Archive for the ‘Somalia’ Category

Pirate Links

A couple of piracy links. Thomas Wiegold (German link) reports that India is very angry indeed about a group of Italian security men protecting a ship who fired on a fishing boat, thinking she was a pirate skiff, killing several people. Of course, the Indian Navy has form here, having destroyed a Thai trawler in error with the loss of dozens of lives not so long ago.

Wiegold’s blog is usually worth watching (for example, this story), and I’d also recommend this piece, especially as a conference on piracy is coming up in London. It’s been suggested that the EU naval force off Somalia would be allowed to carry out raids against pirates on shore, probably with ship’s light helicopters – here Wiegold quizzes the German foreign ministry spokesman and discovers that the wording in question means “between the high and low water mark”, which is suspiciously specific.

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A good old fashioned gun-running story! With Antonovs, exports from Tuzla, and Bender/Bosasso in Somalia. Fascinating further details.

making an arrest

Remember those Tuareg uranium guerrillas? Back in the summer of 2007, just before the crash, they were busy raiding Chinese prospectors and intriguing with both the French and the Nigerien government. And blogging, ISTR, on their Thuraya satphones.

Now look what’s happened: they’ve been recruited by the Algerians to fight Al-Qa’ida, or more specificially the GSPC, the local affiliate. Few things can be as valuable these days as a good Al-Qa’ida affiliate; I can almost imagine a Mouse that Roared scenario, where some bunch of accidental guerrillas decide to set up as Al-Q so they can make the government an offer to crush them. Almost as good as having communists used to be.

Meanwhile, has anyone else noticed that the West Yorkshire Police has become an actor in Somali politics?

A judge allowed publication for the first time of a deal which saw the Foreign and Home Offices pay the African state, which has no diplomatic ties with London, to seize 29-year-old Mustaf Jama in the desert two years ago, close to his warlord father’s headquarters.

The ambush of Jama’s Land Rover by 15 militiamen nearly failed when a pilot, hired to fly the captured gangster to Dubai, tried to back out, thinking that he was caught up in an anti al-Qaida operation which could bring reprisals.

You could say that again. And Dubai, of course, always Dubai; it’s the opposite of the Somali badlands, a chaotic warzone with too much marble flooring.

In other news, has anyone else noticed that the word “Hezbollah” in Iran essentially translates as “wingnuts”?

Meanwhile, this is good news. As more and more ships from various parts of the world – like China and Iran – arrive in pirate country, somebody’s made vaguely sensible arrangements to put them on trial in Kenya, which is what has been done with the ones captured by Northumberland. This is a much better idea than returning them to the tender mercies of Somali rivals, or alternatively to their home base, or any evil nonsense promoted by tiresome Internet hard men. (You know who you are.)

I’m not sure whether to be pleased, or worried that China and Iran are apparently cooperating in an exercise designed to be more law-abiding than some British courts, and far more so than whole swaths of the US defence establishment. This is incredibly important; I keep saying that a primary reason for the success of some Islamist movements is that they offer some form of legal order, rather than Franz Neumann’s Behemoth.

After all, dogs have an innate appreciation of justice, so we should surely accept that it matters for human beings too. As a modest proposal, now the EU has taken over the lead in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, could we perhaps give the naval task force a further mission – to compel EU-flag fishing vessels to respect the Somali EEZ? (We wouldn’t have legal authority to stop anyone else without a UN resolution, but it’s a start.) I agree they have plenty on their plate, which is why I’m going to make a second modest proposal.

Rather than frigates, EU states participating in this could instead deploy some of their sizeable fleet of amphibious assault ships, with a deckload of helicopters, a dock of small craft, and a tankdeck containing a mix of marines for boarding parties, and medics, engineers etc to support the UN’s aid activities.

Packer vs. Kilcullen in the New Yorker. Here’s the key paragraph:

Police are another main issue. We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing—rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disuptes, inheritances etc.—basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they’re out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt.

Beyond that, I was struck by how much the Gesamteindruck of the whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing John Vann was saying in 1969 or thereabouts – it’s still possible, really it is, and we can probably find a reduction in the number of troops at the same time by realigning completely around a classical counterinsurgency strategy. Kilcullen is hardly optimistic, but he’s still desperately committed. (I think I’ve mentioned before that A Bright Shining Lie was this blog’s secret sauce right back to 2003, when Donald Rumsfeld was still denying there were insurgents in Iraq.)

Now, consider this story; first of all, the Indian navy was being lionised for giving a pirate vessel the good old sturm und drang off Somalia and chastening the eurosexual NATO-weenies. It was like 2006 and the Ethiopian army all over again. However, it was only a few hours before it turned out that the Indians had sunk a Thai trawler which they apparently mistook for a pirate mothership – effectively, they saw a funny looking fisherman and just executed 14 people. Now, it’s very true that foreign trawlers are a big part of the problem. Perhaps the international naval patrol could do something about it, if it can find the ships whilst also dealing with pirates.

But this is no way to do anything; I’ve pointed out before that the recent history of Islamist movements shows that given the choice, people will choose law in general over lawlessness.

Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter.

We’re still offering them the Behemoth; we’re on the wrong side of history, supporting the pirates, Viktor Bout, and a world of bent coppers. The upshot, as Arif Rafiq observes in an instant classic post, is that Pakistan is being turned into Iraq.

An interesting document was turned up in the course of the row about John Brennan, the CIA officer who was the Obama team’s original choice as intelligence chief before he was dropped as being insufficiently opposed to torture, under a volley of criticism from the blogosphere. (“Opposition was mostly confined to liberal blogs,” said the NYT.) Here’s an interview he did with PBS television.

[INTERVIEWER]:Just before 9/11, in that summer and the spring, how hard was Tenet pushing on the terrorism threat?

[BRENNAN]:I think he was pushing at every opportunity he had. … George and [former CTC Director] Cofer [Black] were very much of a mind-set that we can’t sit back and wait; we need to do things. We need to do things in Afghanistan. We need to go after Al Qaeda. We need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban.

George took several trips out to Saudi Arabia and other places to try to gain support from the Arab states to try to put pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden and others. George would knock on any door. He would pursue any course. I think what he was trying to do, prior to 9/11, was to make sure the administration was focused on that.

[INTERVIEWER]: And were they?

I think they were aware of the issue. I don’t think they, in fact, appreciated the seriousness of it, because I think they were trying to get their ducks in a line on a number of fronts to include Iraq prior to 9/11.

You heard the guy – they didn’t appreciate the threat from Al-Qa’ida because they were busy ginning-up a war with Iraq. And who was responsible for this?

[INTERVIEWER]: When did you get the first hints … that there was this movement in the direction of Iraq …?

[BRENNAN]: The train started to leave the station before the election of 2000, with the neocons putting things out. There was a real focus that we needed to do something about Iraq. It was gaining momentum and strength. And with [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi and [former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard] Perle and others feeding those fires, I do think they just had a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of doing something like that.

They’re very outspoken and vocal about the need to take action. It’s easy to execute; if there is criticism that is being made of this administration, [it] is that the decision to take action is only part of the challenge. It’s the follow-through; it’s the strategic planning afterward. Those areas really need to be paid attention to, because the U.S. military [has] no problem as far as just decimating the Iraqi army, but the people like Chalabi and the other neocons, and people like [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith, who I think has a very superficial understanding of some of these issues — I don’t know how much time Doug Feith has spent in the Middle East or in Iraq, but it’s a very, very complex society.

Miaow. So catty you could throw him a ball of wool!

[INTERVIEWER, talking about Paul Pilar and the Iraq NIE]: He told us that … even at the time, he wasn’t aware about how politicized it was, but he was — especially as he looks back on it, especially around the “white paper” — really embarrassed, I think is the word he used at how faulty it was. Did it feel that way at the time, or does it just look that way in hindsight?

[BRENNAN]: At the time there were a lot of concerns that it was being politicized by certain individuals within the administration that wanted to get that intelligence base that would justify going forward with the war.

[INTERVIEWER]: Could I ask you who?

Some of the neocons that you refer to were determined to make sure that the intelligence was going to support the ultimate decision.

Ah, I see. The facts were being fixed around the policy. The intelligence was being, ah, sexed up. Recognising this ought to be the criterion of seriousness for anyone seeking a post in the intelligence/foreign policy complex, or indeed anything else. That Brennan does so and says so openly is a very strong mark in his favour, as is this:

That’s where the issue of maintaining an independent intelligence organization is so critically important, because departments have certain policy objectives and goals. If you have a department such as the Department of Defense that controls the intelligence function as well, there is a great potential for that intelligence to be skewed, either wittingly or unwittingly, in support of policy objectives.

Yes. Yes. Which is also why it’s important to maintain a independent career-path there, like it is in the civil service. I was very surprised to learn that had Brennan been appointed, he would have been a rare bird as a career spook in charge of The Community. Mind you, the three best MI5 chiefs – Guy Liddell, David Petrie, and Martin Furnival-Jones, in my opinion – were respectively an army officer, a cop, and a professional spook, so British experience doesn’t necessarily corroborate this.

Clearly it was right to drop him; but it worries me that getting rid of the neocons and torture fans will require people who are a) clued-in about the intelligence service, b) committed to cleaning up, c) ruthless bureaucratic thugs, and if possible d) personally untainted.

Regarding intelligence and independence, meanwhile, this blog has often said that one of the main reasons why the UK got involved in all this is that we don’t have an independent reconnaissance satellite capability. Out of the major powers in Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy went to the war; neither the UK nor Spain has an imagery satellite, and Italy launched one jointly with France a few months after Iraq. France and Germany both have their own synthetic-aperture radar sats, and didn’t go to the war. Poland, Romania, et al have large armies but no recce capability and they went.

But perhaps this isn’t as significant as it used to be. It appears that The Guardian is the first newspaper to become an independent space-faring power. Seriously.

From a vantage point 423 miles above the Earth, the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden appear tranquil and the 330-metre-long ship sitting low under a £68m cargo looks like a tiny green cigar floating on an inky ocean.

These pictures, taken by a satellite commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second, show the Sirius Star, the Saudi supertanker which 12 days ago became the biggest prize ever seized by the Somali pirates who have claimed the Gulf of Aden as their hunting ground.

I love the “commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second” bit. That’s incredibly science-fiction, and in a good way – Arthur C. Clarke would be delighted. This has been possible for some time; who else remembers poring over GlobalSecurity.org’s IKONOS or DigitalGlobe shot of the day in the bullshit-rockin’ autumn of 2001? But as far as I know, this is the first attempt by a media organisation to acquire overhead imagery on an operational timescale. Hey, it’s Tim Worstall’s worst nightmare – Polly Toynbee in spaaace!

What might have happened or not happened had somebody tried this earlier is a very interesting question. Of course, finding the Sirius Star is a fairly easy challenge – we know where to look, she is a huge and unambiguous target, and she is nicely contrasting with the sea in a part of the world where the skies are usually clear. We still need SAR capability of our own, quite possibly more than we need Trident, and IKONOS won’t sell you that.

I was wondering what might be going on in Somalia; we’re getting a surprising number of lifts a day from the UAE to Puntland/Somaliland (Hargeisa and Berbera) with Tenir AL and British Gulf International Company (not BGIA) call signs. And then this hits the wires via Reuters DeathWatch:

BAIDOA, Somalia, Feb 24 (Reuters) – Heavily armed Somali rebels killed seven government troops and wounded eight others after briefly occupying a southern town on Sunday in the latest show of strength by the nation’s Islamists.

The latest UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia is out. BBC News reports that Eritrea is accused of sending the ex-ICU large quantities of weapons aboard a chartered Boeing 707. Looking up the report, it turns out to be 9G-OAL, serial no. 19350, registered to a Ghanaian firm, Aerogem Aviation. Aerogem was contacted by the Group, and blamed a lessee of the plane, Fab Air. Fab Air (ICAO: FBA) is a Kyrgyz company based in Sharjah (natch), whose Kyrgyz AOC was revoked in January.

The 1966-vintage 707-324C has form, lots of form; from January 1996 she was working for Viktor Bout’s Air Cess, before going on lease to Pamir Air, based in Mazar-i-Sharif while Bout and Chris Barrett-Jolley were working for Abdul Rashid Dostum (all the other aircraft there ended up with Santa Cruz Imperial/Flying Dolphin/Dolphin Air/Phoenix Aviation/AVE in Sharjah), before working for Johnsons Air (see here, here , here, and here) in Ghana as 9G-OLD (well, that’s about right).

Fab Air’s only recorded aircraft, An-12BK UN-11376, serial no. 8345805, spent June to October 2005 working for Royal Air Cargo with the BGIA Boyz.

Amusingly, the report refers to the US AC-130 raid inside Somalia, and the US representative’s response was as follows:

Regarding
the above-mentioned operations, the United States also states that paragraph 5 of
resolution 733 (1992) requires general and complete embargo on all deliveries of
weapons and military equipment to Somalia and that it did not believe “that these
operations against known terrorist targets constituted ‘delivery’ of a weapon within
the plain meaning of this paragraph”

I suppose you could say that. Interestingly, the ICU government saw the market price of a ZSU-23 flak gun in Somalia fall from $70,000 to around $10,000, but it’s far from clear whether this was due to increased supply or reduced demand. (It has since rebounded to $25,000.)

There’s also an old friend in there – the report includes a copy of a bill of sale for the Ilyushin-76 UN-76496, once of Viktor Bout’s GST Aero Air Company. Evgeny Zakharov of Aerolift Ltd, a Virgin Islands company, sold the plane to “Eriko Enterprises” of 117 Waisay Street, Massawa, Eritrea. Aerolift, a Sierra Leone-registry UAE-based company, went out of business after being blacklisted in March, 2006.

No beheadings in this story, though. Congolese radio station aims to give a microphone to those whose voices have never been heard before. I liked this line:

The show’s technicians – after getting caught in Army-militia crossfire twice – finally managed to put up antennas in the region’s more remote rain forest areas. So now the signal is strong across Ituri…

There’s something inescapably magical about radio – a few years earlier and it would have been indistinguishable from steampunk, or even clockpunk. The German secret agent Wilhelm Wassmuss, operating in southern Iran during the First World War, lost part of his radio gear in an ambush, but kept going, impressing the locals with the sparking transmitter and claiming to be talking directly to the Kaiser. Now, in some parts of Africa, people build towers so they can climb up and get GSM service although they are out of range at ground level, and SW Radio Africa gets round Zimbabwean government jamming of its HF signal by bulk-SMSing its listeners.

Speaking of which, what about this tale? The Zimbabwean government claimed it had obtained 3,000 Angolan paramilitary police to help it cling to power. The Angolan interior minister was quoted as agreeing. Now they deny it. I can see a few possibilities – the Zimbabweans are lying in order to frighten their people with foreign killers, it’s real and they need to import thugs…or is this more like the 3,000 Spanish marines on standby for the Wonga Coup in Equatorial Guinea? Perhaps they are coming, but their mission won’t be what Mugabe wants.

In the meantime, they do keep shooting down those IL-76s in Mogadishu, don’t they? The lost aircraft are EW-78826/serial 1003499991 and EW-78849/serial 1013405192 of Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines, Belarus. Which, in fact, doesn’t seem to be a Viktor Bout company at all.

No beheadings in this story, though. Congolese radio station aims to give a microphone to those whose voices have never been heard before. I liked this line:

The show’s technicians – after getting caught in Army-militia crossfire twice – finally managed to put up antennas in the region’s more remote rain forest areas. So now the signal is strong across Ituri…

There’s something inescapably magical about radio – a few years earlier and it would have been indistinguishable from steampunk, or even clockpunk. The German secret agent Wilhelm Wassmuss, operating in southern Iran during the First World War, lost part of his radio gear in an ambush, but kept going, impressing the locals with the sparking transmitter and claiming to be talking directly to the Kaiser. Now, in some parts of Africa, people build towers so they can climb up and get GSM service although they are out of range at ground level, and SW Radio Africa gets round Zimbabwean government jamming of its HF signal by bulk-SMSing its listeners.

Speaking of which, what about this tale? The Zimbabwean government claimed it had obtained 3,000 Angolan paramilitary police to help it cling to power. The Angolan interior minister was quoted as agreeing. Now they deny it. I can see a few possibilities – the Zimbabweans are lying in order to frighten their people with foreign killers, it’s real and they need to import thugs…or is this more like the 3,000 Spanish marines on standby for the Wonga Coup in Equatorial Guinea? Perhaps they are coming, but their mission won’t be what Mugabe wants.

In the meantime, they do keep shooting down those IL-76s in Mogadishu, don’t they? The lost aircraft are EW-78826/serial 1003499991 and EW-78849/serial 1013405192 of Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines, Belarus. Which, in fact, doesn’t seem to be a Viktor Bout company at all.