Thursday, June 09, 2005

Al-Qaeda Maritime Terrorists Gone Missing?

James Dunnigan over at StrategyPage poses the question about the discrepancy between "asserted" al-Qaeda maritime terror capabilities and the almost complete lack of any activity to date on the seas or in port since the USS Cole attack or the attack on a French tanker near Yemen.
And four years of intensive MIO (Maritime Intercept Operations) in the region has managed to intercept only a handful of suspect vessels and personnel, with little evidence of any ties to al Qaeda. It is, of course, possible that the high density of the coalition maritime presence has had a serious deterrent effect on al Qaeda's maritime operations. But al Qaeda has shown itself to be rather immune to deterrence in other situations. Given the movement's track record, one could reasonably expect that they would deliberately set up a situation in which a MIO turned into a disaster, when the intercepted vessel blew itself and the boarding party up. But this has never happened, despite thousands of opportunities.

Have al Qaeda's maritime resources have been seriously over-estimated, or have Coalition maritime security measures seriously impeded their employment, or are they holding back for some future operations? It’s unclear, but at the moment, al Qaeda’s naval threat is more theoretical than real.

I think the answer is "yes" to all three of Dunnigan's questions.

Scuba attack divers? As Froggy at Froggyruminations has commented, it's a tough way to attack ships. especially when defenses are in place. Attacks on ships with single or multiple small boats? it's hard to hit a moving, defended target. And Navy warships not in port can move pretty fast and offer a somewhat prickly problem to approach close enough to do any real damage. Self-destruct on a boarding party? Not much publicity value in that. Which is, after all the main goal of the AQ terrorist effort. So, over estimated? Maybe. Effective security measures? Apparently. Holding back? Probably, but as the discussions of the security of the Strait of Malacca tend to show, the level of consciousness of the threat has been raised, and being prepared is a pretty good deterrent.

Update: Of course, it seems that the US Navy thinks there's something to this seaborne terrorism as reported here:
USS Saipan (LHA 2) and two other Norfolk Naval Station-based ships deployed May 25, under the Fleet Response Plan (FRP), in support of the global war on terrorism.

Saipan is one of five East Coast ships carrying more than 2,800 Sailors rapidly deploying or “surging” for an approximately three-month deployment to the European and Central Command maritime areas of responsibility. Other ships that departed from Norfolk Naval Station include USS Nicholas (FFG 47) and USS Nashville (LPD 13).
Maybe they know something that Mr. Dunnigan doesn't? Or perhaps he is setting us up...
(Hat tip: The Counterterrorism Blog)

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