About Me

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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

FEEDING THE NARRATIVE


The recent activities of STTEP International Ltd in Nigeria have given rise to a multitude of comments from some in the media, much of it aimed at trying to discredit both the Nigerian Army (NA) and STTEP and create as much controversy as possible. The term "objectivity" does not appear to be applicable to these journalists. Apart from spewing disinformation, they appear to have a need to proclaim their great understanding of African politics, military strategy and operations—despite usually getting it very wrong.

The comments and "observations" some in the media made on STTEP's involvement in Nigeria bordered on the ridiculous but these comments are important to feed the perceptions they need to create and force a continuation of their false narrative. 

Of course, the media's version of the history of Executive Outcomes (EO) was also dug up and rehashed and likewise became a focus of their attention. (I was—and still am—amazed that some journalists still believe they know more about EO than I do and now it appears they know more about STTEP than I do).

In the days of EO, some of the journalists who led the media assault were paid intelligence agents of disinformation. I exposed several of them in my book in 2007.

I have been reliably informed that some of those who escaped my book are still around and writing. So it came as no great surprise to me that some of these are the same journalists who jumped on the Nigeria bandwagon. After all, they were part of the same group that ferociously attacked EO for helping African governments. Instead, they prefer writing about the chaos, suffering, murder and mayhem these terror groups bring. This is, after all, how they make their living—and then they refer to us as "mercenaries".

One only has to look at what is written and by who to determine their agendas, where their narrative is heading and sometimes who their shadow paymasters are.

Some of them are highly agitated that I did not give them exclusive interviews especially after my six-part interview with SOFREP (http://sofrep.com). Others are calling for my/STTEP's immediate arrest and prosecution for assisting a legitimate African government that is under attack by the terrorist group known as Boko Haram. I learnt during the EO days that giving an interview to some journalists only seemed to disrupt the false narrative they were spinning. When reality did not match their agendas, it was immediately discarded and replaced with their agendas.

Some journalists have written offering to assist me in reducing the "criminality of our actions". It appears that if South Africans are called on to assist an African government fight terrorism it is considered to be "criminal". When South Africans are contracted by a foreign PMC, then it is no longer criminal!

Problem in point: STTEP is not a South African company...

What is particularly upsetting to them is that an African-managed and staffed company can be successful in Africa. This goes against everything they stand for. Instead, they appear to think assistance to the NA should have come from a foreign PMC, little knowing that foreign armies and PMCs have spent considerable time in Nigeria where "window-dressing training" has been the order of the day. But look through the window, and the room is empty.

Then there are the famous Internet trolls who allege that STTEP used "exactly the same tactics" that they spoke about to someone a while ago.

Others claim that what STTEP achieved in Nigeria was "pure luck"—much as the media claimed about EO in Angola, Sierra Leone and Indonesia. I would love to see them achieve what STTEP's training team achieved in 3 months—under exceptionally difficult and trying conditions.

Others allege that I, in person, do not do enough to condemn South Africa's politics to African governments for fear we will not get or lose contracts.

I do not need to discuss South Africa's politics with African governments—they discuss it with me. I, on the other hand, do not join in as I am a South African and regardless of what our government does or does not do, I do not hang out our dirty washing in public, nor am I in any position to change it. I am a militarist, not a politician. I leave political decisions and solutions to the politicians and only offer advice when they ask for it.

Some trolls have even expressed their disgust that STTEP has not taken up arms against the SA government! I choose to live in South Africa. Despite its challenges and problems, I remain patriotically South African and African—and will never take up arms against any legitimate government, least of all my own.

Others harp on the fact that STTEP uses "former black communist terrorists". They certainly know how to display their ignorance. STTEP will use and continue to use the right man for the job, regardless of his colour or his past political beliefs. Despite the fact that our black employees outnumbered us "palefaces" we are still regarded as "racists"—and geriatric ones at that.

Given all of the above, I am proud of what my "geriatric", "racist", "mercenary" group of trainers achieved in a very short space of time—and I am especially proud that the unit they established performed so well in action. I am equally proud that my training team and leader group were able to add value to the NA's fight against terrorism.

I suppose that is what upsets the desk-borne strategists and tacticians so much as it disrupts their false narrative...

Whenever the media embark on their agenda-driven reporting on myself and the men of STTEP, I am reminded of Hunter S Thompson's view of journalism, especially as he was a journalist:

"Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage."
(Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream)

41 comments:

Leonard A. Duro-Emanuel said...

Nicely done Eeben. On behalf of a much less anxious nation: Thank you and STTEP for showing up to help.

Herbert said...

Eeben,

I just made a quick check of your blog site and was pleasantly surprised to see you back in battery. Congratulations on your success in your most recent undertaking, notwithstanding that it will never be hailed as such by those (and others) whom you have so well described.

The demise of what was left of journalism is so complete as to begin to sap me of continuing interest in its purveyors. Persons of character who end up in their sights will just have to find the will and the way to avoid intimidation and to prevail. I certainly am not trying to instruct you--you have already done those things, in spades.

Your continuing dedication to Africa and your purposeful persistence are remarkable.

Regards,
Herbert

Jack Murphy said...

Eeben, there is one further point I would like to make. I don't believe the racial narrative advanced by the media either, but for the sake of mental exercise, let us assume it is true for a moment.

If you are a impoverished villager living in a area occupied by Boko Haram, who are raping women and sawing the heads off anyone who stands up to them, how important is it to you that the people who liberate your village be 100% ideologically aligned with you?

In short, if you are being oppressed by a group like Hoko Haram, do you care for a single moment if some of the people freeing your village have racist attitudes?

I doubt it.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you Leonard.
It was such a privilege for us to be part of the division that carried the brunt of the fighting and even more so for being trusted to train the unit that showed its worth in combat.
Maybe this will show that there is a way to do battle with these despicable people who pose under a religious banner.
I am sorry I never got the meet you but time was never on our side to begin with.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Herbert. I have been awfully busy with my day job and have not really had the time I wanted to keep my blog up to date.
I know there were some who were deeply hoping for failure (excluding those in the media who see it as their duty to misinform people). I am truly fortunate to have real men who take their job very, very seriously as they are from the African soil and have a burning desire to see conflicts end and prosperity begin.
It is sad that some in the media taint the good name of those journalists who truly want to be reporters of facts. I guess it will be for the media to clear its own house one day. I suspect it has already begun in some media houses over here in SA.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A good point Jack. All the people want is to be left alone in peace and not have to live in fear. They don't really care who lifts the yoke of fear as long as those who are doing the lifting do not become the next oppressors.
There are some in the media who will exploit the "fog of journalism" to match their agendas. I recall us being essentially geriatric, racist, mercenary and so forth.Basically, they tried to stir the pot of discontent and hope that the Nigerian government would terminate our involvement there. But, as you know, we only had a 3-month contract to start with...
Thank you again for having the courage to conduct an interview and report on facts and not agendas. It was a pleasure.
Rgds (and take care!)
Eeben

Leonard A. Duro-Emanuel said...

Eeben, the groundswell of interest in "doing something" constructive about National Security & Socio-Economic Issues here in Nigeria has been nothing short of "spectacular" in the public sector and the civil sector (for various absurd reasons I won't deign to mention), but there are signs that there is more to it than window dressing this time. Firstly, we were eyeball to eyeball with an abyss in terms of how powerless the government and military appeared and why, and who helped, and who didn't. A much clearer picture now for all, and I have some confidence that both military and civilian will and talent exists in Nigeria to keep the ground reclaimed and build on it in terms of capacity and capability. The clearest difference for me is that our soldiers were trained, assisted and supported to respond to the challenge, and everywhere I've seen or read, you were keen to emphasise that as the point of the whole mission: I wonder if our "Usual Suspects" would have refrained from claiming credit or would have spoken up for Nigeria's Men-At-Arms' courage and ability? STTEP gave them more than a solution. It gave them the blueprint for the institution THEY (not others) will and must build.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I must confess that we were somewhat disappointed in what our NA colleagues had been taught by "outside" trainers, Leonard. It also reconfirmed my belief that many of our armies are set up to fail as they get bad advice and poor training. Put those two factors together and soldiers cannot other than fail in their mission.I was from this sad state of affairs that I commented on window-dressing training.
The Nigerian Army will win its own battles and as I have on numerous occasions commented, troops can only do what they were trained to do. Now that a different approach has become clear, I am confident the NA will exploit this and go on to make all Nigerians and Africans proud.
Rgds,
Eeben

Unknown said...

Your book is coming soon or...?!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Unknown, I fell way behind on many things, including my book. I blame it all on my day job that has kept me occupied elsewhere.
The book has been completed and the final editing is underway. I am extremely fortunate to have a publisher who understands my predicament...
I am once again away from SA (but there is internet here!) so I can at least communicate with the publisher/editor if they so wish.
It is getting close to being publish-ready.
Rgds,
Eeben

Sam Kiley said...

Dear Eeben

I wrote a piece recently that seemed to offend you even though it actually very much supported the role of PMCs in interventions citing Angola, Sierra Leone and Nigeria as successes. Indeed I also defended the EO/Sandline intervention in SL in The Times years back. We have some mutual friends and we talked on the phone but never met many years back. I am continuing to explore the role of PMCs as I have in a series for Sky One some time back as especially in roles such as we've seen in West Africa they have proven more successful than conventional military interventions. sam.kiley@sky.uk

Jake said...

I see you've found yourself in the headlines again old boy. Well done. Shame about Lotzy. I first met him in Iraq over 10 years ago. He was a good man and great dog handler! Keep applying the pressure to BH! Talk soon.
Jake

Spec-Ops Medic said...

Eben, I trained NDF troops in Nigeria a couple of years ago and we kicked some Boko Haram ass's out of Jos, but sadly after they had killed 200 villagers. If you have any need for well trained US vets
let me know. You can contact me through this link. http://www.spec-opsmedic.blogspot.com/

red beard said...

Dear Eeben,

It's me your ever bore, Red Beard :) let me ask you a question bit off topic.

The link below is an article about SA violence written by a native journalist (who I follow on Facebook). It's horrible what she writes! And you well know about that all, I am sure. Boko Horam may seem mild correcting power in comparison to what tribal animals do in Central and Sothern Africa. No limits of cruelty.

You are just a rep of military power who is dedicated and who does fight those animals.

I like to know your point of view, your understanding of the insider and a native citizen why this ruthless murders are so widely spread in Africa and if there is a way to put an end to all this.

http://guardianlv.com/2015/05/south-africa-ruthless-murders-do-not-stop/#CyAMo4lqF8vBpuAb.01

red beard said...

Eeben, let me share a simple secret with you: you should run a press-conference for all your evil and friendly journalists with following good snacks, generous drinks and nice girls serving the party. All journalists are very sensitive to how they are treated by public figures as far as I know. And that is not a joke. They are not probably much engaged by some of your rivals but hungry stomachs would always vote against you.

Sam Kiley said...

It would be a mistake and something of a pity to tar all in the media with the same brush. The role of 'mercenaries' if, of course, complex as is the role of war fighters in general. The real issue, surely, is how effective can they be? In Angola, Sierra Leone, and now Nigeria we've seen that they most certainly can be.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Sam,
We may have mutual acquaintances but that in no way detracts from the fiction you wrote, trying to disguise it as factual reporting. As a “foreign affairs editor”, you ought to be ashamed of yourself as you are exactly the type of “journalist” I referred to in my posting. – and I suspect Hunter S Thompson had in mind when he penned his thoughts on journalists. I wonder if Sky News is aware of your deception?
I did a quick Google search (Sam Kylie, Nigeria, Boko Haram, PMCs) and up flashed your disingenuous article titled news.sky.com/story/.../mercenaries-launch-dark-war-against-boko-haram
I shall not dwell on your fiction posed as fact , including your attempt at rewriting history (Sandline driving RUF out of Freetown?? Please tell me when this happened?) to suit your thinly disguised agenda. Indeed, even your readers expressed their loathing at your deception. Perhaps you ought to revisit your article and especially the comments made by your readers. Suffice to say, every paragraph of your “report” contained both fiction and lies.
Both you and I know that your “Sky sources” never existed as they were a figment of your imagination. You just attempted to give credibility to your lies by referring to these non-existent sources.
Did you actually go to Maiduguri or did you – as I suspect - sit behind your desk to conjure up your lies? However, I shall not dissect your “article” paragraph by paragraph as it will run into several pages. But, you very obviously have a deep-seated hatred for Africans who are successful in Africa.
If, as a real foreign affairs editor, you really want to do an informative article, why not enlighten your readers and viewers at Sky News on the poor standard of “partnership” training the Nigerians got for several years from the Western armies and PMCs and why the Nigerian army was set up to fail? Also, don’t forget to include the political and economic blackmail and threats that accompanied the pathetic “free” training. That will allow you to then determine why the Nigerian army took such a long time to regain the initiative and commence with an offensive.
Or will this not suit your narrative of events?
Or, as my undisclosed sources have reported, will your other paymasters frown upon such an article?
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Jake!
Yes, Leon - as with all other losses we may suffer - create a deep sadness within us as they are friends we lose.
A pity we had only had 3 months to achieve a result but we left knowing that we did achieve some success.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Spec-Ops Medic.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good to hear from you, Red Beard.
I am well aware of the violence which has recently tormented South Africa and still continues not only in SA but across Africa.
Boko Haram, like many of these thugs, uses religion as the glue to keep their followers in check. Others use ethnicity, tribal affiliations and so forth. The cruelty one sees displayed in these conflicts is sometimes shocking and borders on unbelievable.
Of course, all of these conflicts can be ended. Sometimes, the political will is not there or the law enforcement agencies are unwilling or unable to do so. As you know, when the armed forces are required to intervene, the state admits it has a problem but then again, many armed forces are the beneficiaries of foreign sub-standard training, setting them up for failure even before they begin.
Africa in conflict appears to be of more value than an Africa that is at peace and stable.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your advice but I refuse to bribe someone to write the truth, Red Beard.
What their agendas display is an indication of their professional integrity and I will never attempt to buy it.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The reason why so many people view the media in the same light as I do Sam is because there seems to be very little professional ethics and integrity displayed by many in the media. Note I say “many” and not “all” as you allude.
Many journalists taint their work with their own bias and agendas (as your article did) and try to demonstrate their strategic brilliance without ever setting a foot in the area where the conflict is.
The role of African “mercenaries”/Western PMCs is not complex at all if they do what they are contracted to do. Governments turn to us because they eventually realise that they have been set up to fail and we are often their last resort. It is a decision made by a government and I hardly think the media has the high ground to criticize such a decision.
Eeben

red beard said...

Dear Eeben, I am sorry for my dumb joke about journalist party. I have no doubt in your principles and it wasn't against you :)
As for violence in Africa you simply explained the essential in your last sentence: "Africa in conflict appears to be of more value than an Africa that is at peace and stable" thank you!
One again, when and how can we read your book? Is there a chance?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem at all, Red Beard. I saw both the humour and the irony in your comment as those who follow the line you wrote about seem to get good publicity, regardless.
It is indeed sad that really good and dedicated journalists are tainted by the lack of ethics and integrity of a few.
Rgds,
Eeben

Graeme Hosken said...

Hi Eeben

Graeme Hosken from The Times newspaper in Johannesburg. We met and spoke while I was still working as a reporter for the Pretoria News in 2009. I would appreciate it if you could get hold of me on my email addresses: graeme.hosken@gmail.com and hoskeng@thetimes.co.za
I would like to speak to you about STTEP's major successes in the training of certain elements within the Nigerian Defence Force as well as the successes against Boko Haram. I saw the piece on SOFREP and am very keen to speak to you. Regards Graeme
My cellphone number is: 082 718 9871

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your email, Graeme.
As I said to many other journalists before your message, I have said all I have to say about Nigeria and STTEP's role there.
The entire interview is available on SOFREP's site.
Rgds,
Eeben

red beard said...

Here is news on Boko Horam and Nigerian army rescuing lots of women (many of them appeared pregnant!)
http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/7193544

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the link, Red Beard!
Rgds.
Eeben

Vox Peccavi said...

Hi Eeben, good effort on your work with 72Bn. From our conversations on Beeegeagles blog you will know I am deeply interested in your methods so please could I cheekily ask two questions?
1) Were you responsible for the Vice News embed? I looked upon that excellent report and your series with SOFREP as classic media ops and I recalled your comments on taking a holistic approach to a campaign including strategic, non kinetic effects.
2) More crucially is there any intention to institutionalise what has been created with 72Bn, not just in 7 Div but across the NA?
It would be a shame if the skills and experience acquired withered and died. A Battalion sized recce force tasked with recce and strike in the enemy's rear would be an invaluable asset in conventional war as well as their use in this more asymmetric setting.
The Sri Lankans developed excellent SF units during the Tamil War but also developed SIOTs at Battalion level that would conduct, recce, ambush and raids to their units fronts making advances easier.
Does your brief include looking at NA TTPs and doctrine to mak sure this valuable experience is not lost?
Thanks Peccavi

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you, Peccavi.
No, we were not responsible for VICE News’s embed despite them having stayed with us for a few days. That was a recommendation made by the Prime Contractor to the NA. Given our deep distrust and suspicion of the media, we did not want them filming anything we did as it could expose training, equipment, personnel and TTPs to BH and our mission was to protect what the NA had entrusted to us. We were not going to compromise that. Also, this was a fight by the NA and not STTEP and we didn’t want a perception created that STTEP alone was the cause for BH losses and defeats. Such a misperception could have placed the NA at a further disadvantage.
As you know, we were given a 3-month window and have now left Nigeria. “Ours not to reason why…” What will happen to 72 Mobile Force is not known to us and I do believe the NA do not want us to know the operational intent of the GOC re this force, and that too is correct. Unfortunately, we only had 2 months to prepare the force and a month to ensure its deployment.
However, this is simply further proof of my belief that African armies are incorrectly structured and trained to counter the challenges they face.
How the NA will use the skills taught to these men is something we are not privy to.
Rgds,
Eeben

Vox Peccavi said...

Thanks Eeben for your response and for your work.
Hopefully 72 Bn will be the nucleus of something good

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thank you Oga Peccavi.
I am sure the NA will know what to do with the unit and that the unit will continue to flourish and make the NA proud.
Rgds,
Eeben

Cindy Dy said...

Thank you for putting an effort to published this article. You've done a great job! Good bless!

Yong
www.gofastek.com

Oelof Maree said...

Eeben. I loved you book "Executive Outcomes - Against all odds". Which made it more interesting to me is that I've met some of the guys (outside military circles).

Keep fighting the good fight!

Even though you are always getting negative comments and flak from journo's.

It is difficult to win an argument against an intelligent man, but it is impossible to win an argument against an imbecile.

I admire your ethics and morals.

Wish I could have been part.

Oelof Maree

W-mann said...

Hi Eeben

First I want to say well done with what you and the men accomplished in Nigeria. I am a war fanatic and am so saddened that National Service was discontinued in SA.

I would in a blink of an eye quit my day job and take up arms where needed. In the meantime keep up the good work. You have my full support!!

Regards,
W

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Many thanks Oelof!
I agree with your comment against arguing with an imbecile. Even worse is an imbecile who thinks he/she is a specialist in campaign strategies, expeditionary warfare, operational design and tactics.
Perhaps it is time that the media started cleaning out their own houses.
Rgds,
Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Many thanks, W-mann!
National Service was, in my opinion, a very good way to prepare young men to go out into the world. Those who benefited from it outweigh those who complained about it by many thousands.
Rgds,
Eeben

red beard said...

Here is another colored illustration to what you described before:
http://www.special-ops.org/isis-in-full-control-of-ramadi-after-iraqi-forces-fled/11930/#4343d4

Or might it be specific national character or a social issue? And not the result of US military training?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I cannot really comment on this red beard as I was never in Iraq nor Afghanistan.
The truth is however that soldiers can only do what they are trained to do.
Considering the billions of dollars that was spent on training and equipment, it appears it has not yielded much of a result at all.
Rgds,
Eeben

Sustainable Warrior said...

Hi, Echo Bravo,
Hope your recent silence is not too severe.
Just finishing your book EO.
Great description of leadership and integrity. Shame so few other secret warriors more interested in firepower and personal gain.
Live long

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I appreciate your comment Sustainable Warrior. Many thanks!
Btw: My silence was related to work, travel, lecturing and working...back home now.
Rgds,
Eeben