Counter-Terrorism: The Politics of the Somali Pirate Hunt


December1, 2005: The proposed cure for the Somali pirate problem has some interesting undertones. An American security firm has been hired, for two years, to patrol the Somali coast and eliminate the pirates. They will probably get some help from the U.S. government. CENTCOM (the American military command that deals with events in the region) has monitored the activity of the Somali pirates closely. There are daily intel updates about it, and U.S. Fifth Fleet devotes a lot of intel to it. Overhead (aircraft and satellites) provides great info. The locations of the captured vessels are known, as are the sites of the pirate bases, which are also known is some detail. Apparently the pirates have actually been seen in the act.

There's more than enough info for SEALs or other American special operations forces to take action. So the question is, why not act? Perhaps there's a relative shortage of special operations troops, given the large number of missions they're already doing for the war on terror. Or perhaps it's a matter of policy? CENTCOM may be trying to do more than just remove the pirates themselves, but also develop leads on who's responsible up the ladder (sort of like how the cops often don't bust street-level drug dealers in order to get leads on the distributors). Another possibility is political. Somalia is almost totally broken up into tribal and warlord fiefdoms. The pirates may be bad guys, but the folks they work for may be friendlier to us than some others there. It's a pattern that we've certainly seen in the past. And one that usually comes back to bite us in the ass.

Finally, Somalia and "Another Mogadishu," are political hot buttons. No one in DC wants to take the heat for allowing another swing at that tar baby. Spending $60 million to let contract security folks go after the problem seems a safer approach. Maybe the Germans are paying for it was well. One can make a case for NATO doing the anti-piracy work, as there is no taint of Iraq about it, and these pirates have harmed Europeans.


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