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Friday
Nov212008

Military analyst’s warnings about piracy prove true with Somalia attacks

Maj. W. Thomas Smith, Jr., is a military expert, author and journalist whose work has appeared in top media around the globe.Exclusive feature about piracy and Somalia

(Columbia, S.C.)—Maj. W. Thomas Smith Jr. (SCSG) — military analyst, counterterrorism/counterpiracy expert, and former U.S. Marine infantry leader — says Islamists may well be “capitalizing” on high-seas piracy. As a journalist, Smith has reported from battlefields in the Balkans and the Middle East—from the West Bank to Iraq (two tours) to Lebanon—and he covered the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks from "ground zero" in New York. Smith agreed to an exclusive Q&A with The US Report about piracy.

As an interesting sidenote, TUSR has obtained a special dispatch supplied by The Middle East Media Research Institute (Jul. 8, 2008). In June, 2008, Islamist websites posted a video message by Al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan Abu Yahya Al-Libi titled ‘Somalia—No Peace without Islam.” Al-Libi urged Somali mujahideen to continue their jihad in Somalia: “Do not settle for less than an independent Islamic state that does not recognize international legitimacy and non-Islamic laws…There is no shorter way than jihad to achieve your goals…”

Chaos reigns in this country with less than 2 percent arable land where droughts, dust storms and contaminated water impact the population [CIA World Factbook]. The country’s major religion is Sunni Muslim (85 percent of the population.) In July, the Somalia chief of the United Nations Development Agency was killed and 3 aid workers were also murdered.

The Boston Globe reported on Friday: “Piracy in the heavily trafficked Gulf of Aden and a widening arc of the Indian Ocean has more than doubled so far this year, with 80 ships attacked and 60 hijacked.”

Q&A with W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

TUSR: Many are praising India’s claims that its Navy has sunk a pirate ship off the Horn of Africa . Others say only a political solution will stop piracy. What’s your opinion on a solution?
SMITH: The solution lies within the coordination of effort between the world’s navies and coastal defense forces, all of which have a vested interest in keeping the sea lanes open and safe. The free, coastal nations of the world are increasingly working together toward that aim – better sharing of information, intelligence, and counterpiracy assets; better communication; an international piracy warning network, those kinds of things – but it’s still an enormous challenge when you consider the fact that the oceans cover over 70 percent of the earth, and 60 percent of those oceans are what we might call free-to-roam international waters. 

TUSR: Apparently, piracy IS the economy in some parts of Somalia . Are you aware of other countries who are willing to deal with the contraband pirates seize?
SMITH: Let’s just say that grain, oil, and other goods and resources transported in huge quantities on these huge freighters have tremendous black market value. 

TUSR: Do you believe the piracy is an extension of radical Islamists, or does this have nothing to do with religion?
SMITH: On the surface this has less to do with radical Islam and more to do with big money to be made in ransoms as well as the utter lawlessness of the remote coastal areas and littorals where pirates generally maintain their bases of operation and launching and reentry points.

Piracy may often appear to be “an extension of radical Islam,” as you say, but that’s because religious Jihadists and seaborne bandits both deal in fear, black market weapons, and blood money. And the lawless regions of the world – Africa ’s poorly governed territories for example – are conducive to the operations of both Jihadists and pirates.

But there is another variable to consider according to two friends, Defense expert Peter Brookes and Africa expert Dr. J. Peter Pham:

In the December 2008 issue of Armed Forces Journal, Brookes writes: ‘While maritime terrorism and piracy aren’t the same, they could overlap, especially when it comes to targets and techniques, providing opportunities for collaboration.’” And Dr. Pham writing in World Defense Review, says there is ‘emerging evidence of ties between the pirates and the Islamist militants.’”

Not surprising, and it’s a reality I predicted on FOX News more than two years ago when I said we must get a handle on piracy before the Islamists begin to capitalize on this activity, smuggling arms and bad guys through the pirate realm, and generally collaborating with one another.

TUSR: Since Somalia has no cohesive government and there’s internal conflict between clans and with neighboring Ethiopia , who exactly can assume responsibility for the waterways?
SMITH: No one. As I’ve said, much of Africa is lawless and ungoverned: Breeding grounds for both pirates and Jihadists.

TUSR: Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was stunned by the pirates’ reach. I was taken aback by Mullen’s surprise—the reach has been well-documented in all manner of media, even a lengthy feature in National Geographic this year that somewhat romanticized the pirates. So why is an admiral stunned?
SMITH: Admiral Mullen was ‘stunned’ by the pirate attack taking place so far from the coast, about 450 miles offshore. The attack in fact was a bit surprising. It was bold, very risky for the attackers, and much farther out into the so-called ‘blue water’ than previous attacks we’ve seen by similar bands in recent history.

Now, I’ve since seen a few bloggers and others criticizing the admiral for his remarks – suggesting that no true fighting admiral would say such – and perhaps ‘stunned’ was a less-than-stellar word choice. But the admiral is a professional Naval officer, not a politician. And so I say, it’s easy for those who have never been to war or to sea—and have no frame of reference for an appreciation of just how vast and unforgiving the sea can be—to criticize.

Map of Somalia (CIA World Factbook, US Gov.)

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References (5)

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  • Source
    The worsening peril of modern piracy was on display this week with the capture of a Saudi oil tanker 450 miles off the shore of east Africa - a hostage-taking that coincided with the hijacking of an Iranian cargo ship and followed the September seizure of a Ukranian ship with 33 Soviet-era tanks on board. Piracy in the heavily trafficked Gulf of Aden and a widening arc of the Indian Ocean has more than doubled so far this year, with 80 ships attacked and 60 hijacked.
  • Source
    The top US military officer said Monday he was "stunned" by the reach of the Somali pirates who seized a Saudi supertanker off the east coast of Africa, calling piracy a growing problem that needs to be addressed.
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    The United States is engaged in a global war against terrorism. What the Somali pirates are doing is nothing different than the Corsairs of Algeirs (known more colloquially to school children everywhere as the “Barbary Pirates”). Allowing this to continue encourages lawlessness. The United States has a vested interest in freedom of the seas, freedom of navigation, and freedom of commerce in blue waters. Only the United States has the capability to basically locate, hunt down, and kill these band

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