Reports have emerged from Nigeria that South African military contractors are on the ground helping the Nigerian military deal some devastating blows to the terrorist organization known as Boko Haram. “The campaign gathered good momentum and wrested much of the initiative from the enemy,” says Eeben Barlow, the chairman of STTEP, a private military company (PMC) on the ground in Nigeria. Their presence has spurred a predictable and all-too-familiar cacophony from hand-wringing policy wonks, politicians, and media pundits lambasting the use of ‘apartheid’-era mercenaries in Nigeria’s bloody war against Islamic extremists.
Boko Haram, the so-called Nigerian Taliban, believes in the imposition of Sharia law and the rejection of Western culture. Their methods are brutal: employing assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, and massacres against civilian populations. Led by Abubakar Shekau, the terrorist organization has murdered thousands of civilians. The Nigerian Army has been at war with the group since 2009.
With a Nigerian strike force trained by STTEP, Boko Haram seems to have finally met their match. “The enemy tried to engage the strike force on several occasions but suffered the consequences of their actions,” Barlow told SOFREP. “It was not uncommon for the strike force to be met by thousands of cheering locals once the enemy had been driven from an area.”
Amid the cries of racist, out-of-control mercenaries running around Nigeria, one thing can be certain. Whoever these private military contractors are, they are very effective at what they do. Clearly, Nigeria isn’t their first rodeo. In an exclusive SOFREP interview, Barlow takes us inside how STTEP initially got involved in the conflict, their tactics, their team members, and exactly what he thinks about those who would call him ‘mercenary’ or ‘racist’ simply because his men effectively kill those who rape, murder, and maim innocent civilians.
Barlow is well known for founding Executive Outcomes, a private military company that chalked up amazing successes in Angola and Sierra Leone against anti-government forces during the 1990s, much to the chagrin of the United Nations, who failed to do the same with multi-billion dollar peacekeeping forces. It came at a price for the men of Executive Outcomes; at times, they were made victims of their own success, as certain governments did not appreciate a commercial enterprise interfering with their foreign policy, even if they were working on behalf of democratically elected governments to bring about stability and conflict resolution.
With Executive Outcomes closing in 2000, and the UN proving itself ineffective, African nations were left without a solution when facing butchers like Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) or more recently, Boko Haram in Nigeria.
In 2006, three South African Defense Force veterans founded STTEP (Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection) to help fill the vacuum left by the departure of Executive Outcomes. The founders of the company then began approaching African governments, albeit in a discreet manner. STTEP refuses to name any clients they may have worked for, other than to say that they work exclusively in Africa. “We work under the radar as far as possible,” Barlow says, “and will never compromise a government or a client.”
Eeben Barlow was approached in 2009 to become the chairman of STTEP and help guide the company. STTEP initially focused on training African military forces, as the training they had received from outsiders (the U.S. or UN, for instance) left much to be desired. The foreigners failed in their foreign internal defense missions due to “poor training, bad advice, a lack of strategy, vastly different tribal affiliations, ethnicity, religion, languages, cultures, not understanding the conflict and enemy,” Barlow told SOFREP. “Much of this training is focused on window-dressing, but when you look through the window, the room is empty.”
In coming installments of this series, Barlow discusses the tactics employed by STTEP and the Nigerian strike force they trained to fight Boko Haram, how STTEP’s contract with the Nigerian Army came about, and the big picture when it comes to African conflicts and how they relate back to the Libyan Civil War and ISIS. Barlow also points out the extreme hypocrisy of those who label him and his employees ‘racist mercenaries.’
(Featured image: Nigerian strike force trained by STTEP approaches an enemy position after softening them up with indirect fire.)