sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The New Battle for the Atlantic (book review)

The New Battle for the Atlantic: Emerging Naval Competition with Russia in the Far North
by Magnus Nordenan

The book begins at the beginning of modern conflict in the North Atlantic and despite my fear that the historical review would be a re-hash, it was not. The author built a historical foundation for the situation in the North Atlantic based on a review that was not too overarching and didn't get caught up in the granularity of specific historical events in an untoward manner.

It's a difficult book for anyone who has had a security clearance to write because so many of the modern events that took place in the North Sea were classified, and to the best of my knowledge, remain so. Thus my reading was also an exercise in reflection on what were closely guarded secrets.

I was not a part of the submarine service in the North Atlantic, nor was I part of the Anti-Submarine Warfare community which plied its trade endlessly in what was a Cold War and what seems to be emerging as a much smaller cousin of that war.

Much of Part 3 of this work: The Return of Competition in the North Atlantic, the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic, and The North Atlantic in the 21st Century becomes a matter of interpretation as much as a fact. We can all read tea leaves, cast chicken bones and examine the position of thrown runes to try and make sense of Russian  Federation's resurgence from the days of the Cold War and the old Soviet Union. We can likewise look at the German Navy rotting at the docks and NATO's spotty interest in defense. The British don't even have Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA's) anymore, though I've read that they're in the process of acquiring US made Poseidon MPA's. 

Is Russia an existential threat to Europe, the United States and the rest of the world? Does it have the capacity to do more than cause mischief to NATO? The book explores these and other related questions in detail in the last third of the book in a methodical, but not boring way.

This is a book review, not a polemic on my personal views, but I will admit that Nordenan caused me to reflect on American naval operations in an age of sustained forward operations and limited time in repair activities. Where should the focus be in a dangerous and multi-polar world? Clearly we should not write off the North Atlantic even in the face of other needful priorities. 

The Naval Institute Press has a history of publishing insightful books on Naval topics and of Naval interest. This is yet another that is worth the time to both read and ponder. 


Back to Somalia - Part 2


WSF - The cliche, Africa Wins Again, comes to mind. Other than the piracy problem, do we have any vital interests there?

I'm not sure how vital our interest is in stopping piracy. It's a bigger problem for other nations than it is for the US, and we can strike the coast with impunity and wipe out pirate lairs at will. US national will is the issue. But the Chinese or the Japanese or the British could do the same. Naval gunfire can do a lot of damage. US aircraft can do a better job, but it's a matter of degree. Naturally the American press decries any punishment of pirates as 'racist'.

The latest reliable GDP numbers for Somalia is $5.896 billion in 2010. Even that number is suspect to me. To compare, the Arizona GDP was $355 billion in 2018 according to BEA data. Your (WSF) state of Colorado's GDP was $377 billion. The California GDP was $3 trillion. The island of Guam (US Territory) had a $6 billion GDP. If it should capsize, its GDP would be less than Somalia. At least 30% of the Somali GDP is derived from foreign aid from all sources including the UN. They probably earn about the same in piracy in a good year. Lately international pressure and military attacks on pirates has reduced income from that industry.

A small rural county in Arizona produces significantly more than the entire nation of Somalia.

The only thing that Somalia had going for it was the production of small quantities of uranium, gemstones and salt. Non US companies have mining concessions regionally in Somalia, but it would be interesting to know if the cost of extracting (including necessary security) yields much of a profit. 

When the central Government collapsed in 1991, documents certifying mineral rights were destroyed, and today, nobody is sure who owns what. Bribes to government officials can get you regional mining concessions since only the central government can authorize mining rights as a matter of law.

So, you can presume that there isn't much of value in Somalia. The only significant export could be said to be terrorism but even their terrorist al-Qeada affiliate states that it is only interested in East Africa.  

LSP - Thanks for the briefing and it's weird to think of Minneapolis as Little Mogadishu, but there it is. Trouble.

President Obama might have cited the value of Somalia rested in its people. And you could make of that what you will. I don't think that the US Army personnel who died there in 1993 would agree with Barack.

I think that my thesis holds that the country isn't even worth the price of a single nuclear weapon. 


Back to Somalia?

Tomorrow, we will recall the attacks by Mohammedans on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the aborted attack on the White House, eighteen years ago, on September 11, 2001. Today, it's time to consider a backwater in the Global War on Terror that has the possibility of more US involvement. There are more, but we'll focus on Somalia today.

During the Trump Administration, the US has inserted itself into a small war that has not reached the pages of mainstream news. Maybe if they were less focused on removing the president from office we would read more about AFRICOM's engagement in Somalia.

Barack Obama left us a gift - Somali immigrant enclaves in Minnesota which are pro-jihadi by in large with enough numbers to elect Ilhan Omar to Congress from the 5th District. I don't know if the campaign fund fraud, marriage fraud, and immigration fraud are sufficient to get her incarcerated and removed from office. Thanks Barack. Part of his enduring legacy.

Context and Precedence

You can call it an extension of the Global War on Terror if you will. Who can forget The Battle of Mogadishu (1993) and Operation Gothic Serpent? The activities of Task Force Ranger were made into the movie Blackhawk Down (2001), a film by Ridley Scott.  There was another component of that war, detailed in a piece by the Washington Post
The CIA sent advance teams to Somalia to assess conditions on the ground before the troops arrived. The first American killed in Somalia, in fact, was a CIA operative whose vehicle hit a mine outside Bardera on December 23, 1992. "The U.S. military was going into Somalia knowing nothing about Somalia," William R. Piekney, then chief of the CIA's Africa division, said in a recent interview. "We were their eyes and ears on the ground."
The reporting by the Post and Mr. Loeb were first rate. John Spinelli, the Deputy Chief of Station, now retired and mentioned in the piece was shot three times in the back with an AK-47. The CIA decided to let him die rather than blow operational cover. General Garrison, commanding the US Military operation saw it differently and diverted a US Military aircraft to air lift John to Germany, saving his life. John, his wife and his family are friends of mine.

That was then, this is now, and we're back, with a small footprint. But back all the same.

The enemy is Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab is allied with Al Qaeda. There are many branches of Al Qaeda and it's closest with AQAP (Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. Some pronouncements from Al Shabaab indicate that its territorial goals are not the entire planet, but only East Africa. Be that as it may, it's a threat to the US backed government currently in power in Mogadishu.

The Somalia National Army and police forces with assistance from African Union, Kenyan, and Ethiopian militaries, continue to wage a counter insurgency campaign against Al Shabaab.  Whether or not that has been effective is debatable. Extreme poverty and the propensity for Mohammedans to want jihad in general means that as soon as you think it's dead, it's not.

The United States continues to be involved indirectly in combating Al Shabaab by supporting regional forces with military advisors. However, without a clear-cut purpose and end goal, the United States risks mission creep and potential long-term commitments.

The American team that remains was first organized in 2003 under AFRICOM. The presence in Mogadishu has been comprised of the Central Intelligence Agency, Naval Special Warfare Command and elements of the Joint Special Operations Command.

In 2011 Barack Obama authorized a drone strike campaign in Somalia targeting Al Shabaab. This was a shift from the Bush administration's focus on anti-piracy and general intelligence collection.

Under the Trump Administration, drone strikes have continued and AFRICOM/JSOC has become more involved with Somalia. The unofficial story is that the US has been engaged in combat and sustained casualties but not fatalities. Essentially, US advisors accompany local forces that occasionally lead to kinetic action. There's a tight lid on activities in Somalia. In fact, all of AFRICOM actions are very closely held.

Casualties have occurred in Somalia, Kenya, Chad and Cameroon according to Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc formerly in charge of special operations in Africa. 

Why are US Military forces in Somalia?

Is there a vital US national interest in Somalia?

Is it possible to defeat Al Shabaab in Somalia? (short of nuking the place, friend and foe alike and turning it into a sea of radioactive glass)

What size force would be necessary to defeat Al Shabaab?

What would "winning" look like?

The African Union has announced that it will be withdrawing its military forces in 2020. Will the US remain? What would its mission be if it did remain? 

If it sounds disturbingly familiar, it should. We avoided the mess in Yemen, and we should consider withdrawing the US Military (except the Marines who guard the embassy in Mogadishu). If the government falls to Al Shabaab, then it falls. What in Mogadishu is worth a tiny paper cut on one American finger?
*Apologies for misidentifying Omar as being from "Michigan - 5th District". It is Minnesota and was corrected above.