Opinion: ′Atalanta mission bears too many risks′ | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 11.05.2012
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Opinion: 'Atalanta mission bears too many risks'

The enlarged mandate for the EU's anti-piracy mission means that EU troops will soon also be able to fight pirates on land. But DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz says that this is not the right path.

Named after the virgin hunter from Greek mythology, the EU's Atalanta mission has been trying to crack down on pirates off the Somali coast at the Horn of Africa since 2008. So far, the mission's been successful. The number of ships successfully attacked by pirates has indeed gone down.

But for those behind the piracy, it remains a successful business model. Their base of operations remains the failed state of Somalia, from which they can coordinate and launch their raids in the Indian Ocean. The new mandate is to change that. In the future, the pirates' bases on land are to be destroyed as well. But attacks are only to be permitted at the beach and within a zone two kilometers from the shoreline.

Ground battles

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Scheschkewitz warns the pirates might just adapt to the new situation

While the new mission does not authorize ground attacks, it still increases the dangers and risks for the EU soldiers involved. This was enough of a concern for Germany's opposition parties to not back the new mandate in parliament on Thursday. Helicopters and reconnaissance planes can be shot down from the beach with a bazooka – and there are plenty of those in civil-war-ravaged Somalia. And in the past, sandstorms caused helicopters to crash.

If that happened, the troops would have to go on land to help their stranded comrades. Troops might therefore quickly get drawn into ground battles reminiscent of the film 'Black Hawk Down,' which depicts a US helicopter shot down over the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

To what effect?

The increased risks of the mission could well be of very limited success. In the past, the pirates have proved that they can quickly adapt to new challenges. When the military patrols near the coast were stepped up, they simply went out further to attack freighters.

Should they now be faced with EU attacks on the shoreline, they might just withdraw their bases behind the two-kilometer zone and continue their operations as before. The past has shown that in terms of logistics and organization, the pirates are extremely flexible.

Human shields

Another risk of the new mandate is the likelihood that pirates will use local civilians within the two-kilometer zone as human shields. This would leave little room for the EU soldiers to act. Killing civilians would not fit into the concept of the anti-piracy mission. After all, the Atalanta mission also seeks to protect ships that are bringing in aid for the suffering Somali population.

Piracy needs to be fought and should be fought. But there are more effective ways to do this: For instance beefing up the Somali coast guards or going after the money of those behind the attacks.

The masterminds behind the pirates are running a lucrative and well-organized business. What they are interested in is keeping the country unstable. What Europe needs instead is a functioning state in Somalia – and not only to make international shipping routes safer. If Somalia becomes and remains a failed state, it will become a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists who will try to draw the EU troops into battles on land.

That way, the positive image that the mission has among the Somali people could turn into hatred against them and the West in general. Should that happen, the new mandate would prove to be a big mistake.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz /ai
Editor: Simon Bone

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