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Atalanta targets pirates on land: all the explanations (well almost :-) (maj2)

Maritime patrol aircraft are a valuable element in the reconnaissance and location of pirate logistics bases (credit: Bundeswehr)

(BRUSSELS2, exclusive) All EU member states which had placed parliamentary reservations on the extension of the EU anti-piracy operation (Eunavfor Atalanta) – have lifted them: the United Kingdom, the week last (parliamentary reserve), Spain more recently (alert reserve) and Germany as well. “ Germany is expected to lift the reservation tomorrow and will be fully involved in the operation » said Pedro Morenes, the Spanish Minister of Defense, during a press briefing.

Calendar and geographical extension

The extension of the operation concerns both the duration of the operation, extended until December 2014, and its geographical area, which reaches Somali territorial and internal waters (ports, waters between the coast and the islands) like its coasts (the beaches). This point should, normally, then be approved without debate, with the “A points” on Friday. (Update: This extension was adopted without firing a shot by the “27” Friday morning).

Details in the operation plan (Oplan)

This decision sets a general framework; it does not specify the operating methods to prevent pirate attacks. Details of the plan “aggressive” will, in fact, be set out in an operation plan which should be approved next week by the COPS (Political and Security Committee). The two decisions are part of the same “package” which has already been prepared. And, normally, barring a last-minute incident, the operation commander will have new rules of engagement and action to prevent certain pirate attacks from the start of next month.

Staffing issues resolved...

Note that the Eunavfor Atalanta operation has recovered its minimum level of action. For several months – December to March – it actually suffered from understaffing. But currently, there are five boats in the area (2 Germans, 2 Spaniards, 1 French). And this figure could rise to 9 in the coming weeks. “ There is a real effort made by the Member States in order not to relive the difficult situation experienced from December to March”.

A decision that took longer than expected

The decision took a little longer than expected. Because there was a real desire of all the countries involved to maintain the cohesion of the operation » explained an expert on the file to B2. This is one of the rare operations where there is no caveat (restrictions on employment) from a Member State. And we are doing everything to ensure that this continues.” Member States also wanted “ absolutely have the notification of the Somali government to the UN Secretary General » authorizing the incursion into the territory. And, internally, it took... a little time for the letter to the Somali authorities to pass through the hierarchical circuit and be signed by the High Representative. A European diplomat modestly admits: “ this takes time ».

last german question

According to other sources, Germany has not formally set up a reserve, but there is still one "german question ". A discussion is underway in Germany at the political level between several parties (Greens and Liberals in particular). But German diplomats in Brussels assured their European counterparts that they did not intend to block the decision. NOW, " everything is possible – assures a European diplomat – “ a State can always ask for a new discussion”. Hence a certain confusion of minds and information which was still circulating today according to the sources interviewed.

In fact, according to a senior European diplomat consulted by B2, the questions seem to be shared. The government has an obligation to provide all the necessary information to its parliamentarians, in particular to the Bundestag. The European military fears that too much information will be communicated in this way. The German Secretary of State for Defense, G. Schmitt, had to do educational work and reassure his European counterparts that he would not divulge any operational secrets. “ Everyone was thus able to be reassured ».

Visit of the “EU commander” to Germany and Spain

Rear Admiral Potts, who commands the European operation Atalanta, should also go to Spain and Germany – two of the most reluctant countries for the operation – to explain the limits of this extension and answer all the questions that may still be valid in these countries.

A long-term prepared action

Much has been said about this intervention on land. And it is important to clearly specify what is involved in this more offensive mode. For those who have followed (or those who have not followed) the entire history of the anti-piracy fight led by the European Union, this discussion on more offensive methods is not new.

THEanti-piracy action becomes more robust at sea

The previous head of operation, Howes, had presented ministers with several options for moving towards more determined action against the pirates. A similar debate took place on Place Schuman (European Union) and on Boulevard Leopold (NATO), in order to have coordination between the two organizations on the ground.

These options were numbered from 1 to 5. Options 1, 2, 3 and 5 were adopted and aimed at more robust action at sea: in particular by cutting off the retreat of pirate skiffs towards the Somali coast, or by removing some of their means of action (destruction of engines or skiffs); by neutralizing the mother ships; by delaying as much as possible the return to shore of vessels taken hostage; and even attempting a forceful recapture of these ships (when the entire crew was safe in the citadel).

All actions which have already been implemented by ships operating in both EU and NATO operations and which have had a definite effect on reducing piracy.

Refusal of action on land

But action 4 (intervention on land) aroused strong reservations from the States and had to be abandoned. No one wanted to have men, even special forces, on the ground. Because " no member state really wants to get involved militarily in Somalia.” This is why a “4 bis” option, one could say, was put back into the works. It is no longer a question of going ashore, but of using maritime means to target pirate logistical “plots”, according to operational terminology, without putting a “boot on the ground” according to established military jargon. According to our information, the territorial limit has been set at 2 km.

Now, nothing prevents a Member State that wishes to send its special forces ashore (NB: as the French did to arrest pirates). But he then does it under his national responsibility not under the European flag “ States can at any time leave their European hat immediately and at any time, even for 10 minutes, then return to the operation ».

Objective to break the model of piracy

Maritime means

The means used will be those of the maritime operation. The action will be carried out from ships or with on-board helicopters, which allows greater precision. There will be no planes or bombings. The goal is to avoid any collateral damage. This is an imperative condition set by the operation commander and that many governments have set for this extension. As Pedro Morenes (the Spanish Minister of Defense) recalled, “ we don't want any collateral damage, no harm to people. And pirates are people too ". For us, " it is also important that the forces involved in the operation do not take risks », he added, thus taking a cautious position very close to Germany.

Avoid collateral damage

This condition, we are very aware of its imperative aspect. " Even if we cannot guarantee it 100%, all precautions will be taken to avoid any collateral damage – says our expert – by having prior recognition and information”. We must also see that what is being targeted are the pirate depots, a few barrels of fuel, 4x4s and skiffs, with ladders, placed on a beach. These deposits are sometimes guarded but not always. The operation commander and the commander of the ship leading the operations will have all the power to stop an offensive action until the last moment. And, preferably, visual contact with the target objective should be able to be maintained, a soldier told B2.

Risk of confusion with discarded fishermen

The risk of confusing them with deposits of “honest fishermen” could exist – in theory –. But, in fact, a certain number of clues (the 4×4, the ladders, the number of barrels of gasoline, the absence of fishing nets – make it possible to distinguish between a pirate “plot” and a stock of fishermen And the myth of the pirate fisherman who sometimes fishes, sometimes pirate, is “. well done ". « We are dealing with organized, professional and structured teams. It’s a well-regulated economic business.” In practice, fishermen are often located in villages; while the pirate deposits are located rather outside inhabited areas.

Pirate “plots” well spotted

"We know the pirate bases perfectly, where they are installed", which reduces the margin of error, the Spanish Minister of Defense publicly clarified. How many bases are there? A Spanish journalist cites a precise figure: 19 bases. We sought to verify this figure. No one officially confirms this. But it is a fact, the bases have been identified and seem perfectly known to the military. “ It's an operational secret confided to us, at the end of the meeting, a European official familiar with the matter.

Because indeed, for several years, the maritime patrol planes deployed in the area (from NATO as well as from the EU), the boats which regularly go up and down the Somali coast, as well as “other” information have made it possible to trace and know the different pirate locations, whether they are logistical depots, the “ports” where the boats taken hostage are held, as well as the different exits to the open sea. When a French Falcon 50 is based in Djibouti, like a Spanish or German P3 Orion, it is not “ not to count schools of dolphins 🙂” a soldier we interviewed said a few days ago.

Disrupt Pirates

This is the main objective of the operation. “ The goal is to break the hackers' organizational model. This breaks the pirates' feeling of impunity, it disrupts their logistical structure ". Even before firing a first shot, this objective could be achieved. Knowing the European will – and the new means given to the military – pirates could less often consider Somali beaches and coasts as a safe place. They could thus be forced to move the camps, for example towards the interior (NB: where there are other risks for pirates: other clans, the Al Shabaab, the armed forces, etc.) or to put more guards on their camps. “ If we manage to put a grain of sand in the pirates, we have already won a point. explains our expert.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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