x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UN approves attacks on pirate bases

Military powers allowed to launch land or air assaults to destroy sanctuary where Somalian gangs organise their campaign of terror.

Indian marine commandos board a suspected pirate ship as its crew, left, surrender in the Gulf of Aden.
Indian marine commandos board a suspected pirate ship as its crew, left, surrender in the Gulf of Aden.

NEW YORK // Security Council members have voted unanimously to authorise attacks on pirate bases in Somalia, but critics question whether such assaults could defeat the rampant scourge of seaborne raiders. The 15-nation body adopted a resolution allowing military powers to use "all necessary measures that are appropriate" to orchestrate land and air attacks to tackle an increasingly dangerous piracy menace. Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said the White House supported attacking the bases from which Somali gangs organise raids and end the "land sanctuary for the pirates". "I would not be here seeking authorisation to go ashore if the United States government, perhaps most importantly, the president of the United States, were not behind this resolution," she told journalists outside the Security Council on Tuesday. Spurred by widespread poverty in Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for nearly two decades, pirates are evading an international naval flotilla to intercept huge tankers, freighters and other ships to hold for ransom. Sailors navigating the Gulf of Aden have become increasingly fearful of passing through the pirate-infested waters alongside Somalia's coastline, with more than 40 vessels hijacked this year. A tugboat operated by the French oil company Total and a Turkish cargo ship were the latest victims of the Horn of Africa's piracy menace on Tuesday, as delegates were debating the crisis in midtown Manhattan. Before the latest attacks, maritime officials said 14 vessels remained in pirate hands, including a Saudi tanker carrying US$100 million (Dh367m) worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other heavy weapons. More than 250 crew members were being held captive. Ms Rice said the resolution will have a significant impact because "pirates are adapting to the naval presence in the Gulf of Aden by travelling farther" into sea lanes not guarded by warships sent by the US and other countries. The resolution states that nations must first get a request for an attack from Somalia's weak UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, which itself must notify the UN before each raid. But question marks remain over whether world powers have the necessary intelligence needed to conduct raids on pirate bases that are often hidden in secluded bays along Somalia's winding 3,000-kilometre coastline. Speaking in Bahrain last weekend, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, told delegates at a regional security conference that US forces were currently "not in a position to do that kind of land-based operation". US military chiefs have great concerns about sending forces into Somalia's clan-based and chaotic territory, where an American peacekeeping mission in 1992-93 ended with a humiliating withdrawal of troops after a deadly clash in the capital, Mogadishu. Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that misinformation and poor intelligence could result in western forces killing innocents and alienating a predominantly Muslim population. "The notion that targeted commando raids are going to be able to solve this problem is somewhat illusory and, until you get a secure stabilisation security force within the country and a greater level of rule of law, then this is not going to have the desired impact." Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, told council members that his efforts to recruit a multinational force to replace the 3,400-strong African Union contingent, including pleas to 50 nations, have failed. Speaking outside the chamber, Ms Rice acknowledged the lack of international will to commit troops to restore stability to Somalia, but held out hope that some African countries would help. "I don't think that one is going to raise a large multinational force of countries from all over the world for Somalia, but the African countries have expressed a lot of interest in doing what they can," she said. jreinl@thenational.ae