If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem. Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia. The bulk, of course, go through Suez. The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison. In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.
The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007. Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking. That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage. It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.
20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden. A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force. TF 151 operates in the Gulf. China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151. They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.
With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.
But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage. One of those tools is a website. There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely. There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.
Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others. What type of ship are the pirates looking for? According to Admiral Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”. If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.
The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean. As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates. This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.
As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden. Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.
The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?
In my opinion, probably not. To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates. And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked. And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.
While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.
Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one. Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use. But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem. The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated. Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.
Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely? Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen. But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that. They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go. We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited. Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.
What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams. For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone. I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.
Food for thought.
Anne Scott Tyson, at the Washington Post, seems to have the low-down on how the mission to rescue Captain Phillips went down.
The pirates apparently were growing increasingly agitated with the situation and were making threats when they made a fatal mistake and gave SEAL snipers 3 targets at once. Feeling that Captain Phillips life was in imminent danger, the on-scene commander called the shot and the snipers took all three of the pirates out.
Okay and well done. But there seems to be a whole bunch of spin on both sides as to what role Obama played. The left seems bound and determined to spin this as some sort of “military victory” which proves Obama has stones of steel and the right seems equally as determined to deny him any credit for the rescue, claiming it was the “on-scene commander” who made the decision.
Look – Obama was most likely briefed and asked for the go ahead to use both the military and lethal force if the situation called for it. He gave his approval for both. I doubt he tried to tell them what tactics to use or how to carry out the rescue. Instead he allowed those on the scene to make that determination. His concern was Phillips and resolving that situation in a way that the captain was rescued unharmed. By approving the use of lethal force, he made it clear he had no concern for the final disposition of the pirates and placed no constraints on the military in that regard, assuming the main mission – rescuing Phillips unharmed – was accomplished.
Great – that’s what he should have done.
But a “military victory”? It was a hostage situation – albeit on the high seas with lots of drama. But at its foundation, it was no different than a situation the local sheriff finds himself in with a domestic disturbance gone bad and hostages held in a house. The reason the national command authority and the military were involved at all is because the situation developed on the high seas in international waters. But at base, it was a run-of-the-mill hostage situation that law enforcement deals with routinely without presidential input.
So? So Obama did the right thing (at the right level of visibility) and so did the military. The situation was resolved. To the right – Obama did a good job. Get over it and understand that it wasn’t his job to “call the shot.” He gave the on-scene commander, through his authorization to use deadly force, the latitude to make that call himself without seeking further permission.
To the left – this was no more a “military victory” than was Ruby Ridge or Waco. Quit trying to make it more than it is. If you think popping 3 rag-tag pirates is going to be interpreted by Iran or North Korea as a demonstration of our military might, you’re dreaming. Obviously, had it gone bad, it would have reflected badly on the US. However it didn’t (thankfully). But it proves nothing more than in the situation presented – a hostage situation – we were able to resolve it to our advantage. That’s good and it reflects well on us. But a “military victory”? For heaven sake, get a clue.
Some form of strange aquatic life, not native to the coast of Somalia, helped Captain Richard Phillips escape his pirate captives. He’s now safe aboard the USS Bainbridge.
The pirates? Not so good:
The American captain of a cargo ship held hostage by pirates jumped overboard from the lifeboat where he was being held, and U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed three of his four captors, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the situation.
You knew it was coming – you just wondered when.
My guess is remaining pirates will now immediately go to remedial flag identification class and learn the difference between the US flag and the flag of Panama.
Pirates, operating off the coast of Somalia, have grabbed an American flagged ship. Although they’re rare, it’s just not a good idea to grab American flagged ships because it is likely to bring a response that for which the pirates aren’t looking. I.e., a crew that fights back, and every available American military vessel in the area.
As it turns out the pirates grabbed the Masersk Alabama off the eastern coast of Somalia yesterday. That’s below the Horn of Africa since the Gulf of Aden, their previous hunting grounds, has been pretty effectively policed by TF-151 – a coalition of 12 navies.
It is assumed, since the attack on the Alabama occurred 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, that the pirates came from a “mother ship”, a larger ship from which they launch their attacks in the small, swift skiffs they use.
The pirates grabbed the Alabama early in the morning but by afternoon, the crew had retaken the ship. All except the captain who the pirates somehow kept in their custody. Apparently they negotiated with the crew for a pirate the crew had captured and agreed to an exchange. But the pirates didn’t keep their side of the bargain and kept the captain while the crew gave up the pirate.
The pirates and captain are now, apparently sitting in a lifeboat near the ship, negotiating with the crew. On site are the destroyer USS Bainbridge and some air assets.
My guess is this will go on a couple more days with the military content to let it continue as long as they don’t threaten to kill the captain or try to move out of the area. In the meantime they’ll gather as much intel as they can and formulate a plan to retake the captive.
Lesson to pirates? When they see that flag with a blue field full of stars and red and white stripes below it – let it pass. Not worth the effort. They don’t play patsy like the others do.
Oh – and too those trying to make this a presidential level “crisis”, it’s not unless he injects himself into it (and I don’t think he will). If the Pentagon needs guidance or permission for something, they’ll ask. Otherwise they should keep the administration informed and be left to do their job (here’s an interesting rundown of the last US ships taken in international waters and the reaction of three different presidents).
However, one has to wonder if the seizure of a US flagged ship might not increase calls for this:
Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team.
“Our special operations people have been itching to clean them up. So far, no one has let them,” Oakley told the Daily News.
The veteran diplomat, who also was ambassador to Pakistan, said teams of Army Delta Force or Navy SEALs “could take care of the pirates in 72 hours” if given the order to strike.
“They have plans on the table but are waiting for the green light,” Oakley said.
A Special Operations Command spokesman at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., declined comment.
A U.S. intelligence official, though dismissive of the pirates having any terrorism links, said “there is a more intense focus” now on these criminal gangs.
We’ll see. What concerns me about this is the administration may see this as a relatively cheap opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to use military force to protect American interests. Piracy, while a pain in the rear, is not such a threat that it requires that level of a response (of the 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden, less that 1% are hijacked).
I was wondering if this would happen:
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, met Obama shortly after Air Force One landed in Baghdad about 4:42 p.m. local time (9:42 a.m. ET).
Obama chose to visit Iraq rather than Afghanistan because of its proximity to Turkey, which Obama just visited, said Robert Gibbs, the president’s spokesman.
In addition, Obama wanted to discuss Iraq’s political situation with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Gibbs said.
Mostly, however, the stop is about Obama visiting troops, he said.
Good – a tip of the cap. This is important and I’m glad to see President Obama made time to see the troops. We can get all cynical about a lot of things, but I, for one, appreciate the effort and the gesture.
A federal judge ruled on Thursday that prisoners in the war on terror can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention at a military air base in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Judge John Bates turned down the United States’ motion to deny the right to three foreign detainees at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to challenge their detention in court. But the government had argued that it did not apply to those in Afghanistan.
Bates said the cases were essentially the same and he quoted the Supreme Court ruling repeatedly in his judgment and applied the test created by it to each detainee. It is the first time a federal judge has applied the ruling to detainees in Afghanistan.
Similarly, extending habeas corpus rights to prisoners detained on the battlefield is an exercise in futility. Of course, that ship sailed with the ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. I’m not sure what argument the government could make that any prisoners under the control of the U.S., regardless of where they are being held, are not entitled to some sort of habeas proceeding. And since the very procedures deemed constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court in Hamdi were struck down as inadequate in Boumediene, I don’t know what options are actually left to the Obama administration other than the unsavory prospect of field executions.
Barring a contrary ruling from the Supreme Court, I think this most recent case proves the point.
But, Ed Morrissey seems to think the Bates’ decision does much more. Where he (reasonably) finds that the foregoing is an unconstitutional interjection of the judiciary into matters delegated to the Executive, Ed also seems to think that Bates’ order violates the Geneva Conventions (his bolding applied):
Not only does this violate the separation of powers in the Constitution, it actually violates the Geneva Convention. Article 84 states clearly that prisoners of any stripe shall not get tried in civil courts:
A prisoner of war shall be tried only by a military court, unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power expressly permit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the Detaining Power in respect of the particular offence alleged to have been committed by the prisoner of war.
In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality as generally recognized, and, in particular, the procedure of which does not afford the accused the rights and means of defence provided for in Article 105.
We do not try our military personnel in civil court for offenses committed in the service. Therefore, we do not have the right to try prisoners in our civil courts, either.
There are a few problems with that conclusion:
(1) The detainees are not being tried. They’re challenging their detention. Another way of putting it is that they’re the plaintiffs in such an action (habeas hearing) as opposed to the defendants (as in a trial).
(2) Civilian courts may be used under the GC where the crimes/offenses alleged are already illegal (i.e. no a bill attainder or ex post facto law) and the court procedures provide the minimum guarantees set forth in the GC (this is spelled out in the rest of Ed’s Article 84 excerpt starting with “unless”).
(3) The Boumediene decision pretty much made this ruling necessary since the SCOTUS designated anywhere under U.S. control as being “U.S. territory”, with a few exceptions. An active battlefield is one of them IIRC and the judge may have decided that Bagram AFB doesn’t qualify.
In fact, on that last point, Judge Bates specifically noted that:
… non-Afghan detainees captured outside the country and moved to Bagram for a lengthy detention should have access to the courts to prevent the United States from being able to “move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely.”
As Boumediene is written, I think Bates got it exactly right. I do think that the entire line of reasoning and case law is incorrect from both a policy and constitutional basis, but Judge Bates is required to follow Supreme Court precedent. That his ruling serves as a perfect example how reductio absurdum can happen in real life doesn’t make him wrong.
Furthermore, I don’t see how allowing detainees to challenge their detention could possibly violate the Geneva Conventions. Again, that does not mean detainees should be afforded such rights, just that such a grant does not in any way run counter to either the letter or spirit of those treaties.
Russia is our friend. Don’t believe it? Well let’s look at a couple of things.
Just as the US starts talking about cutting defense spending and axing weapons systems and programs, what are our friends in Russia doing?
President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday announced a “large-scale” rearmament and renewal of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, accusing NATO of pushing ahead with expansion near Russian borders.
Meeting defence chiefs in Moscow, Medvedev said he was determined to implement reforms to streamline Russia’s bloated military and stressed Moscow continued to face several security threats needing robust defense capacity.
“From 2011, a large-scale rearmament of the army and navy will begin,” Medvedev said.
He called for a renewal of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal and added that NATO was pursuing a drive to expand the alliance’s physical presence near Russia’s borders.
“Analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that a serious conflict potential remains in some regions,” Medvedev said.
So, new nukes and large-scale rearmament in the face of US defense cuts. As the article asks “reset” or new Cold War?
And then, just to really upset the apple cart, how about a new currency?
The Kremlin published its priorities Monday for an upcoming meeting of the G20, calling for the creation of a supranational reserve currency to be issued by international institutions as part of a reform of the global financial system.
The International Monetary Fund should investigate the possible creation of a new reserve currency, widening the list of reserve currencies or using its already existing Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, as a “superreserve currency accepted by the whole of the international community,” the Kremlin said in a statement issued on its web site.
The SDR is an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement the existing official reserves of member countries.
The Kremlin has persistently criticized the dollar’s status as the dominant global reserve currency and has lowered its own dollar holdings in the last few years. Both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have repeatedly called for the ruble to be used as a regional reserve currency, although the idea has received little support outside of Russia.
Now there’s not much “there” there as it pertains to this initiative, but it another indicator, among many, that the “Joe Biden Challenge” is alive and well and Russia is in the running to bring it to fruition.
Daniel Larison is trying to smack Ed Morrisey around over a particular story:
There is a non-story making the rounds that the Russian military might base bombers in Venezuela and Cuba, provided that the Kremlin wanted to do this. In the same story that is being circulated, the Kremlin ruled out the idea as hypothetical speculation. Naturally, this had no effect whatever on wild accusations of Obama’s foreign policy failure.
As you can tell, Larison is sure there is no smoke or fire with this particular story, but refuses to let an opportunity go by to blame Bush for something, which he proceeds to do. However it seems Larison’s research into the story must have omitted this CNN version. The lede:
Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
I put them in bold so they might catch Larison’s eye. You see, when most people see the words “Russia expressed interest” they interpret them to mean the state of Russia – you know, the country?- is interested enough in something to actually express that interest outloud to where a news agency heard it and reported it. And the words “Cuban airfields” usually mean, well, you know, airfields in Cuba – the object of the Russian interest. The thing airplanes fly off of. The fact that a Russian news agency reported the story about Russia’s interest and Cuba’s airfields, while also mentioning strategic bombers, kind of ties it all together and gives the statement some credibility over and above Larison’s hand-wave of dismissal. It certainly makes it more than a “non-story”.
In fact, Russia has obviously done more than just “think” about it. Here’s the scoop on Venezuela:
Zhikharev also told Interfax that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered a military airfield on La Orchila island as a temporary base for Russian strategic bombers.
“If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible,” he said, according to Interfax. Zhikharev said he visited La Orchila in 2008 and can confirm that with minor reconstruction, the airfield owned by a local naval base can accept fully-loaded Russian strategic bombers.
Offer made by Venezuelan head of state. Enough interest to host a visit by Zhikharev (Chief of Staff of Russian Air Force). Further interested enough to scope out the construction necessary to make it suitable for strategic bombers.
Yup – non-story. [/sarc]
But hey, never let the opportunity for a rant get slowed by facts, huh?
Or perhaps a better way to say that is this is a typical reason Democrats aren’t well thought of, for the most part, by the military community:
Several veterans groups “are lashing out” at the Obama administration over a policy proposal they say would “dramatically alter” how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles health insurance claims for veterans, The Hill reports. Under the policy, which is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget proposal, VA would bill health insurers for treatment of injuries and conditions sustained as a result of veterans’ military service. Currently, VA covers those costs and bills health insurers only for treatment for conditions unrelated to veterans’ military service.
The “you got it, you pay for it” method of saving money on the back of wounded vets. This after all the rhetoric and promises about taking better care of our veterans than ever before because they’ve “earned it”?
Of course, as soon as this trial balloon is discovered, the mealy mouth nonsense begins:
According to OMB spokesperson Tom Gavin, although concerns about policy changes in coverage are understandable, no official proposal is on the table. He said, “The details of the VA budget are being worked out right now and the details won’t be available until April,” adding, “The administration is committed to providing the VA with substantial resources to provide for our veterans” (Tiron, The Hill, 3/9).
And, of course, with the federal government spending money on social issues disguised as “stimulus”, followed by a porked up spending bill and now an almost 4 trillion dollar budget, where is the one place that they decide they should try and save money?
On the backs of wounded vets.
Sorry, but that cost was prepaid by the terms of their service and wounds. But obviously, more interested in social issues within the military than keeping promises, the administration begins the ground work for backing out on another of its promises (to their credit, some Democrats, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), have declared such a proposal would be “dead on arrival” should it make it into the budget – a tip of the hat to her).
The Drug War along the Mexican-US border is getting some high level consideration:
President Obama weighed in Wednesday on the escalating drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that he was looking at possibly deploying National Guard troops to contain the violence but ruled out any immediate military move.
“We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense,” Obama said during an interview with journalists for regional papers, including a McClatchy reporter.
“I don’t have a particular tipping point in mind,” he said. “I think it’s unacceptable if you’ve got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens.”
Already this year there have been 1,000 people killed in Mexico along the border, following 2008′s death toll of 5,800, according to federal officials who credit Mexican President Felipe Calderon for a crackdown on drug cartels.
But the spillover on the border — for example, to El Paso from neighboring Ciudad Juarez — has created a political reaction.
In a recent visit to El Paso, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for 1,000 troops to protect the border.
Obama was cautious, however. “We’ve got a very big border with Mexico,” he said. “I’m not interested in militarizing the border.”
I agree with his point about not “militarizing the border”. And I certainly understand the desire to send in help to quell and control the violence that spills over the border. But my question is, how will the troops be mobilized? The only way Obama can send in National Guard troops as I understand it is by federalizing them. Then it becomes a matter of their role. The Posse Comitatus act prevents federal troops from being used in a law enforcement role except on federal property (like Washington DC). So he’s limited in the role to which he can commit any troops even if he wanted too.
It would seem instead, that perhaps the best way to proceed in this case, if the desire is to send NG troops to the border to help in law enforcement, is for the Governors to mobilize and send them while letting active military lend logistical, intel and perhaps advisory support. But unless they’re sent in a war-fighting mode, there isn’t much of a role for federal troops in this case.
UPDATE: Commenter Jay Evans notes a recent change in the law which may effect this (the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (H.R. 5122)):
SEC. 1076. USE OF THE ARMED FORCES IN MAJOR PUBLIC EMERGENCIES. (a) USE OF THE ARMED FORCES AUTHORIZED.— (1) IN GENERAL.—Section 333 of title 10, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: ‘‘§ 333. Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law ‘‘(a) USE OF ARMED FORCES IN MAJOR PUBLIC EMERGENCIES.— (1) The President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to— ‘‘(A) restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that— ‘‘(i) domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order; and ‘‘(ii) such violence results in a condition described in paragraph (2); or ‘‘(B) suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such insurrection, violation, combination, or conspiracy results in a condition described in paragraph (2). ‘‘(2) A condition described in this paragraph is a condition that— ‘‘(A) so hinders the execution of the laws of a State or possession, as applicable, and of the United States within that State or possession, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State or possession are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
‘‘(B) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.
‘‘(3) In any situation covered by paragraph (1)(B), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.
‘‘(b) NOTICE TO CONGRESS.—The President shall notify Congress of the determination to exercise the authority in subsection (a)(1)(A) as soon as practicable after the determination and every 14 days thereafter during the duration of the exercise of that authority.’’.
(2) PROCLAMATION TO DISPERSE.—Section 334 of such title is amended by inserting ‘‘or those obstructing the enforcement of the laws’’ after ‘‘insurgents’’.
It looks like it now depends on the classification of the problem.