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Gates says U.S. lacks intelligence to fight Somalia pirates
MANAMA (Reuters) - The United States lacks the intelligence needed to pursue the fight against pirates on Somali soil, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday.
His comments came days after the U.S. delegation at the United Nations circulated a draft resolution that would give countries the right to pursue pirates on land as well as at sea.
Analysts say that pursuing pirates on land is crucial to any military response to attacks that have targeted dozens of ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent months.
"With the level of information we have at the moment, we're not in a position to do that kind of land-based operation," Gates told a regional security conference in Bahrain. "Our first need is intelligence, (to know) who is behind it."
Referring to media reports that "two to three clans or extended families" were behind the pirate attacks on ships off the Somali coast, Gates said: "If we can identify who those clans are then we can operate on land under the auspices of the United Nations and seek out ways to minimize collateral damage."
Scores of attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent months have pushed up insurance costs, earned Somali pirates tens of millions of dollars in ransom and prompted foreign navies to rush to protect merchant shipping.
Some 20 ships are still being held by sea gangs, among them a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.
On Friday, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, who commands the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and oversees a coalition of navies fighting piracy off Somalia, also expressed concern about the difficulty in identifying the pirates.
He said firms should use armed security guards much more to protect their vessels.
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, an expert for maritime security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said adding land operations to those at sea is crucial to an effective military response to pirate attacks.
"The single most difficult problem the forces are facing is that they don't ... have the jurisdiction to chase them into their natural habitat on land and to deal with them there," Roy-Chaudhury told Reuters.
He said the international military response to piracy off the Somali coast lacked coordination.
"Military efforts to combat piracy continue to be fairly ad hoc, and not in terms of any strategic thinking or in terms of any attempted institutionalization," he said.
The European Union this week decided as an initial step to send three warships to the region, as well as two maritime surveillance aircraft from France and Spain.
(Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Sami Aboudi)
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