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Critics say US should attack Somali pirates' land bases

Is it time to replace bluewater policing with tactics of Jefferson, who defeated the Barbary pirates on land?

By / April 10, 2009

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As the US Navy moves additional ships to the Indian Ocean to attempt to free the American captain held hostage by pirates, some are criticizing Washington's tactics and calling for strikes on the Somali pirates' land bases.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the US is sending additional naval vessels to join the USS Bainbridge, which has been in a standoff with the pirates who took an American captain hostage Wednesday. But experts say that an increased US naval presence will not solve the ongoing issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean, writes The Wall Street Journal.

"I actually think this naval response is not the right thing to be doing at all," said [Peter Chalk, an expert on piracy at the Rand Corp.,] of the presence of the USS Bainbridge, a guided missile destroyer which reached the Maersk Alabama early Thursday morning. "We have ratcheted up the situation."...
"Governments like the US have little choice, given the public pressure and the political pressure," Mr. Chalk said. "I don't think that the naval presence out there has anything to do with the protection of ships. It's been politicized."

Rather, argues Mr. Chalk, the US needs to target the pirates' bases in Somalia, where they have had free reign to establish camps in various port cities of the failed state. In a commentary for CNN, Tom Wilkerson of the United States Naval Institute, a nonprofit professional association, also advocates targeting the pirates' home bases, which he says is a lesson "we seem unable to learn from our own history."

In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson said "Enough" to paying 20 percent of the US national budget as tribute to Barbary pirates. His response was clear and successful – build a strong naval task force, equip it with a sizeable contingent of Marines, and send it to attack and defeat the pirates in their lair. The sailors and Marines sent on that mission did just that – and in the process wrote a stirring page in our nation's early history.
The problem today is that we have refused to take the Jefferson model. We've confined our anti-piracy efforts to the open seas and left the pirates' home bases on land as a sanctuary. Thus, the pirates continue to operate with relative freedom and stealth. We and our allies only respond, never seizing the initiative.
The Jefferson model is a better answer: Take on the pirates where they are, rather than guessing where they will be. In short, attack them at their home bases.