Thursday, 29 March 2012

EU to attack pirates on land in Somalia.

In what is undoubtedly a significant development, the European Union will enlarge its mission against piracy to give its military forces the authority to attack Somali pirates on land, along the coast and in the internal waterways of Somalia. The EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels last week did not explain what it meant by “coastal territory and internal waters,” but officials have confirmed that the new mandate will mean that the forces of 'Operation Atalanta'- started in 2008 against Somali piracy- will now be able to target boats, fuel dumps, logistical support centres or land vehicles well within Somali waters or territory.

In addition, Operation Atalanta will be expended till at least the end of 2014, a statement after the meeting clarified, adding that the Somali transitional government has accepted the EU’s offer for greater collaboration in the operation. "Today’s decision will enable Operation Atalanta Forces to work directly with the transitional federal government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy in the coastal areas,” the statement said.

The EU, with between five and ten warships, is just one of the many navies involved off the Horn of Africa in anti piracy operations. NATO has a similar number of vessels in the area, and countries across the world have sent in their navies to fight piracy in the region over the years.

Commander of Atalanta Rear Admiral Duncan Potts told the Associated Press: "Piracy has caused so much misery to the Somali people and to the crews of ships transiting the area and it is right that we continue to move forward in our efforts."

Somalia's long coastline has meant that it has been relatively easy, thus far, for pirates to hide their boats, fuel supplies or hostages. With pirates- and their accomplices in the terrorist Al Shabaab- using these havens to hide hostages, including those taken from border resorts in Kenya, the EU and NATO stepped up military operations in Somalia months ago. The success of those missions has undoubtedly encouraged the EU to give its forces more teeth in dealing with the scourge.

In line with its pronouncement, the French naval amphibious assault ship Dixmude has been stationed to reinforce Atalanta. The 21,000-ton warship can act as a full support base for 16 helicopters; no doubt, some of these will be pressed into service soon. With pirate attacks declining thanks to the relatively widespread use of armed guards on merchant vessels, it appears that the EU feels that it is time to escalate operations against pirates to weed out the menace once and for all.

NATO and the EU have obviously coordinated their military efforts. Speaking anonymously, a NATO official said that the organisation too was revising its rules of engagement “with a view to reinforcing them.” He added, though, that “actions on land are not part of this reinforcement.”

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