Exum went and hired away my star piracy columnist, Cdr. Herb Carmen. I'm not gonna get into a bidding war, but the door's open whenever that Tennessee moonshine wears off, Herbal.
Meantime, while Herb mulls his journalistic options, here is a link to the very good statement he wrote for Ex on how an aviation unit can prepare to operate in support of counterinsurgency operations. He has a lot of thoughtful advice, such as:
Bring in guys who have been there to talk about their experiences. Aviators are keenly interested in hearing from the folks that have 'been there.' That knowledge and wisdom is soaked, and aviators build a human connection to the unit they're supporting. JTACS, company commanders, battalion commanders would all make great guests.
Speaking of Ex, he challenges my view that the surge worked tactically but failed strategically. Knock yourself out, Ex Man. (Fwiw, I'd be more persuaded by a chart that didn't begin with the outbreak of a civil war, but rather with the outbreak of the insurgency two years earlier. "Hey, casualties are way down since Antietam!") But luring away the staff...
The U.S. Army/flickr
Here's an interesting file from our pirates watcher on the connections between piracy and campaign finance, and also how complicated ransom money has become.
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, U.S. Navy
Best Defense piracy columnist
The Chief of Naval Operations' Foreword in the "U.S. Navy's Vision for Confronting Irregular Challenges" states, "Our Navy has a history of confronting irregular challenges at sea, in the littorals, and on shore." After reading the latest U.N. report on Somalia, it sounds like the security situation in Somalia is a prime example of the irregular challenges navies face.
Adirashid ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
An anonymous response to Best Defense's piracy columnist here calls out the U.S. Navy for its sluggish response to the growing piracy problem in the Indian Ocean. It's not every day that you see someone challenge the manhood of the whole 5th Fleet.
Frankly, I think Mr. Anon is a little rough on Cdr. Herb Carmen, a fine officer who is our regular piracy columnist. (So Carmen applauded the French, is that a crime?) But this blog believes in letting different voices be heard, so here is the opposing viewpoint. Btw, for those of you following the action at home, a MEU is a Marine Expeditionary Unit. The last time I looked, which was a long time ago, that was a jarhead infantry battalion backed by an aviation element (a few weak-ass Cobra attack helicopters, some aging transport helicopters, and a couple of Harriers, if you were lucky), plus a logistics battalion.
Herb Carmen's posts talk about international will, highlight EU NAVFOR and NATO -- and say almost next to nothing about the U.S. Navy.
The fact is that the U.S. isn't showing the will to do what needs to be done. No one, including policymakers, wants to deal with it. I really believe that 5th Fleet made a conscious decision to let piracy escalate to get the Europeans to drag their butts through the Suez and no one has told me I'm wrong.
The U.S. Navy wants nothing to with fighting thugs in the littorals for the same reasons the Air Force traditionally resists the close air support mission -- it's not the blue water fleet battle they've built the force around. We ought to be take down motherships and ‘steal back' a merchant ship or two offshore. We should attack the financial networks and go after the agents and negotiators in other nearby countries. No one is willing to call out shippers and insurers for their complicit behavior. The real reason no one is really taking any of this seriously, I suspect, is that the hostages are largely low-paid Filipino, Indian and Pakistani merchant seamen. If we had 200 westerners held captive -- let alone Americans -- we'd already have a MEU on the beach.
I'd like to hear from someone other than poor old Herb on this. Any response, 5th Fleeters?
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, USN Best Defense pirates columnist
In my last post, I wrote about the EU's expanding mission against piracy near Somalia. Well, quite impressively, EU NAVFOR wasted no time in taking action. Since Thursday's post, the French frigate Nivose has seized 35 pirates, four motherships, and six skiffs. This is good news because the fight against piracy hinges on international willingness to take action. What the French intend to do with the captured pirates has not yet been made clear, but what is clear is that there are 35 less pirates on the seas and, as Bryan McGrath has described it, 35 "empty chairs at the dinner table."
Multi-mission naval aviator Herb Carmen returns safely to base with yet another interesting report. Here ‘tis.
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense piracy columnist
History shows that stopping piracy almost always requires actions ashore. In the case of piracy near Somalia, very little has yet been done to put pressure on the shore establishment that supports the booming business and burgeoning industry of piracy in the region. By steering clear of the Somali coast and focusing on sea lane protection and escort, navies may make hijacking merchant vessels more difficult for pirates but can only address the symptoms of piracy without confronting the source and the motivations behind it.
With some 2 million square miles of ocean to patrol, it requires considerable effort to do counter-piracy well. While escort operations have been largely successful in recent months, the annual number of pirate attacks has increased. The rate of pirate hijackings actually decreased by 28% in 2009, but the number of hijackings remains almost steady between 2008 and 2009. What the steady number of hijackings might suggest is that pirates have a finite capacity ashore to berth and retain seized vessels; and, within that finite capacity, pirates have been able to sustain a certain level of success in the region despite the success in the sea lanes.
Even as navies make it more difficult for pirates at sea, the problem isn't going away without addressing piracy closer to shore and denying pirates the use of port facilities. Recent hijackings have been largely against merchant vessels that have strayed from transit corridors and ignored best practices. The most recent example of such a hijacking is the capture of the Saudi tanker Al Nisr Al Saudi which was hijacked Monday and had not registered its voyage with MSCHOA. The vessel was taken to Garacad, a well-known pirate stronghold. Garacad isn't new to the Navy, as seen in this video.
Last week brought promising news of a first step in denying pirates the use of ports such as Garacad, along the middle of the Somali coastline. The ministers of the defense of the European Union announced an expansion of the mission of EU's Operation Atalanta to "include control of the Somali ports where pirates are based as well as ‘neutralizing' mother ships that allow the pirates to operate over 1,000 kilometers from the coast." Until now, EU NAVFOR has focused its maritime assets on protection of vessels of the World Food Program (WFP) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia and the protection of vulnerable vessels sailing in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. While they've been largely successful in protecting WFP aid, it appears that EU NAVFOR is expressing a willingness and commitment to confront piracy more directly. If the EU takes this mission on wisely and with drive and energy, it could reduce Somali piracy significantly.
Beyond the issue of piracy, what happens to WFP aid once it is delivered to Somalia has become the challenge ashore. The WFP partially suspended operations in Somalia in January in the face of threats and attacks from armed groups. In a statement Sunday, Al Shabaab "banned" WFP operations in Somalia. Just this week, there are reports that WFP trucks and truck drivers have been hijacked ashore. WFP has hopes to restart work in the area in March or April and aims to provide food assistance to 3.5 million people.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
People tend to neglect the contributions of smaller nations like Denmark. Here is a good reminder from our Bono of the buccaneer beat:
By Cdr. Herb Carmen, USN
Best Defense pirates columnist
When father of the American Navy John Paul Jones famously wrote in a letter to Le Ray de Chaumont on November 16, 1778, "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way," he was expressing his disappointment in the inadequate English prize offered to him by the French. He had hoped that friends connected with the French monarch in Versailles would help him get the right ship to meet his needs. After five months of waiting, he came across a copy of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac:
"As Jones listlessly turned its pages, his eye fell upon the maxim, ‘If you wish to have any business done faithfully and expeditiously, go and do it yourself. Otherwise, send someone.'
"Shutting the book, and dashing it to the floor, Jones sprang to his feet exclaiming, ‘I will go to Versailles this very day.' Before night he set out, and soon reached the royal court. His reputation easily gained him an interview; and his frank, self-reliant way so impressed the monarch, that in five days the American was tendered the command of the ship ‘Daras,' mounting forty guns.
"Great was the exultation of the American seaman at this happy termination of his labor. Full of gratitude to the distinguished philosopher whose advice had proved so effective, he wrote to the minister of marine, begging permission to change the name of the vessel to the ‘Poor Richard,' or, translated into French, the ‘Bon Homme Richard.' Permission was readily granted; and thereafter the ‘Bon Homme Richard,' with Paul Jones on the quarter-deck, did valiant work for the cause of the young American Republic."
The Danish support ship HDMS Absalon is a very effective multi-mission ship that fits the maritime missions we have seen in recent months, most notably off the coasts of Somalia and Haiti. HDMS Absalon can be equipped for naval warfare, land attack, strategic sealift missions or used as a command and control platform. She can also be configured as a hospital ship or used for emergency disaster relief. She is equipped with a roll-on roll-off ramp installed at the stern for access to the "flex deck" which can support a Leopard II tank. While her maximum sustained speed is a modest 23 knots, HDMS Absalon can carry stores and fuel for 28 days of endurance.
The right ship matters, but what is primary in naval warfare is the fighting spirit of her crew. Commodore Christian Rune and the crew of Absalon have certainly shown superb fighting spirit in 2010. Commodore Rune flies his flag in Absalon and leads the NATO's counter-piracy mission off the east coast of Somalia. On February 5th, HDMS Absalon came to the rescue of the Slovenian cargo ship MV Ariella after she was attacked by pirates. MV Ariella's crew was following best practices and had safely locked themselves away while calling for help. A team from Absalon boarded the Ariella and regained control of it while sailors from the Russian Navy ship Neustrashimyy successfully boarded and detained a second pirate skiff.
After the operation Commodore Rune commented, "NATO is making a significant contribution in the fight against piracy, but we recognize that there is still a lot of work to do." And more work they did. Last Sunday, a boarding team from HDMS Absalon intercepted a pirate mothership. The pirates were transferred to a smaller boat in tow and allowed to return to shore. HDMS Absalon then fired upon the pirate mothership and sunk it. Since NATO's Operation Ocean Shield began, there has been a 50% drop in piracy incidents in the Gulf of Aden.
The Danes are showing that they sent the right ship and the right crew for the counter-piracy mission near Somalia. Bravo Zulu to Commodore Rune and the crew of the HDMS Absalon!
Tom again: I just wanna add that "Christian Rune" is a rich name for a Scandanavian sea captain.
HENNING BAGGER/AFP/Getty Images
By Cmdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense piracy czar
Are some ship masters rolling the dice as they pass through pirate infested waters to save operating costs? Are ship masters intentionally taking the path of least resistance and ignoring Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia? It's something we've been looking at when combing through data of successful pirate attacks. So, too, have the folks at Strategy Page.
In a recent post, Strategy Page points out that about a quarter of the ships passing through these waters are gambling with the safety and well-being of their ships and crews to save time and what can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in operating costs. In doing so, they increase the pirates' chances of successfully hijacking their ship from 1 in 500 to 1 in 200. At a press conference on February 2nd, Rear Admiral Peter Hudson, Commander of EU NAVFOR Somalia, highlighted the fact that many of the ships hijacked were not registered with the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa), were not reporting to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office in Dubai, and were not following best management practices.
Here are some thoughts on the pirates of the interstate from naval aviator Herb Carmen, whose daddy was a truck driving man.
By Cmdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense pirates columnist
We most often think of piracy taking place on the high seas, but it's also happening closer to home. Jennifer Levitz wrote an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about a spike in piracy on the nation's highways. The article cites data from FreightWatch International which shows that thieves stole 859 truckloads containing $487 million of goods in 2009, up from $290 million just one year ago. FreightWatch International's 2009 review of U.S. cargo theft has breaks down what types of good were stolen, which states have seen the most thefts, and points to a few trends.
It's interesting to contrast cargo theft on the highways with piracy off the Somali coast. Tractor-trailer thefts require surveillance and focus on stealing cargo often while drivers are away from their trucks. Stolen goods are then sold on the black market. Pirate attacks near Somalia seek vulnerable targets of opportunity at sea to capture and take hostages. Pirates near Somalia have the capacity to capture and detain hostages for long periods of time while ransom negotiations take place. Tractor-trailer thefts more closely resemble pirate attacks near Asian ports, where cargo is more often the prize and where the capability to remove and resell the cargo exists.
David McNew/Getty Images
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense Pirates Columnist
With all that's been happening in Haiti over the last week, I'd like to start by sending a shout out to my first Fleet squadron, the VRC-40 Rawhides. The Rawhides have several C-2A Greyhound aircraft participating in Operation Unified Response, shuttling food and water to from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Haiti throughout the night. In fact, I heard from one of the Rawhides at 4:30am Tuesday morning before he and his crew made a final run to Haiti with six pallets of MREs before getting some rest. Because the airfield at Port-au-Prince can only handle 1 wide-body jet at a time, medium lift aircraft like the C-2A can help keep supplies moving by landing, unloading quickly on a small taxiway, and departing. Obviously, the C-2A carries a lot less than a C-17, but the C-2A's ability to get in and out of an airport expeditiously with a light footprint gives it a niche for the movement of high priority cargo into Haiti which can then be distributed by other means. Bravo Zulu to VRC-40 and Bravo Zulu to everyone lending a hand in Haiti.
Pirate Watcher Herb Carmen buzzed the deck of the USS Best Defense and dropped this message from his cockpit:
By Cdr. Herb Carmen
Best Defense Buccaneers Beat Reporter
Thanks to all who submitted comments and emails in response to our first post on piracy. You already are giving me new ideas for future posts. I had intended to make this post a discussion of defining piracy. Instead, I'd like to take a detour and highlight the U.S. Navy's Africa Partnership Station (APS) because it has the potential, over time, to build and promote anti-piracy capacity along the east coast of Africa.
Vice Admiral Harry B Harris, Jr., Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, in a briefing with reporters a couple of days ago described APS as "an international initiative, which promotes maritime security and stability in the region."
Ahoy, mateys. Herewith my CNAS colleague, Navy Cdr. Herb Carmen, comes aboard with an overview of recent pirate news. Herb, formerly ringleader of the Sun Kings, the notorious music-loving aviation squadron, is a veteran naval aviator with 444 controlled crash landings on carriers to his name.
We here at Best Defense hope that in the coming months, until Herb catapults back into the fleet, that "Pirate Watch" will be a continuing feature of this blog:
In recent weeks, we've been showered with stories and posts in recent about piracy near the Gulf of Aden and Somali Coast. On December 27th, a helicopter delivered a $4M ransom payment to secure the safe return of the Chinese dry bulk carrier Den Xin Hai owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping, her 25-member crew and 76,000 tons of coal. Just after I had read a blog post about the sale of Blackwater's 183-ft anti-piracy ship, I read another post describing A.P. Moller Maersk Line's hiring of contracted security forces, including a warship from Tanzania, to protect the Brigit Maersk tanker from pirates of the coast of Africa. In just the first two days of 2010, a chemical tanker, a British vehicle carrier, and 49 seamen were taken captive by pirates. Just when it appeared the salvo of news on piracy was over, apparently a contractor and forces from the Yemen Navy have teamed up for some time to provide security for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.
So I was idly reading the Copenhagen Post (Hans Christian Anderson's favorite newspaper!) and saw the Maesrk shipping company has hired a Tanzanian warship and some soldiers to defend its merchant vessels in the area.
Does this mean the shipping companies have come to believe that the naval task force assembled by Western task forces isn't providing sufficient security and deterrence? If I were the CNO I'd be worried by this.
(HT to HC the Sun King)
MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.