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Eyewitnesses at the Ambassador Hotel recall Bryden threatening the two South African nationals with serious consequences if they didn't cooperate. It turned out the two terrified captives were telling the truth. They were well known South African journalists on their way to document an anti-piracy training program inside Puntland. The "weapons" on board the plane turned out to be 24 boxes of work uniforms, construction materials and a few mirrors to check for bombs under cars.
In Matt Bryden's and the Somaliland government's case they feared that this "Marine" force would be used to attack the long disputed Sool, Cayn and Sanaag region. A recent statement by the Puntland government about "attacking pirates in Somaliland" provided plenty of impetus to look into the activities of this rapidly growing law enforcement group. But there were also plenty of statements about attacking pirates in their coastal lairs. Somehow the bellicose nature of the Puntland government was taken as a direct threat to Somalialand, and not the pirates.
The UN is allowed to severely damage individuals, corporations and groups by shutting down their flow of funds via enforcement of its arms embargo. To prove violation of this embargo only three confidential sources are required to sanction individuals. The arms embargo is deliberately vague and all encompassing but has been proven to be ineffective, time and time again. Al Shabaab holds press conferences brandishing new weapons, even sending out media announcements on their latest graduating class and major players like Ethiopia arm militias like ASWJ with open enthusiasm. Pirates purchase military weapons and munitions with absolute ease and it would be difficult to find a single documented instance in which the arms embargo has dampened the violent intent of Somali clans, insurgents, criminals or militias.
In the case of Saracen International, they were openly operating as law enforcement trainers with recruits given existing Puntland weapons. There is however leeway in the UN arms embargo verbage to make training, or even Boy Scout-style work clothes as "military equipment."
What Bryden, the UN and key U.S. Embassy staff in Nairobi knew long before the plane landed was that a regional donor through a zakat fund wanted to create a land-based solution to defeat piracy and terrorism in Somalia. After years of ineffective action by the TFG, AMISOM, UN and foreign nations, this regional donor country or countries would no longer stand by as piracy and terrorism spread across the region. Instead of the UN supporting this program, Bryden decided to shut it down. The UN was even invited to the graduation of the first recruits in Bosaso.
It seems that the government of Puntland, long accused of working with pirates, was actually training a 1000 man anti piracy force using South African and other African trainers supplied by Saracen International. The effort included vehicles, aircraft, boats and a long term humanitarian program designed to keep the pirates out of their coastal strongholds and rebuild the war and tsunami-shattered economy.
Saracen was given a contract to protect the under siege TFG and train a large contingent of personal protection to provide security for the elected President. This signed contract was leaked by the Speaker of the House (without the actual signatures) and voted down in the ongoing spat between the TFG President and the Parliament. Saracen was suddenly catapulted into the Somali media spotlight as mercenaries even though their role was clearly that of trainers.
Saracen is known in Africa as a Ugandan-based security company that has been around since 1995. Bill Pelser, the owner of Saracen and his Ugandan partners have vehemently denied any association with this program. Further investigation by the media revealed that the Saracen company in Puntland is actually a separate entity based out of Lebanon but run by a well known South African security specialist, Lafras Luitingh.
Luitingh was a former officer in the South African military and one of the founders of Executive Outcomes. "EO" was not only known for their indigenous training and fighting capability in Angola and Sierra Leone, but also for being one of the few positive game changers when chaos descended. It appeared that Saracen has a fully legal, executed security contract with the official government of Somalia but that was not going to prevent the UN from destroying the program
Nonetheless there has always been a narrative of mercenaries stealing natural resources which shadowed EO due to the offshore oil in Angola and the diamonds in Sierra Leone. In Somalia one would be hard pressed to find resources worth stealing in the short term and without major infrastructure investment but it didn't stop Somalis and the world press about opining on Saracen's real or imagined motives. The reality is that Somali's were being trained to protect their own country, inside their own country by men who had hard experience in Africa's dirty wars. The focus on law enforcement, humanitarian assistance and rebuilding basic infrastructure was ignored by the UN who hires the exact same people to provide security to its own operations. It could be argued that the use of the Ethiopian army or even the UN paid Ugandan and Burundian mercenaries inside Somalia is what created and maintains the al Shabaab nightmare for Somalis.
What made the Saracen contract controversial was that this was a Puntland-based initiative and not within the usual UN/TFG/AU/Mogadishu dysfunctional codependent sphere of influence. In other words what scared the UN was that this program might actually work. Secretary of State's Hillary Clinton's call to support the Mogadishu based AMISOM to defeat piracy shows just how far from reality the U.S. State Department is on defeating piracy. In the face of the massive failure of a U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and three other navy ships to save four innocent hostages from a gaggle of pirates, public mood has hardened. The media and blogs are filling up with calls for a "land based solution" to piracy. Even the U.S., suffering from Black Hawk Down syndrome, may be seeing the damage of doing nothing. As a New York Times article quotes an anonymous bureaucrat: “We get it,” said one State Department official. “We get the need to recalibrate.”
The popular proposed solution seems to be one that takes its structure from the early 1800's American attacks on the Barbary pirates. A land based effort using a small handful of U.S. marines, hired mercenaries and locals to wipe out pirate nests and restore bandit controlled lands to their citizens.
The truth is that the solution already exists. All the UN and the international community have to do is step out of the way and let the Somalis take care of the pirates themselves.