I finally got a chance to watch The Somali Project, which was originally called The Project. This documentary was purchased by The Vladar Company and the film is now available to buy or rent. With that said, I was able to rent the film through youtube, and it is fantastic! When you rent it, you get the film for 48 hours. You also have the choice to rent a High Definition version, and that is what I went with.
Now I had read about the film and how it did at the Tribeca Film festival, I blogged about it, and I watched the trailer. But I never got a chance to watch the whole thing. Here on the blog, I have also written about the Puntland Maritime Protection Force and about piracy off the coast of Somalia during the peak years of that problem. It was a horrible deal, with hundreds of folks taken hostage and just rotting away off the coast of Somalia in captured ships. My interest in the matter was getting armed guards on boats, so that these pirates would have friction at sea. On land, the PMPF was the answer to attacking the source of piracy.
The film starts off with the families of hostages who were from places like India. Heart wrenching to say the least. Basically these hostages were tortured, and treated horribly and their captors were negotiating with the companies that owned these captured vessels. Some companies paid the ransom, and others did not. Some companies just gave up on the whole deal and just left their employees/contractors to rot. Either way, there were multiple ships parked off the coast of Somalia that were captured and being held by pirates and no one was doing any rescues.
Next in the film, we see an individual named Roger Carstens who paid a visit to the PMPF camp in Somalia and accompanied the PMPF on their first mission. He was an observer that worked for The New America Foundation at the time. He was also prior special forces according to his LinkedIn profile and he provided a lot of the commentary in this film.
Now for the main stars of this film–Erik Prince was the idea guy, and EO veteran Roelf Van Heerden was the commanding officer of this operation. Erik had several cameos in this film and discussed some of the ideas behind ‘The Project” as it was called. Roelf was the CO of the entire operation, and his fellow South African mentors/trainers were heavily involved in training these Somalis. And what a process that was. It was also interesting to see a Somali American that was a member of the PMPF.
They did a great job in the film showing exactly how difficult it was to train these guys. We are talking about folks who don’t even know how to put shoe laces in boots, or what basic hygiene was or any of that stuff. The trainers mentioned how much of a challenge this really was. They were taking a very rough product and trying to make soldiers out of them. It was a challenge that any contractor or military guy that has been in this position, can appreciate.
We also get to see how well the PMPF camp was constructed. Within that camp, you get to see all the equipment they had, to include air assets. Here is what they had according to wikipedia and Defence Web.
The Puntland Maritime Police Force possesses both maritime and land security capacities. The force has three Ayres Thrush low-wing aircraft fitted with armored cockpits and engines to protect the crew and aircraft from hostile ground fire. It also operates an Antonov An-26 transport aircraft and a Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopter.
For naval capabilities, it operates three rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), which are armed with 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine guns.
I really like the use of the An-26 for paracargo operations. For long range operations on the ground, they were using this aircraft to drop fuel and supplies.
When they finished training their first batch of PMPF forces, they then went on to conduct their first operation, complete with air support. And this is where the film gets interesting… They go into detail about what exactly happened during the incident where one of the SA mentors was killed. His name was Lodewyk Pietersen and I do remember writing about this when it happened. This film shows exactly what went down, and how something like that could happen. Basically a nephew of a pirate, whom infiltrated the PMPF, instigated a mutiny of sorts, and executed this SA mentor as a means of putting a halt to the mission. The pirates knew that if they could kill a mentor, that the operation would stop and the Puntland government would want everyone to stop and get back. Which is what happened and I wrote about that as well. Roger Carstens mentioned that the pirates identified the ‘center of gravity’ of the PMPF, which were the mentors, and effectively attacked it.
What happens next though, is what I was impressed with. The contract at that point was buried and folks went home–except for a few volunteers that stayed behind. Roelf was one of them, and he continued to lead the PMPF in further operations. He and his team were definitely involved in combat, and definitely used their air assets. The film goes on to talk about all the rescue missions and raids that this team went on, and thanks to the leadership of Roelf, they were able to successfully free hostages! I talked about one of those operations awhile back (MV Iceberg) and it was impressive. Roelf was instrumental in keeping that unit operational and effective, and Roger Carstens was impressed with Roelf’s performance out there. Especially against such great adversity. ‘This is Africa’, the saying goes, and these men were definitely dealing with some African friction. lol
Other characters in the film included interviews with UN folks, and South Africans like Lafras Luitingh, another Executive Outcomes veteran.
Overall, this film is excellent and it is worth your time to watch. It puts into perspective what these men were up against for this contract and I have a lot of respect for what they did. This film brings attention to the complexities of modern warfare and what private industry can accomplish. It also brings attention to the sacrifice and hard work of those whom are on the ground, doing the job that no one else was willing to do or wanted to do. These men were absolutely responsible for the rescue of multiple hostages taken by pirates, and they definitely had an impact on the overall piracy problem of the time.
The results speak for themselves–piracy is at an all time low thanks to what has been done on land and at sea by private companies. It is a success story, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. –Matt