Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

Navy head cool on Somalia strikes

pirates leave the Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina for Somalia (8 October 2008)
Adm Gortney said the pirates were hard to distinguish from civilians

The top US naval commander in the Gulf and Indian Ocean has dampened hopes that piracy off Somalia's coast can be tackled by attacking bases on land.

Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney said that such a policy would be hampered by the difficulties of identifying the pirates and the risks of harming civilians.

He suggested shipping companies should instead employ armed security guards to protect their vessels from hijackings.

Adm Gortney was speaking on the first day of a conference on Gulf security.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates later told delegates that the US would consider attacking the land bases of pirates in Somalia only once it had better intelligence.

He said that shipping companies had to take initial safety measures, including speeding up when they see pirates approach and pulling up their ladders, AP reported.

The security gathering in Bahrain is being attended by representatives from 25 countries.

I see people trying to look for an easy military solution to a problem that demands a non-kinetic solution
Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney
US Fifth Fleet

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq will also feature, as will the increasing concerns Arab Gulf states have about Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

Earlier, US naval officials hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai on board the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, to assure him that the US military was taking all precautions to avoid civilian casualties while carrying out air strikes on his country.

'Collateral damage concerns'

The BBC's Frank Gardner in Manama says there seems to be no easy fix for the growing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Just as the US has been circulating a draft UN Security Council resolution calling for permission to "take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia", the Pentagon's top naval officer in the region has effectively said that is not the solution, our correspondent says.

USS Howard (file)
Adm Gortney also rejected the idea of a naval blockade of Somalia's coast

Speaking at the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, Adm Gortney voiced doubts over the wisdom of attack the pirates' land bases because of the difficulties of identifying them and the potential risks of harming 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.

"If you're going to do kinetic strikes into the pirate camps, the positive ID and the collateral damage concerns cannot be overestimated."

"They're irregulars - they don't wear uniforms," he added.

Adm Gortney said that the solution lay in bringing stability to Somalia, but that would not happen soon. In the meantime, shipping companies should employ armed guards on board ships, he said.

"I'm a firm believer... because that's what we'd do ashore," he said. "You're working against criminal activity. That's what I'm pushing."

Adm Gortney also rejected the idea of establishing a naval blockade of the Somali coast, saying it would be considered an act of war, and that the size of the coastline would require so many ships that "it would be very, very difficult".

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific