EU to back strikes on Somali pirates
Brussels - The European Union will probably approve plans on Friday to strike Somali pirate equipment on beaches, widening the scope of its naval operations four years into a mission to protect shipping.
Germany had voiced reservations about plans to allow EU warships and helicopters to fire at trucks, supplies, boats and fuel stowed on the coast of Somalia, but a minister indicated on Thursday that Berlin would now back the plans.
"Military officers say they want to render harmless the ships on the beach that could be used. This was a convincing argument," German deputy defence minister Christian Schmidt said after a meeting of EU defence chiefs in Brussels.
EU officials have stressed that the new mandate would not call for the deployment of troops on the ground in Somalia.
"We made clear that this should be limited actions against assets on the edge of the beach. Piracy must be fought at sea," Schmidt said.
Following months of debate, the decision is expected to be taken when EU foreign ministers meet on Friday, one day after the defence chiefs, EU officials said.
The ministers will also formally approve the extension of the EU mission, Operation Atalanta, until December 2014.
The German participation in the expanded mandate, however, will have to be submitted to the parliament in Berlin for approval, Schmidt said.
The operation off the Horn of Africa, which will soon grow from six to nine ships, escorts vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia and polices the key shipping route to thwart pirate attacks.
Warships and helicopters will have "very well defined conditions" for firing at pirate equipment in order to avoid harming people, a European official said, noting that Germany and other nations wanted strict rules of engagement.
The EU mission is one of several international anti-piracy operations off Somalia.
Nato agreed this week to extend its own mission until late 2014, with four ships under Turkish commmand. But the trans-Atlantic alliance has not authorised strikes on land targets.