Political and economic instability in the Horn of Africa (HOA) has proliferated threat networks that deny safe passage to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, endanger local populations, and threaten to spark a war. A missile fired from the coastline struck a British naval ship, causing 12 casualties. The HOA is also known for illicit arms and human trafficking. The threat networks need to be understood and neutralized to restore stability.
The intelligence team focused on the region that belongs to the J2 section for the Task Force-Horn of Africa (TF-HOA). TF-HOA seeks to reopen the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and secure the region for humanitarian access. The objective of the J2 is to provide intelligence preparation of the battlespace to support operational planning. The unit’s commanders need an intelligence assessment of the threats and a prioritized list of high-value targets (HVTs).
The J2 has reported several intelligence collection assets at its disposal. Collectors have produced 100 pieces of raw intelligence at sea and from Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia across the functional disciplines of HUMINT, OSINT, cyber, COMINT, SIGINT, IMINT, MASINT, GEOINT, and document exploitation. The first step in analyzing intelligence is to select an analytical model. Three analytical methods that are useful for the Horn of Africa are human terrain, geospatial, and chronological modeling. A structured approach helps analysts build target network models (TNMs) of the region’s biggest threats: Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), arms smugglers, and human traffickers.
Based on target network modeling of the raw intelligence, key relationships and weapons transfers exist among Yemen’s II Corps, Al-Shabaab, and AQAP. These threats are facilitated by Hawiye Clan arms smuggling, Darood Clan human trafficking, and terror financiers in Beirut and Saudi Arabia. The focal point appears to be Hadiboh island. These observations provide TF-HOA analysts and commanders with several HVTs to restore regional security.
The HOA region is plagued by economic troubles and political strife.
Filling the power vacuum are warlords in charge of large, well-armed militias that rule through fear and oppression rather than the rule of law. Migrants, refugees, and local populations are caught in the crossfire.
Tribal clans often resort to smuggling to earn a living, exacerbating regional problems. Absent a governing power, terrorist groups are free to gather weapons that put Coalition assets at risk.
Political factions in Yemen are undergoing turmoil. After a split in the governing Shura Council, Yemeni naval forces imposed a tax on shipping and threatened to mine the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb unless the UN withdrew its opposition to Yemen’s tax. On 2 April 2014, the British naval vessel HMS Daring was hit with an anti-ship missile, causing 12 casualties. The attack closed the Strait to shipping traffic, cutting off aid to 500,000 displaced persons living in camps. The humanitarian crisis will worsen if the TF-HOA cannot restore security in the region soon.
The TF-HOA plans a military operation to reopen the Strait and establish security for humanitarian organizations. In advance of a military campaign, intelligence preparation of the battlespace is complicated by rampant internal and external strife, criminal activity (filling the void created by a weak economy), and transnational networks based partly on religious and tribal affiliations. Tasking for the J2 intelligence section by the TF-HOA commander is two-fold:
- Prepare an intelligence assessment of threats facing the military operation
- Present a prioritized list of HVTs for the commander that best neutralize the threats
Several threats in the region have become stronger in recent days.
Raw intelligence reporting indicates that illicit transfers of weapons, people, and money are accelerating.
Terrorist groups are arming themselves for a confrontation with Coalition forces. Meanwhile, refugees in migrant camps are being exploited and killed as tribal clans increase human trafficking activities.
In Yemen, the Yemeni army’s II Corps leaders appear strongly to be sympathizing with rebel Shura breakaway members. The Shura schism has moved recently toward armed secession from Yemen’s central government. Because II Corps possesses a vast quantity of 4th generation Soviet-era attack aircraft, armored vehicles, and small arms, it poses a risk of conventional (i.e. non-CBRN) weapons proliferation throughout the HOA region. To consolidate its weaponry, intelligence reports indicate that II Corps is repositioning its weapons. With a massive arms buildup, II Corps has repositioned huge quantities of troops and weaponry from Al Mukalla to its base at Hadiboh on Socotra island.
Unless countered, Hadiboh represents a potential sanctuary for arms trafficking, terrorist activity, and a central base for maritime anti-access/area-denial threats.
However, II Corps is not acting alone. Intelligence reports that the Yemeni would-be secessionists have developed close ties with terrorist financiers in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Through connections with the Hawiye Clan in Somalia, Saudi financiers, and a Lebanon money launderer, II Corps has agreed to sell advanced weaponry to Al-Shabaab at Hadiboh. In return, Saudi financiers will receive human trafficking profits from Hawiye Clan. If it is not neutralized soon, the weaponry that amassed at Hadiboh island will proliferate to Al-Shabaab and/or AQAP. Both terrorist groups are vying for power and influence by trying to obtain advanced weaponry, such as three advanced Societ-era fighter jets (billed by arms merchants as “three doves”). If the Yemeni army’s II Corps is allowed to operate at Hadiboh freely, the intended weapons transfers to terror groups could spark an all-out war with Coalition or Arab nations.
AQAP has a particular objective. Although the terrorist group has been fighting pitched battles with I Corps and the Shura Council, AQAP seeks to strike Coalition targets.
Intelligence reporting indicates that AQAP intends to acquire high-explosives at Hadiboh for use in a suicide attack on NATO facilities in Djibouti, where French and U.S. forces have a large naval base. In addition to the potential great loss of life, an AQAP suicide attack on Djibouti’s naval bases – if successful – would hamper efforts in the region to operate and resupply NATO warships that are urgently needed to find, fix, and destroy threats throughout the region. Nasir Al-Rashid, Hassan Afrah, and unidentified Saudi Bankers are part of the AQAP plot to move 200 kg of explosives from Saudi Arabia to Hadoboh, where it can be easily moved onto fast attack boats.
Underpinning the terrorist groups are tribal clans that do not care about regional stability. The “Spears of Puntland” is a militia of 20,000 led by Abdallah Walid. While it rules through terror and violence, the “Spears” do not represent as urgent a threat to the region as the advanced weaponry on Hadiboh. Likewise, the “Buffaloes of Somaliland” is a 50,000-strong militia led by Said Al Yusuf with similar tactics and motives for oppressing local civilians. However, neither of these groups is an immediate threat to the region.
The Darood and Hawiye Clans, however, are key enablers of Al-Shabaab and AQAP. Intelligence reports indicate that Darood Clan uses the MV Tonkjin, MV Kemal, MV Jakel, and smaller dhows for human trafficking near Bosaso by bribing corrupt Somali coastguardsmen. Proceeds from the sale of human slaves/migrants trafficked from Bosaso to Saudi Arabia via Yemen are allowing Al-Shabaab to finance its arms purchases from the Yemeni II Corps. The other tribal group in bed with the terrorists is the Hawiye Clan.
Hawiye senior leaders and smugglers-in-chief are actively facilitating the transfers of arms (e.g. man-portable surface-to-air missiles) to Al Qaeda. According to intelligence reports, Hawiye Clan’s top leaders have decided to give support to the terrorist groups and their ambitions to strike Coalition targets.
Lastly, a persistent threat exists from a religious extremist group located along the Eritrean coastline. The “Righteous Path” has at least two batteries of Chinese-made C-801 “Sardine” advanced anti-ship missiles along Eritrea’s coastline, denying safe passage to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb. While intelligence reporting does not prove linkages between the Righteous Path and other Islamic terrorist groups in the HOA, their anti-ship missile batteries must be located and neutralized to re-open the Strait.
Prioritized List of HVTs
The prioritized list of HVTs is as follows, in order from highest priority first:
- AQAP operatives and the 200kg of high-explosive in transit via Hadiboh that AQAP intends to use for suicide attacks on NATO facilities in Djibouti
- Hadiboh’s command-and-control structure (II Corps leaders), airfield (with 36 military aircraft, +10 recently from Al Mukalla), naval harbor (8 Huangfen Y-1 patrol boats and 16 fast inshore attack craft), and new Scud site excavation
- Human trafficking vessels MV Tonkjin, Kemal, Jakel, and fishing dhows near Bosaso operated by the Darood Clan; also, corrupt Somali coast guard
- Financiers and smugglers in Somalia (Hassan Afra), Lebanon (“Abdi”), and Saudi Arabia who have arranged arms shipments and/or human trafficking
- The Righteous Path’s batteries of C-801 “Sardine” long-range SSM anti-ship missiles, stationed in the Dahlak Archipelago and along the Danakil coastline
- MV Jotika transport vessel carrying an arms shipment en route to Hadiboh
- Al Mukalla naval base and airfield (to deny potential resupply routes to Hadiboh/Socotra by II Corps)
These HVTs have been selected based on the criteria of immediacy, magnitude, and evasiveness. Once a military campaign is put into action, hard-to-target threat actors may leave the battlefield and disappear. To neutralize the key linkages connecting the various terror groups and traffickers, TF-HOA must act swiftly in targeting the highest priority targets first.
Threats in the HOA present a credible, immediate threat to NATO and Coalition forces in the region. The region’s imbalances also create suffering, hardship, and death for half a million innocent persons in need of humanitarian assistance. However, as the crisis in Yemen, Somalia, and Eritrea worsens, threat networks are evolving and forming new connections. Only through modeling and mapping, the threat networks will the Coalition be able to rapidly, precisely target the top regional threats.
The J2 intelligence section must enable commanders to begin military campaign operations without placing their forces at even more risk.
Clark, R. & Mitchell, W. (2016). Target-Centric Network Modeling: Case Studies in Analyzing Complex Intelligence Issues. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.