Manama, Bahrain Days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to ask the United Nations to authorize “all necessary measures” against piracy from Somalia, the U.S. military, which would help carry out that policy, said in effect: Not so fast.
The commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet expressed doubt Friday about the wisdom of launching attacks against Somali pirates on land, as the draft U.N. resolution proposes. A Pentagon spokesman warned against the urge to grasp for a quick and easy military solution to a complex international problem.
U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that striking pirate camps in lawless Somalia could open a can of worms. It is difficult to identify pirates, and the potential for killing innocent civilians “cannot be overestimated,” Gortney said.
There is a huge risk to any U.S. forces involved, whether small commando units or larger operations. And U.S. commanders still have sour memories of the humiliating “Blackhawk Down” outcome of U.S. military intervention in Somalia more than a decade ago.
Concern about possible mistaken identity extends to operations at sea, too, since pirate ships are often indistinguishable from ragtag fishing vessels. The military is also worried about what would be done with captured pirates, whether to try or imprison them.
“There are many that are seeking a simple military solution, or solely a military solution to address the piracy issue,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “I think that we need to take a more comprehensive look a this, and while there may be a military component, this is an issue that has to be addressed more broadly.”
In a wide-ranging interview at his 5th Fleet headquarters, Gortney said the better solutions are to improve the security, stability and government in Somalia, and to resolve legal questions so militaries that capture pirates can detain them and bring them to trial.