(THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS) A Grand Rapids-based security firm is taking on a job few would envy: Protect the transitional government of Somalia, a failed state and breeding ground for terrorism and international piracy.
According to the Somali government, CSS Global Inc. has been contracted to provide security consulting services and training for government forces.
In a statement released Wednesday, Somali special envoy H.E. Ali Hassan Gulaid said he is “confident the expertise of the CSS Global senior staff will prove to be a valuable asset to us in our efforts to establish a safe and secure Somalia for our citizens.”
CSS Global, an affiliate of Ada-based CSS Alliance, has furnished counterterrorism services in other African nations and provided security and logistics in Iraq. Its operations team comprises former military and law enforcement personnel, including Special Forces.
Press File PhotoChris and Tim Frain, founders of Corporate Security Solutions
“It is going to be a huge challenge,” said Chris Frain, chief executive officer and co-owner of CSS Alliance. “This is a brand-new government being stood up with the help of the international community.”
Frain said he is optimistic CSS can get the job done.
“Our protective operations team has the experience and focus to provide strategic security services and support operations in any situation,” he said.
But in a landscape that some analysts warn could be a virtual Petri dish for al-Qaida, the challenges are daunting. Most of Somalia has remained lawless or in the hands of rival clans and warlords since the central government collapse of 1991.
The country is remembered by Americans for the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down,” in which 18 U.S. soldiers died and defiant Somalis dragged the corpses of several through city streets.
More recently, Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships off the coast, including the brief takeover in April of a U.S. cargo ship that ended when Navy snipers killed three pirates and rescued the captain.
There is hope the contract could help the government crack down on pirate attacks, which have threatened international shipping since the 1990s.
One expert in African security issues called the political environment in Somalia “extremely difficult.”
“Somalia has been a failed state for more than 15 years,” said Fabienne Hara, vice president of the International Crisis Group, an independent nonprofit conflict resolution advocacy group. Hara served as acting chief of the United Nations mission in Sudan in 2007 and as central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.
As clans and various Islamic factions continue to vie for power, the potential threat from al-Qaida is a “growing concern,” Hara said.
“There are foreign elements among the Islamic factions,” Hara said.
In September, U.S. special forces attacked a car in southern Somalia, killing one of Africa’s most wanted al-Qaida militants. Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was suspected of constructing the truck bomb that killed 15 people at a Kenyan hotel in 2002.
The moderate Islamic government of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who became president in February, is regarded by many as the country’s best chance for stability in years.
Frain and his brother, Tim, have built CSS from a small detective and corporate security agency in the 1990s to a player in international security.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it contracted with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to protect commercial buildings and trailer parks. At its peak, it had 600 employees in the New Orleans area.
In Iraq, the firm won a Department of Defense contract in 2007 to provide personal security and convoy security as it set up a compound about a mile outside the heavily fortified Green Zone. It later won contracts to build and transport cement barriers and modular housing used by the military.
The work was not without danger: Three CSS operatives were killed in 2007 by roadside bombs while escorting convoys, two in an incident near the border with Iran and the other in northern Iraq.
Hara noted that Somalia has already undergone more than a dozen peace initiatives since the early 1990s.
Frain said he could not comment on the size of the contract or number of security forces CSS would employ because the new government is “very sensitive” to the impact that publication of that information might have on opposition forces. He said funding for the transition government comes from the Arab League and other members of the international community.
Despite the obstacles to stability, Frain insisted that it might not be as tough as the environment the firm faced in Iraq.
“As important as this is to the world that this transitional government succeed, our opinion is that maybe this would be a little bit easier,” he said.