Yemen and The Militarization of Strategic Waterways
Securing US Control over Socotra Island and the Gulf of Aden
Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, Feb 7 2010
The Yemeni archipelago of Socotra in the Indian Ocean is located some 80km off the Horn of Africa and 380km South of the Yemeni coastline. The islands of Socotra are a wildlife reserve recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site. Socotra is at the crossroads of the strategic naval waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (See map below). It is of crucial importance to the US military. Among Washington’s strategic objectives is the militarization of major sea ways. This strategic waterway links the Mediterranean to South Asia and the Far East, through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It is a major transit route for oil tankers. A large share of China’s industrial exports to Western Europe transits through this strategic waterway. Maritime trade from East and Southern Africa to Western Europe also transits within proximity of Socotra, through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. A military base in Socotra could be used to oversee the movement of vessels including war ships in and out of the Gulf of Aden. Amjed Jaaved, in A new hot-spot of rivalry, Pakistan Observer, Jul 1 2009, points out:
The Indian Ocean is a major sea lane connecting the Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Bab-el-Mandeb, bordering Djibouti and Yemen, the Straits of Hormuz, bordering Iran and Oman, and the Straits of Malacca, bordering Indonesia and Malaysia. These chokepoints are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.
From a military standpoint, the Socotra archipelago is at a strategic maritime crossroads. Morever, the archipelago extends over a relatively large maritime area at the Eastern exit of the Gulf of Aden, from the island of Abd al Kuri, to the main island of Socotra. This maritime area of international transit lies in Yemeni territorial waters. The objective of the US is to police the entire Gulf of Aden seaway, from the Yemeni to the Somali coastline. Socotra is some 3000km from the US naval base of Diego Garcia, which is among the US’s largest overseas military facilities.
On Jan 2 2010, Pres Saleh and Gen Petraeus, Commander of CENTCOM, met for high level discussions behind closed doors. The Saleh-Petraeus meeting was casually presented by the media as a timely response to the foiled Detroit Christmas bomb attack on Northwest flight 253. It had apparently been scheduled on an ad hoc basis as a means to coordinating counter-terrorism initiatives directed against “Al Qaeda in Yemen”, including “the use of US drones and missiles on Yemen lands.” Several reports, however, confirmed that the Saleh-Petraeus meetings were intent upon redefining US military involvement in Yemen, including the establishment of a full-fledged military base on the island of Socotra. Fars News stated on Jan 19 2010 that Yemen’s Pres Saleh was reported to have:
surrendered Socotra for Americans who would set up a military base, pointing out that US officials and the Yemeni government agreed to set up a military base in Socotra to counter pirates and al-Qaeda.
On Jan 1, one day before the Saleh-Petraeus meetings in Sanaa, Petraeus confirmed in a Baghdad press conference that “security assistance” to Yemen would more than double from $70m to more than $150m, which represents a 14 fold increase since 2006. (Scramble for the Island of Bliss: Socotra!, War in Iraq, Jan 12 2010. See also CNN, Jan 9 2010, Guardian, Dec 28 2009). This doubling of military aid to Yemen was presented to world public opinion as a response to the Detroit bomb incident, which allegedly had been ordered by Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The establishment of an air force base on the island of Socotra was described by the US media as part of the “Global war on Terrorism”:
Among the new programs, Saleh and Petraeus agreed to allow the use of US aircraft, perhaps drones, as well as “seaborne missiles”, as long as the operations have prior approval from the Yemenis, according to a senior Yemeni official. US officials say the island of Socotra, 200 miles off the Yemeni coast, will be beefed up from a small airstrip under the jurisdiction of the Yemeni military to a full base in order to support the larger aid program as well as battle Somali pirates. Petraeus is also trying to provide the Yemeni forces with basic equipment such as up-armored Humvees and possibly more helicopters. ( Newsweek, Jan 18 2010)
The proposed US Socotra military facility, however, is not limited to an air force base. A US naval base has also been contemplated. The development of Socotra’s naval infrastructure was already in the pipeline. Barely a few days prior to the Petraeus-Saleh discussions, on Dec 29 2009, the Yemeni cabinet approved a $14m loan by Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development in support of the development of Socotra’s seaport project. The Socotra archipelago is part of the Great Game opposing Russia and the US. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a military presence in Socotra, which at the time was part of South Yemen. Barely a year ago, the Russians entered into renewed discussions with the Yemeni government regarding the establishment of a Naval base on Socotra island. A year later, in Jan 2010, in the week following the Petraeus-Saleh meeting, a Russian Navy communiqué “confirmed that Russia did not give up its plans to have bases for its ships on Socotra island.” (Defense & Security, Russia, Jan 25 2010) The Petraeus-Saleh discussions were crucial in weakening Russian diplomatic overtures to the Yemeni government. The US military has had its eye on the island of Socotra since the end of the Cold War. In 1999, Socotra was chosen as a site upon which the US planned to build a SIGINT station. Yemeni opposition news media reported that Yemen’s administration had agreed to allow the US military access to both a port and an airport on Socotra. According to the opposition daily Al-Haq, “a new civilian airport built on Socotra to promote tourism had conveniently been constructed in accordance with US military specifications.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct 18 2000) The establishment of a US military base in Socotra is part of the broader process of militarization of the Indian Ocean. The latter consists in integrating and linking Socotra into an existing structure as well as reinforcing the key role played by the Diego Garcia military base in the Chagos archipelago.https://niqnaq.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/the-useful-yemeni-island-of-socotra/Linkback: http://www.wikileaks-forum.com/yemen/299/the-useful-yemeni-island-of-socotra/24044/