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WASHINGTON – Until now, the European Union has restricted its operations against pirates off the coast of Somalia to maritime interdictions, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Now, there is active consideration among EU countries for expanding the role to one of a “hot pursuit” of the pirates onto land, raising the potential for European troops to engage the pirates on the ground.
Sources say that the expansion of operations onto land will be up to two kilometers, or 1.2 miles, on the Somali mainland, but any operations are to be restricted to air strikes against static targets such as boats, communications and other buildings which intelligence strongly believes the pirates use.
Nevertheless, even this modest expansion is causing debate among EU participants. According to informed sources, the German government, which has contributed ships and helicopters to the mission officially called Operation Atalanta, pushed for limits on any expanded operations against the pirates.
There is increasing concern among opposition parties in the German Bundestag, or parliament, of expanding the mandate to pursue pirates on land just through airpower.
The thinking is that there inevitably will be the need to undertake action on land, even if it means undertaking rescue action should a helicopter be downed and troops need to be dispatched to secure it and its passengers.
Being Somalia, there remain memories of the December 1992 “Blackhawk Down” incident in which two U.S. helicopters sought to rescue a downed helicopter, only to be shot down in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. It resulted in dead U.S. troops being dragged through town in videos that went round the world.
It resulted in then-U.S. President Bill Clinton withdrawing U.S. troops who were pursuing the capture of a local warlord at the time.
In the latest escalation of dealing with the Somali pirates, there also remains the concern that attacks on the infrastructure of the pirates also could cause collateral damage, even death, to innocent civilians on the ground.
Because of the two kilometer limit, all that the pirates would have to do is move their activities further inland and out of reach of the EU’s expanded policy.
Operation Atalanta began in December 2008 and has been extended until December 2014.
In all, there are some 1,500 military personnel from 13 countries involved in the operation. They not only include many members of the EU but such countries as China and Iran.
While there remain concerns about expanding the policy, the EU apparently intends to proceed with the plan.
Implementation of the plan also coincides with increasing reports that al-Qaida is teaming up with the pirates, prompting increased drone attacks on al-Qaida targets. Al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaida, is using the pirates as a means to raise funds for its terrorist activities.
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