A secret anti-piracy army of more than a thousand is being privately trained in northern Somalia, reports the Associated Press. Financed by an unknown nation in the region, those involved in it include a former CIA functionary, an ex-US diplomat and a shadowy private security company. The training camp is about 200 kilometers away from a pirate anchorage and home to Islamist fighters that complain that they have been kept away from oil exploration activity in the region.
The anti-piracy militia seems to have the blessings of the Puntland government; its first batch of around a 150 trainees have completed a 13 week course, confirmed Mohamed Farole, the son of Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole. Farole told AP that the new force will “hunt down pirates on land in the Galgala mountains”.
Although details of militia armaments were not revealed, up to 120 new pickup trucks have already arrived to equip the force. Interestingly, the militia will also have six small aircraft for patrolling the coast, Farole said. “No other force in Somalia, including the Mogadishu-based central government or African Union peacekeepers, has air assets,” says the newswire. Also arrived for the militia: four armoured vehicles with gunner’s turrets donated by a Muslim country. Some analysts speculate that US $10 million on equipment, salaries and other costs has already been spent.
The semi autonomous area of Puntland in Somalia is thought to have reserves of oil and gas. It is also a transit point for arms and Al Qaeda fighters crossing over from Yemen and Eritrea and has several pirate strongholds within it. Questions are obviously being raised as to what the ultimate purpose of the militia will be. The appearance of an unknown donor with deep pockets is troubling, E.J. Hogendoorn, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, told AP. "We don't know if this unknown entity is operating in the interests of Somalis or their own self-interest," he said in an interview. "If it's a company, there has to be a quid pro quo in terms of (oil and gas) concessions. If it's a government, they are interested in changing the balance of power."
Analysts say that the new militia may well be another destabilising force in the region. An unidentified UN representative told AP that the organisation was investigating to see if the new military force violated a UN arms embargo in force.
Pierre Prosper, an ambassador-at-large from the George Bush era, told AP he is being paid by a Muslim nation he declined to identify to work as a legal adviser to the Somali government. In a separate interview, Michael Shanklin, the CIA's ex deputy chief of station in Mogadishu 20 years ago, told AP he is employed by the unidentified donor country as a security adviser and liaison to the Somali government. Shanklin and Prosper have reportedly met diplomats in Kenya to discuss contracts between Mogadishu, Puntland and Saracen International, a private security company led by Bill Pelser, a former South African mercenary. Prosper says that Saracen is doing the militia training. Many Saracen employees are ex workers of Executive Outcomes, the South African mercenary outfit “credited with helping defeat rebel forces in Sierra Leone in return for mineral concessions,” says AP. Pelser says that its company being named in the anti-piracy training is "definitely a mistake or a misrepresentation."
Despite these worrying connections that indicate that the new militia may be more interested in protecting private players as they explore Puntland’s energy reserves, Farole, the Puntland President’s son and spokesperson, insists that the new force will fight pirates. However, he hoped that greater security in the region would bring more investors into "public-private partnerships" with the government.
"You cannot have oil exploration if you have insecurity," Mohamed Farole said. "You have to eliminate the pirates and al-Shabab."