Isn’t it amazing how quickly, how decisively, and how effectively our armed forces can act, when they’re given the right orders and are allowed to do their job?
Congratulations to everyone involved in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, who had been held hostage by a ragtag band of brigands off the coast of Somalia. After days of fruitless negotiations failed to win his release, a team of Navy SEALs were dropped near the USS Bainbridge. They took up position on the rear of the ship and used night-vision goggles to watch developments on the pirate boat.
Their commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, had authorized them to use deadly force if it appeared that Phillips’ life was in danger. When one of the pirates pointed an AK-47 at the captain’s head, the sharpshooters didn’t hesitate. Three shots rang out and three pirates fell to the deck, dead. Within moments, the fourth pirate was in custody and Phillips was safely on the deck of the Bainbridge.
You could feel the jubilation as the media reported the good news. The rescue was one of the proudest moments we’ve had in quite a while. But the burning question is, what happens next?
The pirates, who have been allowed to operate with impunity from the anarchistic disaster known as Somalia, immediately vowed that they would retaliate. One of the pirates boasted to the Associated Press, “In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying. We will retaliate for the killings of our men.”
In the next 48 hours, pirates attacked five ships and took four of them hostage. They currently hold more than a dozen ships; some 200 crewmen remain captive, as they wait for the multi-million-dollar ransoms to be paid.
What will it take to end this madness? Increased military patrols will help. But there is no way enough ships can be stationed in the Horn of Africa to protect every ship that passes through. We are talking about an area of 1.1 million square miles — four times the size of Texas. Some 30,000 ships transit those waters every year. There is no way the 60 military vessels on station there now can guarantee their safety. Six times as many wouldn’t be enough.
Nor does it make sense to arm the crews, in the hopes that they can defend themselves. As the rescue of Captain Phillips proved, such actions should be left to the experts.
What then should be done?
Until now, piracy in these waters has been a very low-risk, high-reward operation. Let’s turn that around. Ship owners should be urged not to pay any more ransoms. If they won’t comply, let’s close U.S. ports to them.
But far more important, the war against the pirates must be taken to their home ports. Their sanctuaries must be invaded; their hostages rescued; their leaders arrested; and their boats and weapons seized or destroyed.
I applaud President Obama for authorizing the actions that led to the rescue of Captain Phillips. Now the question is will the United States and its allies use the same determination to end the threat of piracy along the coast? Or will a band of brigands be allowed to continue their criminal ways?
It’s time for the civilized world to say, “no more!”