lundi 14 avril 2008

Ponant : satisfecit du SAS

Un tireur d'élite américain avec une fusil M82 de 12,7 mm.

Dans la presse écossaise, Clive Fairweather, ancien commandant en second des SAS britanniques donne son analyse de l'opération. Il est carrément bluffé qu'elle se soit conclue sans victimes du côté européen.

ANY successful special- forces operation is dependent on stealth, surprise then shock action and, by all accounts, the recovery of the hostages and capture of the pirates responsible for the hijacking of the yacht Le Ponant in the South Arabian seas, by French commandos, will go down in the history books as such. Thirty crew members have apparently been freed, 22 of them French, and six of 12 pirates captured.

By any standards, these are impressive figures; for example the "butcher's bill" at the end of the Iranian Embassy siege in London in May 1980, which was ended by the SAS, was one terrorist captured, five terrorists and two hostages dead, with only 19 rescued.

Moreover, the latter was carried out in the glare of the world's television cameras, whereas the French authorities seem, so far, to have managed to keep such critical and insidious analysis to a few released images, all apparently under their control. More significantly, there are no apparent fatalities, which frankly is amazing.

Nevertheless, doubts that only six of 12 pirates were captured linger on, with much speculation and eyeball rolling being given by the international press to what may have happened to the "missing" six (and that they may somehow have been "erased" by the French, who are internationally renowned for their sang-froid – witness the covert and fatal attack against the yacht Rainbow Warrior off New Zealand in 1985) .

The strategic dimension of this gritty operation should not be ignored, either. It took place a long way from the French homeland. Admittedly, it was close to a former French enclave at Djibouti, but in terms of "reach" it ranks with the successful operation at Entebbe launched by the Israelis in 1976 and the separate ending to an aircraft hijacking by GSG9 German commandos at nearby Mogadishu in 1977.

The French have undoubtedly developed impressive tracking abilities using the latest technologies, at least in their strategic areas of interest, and there is absolutely no doubt that this operation could not have been so peacefully rendered successful without the crucial and detailed intelligence these provided.

It is also noteworthy that the French deployed a hospital ship in support, should things go wrong. Soviet special forces, for example, seem to have ignored similar medical cover in terrorist atrocities in Moscow, then subsequently at Beslan.

All in all, this operation is something for Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and his government to savour.

Some French panache and élan appears, for the moment, to have delivered the flavour of international success.

Behind the scenes, the details may be far more murky (they usually are), but possibly these can be passed off with that renowned Gallic shrug.

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