Puntland, Somalia: Threat Assessment is a precis of an indepth report researched in the regional capital Garowe over a one month period. The research methodology involved in-country interviews with Puntland government ministers, members of the Puntland Security Forces and international aid and development actors. It has been upadated for release in June 2016, but must be looked on as a general overview. If your organisation requires more in-depth information please contact me direct at richard@richardcpendry.com


Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia located in the northeast part of the country. It maintains its own political system, but unlike neighbouring Somaliland, does not seek to secede from the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), but has rather been engaged in meaningful, although often contentious, dialogue with the Federal Government regarding reunification. A new agreement signed between Puntland and the FGS on 14 October 2014 signals a renewed commitment to state-building between the two that may lead to future inclusiveness and stability, but could also exacerbate existing clan divisions in the region, which are an enduring source of conflict and violence.

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Puntland, Somalia: Threat Assessment showing the capital, Garowe

Garowe is the capital city of Puntland, the city home to an Aid & Development community that has grown from an estimate of nearly 40 international NGOs and Aid & Development implementers in October 2014, to nearly 70 in December 2016 – an increase of approximately 60% in just over year. The main variable that has enabled this rapid expansion with international organizations is the reduced threat picture within the region. In real terms this equates to the area being more permissible. The ease of access an attractive alternative for international organizations dealing with higher risk scenarios in central and southern Somalia and Mogadishu. However, this is not to say that the area is void of violence that is both politically and criminally motivated.

Armed Conflict, Clan/General Violence and Piracy/Criminality; pose potentially larger threat to members of the international community than insurgent actors such as Al Shabaab (AS). Whilst there has been a major reduction in offshore piracy over the past 24 months, there is evidence that some pirate groups have become involved in land-based criminal activity such as hijacking of vehicles, robberies, and abductions. Furthermore, clan disputes also contribute heavily to armed violence. Lastly, members of the international community can run the risk of being victims of violence stemming from political unrest, criminal intent, resentment, and operational and cultural disputes. Although these threats are present, there is little evidence of a  consistent pattern within Garowe, however they need to be identified and mitigated against.

Reported incidents of crime in Puntland are on par with the rest of the country, however incidents in Garowe are relatively few. The most salient crime in Garowe was on 10 Nov 15 when a vehicle belonging to Golis (the telecommunications company, en-route to a bank was stopped and robbed.  The vehicle was apparently carrying approximately $60,000 USD, the proceeds from a number of their branches.  The miscreants carried Kalashnikovs and wore camouflaged military uniforms. No one was injured during the robbery.  The Golis staff were not armed and the vehicle did not have an escort. This is apparently the first such incident of its type in Garowe. In the towns outside of the regional capital there are anecdotal reports of street gangs that indulge in street crime.

Terrorism and Politically Motivated Incidents. While the vast majority of security incidents in Puntland are related to clan-based violence or armed criminality, the Islamic extremist terrorist group, Al Shabaab (AS), does maintain a presence in the region. From their stronghold in the Galgala Mountains – which is just to the west of Bossaso – they have been able to conduct a number of high-impact terrorist attacks throughout 2014/15 & 16.


School in an IDP camp close to Bossaso. It is thought that Al Shabab are active in recruiting amongst the vulnerable population.

Despite the Puntland Security Forces (PSF) intervention in the Galgaga area, it is has been reported anecdotally that AS numbers have swelled due to returning fighters from south and central Somalia, and recruits from within IDP camps in the area and migrants fleeing from the conflict in Yemen.

Notwithstanding the efforts to neutralize their capability, AS claimed responsibility for an attack on a UNICEF bus in April 2015 that killed seven. There appears to be confusion surrounding the attack, something that has yet to be cleared up in the post incident investigation. Although AS publicly claimed responsibility, the opinion of the local security forces – voiced unofficially – was that the explosion was initiated by someone on the bus – indicating collusion by a UN staff member. Although this report thinks that it is highly unlikely that the explosion was caused by UN staff, it just goes to highlight the tenuous and often strained relationship between International actors and local officialdom, a variable that needs to be considered during operational planning. The overall outcome of this attack however, showed that belligerent actors were able to plan and execute an attack in what was thought to be a relatively permissible town.


Although relitivley permissible, security precautions still have to be taken

In late 2015, there were reports that a small group (12-20) had broken away from AS and had pledged their allegiance to Islamic State (IS) – a move contrary to AS doctrine, as for many years they have been recognised as Al Qaeda affiliate. There is speculation that causation for this was that lack of funds within the organization. This has not been confirmed, but if there is a grain of truth behind it, it could mean that the Somali effort to rid itself of the extremist group by limiting its ability to   access funds is working. This potential scenario however adds another threat that with reducing funds it may turn to the practice of K&R, which is well within their capability. Regarding the small group, there is speculation that they might try a ‘spectacular’ attack to gain notoriety and hence entice more recruits to their ranks. It must be noted that this supposition relies heavily on anecdotal sources, however K&R is a tactic, technique and procedure (TTP) that has been readily used on previous occasions and therefore must be taken seriously.




Political and Territorial Disputes

Territorial disputes, if not addressed properly, can become flashpoints for clan-based violence and represent major challenges to both Puntland and the SFG to achieving lasting peace and security. The process of determining the boundaries of emerging federal member states is a contested issue, with existing and emerging member states often claiming territory based upon where certain clans predominate. The most high profile of the current political disputes in Puntland is the recently resolved spat with the SFG over plans to form a new Central State of Somalia (CSS) out of the Galgudud and Mudug regions.

Galkayo is the capital city of Mudug region, situated between central and north-east Somalia. Originally, Mudug had five districts before the collapse of the Somalia central government. Since Puntland was established in 1998, its territory was limited to roughly two-and-a-half districts from the original demarcation, while the remaining territory was administered by various sub-clans of the Hawiye clan. Galmudug state was recently formed as part of the current federalization vision by the Federal Government of Somalia. Galmudug comprises Galgaduud and Mudug regions; Galmudug holds that Mudug is constitutionally part of Galmudug and not Puntland. In addition, there have also been historic disputes among clans in Mudug over territory.


Panorama of Garowe from the west showing the bridge over the dried up river bed

In 1993, during the civil war, an accord was reached between the Mudug clans in which territorial demarcation and rights of administration were defined. It was agreed that the North part will administer both the checkpoints in Galkayo as well as the Galkayo airport. Since the creation of Galmudug state, territorial dispute over Mudug region has been widespread and has claimed hundreds of lives since the 1993 accord.

From 28 November, Puntland Authority recommenced the construction of the disputed road construction at Garsor village. According to Puntland Authority, Galmudug security forces have responded by attacking the Puntland military personnel present at the site. The fighting escalated as both sides summoned back up forces and exchanged fire from heavy weapons. The fighting had stopped at the time of writing, but the situation remains tense and highly volatile.

The Prime Minister of Somali Federal Government along with some cabinet ministers, President of Juba-Land, and President of South-West Interim Government drove reconciliation efforts between Puntland and Galmudug state authorities. President Abdiweli of Puntland and President Abdikarim of Galmudug have also arrived in Galkayo for talks. On 2 December, an agreement was reached between the states that comprised four main articles: 1) immediate ceasefire; 2) withdrawal of military forces from the front line; 3) formation of committees comprising state- and local-level representatives to resolve contentious issues; and 4) and immediate return of Galkayo communities (both host communities and IDPs). The agreement was officially signed off by the Presidents of Puntland and Galmudug in front of the UN, IGAD and other Somalia leaders, and was officially announced through the media.

Despite the agreement hostilities have continued, with the latest violence erupting after the construction of a paved road straddling a key junction between Galmudug-controlled Barahley neighborhood and Garsoor sparked off fierce gun-battles and shelling on to built-up areas. Efforts are being made by the various governments involved but it is likely that at some stage the conflict will erupt again.

Puntland also has ongoing disputes with the autonomous Khatumo State and Somaliland over the western Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) provinces. The roots of the rivalry between Puntland and Somaliland can be fundamentally traced back to intense clan divisions among the Dhulbahante, who are divided in loyalty between Puntland, Khatumo, and Somaliland. The region is also prone to conflict due to competing claims by Somaliland, Puntland, and Khatumo over oil-rich territory in the SSC provinces and other political infighting. Although fighting between forces of Somaliland and Puntland has led to casualties and captured prisoners in the past, there has been no major violence in the region since 2010.


There is limited medical capacity in Garowe. Although unlikely to enter into a formal agreement, the UNDSS and its MERT (Medial Emergency Response Team) have both informally indicated that medical support can be offered to expat staff of international organisations under the following conditions:

  • It is safe to do so, and
  • Any requested resource is available and not otherwise tasked.

These resources include:

  • One clinic that is situated at the UN GIH compound.
    • This clinic is a level 1 facility. In the event of a CASEVAC requirement the medical staff have agreed that are prepared to stabilise and transport the patient to the airfield.
  • One soft-skinned ambulance
  • Assistance with casualty management and liaison with AMREF in the event of a case that requires medical evacuation
  • Liaison and referral to the one local hospital and two clinics that exist, each with its own strength and weaknesses. These are (strength in brackets):
    • Garowe General Hospital: 24hrs, 84 beds, individual rooms 24, A&E, lab services, X-ray, dispensary – very little medicine, Solar energy system.
    • Garowe Diagnostic Centre, Dr. Artan: lab services, X-ray, ECG, Ultrasound.
    • International Health Centre: Dr Arabay, paediatric, 8 beds, emergency room.It is important to note the significant limitations on the ability of AMREF to recover critically injured expat staff back to Nairobi. Their requirements for a security clearance before launch, guaranteed refuelling options, and security clearance on the ground in Kenya (before continuing to Nairobi), daylight only operations, inability to leave the airport, and time in the air, all combine to almost guarantee that most likely scenarios involve keeping a patient stabilised overnight while waiting for pick up the day after the incident.

Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW)

According to Danish Demining Group, the threat of injuries by UXOs is LOW with their main area of operation being along the Ethiopian border centralised on the town of Butinle, (this town will probably be the focal point centre for phase one of the road rehabilitation programme; Jalam – Harfo). DDG have reported no incidents of UXOs along the highway, however any project delivery in remote areas should be preceded by a cross check with the demining community in Garowe.


Children getting water from a stand pipe at a refugee camp

HR Process

Throughout the course of this assessment, the vast majority of interlocutors stressed the greatest caution must be exercised when entering into HR process. Threats of, and actual violence have beset international and national managers across a range of organisations (including government organisations) when they fail to follow customary procedure, or otherwise communicate in such a way the leads to misunderstandings and loss of face. It is important that clan leadership is involved early in the hiring stage, with the correct personal attributes being identified for individuals as a reason for progression to the next step. The reason for this is that there is an expectation within the clan community that things like jobs and other assets have to be divided amongst the whole community in a fair way. Failure to do this will result in tension. In the worst-case scenario of a personal contract being terminated the clan leadership must also be involved. An example of this process would be the following: documentation of the staff members wrong doings that are given to the clan elders as reason for dismissal; clan elders deliberate over evidence and make decision.


There is currently a major issue with the procurement process within the international organisations within Puntland. This was highlighted recently when an international who was in charge of a programme in Garowe was arrested when he complained to the police of what he believed was corrupt behaviour by the government. The current system is that the procurement process is taken away from the international organisation by the Puntland government. They open the bids and decide on the recipient for the contract. The international organisation is pushed to one side and does not have visibility on the process and is only given the contractors details when the decision has been made.

Travel and Communication.

The existing airport is due to close early December for rehabilitation. The expected work is will last approximately 12 months. In the meantime, a temporary airstrip at Connoco will be used. Connoco is located north-east of the current airstrip and is 27kms – or 40 minute drive- from Garowe. It is accessed via a 5-6km road that – at the time of writing – was not signposted. Although rudimentary in nature, it is now fully functional and was guarded at the time of the assessment by approximately 20 members of the PSF.



WFP plane arriving at the temporary airstrip

All movements within Garowe – even for the shortest journeys – have to be accompanied with Somali Protection Unit (SPU). The SPU commanders insist on three SPU per move, but this calculation is arbitrary, and it is up to the commander as there is no identified protocol. SPU are also required for external moves. Members of the SPU are armed, however there is no indication on the level of training. When asked to provide documentation for the same, none was forth coming.

There is currently no ministry involved in issuing radio frequencies and licences. Common practice for organisations in Garowe who want to use VHF/UHF systems is to de-conflict with UN and any other organisational networks and then adapt a system accordingly.


There is no option for private accommodation within Garowe in specific or Puntland in general. The option therefore would be to use an accommodation methodology used in other countries with dynamic threat pictures of combining living and office accommodation at one location. There are a number of options depending on the MOSS requirement on organisations wishing to locate.

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