19 March 2006

The US Navy vs Pirates round 99

So by now nearly all of you have read and heard about the attempts of pirates in small skiffs to stand up and challenge the US Navy.
The Reuters write up for their wire.

Okay you have linked over by now and are up to speed on this incident. Before anyone starts to think that these are a bunch of Johnny Depp wanna be's who have seen "Pirates of the Caribbean" too many times. These are not. Nor or they as some of the spin-misers will say these are misguided people. These are people that were looking to do serious harm to various ships through out the region to make money for the warlord that they belong to over in Somalia or Yemen or where ever near that strait they are based out off. This is one of those things that is part of Operation Enduring Freedom that isn't really getting a large amount of attention. That is the mission of various US and her Allies Navies to sweep selected areas in the world free of piracy. There has been a drastic step up for the straits that separate the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden and the rest of the Indian Ocean region.
However this isn't the first time that the US Navy has had to challenge pirates nor will it be the last. Pop-quiz time on American History... Name the foreign military action that President Jefferson authorized during his first term in office? 60 Secs on the clock go....... pencils down.

He authorized the US Navy and US Marine Corps to attack pirates off the Barbary Coast after they had seized a number of American Flagged Merchants Men and after they had seized a US man-o-war. These pirates were operating with the approval of the bashaw of Tripoli (sort of the city governor for the Ottoman Empire) and they were basically controlling the region along the straits of Sicily and around the Gulf of Sirt. Taking the ships and the crew and either having the captain of the ship pay a tribute or "toll" as the Caliph said, if not that then they would ransom the ship, cargo, and crew back to the home country. Up until Thomas Jefferson came into office nearly everyone in Europe was paying the toll and occasional ransom to free their ships and racked it up to a form of business. Jefferson didn't see it that way and tried to build a coalition between the European powers and the US to challenge this when he was a representative of the US to France under Washington, it didn't happen then cause the congress and the king of France was unwilling to fund the adventure at the time. Jefferson was willing to have George Washington fund the creation of 6 frigates. The USS United States (44 Guns), USS Constitution (44 Guns), USS President (44 Guns), USS Constellation (36 Guns) , USS Congress (36 Guns), USS Chesapeake(36 Guns). These ships were built in a number of shipyards up and down the East coast of the United States and a few of them were viewed as they were being built by John Paul Jones . Washington also authorized the creation of a Marine landing force as well. Total cost when signed into law was $688,888 on the 27th of March 1794.
The USS Philadelphia under command of one CDR William Bainbridge. She was sailing in conjunction with USS Constitution (a frigate with 44 guns, the same ship in Boston today), both of which were classed as Frigates. The schooners USS Enterprise, USS Nautilus, and USS Vixen all had 12 guns. Finally 2 small brigs named the USS Argus and USS Siren that both carried 16 guns. This force was lead by one Commodore Edward Preble who took as his flagship the USS Constitution. The ships were to take up a blockade of the Tripoli harbor and prevent the pirates from leaving their home port. For as well built the frigates were they did have a serious draw back to the smaller ships that the pirates were using that is how deep of water they could sail in. The shallow water and a deep water boat don't mix well and usually cause damage. In the end the USS Philadelphia ran aground on a reef, the Pirates at low tide board and seized the crew. In the end after months of bombarding and support from smaller European nations such as the state of Malta, Naples, Syracuse. It took a daring raid by one Stephen Decatur to blow up the USS Philadelphia and the over land march by a force of Marines and Greek Mercenaries to overthrow the bashaw and impose his brother who was living in Alexandria Egypt. His brother was one who had been replaced earlier by the current bashaw and was in the view of the US was the legitimate ruler of Tripoli. They attempted to be lifted by a ship to the Tunis peninsula. However that didn't work so they all marched over land from Benghazi on the far coast of the Gulf of Sirt around to Tripoli and march in and seized control. All of this occurred from 1801 to 1805. The same time that Jefferson had dealt with Napoleon and bought the Louisiana territory and sent William and Clark overland to investigate the new buy. This also sent the creation of US Navy and Marine Corps that would stand up pretty well against the Royal Navy and Royal Army during the War of 1812.
There were a number of firsts with this action:
  • This was the first time that the US fought the opening battle against terrorism (but it was called piracy before terrorism).
  • The first time that the US deposed a ruler and replaced them.
  • The first time that the US was involved in the Mid-East.
  • The first time that the US tried to build a coalition against terrorism and it failed.
  • The first time the US flexed is military muscle to protect its civilian population.
  • Finally this was also the first time that members of Congress were willing to give into the terrorists demands and recall the boys at war.

For a really good read on all the action, back room politicking, and creative ambassadorship check out "To the Shores of Tripoli: The Birth of the U.S. Navy and Marines "by A. B. C. Whipple .

Like I said at the top, the action today wasn't the first and it won't be the last if there is still a strong US Navy and Marine Corps out there protecting the US's intrests.

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