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Expanded role ahead for Canadian troops off Somalia

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday after announcing Canada will extend its contribution to a multinational maritime security force in the Middle East and off the coast of Eastern Africa until the end of April 2021. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Presss)

By Marc-André Cossette,

Canada is extending its commitment to an international maritime security mission in the waters off the Middle East for another four years, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced today.

“It is a clear display of our solidarity with partners and allies in the global fight against terrorism,” Sajjan said of Operation Artemis, Canada’s contribution to a multinational maritime security force in the region.

The federal government has approved up to $131.4 million to support the extension, which will see the deployment of up to 375 military personnel.
The Canadian Forces will also send a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft as part of the mission, and plan to deploy a Halifax-class frigate every other year starting in 2018.

Combined Task Force 150

Combined Task Force 150 is a U.S.-led multinational mission bringing together 31 countries in the waters around the Middle East and East Africa.

The multinational force deploys ships and surveillance operations to deter and intercept illegal shipments of weapons and narcotics used to fund terrorist groups.

“By denying terrorists a method of conducting operations and moving personnel, weapons and narcotics, Canada makes a direct contribution to increased maritime security and international counterterrorism efforts,” Sajjan said.

Covering more than five million square kilometres, the task force’s purview spans the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Western Indian Ocean. The maritime region is strategically important not only in terms of its place in the global fight against terrorism, but also as a vital trade route between the Far East, Europe and North America.

The planned deployment of a Halifax-class frigate to the Middle East next year is in contrast to when Canada last led the multinational force.

While Canadian warships were deployed as part of Operation Artemis between 2012 and 2014, Canada was unable to send a frigate for its command in December 2016, the third time Canada had led CTF 150 since its launch in 2001.

Canada has since handed command of the operation to France. Sajjan said Canada could seek to lead the multinational force every other year.

Liberals playing a shell game: Conservative

Conservative defence critic James Bezan welcomed the extension of Operation Artemis, but said it comes at the expense of other Canadian commitments in the fight against Daesh.

“It’s a bit of a shell game coming from the government as to what’s really happening in the fight,” said Bezan. “They’re doing less, not more.”

Bezan condemned the government’s December 2015 decision to withdraw Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets from the Middle East, as well as its more recent decision to bring home one of two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes.

“If you want to be back on the world stage, you have to do everything,” Bezan said, accusing the government of offloading Canada’s responsibilities onto its NATO allies. “You have to stand shoulder to shoulder and sometimes that means doing the heavy lifting — and Liberals under Justin Trudeau continue to step back.”

‘Eyes and ears on the ground’

The decision to extend Operation Artemis is hardly surprising, said Thomas Juneau, a former strategic analyst for the Department of National Defence who now teaches Middle East security at the University of Ottawa.

“What matters mostly from our perspective is that we’re there,” Juneau said.

Considering Canada’s already “limited” participation in the international task force, Juneau said a decision to withdraw would have been poorly received by Canada’s allies — perhaps none more than the United States, given Donald Trump’s continued calls on NATO allies to up their defence spending.

“From a Canadian perspective, our interest is in being there, in being part of the coalition, in being able to tell the U.S. that we are contributing,” Juneau said. “It’s one of those many small things that — in the bigger picture — allows Canada to go to the table to the U.S. and say, ‘We are carrying our responsibilities.'”

Canada will also benefit from having “eyes and ears on the ground,” Juneau said, especially with the deployment of an aircraft or frigate.

“For our presence in the Middle East as a whole, for our role in counterterrorism missions, that’s useful,” Juneau said. “They develop links with allies: the U.S and others. They develop links with partners on the ground: Bahrain and other regional countries. They can send useful information back to the country.”

4 years allow flexibility: Sajjan

Sajjan said the four-year extension will allow the military greater flexibility in planning its operations, with this mission connected to Canada’s broader efforts to counter terrorism worldwide.

The deployment of a CP-140 Aurora as part of Operation Artemis is “not related at all whatsoever” to the government’s decision earlier this month to pull a similar aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, Sajjan told reporters.

The defence minister also did not provide further details on the government’s expected commitment to international peacekeeping operations.

“When it comes to peace support operations, we want to make sure we take the time to get this right, because it’s not done in isolation” Sajjan said.

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Piracy

Eu Navfor’s Italian Ship Virginio Fasan Chases And Captures Suspected Pirates

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EU NAVFOR Somalia’s Flagship, the Italian vessel ITS Virginio Fasan, has apprehended six suspected pirates and seized their vessels.

Six crew of a motor whaler, acting as mother ship, and a skiff have been detained following attacks on a 52,000 tonne container ship and a fishing vessel. These events reportedly took place over a 24 hour period on 17th and 18th November in the Southern Somali Basin, in an area known for piracy incidents.

During the incidents a number of rocket propelled grenades were fired against the container ship.  However, adherence to BMP4, the presence of a security team on one of the vessels, and good seamanship avoided any damage or injuries, and all crew and vessels are now safe.

The suspected pirates were apprehended by the Italian Marines from ITS Virginio Fasan after their vessels were located using Fasan’s SH-90 helicopter, following initial searches by the Spanish Maritime Patrol Aircraft Cisne.  This search for the suspected pirates was coordinated with partners and from information provided by the masters of the vessels concerned. Positive visual verification was made which allowed this to take place.

A legal process has now begun for the suspected pirates to be transferred to the appropriate authority for prosecution. EU NAVFOR was able respond rapidly and successfully to these incidents due to the combined efforts of all involved, maximising synchronisation with all EU NAVFOR partners and forward deployed capabilities.

A reminder is made to all seafarers that adherence to BMP4 and registration with MSCHOA will help to overcome further illegal acts at sea. The presence of international counter-piracy forces in the area will continue to act as a deterrent to further incidents.

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Piracy

UN Security Council asks for comprehensive response to piracy off Somali coast

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) — The Security Council Tuesday adopted a resolution to condemn the acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia and to call for a comprehensive response to prevent and suppress such acts and tackle their underlying causes.

Resolution 2383 underlines the primary responsibility of the Somali authorities in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast.

It urges the Somali authorities to continue their work of passing a comprehensive set of anti-piracy and maritime laws and establishing security forces with clear roles and jurisdictions to enforce these laws.

The resolution asks Somalia to continue to develop the capacity of its courts to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery.

It requests states to work with relevant international organizations to adopt legislation to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia.

It calls on the Somali authorities to have mechanisms in place to safely return effects seized by pirates.

It also appeals to the Somali authorities to make all efforts to bring to justice those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate, or undertake criminal acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, and calls on UN member states to assist Somalia to strengthen maritime capacity at the request of the country.

The resolution calls on states to cooperate on the issue of hostage taking, and the prosecution of suspected pirates for taking hostages. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all seafarers held hostage by Somali pirates, and further calls on all relevant stakeholders to redouble their efforts to secure their safe and immediate release.

The resolution urges all member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and to consider the prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment of those convicted pirates apprehended off the coast of Somalia as well as their facilitators and financiers ashore, in line with applicable international law.

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Piracy

Pirates of the caliphate: who is the Somali kingpin accused of aiding Alshabaab?

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A feared Somali pirate kingpin is being investigated by the United Nations over claims that he has aided fighters from the Al-Qaeda-aligned militant group Al-Shabab.

A top United Nations official confirmed to Newsweek that Mohamed Garfanji Ali Dulai has provided logistical support to the Islamist fighters, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the Somali state since 2006.

“We believe he has been involved in the moving and provision of boats and logistical support to move Al-Shabab fighters into the Galgala mountains,” said Alan Cole, head of the U.N.’s Maritime Crime Programme.
A former senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak about the investigation, was more specific, telling Newsweek that the probe into Garfanji centers on “Djiboutian allegations that he received arms from Eritrea and channeled them” to Al-Shabab.

CNN, citing U.S. officials, was the first to report the existence of the investigation, which it said focused on two ringleaders, Garfanji and the other unidentified. The investigation also focuses on their alleged support for the affiliate of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Somalia.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in an email statement to Newsweek : “As a general policy, the department will neither confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

Somali pirates have taken dozens of hostages and plundered millions of dollars from companies and private individuals over the past decade, as lawlessness in Somalia has enabled vast criminal enterprises to operate with relative impunity in the seas off the Somali coast. News of the U.N. investigation now uncovers a potential nexus between piracy and extremist activity in Africa.

So who is this pirate kingpin and why is he now suspected of working with extremist groups responsible for some of the worst massacres in modern East African history?

Major Investor

As well as his alleged ties to Al Shabab, a U.N official said that Garfanji had links to Mohamed “Big Mouth” Abdi Hassan—known as Afweyne—a key player in the Hobyo-Haradhere Piracy Network, based out of the Somali fishing village of Haradhere.

Afweyne was lured to Belgium on the promise of appearing in a documentary in 2013 and then was immediately arrested by Belgian police for his role in the hijacking of Belgian vessel the MV Pompei in 2009.
American-German journalist Michael Scott Moore—whose case Garfanji is suspected of playing an integral role—said that Garfanji and Afweyne were on a similar level in the Somali pirate hierarchy.

Moore was kidnapped in Somalia in 2012 as he researched a book, now titled ‘The Desert & The Sea,’ due to be released in 2018. He spent two-and-a-half years in captivity.

“Garfanji’s a kingpin among pirates in central Somalia, a boss on the level of Afweyne, so he belongs in jail. In my case he seems to have been a major investor, not an operational boss, not in charge of holding or even capturing me,” says Moore.

The capture of the pirate chief would be “significant,” Cole admits, if he could be taken abroad for arrest. “But unless the Somali authorities can extend their reach to where he is, it’s going to rely on him traveling overseas and getting picked up, which I don’t think he does.”

But it has not only been the weakness of the Somali authorities that has enabled Garfanji to evade capture: other Somali pirate figures have taken on his name in order to confuse both his potential captors and hostages.

Three hostages who spoke to Newsweek appeared to believe that they were describing Garfanji when it appears they were giving the account of their experiences with a lower-level boss named Ali Duulaay, more brutal and present in day-to-day operations with hostages.

A Filipino hostage and two Bangladeshi hostages recounted a man who threatened crews with death at gunpoint in exchange for them retrieving money from their shipowners.

But while they described Garfanji has “tall and muscly,” Moore describes him as a heavy set man that looked little like Duulaay, who he believes may have been killed in a shootout over his ransom.

“Poverty is Slavery”

As for Garfanji’s motive for moving from hostage-taking to aiding terrorist groups, it is likely to be financial, says the U.N.’s Cole: “there’s no particular reason why that means that he’s sympathetic with them but he must know who they are.”

That would fit with the profile of top pirates that hostage negotiators have had to barter with. A hostage negotiator who has worked on more than a dozen piracy cases tells Newsweek that the characteristics of Somali pirates like Garfanji include being “brilliant entrepreneurs” and “pragmatic” in terms of “religious observation and getting a deal done.”

Moore agrees that Garfanji fits this profile. “Pirate bosses are businessmen, so they keep a portfolio of investments, normally in businesses that require armed men or help them launder money,” he says, adding that Garfanji has stakes in real estate. “He also maintains a private militia of armed men who can be hired out as security for a town, or bent towards other activities, like piracy or smuggling.”

The bandits’ stream of income from kidnaps and ransoms, some that fetched millions of dollars at the height of piracy, has dried up, with no commercials vessel attacked for five years until April, when the International Maritime Bureau reported four incidents involving pirate skiffs approaching ships.

Increased security and naval patrols have led to a reduction in attacks, forcing pirates to find other forms of income on land, another reason that may explain Garfanji fraternizing with extremists who have slaughtered hundreds of civilians in mass-casualty assaults such as the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, and the 2015 Garissa University College massacre.

“The criminal networks that have been running Somali piracy are still intact, those ashore who are behind and funding the criminals and organized crime to do it largely have not been arrested or changed sides, they are still there,” says John Thompson, senior advisor and founder of Ambrey Risk, a London-based maritime security consultancy.

“They are still organized crime syndicates, but they are just doing slightly different things. They are finding it harder to make money out of piracy, so they are doing more smuggling [of] people, smuggling [of] weapons, smuggling [of] drugs.”

A Somali proverb states that “poverty is slavery.” It appears that pirate figures like Garfanji will now go to even more extreme lengths to get out of it.

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