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Obama gave OK to take out Somali pirates, and now they vow retaliation; was it the right thing to do?

April 13, 2009 |  9:23 am

RichardphillipsInsiders are crediting President Obama for giving permission to U.S. Navy Seals to rescue American Capt. Richard Phillips from the hands of Somali pirates who had taken him hostage. In a daring operation Sunday, three sharpshooters killed his three captors, ending a five-day standoff in the Indian Ocean.

As NBC's Chuck Todd pointed out, this may not be the "3 a.m. moment" that now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised during the campaign when she questioned rival Obama's ability to handle an unexpected crisis in the White House. But it's clearly an early marker.

Obama had as many as six briefings a day during the crisis, and some 11 memos. The president gave permission twice for the operation, according to the Associated Press, once at 8 p.m. on Friday night and again, with expanded range, at 9:20 a.m. Saturday. And, this morning, the White House seemed pleased at the communication between various bureaucracies -- the Pentagon, the Navy, the National Security Council -- as the crisis developed.

In fact in remarks this morning at the Department of Transportation, Obama said he was "very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military" and other agencies to resolve the crisis and pledged to continue efforts with allies to stop the rise of piracy and hold accountable those responsible.

But the true test of Obama's action could come in the weeks and months ahead. Will the young president get credit for acting decisively to thwart an attack on U.S. citizens? Or will his actions be seen as the first move in escalating conflicts with the violent pirates?

Pirates, who still are holding more than 200 crew members from 12 captured boats, have vowed retaliation. “We will take quick revenge on American ships if we don’t receive apologies,” Yusuf Mohamed Mahdi, who identified himself as a pirate commander, told Bloomberg in a phone interview today. “We will not only target ships and crew in the sea, but also American agencies’ staff in Somalia.”

And Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, chairman of a House subcommittee on Africa, was leaving Somalia this morning when mortar shells were fired at his plane. Spokeswoman Kerry McKenny told Fox and MSNBC that airport officials in Mogadishu told the staff that the congressman got off safely.

Meanwhile security has been ramped up on the cargo ship the Maersk Alabama, where the drama all began. On news that their captain had been rescued, crew members hoisted the American flag and broke into cheers.

-- Johanna Neuman

U.S. Navy handout photo released on April 12, 2009, shows Maersk-Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips standing alongside Cmdr. Frank Castellano (L), commanding officer of USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) after being rescued by U.S Naval Forces off the coast of Somalia. Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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