In today's episode of "Pirates," the most powerful Navy in the world remains in a stand-off with four pirates in a small boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So devastatingly threatening to US national security are these pirates that the Grand Puba of militarism, Gen. David Petraeus is now running the operation to rescue American hostage, Richard Phillips. And to defeat these nasty pirates, Petraeus is turning to his steady friend... a good old fashioned military surge.
On the U.S. side, it looks like this: The warship, the USS Bainbridge, is on the scene and "American Naval reinforcements" are en route with Petraeus saying he had called in "other warships." The guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton (no, this is not a joke) is reportedly among the ships deploying to the area. An "FBI hostage-rescue team, practiced in a patient approach" is also on-hand, while a Boeing surveillance aircraft hovers above. "We want to ensure that we have all the capability that might be needed over the course of the coming days," Petraeus said. Seriously, who needs the Onion? According to the Associated Press, "President Barack Obama is getting regular updates on the situation [and] U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States will take whatever steps are needed to protect U.S. shipping interests against pirates."
On the pirate side, it looks like this: Four armed pirates in a lifeboat that is low on fuel. They have about ten days of food and water. Oh, and they have a satellite telephone.
But the plot is thickening. While the US Navy rushes in its reinforcements (it really seems so silly to write this), it looks like the pirates may be calling in back-up of their own:
A Somali resident of the pirate stronghold Eyl in Somalia's Northern Puntland region was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that two pirate ships had left Eyl on Wednesday afternoon. He said a third -- the German cargo ship Hansa Stavanger -- had sailed from Xarardheere, some 230 miles south along the Somali coastline, and a fourth -- a Taiwanese fishing vessel seized Monday that was only 30 miles from the lifeboat -- was also on its way. The man said there were a total of 52 hostages aboard the ships floating toward the scene.
One Somali pirate interviewed by the AP described why they are sending in reinforcements to help the four pirates holding Phillips:
"They had asked us for reinforcement, and we have already sent a good number of well-equipped colleagues, who were holding a German cargo ship," said the pirate who asked that only his first name, Badow, be used to protect him from reprisals.
"We are not intending to harm the captain, so that we hope our colleagues would not be harmed as long as they hold him," Badow said.
"All we need, first, is a safe route to escape with the captain, and then (negotiate) ransom later," he added.
There are also reports that the hostage, Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, a US-flagged ship belonging to a Pentagon contractor, had tried to escape but was quickly recaptured. "The Alabama sailed away from the lifeboat Thursday, Maersk shipping line said, and a teams of armed Navy SEALs is on board, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation," according to the AP.
While Petraeus implements his surge against the pirates, some may wonder how much time will go by before he suggests the creation of a Somali Pirate Awakening Council, where the US could pay pirates not to attack US vessels. That worked for about 20 minutes in Iraq.
Meanwhile, The New York Times ran a piece, the title of which is perhaps the understatement of this drama: "Standoff with Somali pirates shows limits to U.S. power." The opening graph sums this whole thing up pretty well: "The Indian Ocean standoff between an $800 million U.S. Navy destroyer and four pirates bobbing in a lifeboat low on fuel showed the limits facing the world's most powerful military."
Read more from Jeremy Scahill
Follow Jeremy Scahill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeremyscahill