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Europe's mainland piracy attack will escalate conflict

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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The midnight attack by a single helicopter firing its machine gun into half-a-dozen Somali pirate skiffs is some distance from the “shock and awe” that usually heralds the start of most campaigns.

But as innocuous as it might seem, the first act of aggression by the EU led naval force is likely lead to a greater escalation in a conflict that has so far avoided bloodshed.

By attacking the pirates’ infrastructure the EU NAVFOR (naval force) has signalled that it will give some teeth to the announcement made in March to strike at Somali land targets.

The arrival of the new French amphibious assault ship Dixmude, complete with its Tiger attack helicopters, will increase the likelihood of intensified attacks against the logistics chain and infrastructure of the pirate business.

EU military planners, based at the British headquarters in Northwood, will also have a clear idea of the best targets and will be assembling their forces to put in some hard strikes against the pirates before they can fully react. That would be the aspiration at least, if the force is going to show it has some backbone.

But filling a few wooden skiffs with bullet holes is hardly likely to send the pirates scuttling to the hills and will make not much of a dent against the multi-million pound trade.

At best it might disrupt the trade forcing the pirates to bring their boats further inland making it harder to launch hijackings at sea.

The pirates are also expected to make their boats far harder to detect, possibly placing them closer to civilians increasing the likelihood of casualties.

But after years of successful trade the treasure chests are full of dollars making it likely that the next time the EU launches a strike against the pirate havens they will be met with an arsenal of anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

If an aircraft is taken down or large numbers of Somalis are killed, it will mark a significant escalation and further intervention into the wider Somali conflict.

With the end of the Afghanistan coming slowly into view, it is likely that more resources will be freed up to strike against a thorn in the side of the international economy.

The only way piracy will be cured is by addressing the problems in Somalia itself. That could well lead to weapons and tactics being used that are some distance in sophistication from a mild dousing by a door mounted machine gun.


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