(en)Mercenaries: To Stabilize Tottering African Governments

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Fri, 16 May 1997 23:44:23 -0400 (EDT)


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/** disarm.armstra: 554.0 **/ ** Topic: To Stabilize Tottering African Governments ** ** Written 2:26 PM May 12, 1997 by disenber@cdi.org in cdp:disarm.armstra ** From: David Isenberg <disenber@cdi.org> Subject: To Stabilize Tottering African Governments

http://www.afji.com/Mags/1996/Nov/Africa.html

To Stabilize Tottering African Governments

Today, some 30 years after African independence, mercenary groups appear to be making a comeback, and they're encountering surprisingly little opposition. The most formidable force, known simply as "Executive Outcomes" (EO), can quickly mobilize some 1,000 ex-South African Defence Force combat veterans and a small, but powerful, air wing.

EO recently helped stabilize the Angolan and Sierra Leonean governments, when those nations were threatened by insurgencies. Other African countries have also reportedly expressed interest in hiring Executive Outcomes. But the past successes and commercial acumen of this South African-based mercenary organization raise broad questions about African security and sovereignty. Despite such questions, however, EO seems likely to prosper.

Executive Outcomes began in 1989, but first achieved widespread notice in early 1993, when the Angolan MPLA government hired it to blunt the military offensive of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA. EO helped train the Angolan military, operated various logistics and communication activities, and sometimes became directly involved in combat. The company's success helped push Savimbi into signing the Lusaka Protocol in November 1994, which effectively finished Angola's civil war.

A year later, the Valentine Strasser government of Sierra Leone hired EO to blunt an imminent takeover by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgency. Once again, EO flexed its muscle. It pushed RUF away from Freetown and recaptured several diamond fields. EO's offensive greatly assisted the Sierra Leonean government to hold relatively free elections early this year.

EO combat soldiers in Angola proved instrumental in seizing Ntaladondo and in recapturing the diamond areas of Cafunfo and the oil installations at Soyo. One EO soldier recalls that his unit, "on the way to Cafunfo, killed about 300 enemy soldiers. Executive Outcomes was engaged in attacks all the time." EO combat-supervisional operations had EO personnel spread sparingly throughout the force, from platoon to command level. Perhaps 20 EO personnel died in Angola, from combat, training, and health-related problems.

The South Africans, never over 1,000 strong, had turned the tide in both countries with superior technology and skills.

"Beyond dispute," wrote Philip van Niekerk, "is that the South Africanswho handle intelligence, logistics, communications, training, and planninghave made all the difference between a fighting force and an ill-disciplined band." General Maada Bio, the successor to President Strasser, recalls the near-anarchy in Sierra Leone and the incompetence of his military. "They [EO] did a positive jobprotection by any means. We didn't consider them as mercenaries but as people bringing in some sanity."

Andy Brown, EO's commanding officer in Sierra Leone comments, "We work within a set of parameters that are quite novel to west African conditions." In Angola and Sierra Leone, EO effectively deployed long-range reconnaissance and commando squads, and introduced night fighting. EO effectively pioneered in Angola the first airborne assault operations, close air support and, apparently, the first use of fuel air explosives. EO planes conducted aerial (including infrared) reconnaissance flights, and its radio operators reportedly jammed insurgents' communications. Defense experts believe that EO is highly skilled in signals and communication and photo interpretation.

EO "advisors" remain close to the action. "We have to be there to assist in operational plans and help command and control," contends a top EO official. "If the operation backfires we get the blame. We have to stand behind the client. You can't have command and control at the tactical level when you're sitting in Luanda hundreds of miles away."

WHAT IS EO? Executive Outcomes is one of some 20 companies clustered under the Strategic Resources Corporation (SRC). These companies specialize in, inter alia, gold and diamond mining, air transport, hospital construction, computer software, and demining.

Many of EO's approximately 1,000 soldiers come from South Africa's former 32 Battalion, the Reconnaissance Commandos, or "Reccies," the Parachute Brigade, or "Parabats," and the para-military "Koevoet," or "Crowbar." These four groups were South Africa's spearhead of military destabilization throughout southern Africa. They gained a thorough knowledge of Savimbi's capabilities and of the Angolan terrain and, several times, plucked Savimbi from the jaws of defeat.

The SADF's Special Forces and the 32 Battalion in Angola saw particularly intense service. The 32 Battalion, composed largely of Portuguese-speaking Angolans, became South Africa's most highly decorated unit since World War II.

Three of EO's officials reflect this elite unit background. Eeben Barlow, presently EO's director, was second-in-command of the 32 Battalion (and later a top official of the Civil Cooperation Bureau); Laffras Luittingh, head of recruitment, was a major in 5 Reconnaissance Commando; and Nic van den Bergh was a lieutenant colonel in the Parabats.

EO picks its employees carefully. Barlow notes that "we've had an awful lot of calls and letters [from prospective recruits], but unless they have served in the SADF or SAP [South African Police], we won't take them." [The one exception appears to be its air crews and maintenance personnel.] This stipulation ensures common training and probable combat experience. Blacks reportedly comprise about 70 percent of EO, but most of these members serve as combat soldiers. Barlow also pointed out that no Americans presently serve in EO.

EO promises excellent financial benefits. Salaries may range up to $13,000 per month (for its approximately 18 pilots, mostly Ukranian and South African), and EO provides life insurance. A captain in EO earns four times as much as does a captain in South Africa's elite Parabat Brigade.

The standard EO contract is for one year, and EO does not maintain a permanent standing force. Instead, many EO soldiers will work for other SRC companies during periods of peace or, should they have particularly desirable skills, they are placed on retainers.

EO offers a wide range of services. By all accounts, Executive Outcomes' officers are excellent trainers. Its pilots are skilled at conducting reconnaissance and photographic missions, sometimes using infrared capabilities. They have provided Angola and Sierra Leone with quick-strike night-time capability. A UNITA soldier in Angola acknowledged, "We used to know we could sleep well at night. In this recent war, new tactics meant that fighting continued at night and that light infantry units led by these Executive Outcomes guys would come from deep behind our lines. We could no longer rest. It weakened us very much. It is the new tactics in which they trained the FAA that made the difference. They introduced a new style of warfare to Angola. We were not used to this."

Executive Outcomes personnel sometimes fight, rather than just train and advise. The firm's own pilots flew combat sorties in Mi-8 ("HIP"), Mi-17 ("HIP-H"), and Mi-24 ("HIND") helicopters and MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighters. (EO prefers well-armed Mi-8 helicopters because of easier maintenance). The Mi-24s, equipped with four-barreled Gatling guns and a 40mm auto grenade launcher, were notably intimidating. Other air equipment includes MiG-23 all-weather interceptors, Su-25 close-support fighters, MiG-27 ground attack fighters, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and BTR 60 amphibious armored personnel carriers.

WHATEVER'S NEEDED

The contracting government, rather than EO, purchases the equipment from EO specifications. Most of the purchasing occurs in Eastern Europe, with some also in Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Barlow states, "We don't employ high-tech equipment. It's too difficult to maintain and to interpret its results. Why sacrifice costly equipment?"

EO is an effective "pocket," battalion-sized military. A prospectus offers the following training services: air force, naval, special forces, command and staff, armor, artillery, mechanized infantry, and medical capabilities.

EO, despite being officered by white South Africans, has not attracted the same firestorms of protest that hit previous mercenary groups. The Angolan and Sierra Leonean governments publicly expressed gratitude and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) issued only muted criticism. The Mandela government of South Africawhich most of EO's soldiers were once bitterly opposed tohas not taken legal action against the South African-based company.

EO reflects some major differences from past mercenary operations. It depicts itself as helping African stability. EO has apparently fought only for sovereign governments, rather than insurgencies. It has accomplished tasks (most notably, Savimbi's defeat in Angola), which many African governments approved of but hesitated to attempt because of financial or political costs. EO has not attempted political action against its host governments and its soldiers have accumulated a human rights record better than those of many African armies.

Yet some US government analysts worry that EO could harm Africa's longer-term development. EO's financing is unclear, but apparently it obtains long-term, and relatively cheap, mineral and other concessions in return for saving the existing government. These agreements give Strategic Resources Corporation strong economic influence with the contracting government.

Even after EO departs a country, such as Angola, some of its personnel remain behind, often in private armed security companies. Thus, a foreign and largely nonaccountable company has both an economic and security presence in a fragile African state. EO replies to its critics by noting that it and SRC companies can provide Africa with two scarce commodities: physical stability and economic know-how.

EO will probably continue to prosper. Conflicts will continue in sections of west and central Africa and, presently, there is no official force, either African or non-African, willing and able to intervene. The OAU, with assistance from the US, is considering a permanent African standby force but its creation is by no means certain.

EO's success demonstrates two important points about contemporary Africa. First, "collapsed states" are a growing phenomenon in parts of Africa (Liberia, Somalia, and Rwanda are examples). National militaries, often riddled with ethic, religious, and personal differences, sometimes contribute to these implosions.

A major military problem contributing to these situations is lack of military maintenance. Impressive Orders of Battle may disguise a barely functioning military. Mozambique, in southern Africa, has 43 MiG-21s, six Mi-24 helicopter gunships, and 22 other aircraft along with 12 naval vessels. Yet an informed defense analyst comments, "Mozambique doesn't have one boat that floats or one plane that flies."

EO success also reveals how a small but highly effective force can bring orderfor a price. As A.J. Venter writes, "What is interesting about the year [s] of EO" involvement with the Angolans was that they managed to achieve so much with so little." Unless African states receive significant financial, logistical, and training assistance from the West, EO may live up to the future predicted for it by a western intelligence source: "Unlimited potential for expansion and self-enrichment. Certainly, within Africa, there is little evidence of the bandwagon slowing down."

Armed Forces Journal INTERNATIONAL phone: 202.296.0450 x21 mail us: wwwafji@afji.com

===================================================================== David Isenberg, Senior Research Analyst CDI's ONLY genuine former enlisted man Center for Defense Information 1500 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005 202/862-0700 (Voice), 202/862-0708 (Fax), disenber@cdi.org (Email) Arms Trade Data Base Web Site: www.cdi.org/atdb WAIS Users: wais.cdi.org database atdb Arms Trade Listserver Archive: mail2.cdi.org/archives/armstrade

Have black belt, will fight =====================================================================

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