Despite an appeal for intervention from neighboring Niger, on Monday officials in France announced that, for the time being, they ruled out Western military action against Islamist fighters in southern Libya.
Asked about Niger’s recent call for action, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated Monday that there was no question of putting foreign troops into a region that the United States has identified as an increasingly worrisome new haven for al-Qaeda-linked militants. However the French Minister further noted that while France has ruled out Western military action, Western powers are aware of the problem and are drawing up plans in order to help the Libyan government deal with this issue.
Speaking in Paris, Mr Fabius stated “…we are going to have an international meeting in Rome at the beginning of March to give Libya more help because its true that there are terrorists gathering in the south.” Mr Fabius further indicated that officials from Britain, Germany, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and the United States were all involved in talks on aid the Libyan government, adding “we have to fight terrorism everywhere….That does not mean we have to have people on the ground, it means we have to help governments that want to get rid of terrorism, which is the case with the Libyan government.”
The response by officials in France comes after Niger last week called on the West to finish the job they had begun in Libya by dealing with those Islamist groups that have established bases in the southern region of the country since the 2011 overthrow of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi. The call by the Niger government comes shortly after an annual intelligence report, released in December 2013, which indicated that the United States had stated that southern Libya had become an “incubator” for terrorism in a “hothouse” region and described a possible intervention as “within the bounds of the possible.”
A poor, but mineral-rich former French colony, Niger has had to contend with numerous Islamist attacks and kidnappings on its own soil, some of which have threatened the security of its uranium production.
United States Defence officials confirmed on Monday that the US military had launched a missile strike in Somalia on Sunday, targeting a suspected al-Shabaab militant leader.
According to one of the officials, an unmanned drone launched the missile in the late evening hours on Sunday. The strike was carried out in the south-eastern port town of Barawe – an al-Shabaab stronghold located south of the capital, Mogadishu. Pentagon officials have stated that the target was a senior leader of both al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. Local residents have reported that al-Shabaab commander Sahal Iskudhuq and four others were killed as they were travelling in a convoy, which was hit by the missile, adding that al-Shabaab fighters later cordoned off the area. Iskudhuq is said to be have close ties with al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane and has a large number of fighters under his control. US officials however have not made any confirmations, only indicating that “the US is assessing the results of the operation,” and that the US government has “been tracking this individual for years.” Al-Shabaab has also not commented on the incident.
The US strike comes at a time when al-Shabaab has called for renewed attacks against foreign forces, after Ethiopia joined the African Union force that is battling the militant group and US officials confirmed the deployment of troops to Somalia. In the fall of last year, the US sent a handful of military advisers to Somalia to help bolster the African Union force. The deployment marked the first stationing of US troops in Somalia since 1993, when two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and eighteen Americans were killed. There have been no confirmations as to whether or not this team was involved in the planning of this recent military operation.
While the US has not deployed troops to Somalia since the 1993 incident, it has however carried out a number of operations that have targeted al-Shabaab commanders.
In 2008, a US air strike killed al-Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro. More recently, in October 2013, US Navy SEAL Team Six aborted a pre-dawn raid in Barawe after an intense fire fight prevented them from reliably taking the suspect alive. The target of that operation was al-Shabaab commander Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, alias Ikrima.
Just weeks after Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant, issued a warning about the ongoing threat from piracy, there have been two more piracy-related incidents that have occurred off the coat of Somalia. The first incident occurred on 5 November, when EU Naval Force German frigate, FGS Niedersachsen prevented ten suspected pirates from getting far out to sea. During a piracy patrol, the FGS Niedersachsen located two small vessels, a whaler towing a skiff, close to the Somali coast. The warship’s crew members were able to observe that the whaler was carrying ten pirates along with over ten fuel barrels and two long ladders. When the German frigate approached the whaler in order to carry out a further investigation, crew members observed the men dropping ladders into the sea before heading back towards the shoreline. While the whaler made its approach towards the beach, approximately eighty people were seen on land, with some wading out in order to assist the pirates in bring the boats back onto the beach. The German frigate continues to monitor the beach, which quickly became deserted after the incident. The second incident occurred on 6 November when a merchant ship, located 460 miles south-east of Mogadishu, had to repel an attack from five armed pirates. A Hong Kong-flagged chemical tanker, enroute from Saudi Arabia to Mozambique, was fired upon by five pirates in a fast-moving skiff. The private armed security team on board the vessel was able to repel the attack. Naval forces immediately closed the sea area in an attempt to locate the suspects. In light of these two incidents, Rear Admiral Bob Tarrant has stated that “it is clear that Somali pirates still have the intent and capability to get out to sea to attack ships and take crews for ransom. These attacks not only cause misery to ships‘ crews and their families, they also generate instability in world trade and humanitarian aid routes. Naval counter piracy forces and the maritime shipping industry must remain vigilant so that these pirates do not succeed.”
- None reported during this period.
- 9 November 2013 – A merchant vessel was attacked in position 07:20S – 048:37E, approximately 278 nautical miles north of Madagascar at 1400 UTC. Merchant vessels are advised to proceed with caution when traversing the area.
- 6 November 2013 – Hong Kong-flagged product tanker, Zhongji No. 1, reported being attacked at 0330 UTC in position 05:31S – 047:07E, approximately 400 nautical miles north of Madagascar. One skiff had five pirates on board, with ladders signed. Suspected pirates were also heavily armed. The alarm on board the tanker was raised, crew members alerted, fire pumps started, speed increased, evasive maneuvers made, SSAS alert activated and authorities informed. The pirates fired at the tanker and the armed security team on board returned fire. The skiff later aborted the attack and moved away. The vessel and crew members are reported safe.
- 2 November 2013 (Late Report) – India-flagged oil tanker, Desh Mahima, reported being approached by three suspicious skiffs travelling at a high speed at 1614 UTC in position 14:34N – 042:10E, heading 330 deg 12 knots. Six pirates on board each skiff were sighted along with ladders. The Master of the vessel order increase of speed, activated the SSAS, mustered the crew members into the citadel, used evasive maneuvers and anti-piracy measures, including the firing of flares. The resulted in the skiffs moving away from the vessel.
- 27 October 2013 (Late Report) – Bulk carrier was approached by two skiffs at 1120 UTC in position 13:15N – 043:01E, Gulf of Aden. Skiffs were colored white and blue, with five to six pirates on board each skiff. The skiffs closed to 100m. Ladders, described as 10m long with hooks on one end, were sighted on board the skiffs. Armed security team on board the vessel displayed their weapons, resulting in the skiffs moving away. Vessel and crew members have been reported safe.
- 8 November 2013 – Bahamas-flagged oil tanker reported two suspicious skiffs approached port side at fast speeds at 1115 UTC while in position 17:52.37N – 056:56.45E, approximately 30 nautical miles off the coast of Oman. Armed security team on board the vessel stood to, showing their presence in front of the bridge as the vessel implemented security measures. Skiffs continued to approach the tanker to around 200 meters. A total of seven pirates were seen on board the skiffs, which closed to 100 meters. However no weapons were observed onboard the skiffs. Armed security team displayed their weapons, resulting in the skiffs moving towards the starboard side. The skiffs later moved towards the stern and were monitored until out of range at 1145 UTC.
GULF OF GUINEA
- None reported during this period.
- None reported during this period.
- 7 November 2013 – Ten pirates armed with guns and knives boarded and hijacked a Panama-flagged oil tanker, GPT 21, underway at 0330 LT in position 01:20.6N – 103:18.2E, around 7.3 nautical miles west of Pulau Kukup, Malaysia. The pirates tied up all the crew members and held them hostage in one cabin. They later ordered the Master to steer the ship to a pre-designated position. Another unknown orange-hulled tanker came alongside and the pirates forced the C/O to use the cargo pumps, valves and mooring winches to transfer the oil into the unknown tanker. At around 1600 LT, the pirates disembarked after transferring and stealing all the gas oil on board the GPT 21. Prior to leaving, the pirates also stole the crew members personal belongings.
- 4 November 2013 – Duty crew on board an anchored chemical tanker spotted two boats nearby at 1230 LT in position 03:54N – 098:46E, Belawan Anchorage, Indonesia. Robbers attempted to board the tanker via anchor chain but alerted crew thwarted the boarding. A second boat, which was hidden near the propeller, could not be chased away by crew members who were using the fire hoses. The propeller was turned on, resulting in the robbers moving away. The robbers were spotted with some stolen hull anodes in their boat. Port Control was informed of the incident.
- 2 November 2013 (Late Report) – Fifteen armed robbers boarded an anchored Indian-flagged container ship, Jindal Tara, at 0330 LT in position 21:40N – 088:01E, Sagar Anchorage, India. D/O noticed the robbers stealing the ship’s stores and raised the alarm. Seeing the alerted crew, the robbers jumped overboard and escaped.
- 23 October 2013 (Late Report) – While at anchor, robbers boarded a Denmark-flagged chemical tanker, Torm Fox, at 0025 LT in position 07:06S – 112:40 E, Gresik Inner anchorage, Surabaya, Indonesia. The roving patrol shouted at the robbers upon seeing them. The forward horn was sounded and the crew members were informed about the robbers. The robbers immediately escaped in a small boat. An inspection was conducted in order to check for stowaways and damages.
- 22 October 2013 (Late Report) – While at anchor, robbers boarded a Thailand-flagged LPG tanker, Senna 3, at 1545 LT in position 22:49.80N – 070:06.30E, Kandla Port anchorage, India. Robbers boarded the vessel from the starboard bow. Upon discovering the robbers, the emergency alarm was raised and the crew members attempted to expel the robbers. The robbers threatened the crew with a knife before escaping. Cash and the ship’s spare parts were stolen.
- 21 October 2013 (Late Report) – While at anchor, robbers boarded a Singapore-flagged tun, Svitzer Kallang, at 0300 LT in position 01:22.73N – 104:42.24E, approximately 11.7 nautical miles northeast of Tanjung Berakit, Pulau Bintan, Indonesia. Robbers were discovered by the Master in the mess room. The robbers threatened him with an iron lance, later escaping with a laptop, portable welding machine, fire axe, generator spare parts and filters. Following the incident, the Master raised the general alarm and the crew members conducted security patrols. SPOCC initiated a broadcast to alert mariners. The Police Coast Guard and Singapore Navy were informed of the incident.
- 17 October 2013 (Late Report) – While underway, robbers from two small crafts boarded a Panama-flagged tug, Miclyn Opal, at 1320 UTC in position 01:13.79N – 104:04.62E, approximately 1.45 nautical miles North of Pulau Nongsa (Batam), Indonesia. Robbers boarded astern of the barge that was being towed and stole the emergency towing wire. The Singapore Navy was informed of the incident.
- 12 October 2013 (Late Report) – While underway, robbers boarded a Saint Barthelemy (France)-flagged barge carrier, Westsea 95, at 0235 LT in position 01:14N – 103:59E, Eastbound lane of Singapore Strait (TSS) while being towed by a tugboat on route to Lampung, Indonesia. All crew members were mustered to the accommodation deck. Master instructed the crew to lock the watertight door and entrance of the tug boat from inside. The roving patrol shouted at the robbers. After being noticed by the crew in the tugboat, the robbers escaped onboard a small boat and took with them a stern railing, emergency tow line and a Norwegian buoy.
Diplomats indicated on Wednesday that the UN Security Council is expected to soon authorize 4,000 more troops in order to boost the African force that is battling resurgent al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. According to reports, the council is likely to allow a new upper limit of about 22,000 troops for the African Union force, which is known as AMISOM. During a recent Security Council meeting on Somalia, which specifically focused on efforts to support the country’s interim government, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that advances made by the African force, along with the Somali army, had “ground to a halt” because it lacked a sufficient number of troops. According to the UN Deputy, al-Shabaab “is mobile and is training and recruiting substantial numbers of frustrated, unemployed young men.” During the meeting, the UN Deputy reaffirmed an earlier call made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union for “a significant temporary boost” to AMISOM’s numbers. In a recent report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General indicated that there is an urgent need to reinforce AMISOM in order to move into southern Somalia to “deny Shebaab the opportunity to raise resources and to forcefully recruit and train personnel.” Britain is drawing up a resolution on increasing the force, which is expected to be voted by the Security Council in mid-November. The resolution would effectively allow for an increase of about 4,000 troops in order to allow an upper limit for AMISOM of about 22,000 troops. The call for an increase in troops comes amidst mounting warning pertaining to al-Shabaab’s increasing threat after the Nairobi shopping mall attack last month. While the AMISOM force, along with the Somali army, have pushed al-Shabaab militants out of the capital city, along with other major cities, over the past eighteen months, al-Shabaab has been able to regroup and stage large and elaborate attacks, such as the one on Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 17. In turn, suicide bombers have been able to stage attacks in Mogadishu, which is government controlled. If the increase in troops is to pass in a Security Council vote, the new deployment of troops will likely be tasked with focusing on removing al-Shabaab militants from the southern region of Somalia, particularly from their new stronghold of Barawe. In recent weeks, the town has been the focus of two missions carried out by US forces. The first focused on targeting a senior al-Shabaab commander, known as Ikrima, while the second, a drone strike, killed three al-Shabaab commanders, including the militant group’s top bomb-maker. In turn, sources indicate that al-Shabaab militants stationed in Barawe have been planning attacks not only throughout the rest of the country, but regionally as well.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Somalia’s President visited the southern port city of Kismayo on Thursday, which is a former al-Shabaab stronghold that is now controlled by a warlord who has long been opposed to the region being controlled by the central government in Mogadishu. While no further details of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s visit have been released by his spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, the trip does signal a step forward in relations with the breakaway region. Shortly after the President’s visit, al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab boasted that the group’s militants fired dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the “infidel leader,” however officials have dismissed this claim. The president’s spokesman later confirmed that “there was no mortar attacks at Kismayo airport contrary to al-Shabaab claims.” The visit also comes amidst efforts to increase support for the central government and is seen as a bid to combat the threat from al-Shabaab militants who continue to control large areas around the port city. Kismayo, which is patrolled by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean troops from the African Union force, is controlled by the Ras Kamboni militia of warlord Ahmed Madobe, who has claimed leadership over the southern semi-autonomous region of Jubbaland. The region lies in the far south of Somalia, bordering both Kenya and Ethiopia, and its control is split between multiple forces including clan militias, al-Shabaab and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabaab forces currently control their last major port at Barawe, which is located some 250 kilometers northeast of Kismayo. However African Union forces are moving closer to capturing control of the town. Taking Barawe would result in al-Shabaab loosing a vital area and in turn, it would link up AU forces who are currently split between Jubbaland and Mogadishu.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.