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Puntland - Security

Although the state does not have major outstanding internal disputes, the potential for conflict lies in its natural resources, including minerals, fishing, land, grazing, and water. Dispute with Somaliland over the disputed border regions of Sool and Sanaag and threats of incursions continue to preoccupy the state with security and political concerns. In addition the State’s capacity is overstretched by the burden of absorbing and catering for the large number of indigenous Puntlanders who fled from the South during the 1990/1991 civil war and thousands of Ethiopian economic migrants.

There remains an unresolved dispute with Somaliland over the western regions of Sool and Sanaag. Access and security in Puntland is unhindered, although increased sporadic incidents involving international NGOs are reported. Most of the access constraints are related to bad infrastructure which impacts on access to remote hinterland and coastal areas.

There is need for continued disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR). When Puntland was formed in 1998, the authorities inherited about 15,000 former militia personnel. Over the four years up to 2007, some 6,500 of these had been absorbed by the security forces and civil service, while a further 3,000 voluntarily demobilized and reintegrated into civilian life, leaving an estimated 6,000 ex-combatants unemployed and in need of reintegration assistance. To address this, the Puntland administration established a Directorate of Demining, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDD&R).

Although poorly resourced and understaffed, the DDD&R was a well managed body with the potential of developing a strong DDR capacity. This capacity needed to be strengthened through training and technical assistance, particularly with regard to community organizations including the active involvement of youth and women, especially war widows. In addition further support will be required to address any residual disarmament exercise.

A Puntland Police Force (PLPF) was being trained, with the goal of amalgamation into a future Somalia Police Force (SPF). The SPF, which was active and highly regarded during the decade following independence - before being turned into an organ of the armed forces during the Barre regime - is being reactivated, although not yet effectively operational. Former police and military personnel, together with ex-militia, are brought together to constitute the PLPF, whose operating procedures and style mirror those of the old, civilian SPF. Establishing a system of community policing is considered necessary to bolster the Police Force. The training of custodial corps will complement the Police Force. To redress the low representation of women in the Police Force, a percentage higher than 15% was considered appropriate.

In December 2010, the Puntland Parliament enacted provisions under Islamic law prohibiting the death of smuggled or trafficked persons and prescribing punishments of between one and five years’ imprisonment. In April 2012, Puntland courts sentenced a Somali man to 12 years’ imprisonment for attempting to traffic nine children between the ages of seven and 14 from southern Somalia to Yemen, via Puntland, for forced labor. The court transferred custody of the children to a local UNICEF-funded NGO until their parents could be identified. In 2012, Puntland’s anti-trafficking unit intercepted five children in Galkacyo who they identified as potential trafficking victims.

The absence of significant military or coast guard forces allowed pirates to set up enclaves and hubs for operations across its coastline. The Puntland government expresses a desire to fight al-Shabaab, piracy, and crime, but lacks significant resources. Puntland government forces successfully removed pirates from the port city of Eyl, and recently turned back an al-Shabaab offensive in the mountains south of Bosasso. These security forces vary greatly in their training and abilities, and the government has no maritime resources to patrol its waters.

H.E. Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud (Farole), President of Puntland State, Somalia, testified June 25, 2009 to the US House Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health: "In order to provide a comprehensive and effective response to the problem of piracy, we need assistancein establishing eight coastal stations, with jetties, along the Puntland Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden village centers. These stations will be placed in the following towns and villages, all of which are in Puntland: Garacad, Eyl, Beila, Bargaal, Caluula, Kandala, Bosaso and Laas-Qorey. We will need equipment at each of these Coastal Task Force stations, which is not limited to: Port Command Centers – Intelligence coordination and surveillance capabilities shared by Puntland Government agencies; Speed Boats and Aircraft; Communications Equipment and Training for the 600 member Coastal Task Force. We will also need to provide incentives for the Coastal Task Force to ensure the first priority is to the Puntland Government."

In late 2010, unidentified foreign donors financed a program to recruit and train a counter-piracy force for Puntland. After allegations that this force violated the UN arms embargo, it was put on hold indefinitely. If the UN decided to support the formation of this force, it could be reconstituted.

The Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) was established in late 2010 as a locally-recruited coastal police force to promote peace through anti-piracy and humanitarian operations throughout the Puntland region. In 2011 the group delivered 800 tons of food and 70,000 liters of water to Puntland residents. By mid-2012 Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) conducted operations in Bari, Karkar and Nugal regions of Puntland including the villages of Eyl, Hafun, Bargal, Hal Anod, and Bali-Dhidin forcing pirates to flee.

On April 18, 2011, Reuters reported that Somalia's Puntland semi-autonomous regional state will soon put in place special prisons and courts to try pirates in the Indian Ocean region. According to Saeed Mohamed Rage, Puntland's Minister of Marine Transport, Ports and Counter-Piracy, construction of prisons will soon commence in Puntland (in the cities of Bosaso and Garowe) as well as in Somaliland. Puntland also recently signed an agreement with the government of Seychelles, on the repatriation and transfer of pirates convicted in Seychelles, which would probably enter into effect upon the completion of the new prisons.

By mid-2012 the Government’s law enforcement action targeting pirates is in accordance with numerous resolutions from the U.N. Security Council calling upon regional authorities in Somalia to build up law enforcement and security capacity in the fight against piracy. Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMFP) units were deployed in the coastal towns of Eyl, Hafun, Bargal, and the village of Hul-Anod. PMPF forces have successfully cut off pirate supply lines to hijacked ships and two hijacked ships have left the coast of Bari region as a result.

Since the first successful exploration wells were drilled in semi-autonomous Puntland in early 2012, oil has become a deciding factor in the reduction of piracy. The Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF), a privately paramilitary force armed and funded by the UAE, celebrated its third birthday n October 2013. The PMPF has been pivotal in reducing pirate operating bases on the coast of Puntland. Onshore dynamics directly impact offshore risks. Private security companies offering armed protection teams has evolved from a niche market to a multibillion dollar norm in the region. Floating armories and training bases in certain countries have allowed these companies to circumvent local regulations on prohibiting arms within territorial waters. Although liability and the inherently non-transparent nature of the sector often bring it into question, it is nonetheless a fact that no ship with armed security teams on board has ever been hijacked.

On March 28, 2014, UAE pledged continued support for Puntland Marine Forces. Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and UAE Ambassador to Somalia Mohamed Al Osmani met to discuss on the bilateral relations between both sides. The meeting took place in Puntland marine Forces base in the port town of Bosaso. Ambassador Mohamed Al Osmani underlined that his government will continue supporting the Puntland’s new leadership progress. A Source from the Puntland President Office confirmed that both sides agreed the UAE to also continue supporting Puntland Marine police forces that was formed in 2010.

On 12 April 2015, following two days of talks, the Federal Prime Minister and the President of Puntland issued a statement including an agreement that Puntland would contribute 3,000 troops to the Somali national army. They also recommitted the Federal Government and the “Puntland Administration” to the implementation of earlier agreements, and acknowledged the need for the Federal Government to consult the states on federal legislation and commissions.

On 08 October 2017 the Iranian captain of a fishing boat was killed and another sailor was injured after security forces opened fire during an operation in the Indian Ocean. Officials said the shooting occurred after Puntland Maritime Police Forces spotted two boats suspected to be fishing illegally in Somali waters.

Illegal fishing in Somali waters occurs often according to maritime organizations. Most of the boats illegally fishing in Somali waters come from Iran, Yemen, China and number of Southeast Asian countries, according to the organizations. A 2015 report by the U.S.-based watchdog, Secure Fisheries, says foreign fishing boats caught more than 132,000 metric tons of fish off Somalia in each of 2013 and 2014, while local fishermen caught only 40,000 metric tons. In monetary terms, foreign vessels have out earned their Somali counterparts by nearly $250 million per year.

Mogadishu uses Puntland as a stepping-stone to embroil Somaliland in a full-scale war to impede the UAE’s initiatives. Shortly after UN, IGAD, and UK defused a potential armed conflict between Somaliland and Puntland in Sool province of Somaliland, Puntland vowed to reignite the violence, undermining the International community’s mediation efforts. And the Somaliland officials are now baffled about Puntland’s unpredictable behavior.

The showdown between the defending Somaliland troops and the invading Puntland’s clan militias was a prelude to a proxy war between Qatar, Iran and the Houthi rebel group on one side, and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt on the other. Puntland’s war rhetoric cought the Somaliland leaders off guard. Somaliland wanted to honor the International community's mediation, but Somaliland would not sit idle while Puntland geared up for violence.

The Puntland leader, Dr. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gas” remained belligerent and provocative. On August 19, 2018, the war committee beat the war drums again, "U.N and IGAD visited Puntland twice to mediate Somaliland and Puntland, but we reject their efforts and the war will continue. I swear in the name of God, there will be a war; it is going to happen; Puntland people, get ready for war", stated Puntland’s Interior Minister, Abdullahi Timma-Adde.

Somaliland army commanders prepared for a decisive battle to render the invading Puntland clan militias ineffective. If violence erupted, the Somaliland army planned to set up a blockade at the highway between Puntland’s capital, Garowe, and its commercial city, Bosaso—splitting Puntland into two isolated regions. Additionally, Somaliland may place its heavy artillery within a striking distance of Garowe, targeting Puntland military bases on the outskirts of the city.

The disfranchised Dhulbhante clans were happy with neither Somaliland nor Puntland. Historically, they lost much of the Nugaal region to the Majerten clans of Puntland. A battle between the Dhulbahante and the Majerten clans raged in Nugaal region. Reclaiming the Nugaal State of Somalia (NSS) region and the Nugaal Valley onshore blocks may be the begging of the end for Puntland.

Puntland leaders mobilized enormous resources for the war cause from the local clans and the Diaspora community. And they are accused of emblazing the funds and their daily war bluffs were no longer taken seriously.

As of 2018, UAE trained and paid salaries for Puntland maritime police forces [PMPF] and had a military base in Bosaso city, the commercial hub of Puntland.

The Houthis, in their efforts to prevent the UAE’s building a military base in Berbera, are arming Puntland. Unabatedly, Puntland receives boatloads of weapons from Yemen. The “weapon pipeline” flows from Iran to a number of small transshipment ports in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of the Somali coast, on the tip of the Horn of Africa. The coastal region is largely ungoverned by Somali authorities, and a former Puntland ports minister told Reuters that in 2017 at least 160 Iranian boats were reported illegally entering Somali waters. Djibouti now openly supplies weapons to Puntland. Illegal weapons from Djibouti were pouring into Puntland.

Using Puntland as an attack dog, Somalia remains on a collision course with Somaliland.

Puntland’s hankering to replace colonial borders with clan-based boundaries remains the root-cause of the current conflict.

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