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Passing The Test

We talked a week ago about Somali pirates and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We’re on the subject of piracy again, but we can’t pretend this post is on topic. That’s OK, though — on Fridays we have a license to wander a bit. So here’s what’s on our mind.

The rescue of the American merchant marine captain last week went well, we thought, with everyone in the chain of command making good decisions along the way, including the White House. So we were surprised to hear about an authoritative-sounding story that was highly critical of the Commander-in-Chief.

While Barack Obama is basking in praise for his “decisive” handling of the Somali pirate attack on a merchant ship in the India Ocean, reliable military sources close to the scene are painting a much different picture of the incident – accusing the president of employing restrictive rules of engagement that actually hampered the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips and extended the drama at sea for days.

That’s from a publication called the G2 Bulletin by Joseph Farah (here). He’s the founder of World Net Daily and has a big audience.

He also said multiple opportunities to free the captain of the Maersk Alabama from three pirates were missed, according to his sources — because a Navy SEAL team was not immediately ordered to the scene and was then forced to operate under strict, non-lethal rules of engagement. The White House, he said, “refused to authorize deployment of a Navy SEAL team to the location for 36 hours, despite the recommendation of the on-scene commander.”

So we asked our own expert — an active-duty Marine Corps officer who recently spent time off the Somali coast aboard a US Navy ship, in charge of maritime security.

Here’s what he said:

I think this is quite ridiculous. The on-scene commander was acting within the established ROEs [rules of engagement]. The piracy area is not a declared combat zone or (to my knowledge) a hostile-fire area. The governing order on deadly force states that it may be used to 1) protect assets involving national security, 2) protect assets not involving national security but inherently dangerous to others, 3) protect public health or safety, 4) effect arrest, apprehension, or prevention of escape, or 5) in self-defense or defense of others. The only applicable condition is #5.

There wasn’t, to me, a compelling reason to push the limits of the ROEs in this case. The pirates were not capable of reinforcing or withdrawing. The US Navy had 100% of the initiative, and legally they were bound to wait until an imminent threat of harm to the hostage.

As far as the timeline goes, the decision to move a tier-one asset (such as a SEAL team) around the globe is made at a very high level and I doubt Mr Farah is privy to the deliberations. (When the Faina was hijacked with the Ukrainian weapons aboard, we were en route as the story was breaking on CNN.)

The SEALs were evidently ashore when the incident began, and the BAINBRIDGE was 300 miles offshore, beyond helo range. To get to the BAINBRIDGE, the SEALs did a parachute jump into the ocean and were recovered by a small boat. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in a few hours. The guy who wrote the article is criticizing the Pentagon because the SEALs showed up 36 hours later. Getting there the next day is not bad, given the circumstances.

I have a good friend who is a drill instructor at Parris Island. I once asked him if he ever ran out of things to yell at the recruits. He said, No, because even if they do everything right, they didn’t do it fast enough. I think that’s what’s happening here with the critics of the administration.
At any rate, the correct decisions are the ones that lead to good outcomes, so this passes the test.

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