Leaders to discuss taking pirate fight to land


BRUSSELS — The dramatic tale of the Capt. Richard Phillips’ rescue in the Gulf of Aden earlier this week captured the attention of the world and trained unprecedented attention on the increasing problem of Somali piracy.

Now U.S. and European officials are increasingly discussing the possibility of bringing the fight on land to address the roots of the problem in Somalia.

A high-level meeting here next week, officially billed as a Somalia donors’ conference, now will focus on the piracy problem.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is hosting the meeting and the guest list is packed with VIPs, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and stakeholders as crucial as Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. The United States will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Philip Carter and an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We are going to look at what can be done on land,” Solana’s spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said bluntly.

The EU’s maritime force in the Gulf of Aden, Operation Atalanta, launched in December with the mission to protect humanitarian shipments and escort commercial vessels. But with a maximum strength of six frigates and five reconnaissance aircraft, its muscle is limited.

“We knew it was going to be very difficult,” Gallach said, “and there should be no doubt that the international community is doing its utmost. But unfortunately it is not sufficient.”

Although a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution authorizes expanding chases into Somali territory, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in December that the United States was “not in the position to do that kind of land attack” due to lack of specific intelligence on who the pirates were and where the bases were located.

But this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated there’s been some quick work to rectify that. Among other anti-piracy measures she announced Wednesday, Clinton said, “We have a pretty good idea where the land bases are, and we want to know what the Somali government, what tribal leaders who perhaps would not like to have the international community bearing down on them, would be willing to do to rid their territory of these pirate bases.”

Threat analyst Hans Tino Hansen has long warned that the fight against pirates should move to land, but he isn’t talking about quick hits on base camps. He’s not talking about “quick” anything, actually.

Hansen is the founder and managing director of Risk Intelligence, a company that consults with clients on how to prevent attacks from pirates and other sources. The only way to manage the crisis in the long term, he explained, is to fix Somalia’s current status as a failed state.

Hansen said military operations at sea, while necessary, are just treating the symptoms of the piracy problem. “There are no maritime threats that are not related directly to the internal situation,” he said. “Everything is correlated 100 percent with the situation on land, meaning if you had law enforcement and military forces in the coastal areas controlled by the government, you wouldn’t have piracy at the levels that we see today.”

The only way to manage the piracy crisis in the long term, Hansen said, is to fix Somalia’s failed state.

The EU expects more than $260 million in pledges for Somalia next week as well as an offer by France to train 500 Somali soldiers. In the past, Hansen said, much of this kind of assistance has not been used to best effect.

“There are many basic things that need to be done first in order to create a stronger level of security before you can actually implement any development aid,” he said.

Hansen said one example is previous police training, which was not followed up with efforts to ensure the new forces would actually get paid: “It’s a problem when you have a $200 wage that doesn’t arrive but the pirates are making thousands.”

More GlobalPost dispatches on piracy:

Analysis: More gunships may not be the answer to stopping Somali pirates

Opinion: Piracy emerged after years of failed and flawed US policy

Opinion: Piracy and the need for the US Navy to defend against it

Somalia's pirates: The story behind the attack on a US-flagged ship