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A Military Solution to Piracy By: E. Ralph Hostetter
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 17, 2009

The United States has been actively involved in political and military issues in Somalia since President George H. W. Bush deployed U.S. troops there in the early weeks of January 1993. America's purpose for being in Somalia was to "establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations.”

President William J. (Bill) Clinton took office on January 20, 1993, in time to become embroiled in a volatile political and military issue.

For all intents and purposes, no organized government existed in Somalia at the time. Armed war lords leading renegade gangs were staking out their own "territories" to rule. By October 1993 the nation was in civil war, culminating in the Battle of Mogadishu, in which 19 Americans were killed. To help U.S. forces to defend themselves, President Clinton ordered more troops into the country.

The shooting down of a Black Hawk helicopter on October 3, 1993, marked the beginning of the end of America's involvement in Somalia. "Black Hawk down" echoed around the world and became symbolic of the war's end. Americans began to demand withdrawal from Somalia, and President Clinton ordered all troops removed in March 1994. Somalia was left in a state of anarchy, which exists to the present time. This is the backdrop that has led to the present day piracy on the open seas off the Somalian coast.

Piracy on the seas surrounding Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since the beginning of Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s. Somalia's geography, with its thousand-plus mile coastline on both sides of the Gulf of Aden and very little population, lends itself to acts of piracy. Some 20,000 ships a year pass through on voyages to and from the Suez Canal.

Holding ships and their crews for ransom has proved very profitable for the pirates. Wikipedia reports Kenya's Foreign Minister as saying that Somali pirates received more than US$150 million in the 12 months prior to November 2008.

Most of the Somali pirates range in age from 20 to 35 years and are principally from an area on the northeastern Horn of Africa known as Puntland. They are organized into at least five pirate gangs totaling about 1,000 men, according to the East African Seafarers Association.

Local fishermen, because of their expert sea experience, are considered the leaders. Other members are ex-militiamen, a spin-off from warriors of the local clan warlords who are used as muscle men, and a few are technical experts used as hi-tech GPS device operators. Recruiting volunteers for piracy is made easy inasmuch as 73% of the population has an income below $2 a day.

In the past year Somali pirates have attacked 111 ships, of which 42 were successfully hijacked. Pirates are still holding 17 of the attacked ships and more than 300 hostages from a dozen or more countries.

An event of high drama occurred in the Gulf of Arden in early April. The Maersk Alabama was captured, along with its crew. Captain Richard Phillips offered himself as hostage on the condition that his crew, who had locked themselves in the engine room, were allowed to go free. Captain Phillips was taken by four of the pirates who fled in one of the ship's covered lifeboats. The pirates had sunk their own speedboat shortly after boarding the Alabama. One pirate, who had been injured, later was convinced to board the Bainbridge for medical attention.

Meanwhile the U.S. Navy parachuted three Navy Seals into the sea close to the Bainbridge, where they were taken aboard. The three Navy Seals were trained to be expert sharpshooters. The three snipers, equipped with night goggles, took their position on the Bainbridge's stern. In this position, they had a full view of the pirates and the Captain as they negotiated the Captain’s freedom. When they observed, through a window of the covered lifeboat, one of the pirates pointing a gun at the Captain's back while the two others had their heads and shoulders exposed, the three sharpshooters simultaneously each fired a single shot into each pirate's head. The Navy Seals then slipped into the water following the tow rope and rescued Captain Phillips.

The United States has yet to go one step farther. The Gulf of Aden where the Somali pirates are operating at present covers an area the size of Texas. The coastline of Aden, extending over 1,000 miles, offers many opportunities for the pirates to operate from hidden lairs.

With America's satellite capability of imaging areas of the world down to the size of a first-base plate, pirates could be tracked to their lairs. With the use of UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) or drones, the pirate lairs could be attacked, dealing a major blow to the pirates’ operations. The Global Hawk UAV has the capability to hover in the area of the target at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet for periods of up to 24 hours.

With the skillful use of the UAV drone, guided by satellite imaging, the United States would have the capability surgically to remove the pirates' lairs around the Gulf of Aden and restore security to international shipping in that area.

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and publisher, is an award-winning columnist and Vice Chairman of the Free Congress Foundation Board of Directors.

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