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The controversial Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) sent a small unit to begin operations in the coastal town of Eyl. Sources in Eyl, and with the PMPF, confirmed to Somalia Report that the initial convoy will start construction of an airstrip, water-drilling and will establish a small base from which to support anti-piracy operations. Security operations will also begin in conjunction with the local government. This is the second time the force has been deployed to a coastal area, but the move to Eyl may be the first major show of force that the Puntland government has made in their fight against piracy.
Puntland President Farole was born in Eyl and appeared there in 2010 to warn the pirates that his forces would return.
The move is also in line with a number of recent efforts from in other regions like Galmadug and Somaliland to crack down on piracy on land.
The PMPF has also brought on an additional 400 or so new recruits which will bring the current total strength to about half of the eventual expected 1000 men.
Eyl, A Former Pirate Center
It's not immediately clear what the the timing of the Eyl visit was triggered by but the recently pirated MV Leila was in Eyl this week before being ordered to leave by locals. The pirate-controlled ship had initially docked off Bargal but angry residents sent it away forcing the pirates to anchor the vessel off Eyl for one day. When the pirates encountered equally hostile reaction from the mayor and townspeople, the ship set sail for Hobyo where it remains.
Piracy and Media Battle
Although the arrival of a Somali security force to the remote coastal town should be heralded as a major step in the land based battle to end piracy, the event is not without controversy.
The PMPF was targeted by the UN Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) group as being "a major force for instability" in the region with the report's assumption based on a single media comment by President Farole's son that the new force would be used by Puntland to attack Somalialand. . So far this has not occurred. The first training mission was in a deployment to the town of Qaw on the border of Somaliland and by coincidence the new unit was instrumental in assisting a number of survivors of a failed smuggling run. The event brought attention to the unfettered ability of coastal smugglers to bring humans and weapons between Yemen and Somalia.
There have been curious events leading up to this deployment. For example, the PMPF was just positively featured in a high level Fox News live broadcast featuring Oliver North. Less than two days later two disparaging articles appeared in the South African press. The most recent press release from the PMPF to announce the move to Eyl shows a sophistication in media relations that may indicate a new conflict while the identical talking points in both South African publications with the coordinator of the SEMG listed as the source may reveal a looming back room media brawl.
The SEMG is slated to release another report this summer and according to SEMG provided comments it is clear that another attempt to shut down the program is coming. The SEMG maintains that the Puntland program violates the arms embargo. The appearance of two South African-based articles by Ivor Powell in the Independent Online and Mel Frykberg of the New Age, directly mentioning UN employee Matt Bryden and/or the SEMG as their source, with identical talking points. The former article says, "SEMG co-ordinator Matthew Bryden confirmed the company had failed to seek or secure authorisation from the international authority to operate as a private military contractor in Somalia after being fingered in the Monitoring Group’s June 2011 report."
Which Side Is Telling the Truth?
Conversely both the Somali and Puntland governments provided copies of notification letters sent to the UN to Somalia Report. It remains to be seen how the UN can both deny and confirm that the PMPF program is an official Somali government activity.
Numerous reports have called for land-based solutions to piracy, but the long standing UN arms embargo requires proper notification to the UN by a member state to announce training, importation of weapons or equipment into Somalia. There is a five day period during which any member state can protest. No such protest has been lodged against the Puntland based program.
Based on the death toll and fighting inside the country and even out to sea, the SEMG has been ineffective in preventing the flow of weapons to groups as varied as al-Shabaab and pirates, or even prevent the entry of member states like Kenya and Ethiopia. Kenya's invasion was quickly turned into a paid AMISOM contract and Ethiopia's successful incursions are simply ignored. AMISOM has been effective in defending the TFG using American paid for weapons via Uganda but even the SEMG's own investigation noted the direct flow of those weapons to al-Shabaab.
The reports Their reports are detailed in nature, but often rely on gossip from singular anonymous sources. The SEMG, a Nairobi-based group, has never actually entered Puntland, and their political bias and lack of due diligence has led to a number of embarrassing incidents. One related to the Puntland anti-piracy training, in which the coordinator was witnessed by hotel staff, accusing two highly regarded South African journalists of being mercenaries. This after the UN (who handles all flight notifications) tipped off Somaliland authorities to seize a scheduled refueling of a Armenian-chartered cargo plane supplying the PMPF. No weapons were discovered on the plane, and Somaliland officials finally demanded a $600 bribe to release the aircraft and crew. The UN had to publicly apologize when it was discovered that the claim of the investigating group that Eritrea was flying weapons into Baidoa was fabricated. Their previous claim that Puntland's government received money from pirates and was a virtual criminal organization have been progressively softened in each report but never fully supported or withdrawn. All of this leads to much bad blood between the Somali government and the UN's attempts to control it.
The head of Puntland's anti-piracy program, Abdullahi Ahmed Jama, told Lloyd's List that the UN's concerns with transparency, weapons and legal framework had all been addressed. The training entity for the PMPF was Sterling Corporate Services with funding for the program coming from the Puntland's major trading partner, the United Arab Emirates. The UN, through its member states, support a number of counter piracy programs but they are typically framed in support and training to institutions and not direct action. There are other proposed plans like the Halliday Finch program which proposes a $52 million multi year program to create a coast guard. Halliday Finch is a security company and communications advisor to the TFG Minister of Defence and calls their program the Anti Piracy Task Force (APTF). They recently began advertising sixty positions in the area of maritime protection training.
Special Maritime Training Team (HF0111111) We are looking to assemble an international team of 60 men who will recruit, train and deploy in an advisory capacity for the Somali Government in an anti piracy role. The candidates must have a Special Forces, Marine, or other military speciality.
They must have prior experience of training men in Africa and a proven track record of success at doing so. Language ability is a bonus. Ideal Candidates would be from UK, US, EU, or South Africa but will accept the right man from any country.
There have been numerous attempts by foreign companies to create, train or implement a Somali coast guard or maritime force. The deployment to Eyl by the PMPF seems to be the first credible move by a foreign-backed, foreign-trained but locally trained and locally supported and staffed group to end piracy. Documents provided by Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to Somalia Report and mentioned in the press release, show official notification by the TFG last year to begin a program. Official reports issued in 2010 and 2011 from the UN show an ongoing concern that the force is in violation of the 20 year old UN Arms Embargo. Both IGAD and the TFG have asked the UN to lift the non functional arms embargo so Somali forces can battle the very threats that the UN has been unable to stop.
The Notification Letter
The Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 2, 2011
At the request of the Mayor of Eyl, in conjunction with the President of Puntland and the Somalia Transitional Government. The Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) arrived at Eyl (Indian Ocean) from Bosaso (Gulf of Aden) to begin supporting long term security and anti piracy program to the townspeople.
On Thursday, the 1st of March 2012, a task force from the PMPF arrived in Eyl, Puntland, Somalia with the mission from the President of Puntland, Dr Abdirahman Sheikh Mohamed Mohamud Farole (Commander and Chief of all Security Forces), to help the residents in securing the town and adjacent areas against threats of piracy and any other threats to civil society.
The PMPF Task Force, numbering one company of Marine Police Force officers and support elements, completed a mishap-free 480-kilometer convoy from Bosaso, arriving to a warm welcome offered by the local population of Eyl.
Approximately 100 citizens turned out the greet the PMPF Task Force about 2 km outside Daawad, the western part of Eyl, and an even larger crowd showed up to welcome the Marines as they entered the eastern portion of the city, a seaside village which lays between the sea and steep rock faced cliffs.
The Mayor of Eyl, Muse Osman Yusef, stated, “The people of the community of Eyl are very happy to welcome the Puntland Maritime Police Force,” adding, “we are looking forward working with the PMPF Task Force.” His remarks were echoed by the Eyl Chief of Police Mahad Ahmed Mohamud who said, “we are very happy to welcome the PMPF Task Force,” and, “we want to give them our confidence and work with them to ensure the security and stability of our village.”
Between 2008 and 2010, Eyl was a notorious pirate safe haven. The town is known for having been the birthplace of modern day Somali piracy. As recently as last week, a pirated ship MV Leila attempted to dock offshore and was ejected by the community who no longer accept piracy in their midst.
The PMPF Task Force is tasked to work with Eyl’s community leaders to remove piracy and prevent the problem from returning. According to the wishes of the Eyl leadership, the PMPF will establish a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and logistics airstrip. Plans are to maintain the force as a permanent presence, providing security and stability in Puntland’s vibrant coastal region to support community governance.
The Government of Puntland seeks to create a climate for normalization of trade, good governance and related reconstruction and development. Eyl was once one of the largest fishery centers in Somalia harvesting lobster, tuna and other high value products for the local and international market. Piracy and lawlessness destroyed much of this income and the community will work with the government to rebuild their maritime industry.
The PMPF was created by the government of Puntland in 2010 with the help of donor nations. The indigenous national law enforcement program promotes peace and stability through hiring, training and equipping Somali to bring stability to their nation. The PMPF directly addresses and supports United Nations Resolutions 1772,1950, 2015 and 2020. The program also supports the goals of the various International Contact Group on Somalia. This law enforcement also reflects the overwhelming conclusion of international experts that the solution to piracy in this region must be land-based, Somali-driven and sustainable. Dr. Abdiwell Mohamed Ali, The Prime Minister of Somalia, officially notified the United Nations in November 2, 2011 of Somali’s intention to begin training and equipping an anti-piracy force.
The goal of the PMPF is to deter, detect, and eradicate piracy. In addition the PMPF will prevent illegal fishing, stop coastal related crimes and protect marine resources as well as continue its mission of delivering much-needed humanitarian relief supplies to the Somali people.