The US Navy would go after pirates off Somalia if the international community came up with a process for holding and trying them as criminals, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet said on Friday.UPDATE: Some thoughts from a retired Marine general on "How to Kick Pirate Booty".
"We would follow the same manner we use down in the Gulf of Mexico in our counter-drug efforts. It's a matter of surveillance, focused surveillance and rapid action," said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney.
But without an internationally recognised legal process for trying pirates, navies have had little choice but to release those captured, Gortney told reporters in Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.
US and other navies have appeared helpless in the face of a wave of seizures of ships and hostages on the high seas by Somali pirates who have then ransomed them off.
It has not been for lack of authority to act, Gortney acknowledged, noting that the UN Security Council has extended a resolution allowing navies to take action against piracy off Somalia.
"I don't need any authorities for offensive actions against the pirates. I have all I need," he said.
"If I see a piracy event, I can engage, I can pursue, as long as I maintain positive identification on the vessel that is doing the piracy, and I can engage with lethal fire," he said.
"The problem is once I take them, and they are alive, I don't have any place to take them and hold them accountable for their action."
Gortney rejected direct attacks on pirate camps in Somalia as a solution because of the risk of killing innocent civilians or causing other collateral damage.
"I see people trying to look for an easy military solution to a problem that demands a non-kinetic solution," he said.
"If you are going to do kinetic strikes into the pirate camps the positive ID and the collateral damage cannot be overestimated. It's very difficult. They are irregulars, they don't wear uniforms," he said.
Gortney said he sees "some movement" internationally on tackling the adjudication issue internationally, and more countries are sending ships to patrol the sea lanes off Somalia.
It's all about the will. But he has some interesting observations:
Foreign Policy: During the Millennium Challenge war game of 2002, while playing the “Red” team opposing U.S. forces, you used unconventional tactics to communicate and strike by surprise, eventually “sinking” a U.S. flotilla. Drawing from this experience, as well as conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, why is it that these guerrilla strategies can catch allied forces so off guard?Lex offers up an alternative solution:
Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper: What we’re really talking about is what kind of methods folks might use that are unconventional. You struggle with words because to the person doing it, it’s not unorthodox, irregular, any of those things; it’s very normal. If you think in history, the Japanese didn’t think that kamikaze pilots were unconventional, but the U.S. did and the British did. The insurgents don’t think that IEDs [improvised explosive devices] are irregular or asymmetrical. It’s in the eye of the beholder. I think [the tactics] you’re seeing with many of these pirates—it’s not something they’ve done deliberately with relation to more modern nations—it’s what they do normally.
FP: What is it like to be fighting enemies—like these pirates—who are thinking differently than you? How do you have to think differently about your own strategy?
PVR: What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third [way] is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.
FP: Let’s imagine that there is a command structure in place mandated by the United Nations. How would that force figure out the weakness of nontraditional combatants like the pirates? Where would be the best place to strike them?
PVR: You have to understand what their methods of operation are, so you’d obviously begin with whatever kinds of intelligence you can gather. There are going to be a lot of ways to do that. Probably to a limited degree, it would be radio intercepts or communications—because they use varying means of communications. Then, having some sort of broad area surveillance for extended periods of times, you begin to see patterns. You’ve got to develop some sort of a picture of what is normal and what is not normal.
Some of those same techniques have been used for hunting the folks who put in IEDs. You watch an area long enough and you begin to see what’s not normal in the daily routine. You have to understand their method of operation and what the clues are if something is amiss. Any military unit that goes into a new area doesn’t see the subtle clues until they have been there awhile and unless they set up their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in order to pick those things up.
You’re talking weeks and probably months [to get a sense of the patterns], because things don’t happen every day. It’s like weather: You watch one day; it doesn’t mean anything. A week means a little bit [more]. But obviously, a month or months [of observation] means a lot. In Vietnam on the ground, we would have to be in areas for several weeks before we would begin to perceive what was normal and what was abnormal. And the longer they left [troops] in the same place, generally, the more effective they became.
With appropriate deference to the UN, I humbly offer a counter-proposal:There is certain elegance in its simplicity.
1. Build a wall around the place.
2. Come back after 50 years and build a door.
3. Wait another 50 years and open the door. Carefully.