Last year I mentioned the role of South African mercenaries in the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. It seems they've been called in again.
The mercenaries, estimated at around 250 personnel and hired from South Africa-based private contractor Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP), are being deployed along with fighter jets in Operation Fire Force, a source at Nigeria's defense headquarters said on condition of anonymity.
“The mercenaries have been reengaged and their platforms are being deployed,” the source said. “By platforms, I mean fighter jets, helos [helicopters], coms [communication], surveillance, medics, etc.”
STTEP includes veterans from the South African apartheid era who will work with and train a Nigerian strike force, according to the source.
Another army source confirmed the development to Anadolu Agency. “There is definitely something happening in that direction,” the source said, again on condition of anonymity.
According to STTEP’s official website, the company’s trainers and advisers are drawn from “conventional, clandestine, and covert units of the pre-1994 South African Defense Force”.
It claims to have a proven track record of success in Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and Central and South America.
Describing the use of mercenaries to fight militants as “shameful” during the March 2015 election campaign, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the practice. Buhari, a retired general, said the practice represented the depth of weakness of the Nigerian army.
Asked why the Buhari administration is again deploying mercenaries, the defense HQ source said it appeared to be the most practical option if headway was to be made against militants whose guerilla tactics are new to the Nigerian military.
There's more at the link.
I'm given to understand by former South African comrades-in-arms that the new Nigerian government is cracking down hard on corruption throughout the military and civil service, including pressing charges against the most culpable individuals. It initially wanted nothing to do with the mercenaries, because it believed the Nigerian armed forces should do the job they were being paid for. However, when the extent of official corruption and incompetence became clear, the new government quietly let it be known that it would bow to the inevitable and hire the mercenaries once more. They succeeded in putting a big crimp in Boko Haram's operations last time, and the hope is that they'll do so again.
The mercenaries are also showing ingenuity in getting around restrictions in South African law on hiring one's services in a combat capacity to another country. Many are arriving elsewhere in West Africa and 'arranging' to get an ECOWAS passport. (The going rate is apparently between $250 and $500, depending on where and how one 'applies'. I'm told 'bulk discounts' are available.) This document allows travel between the member nations of ECOWAS (including Nigeria). Their South African passports are thus never stamped at a Nigerian border post, making it relatively easy to deny that they were ever there. Others are making use of non-official, 'tourist' type documents purporting to be 'passports'. A well-known example in South Africa was the 'passport' issued in the name of the 'Republic of Hout Bay', which is a town in the Cape Peninsula that came up with the idea to raise money for charity by selling the fake 'passports' to tourists. I'm informed some of them are, in fact, being used by mercenaries in Nigeria.
It seems pragmatism is alive and well in West Africa. When faced with mortal danger, one employs the most effective resources available to mitigate the crisis. If that involves mercenaries, so be it. At least, if they succeed, one's likely to remain alive long enough to pay them!