Somalia in the Crosshairs Germans Won't Fight on Land in Anti-Pirate Mission

A UN resolution passed on Tuesday gives countries a one-year mandate to battle Somali pirates in the water and on land. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has made clear land assaults will not be part of the Bundeswehr's mission, which is to be approved by parliament Friday.

A day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing nations to "use all necessary measures," including land assaults to combat Somali piracy, the German government made clear that it would not send German troops to chase after pirates on the shores of Somalia.

On Wednesday the national parliament, the Bundestag, held hearings on a the government's proposal to expand the mandate of the German military to take part in the European Union-led anti-pirate mission, Operation Atalanta. The mandate under consideration, which will come to a parliamentary vote on Friday, would allow Germany to use up to 1,400 troops and a frigate stationed in the region to participate in anti-pirate operations. Bundestag approval is required for all foreign deployments of the country's armed forces, the Bundeswehr.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told the Bundestag that the proposed mandate would allow military activity from sending "a shot across the bows right up to sinking a pirate ship." When asked if the goal of the mission was to destroy the pirates' main ships, Jung hedged, saying the military would hold to "the principle of proportionality" when deciding how to attack the pirates.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who, along with Jung, presented the government's proposal, assured members of parliament that the mandate would not allow German troops to pursue Somali pirates on land. He also warned that the mission would "not be a walk in the park" for the German military. Neither would it be "a story out of an adventure novel."

The difficulty of the mission was underscored earlier on Wednesday in a television appearance by the head of the German Federal Armed Forces Association, Ulrich Kirsch. In an interview with a morning news show, Kirsch emphasized that "the pirates' equipment is getting better and better," and the German navy would have to be "well prepared" to face them.

Although the military mandate is expected to be approved by parliament on Friday, some members expressed skepticism about the mission. Winifried Nachtwei, a military expert with the Green Party, told the German public broadcaster WDR that while the mission was justified, it was hardly sufficient. Nachtwei criticized the government for focusing only on a military solution and failing to address the root causes of the "pirate epidemic." Dorothee Bär, a member of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party, made a similar point in parliament when she declared, "If we don't make efforts to find a political solution, we will never be rid of piracy."

Land Assaults Could Be a Tricky Undertaking

Even as the UN Security Council gave its blessing on Tuesday to efforts to pursue pirates on land, officials from the US military were sounding notes of caution about the feasibility of such operations. The Pentagon released a statement simultaneously "welcoming" the resolution and alluding to the "practical challenges" of land-based military action in Somalia.

The Pentagon's statement reinforced comments made over the weekend by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said the US military lacked the necessary intelligence to conduct a full-on land raid while giving a talk at a conference in Bahrain. Also at the conference was Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, who expressed worry that land-based assaults could endanger the lives of innocent civilians. "I see people trying to look for an easy military solution to a problem that demands a non-kinetic solution," he told reporters. Gortney warned that the "collateral damage" from a land attack "could not be overestimated," adding that pirates "don't wear uniforms," making identification difficult.

Further complicating anti-pirate efforts in the region is the political instability gripping Somalia's transitional federal government. According to the Washington Post, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that Somalia could descend into "chaos" by the end of the month as the Ethiopian military force that has been propping up the Somali government begins to withdraw.

Still, Ban rejected US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's suggestion that the UN send a peacekeeping force to Somalia to help bring stability, arguing that conditions in the country were simply too dangerous. Instead, Ban would like the Security Council to provide more funding for an African Union force that so far has been unable to secure the region.

As the World Debates, Pirates Plunder

It's been a busy week for Somali pirates, who on Tuesday captured both an Indonesian tug boat under contract with the French oil giant Total and a Turkish cargo ship. Early Wednesday morning, pirates successfully hijacked a Chinese trading vessel according to Xinhua news service. The attack came just hours after Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei appeared before the UN in New York saying his government was "seriously considering naval ships" to the region to protect Chinese shipping.

All in all, Somali pirates have done fantastically well in 2008, racking up over $120 million in ransom payments, according to UN estimates. The profits are the fruits of over a 100 attacks and over 60 successful seizures -- far more than any other year on record.

cpg -- with wire reports
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