Obama Pledges to Stop Somali Piracy, Wary of Taking Fight on Land

By Matthew Harwood

President Barack Obama is weighing many different options on how to handle the scourge of piracy off the coast of Somalia after American snipers killed the three pirates holding American merchant captain Richard Phillips captive on Sunday, reports The New York Times.

White House officials on Monday played down suggestions that the United States could attack pirate bases on shore, portraying that as premature at best.

Other options that the administration has before it, according to experts, are deploying more ships to patrol the region, pressing commercial shipping companies to stop paying ransoms and to do more to defend their vessels, get other nations to help capture pirates and bring them to justice, and doing more to build up a fledgling transitional government in Somalia.

“I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region,” Mr. Obama said. “And to achieve that goal, we’re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise. And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.”

The Times also notes that Obama and his advisors are wary of taking the fight against pirates onto Somali soil because the images of the Blackhawk Down incident are still seared into the American consciousness, particularly a mob of Somalis dragging two dead soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu.

James Travers of the Toronto Star, however, worries that both the United States and Canada will not have the stomach to do what's necessary to stop Somalia's slide into anarchy, of which he writes piracy is only one problem.

Failed states provide more than safe haven for pirates. While the U.S., Canada and their allies concentrate on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his disciples are sinking roots deeper into east and north Africa's Islamic communities. From the continent's famous Horn across the Sahara to where Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay are held by one of its loose affiliates, Al Qaeda is burrowing deeper into states too hollowed out to sustain social and civil order, let alone provide basic services or national security.

One result is a for-profit threat to travelers, foreign workers, and international trade. That's the case beyond Somalia's wild seaboard to Africa's west coast where piracy, particularly off Nigeria, has long been a boom business, and along the modern caravan routes that carry extreme tourists north to south.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WS), who chairs the Senate’s subcommittee on African affairs, has sent a letter to President Obama asking him to prop up Somalia's transitional government of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

“People are talking about this as a piracy issue,” Mr. Feingold told the Times. “That is not the core issue here. It is a symptom of a disunified government.”

But Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa subcommittee, summoned Blackhawk Down and said any U.S. military mission in Somalia would have to be "fully supported and sustained."

He told the Times, “We cannot do what we did in Somalia before. Brave soldiers died. So everyone, especially this administration, needs to be careful before pushing that button.”


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