WASHINGTON — Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials.

The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells off his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in American government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in lawsuits and investigations amid reports of reckless behavior by his operatives, including causing the deaths of civilians in Iraq. His efforts to wade into the chaos of Somalia appear to be Mr. Prince’s latest endeavor to remain at the center of a campaign against Islamic radicalism in some of the world’s most war-ravaged corners. Mr. Prince moved to the United Arab Emirates late last year.

Of course, mercenaries are not a long-term security solution, but it seems to me that in this situation, they could only improve things in ways that national armed forces can’t or won’t.  It is true that there are many complex legal problems concerning their legal status under the law of war and other international laws, but they seem surmountable. And it seems that clarifying and stabilizing their legal status is a worthwhile goal, at least in situations like Somalia where there are few other attractive options.