Written by Oscar Nkala
The Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) has taken delivery of three second-hand Ayres S2R Thrush aircraft which it is using to conduct maritime surveillance and security patrols in support of the regional crackdown on piracy.
According to defence and security website IHS Janes, the three Thrush aircraft, as well as an Alouette III helicopter, were captured on satellite imagery on February 24 at the PMFP main base at the Red Sea port of Bosaso. The site said all three aircraft formerly belonged to the US State Department which previously used them to spray defoliants during anti-narcotics operations in South America. As a result they were fitted with armoured cockpits and engines to protect the crew and aircraft from hostile ground fire.
The aircraft may be armed with machine guns and rockets but IHS Jane‚Äôs sources give conflicting information on this.
Unnamed sources told IHS Janes that the aircraft are being flown by foreign contractors.
Apart from the three Ayres S2Rs, the PMPF also owns a 40-year-old Alouette III helicopter bought from South African commercial firm and fitted with a door gun. However, IHS Janes reports that it has since been grounded due to a lack of spares.
The force also reportedly operates a Russian-made Antonov An-26 transport aircraft which is used to rotate foreign contractors and deliver fuel and equipment to PMPF units on operations. The air drops includes fuel supplies at sea for the PMPF’s three rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), which are armed with 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine guns. A DC-3 transport aircraft was also captured on satellite imagery at the PMPF base.
IHS Janes also quoted one source saying that two Mil Mi-17 helicopters fitted with Western avionics are also routinely seen at the PMPF’s airstrip in Bosaso. The two aircraft are reportedly flown by US crews and they are suspected to be part of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or US special forces operations in the region.
Established in 2010 with the help of the United Arab Emirates, the PMPF has been struggling to arm itself because of a United Nations embargo which prohibits arms sale to the region which broke away from Somalia and proclaimed itself an independent republic at the height of the political and security chaos in the late 1990s.
However, Puntland’s demonstrated ability to secure itself and its strategic location on the horn of Africa has attracted some Western and Middle Eastern countries who have established security ties as part of the war on terror in neighbouring Somalia and for the common front against maritime piracy in the Red Sea.