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ARTICLES OF CURRENT INTEREST The Asymmetric Blockading of the World’s Maritime Choke Points By Kevin
ARTICLES OF CURRENT INTEREST
ARTICLES OF CURRENT INTEREST

The Asymmetric Blockading of the World’s Maritime Choke Points

By Kevin P. Cresswell, Field Forensics On March 23, the US DOT MARAD sent out an advisory notice on the advice of the Office of Naval Intelligence; “Information suggests that Al Qaida remains interested in maritime attacks in the Bab-al-Mandab Strait, Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, along the coast of Yemen. Although it is unclear how they would proceed.”

In February, a Washington Post ar- ticle referred to an audio tape released to the BBC concerning, “A Response to Crusader Aggression.” A Yemen- based offshoot of Al Qaida has called on Muslims in the region to wage holy war against the U.S. and its allies. A purported audio statement by Said al- Shihri, deputy leader of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, warned “American and Crusader interests are everywhere Attack them and eliminate as many en- emies as you can,” Mr Shihri urged. He said the group aimed to gain control of the strategically important strait of Bab- al-Mandab, which connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea.

An attack on a vital choke point such as Bab-al-Mandab would suggest the strategic maritime sophistication of Al Qaida (which hasn’t been evident since attacks on the USS Cole and MV Lim- burg) is improving. Heightened security at land and air borders has forced ter- rorists to seek alternative targets. The asymmetric attacker is looking for the soft target—something or someone who is unaware, easily accessible, and a crea- ture of habit. Ships, choke points and ports meet these criteria. As long ago as February 2002, Al Qaida was referring to maritime warfare, and concentrat- ing their efforts to blockade the world’s choke points. “What’s worse for Ameri- ca is the fact that most of the important straits and trade routes are controlled by Muslim countries (Bosporus, Gi-

43 — March/April 2010

Major Shipping Choke Points Controlled by Muslim Countries 2 1 3 4 5 6 1.
Major Shipping Choke Points
Controlled by Muslim Countries
2
1
3
4
5
6
1. Gibraltar
2. Bosporus
3. Suez
4. Hormuz
5. Bab-al-Mandab
6. Malacca

braltar, Suez, Malacca, Hormuz, Bab-al- Mandab). Likewise, the long history that Muslims have in maritime warfare and stressing Crusader commerce increases the possibility of returning to that form of jihad…” Abu Ubeid al-Qurashi, Al Qa- ida – 13 FEB 2002. Most of the world’s shipping choke points are surrounded by Muslim coun- tries. These present easy asymmetric targets whose closure could result in significant global economic damage. Re- cent estimates of the annual value of sea- borne international goods exceed $3.5 trillion dollars. The world’s busiest choke point, the Suez Canal, has been closed 5 times in 130 years, albeit in times of significant local military action. An economic loss of billions of dollars could occur if it were closed again. Tolls collected by the Suez Canal Authority in 2002 amounted to $1.96 billion, paid by 13,500 vessels. Ships are convoyed through the narrow canal one by one, and depending upon the number of ships in the convoy, this

can take 11 to 15 hours, leaving these vessels vulnerable to ambush at any time. All ships have a specific time to enter the canal and are required to maintain a steady speed (up to 10 knots). Most of the canal is designed to handle one-way traffic, and is narrow enough to easily mine. These two vulnerabilities, along with the ships’ transit details being pub- lished in advance, give the attackers all the information that they need to design a well-planned ambush. Historically, attacks at sea have been rare. In the last 30 years, only two per- cent of terrorist incidents have been in the maritime arena. However, the im- pact of marine attacks since 2000, and the successes by the Abu Sayaff Group, and of course the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Sea Tigers), have con- vinced terrorist organizations that the vast un-policed isolation of global oce- anic transportation is an attractive oper- ating environment. “The Prince of the Sea,” Abdul Al-Ra- him Al Nashiri, was the mastermind be-

The hull damage caused by the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. hind his organization’s
The hull damage caused by the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. hind his organization’s

The hull damage caused by the terrorist attack on the USS Cole.

hind his organization’s maritime terror- ist operations—right up until his capture in 2002. Strategic and tactical direction of the maritime global terrorist network is still provided by the leadership of Osa- ma Bin Laden. Bin Laden provided the strategic leadership for the USS Cole at- tack in 2000, and reviewed the plans at every stage, pinpointing on photographs where the explosive-laden attack boat should strike. Al Qaida ‘loosely has own- ership’ and, more significantly, has ac- cess to an estimated two dozen commer- cial vessels. This fleet has been mainly used in the smuggling of narcotics from Afghanistan. Many of the vessels that Al Qaida currently uses are either owned outright by front businesses, or operate under the influence and funding of its supporters. The MV Limburg bombing, off the coast of Yemen in 2003, was also coordi- nated through Bin Laden. Following the Cole attack, the U.S. and Yemeni govern- ments were acting together in the war on terror. Shortly after the Limburg inci- dent, a Yemeni leader of Al Qaida, and a suspect in the Cole incident, Qaid Salim Talib Sinan al-Harathi, was killed near Marib by a U.S. missile strike. This cross border liaison is not always as clean as it should be. Politics and counter terror- ism investigators are often pulling in op- posite directions. The USS Cole provides the paradigm. The Yemeni government, who knew Bin Laden was behind the bombing, wanted to execute the jailed conspirators. The U.S. authorities, of

course, needed more investigative inter- views to link the attack back to Al Qaida leadership. The problem with this inves- tigative trail, it would also link senior members of the Yemeni establishment with Al Qaida. There have been rumors since 9-11 that Bin Laden may be head- ing from Afghanistan to Yemen to es- tablish an operating base. For maritime operations, this would make absolute sense, and it would facilitate command of piracy incidents in the region. In the maritime business, every inci- dent involves more than one country. For

example, an attack on a British-owned vessel registered in the Bahamas, with a Malaysian crew, traveling from Rotter- dam to West Africa, involves a number of countries, even if the ship is in neutral waters when the incident occurs. In this day and age, media teams arrive quickly, broadcasting the story to the world in minutes, and providing the attackers with the global exposure they so desper- ately seek. The differences between gov- ernments (legalities, strategies, ethics) and the way each deals with crimes at sea and terrorism, creates a divisiveness that terrorists rejoice in, and a weakness that Al Qaida exploits to the fullest. The marine asymmetric aggressor will use one of seven options, or a com- bination thereof; • A Surface Approach. A surface at- tack, road or sea access into ports, surface swimming or small craft us- ing blind arcs or jetties in harbors. An Underwater Attack. Using swim- mers, mini-subs, or remotely oper- ated vehicles. • Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Truck bombs alongside a ves- sel, water borne IEDs at sea, or float- ing/moored mines, or limpet mines alongside a vessel.

IEDs at sea, or float- ing/moored mines, or limpet mines alongside a vessel. • Vol. 37,

Vol. 37, No. 2, The Detonator — 44

• CBRN. Ingestion, absorption or ex- plosion. • Aerial. UAVs, suicide attack air- frames, microlights,

• CBRN. Ingestion, absorption or ex- plosion.

• Aerial. UAVs, suicide attack air- frames, microlights, or small RC air- craft containing explosives.

• Cyber warfare or Psyops. Bin Laden declared mastering high technology “a religious duty.”

• Use of Novel Technology and Novel Explosives.

The greatest challenge for the ag- gressor is effective penetration of a ship’s hull. A waterborne IED could success- fully blast a hole though the hull, but the resulting damage and injury would be small, and it would be unlikely that the vessel would actually sink. A stand- off attack using an RPG, would require proximity and likely result in relatively few casualties. However, if an explosive charge could be successfully placed be- low decks, the results could be devastat- ing, achieving what the terrorist wants most; major damage with debilitating after-effects and significant injury and loss of life. In September 1991, two Islamic Ji- had members were arrested after po- lice found rockets, launchers, and other weapons hidden in their vehicles as they arrived at Nuweiba in the Sinai Penin- sula. They reportedly planned to carry out attacks against U.S. ships traveling through the Suez canal, and admitted that their action was meant to “under- mine American-Egyptian ties and tour- ism, as well as security and stability in Egypt.” They allegedly also intended to attack cruise ships on the Nile. Although

a standoff attack from the banks of the

canal would have been possible, cross-

ing the Sinai and approaching the canal would have been difficult, unless they had a seemingly legitimate reason. On 19 August 2005, three 107mm HE artillery rounds were launched from

a warehouse’s second floor window in

the industrial area of Aqaba, Jordan. The weapons used were homemade launch tubes, bastardized 107mm Type 63. (These are the same weapons found on

the small, fast-attack craft used by the IRGCN in the Persian Gulf, and, by the LTTE Sea Tigers, who use a two tube

Gulf, and, by the LTTE Sea Tigers, who use a two tube version. These events, and

version. These events, and their com- mon denominators, are evidence that information is being freely exchanged between both state and non-state actors, and that terrorists learn from and imitate each other.) On this occasion, the three tubes were wired into a timing circuit. The first rocket passed over the bow of the USS Ashland, and exploded 30 me- ters from the bow of the USS Kearsarge. The second rocket hit the outer wall of a hospital, and the third exploded in Israel. This type of rocket produces over 1000 fragments upon detonation, causing ex- tensive destruction of property and life. The use of enhanced-blast explo- sives, particularly volumetric explosives, are also likely to catch the asymmetric attackers attention in the near future. Volumetric explosives, or munitions, generally take advantage of the mixing of explosive reactants or products with the surrounding volume of air, to effect deflagration or detonation reactions. Enhanced-blast explosives deliver more energy on target than traditional or- ganic compounds such as TNT, RDX, or HMX. Following are four types of recog- nized enhanced-blast explosives. Earlier

I mentioned the difficulty in penetrating

a ship’s hull. Ethylene and propylene ox-

ides used in some blast munitions are ex- tremely toxic. Even if the round failed to detonate, exposure to the droplets alone would be enough to cause moderate to

severe irritation that could incapacitate and render helpless a ship’s crew.

In reference to the latest claim by Al

Qaida, “to choke the world’s maritime trade,” the type of attacks that could be carried out effectively to close the Mandab Strait are very limited. In fact, so limited there is only one method that could achieve the aim successfully and with any chance of sustainability— that is the use of asymmetric mining. Conventional mines are unlikely to be laid by the asymmetric, non-state ac- tor. He is likely to opt for the homemade version. A fifty-five-gallon drum would be an effective disguise, as its pres- ence would not arouse suspicion and it could contain several hundred pounds

of explosive. The LTTE and Palestin- ian groups have successfully used these types of mines. With a simple ‘breath- ing’ device fashioned from a baby feed- ing bottle, and truck shop absorbers as horns, this is an unsophisticated, but deadly, weapon of choice that can be drifted below the surface, or moored

at various depths. The Iraqis developed their own version which we have nick- named the ‘Hoover,’ ‘Moody’ or bicycle wheel mine.

A further option would be to lay

floating contact mines, hidden in harm- less-looking flotsam. Hidden in ‘ships garbage’ and thrown overboard, this technique could successfully disrupt port operations. Hiding thirty pounds of explosive in a car inner tube is easy. If an attacker could get 700 pounds of explo- sive to detonate under the keel of a tank- er, this could result in a headline-making terrorist act with a huge environmental impact. Having proved their capability, the group could then follow up this act with the threat of mining, causing tem- porary closures (with the corresponding economic loss) of sea lanes and narrow channels into ports. It has been done be- fore. On Jan 9, 1980, there was a bomb threat to the Russian freighter Karamzin as she took on corn in the Port of Sac- ramento. A group called ‘Patriotic Scuba

Divers of America’ claimed they had mined a 30-mile-long channel near Sac- ramento. The Coast Guard ordered the

Vol. 37, No. 2, The Detonator — 46

channel and port closed for several days. The Navy sent a mine sweeper to the

channel and port closed for several days. The Navy sent a mine sweeper to the area, and although no mines were found, the resulting economic disruption and psychological impact of the threat was substantial. The effect of this type of threat was not lost on the Provisional IRA, who used this tactic frequently during the 1980s in the U.K. and Northern Ireland. There has been little evidence to date of this being a Jihadist tactic. It is, howev- er, a tactic that certainly fits neatly into asymmetric planning. There is absolutely no doubt that maritime infrastructure is the soft un- derbelly of all nation states. It can be at- tacked with little expense or endeavor. This ‘three dimensional’ domain pres- ents not only a medium by which these threats can move and hide weapons and operators, but also offers an array of ex- citing potential targets that fit the terror- ists’ operational objectives of achieving mass casualties and maximum media

attention, while inflicting catastrophic economic harm. Disparate groups are increasingly adopting a combination of sea-borne tactics and weapons, originally designed for land use, but when improvised, and turned to face the ocean, or bolted to the deck of a small boat, they can become a highly-efficient naval weapon system. It is a threat of global proportions, originat- ing from both state, non-state and non- traditional organizations, that cannot be assumed to conduct their operations for rational reasons. In the asymmetric world, it is often disruption rather than eruption that yields dividends—the aim being not to sink, but rather force the target to maneuver and launch a stand- off attack. The threat of improvised min- ing would accomplish this goal. Asymmetric attackers, such as Al Qaida, have time and again demon- strated their ability to pick themselves up, brush themselves off, learn from their mistakes, and emulate successful

tactics from groups outside their own umbrella. As security gets tighter in one area, the asymmetric terrorist seeks out alternative targets. The maritime envi- ronment presents the opportunity with myriad bolt holes, covers and other hid- ing places available in inshore waterways and ports. The strategic significance of the gulf straits to the world’s oil supply will offer a high-potential target to both the terrorist, or a state such as Iran. Of all transportation modes, shipping is the most essential for global trade, and also the most vulnerable.

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LVBC System Disrupter Accessories Muzzle Brake Hawk i and Cobra Sighting Systems Vol. 37, No. 2,
LVBC System Disrupter Accessories Muzzle Brake Hawk i and Cobra Sighting Systems Vol. 37, No. 2,
LVBC System Disrupter Accessories Muzzle Brake Hawk i and Cobra Sighting Systems Vol. 37, No. 2,
LVBC System Disrupter Accessories Muzzle Brake Hawk i and Cobra Sighting Systems Vol. 37, No. 2,
LVBC System Disrupter Accessories Muzzle Brake Hawk i and Cobra Sighting Systems Vol. 37, No. 2,

Vol. 37, No. 2, The Detonator — 48