I got hooked on reading up on conflicts at a fairly early age, years before I was old enough to join the military. I was especially interesting in reading about what was at that time (90’s) considered a new phenomena, the corporate army for hire, today known as Private Military Companies or PMC’s. In today’s world of political correctness the acronyms and buzzwords change to frequently for me to keep up on, I think the term getting thrown around Washington today is Private Security Contractors (PSC’s) but the concept remains largely the same.
The most infamous group I read about in the news back in those days was called Executive Outcomes. The press portrayed EO as a Mike Hoare type group of wild men working at the behest of diamond and oil consortiums, taking contracts with African dictators in order to squash rebellions and deliver the goods into the hands of their corporate masters. I’m sure many of the articles are still up on the net and current ones making the same claims appear to this day. If you watch the Leonardo Dicaprio film “Blood Diamond” you can see a very thinly veiled Hollywood interpretation of Executive Outcomes, working for a diamond company in Sierra Leone.
Needless to say I presued my own military career, continuing to read as much as I could about unconventional warfare, the history, the tactics, and for better or worse, the politics. Coming full circle I discovered a treasure trove of books written about modern African conflicts by the men who lived them, such as “Fire Force” by Chris Cocks, perhaps the best first hand account of war I’ve ever read. It belongs up there with “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and “War Story” by Jim Morris.
Click the image to buy on Amazon.com
To my surprise, the founder of Executive Outcomes, Eeben Barlow, wrote his own first hand account of his career in the SADF, the Civil Cooperation Bureau, and EO. The book managed to shock me in almost every way. Barlow wrote the book essentially defending himself and his company against the slew of misconceptions and outright lies spread about him and what EO was doing in Angola, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. I certainly can’t do the book justice in a single blog post but I hope to encourage more people to read the book itself.
Barlow denies having worked for diamond companies and states that when EO fought against the RUF and UNITA that they targeted the diamond mines first in order to cut off the guerrillas access to their funding, ending the conflict as quickly as possible rather than engaging in a long protracted war that would create even more casualties. He also asserts that both South African intelligence and the CIA were doing everything in their power to prevent him from fulfilling his contracts. Barlow identifies South African intelligentsia front man, Sean Cleary as being behind some of the most malicious stories against EO. There were also several assassination attempts against Barlow, a shooting, and a airport bombing that he believes was directed against him.
I wasn’t content to take his word for it and decided to conduct some of my own research. After being exposed to so many negative stories about Executive Outcomes I had a hard time taking the book at face value. Now, I believe most of those reports were in fact propaganda. Take for instance that the CIA was funding UNITA against the democratically elected government of Angola at that time. This appears fairly well documented, something that CIA case officer turned whistle blower John Stockwell has talked about in the past. Reportedly, the arms shipments the CIA was funneling to Angola were the second largest after the massive weapons shipments to the Afghan mujaheddin.
In “Shadow Masters” by Daniel Estulin I found another reference to Sean Cleary. After apartheid ended, Clearly apparently went on to found a company called Source Watch. Estulin also asserts that Cleary had close ties to Jonas Savimbi, the former leader of UNITA.
Another reason for attempting to subvert Barlow’s operations could have been to ensure that the UN was able to insert itself further into Africa. Many commentators state that EO cleaned out the RUF in Sierra Leone on a six million dollar contract, something the UN failed to do with billions. The amount of graft involved with UN operations in that country has been well documented elsewhere. I can only imagine the hijinx going on with AFRICOM these days.
I don’t have any first hand information to offer up as evidence, but based on my research, I believe Mr. Barlow’s account is the correct one and that EO was pursuing legitimate contracts fighting some very nasty people in conflicts most Americans are not even aware of. I highly encourage more US readers to take a look at Eeben Barlow’s book, the publisher also offers many others that contain some earth shattering revelations such as Peter Stiff’s “Warfare by Other Means.” There are lessons to be learned from the African bush wars, that in my experience, desperately need to be absorbed by American military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I had to buy my copy while I was in London, but you can order the book at http://www.galago.co.za/ It’s a little pricey for most American readers to have shipped, but worth it. Hopefully, some of these books find their was into US bookstores soon.
*Update 5FEB11: I’ve discovered some more specific information about the CIA running guns into Angola from a fascinating website called ISGP.
“The ATLAS document now mentions Abraham Shavit, and again it is ASCO that supplies the Israeli link. Shavit was a manager of ASCO at the time of Iran Contra. Besides his ties to the Israeli government and Belgian minister Andre Cools, Shavit has been described as a friend and associate of Portuguese arms dealer Manuel J. Pires.  This Pires, who “handled secret CIA arms transfers to Angola, and later to both Iran and Iraq”,  worked with the infamous Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran Contra scheme.”
2002, Alan A. Block (Professor of Crime, Law and Justice at the Pennsylvania State University), ‘The origins of Iran-Contra: Lessons from the Durrani Affair’ p. 59: “He [Durrani] ended up working on this project with a Portuguese arms dealer, who held a Spanish passport, Manuel J. Pires. In years past, Pires had handled secret CIA arms transfers to Angola, and later to both Iran and Iraq.”