Business Insider | Saturday, October 06, 2012 | Michael Kelley | An attempt by CIA-connected trainers to create a sophisticated counter-piracy force in Somalia turned into hundreds of half-trained and well-armed Somali mercenaries being left to their own devices in the desert, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times report.
The Puntland Maritime Police Force, trained by dozens of South African mercenaries from sometime in 2010 to June 2012, was run by a Dubai-based company called Sterling Corporate Services that seems to be connected to the CIA.
The Times reports that in July a United Nations investigative group uncovered that the force shared some facilities with the Puntland Intelligence Service, a spy organization that answers to the president of the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland and has been trained by the CIA for more than a decade.
Michael Shanklin, a former C.I.A. station chief in Mogadishu, was reportedly hired to work his contacts both in Washington and East Africa to build support for the force while Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, made several trips to the Puntland camp to oversee the training of the counter-piracy force.
The Times notes that Prince, a former U.S. Navy Seal who had become an informal adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, was simultaneously “involved in a project to train Colombian mercenaries at a desert camp in the emirates to carry out missions at the behest of the Emirati government.”
(Sidenote: According to leaked emails from the private U.S. security firm Stratfor, during this time period the former director of Blackwater, former CIA officer Jamie F. Smith, was aiding the Libyan opposition and subsequently sent to contact Syrian rebels in Turkey at the request of a U.S. Government committee.)
The South African trainers bailed in June 2012 after one was shot by a Somali trainee, and recently about 500 former trainees—unpaid for weeks—were seen wandering the Puntland Maritime Police Force desert compound with two-years worth of weapons.
The Times notes that the options for the armed and semi-trained mercenaries included joining up “with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars.”
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