Monday, April 13, 2009

Raising the Stakes on Piracy

As is apt with the Ass Press, they have gone into full hand-wringing mode over the actions of the US Navy in recovering a US citizen from pirates.
The killing of three Somali pirates in the dramatic U.S. Navy rescue of a cargo ship captain has sparked concern for other hostages and fears that the stakes have been raised for future hijackings in the busy Indian Ocean shipping lane.
Sunday's rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips followed a shootout at sea on Friday by French navy commandos, who stormed a pirate-held sailboat, killed two pirates and freed four French hostages. The French owner of the vessel was also killed in the assault.

The two operations may have been a setback for the pirates, but they are unlikely to quell the brigands, who have vowed to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

Experts indicated that piracy in the Indian Ocean off Somalia, which transformed one of the world's busiest shipping lanes into one of its most dangerous, has entered a new phase with the Navy SEAL rescue operation of Phillips.

It "could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it," said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

So it would have been nice if they had reported what Bill Gortney thought was the right action here. He's given this tiny blip of a comment and you wonder if he didn't have more to opine on. Was it the right act? Any dunce can see that this could cause an escalation in violence. Anyone resisting a thug runs the risk of an escalation.

The issue with the whole article is that they seem more concerned about the held hostages that they are about stopping the whole cycle. The ship owners have caused piracy in this region to become a lucrative business. Can't blame them, they have huge risks of loss and the safety of their crews to worry about. Except that they could always save a bunch of money by arming them or providing security crews.
The comrades of the slain pirates immediately threatened retaliation.

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them," said Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate, told The Associated Press by telephone from the pirate hub, Eyl.

Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship in the pirate den of Gaan, a central Somali town, told the AP that pirates will not take the U.S. action lying down.

"We will retaliate for the killings of our men," he said.

Go right ahead. Just expect that ship owners know this and will now, with luck, start making plans to react to the threat.

Steve Schippert
over at discusses the proper action.


The US Navy (or any other navy) is not the answer. Wholly cost-ineffective, incapable of covering all areas and like swatting mosquitoes with a sledgehammer. The open seas reaction time is too great. The pirates' take-over of a ship will have (pardon, has) already taken place and the opposing force is faced not with preventing the pirates' boarding, but rather with boarding the vessel themselves in a hostage situation, risking the lives of the crew a second time. We are reacting haphazardly (and slowly) rather than preventing or deterring.

Or, as has been the alternate course more often than not, nations and firms can enter into post-action negotiation for the return of their vessels, goods and men. Paying pirates is a remarkably poor option, particularly after one is so keenly aware of the threat.


The only tenable solution is to put the prevention at the point of risk: Aboard the vessel.

It is the only solution - sans magical liquidation of all pirates and their havens - that is fast-reacting enough or cost effective enough. (Have you ever checked the expense tab of operating a US Navy destroyer for a 24-hour period of steaming? It's an expense only a stimulus's mother could love.)

What does the security team look like? Pretty simple, actually. 4-6 men from the contracting outfit, with small arms with enough reach and punch to introduce a speedboat to the ocean floor. There is an array of potent automatic rifles available. The team should possess at least one .50 caliber weapon for both range and punch. Certainly no 5.56mm M-16's. As well, some form of grenade weapons should be on hand (RPGs, grenade launchers and/or other shoulder-fired explosive weapons suitable for maritime use.) Night scopes and night vision goggles are essential as well. There are plenty of arms experts who know what would and would not work best. Point is, it isn't rocket science. Get it done.

The world navies shouldn't be a direct answer, but a reactive answer. They should be looking to sit outside of the known pirate havens and ensure they can't come out. You don't have to do it all of the time, just periodically. They could also periodically play convoy escort and challenge any ship that approaches. I find it unlikely any pirate will then approach a convoy, but you can bet there will at least be a couple of clashes. The US Navy sledgehammer isn't a solution overall.

Steve also has this discussion about the Obama administrations activity around this.
But, regarding the greater issue ashore in Somalia, it is difficult to just cast aside the pointlessness of the pondering by "several" anonymous "senior national security officials" afforded space by the Washington Post story, "Obama Team Mulls Aims Of Somali Extremists".

The very first graph stops you so dead in your tracks that you find yourself reading it over and over just to be certain you haven't fallen to sudden temporary dyslexia. But the text, in fact, appears just as it was written.

Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.

Not sure about al-Shabaab's intentions? And "many" officials? Who are these people?

The al-Shabaab terrorist group is (not was) actively recruiting from within the United States and threatening attacks, possibly through newly trained terrorists returning to America. Al-Shabaab has concrete links to al-Qaeda. In fact, it was widely expected in counterterrorism circles that al-Shabaab would finally just come out and officially announce its franchise status within al-Qaeda early this year.

Shabaab's military commander - until he was killed in a US missile strike in May 2008 - was Aden Hashi Ayro, who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and maintained close ties. Al-Qaeda has been trying to secure their foothold in East Africa through first the ICU and now it's offshoot al-Shabaab ('The Youth'). It regularly publishes video propaganda of its aims and deeds, and draws praise from the highest echelons of al-Qaeda's senior leadership. What 'uncertainty' causes such pause?

Wading into Somalia guns-ablazin' in short order is not an option. That said, it is one thing to pause and weigh options and paths to address the situation based on resources available, running contingencies, and the pressing context of the nexus of global counterterrorism operations. But to pause because of "uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization"?

Want more on the battle of the brains holed up in DC?

Some in the Defense Department have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act. Many other national security officials say an ill-considered strike would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. Other options under consideration are increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.

Financial pressure? On quite possibly the poorest country on Earth? Is this not akin to threatening a burn victim with fire? And how in the world can anyone see the light at the end of the "stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia" tunnel without first (or coterminously) physically defeating radical al-Qaeda-linked Islamists armed to the teeth, blowing up anything in their path and running half of Somalia?

You seriously cannot make this up.

You have to agree that either the reporting is astoundingly out to lunch or the report is based on an astoundingly weak understanding of what needs to be accomplished. Somalia is a failed state with imbedded terrorists groups. The piracy portion is no doubt partially related to the terrorists, though there is likely a section that is purely economical/criminal in nature.

So what is the solution? I'd have to guess it will be as complicated as that we had to provide for Iraq or Afghanistan, but the present administration will never ponder such a reaction. It is highly improbable that the US will ever invade any section of Somalia. And from what they are putting out at the moment it sounds more like Clinton's reaction to the first world trade center bombing. Toss a couple cruise missiles in and call it a success. Sadly it will take much more fortitude and much more investment if the world really cares to solve the problem.

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