Piracy drill off Africa larger than ever

As piracy in the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa soars, professionals from over 20 nations are taking part in Obangame Express, a naval-exercise aimed at improving maritime safety and security in the region.

The issue of piracy and enforcement is one that needs to be tackled due to the fact that it’s a growing problem. This is mainly due to lack of ships and trained personnel which is required since large areas of water need to be patrolled and watched over. The more training done with various nations and navies, only helps in curbing the problem. More cooperation and training is needed, and such exercises will only help.

Netherlands to increase anti-piracy forces

Netherlands had decided to increase the number of anti-piracy forces participating in the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

The Netherlands will boost its military contribution to the NATO force fighting piracy in Somali waters after the country’s Parliament approved funding.

The Dutch Parliament voted last week to spend $16.5 million to provide extra personnel, two Cougar helicopters and an unmanned aerial vehicle to join Operation Ocean Shield, in which NATO warships and aircraft have been patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Also part of the new deployment will be an additional submarine to join the mission in the second half of 2012, Radio Netherlands reported.

The Netherlands has committed two vessels to Operation Ocean Shield as part of the expansion of forces. They include the helicopter-carrying frigate Evertsen, which is on its way to the region, and the amphibious transport ship Rotterdam, which will carry the two Cougar helicopters as well as the drone, the national broadcaster said.
Meanwhile, the multipurpose frigate Van Amstel, which has been deployed as part of the EU’s Operation Atalanta, will return to the Netherlands this month.

The mission of Operation Ocean Shield is to counter maritime piracy and build policing capacity with governments in the Horn of Africa region. It operates in conjunction with other naval forces including U.S.-led maritime forces, Operation Atalanta and national actors operating against the threat of piracy in the region.

The North Atlantic Council in March extended Operation Ocean Shield’s mandate until the end of 2014.

NATO in May released new statistics on piracy in the region showing a marked decline in the number of hijacking attempts.

Officials said a five pirate hijackings were recorded over the first four months of 2012, which would put the region on a pace for 20 for the year. That’s compared with 24 in 2011 and 45 each in 2010 and 2009.

But significantly, only 15 unsuccessful pirate attacks were seen between January and April — a pace of 60 for the year — while last year 129 such unsuccessful attacks by were recorded on shipping in the Somali Basin, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

As of May 11, pirates were holding eight ships with an estimated 235 hostages, NATO said.

A Dutch officer this month assumed command of Operation Ocean Shield. Commodore Ben Bekkering of the Dutch navy said the effort has been bearing fruit under the previous commander, Rear Adm. Sinan Azmi Tosun of the Turkish navy.

“On Admiral Tosun’s 6-month watch, the success rate of pirates has seen a sharp decline,” Bekkering said. “Pirates find it increasingly difficult to deploy from the coast and hunt at sea.

“But the many incidents over the last few months, including attacks and hijackings, make it absolutely clear that we can’t let our guard down,” he added. “I see it as my absolute task to ensure the trend continues and engage with all partners in the region to maximize our combined effect.”

The Dutch Parliament at the same time, however, turned down an appeal from ship-owners to allow merchant ships to hire private protection forces.

Defense Minister Hans Hillen said he understood the ship-owners’ position but said the government needed to retain control of armed forces at sea.

“All armed organizations have to fall under the state’s responsibility to ensure accuracy and proportional measures,” he told lawmakers.

The Netherlands, like a handful of European nations, NATO  itself and the U.S., are expanding anti-piracy missions to the Gulf of Aden. While geographically not close to the region, many European nations have growing Somali immigrants-population(s) and what happens in and off the coast off Somali directly and indirectly has an impact on them. The U.S. for example has had a number of its citizens of Somali background go to Somalia to train and wage Jihad. The idea of U.S. citizens going to terrorist training camps in Somalia is certainly troubling, hence it’s increased focus in the region.

NATO takes on Somali Pirates

The Danish warship HMDS Absalon has freed 12 hostages and taken on board 16 suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia. It is a successful end to their six-month deployment under NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield.
But Denmark now faces a dilemma. Unless a country in the region can be persuaded to take them ashore and prosecute them, the suspects will have to be set free again in Somalia.

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NATO ends mission in Libya

NATO has officially ended its mission in Libya enforcing the no-fly-zone.

NATO has ended its Libyan military campaign after thousands of combat sorties and billions of dollars of alliance and individual participant expenditures.

The alliance’s no-fly zone and naval blockade, which began in March, were terminated at midnight Monday after the U.N. Security Council closed the book on the mandate authorizing military action to protect Libya’s people from the Moammar Gadhafi regime.

Gadhafi is dead. Remaining members of his family have fled abroad.

And the rebel’s National Transitional Council has elected an interim prime minister, Abdel Rahim El-Keib, who will establish a government in parallel with the NTC to set the stage for a national constituent assembly, a new constitution and general elections.

The two events, however, dovetailed others that may not bode well for El-Keib and his pledge to “guarantee that we are going to build a nation that respects human rights and does not accept the abuse of human rights.”

In Tripoli on Monday two people were killed and at least seven wounded when a militia from the town of Zintan battled with Tripoli Brigade allies while trying to enter the city’s hospital to kill a man they had shot earlier.

The Zintan militia, like others in Tripoli and elsewhere, have ignored NTC calls to set down arms and return to their hometowns and villages.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, the wellhead of the rebellion that toppled Gadhafi, the black flag of al-Qaida has flown from its courthouse.

Elsewhere, various militias are reportedly terrorizing individuals and villagers suspected of having collaborated with Gadhafi forces during the rebellion that came to a close last month.

“We know it’s not easy,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Tripoli. “We know the challenges and if you ask us for help in areas where we can help, we will.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with The Washington Post, also underlined the challenges.

“They have to figure out how to reconcile various political and religious beliefs,” she said. “They have to unify all the tribes. They have to deal with the rivalry that has existed forever between the west and the east, between Benghazi and Tripoli.”

Reconciliation will be a Libyan process. But NATO countries and Arab states can help with financial aid to help the new government and country build infrastructure and recover from months of fighting.

Training of Libyan military and security forces is another, although NATO has rebuffed an NTC request that it help secure the country’s borders.

Especially important to Libya and NATO — the United States included – is securing Gadhafi regime weapons stockpiles and tracking down weapons looted during the war. The regime was believed to have had as many as 20,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Many were looted and are turning up in black market weapon’s bazaars in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel and elsewhere.

U.N. inspectors are on their way to Libya following an announcement by the NTC that two clandestine chemical weapons sites had been discovered.

Whatever the country’s future, Rasmussen made it clear that NATO considered its military participation in the overthrow of Gadhafi a “successful chapter” in the alliance’s history.

Available statistics indicate that NATO combat aircraft flew more than 9,000 strike sorties, in addition to surveillance missions, during the fighting.

But the mission wasn’t cheap by any means for countries struggling with deteriorating economies. Between March and the end of September, the United States spent about $1.1 billion to oust Gadhafi; Britain spent $257 million-$482 million; and France depleted its treasury by as much as $485 million.

Those expenses are borne by the individual countries for using their own assets.

With the death of Gadhafi, Libya has to look ahead at the challenges that the country faces both economically and politically in the aftermath of the war.  Stability will be needed to produce a safe environment for reconstruction, rebuilding the country from the ground up with new institutions and leadership.

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British and French special operatives fighting along Libyan rebels

French President Nicolas Sarkozy left and British Prime Minister David Cameron right

British and French special operatives have been fighting along side Libyan rebels.

French and British operatives have been working with Libyan rebels on their eastern front, where the insurgents scored strategic blows against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces, an AFP journalist discovered on Thursday. The operatives are installed at the rebel command for the eastern front, at the dysfunctional oil refinery in Zuwaytina, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) southwest of the opposition capital Benghazi. They are equipped with telecommunications equipment and housed in two shipping containers, within walking distance of the headquarters of Fawzi Bukatif, commander of the eastern front. He has been working out of a large office with walls covered in maps and satellite photos. There are at least two Frenchmen, and several Britons in mismatched camouflage outfits. In late April, Britain, France, Italy, Egypt and the United States announced that they had sent military advisers to the National Transitional Council, the rebels’ de facto government. Britain’s Defence Minister Liam Fox said Thursday that NATO is contributing intelligence and reconnaissance equipment to the search for Kadhafi but he refused to confirm reports that Britain’s SAS special forces were working with the Libyan rebels to track down Kadhafi. “I can confirm that NATO is providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets to the NTC (National Transitional Council) to help them track down Colonel Kadhafi and other remnants of the regime,” who fled before advancing rebel forces on Tuesday, he told Sky News. The Ministry of Defence said Fox was referring to “various assets such as military planes.” The Daily Telegraph newspaper, quoting defence sources, said SAS members were sent to Libya several weeks ago and played a key role in coordinating the battle for Tripoli. With the majority of the capital now in rebel hands, the SAS had been ordered to switch their focus to hunting down Kadhafi, the Telegraph said. They were wearing civilian clothes and armed with the same type of weapons used by the rebel forces, the paper said. “We never comment about special forces,” Fox said in a separate interview with BBC radio. Asked what role Britain was playing on the ground in Libya, Fox told the BBC: “We have always had some advisors to the NTC (as) we have made clear from the outset, helping them with communications, helping them with logistics, the chain of command and so on. “And we would of course want to continue with those relationships.”

As previously reported before here, U.S., British, Egyptian, French and Italian special operatives have been on the ground in Libya helping the rebels fight against Gadaffi. None of what is reported is new, just a confirmation of actions that were logical from the start of the NATO enforcing the no-fly-zone over Libya.

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Royal Moroccan Air Force gets first delivery of advanced F-16’s

F-16 Fighting Falcon

Lockheed Martin has delivered its first pair of F-16’s to the Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF).

The Royal Moroccan Air Force (RMAF) unveiled the first four of 24 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft in a ceremony at Ben Guerrir Air Base in Morocco. Senior representatives from the Moroccan and U.S.governments and air forces were present for the historic event.

This is Morocco’s first experience with the F-16 so the package being provided by the U.S. government is comprehensive. Morocco will acquire a Block 52 configuration of the F-16C/D aircraft tailored to meet the specific requirements of the RMAF.

The sale includes the aircraft, mission equipment and a support package provided by Lockheed Martin and other U.S. and international contractors. The new aircraft will supplement the RMAF’s existing fleet of fighter aircraft and will contribute to the upgrade and modernization of the RMAF.

“The delivery of these aircraft places Morocco among the very elite group of air forces of the world who operate the advanced multirole F-16,” said Ralph D. Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business area.

The F-16 is the choice of 25 nations. More than 4,400 aircraft have been delivered worldwide from assembly lines in five countries. The F-16 program has been characterized by unprecedented international cooperation among governments, air forces and aerospace industries. Major upgrades to all F-16 versions are being incorporated to keep the fleet modern and fully supportable over the aircraft’s long service life.

The F-16 was designed as a highly maneuvarable, reliable and lower cost alternative to the very expensive and complex but capable F-15 and Mig 29.
Here is a promotional video of the F-16 by Lockheed Martin.

Though this is part of Morocco’s arms build up, it is also strategic. This investment and purchase of US military equipment is a continuation of relations between Morocco and the U.S.. This past June military exercise Africa Lion took place, Morocco participated in the NATO no-fly-zone over Libya and trade is increasing between both sides. The U.S. and Morocco have had a long and historic relationship. The Kingdom of Morocco was among the first outside powers to recognize America as a state. In fact, the 1787 Treaty of Peace and Friendship is the longest-standing U.S. treaty still in force today. Expect good relations between both nations to continue.

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NATO helicopters launch strikes on Libya and Gadhafi’s forces

British and French Apache Attack helicopters have been used for the first time this week in taking out radar installations and an armed checkpoint used against the rebels.

Helicopters are well suited since Gadhafi knows that he can take cover and hide within the cities knowing he can’t engage NATO forces directly. With such backing, the rebels will be able to hold, maintain the gains they have made and surely, but effectively advance towards Gadhafi’s forces.

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NATO extends Libyan Mission against Qaddafi by 90 days

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary-General

NATO said on Wednesday it had extended its Libyan mission for a further 90 days, after Muammar Qadhafi made it clear he would not step down, dashing hopes of a negotiated end to the uprising against his rule.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top official announced Wednesday that the alliance had agreed to extend its mission in Libya.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary-General, said the agreement to extend the mission for a further 90 days was agreed on by NATO and its partner countries in the operation. “This decision sends a clear message to the Gadhafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya,” he said in a statement.

“We will keep up the pressure to see it through,” he said.

The initial decision in March to lead the military operation, following a United Nations resolution aimed at protecting civilians, was for a 90-day period. The decision to extend the mission for a further 90 days from June 27 was made at a meeting Wednesday morning of the alliance’s policy-making body, the North Atlantic Council, together with representatives from non-NATO countries: the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Sweden and Morocco.

Qaddafi will either be removed by force or he flees the country for some place like Venezuela for asylum.  Either way he won’t be ruling Libya in the medium to long term especially that more military hardware is being deployed against him and his forces.

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France, Britain to deploy attack helicopters to Libya

Both France and the U.K will send attack helicopters to help fight off Qaddafi’s forces in support of the rebels cause in Libya.

Here is the British Army showing off its Apache helicopter force.

The helicopters, a weapon that has yet to be used by NATO in enforcing the no-fly-zone, will no doubt help strike Qaddafi’s military assets hidden in urban areas while avoiding civilian casualties.  Given that the rebels were under armed, disorganized as a fighting force, and needed close air support when taking on Qaddafi’s forces, this is a welcome addition to their side.  Although it would have made a big difference if they were deployed during the first days when the no-fly-zone was being enforced, it is better late than never.

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France and Italy will send military officers to aid Libyan rebels

French President Nicolas Sarkozy left and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi right

France and Italy will send small teams of military officers to advise Libyan rebels who are seeking to topple Col Muammar Gaddafi.  French officials said fewer than 10 would be sent, while Italy’s defence minister announced that 10 would go.

The despatch of the military advisers underlines the growing concerns in a number of European capitals that the air campaign over Libya is not yielding the expected results. After more than four weeks of air strikes, Libyan government forces have not crumbled; the Libyan regime still seems firmly in control in Tripoli; and the rebels have shown very limited capabilities on the ground.

France for one wants to step up the air campaign, but it is clear that unless the rebels can be turned into a more effective fighting force, and without a genuine ceasefire, Nato air operations may have to continue for the foreseeable future.

The French, British and Italians are all stressing that their small deployments do not constitute “boots on the ground” – they have no intention of deploying combat troops. But some MPs in London fear that this is the thin end of the wedge and that the allies risk being drawn ever deeper into the Libyan conflict.

The officers are expected to advise rebel leaders on how to organize their ragtag forces, now struggling against Gaddafi’s better-armed and -trained army. They will also liaise with NATO on the location of rebels and Gaddafi’s troops.  This comes after the U.K. decided to go ahead and send military adivisers to help coordinate the air strikes against Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

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