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The UN Security Council has just released a 417 page report from the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. The voluminous report details some of the activities conducted by various groups that are considered to be violating the UN arms embargo. The report does its best to provide proof that the usual suspects like al-Shabaab, SSC Army and pirates are busy turning Somalia into a charnel house.
The lead author of this document is long-time Canadian expat and Somaliland booster, Matt Bryden. Like any Matt Bryden report, Somaliland once again gets a complete pass. As usual Somaliland's border rival Puntland gets beaten up with innuendo and there is a new evil actor introduced: Private Security Companies. That is surprising considering the pummeling the UN aid effort is getting trying to bring in relief.
This UN report seems to take an unusual interest in endorsing the success of Somaliland (where its headquarters were bombed a few years back) while ignoring the struggle of other regions to distance themselves from the Mogadishu/Nairobi UN efforts to run a dysfunctional central government. For that reason alone, it should be brought into question why Somaliland's impressive army is not one of the focal points of this report.
As a former military member who served in the region, speaks Somali, and reportedly holds a Somaliland passport, Bryden is tasked with preparing the report in conjunction with a maritime, finance and armed group expert. Their efforts are commendable but their methodology deeply questionable considering his close ties to Somaliland, including a former marriage to a Somalilander. Considering the major impact a UN freeze on travel and finance can have, the kangaroo court tactics, using witnesses...where possible, multiple sources...where possible and "continuously factoring in the expertise and judgement of... relevant experts" of the group to render judgement.
This should make any hint of bias even more suspect when the actual evidence and conclusions are not specifically credited to the person who made them and the head of the group has clear affiliation to a yet-to-be-recognized-by UN or anyone region. This does not minimize Somaliland's impressive gains; it means that a non-nation with 16,000 troops, over 100 tanks, dozens of surface-to-air missiles and an uncomfortable aggressive war on its western flank should be held to a little more scrutiny.
The facts used to skewer al-Shabaab and Ertirea are delivered with much better assurance than the amateurish allegations used to impune Puntland's stillborn attempt to quell piracy, or President's Sharif's attempts to have a personal protection detail. Simply put, Bryden and his crew rely on false information and sleight of hand to make their case up north while doing a much better job of condemning terrorists and their backers. There is no proof offered that Puntland has used any of its force against its neighbor (other than a singular media comment by the President's gregarious son) and no proof that the anti-piracy force violated any UN embargos. Our investigation has showed that the Puntland Marine Force is actually used to guard water and food convoys from theft using government-supplied weapons and Puntland security force support. Not quite the picture the UN paints in this report.
The reader must wade through what sometimes reads like an anonymous scandal and gossip sheet due to the group's reliance on diaspora who have fled a subject region, using anonymous sources or bizarre letters from non-existent authorities until they get to page 315 where the group gets down to actually talking about acts of obstruction against humanitarian assistance.
Even then there is a lip-smacking finale as Bryden and crew deliver the 64 page smack down on Eritrea until the end of their report. The UN Monitoring group in their previous report had little success in actually pinning the al-Shabaab tail on the Eritrean donkey, but this time they must be doing high fives and belly bumps back in Nairobi. Their work on nailing al-Shabaab as arms violators is only defeated by their complete inability to actually do anything about it. And once again anyone who spends more than a few hours in Mogadishu does not need to read this report to know that there are some of the most flagrant arms embargo and human rights violations occurring.
Where this report defies logic is its need to cleverly sandwich for profit western security agencies in between mass murderers and regional sponsors of terror. My 2006 book Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror is the result of three years with a wide spectrum of security contractors and Somalia Report recently spent time with some of the groups mentioned in this report. Somalia Report published the results of one trip which delivered water and aid to North and Central Somalia. Our first hand, unfettered reporting does not reflect some of the serious allegations made by anonymous sources in the UN report.
What is suspect is the UN's unusual focus on private security companies (and particularly Saracen) as contributors to instability. It may be his need to creatively retell the debacle of Somaliland pirating a chartered plane of supplies (no weapons were ever found) and complete omission of Bryden's accusations that two well-known CBS 60 Minutes journalists were mercenaries being held at the Ambassador Hotel should be examined more closely. Their imprisonment and treatment as a result of his visit should say more about his tactics and creates questions about any fact finding related to this event. Somalia Report previously investigated convincing evidence that clearly showed that Bryden was characterizing the UAE sponsored, Puntland endorsed and indigenous anti-piracy program as a hostile threat to his beloved Somaliand. This may be unfair to Bryden since he works as part of a group but the facts of the case do not match his allegations.
The UN Monitoring group is supposed to provide proof of arms violations by all non UN actors via three resolutions designed to prevent warring factions. The glaring proof of their failure can be seen everyday on the streets of Mogadishu. It is also deeply suspect that the activities of Somaliland (as a unrecognized state) in the disputed region of SSC seem to be purely the fault of Puntland and their evil mercenaries. If the reader didn't know better it would appear that the seven, mostly glowing mentions of Somaliland were designed to nominate the region for sainthood.
By contrast, the eight mentions of Puntland are clearly meant to cast deep suspicion on their motives. The February 2011 fighting between SSC and Somaliland seems to be "OK". The authors seem to enjoy putting quotes around terms and using florid languages to describe Saracen as an "opaque web" even though the UN was fully briefed by the organization. The report says "the activities of private security companies represent an accelerating and often disturbing trend" while neglecting to inform readers that the UN is guarded by Tim Spicer's Aegis, the man who wrote an entire book about the joys of being a mercenary, but he should be commended for his corporate security work in Mogadishu...guarding the UN.
This does not mean that the hiring of foreign security companies is automatically bad or good it just means in an environment like Mogadishu the last group that deserves lambasting would be the men and women who train, protect, supply, oversee and manage the peace process. It is still not politically correct to actually defend security contractors but it is this controversial industry that delivers the ransoms, guards the NGOs, defuses the IEDs, flies out the wounded, provides the intelligence, trains the locals and offers some framework within the shattered land of Somalia.
In a gruesome world of starving children, nihilistic jihadis and aid denied to desperate Somalis because of lack of security, the UN Monitoring Group chose to waste its time demonizing the very groups that they use, hire and need to function in Somalia.
The full report can be downloaded here and as usual we look forward to your insights and opinions.