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Surya Gangadharan
Monday , April 23, 2012 at 13 : 31

India may be part of Operation Restore Hope-2 in Somalia


Nineteen years after the failed attempt to restore hope in Somalia, it appears the West is getting ready for another crack at Africa's Horn. The EU Naval Force tasked with anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden has had its mandate extended to cover "Somali coastal territory and internal waters". This ends the policy of "no boots on the ground" in Somalia, opening the door to land and air strikes on pirate camps, transport and logistics.

Top Indian Navy officers, just back from the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in South Africa, confirmed the development, one of them indicating that intervention is perhaps the only long-term and permanent solution left for the international community.

South Block is yet to formulate a response but with Somalia's transitional government agreeable to the European initiative, India, it would seem, could go in for similar fig leaf in the event a decision on intervention has to be made.

It won't be the first time. In 1993, India sent a brigade to Baidoa in southern Somalia under Brig. (later Lt Gen) Mono Bhagat as part of the UN peacekeeping force. The force set some records in terms of finding weapons caches and bringing a semblance of order in the area. But they did suffer casualties and when Operation Restore Hope was shut down after the downing of a US military Black Hawk helicopter, the brigade withdrew.

Somalia then returned to its chaotic state and in course of time evolved into a bastion of piracy. Although the total number of pirate attacks have fallen, the pirate industry in Somalia is adapting to the challenges posed by increased naval patrols and aerial surveillance. Pirate "Mother ships" as they are called, are venturing out of the Gulf of Aden, entering the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. They are changing tactics, using mass attacks by speedboats to overwhelm and capture merchant vessels.

In response, the Indian Navy has stepped up the scale of its own deployment. While operating independently in the Gulf of Aden, it is also scheduling its patrols with those of Japan and China to ensure 24x7 naval presence. In the Arabian Sea and the waters off the Andaman islands, Indian Navy patrols have doubled while the aerial surveillance is now at 100 per cent. (A sidelight to this is India's unhappiness with international insurers charging sky high rates for transit through waters close to India. It adds to the cost of India's maritime trade and is a reflection on the Indian Navy's effectiveness.)

Clearly India will bide its time. But the EU has fired the first shot. The US is probably on board but may prefer to keep a low profile for now. Somalia's neighbours are already involved. Ethiopia has troops in Somalia while Kenya has established a buffer zone stretching up to the port of Kismayu. Somalia Restore Hope-2 may not be long in the making.


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More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.