Galrahn has a very interesting post on the subject of a story by Reuters that a low-profile UN report verifies the link between Somali pirates and, you guessed it, Al Qaeda. Go check it out. Well worth the read. I will elaborate here on some things that have been bandied about from time to time.
In that Reuters story, some revealing words from the UN Special Envoy to Somalia:
John Steed, the principal military adviser to the U.N. special envoy to Somalia and head of the envoy’s counter-piracy unit, said links between armed pirate gangs and Somalia’s al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were gradually firming.
“The payment of ransoms just like any other funding activity, illegal or otherwise, is technically in breach of the Somalia sanctions regime if it makes the security situation in Somalia worse,” said Steed.
“Especially if it is ending up in the hands of terrorists or militia leaders — and we believe it is, some directly, some more indirectly,” said Steed, a retired military officer.
To any who doubt that this money-making venture has grown exponentially of late, the next paragraph should erase that doubt.
Ransom demands have risen steadily in recent years. According to one study, the average ransom stood at $5.4 million in 2010, up from $150,000 in 2005, helping Somali pirates rake in nearly $240 million last year.
Certainly, the discussion of where the money is going is pertinent. However, the most salient remark from Galrahn’s post is his assertion that “Piracy just took a strange turn, and it would be nice to hear from someone whose title begins with “Admiral” or whose name is Ray Mabus.” While I might disagree with the word “just” in the first part of the sentence, the second assertion surely is true. Certainly this had to be an eventuality that we were planning for. If not, then serious examination of our Navy’s uniformed and civilian leadership is in order.
As far back as August, 2009, the issue of such a link was discussed, along with the true intent of the Somali pirates. Comments there, and at USNI’s Piracy Conference in the fall of 2010 were at times dismissive of the link between the pirates and Al Shabaab, even though connections between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda had been trumpeted by both organizations more than a year earlier, and Al Shabaab control of the coastal villages was alo well known .
Our hesitation in making the logical connection between a very-high-payoff, low risk venture and those who seek funding sources for their operations (and would not hesitate to coerce the unwilling into cooperation) always struck me as extremely naive. To discount the likelihood of the eventual link between Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and the Somali pirates is to refuse to understand the nature of our enemies, the ways in which international criminal enterprises work, and the lengths to which the United States and other nations should be willing to go in dealing with the pirates themselves and those who pull the strings ashore in Somalia and elsewhere. I remarked in August of 2009 that,
The old phrase “you’re known by the company you keep” is pertinent here. Al-Shabaab, and by proxy, Al-Qaeda, have major influence here. If the situation didn’t start out that way, it has certainly evolved there. Natural enough, to this point there has been immense profit to be gained with very little risk.
Indeed, according to the UN, there is proof that precisely the above has come to pass. It should be a surprise to nobody, but likely will be a big surprise to many. All I can prescribe for those folks is viewing The Godfather, Part II over and over again. It was simply a matter of time until Al Qaeda tapped into the revenue stream of Somali piracy. And it has likely been occurring for far longer than we can offer “proof” of.
Back to Galrahn’s point. What say you, Navy Leadership? State Department? Why are we finding out from Reuters? Let us hear from you on the subject, and what the intent is to deal with it.