Playing Whack-a-Mole with Somali Pirates

I questioned yesterday whether the raid to free Jessica Buchanan would help or hurt efforts to free an American freelance journalist who was captured on Saturday close to where Buchanan was being held.

Then there’s the American freelance journalist taken hostage Saturday from the same area, Galkayo, from where Buchanan was kidnapped last October.

Several local leaders in Galkayo had just returned from trying to secure the release of another American, a freelance journalist who was kidnapped last week in Galkayo. He remains in captivity in Hobyo, a pirate den on the Somali coast, because the pirates holding him refuse to let him go without a hefty ransom.

I would suggest his presence raises questions about what the ultimate goal for the raid was. Was it just Buchanan’s rescue, or the journalist’s, too?

Reuters quotes a local leader, currently negotiating for the release of the journalist, as saying that 12 helicopters remain on the ground.

“About 12 U.S. helicopters are now at Galkayo. We thank the United States. Pirates have spoilt the whole region’s peace and ethics. They are mafia,” Mohamed Ahmed Alim, leader of the Galmudug region, told Reuters.

He was speaking from Hobyo, a pirate base north of Haradheere, where he said he was negotiating the release of an American journalist seized on Saturday, also from Galkayo.

It turns out I was right. The pirates holding the journalist have moved the journalist three times since the Buchanan rescue.

“Holding hostages in one place is unlikely now because we are the next target,” [Somali pirate Hassan] Abdi said, referring to the raid in a phone conversation with The Associated Press. He expressed concern that the U.S. had pirate informants.

“It wasn’t just a hit and run operation, but long planned with the help of insiders among us,” Abdi said, noting the soldiers had struck at the time when the pirates were least on their guard.

The gang has moved an American kidnapped on Saturday in the northern Somali town of Galkayo three times in the last 24 hours, he said.

I’m curious, too, about Abdi’s claim we had informants from within the pirate group. Remember DOD claimed we took no captives from the pirates, but other sources said we took 3-5 captives back to Djibouti.

The AP story goes on to predict that pirates will increasingly keep their captives at sea, in mixed-nationality groups, to make such raids harder.

So I guess my suspicions yesterday were correct–this raid may do little to solve the pirate problem.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    In regard to the informant hypothesis, I would guess the answer is yes. As proof, I would point to the recent drone strike in Somalia that I mentioned this past weekend.

    I don’t believe it could have taken place without on-the-ground eyes and ears, and given that most US folks would kind of stick out, it is likely that we are using Somali locals.

    Another factor likely in play with regard to informants, and particularly with the “pirates” or run-of-the-mill criminal gangs is the greed factor. Pay-for-play is a favorite US tactic as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  2. Bob Schacht says:

    This story needs more of “the otherside” look at who these pirates are, and what their raison d’etre is. I’ve heard the claim that most of the “pirates” come from fishing families that have been ruined by big power fishing fleets that have depleted the Somali coastal waters from fish, rendering the population’s previous means of livelihood obsolete. Having been deprived of their traditional means of living, they have turned to attacking boats in their territorial waters.
    How Somalia’s Fishermen Became Pirates

    Bob in AZ

  3. orionATL says:

    on the other hand, it was well-timed to provide “live-action” around a content-empty sotu event and that’s what counts.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: We clearly have allies on the ground–the UN backed govt and African troops (and the local govt heads cited in some of these stories). But that doesn’t mean we have informants in the pirates.

    That said, I think it’s likely, and it may be that the 3-5 we flew to Djibouti have a nice life ahead of them.

  5. GulfCoastPirate says:

    I have mixed feelings about this pirate thing. These Somali guys are giving the whole industry a bad name. Where’s their Jean LaFitte?

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