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Europe launches airstrikes on Somalia to uproot pirate base

This is the first time the European-led naval expedition, Operation Atalanta, has attacked a pirate base on Somali territory.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / May 15, 2012

This March 2010 file photo shows a boarding party from the EU NAVFOR French warship FS Nivose on Somali pirate skiffs off the Somali coast.



At sea, Somali pirates have taken a beating as increased European naval patrols have helped cut the number of pirate hijackings in half.

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Now, the European Naval Force patrolling the waters off the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coastline have launched air attacks on known pirate supply bases on land, destroying fuel barrels, boats, trucks, and other supplies. This was the first time the EU-led force had attacked pirate targets on land, although exact locations of the attacks was not announced.

"This action against piracy is part of a comprehensive EU approach to the crisis in Somalia, where we support a lasting political solution on land," The Associated Press quoted Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, as telling reporters.

If you added up all the ways in which commercial shipping has to protect itself from possible pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, from insurance to private security guards to avoiding Somali waters altogether, the ticket would come to $7 billion annually. This would include, of course, the $160 million paid last year in ransoms to Somali pirates. Small wonder, then, the patience of the European naval contingent has run out.

But long-term solutions, most defense officials say, don’t come from the barrels of guns, but rather from solving political problems on Somali territory itself. If the weak transitional government of Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed can be strengthened – as a recent London conference on Somalia aimed to do – and if the poorly equipped coast guards set up by the semiautonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland can be better equipped and trained, then Somalis can patrol their own waters, raid their own pirate havens on land, and make Somalia a less hospitable place for piracy.


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