Apologies for not paying as much attention to this blog as I usually do. I’ll have some cool announcements coming up in the future but for now I want to pass on some recent work I’ve done concerning the war against Boko Haram in Nigeria. In a series of six articles about the South African contractors and the Nigerian strike force that took the fight to Boko Haram, I was able to interview Eeben Barlow, the Chairman of STTEP.
In the dead of night, close to 400 Filipino police commandos comprising the country’s Special Action Force (SAF) moved into position. Their target: Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, aka “Marwan.” A hardcore member of Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Marwan was believed killed in 2012 by what was most likely a drone strike coordinated with U.S. forces.
STTEP, a private military company (PMC) on the ground in Nigeria, was asked for assistance and was subcontracted to the Nigerian government by a primary contractor after they’d heard good things about the company’s reputation. Arrangements like this are fraught with difficulties, as disagreements can and do arise between the primary contractors, the subcontractor, and the host nation. This relationship has proven fruitful thus far, however; recent battlefield successes speak for themselves.
When asked about the tactics that STTEP mentors their Nigerian counterparts to use, Eeben Barlow, the company’s chairman, replied, “The strike force was never intended to hold ground. Instead, it operated on the principle of relentless offensive action.” Barlow has previously indicated that this tactic is key to waging an effective counterinsurgency.
“Some in the media like to refer to us as ‘racists’ or ‘apartheid soldiers’ with little knowledge of our organization,” Barlow says. “We are primarily white, black, and brown Africans who reside on this continent and are accepted as such by African governments—but as usual, us palefaces are outnumbered in the company.” Although seldom stated in the press, Executive Outcomes primarily hired black Africans, as does STTEP.
While there were plenty of motivating factors behind Nigeria’s conflict, there were also external ones such as the Libyan Civil War and the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. As the Nigerian Army, with the help of South African contractors, put Boko Haram on the ropes, Abubakr Shekau pledged his allegiance to ISIS. Interestingly, there is also a power struggle within two factions of Al-Shabab in Somalia. One faction wants to remain aligned with al-Qaeda while the other wants to pledge allegiance to ISIS.
The South African contractors of STTEP trained and served alongside the Nigerian Strike Force in combat against Boko Haram starting in January of 2015, putting a significant dent in the terrorist organization and helping to pave the way for Nigerians trapped behind enemy lines to participate in democratic elections in late March. With their three-month contract expiring, STTEP made a controlled withdrawal from Nigeria and had all of their employees returned home by late March.