The previous post, Tripoli, has generated some questions, both via email and via comment. Additionally I’ve gotten a number of questions in a private military forum, where Tripoli was reposted (without permission initially, but I believe we now have that squared away. Folks, please, if you’re going to repost my work, either give me credit and a link, or ask me via email first, otherwise I have to get all soggy and hard to light. Thanks).
Anyway, it seems I should have been more clear.
A number of folks asked if I was advocating opening a third war in Somalia, and a) if so, are you fucking nuts? Or b) if not, what exactly are you proposing with your wild talk of military action, pirates, and dead men?
Allow me to expand:
Short answer: No, I am not proposing that the US declare war on or in Somalia – though I do think that something needs to be done there, sooner rather than later. But, I am strongly in favor of doing something forceful about the pirates now, up to and including blowing them the hell out of the water as a first option. Thank you and good night.
First: a question, do you, Jim, approve of how Obama handled this situation?
Folks, the President didn’t handle this situation. He did what any good CINC does, he deferred to his advisors, i.e. the people who are experts and professionals in this area – the Joint Chiefs including the Chief of Naval Operations, the CIA, the Secretary of Defense, and so on – then he issued the proper orders and delegated all decisions to the on-scene commander by saying publically, “I have authorized the use of deadly force.” This is a code, sort of. As an order it is completely unnecessary, the use of deadly force was already authorized, as it always is when American lives are in danger. This is what we in the military do. This is our job. This is why we exist, of course deadly force is authorized, it is always authorized. It was authorized the minute Captain Castellano of USS Bainbridge received orders sending his ship into harm’s way. We operate under standing rules of engagement and a concept called command by negation. If the president had said, Whoa! Slow down, Rambo. I hereby order you to unload your weapons and under no circumstance are you to use harsh language - well that would be an actual order and command by negation (it would also mean that you’re under United Nations control and you’re about to get slaughtered, but I digress). By saying, “I authorize the use of deadly force,” what the president was actually saying to the on-scene commander was this, “I’ve got your back, do what you need to do, everybody else shut the fuck up.” You may not understand this, but the military certainly does. And this is precisely what the President should have done. It’s not strictly necessary, but it is a whole lot easier to do your job when the Chain of Command backs you all the way to the top. Cuts down on mid level flunkies getting involved.
So, yeah, I do approve of President Obama’s “handling” of the situation – he did precisely what he should have. He turned it over to the experts and got on about his business. This wasn’t the only crisis last week, other Americans were in danger too.
It’s not our problem.
It’s not. Somalia is one of many, many trouble spots around the world. We can’t fix them. No, really, we can’t.
Folks, it never works.
OK, it usually never works – Military intervention in Panama and Grenada and maybe one or two two other piddly places excepted. But then there’s Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, The Congo, Liberia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, El Salvador and right down to Iraq and especially Afghanistan – and we could do this all day. It doesn’t work. It never works. We spend shitloads of money. We send food. We send blankets. We send soldiers. We die. But people who are hell bent on tearing themselves apart are going to do so until there is nothing left but corpses and scorched earth and either one serious motherfucker of a warlord takes over and ends the war, or one side manages to kill every goddamned body on the other side. Period. You can piss and moan and cry and plead and pray and wish in one hand and shit in the other, but that is how it is.
We’ve been to Somalia.
And we didn’t have the stomach for it, just like Lebanon.
So we got out.
We can’t go back, the American pubic won’t stand for it right now. Two miserable wars in progress and the memory of dead Blackhawk pilots being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Folks, it ain’t happening – even if it is the correct, ultimate, and moral thing to do. We didn’t make this mess (Oh, yes, it could be argued that we made it worse, but we didn’t make it in the first place. The Somalis themselves did that). And to be frank, nobody gives an Ebola infested fuck about Africa, there is no support for going in. None. Sorry, but there it is.
Fixing Somalia is an exercise in nation building. That’s the United Nation’s job. They suck at it, for a large number of reasons, not the least of which is that in order to fix Somalia you’re going to have to conquer and pacify it first, i.e. you’re going to have to kill a lot of people and then you’re going to have to stick around for a good long time. Good luck and don’t forget to write.
So, now we have to live with the consequences. Piracy is one of those consequences.
This is our responsibility.
At least as far as protecting American interests goes. That includes protecting American flagged vessels which the Navy is legally and honor bound to do, and American interests – which are in our best, er, interest (example, though you may not realize it, piracy in this part of the world has a direct impact on world oil prices – this affects all Americans - even those who live in hippy communes at one with nature and don’t use gasoline … or soap. What affects Americans, affects the rest of the world, especially places like, oh, China).
What I am strongly advocating is that the Navy be assigned to fulfill its primary charter, i.e. ensure America's unrestricted and safe assess to the sea lanes. This is the Navy’s first and foremost responsibility as a military force, it is why it exists in the first place. This why you pay for it.
A couple of points first:
- The Navy spends way too much time doing the Coast Guard's job vis a vis the Goddamned endless "War on Drugs." There is at least two major combatants, cruisers or destroyers, in the south eastern Pacific right now, chasing drug smugglers. There are at least three more in the Caribbean, and another in the Atlantic. Along with dozens of aircraft and ground assets and thousands of military personnel. That mission accomplishes nothing, it is an endless unwinnable feel good public relations boondoggle and has almost zero impact on the drug trade. Turn it over to the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security and send the Navy assets to the Horn of Africa – they shouldn’t be doing law enforcement anyway, and they especially shouldn’t be working for those morons in the DEA.
- UN Sanctions. The Navy spends way too much time supporting UN Sanctions. Don't get me wrong, supporting UN sanctions is fine - providing you've got the time and assets and nothing else to do, but it's not our primary responsibility. Protecting US interests and citizens on the high seas is. First, foremost, and always.
- We're robbing Peter to pay Paul, we're building hi-tech ships with no missions and decommissioning ships like Ticonderoga, Yorktown, Valley Forge, Vincennes, Gates, and the FFG's in order to pay for it. Those five cruisers and the FFG's were only halfway through their service life and were more than suited to the mission of protecting US shipping. Perfectly suited in fact, since Frigates were specifically designed as convoy escorts and in fact were initially designated as "Destroyer Escorts." But in typical Pentagon logic, because those ships didn't have Vertical Launcher capability and couldn't fire the latest generation of missiles (both AAW and Cruise) they were worthless (and more importantly they didn’t keep Congressional constituents employed). And yet, there is no need whatsoever for advanced anti-air capability in 99% of the force projection situations we face at the moment - like pirates, or the anti-drug mission, or force projection in places like East Timor. Not every ship needs to be an advanced weapon platform capable of engaging the Mythical Soviet Union that Could Have Been If Only It Didn't Collapse Fifteen Years Ago and Become Our Ally. We don't need either SM3 satellite shoot down capability or Tactical Tomahawk capability to take out a couple of assholes in a plastic skiff. What we need are cheap fast light patrol craft, exactly like the FFG. Strip away the sonar dome, and take the AAW missile systems off and gut the ASW torpedo bay and load them up for littoral combat. Simple, cheap, quick and the taxpayer gets the benefit of having already paid for it.
Of course, that's not how it works. Congress will bitch about hi-tech, hideously expensive weapons – but what they are really complaining about are hi-tech, hideously expensive weapons built in somebody else’s district. Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals, Moderates – it doesn’t matter – they all talk about fiscal responsibility and then run right out to spend billions on whatever they think the military needs.
Let me give you an example: USS Bainbridge is an Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer, which is one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world. You need to take down a hundred inbound targets, she's your ship. New to fire a salvo of Tomahawks fifteen hundred miles inland? She can do it. Need to run down a couple of dicks in a plastic skiff? You're screwed. It's like killing a gnat with a atomic bomb.
The problem is that the DoD, Pentagon, and Congress are obsessed with Bigger, Shinier, Faster, high-tech Pie In the Sky. These are the people who think flying a billion dollar invisible bomber on a 36 hour round trip mission against a country that doesn't even have an air defense system is a good idea and we need more of it! I suspect that these men are the ones who buy Viagra in bulk lots from Mexico.
Bottom line. We have time tested tactics for dealing with pirates. We have everything we need. We don't need anything new.
Here’s how you do it:
1) Until the pirate problem is eradicated, convoy American and allied shipping in the east Indian ocean. Dispatch a CG and a couple of FFG's (Or stripped down FF’s) or PC's to escort and patrol. Just as we did in the gulf during the Tanker war. The Navy already has tactics and procedures for this, so do the merchant carriers. Put the plan into action. If you can get international assets to assist, fine, do so.
1b) Arm the merchantmen - the shipping companies need to take some responsibility for their own defense, just as any business does by hiring guards and putting up a fence. Now there are definite issues here, you can’t just give the Merchant crews guns and drop them off at the pier. First the insurance companies would have a cow. Second, the union would have another cow, sideways. Third, the merchant seamen aren’t Marines and didn’t sign up for armed combat and I don’t blame them for being reluctant to get involved in armed conflict. I wouldn’t want to either. But, just as companies hire armed guards on land, they can do so at sea. There are any number of security outfits that can supply maritime security personnel, which can embark each ship in the transit zone and then transfer to other ships as necessary. It’s important to understand that I’m only talking about four or five man teams, not an army. And that’s all that’s necessary, the pirates are not coming alongside in 300 man sloops of war with cutlass and grapple, they are four teenaged dicks with rusty AK47's in a plastic skiff. Six maritime security guys with decent small-arms could hold a pirate assault off. Especially if the Merchant crew is assisting with a couple of 3" fire hoses and the main DC pump (trust me here, try to climb up a grapple line with a 400psi stream of 3” water from a main fire hose pounding on your noggin, really not happening, the advantage is with the defenders. Always). Combine that with some standard ship security modifications like security doors on the pilothouse, engine, and rudder rooms with a couple of safe rooms for the crew and you can hold them off until the Navy helos show up and vaporize the bastards with the minigun – and the cost of carrying the security bubbas and making the modifications would be offset by lowered insurance rates.
2) Form up a task force, built around an LCC which acts as homebase, air field, and command and control. Break a couple of Aries class hydrofoils out of mothballs, or fast Patrol Coastals, or better yet a couple of USCG 210 fast cutters and whatever international support as is provided. Load up the LCC with a couple of assault helos and UAV's and Marines - then go hunting. Basic policy as follows, heave to and prepare to be boarded, or get blown out of the fucking water. Period. You get one level 3 query, one level 1 warning, 1 shot across the bow, and then as many HSMST salvos as it takes to turn you into a smoking hole in the water. Thanks and come again. Trust me on this, the Navy is very, very good at this.
2b) you can base this task force out of Mombassa, Kenya. That's Kenya's contribution to their own security. They get to pay for the fleet support in return for protection. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait can contribute the fuel, since it’s their tankers we’ll be protecting. Everything else is just window dressing. The ships involved come from the standard West Pac/Gulf rotation. You detach them for a month from Gulf Duty and let them go chase pirate, they’ll love it. Gulf duty sucks. Killing pirates rocks.
3) Give the pirates two weeks to free all prisoners and vessels. Then storm the harbor with a full assault force and take those ships at gun point. Whatever it takes. Give the countries who own those vessels the opportunity to participate under our Aegis - this is not a UN operation, but it could be a NATO mission - or to pay the ransom before the assault, their choice. But when time is up, it's up. Each country could retake its own vessel, and we provide support and protection while they do it – that way if the hostages onboard die, it’s the respective country’s look out. While the assault is going on, use airpower, manned or unmanned, and special forces to take out every single boat that looks like it could be used for piracy in the harbor, i.e. every plastic hulled skiff with a rack of outboards. Fishing trawlers and such aren’t fast enough to catch a freighter or outrun the Navy, they get to live and be used to feed people. Unless we catch them later engaged in piracy, in which case they get blown the hell up. We don’t set foot on land.
4) Then clear Somali waters and impose an absolutely strict blockade. Nothing gets in, nothing gets out. No aid, no relief, no help, no nothing. Somalia wants help, they can form a government, liquidate the pirates by whatever means they deem proper and petition the UN for aid after the country is secure.
Have a fine Navy day.