroy the last bastion of the pirates including the Port of Harardheere, situated in the northeast of Somalia within the Puntland Republic and deemed as one of the most important bases of the pirates who attack vessels crossing the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. This proves that the presence of a central government or an authority that enjoys popular support is the best guarantee to protect stability domestically and security in the Somali territorial waters. However, after the collapse of the Somali state in 1990 and the downfall of Siad Barre’s regime, the 3700 kilometres Somali coast - the longest in Africa - has become a breeding ground that Western companies and international crime gangs use to dispose of nuclear, chemical and industrial waste, which is forbidden by international law, not to mention the plundering of the Somali maritime resources, particularly fish. Some of the armed groups found in intercepting and intimidating fishing vessels and cruise ships a lucrative prey. They used to recoup huge sums of money, but these were considered insignificant if compared to the millions that the fishing companies used to gain from fishing freely in the Somali territorial waters. Thus, the two parties agreed quietly on trading their respective interests with the full knowledge and support of the states sponsoring them.
Over time, pirates became more skilled as they used the latest Hi-Tech equipment such as satellite phones and GPS, not to mention the use of speed boats with very powerful outboards motors, extending their operational field to reach more than 200 kilometres deep into the Indian Ocean. Many people took up this lucrative trade, enjoying the tacit blessing of the Puntland local authorities, who washed their hands of any responsibility towards this security issue, claiming that they lacked the necessary means to tackle it. This led to a record number of vessels being robbed and hijacked in sophisticated operations. Indeed, according to western figures issued by the International Maritime Bureau, the Somali pirates have attacked more than 60 vessels since 2008. However, what raises suspicion and bafflement is the mobilisation of NATO forces led by the US, and even Russian forces with their huge fleets to pursue individuals who, despite the media hypes, are only using light arms. These western moves came in response to two UN Security Council resolutions: 1 - Resolution 1816 of 2nd June 2008, giving American warships operating under a NATO umbrella the green light to pursue the pirates within the Somali territorial waters, in the context of aiming at repressing the piracy acts that have grown bolder off the Horn of Africa. 2 - Resolution 1838 issued in October and calling upon all states to use the necessary means, in high seas and the airspace facing Somalia, in line with international law, to repress the sharply growing acts of piracy.
Pursuant to the second Security Council resolution, France, the current president of the European Union, organised in late October an unofficial meeting for the European defence ministers in the French town of Deauville. The European defence ministers agreed to dispatch a fleet of 3 warships, 3 surveillance aircrafts and a supply ship to operate permanently off the Somali shores with the operating room to be overseen by Rear Admiral Phillip Jones from London. The campaign was dubbed “Operation Atlanta” and it would be executed in cooperation with the Russian warship Neustrashimy. Indeed, a European task force called “UNAVFOR” and consisting of 6 battleships and 3 reconnaissance aircrafts assumed officially patrolling the Somali waters and the Gulf of Eden on 8 December 2008. The theme of its task was “surveillance, deterrence and protection” within an area of 1 million square kilometres, according to Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief.
Now, the question is: what are the real motives behind such a heavy presence of international forces in the region? The answer is as follows:
1 – America is using the issue of piracy as an excuse to take over the Red Sea by deploying her troops in Bab el-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden. To be more specific:
The heavy multinational military presence in the south of the Red Sea, under the guise of fighting piracy, is nothing but a manoeuvre to justify the project of internationalising the Red Sea; since the piracy phenomenon has been sharply increasing of late, albeit under a heavy American military presence in the region, and with no action taken against it, this most probably means that the American presence in the Red Sea – under the guise of international law - will be permanent, as it will be linked to fighting piracy, which will remain rife as long as chaos remain in Somalia, in the absence of powerful central government.
The Yemeni authorities may find in the piracy acts their justifications in the face of domestic opposition to comply with the repeated American and French requests to establish maritime radar surveillance systems in the Yemeni islands, under the pretext of fighting terrorism and piracy, especially after the 2000 attack on the American destroyer SS Cole, and the 2003 attack on the French oil tanker “Mirage”. If America succeeds in securing these demands in Yemen, she will strengthen her grip on the oil wells and the transportation routes and she will be prepared to take a pre-emptive action against the rise of the Islamic State.
2 – It was America who inspired Ethiopia to support the breakaways’ efforts of the “Somaliland Republic” in the northwest and the “Puntland Republic” in the northeast, and yet she would not dare recognise these two provinces as independent from Somalia. However, the piracy issue may pave the way for this recognition, which would first come from the states of the region under the guise of holding meetings of Red Sea and Eastern African states such as Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Kenya. The significance of such recognition in the shape of a federation or a confederation stems from America’s desire to obtain military facilities in the seaports of the two provinces and to sign concessionary economic contracts with them. America wants also from this recognition to underpin her territorial and maritime presence in the region in order to protect the National Coalition, which she lured the Islamic Courts -Djibouti Branch led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed into establishing as an alternative to the frail and collapsing government. Hence, under the pretence of preserving domestic peace and stability in Somalia, America succeeded in manipulating the leaderships of the Islamic Courts and dividing its ranks, after the power-sharing accord they had signed with the government on 26 October 2008 under the auspices of the United Nations. America believes that her military presence will be reinforced by the clause in the accord stipulating a gradual withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces by 2009.
Besides, the Shabab Mujahedeen Movement and the Asmara Branch of the Islamic Courts led by Hassan Daher Aways among others, rejected this accord and vowed to pursue their struggle until the occupation is expelled and its collaborating government is toppled. This will deplete the faculties of these groups and will justify an affective presence of fighters from outside Somalia, once they are subjected to US strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their presence will give America an added pretext to set up military bases in Eastern Africa, especially in the Horn of Africa.
America’s blessing of the accord between the Somali government and the Islamic Courts’ Djibouti wing led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed emanates from the desire of the American political decision-makers to secure the oil supply routes through a military presence in the region and at the same time, integrate a section of the Islamic Courts into the Somali ruling structure in order to absorb the popular anger, once a calculated withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces away from Mogadishu to certain strategic positions along the borders is completed. Hence, while the Islamic courts are engrossed in the power game and in fighting the Asmara Wing and the Shabab Movement (who both rejected the Accord), America and the multinational forces will protect the acts of plundering the Somali maritime resources and dumping nuclear and industrial waste along the Somali shores. They will also protect oil supply and shipping routes lest maritime transport companies are forced to alter their sailing routes from the Gulf of Eden to the Cape of Good Hope, thus incurring further shipping costs and delays in delivering their cargoes.
23 December 2008