November 19, 2009

Coming Ashore

If the glass is half full, the EU’s developing strategy in Somalia is a welcome admittance that piracy can only be solved on land, where the pirates live. Not to mention those gangs and militants not directly involved in piracy.

Swedish Defence Minister Sten Tolgfors told reporters, “There is general acknowledgment that the troubles we see at sea do not stem at sea, but on land. That is the reason why many countries are interested in discussing what can be done on land.”

EU military planners were ordered to mobilize up to 200 instructors, to be deployed to Uganda where they’ll train an estimated 2,000 Somali troops. Pilot programs initiated by France, Uganda and Djibouti have already begun training another 4,000 troops, and they come with the advantage of operating outside Somalia.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in a new report to the UN Security Council, “One of the ways to ensure the long-term security of international navigation off the coast of Somalia is through a concerted effort to stabilize the situation ashore, as pirates have become more sophisticated in their methods and techniques of attacking.”

The only way to ensure long-term security is stabilizing the situation ashore. French Defense Minister Herve Morin bluntly stated, “We clearly see that if we don't help Somalia, then we could have the Atalanta operation for 20 or 30 years.”

The glass is always half empty in Somalia. The EU, and presumably America, the UN, and AU, if they start today, have 20 or 30 years of land operations ahead of them, probably more. Anything and everything could go wrong in the meantime. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said training won’t start “before the end of next year."

Somalia could be different in a year.

Of course that shouldn’t stop the international community from trying to help. Guardian reporter George Grant writes that patrolling the Gulf of Aden is an exercise in inefficiency, calculating, “Attacks off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden totaled 141 in the first nine months of this year, up 70% on the same period in 2008.”

Grant advocates strengthening the relatively stable Puntland, which declared itself an autonomous state in 1998. Presumably he would extend his strategy to Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but has yet to be recognized by the international community. Octopus Mountain supports this idea.

Somalia needs a multi-tiered approach. America is feeding weapons, ammunition, and dollars into the transitional government, a futile plan itself. Added to regional support of Somalia’s offshoots and something might happen. Hundreds of millions of dollars in Naval operations have more value in restoring Somalia’s coast, but both projects need funding.

“The numbers we are now talking about are quite realistic,” Tolgfors said of the EU’s training program, though the small numbers make this statement a non-starter. Western training appears viable over the long term, but will only succeed within a comprehensive political and economic strategy. Otherwise the West will stoke more civil war.

One glaring dilemma is where the EU’s trainers will actually come from. Already struggling to fill the 400 quota for Afghanistan, some officials are worried they can barely train one foreign army with an unstable government let alone two.

UK MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, security and defense spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists group, pointed out, “If there is a need to train indigenous military and police forces the first priority is Afghanistan, where the response of the EU and many European countries has so far been hopeless.”

Neither Afghanistan nor Somalia needs any more hopelessness than they generate on their own, but at least Western leaders are going public on Somalia's plight.

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