With their roots in South Africa apartheid-era security forces, they do not fit the standard image of an army of liberation. But after just three months on the ground, a squad of grizzled, ageing white mercenaries have helped to end Boko Haram’s six-long year reign of terror in northern Nigeria. … [T]he group of bush warfare experts were recruited in top secrecy in January to train an elite strike group within Nigeria’s disorganized, demoralized army. …
[T[heir formidable fighting skills — backed by their own helicopter pilots flying combat missions — have proved decisive in helping the military turn around its campaign against Boko Haram in its north-eastern strongholds. The Islamists have now fled many of the towns they once controlled, leading to the freeing of hundreds of girls and women last week who were used by Boko Haram as slaves and bush wives.
The Nigerians scarcely acknowledge it in public:
The role of Col Barlow’s firm in turning around one of the most vicious African insurgencies of modern times has been kept largely quiet by Nigeria’s outgoing president, Goodluck Jonathan, who lost elections six weeks ago to ex-general Muhammadu Buhari. …
“The campaign gathered good momentum and wrested much of the initiative from the enemy,” said Col Barlow, 62. “It was not uncommon for the strike force to be met by thousands of cheering locals once the enemy had been driven from an area.”
How the South African mercenaries did it:
Describing Boko Haram as “a bunch of armed thugs who have used religion as the glue to hold their followers”, Col Barlow said the initial plan was for his men to train up a team to help free the schoolgirls. However, as Boko Haram continued to run amok across northern Nigeria, massacring hundreds at a time in village raids, the plan turned to schooling Nigeria’s largely traditional army in “unconventional mobile warfare”.
Key to this was a tactic known as “relentless pursuit”, which involved mimicking Boko Haram’s hit-and-run tactics with non-stop assaults. Once the insurgents were on the run and their likely route established, members of the strike force would be helicoptered into land ahead of them to cut off their likely escape routes, gradually exhausting them.
The South Africans even used bush trackers to work out where their enemies were going, an old-fashioned art that proved vital in Boko Haram’s forest hideouts. “Good trackers can tell the age of a track as well as indicate if the enemy is carrying heavy loads, the types of weapons he has, if the enemy is moving hurriedly, what he is eating, and so forth,” said Col Barlow.
While the Nigerian government has insisted the South Africans’ role was mainly as “technical advisers”, Col Barlow suggested his men had been involved in direct combat. His air power unit was “given ‘kill blocks’ to the front and flanks of the strike force and could conduct missions in those areas,” he said. His forces also helped with intelligence gathering, troop transportation and evacuation of casualties.
hat-tip Stephen Neil