- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Somalia’s transitional government is using private security firms and Arab governments to train and fund a paramilitary force to battle pirates in the region that have threatened international shipping.

A lawyer representing Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) said on Tuesday that a security contractor, Saracen International, is being paid by a Muslim government to train an anti-piracy force in Bosaso, a town in the northern Somali province of Puntland on the horn of Africa. The TFG is also looking into training another, similar force in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

“The goal of the TFG and the donor is to strengthen the mechanism in order to bring some law and order into Somalia,” Pierre Prosper, the lawyer, told The Washington Times. “Many of the trainers have experience and were contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Prosper said the agreement between Saracen and the TFG/Puntland government is for security training. “The donor is paying for the services of Saracen. The only contract I am aware of is between Saracen and the Somali government to provide the services,” he said.

Mr. Prosper, who was President George W. Bush’s ambassador at large on war-crimes issues between 2001 and 2005, would not disclose the identity of the donor.

Mr. Prosper said, however, that “as of now, the donor is from a Muslim country that chooses to remain anonymous, due to various concerns, including their own domestic security. We have been in dialogue with the donor with the idea of them formally releasing a notice to the United Nations and becoming public.”

Two U.S. officials familiar with the plans to create the anti-piracy force said one of the donors is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the United States’ closest allies in the Persian Gulf. The embassy from the UAE declined to comment for this article.

To date, the training camp in Puntland has trained at least 100 members of the counter-piracy militia with a goal of training a thousand fighters in the coming months, Mr. Prosper said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Prosper briefed a U.N. monitoring group in Nairobi, Kenya, that had raised concerns that the new force could be violating U.N. sanctions on Somalia if the donors remained anonymous. He said that so far, no arms were shipped to the training camp, to the best of his knowledge.

The move to create anti-piracy forces in Somalia represents a new approach to the war in that country.

Until now, most international assistance to Somalia has been to the TFG based in Mogadishu through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with troops provided by African armies. AMISOM’s mission is focused on stability operations and protecting Mogadishu from the al Qaeda-linked insurgent group, Al-Shabab. The TFG currently controls most of the north of Somalia, with the south being largely controlled by Al-Shabab.

This new approach puts Saracen, the security contractor, in the role African armies traditionally play in AMISOM of training a security force.

The company has a controversial past in Africa. Salim Saleh, the younger brother of Uganda’s president, is on the board of Saracen, Uganda.

Uganda is also one of the major donors to AMISOM. Saracen has also been closely linked to South Africa’s military.

Saracen’s chief operating officer, who signed the contract with the TFG, is Lafras Luitingh, a former South African intelligence officer who worked as a senior officer for Executive Outcomes, an Africa-based security contractor that was dissolved in 1999.

TFG officials have told some news services that Saracen also provides security for government officials in Mogadishu.

A top security adviser to the TFG said in a phone interview Tuesday from Somalia that the trainers associated with the mission included both black and white veterans of the South African military.

The fighters, according to the security adviser, “will be taught how to identify the pirates and where they are located, and how to defend themselves in a raid on a pirate base.”

This adviser said the new anti-piracy force would in the future be equipped like any light infantry unit for a Western military. This would include receiving small arms, two-way radios, night-vision equipment and body armor.

Also involved in the training mission is a former CIA deputy station chief in Mogadishu named Michael Shanklin and other former special-forces officers affiliated with the U.S. and British militaries, according to sources familiar with the mission.

Duane Clarridge, a former senior CIA officer, who was also familiar with the plans for a new counter-piracy force in Somalia, said it was an example of how security contractors are doing the work traditionally associated with nation states.

“Nation states no longer have a monopoly on military force, intelligence, diplomacy or anything else,” Mr. Clarridge said. “What’s going on in Somalia, where you have skilled contractors training a counter-piracy force, is an example of where the future of the military is going. No government or group of governments can get their act together to do it, but someone has to do it, and they are doing it.”

Until now, the United States and other allies have largely sought to deal with piracy using naval forces in international groups and escort convoys. In one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama in April 2009 gave an order for Navy SEALs to fire on pirates holding captive the American captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, resulting in his rescue.

That operation was conducted off the Somali mainland, an area U.S. forces have not entered publicly since U.S. forces left Somalia in March 1994, following a failed raid on a Somali warlord’s safe house that became the basis for the book and movie, “Black Hawk Down.”

“One of the reasons the United States is coordinating offshore and not onshore is because of the history there,” said Charlie Szrom, a senior analyst and program manager for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

“‘Black Hawk Down’ was the result of the last on-land U.S. engagement in Somalia,” he said. “We can do these kinds of interceptions, you can cure some of the symptoms, but you will only have limited success if you limit counter-piracy to the sea and not the pirate coves on shore.”

Elements of the training program were first reported by the Associated Press.

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