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Leaders to discuss taking pirate fight to land

A high-level Somalia donors meeting in Brussels next week will focus on piracy.

Armed pirates stand over French hostages aboard the yacht "Tanit" in this undated handout picture released by the French Ministry of Defense, April 11, 2009. French special forces stormed the yacht in an assault that killed one hostage, but freed four. (Reuters)

BRUSSELS — The dramatic tale of the Capt. Richard Phillips’ rescue in the Gulf of Aden earlier this week captured the attention of the world and trained unprecedented attention on the increasing problem of Somali piracy.

Now U.S. and European officials are increasingly discussing the possibility of bringing the fight on land to address the roots of the problem in Somalia.

A high-level meeting here next week, officially billed as a Somalia donors’ conference, now will focus on the piracy problem.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is hosting the meeting and the guest list is packed with VIPs, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and stakeholders as crucial as Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. The United States will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Philip Carter and an official from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We are going to look at what can be done on land,” Solana’s spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said bluntly.

The EU’s maritime force in the Gulf of Aden, Operation Atalanta, launched in December with the mission to protect humanitarian shipments and escort commercial vessels. But with a maximum strength of six frigates and five reconnaissance aircraft, its muscle is limited.

“We knew it was going to be very difficult,” Gallach said, “and there should be no doubt that the international community is doing its utmost. But unfortunately it is not sufficient.”

Although a U.S.-sponsored U.N. resolution authorizes expanding chases into Somali territory, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in December that the United States was “not in the position to do that kind of land attack” due to lack of specific intelligence on who the pirates were and where the bases were located.

But this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated there’s been some quick work to rectify that. Among other anti-piracy measures she announced Wednesday, Clinton said, “We have a pretty good idea where the land bases are, and we want to know what the Somali government, what tribal leaders who perhaps would not like to have the international community bearing down on them, would be willing to do to rid their territory of these pirate bases.”