Newsweek Pulls PMPF Profile on Opening Day of Anti Piracy Conference
This morning, Newsweek published the article, “To Catch Pirates, Somalia Turns to Outsourcing” written by senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Eli Lake. The timing was perfect with the opening of the Dubai-based anti piracy conference.
©Somalia Report PMPF Training Base in Bosaso
Lake’s article originally appeared on The Daily Beast, this morning. The in-depth, first-hand article vanished a few hours after posting. Lake had also published a story claiming that Puntland was home to “secret prisons’ although it was clear that his time visiting Bosaso jail was neither secret or difficult. Unlike many western correspondents who shape policy from the comfort of DC or London, Lake travelled to northern Somalia and visited Bosaso to better understand the challenge of land-based anti piracy activities.
The article points out that the solution to piracy had been “outsourced” and recounts some of the controversy related to the program. Oddly enough had he travelled to Mogadishu or Djibouti he would seen much more “outsourcing” as AMISOM, contractors and the entire UN effort to stabilize Somalia was put in the hands of outsiders.
In Beltway circuits, Eli Lake is no stranger to controversy and is known as the “Rhymingist Zionist” and “the Neocon Rapper” and can be counted on to come down on the right side of a political issue. He is known for outspoken and often right wing opinions along with being one of the most talented rappers ever to put politics to rhyme. Somalia Report is reprinting the article in whole because of the relevance to the ongoing UAE anti-piracy conference happening this week.
At the top of the conference Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that “…the UAE is pleased to contribute $1 million to building and upgrading capabilities of Somali naval forces and coast guard to carry out their missions properly,” according to Reuters. The current president of the TFG had slightly different math. In his opening remarks President Sharif (who is running for election) said, “We are completely ready to combat this problem. Despite our limited funds we are ready to train and set up a marine force that would attack and dispel all pirate activities.” He estimated that it would require, “only around $230 million to tackle the problem within a year.”
There are no pirates operational in the area controlled by the TFG and the region of Galmadug has little to no funding to combat piracy. Puntland had used generous funds from the UAE to build up a 1000 man army, the PMPF, that recently deployed in the heart of pirate held areas.
The one million dollars was publicly pledged by the UAE after the multi-million dollar a month Puntland program was suddenly shut down last week. To put a finer point on the contrast, a group of a dozen expats were asked to stay behind but requested that they be paid their funds up front because the program had been in arrears. No money arrived and the expats left this week.
Here is the article in full:
“To Catch Pirates, Somalia Turns to Outsourcing”
Eli Lake, Senior National-Security Correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast
“From the vantage point of a desert airstrip that serves as an airport, the Somali town of Bosaso could be an exotic beach resort. Breezes carry scents of the sea, and the small port on the horizon shimmers against the pastel blue Indian Ocean. The closer we get to town, however, the more the reality of Bosaso comes into focus. Misspelled signs along the dirt road advertise foreign brands like “Marlboro” and “Nokia Telecon.” Shacks of cardboard, wire, and corrugated metal look like they’d be blown away in the next storm.
This is Somalia, one of the most lawless places in the world, a country that has lacked a functioning government for more than 20 years. In that time, Somalia’s shores and waters have been overrun by powerful outlaw-entrepreneurs—otherwise known as pirates—who menace key trade routes, take hostages with near impunity, and at times collaborate with al Qaeda’s increasingly influential local affiliate Al-Shabab. Since 2007, the U.S. government has spent nearly half a billion dollars propping up African Union troops in Mogadishu and paying the salaries of the security forces affiliated with the weak transitional government there. None of that seems to have made much of a dent in the $7 billion piracy business.
Here on an otherwise barren stretch of flat and rocky earth, a band of outsiders has launched an experiment to succeed where others have failed. Funded by the United Arab Emirates—where piracy threatens a massive shipping industry—and staffed by independent security contractors from South Africa and elsewhere, the two-year-old Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) is building what could be the country’s first, dedicated pirate-catching machine: a highly skilled coast guard and state police for the semiautonomous Somali province of Puntland.
If the PMPF succeeds, it could prove a model for unconventional methods to expand the reach of weak governments. Rather than an occupying military swooping in to sweep out the pirates from their coves, for-profit contractors are teaching locals the art of counterinsurgency. But if the PMPF fails, say some outside observers, these same contractors could be training one side in the next round of Somalia’s interminable civil war. A representative for the government of the UAE declined to comment.
“This project … is the largest externally supported training program in Somalia,” says Matt Bryden, the coordinator of the United Nations group that monitors weapons sanctions here. “It changes the balance of power in Somalia in a way that other foreign assistance does not.”
“When recruits arrive, ‘they are in rags, they are underfed, they don’t have any clue whatsoever of what entails.’”
When I toured the Puntland facility in February, temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer days can top 110 degrees, forcing the officers to sleep on the beds of their trucks in the hopes of catching an ocean breeze. An eight-foot wall surrounds the compound, and inside are neat rows of tents and shipping containers that have been converted into administrative offices and armories. There is a desalinization plant, shooting range, communication satellite dish, gym, wastewater-recycling facility and one of the most advanced emergency rooms in the country.
For most of the Somali recruits, it’s their first taste of military training. When they arrive, “they are in rags, they are underfed, they don’t have any clue whatsoever of what entails,” says Gert Kruger, a stout South African who has fought in Afghanistan and worked on security in various mines, and now heads the training program at PMPF. He says that for every 500 recruits, only 120 make it through the 17-week training. Most don’t even make it through the first hurdle: running 3.5 kilometers in 20 minutes, followed by 20 push-ups and 50 sit-ups.
Abdullah Elmi, who is a lieutenant in the new PMPF from Bosaso, said when he finished high school, he couldn’t find a job. Then he heard a radio ad about the PMPF. “Somalia for the last 20 years, there has been no security,” he said through a translator. “I want to chase pirates from our sea and make our land more secure.”
Puntland was chosen as the PMPF’s base in part because it’s one of the main pirate hubs, but also because the region is considerably more secure than the rest of the country. Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Mohamud Farole, says he has actively sought help in fighting pirates.
During my visit to Somalia, I attended a ceremony at Puntland State University, where Farole presided over an event with Somali President Sharif Ahmed and other officials of the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, who had gathered to negotiate a new framework for a Somali constitution.
As the dignitaries arrived, soldiers in camouflage fatigues and red berets performed rifle drills. A military brass band played, accompanied by drum majors clad in loose-fitting red shirts with frilly silver epaulettes. A man with the honor guard asked a film producer in my entourage for a tip. He was refused. Afterward, the various leaders posed for photographers on a raised dais covered in red carpet; Farole flanked by the turquoise, white and green Puntland flag, and Ahmed by the Somali flag.
Given Puntland’s ongoing territorial dispute with the neighboring province of Somaliland, some fear a worst-case scenario in which Farole uses a well-trained anti-piracy force to his own end. The PMPF amounts to “an independent private army” for Farole, says the U.N.’s Bryden.
Others worry that there’s no governmental oversight of the for-profit contractors. In his book, The Pirates of Somalia, Jay Bahadur tells the story of a former Puntland president who hired a British contractor, Hart Security, to create a force to protect local waters from illegal fishing. In 2002, Hart Security lost the contract to a new company, Somcan, which dissolved in 2005. Some of the Somalis trained as coastal police were out of jobs, and reportedly went rogue. A 2008 report by Chatham House, a British think tank, quotes the skipper of a hijacked Russian tugboat saying that several of his captors were former members of the units trained by Hart and Somcan.
Since 2011 the Bosaso operation has essentially been run by a Dubai-based contractor called Sterling Corporate Services. A lawyer representing Sterling, Stephen Heifetz, said, “The company has been transparent and compliant with the letter and the spirit of U.N. Security Council resolutions and other relevant laws.”
Still, there have been missteps. In April, an officer was shot and killed by a trainee for reportedly accusing some soldiers of using the force’s vehicles to go into town and purchase khat, a narcotic that is chewed throughout the Horn of Africa. “It was a tragic but anomalous incident,” says Chris Grove, the project manager for the Bosaso base. “It is the only such event to occur in over a year of training under the most risky, difficult circumstances in the world.” Grove says the base has since tightened its screening process for recruits “and taken other steps to reduce the likelihood of a repeat incident.”
Supporters of the PMPF say Bryden’s criticism is unfair in part because the U.N. itself has urged Puntland and other Somali provinces to develop just this kind of counterpiracy force. And in an interview, Farole told me he would turn over command of the PMPF to a central Somali government when his country “agrees on a constitution which determines how power and resources are shared.”
For its part, the PMPF points to early successes, including arresting 11 alleged pirates in the town of Hafun in May and establishing a base in Eyl, a former hub for Puntland pirates and the hometown of Farole. It has also overseen relief efforts. In one recent mission, officers rescued 13 women and children stranded in a shipwreck. Another 33 people are still missing or presumed to be drowned. In the nearby town of Qaw, Grove and his men rebuilt a schoolhouse that was wrecked in a hurricane.
As for the captured pirates, they often end up at a U.N.-built prison some 20 minutes from PMPF headquarters.
To get there, I’m transported in a Toyota Forerunner with a driver, a translator, a documentary filmmaker, and a former special-forces officer. An escort truck trailing us carries four guards armed with AK-47’s. Along the way, my translator helpfully tells me that I wouldn’t want to make the trip on my own. “If they see a white boy walking around,” he says of the local pirates, “that’s money.” The translator has spent more time in America than Somalia since the central government fell 20 years ago, and says he doesn’t feel entirely safe himself. He asks me not to use his name for fear that Islamist insurgents will seek retribution against him for helping a foreigner.
The first thing I see after passing through the prison’s iron gates are two black cauldrons of rice and stew simmering over a burning pile of branches and sticks. Not far beyond that, a faint smell of urine prevails. The warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, a lean, tall man who wears tan fatigues and a dark green beret, presides over 270 prisoners. In the past year, Mohammed says, the American military has turned over 16 captured pirates to the local authorities, who have handed them to traditional courts, who in turn have given them to him. A record of the prison transfers is kept in a rusted file cabinet in the warden’s office, he says. A handwritten chart on a wall nearby tracks when prisoners arrive and when they leave.
The prisoners don’t have uniforms, and only some have shoes. Many wear filthy T-shirts and an ankle-length garment wrapped around their waist that resembles a sarong (called a ma-awis in Somali). Inside the main yard, a young man with a bulging, round belly stands up and announces in English: “My name is Ahmed. I will try to speak to you.” He complains that the toilets aren’t clean, the living quarters are overcrowded, and the cells are crawling with insects. He pulls aside another prisoner with a protrusion on his head and implies he was injured by the guards.
On a tour, I’m not shown the condition of the cells or the part of the prison set aside for Al-Shabab inmates. Those men are “a virus,” says the warden. “If we let them mix with the rest of the public, they can transmit the virus to the rest of the population.”
I do get to meet Abshir Abdillahi, the Somali who is widely credited with founding today’s pirate industry. He more commonly goes by his nickname, Boyah. At 6-feet-6, he towers above me. He’s dressed in a floral blue-and-violet shirt, wears designer sunglasses and by all appearances, has the run of the place. At one point, he leaves an administrative office in a huff, refusing to grant an interview unless he’s paid.
Before he was caught, Boyah often operated out of the port city of Eyl, far from the reaches of Mogadishu. Eyl is now in the hands of the PMPF. “It was the first place where pirates started,” says Farole. “But now we clean it up.” ©2011 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC
This article was posted by Neptune Maritime Security with the kind permission of SomaliaReport.com. MaritimeSecurity.Asia in cooperation with www.neptunemaritimesecurity.com