EU airstrike on Somali pirates echoes US drone strategy
An airstrike on Somali pirate logistics by EU helicopters puts EU members on footing similar to that of the US, which has used drones and special forces to target Islamist militant group Al Shabab.
In Pictures Somali pirates
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The raid, launched from one of nine EU Naval Force warships patrolling off the Somali coast, wrecked five pirate attack boats and destroyed fuel supplies and a weapons cache, officials and witnesses said. It follows a strengthening of the EU force’s mandate, approved two months ago, that now allows airstrikes on known pirate “logistics” on the ground, not just at sea.
Military commanders with the EU Naval Force, headquartered in Britain, took pains today to stress that the mission was conducted entirely from the air. “At no point did EU Naval Force ‘boots’ go ashore,” the force's press office said in a statement.
France is the only European country known to have ever sent soldiers into Somalia, despite the fact that far more Europeans have been kidnapped than Americans. That one mission, to rescue a French yachting family, ended in tragedy when the boat’s skipper, Florent Lemacon, was killed in the crossfire.
The European reticence to put boots on the ground contrasts with the recently redefined, more assertive US approach to combating Somalia's combined challenges of piracy and growing radical Islamism.
In January President Barack Obama ordered a small unit of elite Navy Seals deep into pirate territory in central Somalia to rescue Jessica Buchanan, an American aid worker, and her Danish colleague, Poul Thisted.
It was the first time that Washington admitted that US “boots” were ashore in Somalia, but defense sources and Somali eye witnesses have reported on several occasions in the past that American forces have carried out raids in the country. This has always been denied by US government officials.
Meanwhile, unmanned drones launched from a circle of US airbases, or airports in countries allied to Washington, have targeted – often successfully – agents of Al Shabab, Somalia’s Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
'A dangerous game'
By bringing its fighting strategy more in line with that of the US, Europe is playing “a very dangerous game," says Bronwyn Burton, deputy director of the Michael S. Ansari Center at The Atlantic Council and an expert on Somalia.