Does Somalia’s New Pirate-Fighting Militia Stand a Chance?

Halkaan ka akhri

Multi-billion-dollar warships, Navy SEAL snipers, Marine assault teams, mercenaries, Reaper drones, sonic beam guns and even improvised firebombs hurled by desperate fishermen: the world has tried everything short of a full-scale invasion to beat Somali pirates. The newest idea is a local pirate-fighting militia. But it’s doubtful that this tactic will be much more successful than the last half-dozen.

Informed observers say that you’ll never stop Somali piracy by fighting it at sea. Permanently ending a decade-long surge in hijacking off the Somali coast requires “something happening on land,” according to Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst Martin Murphy, where pirates are based amid the ruins of civil war.

That’s why the U.S. and U.N. both expressed cautious optimism when the Puntland region of northern Somalia announced it was standing up a 1,050-strong anti-pirate militia, funded by an unnamed donor nation — not the U.S. — and led in part by former U.S. government officials.

“It’s a good thing that Puntland is training an anti-piracy force,” Alan Cole, head of a U.N. counter-piracy program, told the AP. But Cole “said he wants to know the identity of the donor, the laws governing the force, how recruits are screened and the chain of command.”

“Those who are providing equipment have a responsibility to make sure those who are going to use it understand the limits of their authority and are properly trained,” Cole added.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Tamara Parker echoed Cole’s worries. “We are concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the program’s funding, objectives and scope. We’re also concerned this program could potentially violate the 1992 U.N. Security Council arms embargo on Somalia.”

These are valid fears. Several times in recent years, world bodies or developed nations acting alone have tried, and failed, to create new security forces in Somalia aimed at tamping down on banditry and insurgency. All have failed for a lack of resources, leadership and follow-through. In 2009 Puntland established, then promptly scrapped, an earlier pirate-fighting force after some of its members up and joined the pirates. Also last year, the U.S.-backed “Transitional Federal Government” in Mogadishu armed 500 men with sticks, yanked a former admiral out of retirement and called the resulting mess a “navy.” The BBC called it the “world’s worst job.”

“Previous efforts at security sector reform have seen money disappear into a black hole as there was no accountability,” Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst for the International Crisis Group, told the BBC in the context of last year’s efforts. That’s still true today. Turns out, it’s hard keeping any high-end enterprise going in a country that hasn’t had effective governance, or a real economy, in at least 20 years. The latest pirate-fighters are likely to wind up like their predecessors: unemployed, or pirates themselves.

Source: Wired

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