Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Somalia: Why is the US in combat?

Advise, Assist, Train, yes, and, Find, Target and Destroy!

By Ed Marek, editor

December 17, 2018

Maritime security - Efforts to secure the waterways

I have stressed the importance of Somalia's location, and that of Yemen, contiguous to critical international waterways. Starting in 2001, the international community began working harder to secure the waterways in the Horn of Africa Region. The efforts have shown some success.

Combined Maritime Forces

To underscore the importance of the international waterways in the Gulf of Aden-Red Sea-Indian Ocean area, the US Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) was established in 2002. CMF is an international naval partnership that provides security for civilian maritime traffic. It does this by conducting counter-piracy and counter-terrorism missions in the heavily trafficked waters of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, including the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean. Thirty-nations plus or minus depending on the time period are said to be participants.

The CMF is an interesting and rather unique military organization. None of the participating nations are bound by any fixed political or military mandate. Instead each participant is committed to protect the free flow of commerce, improve maritime security and deter illicit activity in the CMF Area of Operations.

What strikes me as interesting is there are no founding documents. All participation is on a voluntary basis. Vice Admiral Timothy Keating, USN, at the time Commander Naval Forces Central Command and commander US 5th Fleet, Manama, Bahrain, established CMF. It can be seen as the "Coalition of the Willing." Prior to the CMF, individual countries operated in the region much on their own.

The Commander Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) is the overall commander. Vice Admiral Scott A. Stearney, USN currently commands NAVCENT, the US 5th Fleet and CMF. All three of these headquarters are co-located at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, shown by the photo.

CMF concentrates on potential bottlenecks including the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al Mandeb Strait and Suez Canal through which the world's energy must flow. CMF has said "Freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in the region are threatened by terrorism, illicit networks and piracy."

CMF commands three Combined Task Forces (CTFs) across the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Somalia Basin, Northern Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf. CTF commands rotate among partner nations.The three CTFs are:

  • CTF-150 primarily focused on disrupting terrorist organizations by restricting freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain. Commodore Al-shahrani of the Royal Saudi Navy is presently in command.
  • CTF-151 concentrates on piracy and armed robbery in the maritime environment. Rear Admiral Saw Shi Tat, Republic of Singapore Navy, is presently in command,.
  • CTF-152 operates within the Arabian Gulf, which it terms "a very politically complex but globally strategic region." Captain Mohammad Aleid, Kuwaiti Coast Guard is presently in command.

European Naval Force Somalia

The European Union (EU) has also invested in assembling EU naval forces (EU NAVFOR) in the Horn of Africa region. It has a particular focus on the Somalia Basin and Gulf of Aden. EU NAVFOR was established in December 2008. Major General Charles Strickand, Royal Marines, in command. It operates a Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) at Operational Headquarters (OHQ) which is in England.

Its mission is a counter-piracy operation to deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. It also protects vessels supporting the World Food Program (WFP), delivering aid to displaced persons in Somalia.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since about 2000. Former UN envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah has blamed the lack of "a functioning, effective government that will get its act together and take control of its affairs."

EU NAVFOR Somalia has been conducting "Operation Atalanta," which has been designated Task Force 465. At present EU NAVFOR has two ships deployed, one from Italy, the other from Spain. It also flies P-3 Orion surveillance and intelligence collection aircraft over the region's waterways. I should note further that EU NAVFOR members have raided pirate bases in Somalia.

I have to say it is curious that the EU would organize this force, given that many of its member states participate in the CMF. My guess is the EU has done this for at least two reasons: set up an Europe-only military organization, which is in keeping with recent statements made by France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel to organize a European force; that is, avoid working under US command. That said, the EU NAVFOR coordinates closely with CMF.

Maritime Security Transit Corridor

In 2017 CMF announced establishment of the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MTSC), a two way route connecting the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) and the Bab al Mandeb (BAM) Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). For reference purposes, the Hanish Islands are marked roughly by the green dot. I'll mention them in a moment. I'll break down these routes with the next graphics.

The IRTC is a navy-patrolled route through the Gulf of Aden (GOA), 490 nm long and 20 nm wide.

This map shows the Bab al Mandeb (BAM) TSS, and the TSS West of the Hanish Island Group.

The MTSC was in response to the increase in suspicious approaches to and attempted attacks on vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb and Gulf of Aden in 2017. The corridor in each direction is about 1.5 miles wide. International naval forces focus their presence and surveillance efforts along this corridor, and are therefore able to monitor and provide swift assistance to vessels in distress. The MTSC is a CMF recommendation, not a directive. As such the CMF would prefer vessels traveling through this area use the MTSC. That allows CMF to position naval forces so they can respond rapidly instead of having to surveil the broad ocean area, known as the BOA.

The maritime question

On the surface, these naval commitments make a lot of sense. Given this active effort among so many countries to keep the navigation passages through the region open and secure, one might ask why US forces are still needed on the ground in Somalia. After all, the naval forces are dealing with the dominant threats to their national interests.

Reuben Brigety II of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs may have shed some light on the issue:

"The African maritime domain is massive. Our Navy has done some important work in partnership and yet, it is, sort of a drop in the ocean relative to the need to provide security…"

There is a hint there that the CMF is not enough. That is probably true, especially given what I have highlighted in previous sections.

The CMF has a capability to protect shipping in the transit areas it has identified. However it is not able to stop the insurgency against the government and secure the Government of Somalia. It is not able to train Somali military forces. It is not configured to provide humanitarian aid to the people. It has not shown a propensity to stop attacks from the land on targets at sea. In sum, that means the US considers maritime security very important, but also considers the survival of Somalia as a non-threatening and functioning country just as important. That means US ground forces are needed.

Two fallen special forces
The threats presented by Somalia
US policy review
Regional players enter the scene - The birth of AMISOM
AFRICOM: Under the radar
Maritime security - Efforts to secure the waterways
So what is the plan?
Postscript: "The Compound"