Archive for the 'Piracy' Category



U.S. Assessing Response to Pirating of Quest

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

From The Boston Globe:

Somali pirates have hijacked the yacht of an American couple who traveled the world handing out Bibles, and the US government said yesterday it was assessing possible responses.

Pirates hijacked the yacht Quest on Friday, two days after a Somali pirate was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a New York court for the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. That incident ended when Navy sharpshooters killed two pirates holding the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips.

The Quest is the home of Jean and Scott Adam, a California couple who have been sailing around the world since December 2004, according to a website they keep. Two other Americans were also believed to be on board.

The couple — who are members of the Marina del Rey Yacht Club in California — run a Bible ministry, according to their website, and have been distributing Bibles to schools and churches in remote villages in areas including the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America, and French Polynesia.

The yacht is expected to reach Somalia today. A US military spokesman said: “We’re aware of the situation and we continue to monitor it.’’

“All relevant US agencies are monitoring the situation, working to develop further information, assess options, and possible responses,’’ said Matt Goshko, a US Embassy spokesman in Nairobi.

It’s a shame that this particular situation occurred to a missionary couple who have no money for ransom payments like a huge corporation would.  And just to be clear, it’s entirely possible that the U.S. deploys yet another SEAL team who performs near miracles to obtain their safe release just as with the Maersk Alabama.

I will applaud the rescue if that exigency obtains.  However, just to be equally clear, even if this does happen, it doesn’t in any way speak to my main thesis that until the swamp is cleared out, piracy will continue to happen, and deployment and logistical support of SEAL teams to deal with every instance of piracy of U.S. citizens and/or vessels is completely infeasible and unsustainable in the long term.

The Pirates are Winning

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

In Response to SOF and Piracy I linked Andrew Exum’s disagreement with me over the proper response to piracy.  Exum advocated the use of SEALs, and I advocated the use of large quantities of U.S. Marines in a long term presence.  When the Maersk Alabama was retaken by the U.S., it was with SEAL teams.  Andrew did a victory dance, and his commenters lambasted my views at Abu Muqawama.  One commenter made the observation that while I addressed a larger issue than just this situation, this situation was indeed unique in that there were hostages – as if the problem of piracy and ransom payments isn’t comprised by the aggregate of multiple hostage situations.

It is frankly rather puzzling to me how someone can so badly misinterpret my views.  It betrays the prose for either sloppy or dishonest, and Exum isn’t dishonest.  John Nagl of CNAS refused to correspond with me after this post, and Andrew Exum has exchanged only one short e-mail since then.  The whole exchange really was rather bizarre for fully grown men.  My points all along pertained to the use of SEAL teams as a remedy for the problem of piracy.  There simply aren’t SEAL teams, aren’t enough aircraft and aren’t sufficient logistics for the use of SOF to be a remedy to the problem of piracy.  And the SEAL teams are needed elsewhere and for other things.  In the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference whether the Maersk Alabama was rescued or not.

I had further said that I talked with one Marine Scout Sniper (on the 26th MEU, before this incident) who had a boatload of pirates in the sights of his Sasser .50 sniper rifle from a Helicopter, and he refused to take the shot because, well, “Hell, who wants to get tangled up with the lawyers when he gets back to the ship?”  In fact, taking the shots to save the Maersk Alabama required approval of the POTUS.

Folks, pirates aren’t that hard to find.  The Marines of the 26th MEU did it frequently in the Gulf of Aden.  While in the Persian Gulf, they also had an Iranian helicopter virtually land on board the deck of the USS Iwo Jima with Iranian gunners laughing at the Marines, and the U.S. Navy ordering the Marines NOT to engage for fear of creating an “international incident” (how’s that for “rules of engagement”?)  One of my points was that with aircraft, radar, LCACs and other sea-based craft, there is adequate means of locating and interdicting pirates, regardless of the size of the Gulf of Aden.

The problem isn’t finding them.  The problem is what happens then.  Now with that background, let’s cover recent data concerning pirates.

The Somalian pirates seized another big ship the other day. This time it was a large oil tanker. I spoke with a friend who owns ships and lives in Athens about the latest attack. He provided some interesting information. My notes from the conversation:

The seized tanker is owned by a large and successful family owned Greek shipping company. Pirates have hit Greek ships before, but this is the largest ship to be captured. There is $200mm worth of crude on board. The vessel is worth $100mm – 200mm. There was a crew of 25 of which eight were Greeks, most of whom were officers.

The Greek shipping world is PISSED at this one. The combination of the money and the fact that Greek crew members are involved makes this a very big deal.

I got a status on the bigger picture in pirate land:

There are currently 20 ships of all sizes and uses currently being held by Somali pirates. There are approximately 700 prisoners being held. It generally takes two to three months to negotiate and pay a ransom. My guy estimated that in the past year nearly $300mm in ransom has been paid to pirates.

There have been attempts to thwart the pirates but they are (obviously) not working. NATO has warships in the region as does the United States. The problem appears to be the “rules of engagement”. The Western powers have the ability to stop and search suspected pirate ships. But when the pirates see them coming they dump their arms overboard. Therefore they are released as only armed ships and crews can be seized and taken out of commission. The pirates are well aware of these rules.

This article goes on to make an important observation.

The final consideration is what is happening within Somalia. There is a group called al Shaabab. They are Muslim extremists. They too are highly armed. They have been fighting with the Somali pirates. Al- Shaabab wants to take over the job the pirates are doing. They want the money and the power that comes from pirating ships.

My guess would be that the Islamic militants will win, and the pirates will lose (the pirates will become Islamic militants).  I have previously recommended something like the following concerning pirates: tell the lawyers to go home, find the pirates, line them up on the deck of the ship, and shoot each and every one of them.  Dump their bodies into the sea, and videotape the entire event.  Post the video to YouTube as a warning to future pirates.  Thus, an end to piracy.

Of course, this seems brutal and uncivilized to many.  Indeed it is.  But value judgments have a way of being nuanced, difficult things that eventually turn on you and create unintended consequences.  My recommendation is brutal, but consider the alternatives.  Hostages continue to be taken, ransoms are paid, lives are lost in a continual drip and drain of violence in the Gulf of Aden, and – perhaps best of all – yes, the world funds Islamic militancy with the ransoms.

A similar example might be the problem of illegal immigration.  This problem is easy to solve, but the U.S. doesn’t yet want the solution.  The more violent method would be to line the border with troops and fire on sight at anyone crossing the border.  The less violent method would be to imprison any CEOs or company owners who hire (knowingly or not) illegal aliens.  But for a whole host of reasons (mostly related to providing corporate welfare), America isn’t yet ready for any solution to illegal immigration. Maybe one day it will be.

So we have made the judgment to appear civilized to the world – and us.  This kicks the can down the road, but it feels good for the time being unless it’s our relative who has been taken hostage.  We don’t recognize the increased cost of goods because of ransom payments and increased costs of security.  We don’t acknowledge that wealth has a moral component, i.e., God demands that we use of it wisely, something that would militate against funding Islamic militancy.  We are civilized, and that’s all that is important at the present.

But let those numbers wash over you again.  Seven hundred prisoners are being held at the moment.  Some $300 million has been paid in ransoms to Somali pirates.  There aren’t enough SEAL teams and logistics isn’t sufficient to conduct cloak and dagger operations to free them all.  Oh sure, it can be interesting, reading about guys doing HALO jumps with re-breathers on, dropping their parachute just before the water, swimming to destination and engaging the target.  Things like this are what guys play in video games like Call of Duty 4.

But this just isn’t reality in the Gulf of Aden with 700 hostages being held and Islamic militants wanting to muscle in on the action.  And concern for pirates dropping their weapons into the sea just before being captured won’t win the day.  We can win the war on piracy, but currently we are not.  As these things go, it’s fairly straight forward and easy given what we have dealt with in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To date we have chosen not to deal with the problem.  As I have pointed out before, just as with illegal immigration, we want piracy more than we want the solution.  Piracy (and illegal immigration) exists because we want it to.  Those value judgments are indeed complex things, no?

Prior:

Response to SOF and Piracy

Somalian Piracy

Piracy: The Only Solution

Pirates?  Call the Marines … Er, the Lawyers

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

UPDATE #2: Ah … isn’t this fun?  Fark has a discussion thread up with one commenter responding thusly: ” … If I can’t kill someone for laughing at me, I don’t want to kill anyone anymore.”

Poor fellow.  It has nothing to do with that.  It has everything to do with force protection, and the Iranians were laughing at the U.S. because they knew we wouldn’t take it seriously regardless of our military doctrine.

Kill the Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 5 months ago

Ralph Peters:

We made one great mistake regarding Guantanamo: No terrorist should have made it that far. All but a handful of those grotesquely romanticized prisoners should have been killed on the battlefield.

The few kept alive for their intelligence value should have been interrogated secretly, then executed.

Terrorists don’t have legal rights or human rights. By committing or abetting acts of terror against the innocent, they place themselves outside of humanity’s borders. They must be hunted as man-killing animals.

And, as a side benefit, dead terrorists don’t pose legal quandaries.

Captured terrorists, on the other hand, are always a liability. Last week, President Obama revealed his utter failure to comprehend these butchers when he characterized Guantanamo as a terrorist recruiting tool.

Gitmo wasn’t any such thing. Not the real Gitmo. The Guantanamo Obama believes in is a fiction of the global media. With rare, brief exceptions, Gitmo inmates have been treated far better than US citizens in our federal prisons.

But the reality of Gitmo was irrelevant — the left needed us to be evil, to “reveal” ourselves as the moral equivalent of the terrorists. So they made up their Gitmo myths.

Really, Ralph.  Can’t you just give me a little while to craft my own views without having you surreptitiously undercut me by publishing my prose first?  Honestly, I was very nearly about to craft such a commentary, but framed about prisons in counterinsurgency and criminal prosecutions of pirates.

Ralph launches his diatribe from the framework of Gitmo, and while I concur exactly with his views, I also advocate such an approach to reducing the number of prisons necessary in counterinsurgency operations.  Certainly, there are local “accidental guerrillas” (as they are called by Kilcullen) who we need to identify and attempt to sway, rehabilitate or otherwise turn to our advantage.

But as for the hard core, ideologically motivated fighters, rather than overcrowd the local prisons with bad actors who will only be released into the population to continue their activities, it is better that they be killed on the field of battle.  In many ways, their surrender is the worst of all options.  Their surrender means countless lawyer-hours, evidence-gathering, constabulary work, judicial work, prison construction, attempted rehabilitation, and ultimately release to conduct the same activities again.

The same goes for pirates, who even throughout history have been able to escape justice by claiming forced conscription.  Finally, we have better things to do with our money and lawyers’ time than to chase the legalities of piracy in order to stamp out the practice.  Better to kill the pirates on the high seas.  When it reaches the point that we are capturing the pirates rather than killing them, or sending SEALs to save hostages, it has gone too far.  The focus of the fight is misplaced.

Response to SOF and Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

So Andrew Exum is mad, or so it seems, over a recent post on piracy and our preferred model for comprehensively addressing the problem (although he doesn’t mention us by name, a rather awkward exigency in this debate).

I do not have the time to explain the training, missions, and capabilities of our nation’s special operations forces. To even those without a security clearance or any relevant military or policy background, the value of these forces should be gobsmackingly obvious. And anyone who has closely read what I have written knows that I — far from being “obsessed” with special operations forces — have been quite critical about their employment in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This criticism is based on both personal experience and a careful study of policies and operations.

No, an average platoon of Marines or Army light infantry does not have the capabilities or the training to carry out the missions executed by Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and other SOF (to include the SMUs). That’s okay. Because in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called “general purpose” forces are the ones responsible for carrying out the main effort. But parachuting into the middle of the Indian Ocean, swimming to the USS Bainbridge and then shooting three pirates from a boat that is rocking up and down and side to side is pretty effing difficult. If this operation to rescue Richard Phillips isn’t the damn poster child for why we need special operations forces — and why it’s important that those forces are able to work in tandem with normal U.S. Navy and U.S. Army forces — I don’t know what is.

Sorry. I usually don’t go off like that. But I have been holding my tongue for three days. And I don’t get angry when genuine subject matter experts respectfully criticize me on issues about which they know more than I — think Josh Foust on Afghanistan — but do when others attack me in a know-it-all fashion about things they don’t have any experience in or knowledge of.

To be completely fair, readers should see all of Exum’s response.  Also, one particular comment on this post helps explain the debate fairly well.

so (sic) in fairness, the asshat who said “Andrew Exum’s idea to dispatch SEAL teams is absurd” seems to be criticizing the strawman idea of solving the whole piracy problem using SEALs, as opposed to this particular hostage situation. which is still asshat-ism but a somewhat different form than is implied here.

I’ll try to be clinical and not proscribed in my response.  I think Andrew (and also this commenter) missed the point, but the comment makes the response easier.  I am happy that the Captain of the ship is in safe hands tonight.  But the issue to me is not and has never been the capabilities of SOF versus anyone else, what one team of warriors is capable of versus the next, what one billet entails versus the next, and so on.  The argument has never been to send the wrong people to do the wrong job.  It is that we shouldn’t be doing the wrong job in the first place.

At the risk of sounding caustic, calloused and uncaring, this rescue helped no one but the Captain of the ship who was held hostage.  Whether the specific sequence of events is a precursor to more violence is also irrelevant.  The point is that it will not be a deterrent to more piracy.

The commenter helps the discussion by pointing out that this was a so-called “hostage situation.”  Ah … hostage situation indeed.  And aren’t they all?  In what situation could pirates abscond with a vessel, take control over the ship’s crew, demand ransom, and it not be considered a hostage situation?

The sum of the problem is the aggregate of the “hostage situations.”  The number of “hostage situations” is increasing yearly in the Gulf of Aden, and in fact in spite of the celebratory mood over this specific rescue, at the present moment at least twelve ships with more than 200 crew members are being held by Somali pirates.

The argument doesn’t go to the capabilities of SOF, Army, Marines, Navy or FBI (who were involved in the “negotiations”) or who knows more about what.  The argument centers on what the ailment is and what should be prescribed to cure it.  Quite obviously as I have pointed out, performing this kind of operation on every piracy event, or to put it in other terms, “hostage situation,” is quite out of the question.  It is unsustainable in terms of logistics, force size and expense.

So the problem was analyzed to be the psychological predilection towards conducting acts of piracy, at least, that’s the way I saw it.  To this problem, conducting SOF raids and cloak and dagger rescues of specific “hostages” won’t affect the proclivities of the ones conducting the piracy.  A much different solution is needed, one that recognizes the nature of the illness.

When Exum gets angry about the fact that I don’t know as much as him about so-and-so, he doesn’t pause to consider the fact that I might wholeheartedly agree with him.  And why shouldn’t I?  I don’t.  But I have come to a different diagnosis of the malady, and thus I would prescribe a different treatment.  In fact, I have, in Piracy: The Only Solution and Somalian Piracy.  It might seem barbaric to some, and some may choose for piracy to exist rather than implement the solution to it, an outcome I both understand and pity.

Finally, another way of summarizing this whole issue might to be quote Admiral Rick Gurnon.

Few expect that death of five pirates in three days will make Somali pirates think twice. Dire poverty and the collapse of the Somali state mean piracy is “a business model that works for them,” said Rear Adm. Rick Gurnon of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne – the school that trained Phillips – during a press conference Sunday.

“I don’t think this will have any deterrent value at all,” he added.

Instead, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of the scourge of piracy at the beginning of the 19th century – and the need to hit the pirates in their home bases on land. “It was said, ‘It’s easier to go after the wasps’ nest than swat the wasps.’” Admiral Gurnon said.

Knowing how hard it has been and will be to conduct COIN operations in two theaters at once, I have spoken against nation-building in Somalia at this point in time.  But there is no comparing poverty with the multi-million dollar ransoms that we have seen with Piracy.  They aren’t attempting to feed their families.  They want to get rich.  In order to change the proclivities of the pirates, they must believe that their profession will kill them.

One final observation is in order.  The comments to this post don’t really challenge the author.  A professional military blog is not complimented when the commenters sound like apparatchiks.  The commenters should refrain from emotional outbursts and pejorative language and concentrate on the main points.  That is what I have done in this response.

Somalian Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

Piracy: The Only Solution, was written following six months of following the issue of piracy in and near the Gulf of Aden.  The reaction to this article and other developments in piracy (and Somalia) are both instructive and interesting.  While not comprehensive, the following reactions give us a primer on how to see the situation going forward.

Glenn Reynolds linked Shannon Love who said that “as with terrorism, the return of piracy indicates the collapse of international law and the liberal order it establishes. It tells us how dysfunctional international law has become.”  Friend of The Captain’s Journal Raymond Pritchett, a good analyst, tireless blogger and manager of Information Dissemination (and who has been given props by Military.com), has been involved with in a tet-a-tet with TCJ for some while over the answer to piracy.  He is an all around good guy and nice enough to link our answer,  and not only in the comments section, but later in another article, points out that the Somalian problem is much larger than merely piracy.  It is a failed state, and Raymond seems to be pointing to a larger, more costly counterinsurgency and state building campaign.

Tigerhawk, who was nice enough to link our response to him, asks what Obama is going to do about the situation.  This is not dissimilar to the response by Jules Crittenden, but Jules gives us specific recommendations.

… sink the boats. Declare Somalia’s coast to be a no go for boats of any kind. Offshore or tied up at the dock. On trailers, on the beach. Send whatever airframes may be appropriate to the task … UAVs, helicopters, Warthogs, F-16s, whatever … and destroy every boat along the coast. Wait a day or two, repeat. Wait a week or two, repeat. Destroy any boat launch, repair, storage or harbor facilities as may exist while you’re at it. A few quick Marine shore parties, naval missile barrages and close-in naval raids may be helpful.

Some people who might consider all this violence abhorrent, who might protest that the pirates are simply victims of dysfunctional society themselves, might suggest we engage in less distasteful methods to restore government, law and a legitimate economy to Somalia. But Somalia has proven highly resistant to this, so interim measures are needed to contain the lawlessness onshore. Obama can propose a big Somalia bailout down the road if he wants.

Jules is clear, but his counsel is not as visceral as ours was.  Send in the Marines on LCACs, or CH-46s and CH-53s, fastrope onto the boats, shoot them with sniper fire, and kill all of the pirates.  The ones who survive the ensuing fire fight are to be lined up at the rail and shot in the head, bodies dumped overboard.  The whole event is to be taped and published to the world so that they will know how we deal with pirates.  It is the most humane way of dealing with piracy, because without this kind of action piracy will continue, hostages will be taken, money will be spent, and trade and Maritime operations will be interdicted.

But the issue with Jules’ and Tigerhawk’s articles is that they both point to the Obama administration and what their response is going to be.  True enough, the current administration has been weak on foreign policy, but as we have pointed out, the previous administration did little to address the issue either.  In fact, in our original post, we noted a conversation we had with a Marine who had just come back from the 26th MEU, and who had a pirate in the sights of his Sasser .50 Caliber sniper rifle on board a CH-53.

“Did you take the shot,” I asked him?  “No,” he answered.  “RoE.  Who wants to have lawyers put him in jail when he gets back to the States?”

As stated above, Information Dissemination and Tigerhawk linked this response, but no other blogs or Main Stream Media reports.  How does this happen?  How does original reporting come from a recently deployed Marine and get ignored, while extraneous political observations get published, republished and circulated ad infinitum?  It isn’t an issue of blog traffic.  It’s an issue of influencing policy.

Continuing, there might now be a justification for wondering how firmly the current administration will deal with the situation.

An attack against al-Shabab camps in southern Somalia would mark the administration’s first military strike outside the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan war zones. The White House discussions highlight the challenges facing the Obama team as it attempts to distance itself from the Bush administration, which conducted at least five military strikes in Somalia. The new administration is still defining its rationale for undertaking sensitive operations in countries where the United States is not at war.

Meanwhile, the FBI has decided that the original ship is a crime scene.  Also, the French have “stormed a yacht held by pirates elsewhere in the lawless stretch of the Indian Ocean in an assault that killed one hostage but freed four. Two of the pirates were killed and three captured.”

“Crime scene.”  “Failure in international law.”  Not only is the reversion to national and international courts, treaties and agreements dangerous, it’s more than a little bit creepy.  Someone in the Hague, or Spain, or Italy, or Washington, is going to decide what to do with Somalian pirates when Somali is an utterly failed state, the pirates don’t fear the Kenyan courts or the Americans?  Or worse, they will decide what to do with Americans who decide what to do about piracy.  The French, oddly, are stronger than the U.S. has been, but will be sorry for the expense, time and trouble for having captured their pirates rather than killing them.

Raymond at Information Dissemination also links Mattew Yglasias who wants the U.S. to ensure stability in Somalia as an antidote to piracy.  Strange.  Yglasias, who has been no friend of the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, now wants us to engage Somalia in one while we are at the same time engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is juvenile and politically crass and self-serving, and Raymond is far too smart to listen to Yglasias and his boy-followers.

In the end, it is infeasible to launch another full blown counterinsurgency campaign in Somalia or anywhere else with two campaigns ongoing at the present moment.  The piracy problem is not now and has never been an issue of failed states or dysfunctional international law.  It’s an issue of force and fear.

While it is both sad and brave that the Captain of the Maersk Alabama is currently captive to the pirates, the U.S. must not and cannot negotiate with them.  The real failure is that by the time it gets to this point there are no easy or clinical solutions to piracy.  The failure has already occurred.

The solution is to engage them in a fire fight, line the surviving pirates up at the rail, shoot them in the head, videotape it, release it to the world, and inform the world that this is the way we deal with pirates.  Then the problem will be solved.  Or did we already say that six months ago?

Finally, Desert Sailor over at Information Dissemination comments:

As you know, I’m kinda a simple guy, so simple solutions always seem best to me, must be the connection to the War of 1812 that flows in my DNA.

Hersh has it.

Kill em.

Send in DEVGRU, secure the good Captain, get the Maersk Alabama to her destination. Blue NSW has some little friends called MkVs, open season for them, park a ‘phib out yonder for support. Meanwhile, est a Predator overwatch from HOA duty, let DEVGRU continue un-hindered. Bring 1 ESG in for MEU effect and then task every outbound CSG to “unload” their magazines along that stretch of pirate infested shore.

Always better to unload ammo through the barrel than offload at the pier.

Be “joint” – allow the USAF the opportunity to offload their BUFFs and BONES prior to RTB Diego.

This ain’t hard. Breakin Shi’ite and killing folks that killin’ has been our mission set for 233 yrs.

Politics and UN based ROE will stymie any effort towards simplicity. Sad.
DS

Ah.  Someone else gets it.

Piracy: The Only Solution

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 6 months ago

Somali pirates recently hijacked a U.S.-flagged cargo ship with 20 Americans on board.  Apparently the crew retook the vessel, but the pirates still have hostages in their custody along with a lifeboat that is out of fuel.  In any case, the valuable information concerning Somali piracy has nothing to do with the specific details of this particular incident.  The most interesting place to start is with a quick survey of the reactions across the web.  As we survey the reactions, my hypothesis is that piracy exists because we want it to.  But more on that later.

The involvement of Americans and a U.S.-flagged vessel brought much more attention to the issue of piracy than typically given to it in the past.  Tigerhawk wants to know why the fact that it was a U.S.-flagged ship wasn’t enough deterrence and what Mr. Obama is going to do about the situation, even with the apparent self-rescue of the ship’s crew?  Andrew Exum links the story without much to say, but stays devoted to his obsession with Special Operations Forces with his post title Calling all SEAL Teams.

The clearest prose comes from Galrahn at Information Dissemination, when he points out that Littoral Combat Ships are “terribly designed to fight pirates,” because “We fight pirates with boarding parties, which means sailors, and we fight war in the littorals with helicopters, and the LCS can only support 1 H-60.”  Just so.  Galrahn also has a very detailed post about the difficulty of fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden given the hidden nature of the pirates.  They never announce themselves as such until just in time to hijack a ship.  Until then, there are merely fishermen.  Galrahn’s post is required reading for everyone who wants to understand what we are and aren’t doing about piracy.

In the end, though, it isn’t quite as difficult as Galrahn makes it out to be, Tigerhawk comes too late to the discussion, and Andrew Exum’s idea to dispatch SEAL teams is absurd.  The real problem is somewhat simpler and yet more difficult to solve.

There is nothing new about piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and we have been covering and commenting on it for at least six months.  While The Captain’s Journal finds it very easy to criticize Mr. Obama, the issue of piracy didn’t begin with him, and although he could demonstrate strength and resolve and end it quickly - an unlikely exigency – President Bush didn’t do much to end the threat either.

Exum’s idea to dispatch Navy SEALS is simply silly, for at least (but not limited to) the following reasons: [a] Use of Navy SEALS who are experts in the use of Drager rebreathers and underwater demolitions is a terrible misuse of their forces, [b] they would have no platform from which to operate, and [c] there are far too many pirates for them, or another way of saying it is there aren’t nearly enough SEAL teams for the pirates.

Galrahn’s misgivings about the capabilities of the LCS to address piracy are spot-on, but his misgivings about our overall capability to deal with piracy is somewhat less accurate.  The USS San Antonio did in fact have pirates in their possession before deploying back to the States after the 26th MEU.  The USS Iwo Jima had LCACs, and this picture shows that it is easy enough to shoot from the sides of the LCAC.

Marines qualify on the rifle with iron sights at 500 yards, so they could have easily handled pirates from an LCAC.  The USS Iwo Jima and San Antonio both had helicopters, including the CH-46 shown here training with the 26th MEU.

Colonel Desens observes that even with the advent of the V-22 Osprey, the CH-46 will be in service for many years to come.  “The CH-46 is a proven technology. It is one of the most reliable aircraft in the inventory. It is stable and provides the perfect platform for things like fastroping, which will be problematical with the Osprey. Also, it is metal. Which means if it gets shot full of holes it is an easy fix, while the MV-22 will not be so easy.”

And so Colonel Desens gives us another means of delivering Marines to pirates: fastroping from the CH-46.  There is also the CH-53 Super Stallion.

In fact, I had a chance to talk extensively with one Marine who had pirates in the sights of his Sasser .50 caliber rifle while on board a CH-53.  “Did you take the shot,” I asked him?  “No,” he answered.  “RoE.  Who wants to have lawyers put him in jail when he gets back to the States?”

From Harrier VTOL aircraft, to CH-46s (and fastroping), to CH-53s, to LCACs, and then to actually landing on the shores of Somalia to hunt down pirate domiciles (assuming good intelligence), there is almost no end to the possible tools that could have been used to perform counterpiracy operations with the 26th MEU and Fifth Fleet.

But it requires commitment, time and resources, and in the end, turning them over to a Kenyan court is no deterrence at all.  Somalian pirates don’t fear the Kenyans, and as proven today, they don’t fear Americans either.  The missing piece is what we do with pirates, and Galrahn mentions that “The current policy driving strategy, specifically the policy driving RoE, is clearly inadequate to solving the piracy problem off Somalia.”

And thus has he finally driven to the root of the problem.  As we have discussed before, three analysts – including The Captain’s Journal – have given us the solution.

The Captain’s Journal has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort).  Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court.  The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

Contra Exum, cloak and dagger raids with concealed results aren’t the order of the day.  This all needs to be very open and public, with video of our actions.  Sure, if we line up surviving pirates at the rail, shoot them in the head and dump the bodies overboard, the world will go into a fit, the lawyers would scream … and the piracy would end.

So we must consider which is the more humane and civilized way to deal with piracy: continuing to allow them free reign over the Gulf of Aden, or ending the problem quickly with hard actions.  In the end, this isn’t for purposes of shock and the counsel given above is serious.  We must decide, for there isn’t an easy alternative within the existing RoE to deal with piracy.

We may not want to deal with piracy this way, but this only shows that we want piracy more than we want the solution.  Piracy exists because we want it to.

Followup on Piracy with Information Dissemination

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Galrahn at Information Dissemination takes issue with us taking issue with him.  His post is worth the read time.  Drop on over and take a look (although we must say that William Lind is not one of favorite analysts, and Galrahn didn’t need Lind to make his point). We didn’t like his focus on equipment, strategy, tactics, etc., and recommended that we kill the pirates, dump the bodies overboard, and destroy their domiciles.  Galrahn responds that The Captain’s Journal is speaking from the perspective of what we want, he is speaking from the perspective of what is.  Galrahn is working within the system, we want to change the system.  Or at least, this is our take on his post.  It is more complicated than that, but this little summary will move us forward.

We accept the criticism of our criticism, and confess that it’s true that we are recommending things that have a vanishingly small chance of occurring.  Nevertheless, the import of our original article, Pirates? Call the Marines … er, the Lawyers! has not been addressed.  The question is not one of what to do within the system.  The current system won’t work, or so we have argued.

There may be a real solution within the current system as Galrahn suggests, but it is likely to be so expensive, so inefficient, and so protracted that it is effectively infeasible.  We aren’t suggesting that Galrahn is wrong or that we know more about Naval warfare than he does.  He isn’t and we don’t.

The most humane solution to the problem – the solution most likely to end piracy in a timely manner, save potential kidnap victims, and prevent largesse inflow to unstable regions of the world – is to rely on rapidly employed extreme violence.  This is a specialty of the U.S. Marines.  The most humane solution also happens to be the only viable solution.

Galrahn suggests a real but effectively infeasible solution.  We claim that the only solution likely to survive the budget cuts and end piracy is to reject his solution and implement our own.  If we do not do either, that is, if Galrahn’s solution as well as our own is rejected, then it proves yet again that piracy exists because we wish it to be so.  Collectively, we may not want the pirates, but we want them more than we want a solution.

2/6 Marines Counterpiracy Mission

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Battalion Landing Team 2/6, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, a unit with which The Captain’s Journal is intimately familiar, is now engaged in counterpiracy.

Members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit are participating in counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for Marine Corps headquarters said Thursday.

Amphibious transport dock San Antonio, the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, is carrying a reinforced Marine platoon, said 2nd Lt. Josh Diddams. Officials will not say how many Marines are on the ship, which left Camp Lejeune, N.C., in late August with the Norfolk, Va.-based Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. A typical Marine infantry platoon consists of about 40 troops.

Task Force 151 is a multinational force recently organized to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases along Somalia’s coast, where last year more than 40 vessels were hijacked, including a Saudi tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil and a Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and other weapons bound for Kenya. The task force is operating in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Sailors and Marines on the San Antonio spent weeks preparing the ship for its role as the command ship and afloat forward staging base for the task force, according to a Navy report. Marines on the ship include those with 3rd platoon, Golf Infantry Company, a military police detachment and intelligence personnel, according to the report.

The MEU, which recently left Kuwait after two weeks of training at Camp Buehring, did not respond to questions about the anti-piracy mission.

The Marines are currently (or were) on board the amphibious dock USS San Antonio.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio transits the Gulf of Aden to serve as command ship for Combined Task Force 151. The task force conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

The folks at Information Dissemination are engaged in some hand wringing over comments made by Tom Ricks.

I was disappointed when I read Thomas Ricks strategic assessment regarding the Navy’s approach to piracy.

Tom Ricks is an astute observer of military strategy, and if he sees the pirate situation off Somalia as simply a way to take a cheap shot at the disaster called naval shipbuilding strategy, then I’m afraid nobody in the media may understand what is and has happened. I’d like to welcome Thomas Ricks to the blogosphere by suggesting that when it comes to maritime strategy as it relates to the issue of Somali piracy, he doesn’t appear to know what he is talking about. Thomas Ricks writes:

Better late that never to be going after the Somalia pirates. To me, this is a strategic issue. Keeping the sea lanes open, especially for oil, should be a top priority for the U.S. military. Instead we seemed to defer to the Indians, Chinese and others, letting them take the lead. The Navy may feel that all its special operators — the guys trained to board and take over ships — are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, admiral, does that tell you that you probably need more ship boarders, and maybe fewer aircraft carriers or anti-missile systems? You think maybe?

I noted that Yankee Sailor left a comment on the thread. I’m betting Thomas Ricks has no idea who Yankee Sailor is, nor why Yankee Sailor’s opinion is more informed. We know better. I have a lot of problems with the assessment Tom is making here, starting with what the top priority for the US military should be. If the top priority of the US military, including the Navy, isn’t winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, then something is wrong. There is a reason why there are more sailors deployed on land in the CENTCOM area of operations than at sea, and that reason is absolutely valid.

This is a strategic issue as Tom contends, but with the assertion of “better late than never” and the suggestion that “Indians, Chinese and others” taking leadership roles is somehow representative of a failure of maritime strategy, Tom Ricks is essentially admitting to me that he has never actually read the US Navy’s maritime strategy.

They go on to fret over comprehensive modifications of strategy and the question whether the Navy has the “right equipment” to address piracy.  This is a boring and wasteful discussion, and Ricks’ counsel is just fine.  The Navy has the right equipment in theater right now to address piracy.  An Amphibious Landing Dock, Amphibious Assault Ships, and Marines with guns who want to kill people.  Nothing else is necessary.

There have been other articles here and there questioning the need for the U.S. to address piracy in the Gulf of Aden.  Again, boring discussions, one and all.  Ships with weapons, ships with oil, and ships with other strategically important materiel were and are being taken hostage for huge sums of money, making Somalia a haven not only for pirates, but a wealthier place to boot, this largesse perhaps falling into hands that may later provide safe haven for Islamic militants.

Even if the pirates and militants do not currently get along, largesse flowing into a country without a government and under the control of warring factions cannot possibly be good for U.S. interests in the region.  If the Marines, as soldiers of the sea, cannot tackle the issue of piracy, then we are surely lost in a strategic malaise with too many pedantic people saying too many wasteful words.

One more point is in order.  The constant worry and hand-wringing over the legalities of counterpiracy operations and rules of engagement makes the Navy – and the law of the sea lawyers – and Information Dissemination – look weak and fragile.  Is this a nice way of saying it?

The problem is easy to tackle, and Ralph Peters, Lt. Col. P and TCJ have weighed in before concerning the methodology.  It involves killing pirates, dumping bodies overboard, and destroying their domiciles and enablers.  The prose is not for shock effect.  It’s serious, with recommendations that, if followed, would save lives and be a catalyst for safe seas.  This is the best strategy of all.  No need to retool ships, worry over strategic vision or call the lawyers.  It’s best when problems driven to the simplest solutions.

Pirates? Call the Marines … Er, the Lawyers

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Pirates?  Call the U.S. Marines … er, the lawyers.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast has plagued shipping companies for years, but the number and boldness of attacks has increased in recent months. While that has given fits to shipowners, cruise operators and navies, it also has kept a relatively obscure set of lawyers busy.

London’s Holman Fenwick has received more work as pirate attacks have increased off Somalia, where a French Navy frigate patrolled Saturday.

Among the most prominent is London maritime firm Holman Fenwick Willan. Partner Toby Stephens says lawyers at the firm have been awakened “at all hours” by ship owners calling the firm’s 24-hour hot line. “They’re often quite panicked, and understandably so,” he says.

Over the past three months, the rise in piracy has kept about a half-dozen lawyers at Holman Fenwick working nearly full-time for clients with potentially dozens of lives and tens of millions of dollars at stake in hijackings. To some degree, the work has helped Holman Fenwick offset other maritime practices hurt by the global economic slowdown.

Through the end of last month, the waters off Somalia had been the site of 96 pirate attacks this year, 40 of which had led to pirates boarding a ship, taking control and demanding a ransom, according to the International Maritime Bureau in London. World-wide there were 83 reported pirate attacks in the third quarter, up from 53 and 63 in the first and second quarters, respectively, the bureau says. In recent months, pirates have broadened their targets to include bigger vessels, including oil tankers and, so far unsuccessfully, cruise ships. In most cases ransom demands have been in the $1 million-$2 million range. But lawyers say hijackers have demanded as much as $25 million for the release of the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil tanker captured 450 miles off the Somali coast carrying cargo valued at more than $100 million.

On Tuesday several cruise-ship operators said they would shift or cancel tours or reroute passengers by plane to avoid the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. Also, the European Union said it would station armed guards on cargo ships in the area.

Mr. Stephens says his firm is working on “over a dozen” of the roughly 20 Somalia-area attacks in which the ships haven’t been freed.

“This year we’ve seen a definite uptick in piracy work,” says James Huckle, who is in charge of business development for the firm.

Business in Holman Fenwick’s casualty practice, usually dealing with shipping collisions, and its ship-financing practice have slipped as the world economy has slowed. Mr. Huckle says piracy cases have helped “counterbalance” that downturn but he is unable to provide specific figures.

Stephen Askins, a maritime lawyer at London’s Ince & Co. says he is handling “a few” piracy cases, but that Holman Fenwick “is really leading the way” in representing shipowners in piracy matters.

Piracy expertise at Holman Fenwick, which was founded in 1883, grew out of the firm’s history representing clients following shipwrecks and collisions. The firm represented the salvage companies that cleaned up after the oil tanker Prestige broke up off the coast of Spain in 2002. The firm also represents the owners and insurers of the MSC Napoli, a container ship severely damaged in an English Channel storm last year. In addition to about 290 lawyers, the firm employs about 30 nonlawyer experts, such as former ship captains, marine engineers and naval architects.

A firm’s initial role after a hijacking often is to ease a client’s fears. “No one’s been hurt, and the ransoms have so far been small enough for shipowners to pay,” says Duncan McDonald, a lawyer at London-based Stephenson Harwood. His firm represents owners of two ships hijacked and released earlier this year.

Then, a firm moves to determining where a ship is registered and the location of the hijacking. These factors affect the laws that will govern the case and the haggling over liability that often follows. A U.N. resolution passed in June allows a navy to enter Somalia’s territorial waters to repress an attack.

Shipowners and insurance underwriters are reluctant to speak publicly about their hijacking situations. But the managing director of a large insurance syndicate in London says that when a ship partly underwritten by his firm was hijacked several weeks ago, his first question to lawyers at Holman Fenwick was whether the payment of ransom was even legal. It was under U.K. law, Mr. Stephens says, which typically applies because that’s where insurance underwriters are usually based. If a ransom payment is illegal, the firm might have to negotiate with the country exercising jurisdiction.

The insurance-syndicate executive says the negotiations, which are continuing, have been stressful. “I know we’re in good hands…but there are still times when you feel like you have no control at all,” he says.

“The lawyer’s pen and the swashbluckling pirate’s sword met with a mighty crash as all the children heard and watched the brave battle ensue” … actually, scratch that.  We’re only on good hands if the Marines are killing pirates.  The Captain’s Journal has made it known what needs to be done.

TCJ has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort). Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court. The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

So who has the trust?  The lawyers or U.S. Marines?  Should we pay ransom or kill the pirates?  We have a poll where the reader can weigh in on this question.

Piracy Poll

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

In addition to being a scourge on intercontinental commerce and transit, piracy on the Somalian coast has now take the next step.  A passenger liner – note, cruise ship – was recently the target of pirates.

An example of legal hand-wringing over law of the sea issues, rules of engagement and general reluctance of address the issue can be found at Opinio Juris.  Mr. Anderson at one point states that “No use of force question is ever truly easy.”  Of course, this is wrong, and the question is very easy to answer.  The Captain’s Journal has already done so (while also noting concurring opinions).

The Captain’s Journal has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort). Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court. The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

The inability to deal with pirates properly is a 21st century phenomenon, entirely a function of legal problems, rules of engagement, rules for the use of force, and the impossible desire to be infallible and utterly perfect and pristine in the application of force.

At any rate, this is what we have previously stated to be the manifest solution to the problem.  But now, readers get a chance to weigh in by answering the easy poll below.  Remember – your heart may be telling you to vote the last bullet, while your head is telling you to vote something else.  But we expect the proper donation and we’ll know if you haven’t dropped coins into the coffers.

What should be done about the Somali Pirates?
Tell the lawyers to go home and then kill all of the pirates!
Turn the lawyers loose! They’re righteous and will show us the way.
What pirates? Where’s Johnny Depp?
The author of this poll is an ass. He can go kill them himself. Here’s $100 for travel expenses.
  
pollcode.com free polls

Thanks for taking the time to vote.


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