Archive for April, 2009
I was reading this CBS World News blog article discussing a new audiotape from the senior Al Qaeda operative Sa’id Ali Jabir Al Khathim Al Shihri (aka Abu Sufian al-Azdi), who you may have heard about considering he was a 6 year resident of Guantanamo Bay before being released to Saudi Arabia last year. After serving his time, being released in Saudi Arabia, and participating in a repatriation and rehabilitation program, Shihri has popped up in Yemen calling on Somali jihadists to attack “crusader” forces at sea in the Gulf of Aden. The audiotape appears to be a response to the US and French actions against piracy last week. The article discusses the typical Al Qaeda rhetoric then states:
Al Qaeda does have links to Islamic extremist groups operating in Somalia but, thus far, piracy and al Qaeda’s brand of terrorism have remained largely separate. The pirates in the Gulf of Aden have always sought ransom payments or loot — they have not been motivated by Islamic fundamentalism.
That is exactly how I have come to understand the relationship between the Al Qaeda terrorism and pirates in Somalia. However, I had never seen what was reported in the very next paragraph.
A maritime intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar that interaction between pirate groups and Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked groups was first noticed about nine months ago, and has been on the rise.
The source said it was now “inconceivable” to Western intelligence agencies that al Qaeda would not be getting some financial reward from the successful hijackings. The question, says the intelligence source, is whether that cut will remain sufficient to keep the Islamic extremist group satisfied as piracy gains public attention, and bigger ransoms.
For at least the past 18 months I have been trying to find a hard news article, not a political opinion website, but a hard new report that offers some detail on a link between pirate groups and Al Qaeda-linked groups, and I have never previously found a news report like this. We know they both operate in the same black market space in Somalia, but this ‘interaction’ that began ‘nine months ago’ is new information. It is also very interesting, because if this relationship began 9 months ago, around August of 2008, that would be very significant.
Lets examine piracy in 2008:
January – 1 hijacking
February – 1 hijacking, 1 attack
March – 2 attacks
April – 2 hijackings, 4 attacks
May – 3 hijackings, 4 attacks
June – 1 hijacking, 1 attack
July – 1 hijacking, 1 attack
**** Interaction between Pirate groups and Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked groups reportedly begins ****
August – 7 hijackings, 1 attacks
September -9 hijackings, 9 attacks
October – 5 hijackings, 7 attacks
November 9 hijackings, 12 attacks
December 2 hijackings 11 attacks
So far between January and April 16th, 2009 there have been 19 hijackings and 80 attacks, clearly an enormous increase over last year around the same time.
Are we sure we fully understand the relationship between al Qaeda-linked groups and pirate groups, because I find it difficult to believe it is just a coincidence that the two groups just happened to form a link at the exact same time Somali piracy exploded in that region. I also think the timing is interesting in that just 4 months prior, in April of 2008, Al Qaeda called for naval terror cells to be established around the Arabian Peninsula.
On April 26, 2008, the Islamist website Al-Ikhlas posted an article from Jihad Press, an e-journal reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda, which urges the mujahideen to establish naval terror cells. The article argues that gaining control over the seas and sea passages – especially around the Arabian Peninsula – is a vital step towards renewing the global Islamic caliphate…
Finally, the article stresses that the seas off the coast of Yemen, namely the Gulf of Aden, the Bab Al-Mandeb strait and the Red Sea are of supreme strategic importance in the campaign to expel the enemy from key locations. If the enemy loses these key areas, it explains, “he will not be able to defend himself on land and [to protect] his naval bases from the mujahideens’ attack.”
Hmm. If you click the image above, it will take you to the IMB Live Piracy Map. Does anyone else see that big cluster of pirate activity off the coast of Yemen, in the Gulf of Aden, the Bab Al-Mandeb strait, and the Red Sea where most of the piracy has been concentrated since August of 2008?
That is what I’d call a very strange coincidence. Does CBS even realize that one implication of this information, if accurate, is that the al Qaeda-linked groups in Somalia are potentially the primary reason for increased piracy off Somalia?
I think that would be important information.
The Navy will commission the newest Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, Stockdale, during an 11:00 a.m. PST ceremony on Saturday, April 18, 2009, in Port Hueneme, Calif.
Designated DDG 106, the new destroyer honors Medal of Honor recipient Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale (1923-2005), the legendary leader of American prisoners of war (POWs) during the Vietnam War.
Stockdale was the highest-ranking naval officer ever held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His plane was shot down Sept. 9, 1965, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam. Stockdale spent more than seven years in captivity at prisons in North Vietnam, including time at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” Four of those years were spent in solitary confinement. While imprisoned, Stockdale is credited with organizing a set of rules to govern the behavior of fellow prisoners of war and for helping to develop a code for prisoners to communicate with each other that included tapping on cell walls. In recognition of his leadership and sacrifice he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976.
Stockdale received 26 combat medals and awards, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts and four Silver Stars. He was also named to the Aircraft Carrier Hall of Fame, National Aviation Hall of Fame, and was an honorary member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Timothy Keating, will deliver the ceremony’s principal address. Sybil Stockdale will serve as sponsor of the ship named for her late husband. The ceremony will be highlighted by a time-honored Navy tradition when she gives the first order to “man our ship and bring her to life!”
Stockdale is the 56th of 62 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The ship will be able to conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection. Stockdale will be capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously and contains a myriad of offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime warfare in keeping with “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” the new maritime strategy that postures the sea services to apply maritime power to protect U.S. vital interests in an increasingly interconnected and uncertain world.
Cmdr. Fred W. Kacher, of Oakton, Va., will become the first commanding officer of the ship and will lead the crew of 276 officers and enlisted personnel. The 9,200-ton Stockdale was built by Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics Company. The ship is 509 feet in length, has a waterline beam of 59 feet, and a navigational draft of 31 feet. Four gas turbine engines will power the ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.
Something for everyone in SecDef’s speech the other day at the Air War College, which can be read in its entirety here. Of course, I was interested in this section:
Finally, I concluded we need to shift away from the 99 percent “exquisite” service-centric platforms that are so costly and complex that they take forever to build and only then in very limited quantities. With the pace of technological and geopolitical change, and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80 percent multi-service solution that can be produced on time, on budget, and in significant numbers. As Stalin once said, “Quantity has a quality all of its own.”
This was a major consideration with shipbuilding and air superiority. I recommended accelerating the buy of the Littoral Combat Ship, which, despite its development problems, is a versatile vessel that can be produced in quantity and go to places that are either too shallow or too dangerous for the Navy’s big, blue water surface combatants. As we saw last week, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar ship to chase down a bunch of teenage pirates.
Well, you do if all you have are billion dollar ships and an unwillingness to break out of “Big Navy” thinking. His solution of the LCS at 1/4 of a billion dollars each doesn’t seem all that cost effective to me, especially since I would hope we would have the Somali pirate problem under better control by the time the LCS fleet is delivered in numbers sufficient to make a difference.
If it’s time to think out of the box, then it’s time to use ships that are available now or within 6 months to fight pirates. The solution doesn’t have to be elegant – there are a lot of options for rugged enough, fast enough ships to provide escorts for merchants in numbers (it does seem odd, doesn’t it, to have the Secretary of Defense quoting Stalin?) sufficient to make a nearly immediate impact.
I have made proposals before about less-than-elegant solutions – see Kludge the Pirates!, An Anti-Piracy Vessel and a Low Cost Anti-Pirate Helicopter Carrier. I even took the ideas to a bigger forum
Department of Crazy Ideas: How about a cheap inshore fleet? at the US Naval Institute Blog. One of my posts was called How to Make the Navy Bigger, Sooner, Cheaper.
We need lots of hulls in the water – tomorrow – not 3 years from now. I have proposed a plan that I think could put 40 – 50 satisfactory platforms at sea in 6 months given the right hard-charging officer in charge and a SecDef/SecNav knife to cut through red tape and bureaucratic nonsense. And my plan, flawed as it may be, won’t cost a billion dollars. We even have people trained to do this sort of work, like the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, U.S. Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard. Heck, lots of work for merchant mariners who want to go into harm’s way, too. Use large amphibs as “mother ships” and helicopter repair and readiness depots…
But do something. Now.
Got suggestions of your own? Let’s hear them…
UPDATE: At my home blog a comment suggests these. Shades of Market Time. I think you might need a larger crew…
Congratulations to soon-to be Admiral Harvey. Good to know his association with the Great Unwashed (we bloggers) didn’t rupture enough watertight compartments to sink him!!
I love Annapolis!
Bravo Zulu Mills!
By Jim Dolbow
Retired Navy SEAL and noted author Dick Couch told USNI Blog:
The recent events off the coast of Somalia focused the nation on the issue of piracy on the high seas. This was last dealt with in any serious way during the Jeffersonian era, when the seven frigates sortied against the pirate threat.
These recent events also focused on the use of SEALs to resolve what evolved to be a hostage crises on the high seas. Past the shooting mechanics, which were a neat piece of work, there are two other issues that I find compelling. The first is the professionalism and courage of the on-scene commander. Someone had to make that decision, and that decision could well have turned out badly–and then that commander would have had to live with the call. These issues are never easy and never certain. I’m sure there are a few sleepless nights in his future, replaying events and wondering, “What if . . .”
Lost amid the decisive ending was the commute to the job site. That too was an interesting piece of work. Given the distances involved, those SEALs had to load up their gear–probably kit that involved a helo-borne assault and surface swimmer attack as well as sniper work–and parachute into the water. They probably jumped from a C-130, perhaps with refueling en route. Then they had to be recovered from the water and sort themselves out for a multiple-assault scenario. This is is like being a concert violinist, parachuting into the sea with your Stradivarius–probably at night, getting fished from the drink, then playing a concert–without missing a note.
For our SEALs, it was a day at the office–just like a day at the office for a heart surgeon or Kobe Bryant.
Many thanks to Captain Couch for his insights on the rescue of Captain Phillips. Loyal readers of this blog may remember our prior interview with Dick Couch about his latest book, The Sheriff of Ramadi.
The USNI and other naval blogs have been very active lately, and for good reason. Most of the recent discussions have dealt with piracy and the hostage situation and rescue of Mearsk Alabama skipper, Captain Richard Phillips. Within these many posts and related discussion threads are dozens of competing ideas for combating this particular problem. Posts and discussions on other topics result in similar numbers of ideas and recommendations. Sometimes the speed at which these ideas are generated and debated, and the sheer number of them, make it difficult to keep up with, analyze, and digest them all. Add the contributions from linked articles and other naval blogs, and the assimilation is even more challenging.
Ryan Erickson’s post “Admiral Allen on the Worlds Piracy Threat (and opinion),” resulted in a few comments that got me to thinkin’. The exchange that really piqued my interest was:
- RickWilmes Says:
we are all here to sell our best ideas to the USNI blog. May the best and correct ideas win.
- Byron Says:
Ideas do not equal products. Logic sucks, don’t it?
- RickWilmes Says:
For an empiricist, I believe your last statement would appear to be true. Speaking for myself, I know better. I won’t be saying anything else on this issue.
The Naval Institute blog, if not viewed so already, should be looked at like a naval think tank. And maybe the Naval Institute needs to create exactly that, separate from the blog. My sometimes curious imagination envisions an entity within the Naval Institute that serves a similar purpose to a think tank. It would theoretically include members from the Institute’s general membership, a selection of Proceedings and Naval History authors, and a good helping of USNI Guest Bloggers to discuss issues and cull from those discussions a list of options.
Assuming the formation of such a group, the question becomes, can the Naval Institute maintain it’s independence from any one set of policy and/or strategy recommendations, and instead focus on options? Can it serve not as an advocate for any one set of ideas, as the Wikipedia definition of think tank indicates, but rather a clearing house of reasonable, debated ideas?
If a think tank isn’t the right idea, then how do we gather realistic recommendations from the discussion threads and warehouse them for decision-makers?
Without the ability to dedicate one’s self to any series of related blogs, the ideas become muddled in the background chatter and the totality of the exchanges can easily lead to information overload. Can decision-makers or their subordinates make sense of it all, or are good ideas simply lost in the shuffle? Maybe only the most obvious solutions really get noticed – the easiest to understand and the easiest to sell – and the more obscure, but potentially ‘right’ ideas, get passed over.
None of this is meant to suggest that blogging efforts aren’t worthwhile; quite the contrary. I’m talking about maximizing the input – and impact – of all the contributors’ efforts.
I guess my real question is, can the thoughts generated through this medium and the larger Naval Institute actually help ideas equal products?
The weak can be rash. The powerful must be restrained.
– Secretary of State William Rogers, April 1969
For most of these past several weeks, international attention has been focused on the activities taking place near a peninsula on the north-east coast of Korea. There, despite protests and warnings from around the world, the North Koreans attempted to duplicate the success of another pariah state, Iran, and place a satellite in orbit atop a missile that also had ICBM capability. That effort failed in its stated intent, with the payload finding a watery grave in the broad ocean area of the Pacific, but the fact that the North Koreans defiantly carried out their intent should not have come as a surprise to the international community. Indeed, roughly 100 nm east-north-east of the launch site is the site, unmarked, of another North Korean action undertaken in contravention of international norms. That spot is the terminus of Deep Sea 129’s final flight, now forty years ago this April 15th (Korea time, April 14th US).
The money crunch continues:
The Navy announced plans April 14 to place a temporary hold on selected permanent change of station (PCS) moves in order to remain within budget.
The decision means that as many as 14,000 Sailors who have not already received orders may not be able to transfer until after Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins.
Individuals currently under orders will be allowed to rotate as planned.
Exceptions to the PCS hold include orders for Sailors separating from the service, individual augmentees and Global War On Terrorism Support Assignments (GSA), new accessions, organization moves as well as selected Joint Professional Military Education (JPME), graduate education moves and readiness moves.
I can recall this happening when cash was tight in the past, but never with five and a half months left in the fiscal year.