Rescue Mission and Upping the Stakes in Somalia


Yesterday, we received the pleasant news that a Navy SEAL team freed two kidnapping victims in Somalia, Poul Hagen Thisted and Jessica Buchanan.

I wish to express my gratitude to all of the members of the rescue team and to the many supporting units that made the rescue possible. Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Very well done. I am also grateful that the President made the decision to authorize the attempt.

A rescue team parachuted near a compound at night, walked to the compound, and killed the pirates. Then, helicopters picked up the rescuers and the victims and left.

There is never a guarantee that the victims will not be killed before the rescue can be affected. The President decided to order that the risk be taken, in part because one of the captives, an American named Jessica Buchanan, was ill and possibly in danger of dying of an infection.

One pleasant improvement over the press releases about this rescue as compared to the Osama removal operation is that, so far, fewer details are being released. My preference would be to not even state that Navy SEALS were involved, but instead simply say, “The US Military and its allies conducted a successful rescue of two kidnap victims in Somalia yesterday, and all nine pirates were killed without loss to the rescue team or the victims.” Which units? How many rescuers? How did they do it? Which allies? They did it with magic fairy dust and a light saber. Leave the world guessing.

There have been some interesting comments by members of the media in response to the rescue. One commentator focused on the fact that the US and its allies rarely visit the locations where the pirates are in Somalia. True. In my view, a few more unannounced visits by unidentified US military units would go a long way toward reducing piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Pirates have been left to live safely and comfortably in their warrens for too long, and many of them are increasing their inventories of military equipment. Saudi Arabia has openly accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of training and supplying the pirates. This would be consistent with the IRG’s past conduct, and consistent with its long-standing policy of supporting terrorism against nearly anyone.

The pirates have, in a couple of recent cases, used highly sophisticated electronics equipment to track and identify targets. It’s not the sort of equipment that one normally sees at garage sales in Somalia.

The equipment and training might, in fact, be coming from IRG units. The Iranian government would likely deny any allegations, but the IRG does not take orders from the Iranian “government.” They take orders from their own leadership and the simple-minded, bogus religious leaders who they support. These are no longer the Revolutionary Guards thugs of the eighties.

The mullahs may understand a limited number of things about the world beyond their personal harems and hash dens, but they have always clearly understood that normal Iranians would not indefinitely tolerate the sort of abuse that they intended to dish out. To deal with the fact that they have always known they deserved to be stoned to death by their countrymen, they have consistently poured oil revenues into expanding the IRG and improving its capabilities.

The mullahs have succeeded in their goal. The IRG is now very large and very capable. The one draw back to that strategy is the same one that Hitler had to deal with on “The Night of the Long Knives” in Germany on June 30, 1934. Hitler’s Nazi paramilitary, the SA, and its senior members had become too powerful, and it became a threat to the very man who it was supposed to be working for. Hitler had to use his other state police organizations to quickly wipe out Ernst Rohm, the leader of the SA, and disband his many followers.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any pending IRG plots to replace the quirky mullahs who run Iran. It is, however, operating with increasing independence from its own unified command system, and that makes it more likely that the IRG is supplying the pirates.

The other source of weapons and technical support for the pirates is wealthy businessmen in the region. Certain wealthy businessmen are reputed to be supporting the pirates with the intent of the pirates conducting more lucrative raids and sharing the profits with them.

Given that most wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen live above the law (whatever small bit of law there may be in their country) this is a possibility. The fact that some pirates have now been operating out of Yemen supports this notion. Also, two hijackings have recently taken place far outside of the anti-pirate patrol area off of the coast of Somalia, which indicates that the pirates are vastly improving their operational capabilities.

The common thread among pirates of various culture groups is that they like profit and dislike loss. They especially dislike the loss of their own lives. By operating against pirate bases in Somalia and Yemen whenever the mood moves them to do so, the US military could, at a low cost in dollars and lives (our lives), change the profit/risk ratio in the pirating business in the Indian Ocean.

Most pirates are not suicidal. In my opinion it’s long been time to up the stakes.

32 comments on “Rescue Mission and Upping the Stakes in Somalia

  1. tomwisk says:

    The SEALS did it. It’s about time we kicked a little thug @ss in Somalia. Love the idea about keeping the branch of service and numbers a secret. We don’t need to be the world’s policeman but we should have the perogative to administer a bitch slap every now and again. We could’ve left a little momento, like wiping out a pirate base but that’s something else. Getting in and out was necessary.

    • J Holmes says:

      I agree that we should not be the world’s hallway monitors. In the case of the Pirates we have a direct maritime interest and an interest in the growing secondary threat that the pirates present.

      I have long advocated a removal of sea assets from the pirates. Their docks and speed boats are vulnerable to attack helicopters, harriers, and naval gun fire. We keep enough of all three in the region and they routinely burn up ammo for practice any way. For more complex targets we might occasionally have a few boots on the ground for a few minutes.

      The notion that a few thugs could routinely take modern vessels at will from nations with the means to destroy them has always seemed absurd to me.

      • Totally agree with removal of sea assets.

        • If history shows us anything it is that being the “cop on the beat” metaphorically and literally acts as a deterrent, gives us quick response capability in an emergency and stabilizes trade routes and logistical processes strategically,

          Having a strong psychological edge in the strategic battles around the world is as important as surprise is in winning them.

  2. Tori Nelson says:

    I’m just realizing fairy dust wasn’t responsible for all those rescues in the past. I must admit. I’m a little disappointed.

    • J Holmes says:

      Tori don’t be disappointed. The press probably invented the entire story. They don’t know about the fairy dust dispensers that the Army developed so they just make stuff up.

      It occurs to me that Thomas has likely grown since that picture was taken. They all seem to stubbornly grow away from their baby identity even when we don’t want them to. Can we get a view of the newer bigger chattering Thomas?

  3. I get a little giddy inside when I think about US Navy Seals going in and kicking pirate ass and then saving hostages! Man, it’s the stuff movies are made of.

    Great post, Piper. 🙂

  4. Gene Lempp says:

    Big thanks to our bravest for their efforts in Somalia and elsewhere. I agree that the media should only be given general information and let them gripe if they want, the story is never worth the risk of a life.

    I’ve long been of the mind, and am most likely “old school” in this attitude, that sink the boat and drop one survivor on the shore to tell about it, repeated as often as needed, is an effective way to deal with the Somali piracy issue (and a few others globally). For those that fret about the loss of life in this suggestion let me point out this: when a person takes a criminal action that endangers or costs the lives of others, then with that action they suspend their own right to a protected life.

    Great post, Holmes, much thanks to your brave comrades.

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Gene. In the case of these pirates I don’t think of it as a “loss of life”. We are just trying to help them. They want those 72 virgins in the sky and we just want to help them. It’s all part of my cultural sensitivity program.

      People forget that the average Somalian woman, child, and farmer is living in a hell infested by and indeed controlled by these pirates.

  5. Julie Glover says:

    I don’t know why we think that if we’re nice to people, they’ll play nice with us. Some people are crazy and violent and need a big butt-kicking to put them back in their place. We don’t need to be the world’s policemen, but we do want to be the toughest kid on the playground willing to smack the bullies when needed. And I agree with keeping details secret. We do not need to let others know how we work the magic.

  6. J Holmes says:

    Hi Julie. I agree with you. The “talk nice” concept is usually a good first guess. We have to recognize and accept the cultural norms and values of anyone that we deal with in foreign policy. I can’t imagine needing to raid a pirate base in a nation like Chile or Japan. If there were one there the local people and government would destroy it before anyone else could.

    Even in the lawless Somalia we did try to talk and the talk failed. Except in the most dire emergencies we pursue diplomacy first and I think it is right to do so. Various tribal communities that are trying to conduct agriculture, fishing, and have something resembling a civilized community have begged the west to destroy the pirates.

    The pirates don’t represent the average Somalian any more than trigger happy crack dealers represents the average American.

    I admire unarmed missionaries and aid workers that are willing to go into a place like Somalia and try to help. They often pay with their lives.

  7. Catherine Johnson says:

    About time that’s fantastic news! I hope they continue though, because the other captives might suffer as a result now. The Uncle of a very good friend of mine is one of the captives. Their health is terrible obviously. This brings a bit hope, I wonder if has anything to do with me emailing someone high up in Amnesty International – yeah right lol!

  8. Your right, its not like there is not already a precedent for it…special operations and Marines have a wide history in the area. With Iran on the move it should not surprise us that they will used such groups to drive their interest..their interest of course anything that caused problems for the west and their agenda.

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Lewis. I agree with you. The easiest analyst desk in the CIA has to be Iran. Has there ever been a more predictable bunch?

  9. J Holmes says:

    Hi Catherine. Your friend’s uncle should not suffer as a result of the recent rescue. The pirates are by no means all connected.

    Letters to the White House and the Senate would help. The military and or the CIA would need to advise the president that they feel they have adequate reliable information with which to conduct an operation with a reasonable expectation of success.

    Regardless of who is sitting in the oval office they always know that they are playing with people’s lives when they give orders for an operation and it weighs heavily on them.

    Nobody has ever spent a year in that office without aging five years.

  10. Maybe the pirates will screw up and highjack an Israeli vessel. Remember Entebbe? This raid reminded me of a small scale raid on Entebbe.

    • J Holmes says:

      It could happen but Israel has limited naval forces capable of operations in the Indian Ocean. They would likely need to rely on assets from the US or other Western naval powers. They do not have an amphibious reserve afloat in the area.

      • True..but that has never been there goal…quick response teams that can go anywhere in the world is there strength now…sure we could help them…but with the strategically blind in the white house at the moment..its doubtful even if overtly we needed to help Israel, much less covertly.

        • J Holmes says:

          Hi Lewis. I suspect that Israel’s ability to conduct operations in Somalia is currently rather limited. Their exposure there is also limited so it’s not an issue for them.

  11. I’m going to start practicing fighting with fairy dust and a light saber- just FYI.
    I agree don’t say the SEALs, just say our military. I think we need to do something about the piracy running rampant- I’m envisioning a bad-ass armada and wouldn’t it be nice if others countries pitched in?

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Alica. There is already enough of an armada in the Indian Ocean we just need to occasionally unleash some small part of it.

  12. Chaz says:

    I agree…. just keep the reports simple. What is the value of the details anyway? Opportunity to hype the story for the benefit of the media to sell more advertising space?

    The fact that the rescue was successful is enough for me.



  13. J Holmes says:

    Thanks for stopping by Chaz. Thanks for your useful article about leaving the past in the past.

  14. Hi Holmes. I agree wholeheartedly, that the two people have been rescued is enough. How, by who and everything else just gives those with a grudge a target for their rage, and a better idea of who they need to disrupt.


    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Nigel. I agree 100%

      • It’s great that they were rescued, great that the military gets some cudo’s for it..but just as in the Bin Laden operation that lead to his death…no details should have been given…details of such operations and those involved make to much of a target on a local level..specifically the Seals the last two times. Anyone who researches a little knows where they train, what cities there families live in….to much of a target for no reason…..there is more but then I would be specifying to much as well.. Special operations and their people should never be named at all…especially for use in a Presidential campaign.

  15. […] The ever-brilliant Holmes takes a look at this weeks daring rescue of two hostages in Rescue Mission and Upping the Stakes in Somalia. […]

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