Africa Maritime Updates

With so much in the news this month, it’s been¬†easy to overlook the¬†interesting events¬†occurring in and around the water of today’s¬†most dynamic continent.

Somali Piracy remains practically non-existent this year, thanks to the continued presence of armed security detachments on commercial vessels.  While commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden is relatively safe, hundreds of smaller private sailing vessels and motor yachts remain unable to transit the area because they simply can’t afford armed security.

Two years ago this month,¬†U.S. and NATO forces were¬†pounding away at¬†Libya’s¬†armed forces and pretty much totaled Gadhafi’s Navy.¬†¬†Earlier this month,¬†Royal Navy frigate¬†HMS Kent¬†made an unprecedented¬†good will visit to the port of Tripoli.¬† Other countries¬†such as¬†France and Malta have been helping Libya to rebuild its naval forces, which are critical for patrolling the country’s 2,000 kilometer coast line, interdicting smugglers¬†and migrants trying to reach Europe, and securing the export of more than 1.3 million barrels per day of petroleum.

On the¬†west side of the continent, the¬†Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)¬†group killed 10 police in a boat and renewed attacks on maritime¬†oil infrastructure.¬† More troubling though,¬†are reports that¬†MEND,¬†historically a group with secular aims, may be entering the sectarian conflict started by Boko Haram terrorists in the North.¬† Threatening attacks on Muslims in the Niger Delta, the group’s spokesman¬†recently issued¬†a statement: “On behalf of the hapless Christian population in Nigeria, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta will from Friday, May 31, 2013, embark on a crusade to save Christianity in Nigeria from annihilation.” Nigerian security forces are already overwhelmed fighting terrorist in the North (with very heavy handed tactics it must be noted) and a renewed insurgency in the South could threat stability in this important economic anchor for West Africa.Also in the Gulf of Guinea, the U.S.¬†Drug Enforcement Administration recently conducted a¬†rather¬†audacious under-cover operation¬†at sea to detain¬†Guinea-Bissau’s¬†former Chief of Naval Operations and drug kingpin Bubo Na Tchuto.¬† The impact of narcotics proceeds on the ledgers of terror groups in Africa has been overstated by DEA (at least in my opinion), but this operation was worthwhile if only to remove one of the most corrupt officials in West Africa.

In Northern Mali, French Forces have begun a gradual withdrawal from fighting al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. AQIM and its associated militant groups made use of the Niger River during the French intervention.  France is hoping for a U.N. force to replace African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) troops and that force will certainly need some sort of riverine capability to keep the waterways leading up to Timbuktu and Gao clear of extremist activity.
The last update isn’t really maritime-related, but does involve the USN participating on a unique foreign internal defense mission in the Sahara.  Last month, four U.S. naval officers deployed with special operations forces (SOF) from all over the globe to West Africa to train African special operators for counter-terrorism missions in the region.  SEAL LCDR Kaj Larsen explains more here about FLINTLOCK 13.
Instability around the continent and¬†the recent attacks on¬†U.S. embassies¬†last September have driven the¬†military to examine various options for both future crisis response and steady state capacity-building operations.¬† The Army is¬†regionally aligning some forces,¬†with a dedicated Brigade Combat Team¬†to support training missions and be prepared to intervene¬†on the continent¬†should the need arise.¬† Africa has been described as an “economy of force” operation for DOD and generally the introduction of any element¬†other than culturally-attuned, small footprint forces (read¬†SOF)¬†raises the eyebrows of State Department diplomats.¬† I find it hard to believe that the Army could get¬†a¬†brigade-sized element¬†- or even pieces of it – nimble enough to deploy rapidly, with a minimal¬†number of “boots on the ground” and adequate¬†logistics train to satisfy these requirements.¬† Along similar lines, the Marine Corps has¬†instituted¬†a company-sized¬†crisis response element for this mission¬†which leverages the speed and¬†long-range¬†mobility of the MV-22.¬†¬† Expeditionary crisis-response is in the Marine Corps DNA, but without adequate amphibious shipping, the Corps’ unique capabilities can’t be exploited.¬† That said, it will be interesting to see which force the COCOM and Ambassador calls on next time there is a crisis in Africa.
 The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Posted by Chris Rawley at 7:40 PM


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