By Eeben Barlow
Executive Outcomes is the model on which all Private Military Companies (PMCs) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan are based. Founded by author Eeben Barlow in the early 1990s he originally offered courses in intelligence to South Africa's Special Forces and security work to De Beers' diamond mining industry. This was greatly expanded in 1993 when an oil company offered EO a contract to provide security for its staff while they recovered valuable drilling equipment stranded at the Angolan oil port of Soyo - after its capture by UNITA rebels.
Barlow recruited ex-members of South Africa's elite military units for the job. EO was contracted for a month, but this ended up being extended and EO spearheading an Angolan Army assault on Soyo and its capture from UNITA. This highly successful operation led to a contract to retrain the Angolan Army. Both UNITA and MPLA had taken part in UN supervised elections in 1992, but UNITA had rejected the results after losing and it had returned to civil war.
During a hard-fought campaign, retrained Angolan Army units led by EO captured Cafunfu - the diamond producing area that funded UNITA's war effort. Eventually, international pressure spearheaded by the UN and the 'blood diamond' lobby, forced EO's withdrawal from Angola which quickly sank back into chaos. The UN's efforts to restore the situation achieved by EO for US$35 million, cost the world body many billions of dollars.
EO's next contract was in May 1995 when 200 men were despatched to Sierra Leone where RUF rebels, chopping off people's limbs and engaging in cannibalism, were marching on Freetown. EO smashed the rebels and this led to free and fair elections with a new government being elected. Pressures were again exerted which resulted in EO's withdrawal. In the place of its 200 troops the UN deployed 18 000 soldiers at a cost of US$1 billion per year. The rebels regrouped, frequently taking UN troops as hostages, and the country again sank back into an orgy of cannibalism and limb chopping.
There is much, much more to the Executive Outcomes' story and Eeben Barlow tells it the way it was in this no-punches-pulled account.
Interviewing Eeben Barlow is not an experience you would describe as comfortable.
It's not because he is a former CCB operative nor the fact that he is proficient in multiple ways of killing and maiming. It's because what he says not only makes a lot of sense, it also makes you somewhat ashamed of both yourself and your profession, journalism.
He doesn't like most journalists, whom he accuses of helping his enemies wage a vicious disinformation war against him and his company, Executive Outcomes, for many years.
"All that shit you wrote, all the garbage you passed on from the so-called 'sources' - where was even the slightest bit of evidence to back it up?"
In his newly-published book - Executive Outcomes, Against All Odds - Barlow savages many local and international journalists who, he says, willingly did "hatchet jobs" on EO.
I'm one of them. Back in 1993, my byline was one of three which appeared on a piece quoting former SA Defence Force Colonel Jan Breytenbach as saying EO was "training ANC hit squads" in Angola . (At the time, EO had been given a contract by the Angolan government to re-train the army - a project which effectively spelled the beginning of the end of Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement, as the Angolan forces were better trained and prepared for battle.) The alleged ANC squads had a hit list of prominent people, including himself, claimed Breytenbach. I don't even remember the story, save to know that Breytenbach was never one of my sources or contacts. But my byline was on the story and I must have contributed to it.
Did we ever try to get corroboration or confirmation of Breytenbach's claims? No. Why would we? Barlow and his bunch of ex-SADF "mercenaries" could only have been up to no good in Angola . After all, we told ourselves, why would they help the people who were once their enemies, unless they were being paid huge amounts and were involved in oil or diamond deals?
Barlow sits across from me in a Pretoria coffee shop, his blue eyes accusing. I have no answers. He has a point.
In conversation, Barlow echoes the litany of accusations and claims which were levelled against EO in the eight or so years it operated as a private military company in Africa and elsewhere: they committed atrocities, they were given huge diamond and oil concessions, that they were a front for Britain's MI6 secret service, that they fronted for the American CIA; that they were incompetent buffoons.
"Take the case of Sierra Leone (where EO helped the Freetown government crush RUF rebels): we were accused of committing atrocities against the local people. No proof. Nobody ever charged. No witnesses. The opposite was the case. As we went into action against the rebels in a new country and environment, we realised that we needed intelligence and information. And we got that from the local people, who realised that we were bringing stability and security after years of rape and murder by the rebels. We gave them some medical help and we made it safe for their (them) to go back to their normal lives. They helped us with the information we needed to mount our operations. Think about it - if we had been slaughtering them, would they have helped us?"
Barlow is correct. Neither the United Nations, whose peacekeeping troops replaced EO and who then virtually lost the country back to the rebels; nor the Sierra Leone government, has made any atrocity charges against the company.
"A professional journalist," Barlow says with just a hint of a sneer, "visited the country and wrote that the people were happy with our presence and what we achieved."
Angola , likewise, was an area where EO was repeatedly under fire, mainly from journalists in South Africa .
"You people," he says, "ignored everything we provided you in terms of intelligence about who was really benefiting from the continuation of the war between UNITA."
Those people were senior officials in the former SA government, companies and businessmen.
Barlow believes that UNITA's supporters in South Africa were making a fortune out of the diamonds-for-arms trade which saw the rebel movement exchanging gems for weapons which were flown into Angola from South African airfields.
"When General Ita (the then head of the Angolan military intelligence) told journalists this was happening and even provided registration numbers of the aircraft, nobody followed up on it." They actually verbally attacked Ita, claiming he was lying and then attacked the government for attacking UNITA.
He adds: "There are people who have a lot of blood on their hands - by prolonging the Angolan civil war, tens of thousands of people died.
"But I'm proud of what we in EO did and the sacrifices we made."
Undoubtedly, Barlow and the company made a lot of money contracting out their military expertise - he has long since ceased to care about being labelled a "mercenary" he says - but the costs of the EO intervention were miniscule when compared to that bucket loads of money spent by the UN and African Union whose troops replaced the South African company in Sierra Leone.
"What the Executive Outcomes experience proved was that there is a place in Africa - and the rest of the world - for private military companies. In our case, we did jobs that others either couldn't do or didn't want to do. And we did those jobs well, without any bias, because we were employed by legitimate governments."
In Angola , the company started off training the Angolan Army's 16 Brigade, but was also involved in some of the heavy fighting against UNITA. Barlow says that it was more the comprehensive training given to the Angolans which enabled them to turn the tide against UNITA, rather than EO's own combat team: "we had only 500 people, spread out around Angola and you can't win a war like that with that number of soldiers..."
In Sierra Leone , EO's combat-hardened veterans - white and black, former SADF and from the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe - didn't pussy-foot around when hitting the RUF rebels. Using highly mobile teams on foot and in vehicles, and backed up by air support which included a Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter gunship, EO decimated the rebels' jungle hide-outs after initially saving the capital, Freetown, from what looked like a certain surrender to the rebels.
"It is a great pity that EO did not continue, because it would have been a very effective instrument for change in Africa - and it would have enabled South Africa to project its influence to far corners of the continent. It wasn't long before the US and European governments stepped into to the vacuum we left. So, again, it's outsiders sorting out African problems..."
Ironically, many people are not aware that EO played a major role in drafting South African legislation which controls the private military industry, the Foreign Military Assistance Act - and that, so far, EO is the only company to have been licensed by the government to offer military assistance and know-how outside the borders of this country.
Although EO has been shut down, Barlow gets a number of calls from abroad, "asking me if I'd start it up again."
One such was for assistance ahead of the Iraq invasion in 2003 which, Barlow says, "I turned down because that is not legitimate, it is just about oil and resources."
It pains him to think that the expertise of thousands of former South African policemen and soldiers has been lost to this country, as they apply their skills and experience all around the world.
"Those in the military field know just how good the former SADF was and how capable some of our people were. It is a great pity that this government, in the name of transformation, has turned its back on those skills."
Barlow, in common with many ex-SADF officers, doesn't have a high opinion of the current SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and especially in its peacekeeping missions around Africa .
"Our guys seem more interested in theft, robbery, rape and murder than they do in carrying out their jobs."
These days, sitting in retirement in Pretoria , Barlow watches cynically from the sidelines at developments. Like the fiasco of the abortive Equatorial Guinea (EG) coup, where scores of South African ex-soldiers were detained in Zimbabwe en route to EG and later served jail sentences in Harare .
"Simon Mann (the coup plot leader who now sits in jail in Harare awaiting extradition to EG) is an arsehole and from my dealings with him, I regarded him as incompetent. So I'm not surprised at what happened."
But, that disaster also brought down the curtain on the 60s-style cowboy mercenaries, thinking that with a few people and a few guns they could take over a country.
"We were accused of that sort of plotting all the time. We could have overthrown governments, sure, but we were professional suppliers of military services, not hired guns."
Barlow still keeps a jaundiced eye on the media: "I can see the disinformation and bullshit all over the place."
The reports on the Pikoli/Selebi/Zuma sagas should all be looked at with extreme caution and cynicism, he says.
"There are some many different agendas at play and there are so many people involved who are past masters at spinning a lie: some of the people who put together smears against us are still at it and the ANC is also highly experienced at the art of disinformation."
He says he can see the media being used and manipulated.
"Some things never change..."
Brenden Seery - The Star, Johannesburg
"I first met Eeben Barlow in 1982 … (as) a young and eager reconnaissance officer with 32 Battalion …" writes the old South African Defence Force's former Intelligence chief, General R (Witkop) Badenhorst, in his foreword to this book.
A quarter-century later Barlow still looks surprisingly young, but definitely not so eager. Wary, perhaps.
Surely the founder of the first private military company to place this type of business in an ethical framework that saw him contracting only to legitimate governments - the man credited with paving the way for the expansion of similar operations around the world - could afford to look a little more satisfied with those achievements?
Why not is suggested by the second part of the title, "Against All Odds", as well as at the back, in a tailpiece.
There he confesses: "Today, I have little interest in the misery and chaos that is spreading across Africa . I have come to realise that any attempt to stem the tide is viewed as sinister - especially by those who are pursuing alternative agendas for personal gain. ...I still receive calls from governments asking if I would be prepared to assist them to resolve their problems. They have totally lost faith in the UN and even in South Africa , whose 'peacekeeping' missions have become tainted with gross misconduct, poorly disciplined troops and political partiality. To them, my answer is always 'No'."
(Prior to publication, Barlow reiterated the above comment, confirming continuing approaches from African, European and Far Eastern governments, hoping he would revive Executive Outcomes.)
To read the pages in between is to travel a journey that started with Barlow as a sapper - an engineer - in then South West Africa clearing mines (and getting wounded in the process), before moving to 32 Battalion, patrolling deep, and dangerously, into Angola. Then came a transfer to the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC), where he built an agent network in Botswana and "controlled people within the SACP, the ANC, the PAC and the BDF". Later counter-intelligence work included spotting, developing and recruiting an agent with the US Embassy in Pretoria , before resignation from the military to join the Civil Co-operation Bureau, the CCB.
In the not-yet-notorious CCB his responsibility was for the United Kingdom , Europe and Middle East . However the actions of its Region 6 (within South Africa ) as a sort of "Murder Incorporated", in Barlow's words, led to the organisation's collapse. So sudden was this that Barlow ended up using his own money to bring home four of his overseas agents … leaving him both "broke and heavily indebted".
Thus was laid the road to Executive Outcomes. But first came (among others) a request from a South American country to enter the field of drug enforcement (stymied by the US); training for the SA Army's Special Forces, mainly in covert operations but also counter-espionage; and assisting De Beers to curb the illegal diamond trade.
Then in early 1993 Barlow was presented with "a very delicate problem". It led to the Executive Outcomes operations which made that company's name and brought invitations to operate far and wide.
With South Africa out of Namibia , there was no reason for Pretoria to be hostile to Angola . It was thus entirely legitimate for South African citizens to accept a contract to protect recovery teams extracting heavy equipment from a Unita-controlled area in Angola's far north, in "a little town called Soyo".
Barlow's description of the fighting that ensued is a classic of its kind: descriptive, detailed and vivid, at times passionate, without moving at any time into Soldier of Fortune bravado. It displays also the compassion and understanding which mark a true soldier.
But while this was going on, the South Africans doing their job for the government of Angola - a country with which this country was officially now at peace - were being shafted.
"In Pretoria , I received a frantic telephone call from London at about 05:00 South African time. It was one of my old CCB agents.
" 'Eeben, you guys are in big shit', Richard declared. 'A friend of mine works at GCHQ, Cheltenham . They intercepted a telephone call last night from the South African Parliament building in Cape Town to the Unita representative in London …"
Both Barlow and his company had been mentioned, together with the advice "by someone in your government" that Unita hang on to Soyo regardless of cost.
Meanwhile, fed by leaks from both Military Intelligence and the Department of Foreign Affairs, a media war was unleashed back at home, with very little consideration being given to what EO might have to say, or indeed as to whether the material being "fed" was in the least reliable.
Much more - both triumph and tragedy - followed in Angola . Then came the challenge of Sierra Leone .
Suffice it to say that a small group of South Africans restored peace, at minimal cost and loss of life, only to see these achievements negated following international pressure.
For around US$31-million a year, Barlow tells us that EO defeated the rebels on the battlefield, saw the child soldiers who had been a tragic feature of that conflict demobilised, the government regain control of the country's mineral wealth, a cease-fire in place and fair elections.
Enforced replacement of EO with the UN force Unamsil cost some US$600-million a year, lost Sierra Leone to a coup, led to thousands of civilians being killed, the capital overrun, floods of refugees and massive infrastructural damage. With presumably no sense of irony, the UN rated Unamsil as a "most successful" mission.
In 1996 Barlow mounted a low-profile and extremely successful mission at the request of the Indonesian government to rescue hostages from an irredentist group. Invitations were extended by other governments with whom SA has friendly relations to assist in various projects, but these did not come to fruition.
EO closed its doors at the end of 1998, when "the South African Government lost a perfect vehicle for projecting force and bringing about stability in Africa ".
Far too often we tolerate behaviour that should be unacceptable; put up with that which should be insupportable. If the written word has a sound, in Executive Outcomes this would reflect the quiet rustle of a coat being trailed.
Barlow freely names his villains. They come chiefly from the old Military Intelligence, the old Department of Foreign Affairs, and ambitious businessmen with multiple agendas. They also include journalists.
There is no way this reviewer can comment on the accuracy or otherwise of such charges. But they cannot be ignored.
Shortly before this book appeared there were rumours that one journalist was asking for help in seeking an interdict to prevent publication. More to the point would be an action for libel, mounted perhaps by one or more of the "eminent" businessmen and former top public servants whose characters and activities are also ripped to shreds here.
Yet Barlow appears to have been a compulsive acquirer, and keeper, of sometime incriminating records. What would happen if those suing him, lost? And what would the media do about some of those who have been employed and trusted for so long as opinion-formers, if - in court - the records and documents which Barlow says he has safely cached "off-site", substantiate his allegations?
Overall, this is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of recent political and military history, both here and throughout Africa . It would be a great pity if, because of the many cans of worms it exposes, it was ignored.
James Mitchell: The Star, Johannesburg
This is the story of the birth and demise of Executive Outcomes. It is also the side of the story of Eeben Barlow, founder of EO, and he does not mince his words…
Barlow was a Lt Col in the Army and served in the Engineer Corps, 32 Battalion, Military Intelligence and he later entered the shadowy world of the CCB.
He was a spy with a network of agents overseas and in southern Africa . He knew a lot about sensitive issues and especially who was involved. This was probably the reason why he and EO were castigated when they sold their talents to the "enemy" in Angola .
Barlow presented courses to the SADF's "Recces" until shortly before EO accepted a contact with an oil company in Angola .
Due to their success, EO was asked to aid the Angolan Armed Forces to train its troops in order to break the stranglehold of UNITA on parts of that country in order to establish a government of national unity.
Due to the fact that South Africa had supported UNITA, EO and Barlow were branded as traitors. It was however the continued support from South African diplomats, businessmen and other highly-placed members in UNITA - even after the UN implemented sanctions against UNITA - that clearly had a sobering effect on Barlow.
Disinformation campaigns, threats and even an attempt on his life made him realize that big money was fuelling the war behind the scenes.
The police regularly investigated EO but never found any reason to prosecute the company. This did not stop the South African government and MI's determined efforts to destroy EO. Indeed, Barlow used his contacts in MI to brace himself for the continued attacks on his person and that of the company.
The book stretches from EO's Angolan operations to those in Sierra Leone , as well as smaller contracts tackled by the company.
He writes frankly about the alleged ineptitude of MI, the Defence Force, Foreign Affairs, Armscor, the UN. He does not shy away from using documentation to name those officials involved - nor those he identified as double agents.
Ironically enough, some of the senior military officers who apparently helped to hound the company, are themselves now in security jobs abroad, where they do exactly the same work…
Beeld - Erika Gibson, Military Correspondent
I bought the book out of curiosity, it should be an adventure book, it starts that way but as Mr Barlow and his team become more effective at what they do, the story changes to one of highlighting corruption at commercial, media, army, secret service, government and UN level. A very interesting read which so sadly becomes an education in corruption and vested interests that ultimately led him to walk away from his company. The world needs more forthright people like Mr Barlow and I hope that the people and events described in the book are taken to task by national governments and insight committees - but of course they wont - thats the whole point. I wish you well Mr Barlow in whatever you're doing today.
Anonymous Review Brazil
A very interesting read, which lays bare the incredible greed and corruption of the supposedly "honest" world powers. Being a Zimbabwean, I am well aware of the machinations of the bigger countries, who have absolutely no qualms destabilising/destroying a country to plunder its resources on the cheap, or remove it as a competitor on the global market.
Hats off to Mr Barlow and his men, honesty is a rare commodity indeed, bravery and conviction even rarer. The media has always been ridiculously skewed in favour of those who pull the strings to make the monkeys dance. I am lucky to have been brought up to question EVERYTHING the media spouts, sadly I am in the minority.
A highly recommended read for anyone who wants to know the uncomfortable truth behind the headlines. I worked for a well known UK investment bank, and have seen first hand a retired UK politician courting corrupt Nigerian politicians with their ill gotten gains.