Monday, April 23, 2012
Nineteen years after the failed attempt to restore hope
in Somalia, it appears the West is getting ready for another crack at
Africa's Horn. The EU Naval Force tasked with anti-piracy operations in
the Gulf of Aden has had its mandate extended to cover "Somali coastal
territory and internal waters". This ends the policy of "no boots on the
ground" in Somalia, opening the door to land and air strikes on pirate
camps, transport and logistics.
Indian Navy officers, just back from the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium
in South Africa, confirmed the development, one of them indicating that
intervention is perhaps the only long-term and permanent solution left
for the international community.
Block is yet to formulate a response but with Somalia's transitional
government agreeable to the European initiative, India, it would seem,
could go in for similar fig leaf in the event a decision on intervention
has to be made.
It won't be the
first time. In 1993, India sent a brigade to Baidoa in southern Somalia
under Brig. (later Lt Gen) Mono Bhagat as part of the UN peacekeeping
force. The force set some records in terms of finding weapons caches and
bringing a semblance of order in the area. But they did suffer
casualties and when Operation Restore Hope was shut down after the
downing of a US military Black Hawk helicopter, the brigade withdrew.
then returned to its chaotic state and in course of time evolved into a
bastion of piracy. Although the total number of pirate attacks have
fallen, the pirate industry in Somalia is adapting to the challenges
posed by increased naval patrols and aerial surveillance. Pirate "Mother
ships" as they are called, are venturing out of the Gulf of Aden,
entering the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. They are changing
tactics, using mass attacks by speedboats to overwhelm and capture
In response, the
Indian Navy has stepped up the scale of its own deployment. While
operating independently in the Gulf of Aden, it is also scheduling its
patrols with those of Japan and China to ensure 24x7 naval presence. In
the Arabian Sea and the waters off the Andaman islands, Indian Navy
patrols have doubled while the aerial surveillance is now at 100 per
cent. (A sidelight to this is India's unhappiness with international
insurers charging sky high rates for transit through waters close to
India. It adds to the cost of India's maritime trade and is a reflection
on the Indian Navy's effectiveness.)
India will bide its time. But the EU has fired the first shot. The US
is probably on board but may prefer to keep a low profile for now.
Somalia's neighbours are already involved. Ethiopia has troops in
Somalia while Kenya has established a buffer zone stretching up to the
port of Kismayu. Somalia Restore Hope-2 may not be long in the making.