May 7, 2004
Deutschland Unter AllesBy Douglas Hanson
Thirty years of socialist policies have finally taken their toll. In an attempt to reverse the inevitable slide into economic disaster, Germany is adopting massive cost—cutting reforms. Of course, under left—wing Chancellor Herr Schroeder's (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD) leadership, this means the German defense department will take more than its fair share of hits. This past Sunday, German Defense Minister Peter Struck called for shortening the length of German military missions abroad. He stated that "We will reduce the duration of international missions from six months to four months in the second half of the year.'
In addition, the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) will remove guards from U.S. bases by the end of the year. German soldiers and sailors had assumed force protection duties at 100 US military installations in Germany in January of 2003, as US forces were conducting intensive pre—deployment training in preparation for movement to the Mideast to conduct Operation Iraqi Freedom. So to save money, the minister will have about 2500 personnel of das Heer (the Army) and die Deutsche Marine (the Navy) cease security operations at the U.S. bases throughout the country.
In many ways, this is a prudent move, since the US will be completely restructuring its base layout in Europe, and more than likely, will close most of its installations in Germany in the coming years. The timing of the withdrawal could be a problem though, as the restructuring will not likely be completed by the time the guard force is withdrawn. In other words, more US soldiers will now be required to backfill the departing German troops.
The defense ministry's current annual budget is about 24.2 billion euros. However, only 1.15 billion euros were expended for foreign deployments in 2003. Struck maintains that his plan would not cut anything from the overseas War on Terror deployment funds, as that would endanger missions that Germany has already committed to fulfill. This prioritization of scarce funds is admirable on the part of the defense minister, but given the events in the CENTCOM area of operations in the last few weeks, the intent to decrease the duration of overseas commitments on the part of the Bundeswehr is hardly reassuring. Of particular concern is the potential reduction or elimination of the German forces deployed in the Horn of Africa, for it is in this strategic area of CENTCOM that any cutback of German forces would have serious consequences for the War on Terror, the entire strategic posture of CENTCOM, and the economic well—being of Europe.
Prior to 9—11, Iran's plan to secure the strategic waterways in the central region had been largely successful. By seizing and fortifying Abu Musa Island, and by taking advantage of the chaotic situation in Somalia, Iran could delay or stop shipping in the some of the world's most critical shipping lanes, in order isolate the Arabian Peninsula, and to potentially restrict the flow of oil to the West and Japan.
Iran's initiative to ally itself with the Somali warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aidid, was initially stymied by the deployment of 28,000 US troops under the auspices of Operation Restore Hope in December of 1992. However, after President Clinton ordered the retreat of US forces after the 'Blackhawk Down' ambush in October of 1993, the international community had no more stomach to maintain a presence in the country. The last UN peacekeepers left in 1995, and the level of fighting between the clans and terrorist elements has essentially returned to pre—1992 levels. There is still no functioning central government in Somalia, and it cannot control its borders or regulate its financial sector. This has allowed Iranian operatives to establish an international base of terror that provides a safe haven for various terrorist groups including al—Qaeda.
It may surprise most Americans, but the Bundeswehr has more troops deployed in peacekeeping operations and War on Terror missions abroad than any country except the United States. Over seven thousand German military personnel are deployed in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Africa. Some of these men and women are part of multi—national formations performing peacekeeping duties, combat operations, and maritime security duties around the globe. While German forces in Afghanistan garner most of the attention, the naval and ground forces deployed in and around the Horn of Africa are arguably the most critical from a geo—strategic viewpoint.
Realizing the strategic importance of the area, yet unable to regain a foothold in Somalia, in November of 2002, the US established the Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa (CJTF—HOA) in Djibouti. Because of its geographical location, Djibouti is the only alternative to deploy forces to protect the shipping channels of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The small country of about 700,000, which is Northwest of Somalia, has long been used as a military base by its former colonial power of France, who currently has more than 2,000 troops based there. Even though most of the naval vessels are US ships, the German Navy plays a critical role in securing these strategic waterways.
German operations in this area are focused on interdicting logistic lines of terrorist organizations, detecting, disrupting and defeating transnational terrorist groups operating in the region, and denying terrorists safe haven in the area. For Germany, the forces deployed in the region are not insignificant. Three frigates, five patrol boats, two to three support craft (an oiler and supply ships), and German naval aviation maritime patrol planes, along with 1800 personnel, are involved in monitoring the waters off the Horn. If anyone doubts the critical role these forces play in the CENTCOM region, look no further than last week's terrorist attack in the Saudi port of Yanbu.
Last Saturday, four gunmen attacked the offices of oil contractor ABB Lummus Global Inc. just outside a petrochemical plant co—owned by Exxon—Mobil and a Saudi company called SABIC. After randomly shooting Saudi and foreign employees, the terrorists tied one of the victim's bodies to the back of their car, and dragged it down the street into a residential area and ended up just outside the Ibn Hayyan Secondary Boys School. The students were 'summoned....with gunfire to watch the body being dragged.'
Ultimately, two Americans, two Britons, and a Saudi National Guardsman died in the attack. Three terrorists were killed, and one was wounded and captured. Of course, blame initially fell on al—Qaeda, but later, authorities speculated that all four of the attackers were part of a Saudi opposition group based in London. Under—reported was that at the same time, in another part of the city, someone threw a pipe bomb over the wall of the Yanbu International School. Fortunately, there were no children in school at the time, but a school custodian was slightly injured.
It was no accident that Yanbu was chosen as the site of what will perhaps be a series of operations to further obstruct shipping around the Arabian Peninsula. The port itself is located on the East coast of the Red Sea, approximately 460 nautical miles South of the Suez Canal. It has a sheltered harbor, which ships reach by means of a mile—long channel. There are two key elements that make Yanbu a strategic asset. First, it is the nearest major Saudi seaport to Europe and North America, and second, it is the 'twin city' to the Saudi port of Jubail on the Persian Gulf. Some may remember that Jubail was the port of debarkation and the main logistics base for US Marine forces during Gulf War I.
In addition, Yanbu and Jubail, being intensely industrialized around petrochemical enterprises, are literally 'joined at the hip' to provide an efficient network to capitalize on the immense Saudi energy reserves. In 1982, the Saudis completed construction of a double pipeline from east to west across the country to pump oil and gas from Jubail to Yanbu. This was not only done to provide energy for the heavily industrialized city of Yanbu, but to also ease the shipping of these products from the Red Sea coast through the Suez, into the Mediterranean, and thence to Europe.
While law enforcement and other anti—terror forces focus on determining what mysterious terrorist group is responsible for this attack, it should also be viewed in the larger context of regional conflict. One week prior to the attack at Yanbu, a small boat suicide attack, reminiscent of equipment and tactics used by Iran in the Tanker Wars of the 80s, attempted to take out Iraq's only functioning offshore oil terminal off the coast of the Al—Faw peninsula in the Persian Gulf. The operations in Somalia, Yanbu, and the Al—Faw Peninsula have the appearance of a double envelopment of the Arabian Peninsula. Also, the attack on Yanbu has apparently had some immediate detrimental effect on the functioning of their oil industry, as all ABB Lummus Global's Western and foreign staff have either been evacuated out of the kingdom, or have been relocated to Eastern Saudi Arabia.
It is clear that the Coalition military presence around the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa is absolutely critical in not only interdicting the terrorists' lines of communication, but also to counter the decade—old operation by Iran to isolate the Arabian Peninsula, and now, Iraq.
Certainly, Islamic extremist elements understand the importance of German naval power in this area. In an attempt to perhaps repeat the bold nature of the terrorist bombing campaign in Spain, German President Johannes Rau cancelled a scheduled visit two weeks ago to German forces in the Horn of Africa due to a 'considerable and concrete' personal threat on his life. Hopefully, the terrorists will not be successful in coercing another European power to become 'neutral' in this conflict.
Meanwhile, as the German government wrestles with such important matters as whether brothels will be ordered to establish trainee posts and work experience programs for 'rookies,' a vital military operation may be reduced or eliminated at a time when Germany's and Europe's security and economy are under a concerted attack by a determined and ruthless enemy. By saving money now, Germany may only be setting the stage for economic disaster later.
Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent