Marines transfer a handcuffed pirate suspect, to a processing area on the Navy ship Lewis and Clark in the Gulf of Aden, Feb. 12, 2009. Marine and Navy leaders say that defeating piracy requires a multipronged approach that also targets financial and logistics networks. (The Associated Press)
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FORT PICKETT, Va. — Pirate battles could be in store for soon-to-deploy Marine expeditionary units, but Marine and Navy leaders say that defeating piracy requires a multipronged approach that also targets financial and logistics networks.
"It's not bad work to go shooting up pirates that are trying to board ships," Col. Mark J. Desens, the 26th MEU's commander, said during predeployment training here in early April. "Until something better comes along, we'll be satisfied doing that."
But that's only part of the solution, said Desens, who is preparing for a likely float around the Horn of Africa.
"The [pirate] in the skiff is not making $5 million for every ransom," he said. "Somebody else is getting that money, so … we need to trace the money back and go find that guy."
Earlier this year, Col. David W. Coffman, commander of the 13th MEU, offered a point-blank solution to piracy problems.
"The answer is perfectly simple: Kill the pirates," Coffman said in February, about seven months after the 13th MEU returned from patrolling off Africa's east coast.
Other military leaders, however, have echoed the call for a comprehensive approach.
Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the commander of Naval Forces Europe, said there needs to be a concerted, international effort to establish order in destabilized countries such as Somalia.
It is too expensive for U.S. warships to continue indefinitely patrolling for pirates in waters off the Horn of Africa, Fitzgerald told Pentagon reporters in April.
Meanwhile, Marines and sailors at sea continue the task of targeting the pirate crafts and detaining those they can apprehend. A new policy issued last summer redefined the MEU's core capabilities to include an emphasis on maritime interception operations including counterpiracy.
Since then, MEUs have engaged pirates in high-profile cases including the seizure of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama a year ago. Coffman and the 13th MEU were called in for support after Somali pirates seized the ship and took its captain hostage.
In February 2009, a detachment from the 26th MEU sent to the Gulf of Aden ran a brig for suspected pirates.
Marines with the 26th MEU are now training aboard Navy ships near Norfolk, Va. They plan to deploy again sometime in the coming fall and likely will travel through the Mediterranean and on to the Central Command area of operations, which includes pirate-infested waters off Africa's east coast.
The West Coast-based 15th MEU completed its predeployment exercises in late April. They likely will travel through the Middle East.