US asks UN to allow hunt for Somali pirates

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The United States is seeking international authorisation to hunt Somali pirates on land with the co-operation of Somalia's weak UN-backed government in one of the Bush administration's last major foreign policy initiatives.

The US circulated a draft Security Council resolution proposing that all nations and regional groups co-operating with Somalia's government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery "may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia", including its airspace. If the US military gets involved, it would be a dramatic turnabout from the US experience in Somalia in 1992-93 that culminated in a clash in Mogadishu when a warlord's militia shot down two Black Hawk and killed 18 Americans, dragging their bodies through the streets as crowds cheered. That led to a humiliating withdrawal of American forces.

Piracy off Somalia has intensified. There was a failed assault on a cruise ship in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. In September, the pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks and off Kenya in November they seized a Saudi supertanker carrying $100m (£67m) worth of crude oil. So far this year, they have attacked 100 ships and raked in an estimated $30m in ransoms for ships and crews. At present, the pirates hold 14 ships and 250 crew, including Britons.