Thursday, December 2, 2010
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. has been aware of the operation, but is not involved in any way. He said the U.S. has unanswered questions about the backing and purpose of the project, which has begun training an armed force of up to 1,050 men in Puntland.
"We are aware that Puntland authorities have contracted with a private security company to assist them with counter-piracy in the region," Crowley told reporters. "We were not consulted about this program. We are not funding it.
We are concerned about the lack of transparency regarding its funding, objectives and scope."
Crowley said the U.S. is seeking more information about the force, which officials in the region say is being trained by a private security firm called Saracen International.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the force is being funded by an undisclosed Muslim nation, which has hired a former CIA officer and a senior ex-U.S. diplomat to help with its creation.
The new force's first class of 150 Somali recruits from Puntland graduated from a 13-week training course on Monday. It is to be equipped with 120 new pickup trucks and six small aircraft for patrolling the coast.
In September, the Obama administration said it planned to broaden its outreach to Puntland and another semiautonomous Somali region, Somaliland, as part of its efforts to help restore stability in Somalia.
U.S. officials did not detail what the outreach would entail but said it would stop short of recognizing the two entities as independent countries.
The presence of the force has raised concern among some in the region who note that Somalia hasn't had a fully functioning government since 1991. The country is torn between clan warlords, Islamist insurgent factions, an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, government forces and allied groups.