Private contractors to train Somali anti-pirate forces?

An article by Jason Lewis, entitled “Paul and Rachel Chandler: British mercenaries hired to take on Somali Pirates,” in the 20 November issue of The Telegraph claims that the U.K. government is preparing to pay a private contractor to employ British ex-special forces personnel to train and assist Somalis: “Acting as ‘mentors’ the ex-SBS men will be allowed to accompany the new crews on patrols going into action in armed encounters with the gangs.”

Apparently, problems between the transitional Federal Government of Somali and the Puntland district authorities have delayed plans for the creation of a Somali Coast Guard.  According to Lewis, it called for a “Somali Coast Guard unit equipped with 8 fast patrol craft and 96 personnel and coastal observation teams.”  Arguments over who would control the coast guard have brought that idea to standstill.

Now, a new approach is being brokered that will, “get better intelligence against pirate bases ashore and to be prepared to take action against them.”  The new concept seems to involve closing the coastline to the pirates, augmenting the efforts of naval forces offshore: “Operating in fast boats capable of outrunning the pirates’ converted fishing vessels, the plan is to retake the coastline and prevent the pirates from putting to sea or returning to shore with kidnap victims.”

There are several problems with this new plan.  The coastline is extensive, so the intention of closing it to pirates will not be fully achievable, even in the long run.  As noted by Lewis, existing law enforcement agencies are notoriously unreliable, due to low pay, poor administration, and shoddy (sometimes corrupt) oversight.  The federal government does not control the coastline (which is the cause the problem in the first place), so the Somali-U.K. teams will not have a secure base from which to operate, forcing them to concentrate for defensive purposes.  This will mitigate against their mounting effective offensive operations.  The pirate cartels are steadily becoming more powerful, organized and wealthy.  They will be able to mount their own counter moves to whatever ad hoc forces are thrown against them.  This could involve simply outbidding the contractor for their Somali supporters, or even intimidating them into not cooperating.  They also hold a large number of hostages, which might be used to compel the contractors to withdraw.

There is no easy answer to the piracy problem.  Somali is so far gone as a failed state that reconstruction will be a slow, dangerous and expensive process.  So long as more reward is available through the proceeds of piracy than through aide and reconstruction, the condition will persist.