Archive for August, 2008


August 21, 2008



by Colonel Gary H. Rice, CA/CF Ret’d



Recently, the Globe and Mail reported that the Conservative government has revised its expectations of success in Kandahar. Knowing that the situation on the ground in Regional Command South is ever changing and our military commitment there is evidently slated to end in 2011, such a policy shift may indeed prove to be a politically good one.


What does not seem to tally, however, is the absence in Mr. Harpers governments Canada First Defence Strategy of any provision for the Canadian Forces Expeditionary Command (CEFCOM) that would enable it to fully discharge its intended role through the acquisition of a capability to field a Standing Contingency Task Force (SCTF).


This omission is puzzling, considering that Conservative party defence policy under his leadership had long recognized the need for strategic sea and air mobility of rapid reaction forces by heavy airlift and amphibious ships. The recent purchase of four C-17 Globemaster III aircraft adequately addresses the former but the latter requirement remains unsatisfied.


If correct, the reduction of CEFCOMs mission capability arising from the abandonment of prior notions to field a SCTF embodying an amphibious capability is seen to be a most worrisome turn of events, given that in 2005 the government of the day’s intention was to increase the deployability of Canadas forces to trouble spots around the world through the creation of such a force.

Without sea lift amphibious carriers for the delivery of combat and logistic support of our ground forces in security and humanitarian missions CEFCOM will remain a largely hollow command unable to field rapid response and contingency task forces.   


It is noteworthy that in a speech delivered at the April 29, 2008 Navy Summit, Honourary Navy Captain, Conservative Senator Hugh D. Segal, boldly advocated the addition of an entirely new and global maritime capability in the form of amphibious ships and said “we need to be able to have it in more than one theatre at a time.”


Later, the esteemed military historian, Dr. Jack Granatstein wrote and expanded upon Senator Segals suggestion. “Our sailors must be able to transport and support Canadian troops operating overseas, sometimes perhaps on a hostile shore. The presently planned three Joint Support Ships can’t do this; four might be able to manage, but six would be better, along with what General Rick Hillier called “a big honking ship” that could transport four to six helicopters and a battalion-sized expeditionary force. Such ships can also do humanitarian work -in tsunami-hit Indonesia, for example- that we can scarcely tackle today.”He said. And he was right.  


Similar viewpoints addressing the need for a Canadian amphibious capability were also recently expressed in the Conference of Defence Associations Institutes 2008 Vimy Paper by the former commander of our Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral (Retd) Roger Girouard  and Rear Admiral (Retd) Ken Summers, the former Commander CF Middle East during the 1990 Gulf War. These highly insightful and pointed assessments reinforce the fundamental need and critical lack in Canadas capability to deploy and support our forces in the worlds littorals from their bases in Canada.


Based at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, and employing a whole of government approach, the envisaged SCTF was to be comprised of navy, army, air, special operations, and representatives of key government department ready to deploy anywhere in the world with ten days notice.


Indeed, the recent construction at Shearwater of a force headquarters building and the Minister of National Defences wise decision on March 28 to regain a priceless strategic national asset by recovering Crown ownership of Shearwaters upper airfield and other lands that were previously sold to the Canada Lands Corporation gave every indication that the future of CEFCOM and the SCTF was assured.


Implicit in past governments vision for a SCTF was the requirement to acquire one or more amphibious assault ships specifically designed for the embarkation and transportation of a militarily credible battle group comprised of 700-800 troops, their vehicles, weaponry other paraphernalia, and the enabling sea and air connectors.


With no requirement for a sitting Prime Minister to secure prior air space or port clearances the SCTFs amphibious ships would afford political decision makers and military commanders unparallelled maximum flexibility and allow them the currently unavailable option of pre-positioning it in international waters in the vicinity of a gathering security crisis or an impending natural disaster.


This joint seaborne quick reaction force was to have had an initial operating capability by 2007, but unforseen budgetary and operational pressures arising largely from our mission in Afghanistan obliged Mr. Harper’s  government to direct the former CDS, General Hillier, to suspend further development until after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

At this time, according to the International Institute For Strategic Studies publication: “The Military balance 2008,” Canadas navy comprises a total of 47 ships: four SSK, three DDG, 12 FFG, 12 MCDV, two AOR eight YDT, and six TRG.


Current plans call for: the commissioning of three JSS to replace the existing two AORs, the addition by 2010 of two more TRG vessels and up to eight Polar-class 5 Arctic Patrol Vessels; and starting in 2015, the construction of 15 ships to replace Canadas old Tribal Class destroyers (DDG) and its Halifax Class frigates (FFG). This could ultimately increase the fleet size to some 58 ships.


Significantly, though, nowhere in the Canada First Defence Strategy is there any hint of any plans for the future construction of the additional amphibious warships that would be required by CEFCOM to enable it develop the previously envisaged SCTF amphibious capability.

Numerical objectives and force capability requirements assume meaning only in the context of rigorous political and military assessments and approved programme goals, they do not validate the worth or relevance of a given strategy. They beg two larger issues: what political, economic, and security interests are Canadian naval forces intended to serve? And what is to be the navys distinctive contribution to Canadas national security in this new century? It was thought that part of the answer would lie with the SCTF and its fully developed amphibious capability.


Acknowledging that the Harper government is fully aware that in addition to its responsibility to adequately provide for the defence of our northern attic, carrying on with the transformation of our forces, and successfully pursuing to its successful conclusion Canada’s current mission in Afghanistan, it must also be fully cognizant of its obligation to prepare our nation and its armed forces to respond to the rapidly evolving global geo strategic revolution that is now underway. In short, there will be wars to fight after Afghanistan and Canada must stand ready to carry it share of the West’s burden.  


This is a change that is rapidly shifting North Americans and Canadians focus from Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean and peoples of the teeming nations of the Asia-Pacific littoral. This is where Canadas future prosperity lies. This


This is where Canadas future security challenges will arise. This is where Canadas future battles will be fought. This where Canadas future body politic must be engaged. And this is where Canadas future military must be fully prepared to fight in the defence of Canadas national interests.


Recognizing the importance of the burgeoning two way flows of people, commerce and natural resources between Canada and the Asia-Pacific Region implies that Canada, perforce, must turn its national face westward and significantly expand its now lilliputian diplomatic, intelligence, and military presence.


To properly defend and advance Canadas interests in this vast area will require the use of all of its available instruments of national power. Soft power government initiatives underpinned by a standing military presence in the waters off our west coast and in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean will represent the nations’ bulwark and help assure its continued security and prosperity.


To adequately secure Canadas interest the nations’ hard power elements must comprise a militarily credible surface, sub surface fleet, and a joint seaborne amphibious capability. For maximum efficiency and effectiveness this force must be fully interoperable with the armed forces of our closest allies in the region: the United States and Australia; the former possessing the worlds most powerful navy and amphibious forces, the latter now swiftly moving to acquire its own modern amphibious capability through the acquisition of a new class of highly capable, minimally crewed and cost efficient amphibious warships.


The sad reality of the apparent current situation with regard to the uncertain future of the SCTF, however, may well be that visionary efforts made under the former CDS to implant “jointness” within the CF may now be beginning to give way to much of the same old myopic, parochial and service-centric approaches to the nation’s defence strategy that have so often failed Canada in the past. In this context our navy’s long and continuing lack of purpose built expeditionary amphibious shipping to deliver and support security and humanitarian forces in the world’s littorals at effective and viable levels is seen to represent a critical deficiency in military capability.


It may also be that some politically compliant and newly minted admirals and generals may have failed to face up to the stark reality that the future JSS will have only very limited usefulness in supporting even small unopposed landings. Contrast this with the nations amphibious capability that was so effectively demonstrated in 1956 during Operation Rapid Step by Canadas aircraft carrier, HMCS Magnificent, when it was quickly reconfigured for troop lift and speedily despatched by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in response to the United Nations request to send a peace keeping force to Egypt.


Sadly such a national capability, was destroyed long ago with the scrapping of our last carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, in 1970. Since then we have seen the humiliating consequence of leasing civilian cargo ships and the the GTS Katie incident and in the gallant effort by the ships of Atlantic Command to deliver aid at New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


So long as Parliament, the government of the day, and the Canadian Forces leadership, remain willing to accept that our nations future strategic, political and military options will be unnecessarily reduced by the absence of a militarily credible seaborne joint expeditionary capability, Canada, in my opinion, will never live up to its full potential as an influential global middle power.


In view of the geo political importance of this matter and its relationship to the future defence and well being of Canada and its peoples it is time for Mr. Harper to clearly state his governments intentions with regard to the future fielding of a SCTF with a militarily credible enabling amphibious capability. An early  decision to join with the Australians and secure a Canadian equivalent to their new Canberra Class amphibious ships would be a positive and most welcome sign.   





August 12, 2008

Piracy in Somalia: Why Solutions can’t be found at sea 


By Christian Bedford


Christian Bedford is a Senior Analyst and Acting Program Manager at Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC), Canada’s West Coast Naval formation. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of MARPAC, DND, or the Govt. of Canada.


2008 has been a banner year for pirates in Somalia. By the end of May, there had been over a dozen incidents of piracy in the waters off its vast coastline, and attacks were occurring with startling regularity.


For over two years, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) had been lobbying the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to take action to combat Somali piracy, a phenomenon that had grown steadily to become the single largest industry in that fractured country.  In an unprecedented move, on 2 June, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1816 (2008), authorizing foreign naval vessels to enter Somali territorial waters for an initial period of six months (and likely to be extended) to use “all necessary means” to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, consistent with relevant and existing provisions of international law. 


Although the UNSC resolution is welcome news for shipping companies, insurers, vacationers, and others who find themselves off the Horn of Africa, it does little to address the root causes of Somali piracy, and as such, is likely to fail to end acts of piracy off the troubled country’s coast.  This month’s In Focus examines the phenomenon of Somali piracy and concludes that the solution is to be found on land, and not at sea.


The World’s Forgotten State


Although there are numerous reasons for the rise in pirate attacks in Somalia over the past few years, Western indifference towards the country must be placed near-or-at the top of the list.  It has been more than 17 years now since the fall of the Siad Barre regime, the last semblance of truly national governance that Somalia has known. 


In the interval, several other international crises, from the Balkans, to India/Pakistan, to Afghanistan and Iraq, have galvanized world attention and relegated “lesser” conflicts and regional disputes to the last page of the newspaper.  This, of course, is in addition to the world’s apparent indifference towards African issues in general, with the exception of extraordinary cases such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the conflict-diamond-fuelled West African civil wars (even Congo’s 1998-2003 civil war, that involved at least eight countries and resulted in over 5 million deaths, making it the deadliest conflict since WWII, was largely unknown in the West).


Since 1991, Somalia has limped along a brutal path of warring clans, separatist movements, and failed Western interventions that have, collectively, bestowed upon the country the dubious honour of being the world’s truest “failed state”.  Today, this lack of central authority and effective Western involvement has caused Somalia’s lawlessness to reach beyond its coastline to infect its territorial waters that lie across one of the world’s busiest maritime intersections, the heavily trafficked approaches to the Red Sea. 


Although the UNSC’s recent resolution aimed at Somali piracy is a positive first step, the scope and sophistication of the pirate’s operations in 2008 means that the world community will have to tackle the issue both at sea and on land; it remains to be seen whether the collective will exists to exercise the latter.


A World Leader


Far from a random group of miscreants high on Qat and looking for a quick buck, Somali pirates are part of large, well-financed and well-organized criminal organizations based in Somalia, the semi-autonomous northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland, and in states such as Kenya, Tanzania, and the United Arab Emirates.


It has even been suggested that Canada, home to the largest Somali diaspora outside Africa, hosts logistical and organizational cells for Somali pirates.  Experts on the topic say there are five main pirate gangs that operate along Somalia’s 3,025 kilometre-long coastline (Africa’s longest), each of which is tied to a powerful local warlord who, in turn, has connections to the largely ineffective Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Abdullahi Yusuf. 


Although borne out of opportunity by having no central authority to prevent it, it has been argued that Somali piracy is in fact viewed by many in the country as providing an essential service by policing the country’s territorial waters and preventing illegal fishing and toxic waste-dumping.  Although this self-righteous assessment may be scoffed at by Western shipping firms whose vessels are affected by the attacks, illegal fishing in Somali waters is in fact quite a lucrative business, with the United Nations estimating that the country regularly loses up to USD $100 million per year due to illegal fishing by states as diverse as Spain, South Korea, and Egypt.


The pirates’ sense of national duty notwithstanding, what may have begun as an exercise in maritime protection has now grown into the largest industry in Somalia.  In a country where the average yearly income is at most USD $600, a pirate earns between USD $10,000 and $30,000 per year, an unheard-of amount for most Somalis.  Ransoms this year alone have included a German-registered freighter released for USD $800,000; a Dutch cargo ship exchanged for $700,000; the Danish-owned Spitzer Korsakov icebreaker freed for $1.6 million; and the now-famous French luxury yacht Le Ponant which was released after its owners reportedly paid $2 million. 


While Somali pirates generally hold Western-flagged ships for ransom, vessels with less-well-to-do owners are employed as “mother ships”, allowing the pirates to strike at vessels traveling farther out at sea.  In the case of the hijacking of Le Ponant, it was attacked more than 160 miles off the Somali coast by a large Yemeni-flagged fishing trawler that launched two smaller speedboats, each with six pirates toting AK-47s and RPGs.  The use of these “mother ships” has meant that the danger zone for ships traveling near Somalia has expanded significantly.  Five years ago, captains were advised to stay at least 50 miles off the coast of Somalia. 


However, today, due to increased pirate attacks and their enhanced capabilities, including GPS devices and satellite phones, that advisory has extended to 200 nautical miles, and will likely have to be expanded again after the Spanish-owned Playa de Bakio, a fishing trawler, was seized by Somali pirates in late June, 247 miles off Somalia’s coast.


Cure or a band-aid? 


So what effect will the United Nations Security Council’s resolution have on Somali piracy?  In the near term, it is likely that this resolution will succeed in reducing pirate attacks.  The areas immediately surrounding Somalia’s territorial waters are being patrolled by Combined Task Force 150, a flotilla of naval vessels currently commanded by a Canadian Navy commodore.  Coalition naval forces have had successes recently against Somali pirates, including the French Navy’s well-publicized operation to track down and arrest the perpetrators of the Le Ponant hijacking, and the US Navy’s success in securing the release of the Japanese tanker MV Golden Nori


However, despite these successes, CTF 150 and other allied navies cannot hope to fully patrol and monitor territorial waters that are the size of Somalia’s, particularly given the fact that CTF-150’s area of responsibility extends from the North Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.  Given other events occurring in the area, including smuggling between Pakistan’s Makran coast and the Arabian peninsula, human trafficking, the ongoing search for weapons of mass destruction, and recent heightened tension between the United States and Iran, Western nations are unlikely to be able to dedicate enough naval forces to Somali waters to tackle Somali piracy adequately. 


In fact, history suggests that an “off shore” approach to this issue will marginalize the Somali pirates at best throughout the duration of the UNSC resolution, and will not succeed in tackling the core issue of a lack of central authority.  Piracy in Somalia began following the dissolution of the Barre government in 1991.  There is little evidence to suggest it occurred before this.  During the rule of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), a grouping of Sunni Muslim clans who controlled southern Somalia for six months in 2006, pirate attacks in the vast area they ruled virtually ceased as they brought a measure of law and order that had not been seen in nearly a generation. 


Although considered an unacceptable government by Western powers due to the UIC’s alleged connections to, and harbouring of al-Qaeda militants, the UIC is nonetheless credited with bringing stability to southern Somalia during its brief time in power.  Other recent “off shore” approaches towards Somalia by the United States have included Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from submarines lurking off the coast, and strafing runs by AC-130 Spectre Gunships.  These tactics have rarely accomplished their intended goal, and have killed many civilians in the process, angering locals and driving them into the arms of groups like the UIC. 


When boots have hit the ground in Somalia, the results have all too often been disastrous, both for foreign forces and Somalis.  Canada and the United States sent troops into the country in the early 1990s, with Canada having to withdraw its forces following the infamous “Somalia Affair”, and with the US losing 19 Marines in 1993 in the events that were portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down.  Pakistan, another member of CTF-150, lost 24 soldiers in clashes with a Somali militia in the same year.  Ethiopian troops, the largest contingent in an AU force that overthrew the UIC and remained in the country to provide security, have been regular targets for Somali insurgents, with dozens killed since 2006.


The Way Forward


Given current priorities and commitments, as well as ongoing crises in Darfur and Zimbabwe, it is highly unlikely that Western nations will commit any significant efforts and resources to resolving Somalia’s political crisis.  Nor it is likely, despite their best efforts, that the African Union, through its peacekeepers and negotiators, will be able to bring peace and stability to a country that has been wracked by chaos for so many years.  A new approach is clearly needed both to help this struggling country and end maritime piracy off its shores. 


Perhaps this approach will mean finally recognizing the regions of Puntland and Somaliland, which have operated independently from Mogadishu’s rule for nearly twenty years and have been on the frontlines of Somalia’s struggles with piracy.  Although recognizing new political entities can be a dangerous game to play, the alternatives are continued strife, increased piracy, the use of the country as a safe-haven for terrorists, and the risk that Somalia’s internal disputes could spill over its borders and infect neighbouring states more than they already are. 


Also, recognizing these two quasi-states should empower them to strengthen their institutions, driving pirates south to areas that lack such law and order and thereby making it easier for coalition forces to focus on them through the Security Council’s recent resolution.  Western diplomats based in East African countries should redirect their focus in a way similar to that employed in the recent electoral crises in Zimbabwe and Kenya to Somalia, with the hope that increased pressure can coerce Somalia’s various clans to agree to a power-sharing structure upon which a stable government can emerge.


Although the UN Security Council’s recent resolution will likely do much to reduce piracy in Somalia’s waters in the near term, this effort will be incomplete without a comprehensive strategy to tackle Somalia’s fractured politics and lack of central authority, conditions that allows the scourge of piracy to persist.




* The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of DND, MARPAC, or the Govt. of Canada*