Nigeria Seeks Russian Military Aid in its War on Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

May 8, 2019

Four years ago, Nigerian military sources said a shift to Russian military training and arms supplies was only an “interim measure” after its traditional American and British partners were perceived to lack interest in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram (Vanguard [Lagos], September 27, 2014). Now, believing that attitudes in the U.S. and UK are unchanged, Nigeria is requesting Russian assistance of a more lasting form in the fight against terrorists and pirates.

August 2017- Mansur Dan-Ali greets Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (MRA Russia/Twitter)

The request was made by Nigerian defense minister Mansur Dan-Ali at the 8th Moscow “Conference on International Security” on April 24. Dan-Ali, a former brigadier in the Nigerian Army, was appointed defense minister in November 2015. He first proposed Russia as Nigeria’s primary arms supplier in the war against Boko Haram in June 2017 (NAN [Lagos], August 2, 2017).

The minister pointed to Russia’s experience in counter-terrorism and suggested that this experience and help in modernizing Nigeria’s arsenal could help defeat the Boko Haram insurgency:

On the security front, Nigeria counts on Russia’s continued partnership in eliminating the Boko Haram insurgents from our sub-region. We wish to leverage on Russia’s experience in counterterrorism operations to bring this scourge to an end. Military and technical assistance in this respect would be highly appreciated (Vanguard [Lagos], April 24; The Nation [Lagos], April 25).

The success of Russia’s ruthless repression of pirates off the Somali coast has been well noted in Nigeria, where shipping and off-shore oil operations are increasingly threatened by pirates. Dan-Ali emphasized the dire security situation in the Gulf of Guinea, asking for Russian assistance to combat piracy, kidnappings, ship-hijackings and illegal dumping of toxic and radioactive waste ( [Lagos], April 25). The most dangerous waters in the world for shipping are no longer off the Somali coast, but rather in the Gulf of Guinea; the minister cited figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that indicated violent attacks in the Gulf had doubled in 2018 while pirates were now operating in speed boats as far as 100 nautical miles from shore. Since that report was issued, a further 22 attacks occurred in the first quarter of 2019, including all the world’s 21 reported kidnappings of crew members (IMB Piracy Report, January 16; International Crime Services, April 8).

(International Chamber of Commerce)

Nigeria’s relationship with Russia is much less complicated than its relations with the U.S. and Britain, the former colonial power. U.S. interest in Nigeria has waned in recent years with Nigerian oil imports declining steeply as America develops its own energy resources. China and Russia are increasingly seen in Abuja as more appealing, no-questions-asked partners who can provide affordable and effective solutions to Nigeria’s security and development problems. On May 2, the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, indicated that British military support would be available to Nigeria, “but they are a sovereign nation and they have got to want our help” (Premium Times [Abuja], May 2).

Having outlined Nigeria’s desperate need for help, Dan-Ali surprisingly took the opportunity to brightly proclaim that Nigerian and MNJTF operations had “overwhelmed” Boko Haram, leaving the leadership “decimated” ( [Lagos], April 25).  Despite the Nigerian Army’s repeated claims of imminent victory, villagers and forest workers continue to be slaughtered by Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP – the movement split in mid-2016).

Boko Haram commander Abubakr Shekau (right) in front of a captured Nigerian APC.

Only three days after Dan-Ali’s sunny assessment, ISWAP fighters overran a Nigerian Army outpost in Borno State on April 27, driving survivors into the bush and adding the captured arms and vehicles to their arsenal. The militants attacked using 12 technicals (pick-up trucks fitted with a heavy machine gun), three previously captured armored personnel carriers and dozens of gunmen on motorcycles operating on the flanks (This Day [Lagos], April 28; [Johannesburg], April 27). Hundreds of Nigerian soldiers have perished in 22 attacks on military posts in the last four years (Guardian [Lagos], April 29).

Nigeria has had military interactions with Russia in the recent past. When Nigerian attempts to buy U.S. Cobra attack helicopters were rebuffed by Washington in 2014, Nigeria turned to Russia, which had no problems selling them 21 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 11 Mi-17 utility helicopters. Nigeria ordered a further 12 Russian Mi-35M attack helicopters in September 2016 (NAN [Lagos], August 2, 2017).  Russian media reported plans to sell Nigeria ten Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighters in mid-2017, but the sale does not appear to have gone through (Sputnik, June 26, 2017).

Twelve hundred carefully-picked Nigerian security personnel drawn from the armed forces, the police and the Department of State Services (DSS – domestic intelligence) were sent to Russia for advanced anti-insurgency training in 2014 (Vanguard [Lagos], September 27, 2014). The training was apparently meant to be secret – the Nigerian defense ministry only acknowledged the program when the last contingent of 400 security personnel was photographed leaving for Russia at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport (Defenceweb, [Johannesburg], October 23, 2014).

Nigerian Army chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai has indicated that Nigeria will soon receive a shipment of advanced military hardware from an un-named country (This Day [Lagos], April 25). As the purchase includes technical training and ongoing maintenance support, Russia would seem to be the most likely point of origin for this shipment.

In the economic realm, Dan-Ali also requested Russian assistance in the construction of pipelines, railways and a nuclear power plant. Nigeria has been in talks with Russian state-owned Rosatom over the development of two nuclear reactors in Nigeria since 2015. Enriched uranium was recently removed from a research reactor by an international team in Nigeria’s Kaduna State over fears the material could be seized by terrorists (This Day [Lagos], April 25).

Meanwhile, despite these developments, Nigeria’s embassy in Moscow is unlikely to entertain Russian visitors any time soon; its unpaid water bill has forced a supply cut-off to the embassy, forcing diplomats to continually borrow water from neighboring embassies to flush the toilets (Punch [Lagos], April 3). Nigeria’s inability to even maintain important foreign embassies is indicative of Nigeria’s ongoing financial crisis. Russia does not need Nigerian oil and has little interest in other Nigerian products. The price of Russian military aid could well be a military base on the Nigerian coast close to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

This article first appeared in the May 8, 2019 issue of the Eurasia Daily Monitor


Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea

Andrew McGregor

November 24, 2010

A hybrid criminal/separatist movement operating in the swampy peninsula of Bakassi is now targeting oil industry infrastructure in the Gulf of Guinea in its effort to shake off Cameroonian control of the region, which was administered by Nigeria until last year. Like neighboring Nigeria, Cameroon has suffered a loss in oil production as a result of the activities of coastal “pirates,” recording a 13% drop in production in 2009. Though much of Cameroon’s oil industry is still in the exploration stage, there are high expectations for further discoveries in the area. The Gulf of Guinea is a resource-rich area, with Angola, Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea already major oil producers. Ghana is expected to soon join their ranks as Washington estimates the Gulf of Guinea region will supply a quarter of U.S. oil supplies by 2015 (Reuters, May 19).

Bakassi 1Cameroon is the twelfth-largest oil producer in Africa, with estimated reserves of roughly 200 million barrels in the offshore Rio del Ray Basin, the coastal Douala/Kribi-Camp Basin and the Logone Birni Basin in northern Cameroon. Despite this, Cameroon’s production has dropped from a 2005 high of 94,000 barrels per day to a current 77,000 barrels per day.

Covering an area of roughly 257 square miles, Bakassi is composed largely of creeks and mangrove covered islands, making it hard to patrol and a haven for smuggling activities. The abundant fishing grounds off Bakassi provide a livelihood for most of the population, most of whom are “Calabar people” from Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State.

Violence on the Cameroon Coast

Fears of a Nigerian-style insurgency based on oil production increased with an attack on security forces near the offshore Moudi oil terminal (run by Franco-British Perenco) on the night of November 16. The attack, claimed by the “Africa Marine Commando,” left six dead, including three civilians, two members of Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR – Rapid Intervention Battalion) and one of the assailants (Quotidien Mutations [Yaoundé], November 18; La Nouvelle Expression [Douala], November 18; AFP, November 18). Cameroonian security officials later said the attackers had been in contact with Perenco and the French Total oil firm for several days before the assault, demanding payment of a “security tax” to continue operations. Cameroonian officials have criticized the foreign oil companies for paying protection money to insurgents and bandits, just as local fishermen do (AFP, November 18). Boats that have paid the tax are given a small flag to indicate payment has been made.

The same Africa Marine Commando (AMC) also claimed responsibility for the abduction of six sailors from a Belgian ship anchored 40 km off Douala last September. An AMC spokesman said the hostages were moved to a camp on Nigerian territory and demanded the release of ten Ijaw fighters in a Cameroonian prison and the immediate opening of direct talks with Cameroon president Paul Biya (Le Jour [Yaoundé], September 29). The AMC, which appears to be a faction of the larger Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) movement, also kidnapped seven Chinese fishermen in Cameroonian coastal waters who were later freed in exchange for an undisclosed ransom (Radio France Internationale, March 13).

In May, gunmen in light boats attacked two cargo ships in Douala harbor, kidnapping two Russian crewmen from one ship and looting the safe and abducting the captain of the second ship, a Lithuanian refrigerated vessel (Reuters, May 19). The security of Douala’s port is a major regional concern as Douala acts as the commercial lifeline for the land-locked Central African Republic and Chad, another major petroleum producer which runs its oil through the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to the Cameroon port of Kribi.

The gunmen operating off Cameroon’s coast have carried out several daring raids, including a September 2008 operation in the fishing port of Limbe, in which gunmen landed in boats before breaking into the town’s Amity bank, where they stole several million dollars, killed one person and wounded may others (The Post [Yaoundé], September 29, 2008).

A number of other notable incidents of politically-generated violence have occurred in Bakassi in recent years:

• On November 12, 2007, 21 soldiers were killed in the Bakassi Peninsula by gunmen wearing uniforms. The attack was claimed by the previously unknown “Liberators of the Southern Cameroon People” (IRIN, November 13, 2007; November 20, 2007).

• Ten hostages (six French, two Cameroonians, one Senegalese and one Tunisian) were seized by Bakassi Freedom Fighters under Commander Ebi Dari on the night of October 30-31, 2008 (Radio France Internationale, November 2, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2).

• Gunmen in a canoe killed a police officer in a motorized canoe off Bakassi in December 2009, with the BFF taking responsibility for the attack (Le Jour [Yaoundé], December 21, 2009).

The Dilemma of the Bakassi Peninsula

The complex issue of what nation Bakassi belongs to began with the decision of the Obong (paramount ruler) of Calabar to sign a treaty of protection with the British in 1884, thus making his territory (including the Bakassi peninsula) a British protectorate. Bakassi fell under the Nigerian colonial administration until 1913, when Britain ceded the territory to the neighboring German colony of Kamerun in return for navigation rights to Calabar, an important commercial center. German control was short-lived, with a combined British-French-Belgian invasion force taking control of the colony in 1916 after a year-and-a-half of stiff resistance from a tiny German garrison reinforced by local troops. After the war, most of the former German colony fell under a French mandate, with a smaller portion becoming “the British Cameroons.” This included Bakassi, as recognized in a 1919 treaty with the French. However, when the rest of the former British Cameroons voted by a 1961 plebiscite to join with the new nation of Cameroon rather than join Nigeria, Bakassi remained under Nigerian administration.

After several border clashes with Nigeria over Bakassi and a northern region near Lake Chad, Cameroon took the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1994. With special reference to the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913 and colonial era diplomatic correspondence between the two imperial powers, the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon in 2002, ordering Nigeria to transfer sovereignty over Bakassi to Cameroon, but without requiring any of the Nigerian residents in Bakassi to leave or change their citizenship. The details of the transfer of sovereignty were worked out in the Green Tree Agreement, which was assembled with the additional participation of the United States, Great Britain, France and Equatorial Guinea.

Popular and political opposition to the decision within Nigeria delayed the transfer of sovereignty, though the government neither ratified nor rejected the court’s verdict. In Bakassi itself, there was wide dissatisfaction with the decision in the English-speaking Nigerian majority. As one Bakassi native told a Nigerian daily:

The United Nations should realize that we have the right to decide where we want to be and the right to self-determination. We are Nigerians and here in our ancestral home. You can see some of the graves here dating back to the 19th century. How can you force a strange culture and government on us? We appreciate what the Nigerian government is doing but let it be on record that they have betrayed us and we will fight for our survival and self-determination (The Guardian [Lagos], August 18, 2006).


Left in a political limbo, it was unsurprising that many residents of Bakassi tried to take control of their own political future. In July 2006 the Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BMSD) joined with the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to declare the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Bakassi, an unsuccessful attempt to found a new nation in the small peninsula that brought out few supporters. After the Nigerian Senate ruled the transfer of sovereignty was illegal in 2007, the three groups again declared the independence of Bakassi in July 2008, this time with BMSD declaring it would subsume all its activities under the “joint leadership” of MEND:

With the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Bakassi Peninsula, which takes away our last line of defense as Nigerian citizens and exposes our people to perpetual and permanent bondage of exploitation, under-development and death, which characterized life in the larger Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea over the last 50 years of multi-national oil companies’ occupation with the connivance of Nigerian leaders, we are left with no other option than to defend our land and people by any means necessary (The Post [Yaoundé], July 31, 2008).

Noting that the Green Tree Agreement violated the Nigerian constitution and had failed to be ratified by the Nigerian Senate, many Nigerian politicians condemned the transfer and challenged its legality (This Day, July 29, 2008). Nigerian residents of Bakassi were given the option of moving to a “New Bakassi” some 30 km inside Nigeria, but the new settlement had no fishing, no roads and few services. Many Nigerians wished to move from Bakassi but remained there after hearing reports of conditions in the new settlement (IRIN, November 13, 2007). The current Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, has led an effort to overturn the ICJ ruling, which he says took no note of the opinions of the residents of Bakassi:

We expected that the government could have come to the people and called for a referendum so that the people would decide what they wanted for themselves. But I don’t really know why it had to be done that way. That decision was taken and part of my territory was ceded. I am not happy and my people are not happy about it. Because it [the decision] is now creating problems for my people. We cannot take care of them. We have been struggling with the relocation issue (Nigerian Compass, July 9, 2009).

The secessionist SCAPO movement had a different plan – including Bakassi with the Southern Cameroons in a secessionist “Republic of Ambazonia.”

Although the Cameroon government refused to acknowledge the political dimension of the violence in Bakassi by declining to identify the insurgents as anything other than “armed bandits,” the decision to hold the August 14, 2009, ceremony marking the transfer of authority in the Nigerian city of Calabar rather than in Bakassi was interpreted as an acknowledgement that Bakassi was far from secure (Reuters, August 13, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2, 2008).

Prior to the transfer of power the BFF announced a merger with another militant group battling the military in Bakassi, the Niger Delta Defense and Security Council (NDDSC), with the intention of setting Bakassi “ablaze” and crippling its economy if the handover went through (Africa Press International, July 21, 2009).

Most of the Bakassi militants disarmed on September 25, 2009, but only weeks later ex-rebels claimed Cameroon’s security forces took advantage of this to kill six Nigerians in Bakassi territorial waters as a warning to other Nigerians to stay out of Cameroonian territory. Complaints began to be heard from “Nigerian” residents of Bakassi that the Nigerian navy had abandoned them to “the Cameroonian gendarmes” (Next [Lagos], October 16, 2009). Several months after the transfer of authority, Dan Don Atekpi, the former leader of the disbanded Bakassi Salvation Front (BSF), announced that his movement would renew hostilities against Cameroon government forces in 2010. Claiming 20 Nigerians had been killed by “these heartless Cameroonians” in the first two months after the transfer, Atekpi stated: “We are being provoked to take up arms. We have no intention of doing so except for this unprovoked attack.” Atekpi was also concerned with the failure of the Cameroon government to pay former militants the daily allowance called for in the transfer terms or to provide skills training or other means of rehabilitation (Next [Lagos], January 14).

Secession in the Southern Cameroons

The two mainly English-speaking provinces that joined Cameroon by plebiscite in 1961 (known as the Nord-Ouest and Sud-Ouest provinces of Cameroon, or collectively as the Southern Cameroons) have also become secessionist hotbeds since the 1990s. The secessionist movements active in the South Cameroons usually include Bakassi in their plans for an independent state.

The Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) is a secessionist group that has adopted a peaceful approach to freeing Southern Cameroons “from the stranglehold of our oppressor – La République du Cameroun” (The Post [Yaoundé], October 8). The related SCAPO movement complains that the Cameroon government is interested only in the region’s oil and not the Southern Cameroonians or the Bakassians. SCAPO declared the establishment of an independent “Republic of Ambazonia” in August 2006.

Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR was formed in 1999 as the Bataillon Léger d’Intervention (BLI), a special intervention force designed to eliminate foreign rebels, bandits and deserters (the “coupeurs de routes”) who were destroying the security of Cameroon’s northern provinces through cattle rustling, abductions, murder and highway robbery. As part of military reforms carried out in Cameroon in 2001, the unit took on its current BIR designation. BIR officers are selected from the graduates of the Ecole Militaire Interarmées in Yaoundé. The BIR commandos were sent to the coast in 2007 to assist the Delta Command in dealing with a rapidly deteriorating security situation (The Sun [Limbe], October 13, 2008).

Bakassi 2The Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR’s mandate has expanded from providing border security since its formation, however, the elite force has mutated into something of a Praetorian Guard for President Paul Biya, an authoritarian who has ruled Cameroon since 1982, sometimes hiring his own international observers to legitimize his victories in largely unopposed elections.

The unit’s reputation in Cameroon took a hit in February 2008, when roughly 100 unarmed civilians were killed when the unit was brought in to Doula and Yaoundé to put down protests against the high cost of living (IRIN, August 29, 2008). Several months later the BIR was again deployed in the cities to prevent protests against the elimination of presidential term limits and the granting of immunity to Biya for all actions taken while in office.


For once, oil is not the main source of the conflict, as Nigeria and Cameroon have agreed to share the revenues from any oil produced off the Bakassi coast. It is, however, an aggravating factor with local militants who complain of the inequitable distribution of oil revenues and the presence of large multinationals with little concern for the well-being of local residents. Bakassi remains largely underdeveloped and mounting insecurity will do little to change this state of affairs. In some cases there is resistance by the Nigerian population to use services such as hospitals provided by Cameroon, as it would be a sign of acceptance of Cameroonian rule (IRIN, August 8, 2009). Most important, however, is the growing perception in Bakassi of the BIR as a colonial-style occupation force with little, if any, local representation. The growing divide between the Anglophone residents of Bakassi and the new Francophone administration invites the spread of a Niger Delta style low-level insurgency that is willing to hobble the development of the oil industry in the Gulf of Guinea through kidnappings and armed attacks to achieve its political aims – independence or a return to Nigerian sovereignty.

Russian Navy to Use Port in Djibouti for Anti-Piracy Operations

Andrew McGregor

May 28, 2010

News that the Russian Navy will begin using port facilities in Djibouti is further proof that the small, resource poor nation intends to take full advantage of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa (Shabelle Media Network, May 17; Interfax, May 17). The former French colony is already host to French and American military bases, with a base for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) currently under construction.

Russia Djibouti 1The Russian Destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov

Hard on the heels of a successful anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden by the Marshal Shaposhnikov came an announcement that the government of Djibouti and the command of the Djibouti Navy (which consists primarily of five U.S. donated patrol boats) had approved Russian use of port facilities. However, both Russian Navy officials and the Russian Embassy in Djibouti emphasize that the new agreement with Djibouti does not provide for the establishment of a land forces base or permanent Russian naval facilities like those being built for ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Tartus in Syria. Work on the Tartus base is expected to be complete in 2011 (Vzglyad Online, May 18).

According to a Russian Naval staff spokesman, “[The Djibouti port] is located quite close to the area where our combat objective is being carried out, it is convenient and cost-effective to use if staying long in the region. With the use of the port of Djibouti, it is no longer necessary to send support ships to the region alongside our warships… As regards the creation of a base facility for ships of the [Russian] Navy in Djibouti, as is now the case with Tartus, it is too early to speak of that at this stage. The issue is not being discussed right now” (Itar-Tass, May 17, May 19). Though French and American authorities have not commented publicly on the Djibouti government’s decision, it seems unlikely that it could have been made without the approval of both of these parties.

Currently the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the Marshal Shaposhnikov is a 1980s vintage Udaloy class destroyer designed for anti-submarine warfare. With a crew of 300 men, the ship is armed with anti-submarine missiles, surface-to-air missiles, torpedoes, two 100 mm guns and two Kamov Ka-27 helicopters.

Russia Djibouti 2In a May 6 operation using helicopters and Russian Marines borne on small assault craft launched from the Marshal Shaposhnikov, Russian naval forces succeeded in rescuing the MV Moscow University, a Russian oil tanker seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden (Zvezda TV, May 10). After a short firefight, one hijacker was killed and ten others captured, some of them wounded. The MV Moscow University is a Liberian-flagged tanker capable of carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil. At the time it was taken by pirates it was shipping oil from Sudan to China (Itar-Tass, May 10).

After initial reports the pirates were to be taken to Moscow for trial, they were instead set free on one of their own boats. According to Captain Ildar Akhmerov, “We gave to the pirates in the boat water, food and the remnants of the junk that was with them, except for the weapons, boarding ladders and navigation devices that we had seized” (Interfax, May 10). The pirates are not believed to have survived the 350 mile trip back to shore – as one Russian media outlet said, “It seems that what happened to them afterwards does not interest anyone in either Russia or Somalia” (NTV, May 10). Nevertheless, Moscow has proposed the creation of international tribunals at the U.N. to deal with the jurisdictional problem of pirates captured on the high seas (Itar-Tass, May 13).

A Russian Navy spokesman said the Marshal Shaposhnikov had been “overwhelmed” by applications from foreign merchant vessels asking to be escorted by the Russian destroyer (ITAR-TASS, May 10). After a short stay in Djibouti on May 16-17, the Marshal Shaposhnikov began preparations for escorting a convoy of commercial ships through the Gulf of Aden on May 18 (Interfax-AVN Online, May 19). The passage typically takes four days.

This article first appeared in the May 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Japan Opens Naval Base in Djibouti in Defiance of Peace Constitution

Andrew McGregor

May 6, 2010

Japanese authorities have confirmed their intention to develop a Japanese naval base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, already home to large American and French military installations. The base will be Japan’s first overseas since Japan’s defeat in 1945 and the major political and military reforms that followed. The $40 million base is expected to be ready early in 2011 and will provide a permanent port for ships of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).

Japan DjiboutiThe plans for a Japanese base in Djibouti were first announced last July, when Tokyo outlined its intention to build housing facilities and an airstrip for JMSDF Lockheed P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft. The decision followed a request by U.S. authorities for Japan to build facilities that would allow it to take a larger role in security operations in the Gulf of Aden (Kyodo News, July 31, 2009).

Japanese navy commander Keizo Kitagawa of the JMSDF’s Plans and Policy section told reporters “We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defense. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden through which 20,000 vessels sail every year is worrying” (AFP, April 23). According to Japanese authorities, 99% of Japanese exports rely on use of the shipping lanes off Somalia (Somaliland Press, April 29; Alshahid, April 29).

Japan sent teams of military experts to Yemen, Oman, Kenya and Djibouti to explore the possibilities of opening a naval base in one of these nations. Djibouti was chosen in April, 2009. Japanese personnel and material supporting the JMSDF deployment off Somalia are currently housed in rented space at the American base at Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base. French troops in Djibouti are engaged in anti-piracy operations, training French troops for action in Afghanistan and keeping an eye on the volatile Horn of Africa region (Radio France Internationale, April 18).

Japan Djibouti 2Japan’s Special Boarding Unit: Active in the Horn of Africa

The largest warships in the JMSDF are Guided Missile Destroyers, Destroyers and Helicopter Destroyers. Japan has been deploying a pair of destroyers on a rotational basis in the Gulf of Aden since last year. The naval deployment includes members of the Special Boarding Unit (SBU), a Hiroshima-based Special Forces unit patterned after the U.K.’s Special Boat Service (SBS).

The creation of a Japanese military base in Africa would have been implausible only a few years ago, as such deployments are in clear violation of Japan’s 1947 “Peace Constitution,” which forbids the maintenance of a Japanese military, the deployment of Japanese military forces overseas and participation in collective military operations, regardless of their purpose. With American encouragement during the Cold War, Japan began a conscious evasion of the Peace Constitution by creating “Self-Defense” Forces rather than a Japanese military. Japanese troops began overseas deployments in the early 1990s with non-combatant peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and Mozambique. After 9/11, new anti-terrorism and anti-piracy laws eased the transition to offshore operations. The JMSDF provided support to American forces in Afghanistan from 2001 to January 2010 and Japanese Ground Forces joined Coalition operations in Iraq in a humanitarian capacity in 2004. Technically, all members of Japan’s Self Defense Forces are classified as civilian civil servants and the naval deployment to the Horn of Africa is being characterized by the government as anti-crime operations rather than military operations.

This article first appeared in the May 6, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Chinese Navy Conducts Independent Operations against Somali Pirates

Andrew McGregor

April 24, 2009

A second Chinese naval taskforce under Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou has arrived in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy in the area (Jiefangjun Bao Online, April 8). The new taskforce replaces the Chinese Navy’s earlier taskforce, consisting of the multi-purpose missile destroyer DDG-169 Wuhan, the destroyer DDG-171 Haikou (equipped with phased-array radar and the latest long-range air defense missiles) and the Qiandaohu class supply ship Weishanhu (Xinhua, December 26, 2008; China Daily, December 26, 2008). Since their arrival on January 6, the Chinese ships rescued three ships from pirates and drove off more than 100 suspicious vessels while providing naval escorts through the region (Xinhua, April 5).

Chinese Navy 1Chinese Frigate FFG-570 Huangshan

The second taskforce consists of China’s most advanced missile destroyer, the DDG-167 Shenzhen, and the FFG-570 Huangshan, the navy’s latest model frigate, which has a structural design intended to reduce its radar profile (Xinhua, April 2). The new task force also includes two helicopters and a contingent of navy Special Forces. Like the earlier taskforce, all the ships are modern products of Chinese naval yards. The ships belong to the South China Sea fleet, based in the port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province. The supply ship Weishanhu will remain in the Gulf to service the newly arrived ships.

More than 1,000 Chinese merchant ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. Before the Chinese deployment began, as much as 20% of Chinese shipping in the Gulf was attacked in the previous year. Chinese authorities were no doubt alarmed by the hijacking of a Saudi oil tanker earlier this year off the coast of Somalia. Chinese tankers carry the output of the Chinese oil operations in Sudan from Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast into the piracy zone in the Gulf of Aden. Chinese oil firms have also signed deals with the autonomous government of Puntland (the base of most pirate activities) to exploit potential oil reserves in Somali waters off the Puntland coast (Financial Times, July 13, 2007; AFP December 19, 2007).

According to Rear Admiral Yao Zhilou, the second mission, expected to last six months, may expand its zone of operations in response to adaptations made by the pirates, including greater coordination, upgraded arms and wider areas of operation (China Daily, April 18).

Huang Jiaxiang, political commissar of the South Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy, outlined the objectives of the Chinese naval deployment;

• Fulfilling international obligations.

• Protecting national interests.

• Demonstrating the “good image of the People’s Army and the Chinese Navy.”

• Raising the navy’s capacity to carry out a variety of assigned duties (Xinhua, April 5).

The Chinese warships operate independently of the 20-nation Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a UN-authorized anti-piracy naval force. China has pledged to share information with CTF-151 ships and provide humanitarian help to foreign vessels in danger of attack (Xinhua, December 26, 2008). The main concern of the mission is the protection of Chinese merchant ships as well as any ship from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan that appeals for protection (Xinhua, March 31; China Daily, December 26, 2008). There was initially some political concern in Taiwan after Chinese authorities reported a tanker belonging to Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group had requested an escort from the Chinese naval group, but Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council later reported the Formosa Products Cosmos was registered in Liberia and no Taiwanese ships had been authorized to seek protection from the Chinese navy (China Post [Taiwan], January 14).

The Chinese naval deployment offers the opportunity to train naval crews in real-life conditions, gain familiarity with the operations of the foreign naval forces comprising CTF-151 (including American ships) and increase their knowledge of African coastal waters in an area of increasing strategic importance for Beijing. The latter, combined with Chinese involvement in a number of African peacekeeping missions, is resulting in a steady supply of intelligence on areas of Chinese interest in the region.

Chinese Navy 2Admiral Zheng He

The importance of the return of the Chinese Navy to African waters after an absence of 600 years was celebrated in a music video produced by the Chinese Navy’s political art troupe ( ).  The song, entitled “Make Haste to Somalia,” makes reference to the 15th century Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He, who took a Chinese fleet of hundreds of ships to the East African coast:

Make haste to Somalia, cruise the Gulf of Aden
With lofty sentiments, the Chinese navy heads for the deep blue
Braving wind and waves, the warship’s flag flutters,
The Chinese navy, a bright sword to harmonize the ocean.

Chinese warriors, valiant men with iron wills,
Intrepid journey, 600 years after Zheng He.
Heroic sailors, forge bravely ahead,
Bearing heavy responsibility, the motherland will see our triumphant return.

(Translation by, 2008).


This article first appeared in the April 24, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Mystery of Arms Ship Seized by Somali Pirates Grows Deeper

Andrew McGregor

October 30, 2008

In the holds of the Ukrainian cargo-ship MV (Motor Vessel) Faina, seized by Somali pirates in September, are 33 Russian-designed T-72 battle tanks and a substantial cargo of grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns, small arms and ammunition. Kenya and Ukraine both insist the arms and armor are destined for the Kenyan Department of Defense to replace Kenya’s 1970s vintage Vickers MK 3 tanks (Daily Nation, September 29; AFP, September 28). At the moment, Kenya’s armed forces do not use any Russian-designed equipment and Kenyan military sources have been reported as saying no training on the Ukrainian/Russian-built equipment has taken place, normal purchasing procedures were not followed and the Department of Defense was only informed of the shipment after it had been seized by the Somali pirates (Daily Nation, September 29).

 MV Faina 1Somali Pirates on the MV Faina (Aftonbladet)

A shipping document found on the vessel by Somali pirates indicates the arms are headed for “GOSS,” the usual acronym for the Government of South Sudan. Ukrainian and Kenyan officials insist the acronym stands for “General Ordinance Supplies and Security,” an apparently meaningless phrase that some Kenyan military officials say they have never seen before (Sudan Tribune, October 8). Kenyan government spokesman Dr. Alfred Mutua says Nairobi is still hopeful the MV Faina will be released “and we will get our cargo” (Daily Nation, October 23).

There are claims from maritime shipping observers that the MV Faina is actually the fifth ship in the last year involved in shipping arms and tanks through the Kenyan port of Mombasa to South Sudan (The National [UAE], September 29, BBC, October 7). 50 tanks destined for the SPLA were seized in Mombasa in February, though the fate of this shipment is uncertain (Sudan Tribune, February 15; Al-Ray al-Aam [Khartoum], February 15, Juba Post, February 22). With the status of Sudan’s oil fields still in dispute, South Sudan appears to be arming in preparation for a resumption of Sudan’s Civil War following the 2011 South Sudan independence referendum. The T-72’s would be more than a match for Khartoum’s Chinese-designed Type 59 (al-Zubayr) tanks, a copy of the Russian-designed T-54, though more modern Type 96 (al-Bashir) tanks were unveiled in a military parade last December. Nevertheless, an SPLA spokesman denied the weapons were destined for South Sudan, saying the SPLA was not yet “advanced enough” to receive shipments of modern weapons (Reuters, September 29). There are no indications that SPLA personnel are receiving the extensive training needed before they could make use of the MV Faina’s cargo.

Khartoum announced last week that senior Sudanese officials will not be attending the October 26-28 Nairobi meeting of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD – an important regional organization that includes Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti). The snub comes only days after Sudan cancelled a meeting intended to seal a deal providing Kenya with discounted Sudanese oil (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 22).

Both moves are seen as expressions of Khartoum’s displeasure with the use of Mombasa as a port for unauthorized arms shipments to land-locked South Sudan. Under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan, all arms purchases by the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) must be approved by the central government. Khartoum has also accused Ethiopia of supplying arms to the SPLA (Reuters, October 13). Shipments of arms to South Sudan do not violate the current UN arms embargo, as has been reported elsewhere.

On October 27, Russia announced that it had been given permission by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to take military action against Somali pirates (ITAR-TASS, October 27). The Russian Baltic fleet guided-missile frigate Neustrashimy is now in Somali waters and is prepared to “take part in joint operations against pirates together with the vessels of foreign naval forces” (Kommersant, October 28). The MV Faina is currently surrounded by ships of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet determined to ensure the arms are not offloaded. Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) resistance movement has denied any involvement in the hijacking, noting that the ICU had eliminated piracy in 2006 (Reuters, September 29).

Confusing the issue is a recent statement by anonymous Yemeni government sources that the tanks and other arms on the MV Faina were destined for Yemen, not South Sudan (Yemen Post, October 20).Yemen is currently the world’s fourth largest importer of Russian arms, many of which are resold to third parties, and has just concluded a deal with Moscow to allow Russian naval ships to “use its ports for reaching strategic objectives” (Yemen Times, October 18). The Neustrashimy docked in Aden before heading for Somali waters. Amidst the rising tensions, Yemen has announced the postponement of this week’s regional summit on piracy, scheduled to be held in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a (Yemen Post, October 20).

MV Faina 2T-72 Tanks being Offloaded from the MV Faina (Gideon Maunu)

(AIS Update: The MV Faina was released by its captors on February 5, 2009 after the payment of a $3.2 million ransom by the ship’s Ukrainian owners. The T-72 tanks were offloaded in Kenya, allegedly destined for a Kenyan military base according to the Nairobi government. U.S. satellite photos later revealed the armor was sent on to South Sudan in violation of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), for which Kenya was a guarantor. See and  for relevant U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.)