European navies must stay on Suez trade routes, warn EU diplomats

EU diplomats want European navies to stay in the volatile Gulf of Aden region for difficult geopolitical reasons as well as to improve local security.

The EU’s flagship naval operation, Atalanta, and two smaller land-based security training missions, EUCAP Somalia and EUTM Somalia, are expected to remain in place until at least 2025, the EU foreign service has said. in an internal report dated late September, and seen by EUobserver on Monday (3 October).

Atalana’s official job is to protect cargo ships on the Suez Canal route from Somali pirates, as well as hunt Kenyan drug smuggling boats and Yemeni arms smugglers.

But amid the war with Russia and heightened tensions between the West and China, Atalanta also had bigger fish to fry, according to the EU report.

“Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and subsequent efforts to identify alternative sources of energy supply, particularly in liquefied natural gas, have further heightened the importance of securing maritime routes from the Gulf region to across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to Europe,” it said.

The “current geopolitical context” has “reconfirmed the importance of securing critical sea lanes”, he added.

The EU aims to create its own army to act alongside NATO and the United States in the future.

And Atalanta had also ‘presented’ the EU’s ‘ability to enforce a rules-based order in the western Indian Ocean’, the EU’s foreign service said.

Atalanta is a success story as there hasn’t been a serious pirate attack in its area of ​​operations since 2019.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud also wrote to EU external relations chief Josep Borrell in August asking for more help on ” […] fishing, arms smuggling and illicit trade in charcoal and the possible dumping of toxic waste,” the EU report said.

His letter “clearly indicated the desire for a more comprehensive EU engagement…both on land and at sea”, he added.

But despite all the EU’s successes in policing the high seas, the security situation on the ground in Somalia and across the region has seriously deteriorated.

“There is a risk that any lack of deterrent posture [at sea] would immediately allow anti-piracy action groups to resume operations,” the EU external service warned.

The fact that 70% of Somalis are under the age of 30 and more than half are unemployed creates “a particular risk that young men will be drawn into illegal and violent livelihoods, such as piracy, illicit trafficking of various kinds and/or violent extremism”. It said.

Russia’s war against Ukraine was making matters worse by causing a food crisis, he added.

Meanwhile, the jihadist group Al Shabab (AS), which has 10,000 fighters in “strongholds in southern and central Somalia”, was on the “rise militarily, as well as socially and economically”, the EU said. .

It levies taxes on large swaths of Somali businesses, including in Mogadishu, and controls the coastline, collecting customs excise duties at the country’s ports.

A second jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Somalia, also continues to fight from its bases in the Gollis Mountains, the EU added.

Epicenter

Somalia has become “the regional center of gravity of insecurity”, warned the EU.

“This provides fertile ground for worrying trends, such as the spread of SA along the Swahili coast and into Ethiopia, or the whirlwind of mercenaries – regional and international – circulating between Libya, Chad, CAR. [Central African Republic]South Sudan and Darfur,” the report said.

In addition to EU shore training missions, China, Turkey, the UK and the US are also investing in Mohamud.

The United States formed the most powerful unit in Somalia – the “Special Forces Danab” infantry battalion, consisting of 1,500 men.

Turkey has formed a 5,000-strong “Gorgor Forces” infantry brigade and a 1,200-strong “Haramcad” special police force. He also “built a large hospital in Mogadishu and trained Somali doctors,” the report said.

China has donated a modest €5 million worth of military equipment so far, the EU report notes, but it “also has a military base in Djibouti, its only one in Africa, as well as a port aimed at securing its vast economic interests in the region”. “, he added.

“The Horn [of Africa] is a competing zone of influence between regional and international actors,” the EU Somalia report notes.

But multilateral bodies, such as the African Union and the UN, have failed to stem its spiral into chaos, “imposing more responsibility on the EU and other international actors to intervene”, the official said. service from Borrell.

“The United Nations also suffers from dysfunctional multilateralism as interests clash and divisions in the UN Security Council deepen,” he said, painting a grim picture of trends. global affairs.

“Somalia is one of the worst countries in the world for women,” the EU report adds in passing.

“Gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and discrimination against Somali women are widespread,” he said.

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