Friday, December 12, 2008

UNITED NATIONS | As Somalia‘s government crumbles, the U.S. is proposing that the United Nations authorize tracking down Somali pirates — not only at sea, but also on land and in Somali air space.

The United States is circulating the draft U.N. Security Council resolution as one of the Bush administration’s last major foreign policy initiatives. The resolution proposes that all nations and regional groups cooperating with Somalia’s U.N.-backed government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery “may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia.”

But Somalia’s struggling government may need even more propping up.

The council’s group that monitors Somalia reported Thursday that more than 15,000 soldiers and police — representing 80 percent of the government’s security capabilities — have deserted the government and fled with their vehicles, weapons and ammunition.

Since May, there has been a steady disintegration of Somalia’s fragile government, which earmarks 70 percent of its budget for security but spends little for that purpose because of corruption, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told the council.

Piracy is booming, meanwhile, with about 1,500 raiders based in the semiautonomous Puntland region demanding and getting millions of dollars.

Somalia’s government welcomed the U.S. initiative. Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said Thursday the government will offer any help possible.

If the U.S. military gets involved, it would mark a dramatic turnabout from the U.S. experience in Somalia in 1992-1993 that culminated in a deadly military clash in Mogadishu followed by a humiliating withdrawal of American forces.

A small number of U.S. Navy ships already are involved in patrolling the waters off Somalia. A senior administration official in Washington said Thursday that while the proposal would give the U.S. military more options in confronting the pirates, it does not mean the U.S. is planning a ground assault.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said the resolution would provide the possibility of taking action ashore, including from Somalia’s air space, in the event of timely intelligence on the pirates’ whereabouts. The official said it should not be assumed that such action would necessarily involve U.S. forces.

Without committing more U.S. Navy ships, the Bush administration wants to tap into what officials see as a growing enthusiasm in Europe and elsewhere for more effective coordinated action against the Somali pirates. Administration officials view the current effort as lacking coherence, as pirates commandeer more and bigger shipping prizes.

The U.S. resolution is expected to be presented at a session in Somalia on Tuesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It proposes that for a year nations “may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea and to otherwise prevent those activities.”

The draft also says Somalia’s government - whose president already wrote the United Nationstwice this month seeking help - suffers from a “lack of capacity, domestic legislation and clarity about how to dispose of pirates after their capture.”

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