For Your Eyes Only Military News

ETHIOPIA:  Wars On Many Fronts

May 20, 2012: As the Kenyan military incursion continues in Somalia, many Kenyans have begun asking the government to tell them how long the conflict will last. The questions echo similar ones Ethiopians asked as the Ethiopian invasion in 2006 led to a prolonged three-year struggle with Somali militant Islamist militias.

At the moment, the majority of the Kenyan people still seem to agree that their government had to do something about the cross-border attacks by Al Shabaab terrorists in 2011 and militant Islamist trouble-making in Kenya (three examples: kidnapping tourists, harassing aid organizations and trying to get Kenyan Muslims to launch a revolt). In October 2011 the government did do something, in a major way. Now, Kenyan military and paramilitary police units have crossed international borders before, in either hot pursuit operations (usually pursuing cattle raiders) or raiding base camps (usually of tribal raiders). The Somali incursion was no raid, but a full-fledged, extended offensive military operation by the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF, Kenyan Army). Kenya supported its ground forces with air and naval forces. Moreover, it was the first such offensive operation by Kenyan military forces since the country became independent. The government insisted that defending Kenya’s territorial integrity was the strategic objective of Operation Linda Nchi (Swahili for Operation Protect the Nation). To achieve that strategic objective, the KDF had two military operational objectives: drive Al Shabaab away from the Kenya-Somalia border region and, in the process, significantly damage (if not destroy) the militant Islamist organization’s military capabilities in southern Somalia. The real strategic triumph would be to translate Al Shabaab’s loss of territory and military damage into a fatal political defeat for Al Shabaab.

As the KDF entered the fray in the Somalia’s south, Ethiopia launched its own Somalia incursion in November 2011.  Pro-Somali government militia fighters (ie, supporters of the Somalia Transitional National Government, TNG, also called the Transitional Federal Government) were soon operating with Ethiopian forces.  Al Shabaab, already battling African Union forces in the Mogadishu region, now faced two new axes of attack.  Various militant Islamist groups (Islamic Courts Union then Al Shabaab) had been fencing with Ethiopian forces in central and south-central Somalia since the official Ethiopian military withdrawal in January 2009 (what supposedly ended the 2006 war). However, the Kenyan operation was threatening what had been an Al Shabaab rear area (and certainly a comparatively safe area).

Eventually we will learn just how closely specific Kenyan combat operations in the south were coordinated with the Ethiopian/pro-TNG coalition combat operations in central and south-central Somalia. There is no doubt that coordination has occurred at the campaign level.

Ethiopia (seeking to avoid another extended stay in Somalia) has said it will withdraw most of its forces, as AU peacekeepers assume the area protection and security mission. AU peacekeeping forces have begun backfilling in the areas from which Ethiopian/pro-TNG forces have driven Al Shabaab Islamist fighters. So far, no AU peacekeepers have backfilled behind the KDF.

Kenyan forces in Somalia are supposed to eventually become part of the AU peacekeeping force. Though that strikes many as a good political move (East African nations support it, the AU supports it), some analysts are wondering if re-hatting Kenyan forces will commit Kenya to an even longer military presence in Somalia.  See the emerging political problem? If Kenyan forces provide their own backfill, and an insurgency erupts, critics (and then the political opposition) will scream quagmire. And they already are.

Critics also point to Kismayo. Last fall the Kenyan military made it clear that the Somali seaport of Kismayo was key objective. Al Shabaab used it as a communications and supply ink to Yemen and Eritrea. It is also a pirate haven, which is no surprise, since Al Shabaab maintains close ties with Somali pirates.

When Kenyan forces took Ras Kamboni in October 2011, the government said that Kismayo would be next. A mission accomplished moment? It is now late May 2012 and Al Shabaab still controls Kismayo. Incursion critics ask why Kismayo remains in Al Shabaab’s hands. Failure to seize Kismayo has become a political problem. Is the KDF reluctant or incompetent?

Earlier this year, Kenyan military officials suggested that the KDF was being methodical, not reluctant.  A direct attack on Kismayo runs the risk of degenerating into a huge and bloody urban street battle. To avoid that, the KDF said it sought political dialog with various Somali clans in the Kismayo area. Last month a statement attributed to senior government officials (no names) indicated that Kenyan Army officers were in fact working with several clans and clan militias (yes, they often have different agendas as well as rivalries) to reach a consensus on policing the Kismayo region.

Cynics suggested that the Kenyans were delaying as assault on Kismayo until Ethiopian forces could participate in the attack. The cynics have a case. A senior Ethiopian officer serving in Somalia was quoted this week as saying that Ethiopian forces had fulfilled their mission in Somalia and that Ethiopian forces might help liberate Kismayo. He also told the press he wondered why Kenyan forces had not yet taken Kismayo and indicated that they were supposed to attack it when Ethiopian forces were attacking Baidoa in February. This is another public signal that Kenya and Ethiopia are coordinating their military campaigns. Kenya certainly had the ground and air combat power to attack Kismayo then, and still has the power.

The Ethiopians would likely add a substantial armored punch to an assault on Kismayo, and from a Kenyan military and political perspective that would be worth waiting for. The Ethiopians might accuse the Kenyans of failing to meet their commitment, or, worse, letting Ethiopians do the bleeding. That could lead to political friction between two nations that increasingly see themselves as allies and economic partners.

But to dismiss out of hand the methodical approach the KDF leaders claim they are pursuing is a mistake.  So here’s a scenario: the Kenyans have re-considered their operations in southern Somalia in light of their strategic goal of securing territorial integrity.  Real security requires a stable, peaceful political relationship with the people of southern Somalia. So the KDF wants to begin building that political relationship on the ground in Somalia.

Several of Kenya’s international allies (the U.S., Ethiopia, Britain, Australia) have special forces personnel trained to facilitate these tricky political discussions and security operations. The Kenyans have their own cadre of personnel with a track record for conducting successful multi-tribal and inter-clan negotiations in neighboring nations. Kenyans helped resolve several violent Dinka-Nuer tribal disputes in southern Sudan, prior to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s north-south civil war.

The Kismayo region political-military (pol-mil) effort posited in this scenario utilizes political skills employed in the southern Sudan peacemaking mission.

Both have very detailed intelligence requirements. Detailed really means detailed, which is one reason the process takes time. For example, the personal ambitions and histories of individual local leaders always affect the process. Talks can end (or never start) and agreements can unravel because Clan Leader X just despises Clan Leader Y. (Why does X despise Y? Negotiators need to know. They might need to seek an agreement between Clan Y and Clan Z first, because Clan Leader X trusts Clan Leader Z.)

Kenya was the impartial mediator in Sudan. Not so in Somalia. In the Kismayo region Kenyans are heavily armed outsiders with a definite, self-serving political-security agenda. The KDF wants the people of the Kismayo region to treat Al Shabaab as their occupier and the KDF as their ally. That’s may seem like a long shot goal but day by day Al Shabaab is losing territory to the AU and TNG, and the southerners are aware of that.

The KDF has been training militiamen from Ras Kamboni (sometimes referred to as the Ras Kamboni fighters). Arming, training, and supplying these militiamen serve immediate security purposes. Paying them creates political goodwill. These militiamen could play a role in an attack on Kismayo. They could also play a role in politically stabilizing the city and the region.  Arming, training, supplying, and paying Ras Kamboni fighters certainly demonstrates that good relations with Kenya has its rewards.

The KDF has shown that it is willing to use force to protect Kenya. It is also demonstrating that it is willing to use force to protect Kenya’s friends.

A TNG victory will be more durable (and Kenya’s military effort in Somalia more effective) if the southern clans are prepared to assume a positive security role in their region. The peace would be even more durable if the clans participate in Al Shabaab’s final defeat. The Ethiopians, however, may argue that the time to pursue nice-nice politics will come after Kismayo falls. (Austin Bay)

May 16, 2012:  In Mombasa, Kenya attackers threw grenades outside a local nightclub. A security guard was killed and five people were wounded.  One of the attackers was wounded and was captured.  The attackers may belong to an al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist terror organization.

May 15, 2012:  Ethiopian police charged ten people with belonging to al Qaeda. Nine of those charged were Ethiopian citizens. The other accused terrorist has Kenyan citizenship. Investigators claimed the ten people were planning to conduct terror attacks in Ethiopia and that the group had links to militant Islamist terror cells in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kenya, and the Philippines.

May 14, 2012:  Al Shabaab fighters attacked a Kenyan position near Badade (Lower Jubba area, southern Somalia, near the Kenyan border). Six died in the resulting firefight.

An armed incident occurred in Beledweyne. An Ethiopian military vehicle hit a land mine inside the city.  Several soldiers were wounded by the mine blast. Subsequent fire from the Ethiopian convoy killed two people in Beledweyne.

May 12, 2012: The Ethiopian commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) confirmed the South Sudan had pulled all of its forces out of the region. Abyei is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. Ethiopia has now deployed 3,716 soldiers with the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) on the Sudan-South Sudan border. Another 83 Ethiopian military observers are also serving with the force. UNISFA has an authorized maximum force of 4,200 military personnel.

May 10, 2012: Ethiopian troops and pro-Somali government forces killed 17 al Shabaab fighters. The Al Shabaab fighters had been operating road blocks in the Bakool region.  The official statement did not specify where the Ethiopian-led attacks occurred, but an Al Shabaab spokesman said that its fighters had engaged Ethiopian forces near the town of Hudur.

May 7, 2012:  The government of Ethiopia denied reports that Ethiopian tribesmen were fleeing into South Sudan. A recent UN report asserted that Anuak tribal civilians had fled fighting between Ethiopian security forces and Anuak rebels in Ethiopia’s Gambella region (western Ethiopia, bordering on South Sudan’s Jonglei state).

May 6, 2012: A senior Ethiopian opposition political leader said that Ethiopia must end tribal politics. The opposition leader said Ethiopia has only two tribes: the rich and the poor.

May 5, 2012: 300 Djiboutian peacekeepers have deployed near Beledweyne (central Somalia). The Djibouti contingent will secure an area north of the town. Ethiopian and pro-Somali government forces attack and clear an area of Al Shabaab fighters. African Union peacekeeping units then deploy into the liberated zone.

May 4, 2012: Ethiopia will be one of four African countries attending the G8 summit later this month. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and the leaders of Ghana, Tanzania, and Benin will discuss food security issues with the G8 leaders.

May 3, 2012: Ethiopian security forces arrested ten Merille tribal militia fighters who are accused of murdering three Kenyan policemen.  The men participated in a raid on a Kenyan police camp in April. The Merille people have been fighting with the Turkana people. Both tribes are pastoralists. The tribes have clashed over water rights. Both tribes conduct cattle raids (mass theft of cattle herds). The Kenyan and Ethiopian government are trying to end the violence. Kenya recently arrested two Kenyan men for smuggling weapons to the Turkana.

May 1, 2012:  Ethiopia reported that its two main refugee camps for people fleeing Sudan’s Blue Nile state now house 29,494 refugees. The camps are located at Tongo and Sherkole.

April 30, 2012: Apparently Eritrea supplied ammo and guns to the South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) rebel group in South Sudan. Ammunition taken from the SSDM by South Sudanese security forces allegedly came from the same lots as ammo Eritrea gave the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).  The ONLF opposes the Ethiopian government.

SURFACE WARSHIPS:  The New Chinese Patrol Fleet

May 20, 2012:  In part to help the domestic ship building industry, the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) service is getting 36 large patrol ships. Seven of them are the size of corvettes (1,500) tons, while the rest are smaller (15 are 1,000 ton ships and 14 600 ton). The global economic recession has hit shipbuilding particularly hard over the last four years, and China is one of the top three shipbuilding nations in the world. For a long time, coastal patrol was carried out by navy cast-offs. But in the last decade, the coastal patrol force has been getting more and more new ships (as well as more retired navy small ships.)

The CMS service is one of five Chinese organizations responsible for law enforcement along the coast. The others are the Coast Guard, which is a military force that constantly patrols the coasts. The Maritime Safety Administration handles search and rescue along the coast. The Fisheries Law Enforcement Command polices fishing grounds. The Customs Service polices smuggling. China has multiple coastal patrol organizations because it is the custom in dictatorships to have more than one organization doing the same task so each outfit can keep an eye on the other.

CMS is the most recent of these agencies, having been established in 1998. It is actually the police force for the Chinese Oceanic Administration, which is responsible for surveying non-territorial waters that China has economic control over (the exclusive economic zones, or EEZ), and for enforcing environmental laws in its coastal waters. The new program will expand the CMS from 9,000 to 10,000 personnel. CMS already has 300 boats and ten aircraft.

In addition, CMS collects and coordinates data from marine surveillance activities in ten large coastal cities and 170 coastal counties. When there is an armed confrontation over contested islands in the South China Sea, it’s usually CMS patrol boats that are frequently described as “Chinese warships.”

Thus the current expansion is mostly about the EEZ, and patrolling it more frequently and aggressively. International law (the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty) recognizes the waters 22 kilometers from land as under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these “territorial waters” without permission. However, the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there, and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage, or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. China has already claimed that foreign ships have been conducting illegal espionage in their EEZ. But the 1994 treaty says nothing about such matters. China is simply doing what China has been doing for centuries, trying to impose its will on neighbors, or anyone venturing into what China considers areas under its control.

For the last two centuries, China has been prevented from exercising its “traditional rights” in nearby waters because of the superior power of foreign navies (first the cannon armed European sailing ships, then, in the 19th century, newly built steel warships from Japan). However, since the communist took over China 60 years ago, there have been increasingly violent attempts to reassert Chinese control over areas that have long (for centuries) been considered part of the “Middle Kingdom” (or China, as in the “center of the world”).

China is particularly concerned about the nearby Spratlys, a group of some 100 islets, atolls, and reefs that total only about 5 square kilometers of land, but sprawl across some 410,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea. Set amid some of the world’s most productive fishing grounds, the islands are believed to have enormous oil and gas reserves. Several nations have overlapping claims on the group. About 45 of the islands are currently occupied by small numbers of military personnel. China claims them all, but occupies only 8, Vietnam has occupied or marked 25, the Philippines 8, Malaysia 6, and Taiwan one.

China prefers to use non-military or paramilitary ships (like those of the CMS) to harass foreign ships it wants out of the EEZ or disputed warfare. This approach is less likely to spark an armed conflict, and makes it easier for the Chinese claim they were the victims.

ATTRITION: Big UAV Breeds Big Doubts

May 20, 2012: Four months after an Israeli Heron TP (also known as Eitan or Heron 2) UAV crashed, all Israeli Air Force Heron TPs remain grounded. There appear to be doubts about the durability and reliability of the Heron TP. This is has led to government officials considering selling off the few Heron TPs the air force has because this aircraft is too expensive to buy and operate. Israel has less expensive UAVs that get the work done at less cost.

A Heron TPs crashed on January 29th, two years after it entered squadron service in the Israeli Air Force (with 210 Squadron). The $5 million UAV was testing a new sensor that was hanging from one of the wings. That wing broke off when the UAV made a maneuver that exceeded what the wings were designed for. This was believed the result of a new flight control system that was not finished with all its flight testing. An investigation is still underway to determine if the loss could have been avoided.

The Heron TP’s first combat service was two years ago when it was used off the coast of Gaza, keeping an eye on ships seeking to run the blockade. For that kind of work, the aircraft was well suited. But so are smaller and cheaper UAVs.
Development of the Heron TP was largely completed five years ago, but this was basically a UAV for the export market, and the Israeli military was in no rush to buy it. There have been some export sales, and the Israeli air force eventually realized that this was an ideal UAV for long range operations, or for maritime patrol. But it turned out there were few missions like that.

Equipped with a powerful (1,200 horsepower) turboprop engine, the 4.6 ton Heron TP can operate at 14,500 meters (45,000 feet). That is, above commercial air traffic, and all the air-traffic-control regulations that discourage, and often forbid, UAV use at the same altitude as commercial aircraft. The Heron TP has a one ton payload, enabling it to carry sensors that can give a detailed view of what’s on the ground, even from that high up. The endurance of 36 hours makes the Heron TP a competitor for the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper (or Predator B), which is the same. The big difference between the two is that Reaper is designed to be a combat aircraft, operating at a lower altitude, with less endurance, and able to carry a ton of smart bombs or missiles. Heron TP is meant mainly for reconnaissance and surveillance, and Israel wants to keep a closer, and more persistent, eye on Syria and southern Lebanon. But the Heron TP has since been rigged to carry a wide variety of missiles and smart bombs.

The Heron TP was sold to France, to serve as a Predator substitute, until a new design can be developed in France. This variant was called Harfang (“Eagle”), and three were purchased three years ago and sent to Afghanistan. Within a year, those three had spent 1,400 hours in the air. That’s actually quite low, coming out to about one sortie a week per aircraft. There were technical problems with the Harfang and much of the time only one of the three were available for service. The Harfang usually flies missions of less than 24 hours.

Despite the technical problems with the Harfangs in Afghanistan, France ordered a fourth one. Harfang has since been given a more powerful engine and other mods, to become Harfang 2. In addition, there is a maritime patrol version. France has tried to buy Predators but the waiting list was long, and French troops need UAV support right away. European aircraft manufacturers have yet to come up with a world class UAV design (like the American Predator and Reaper, or the Israeli Heron, etc.) Israel stands by to supply tried and tested designs like the many models of the Heron.

SEA TRANSPORT:  EU Air Strike On Pirate Port

May 20, 2012: On May 14th, for the first time, EU (European Union) anti-piracy forces attacked Somali pirates on land. An armed helicopter came in at night near the Somali port of Harardhere (400 kilometers north of Mogadishu) and destroyed five speed boats that surveillance aircraft had identified as owned by pirates. This is apparently the first of many such attacks.
Two months ago the EU agreed to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate military operations with the Somali TNG (Transitional National Government). This means that EUNAVFOR ships and aircraft can attack pirate targets on land.

The EU plan apparently involves going after pirate logistics and fuel supplies in their coastal havens. This could be tricky, as the pirates are well aware of how the Western media works and could easily shift many of these targets in residential neighborhoods. The EU could respond by blockading the pirate bases and attacking pirate attempts to truck in fuel and other supplies. Pirates could put civilians on trucks or even captured sailors from ships held for ransom. There is no easy solution to the Somali pirates, but the more aggressive EU policies should produce some interesting results.

Most of the pirate bases (coastal towns and villages) are in Puntland, a self-declared state in northern Somalia. While less violent and chaotic than southern Somalia, Puntland officials are usually bribed and intimidated (by the superior firepower of the pirate gangs) into inaction. Technically, Puntland is opposed to the pirates, so the EU is hoping that Puntland won’t make a stink when EU forces begin shooting at pirates on the Puntland coast. It’s interesting to note that the recent attack was on a port on the central Somali coast. Harardhere is one of the few pirate controlled ports outside Puntland

This new policy is not a radical shift in policy but a continuation of a trend that has been under way for a while. For example, in the last year the EU and other members of the anti-piracy patrol have taken a more aggressive approach to the pirates. Pirate mother ships (usually captured ocean going fishing ships) have been attacked on sight and any speedboat carrying armed men face similar treatment. This has encouraged Puntland to be more aggressive towards the pirates but the Puntland anti-piracy force has not been able to shut down any pirate bases, and pirates openly try to gun down the leaders of the government anti-piracy effort. Nevertheless, the more aggressive attitude towards the pirates is having an impact. Aggressive anti-piracy tactics and more armed guards on merchant ships have reduced pirate attacks by nearly 70 percent in the last six months and the number of captured ships even more.

This is not the first attempt to shut down the pirates in Harardhere. Two years ago Islamic terror group Hizbul Islam sent several hundred gunmen into Harardhere. Hizbul Islam announced that this was the first step in eliminating piracy in Somalia. Al Shabaab had been in Harardhere before, but left because the local clan militias made it too difficult to hold the town. What was really going on the second time around was Hizbul Islam seeking to work out a profit sharing deal with the pirates and clans. Hizbul Islam was also known to be looking for a port, after losing control of Kismayo (near the Kenyan border) to rival al Shabaab the previous year. At first, partnership negotiations with the pirates didn’t work, so Hizbul Islam simply decided to take control of the port, at least so they could more easily bring goods and weapons in by ship.

Harardhere was a minor pirate port, with only three of the 23 ships currently held by pirates. Those three ships were moved 230 kilometers north to the port of Hobyo as Hizbul Islam gunmen approached. The pirates themselves fled in convoys of vehicles (many of them new SUVs bought with ransom money). The main pirate bases are in the far north (Puntland), where the local government provides some protection from foreign interference. The pirates eventually returned to Harardhere, as Hizbul Islam got involved in a civil war with its larger rival, al Shabaab and the two groups merged.

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