Archive for the ‘mercenary’ Category

Disturbing Search Request of the decade: 213.42.21.150, searching Google for “who would handle a commercial shipment of arms and ammunitions from Sharjah to Baghdad”. That’ll be someone downstream of AS5384, or Etisalat (Emirates Telecom), the UAE’s fun-loving national telco monopoly, best known for blocking more websites than China.

Ha. But there is some actual substance in this post; ever wondered what Tony Buckingham and Tim Spicer’s Heritage Oil & Gas was up to these days, now that their separate oil deal in Iraq’s looking like the subprimest mortgage of the century? Instigating a frontier incident between Uganda and the DRC, it seems, thanks to the Uganda Sunday Vision. Heritage is drilling for oil around Lake Albert; the Congolese seem to have taken exception to their straying across the (undemarcated) frontier, and the issue was dealt with at the Kalashnikov’s point, with the result that a security guard for Heritage was killed, (Update: No he wasn’t; at least, he wasn’t a “security guard” but a geophysicist and ex-lifeboatsman from Whitby) as was at least one Congolese soldier.

Fortunately, at least if the statements in this Reuters DeathWatch story are true, the matter is being referred to a four-power conference in Kampala next month for (one hopes..) settlement. The Great Lakes region as a flight to quality? Well, well, oil well.

It sounds more likely that the region might be a good place for flight; if there’s anywhere you’re less likely to get caught, I’ve not heard of it. Which is why this came as no surprise; Italian police have exposed a huge sale of arms by various Italians to Iraq, specifically to the Iraqi Interior Ministry without reference to the US Multi-National Security Transition Command. Very suspiciously indeed, the 105,000 weapons (AKMs both standard and folding stock, and some machine guns) were ostensibly ordered for the Iraqi police in Anbar, although the number is not much lower than the total number of policemen in Iraq.

The deal was discovered by chance, during an investigation into Mafia drug-smuggling; one of the suspects’ luggage was searched en route to Libya, but rather than drugs the police found various nonlethal military gear, and incriminating documents. Further inquiries showed he was conspiring to sell weapons to Libya, and also Iraq. Four men are in custody, but a fifth is on the run and is believed to be in the DRC; where, surprise surprise, he’s in the diamond business. The prosecution is seeking information from the Congo on him; good luck with that.

By December last year, the deal had reached the stage where the Italians were looking into how to fly 105,000 guns from Bulgaria to Iraq; although their counterparty was apparently suggesting that the guns could be delivered to some other location and forwarded. Can anyone guess what (or more precisely who) a DRC diamond smuggler might have to offer a bunch of mafiosi who need to move a dubious air cargo?

This is a case of something I’ve been concerned about since at least 2004, and especially since the missing 99 tonnes of guns affair; we know that Iraq is full of a) guns and b) money, but who needs all these imported firearms in a country bursting at the seams with uncontrolled armaments? Where are they going?

One answer is “the insurgency”; if it is recruiting rapidly, or stockpiling, defections, captures, and corruption could mean that the coalition train-and-equip effort is arming the enemy. This is the Harkins option; in the early days in Vietnam, General Harkins’ mismanaged distribution of weapons lost so many that the Vietcong for a while relied entirely on US equipment, forming infantry battalions with a bigger allocation of Browning machine guns than a typical ARVN unit had. It’s also possible that security is so dire, and administration so hopeless, that entire shipments are being diverted. (Still haven’t read A Bright Shining Lie, despite everything I tell you? You may be running out of time to astonish your friends with your apparent prescience.)

But the combination of Iraq’s initial wealth of arms, and the sheer scale of spending, seems to surpass any possible rate at which anyone in Iraq could consume guns; and that would suggest they are being exported.

Disturbing Search Request of the decade: 213.42.21.150, searching Google for “who would handle a commercial shipment of arms and ammunitions from Sharjah to Baghdad”. That’ll be someone downstream of AS5384, or Etisalat (Emirates Telecom), the UAE’s fun-loving national telco monopoly, best known for blocking more websites than China.

Ha. But there is some actual substance in this post; ever wondered what Tony Buckingham and Tim Spicer’s Heritage Oil & Gas was up to these days, now that their separate oil deal in Iraq’s looking like the subprimest mortgage of the century? Instigating a frontier incident between Uganda and the DRC, it seems, thanks to the Uganda Sunday Vision. Heritage is drilling for oil around Lake Albert; the Congolese seem to have taken exception to their straying across the (undemarcated) frontier, and the issue was dealt with at the Kalashnikov’s point, with the result that a security guard for Heritage was killed, (Update: No he wasn’t; at least, he wasn’t a “security guard” but a geophysicist and ex-lifeboatsman from Whitby) as was at least one Congolese soldier.

Fortunately, at least if the statements in this Reuters DeathWatch story are true, the matter is being referred to a four-power conference in Kampala next month for (one hopes..) settlement. The Great Lakes region as a flight to quality? Well, well, oil well.

It sounds more likely that the region might be a good place for flight; if there’s anywhere you’re less likely to get caught, I’ve not heard of it. Which is why this came as no surprise; Italian police have exposed a huge sale of arms by various Italians to Iraq, specifically to the Iraqi Interior Ministry without reference to the US Multi-National Security Transition Command. Very suspiciously indeed, the 105,000 weapons (AKMs both standard and folding stock, and some machine guns) were ostensibly ordered for the Iraqi police in Anbar, although the number is not much lower than the total number of policemen in Iraq.

The deal was discovered by chance, during an investigation into Mafia drug-smuggling; one of the suspects’ luggage was searched en route to Libya, but rather than drugs the police found various nonlethal military gear, and incriminating documents. Further inquiries showed he was conspiring to sell weapons to Libya, and also Iraq. Four men are in custody, but a fifth is on the run and is believed to be in the DRC; where, surprise surprise, he’s in the diamond business. The prosecution is seeking information from the Congo on him; good luck with that.

By December last year, the deal had reached the stage where the Italians were looking into how to fly 105,000 guns from Bulgaria to Iraq; although their counterparty was apparently suggesting that the guns could be delivered to some other location and forwarded. Can anyone guess what (or more precisely who) a DRC diamond smuggler might have to offer a bunch of mafiosi who need to move a dubious air cargo?

This is a case of something I’ve been concerned about since at least 2004, and especially since the missing 99 tonnes of guns affair; we know that Iraq is full of a) guns and b) money, but who needs all these imported firearms in a country bursting at the seams with uncontrolled armaments? Where are they going?

One answer is “the insurgency”; if it is recruiting rapidly, or stockpiling, defections, captures, and corruption could mean that the coalition train-and-equip effort is arming the enemy. This is the Harkins option; in the early days in Vietnam, General Harkins’ mismanaged distribution of weapons lost so many that the Vietcong for a while relied entirely on US equipment, forming infantry battalions with a bigger allocation of Browning machine guns than a typical ARVN unit had. It’s also possible that security is so dire, and administration so hopeless, that entire shipments are being diverted. (Still haven’t read A Bright Shining Lie, despite everything I tell you? You may be running out of time to astonish your friends with your apparent prescience.)

But the combination of Iraq’s initial wealth of arms, and the sheer scale of spending, seems to surpass any possible rate at which anyone in Iraq could consume guns; and that would suggest they are being exported.

Hard to say what the credibility index is here, but it’s certainly an interesting idea: were the IRA volunteers caught in Colombia there essentially as mercenaries, hiring out their valuable experience and technical advances to finance the movement after US donations dropped off?

It’s an exit strategy more than a few armies have followed – getting out, going into guerrilla consultancy.

Long-time readers of our series on Viktor Bout may remember the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor’s report which implicated various people in Sierra Leone in terrorist financing. We’ve been interested for a long time in West Africa, and the links between Charles Taylor’s regime and Al-Qa’ida, not to mention the missing 727 case. One of the men the Jamestown report named, Paddy McKay, was involved with airline businesses in Sierra Leone and across the Middle East.

Mr. McKay recently got in touch. He denies the allegations, and asserts that they were motivated by corruption. The full text follows:

1. What, in your view, motivated the original Freetown Peep story?
An
approach was made to the DCA in Freetown to register an aircraft that
was not (in our carefully considered opinion)airworthy. Understandablythe request forregistration was denied. The disgruntled individual
invented a story connecting these officials and my organisation to
terrorist groups and released it to the press and to the police in
Freetown which resulted in a number of Sierra Leone officials being arrested and triggered an avalanche of completely misleading information to be published on sites like yours.

2. Do you think illegal activity is going on within the Sierra Leone 9L- registry?

Certainly the SL DCA would not tolerate misuse of their
civil aircraft register. However, many registers are misused without
the knowledge of the those tasked with the administration of such
registers.

3. There has been extensive reporting of links between Middle Eastern terrorist groups and some West African diamond-producing states. Specifically, the Al-Qa’ida representative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is known to have met Charles Taylor several times during 1999. In the past, similar suggestions have been made about other groups, including Shia Amal in Lebanon. In your opinion, is this credible?

Charles Taylor is known to have formed a number of questionable alliances.
Other than that, I am not qualified to comment.

4. What is your relationship with Tim Spicer, Anthony Buckingham, and their various enterprises?

There is currently no connection between me
and Tim Spicer or between me and Tony Buckingham.

5. Did it continue beyond the Sierra Leonean operations of the 1990s? NO

6. Does it still exist?

NO

7. How, in your opinion, did Air Leone lose its Sierra Leone AOC?

Air Leone Ltd was sold to a Saudi businessman whose intention it was, to
form a Haaj Airline. For reasons unknown he did not pursue his
original plan and simply allowed the AOC to lapse. (Supporting
documentation on file)

8. Does HA Air, Star Air, or Fast Aerospace have business in Iraq?

The company HA Airlines was formed but as far as I am aware no AOC was
issued due to a dispute between partners/shareholders. Following the
dispute one of the partners/shareholders formed his own airline, Star
Air and this continued until their AOC was suspended by SL DCA. Fast
Aerospace Ltd is the parent company of IAS which is appointed by
cabinet to assist SL DCA with the provision of technical expertise
when such expertise cannot be found from within Sierra Leone. IAS was
instrumental in the suspension of Star Air’s AOC. (supporting
documentation on file)

9. Do any of those companies provide service to private military entities there?

NO

10. How did HA lose its Jordanian AOC?

HA Air did not at any time hold a Jordanian AOC

11. Star Air bought an L1011 from “CBJ Cargo”. Does this company have a relationship with Chris Barrett-Jolly?

This is inaccurate! Star Air did not (during their time on the SL register) purchase a cargo L1011. They did however lease in a cargo L1011 from a respectable L1011 leasing company. There is no connection between this company and Christopher Barrett Jolly. The other aircraft on the Star Air fleet were ex BWIA. (supporting documentation on file)

12. Are you aware of one Imad Saba, proprietor of multiple air operations in the UAE?

I have heard of him, I have never met him nor have I done business with him.

13. Who owned the BAC-111 3C-QRF, serial no. 061? It has been identified as belonging to San Air General Trading, a company on the UN asset blacklist.

I don’t know

The US Uniform Code of Military Justice now applies to civilian employees, and a damn good thing too. Various people at BoingBoing wonder whether journalists might also be affected.

Curiously, P.W. Singer is quoted as saying that “the Iraq war was the first where journalists could formally embed”. Really? I’m sure, completely so, that those reporters travelling as formal war correspondents accredited to the Army in World War Two, who usually wore uniform, and in most western conflicts up to the 1991 Gulf war, who were usually effectively embedded although the word had yet to be invented as a term of abuse, were subject to military law.

In fact, the press corps who travelled to the Falklands in 1982 were informed shortly before the landing that they were now subject to the Naval Discipline Act, as they were formally part of the task force. This also meant that they were entitled to campaigning medals, although even Max Hastings didn’t take up the offer.

There are obvious concerns, but then, I can’t see worse possible consequences than those of letting mercenaries run riot here. Censorship is an obvious possibility, but then, without this they could always just tell the press to get lost, lie to them, etc. They’ve got the guns.

Check out the reactions here.

The US Uniform Code of Military Justice now applies to civilian employees, and a damn good thing too. Various people at BoingBoing wonder whether journalists might also be affected.

Curiously, P.W. Singer is quoted as saying that “the Iraq war was the first where journalists could formally embed”. Really? I’m sure, completely so, that those reporters travelling as formal war correspondents accredited to the Army in World War Two, who usually wore uniform, and in most western conflicts up to the 1991 Gulf war, who were usually effectively embedded although the word had yet to be invented as a term of abuse, were subject to military law.

In fact, the press corps who travelled to the Falklands in 1982 were informed shortly before the landing that they were now subject to the Naval Discipline Act, as they were formally part of the task force. This also meant that they were entitled to campaigning medals, although even Max Hastings didn’t take up the offer.

There are obvious concerns, but then, I can’t see worse possible consequences than those of letting mercenaries run riot here. Censorship is an obvious possibility, but then, without this they could always just tell the press to get lost, lie to them, etc. They’ve got the guns.

Check out the reactions here.

Every blog and its cat has been discussing the tale that Richard Armitage supposedly threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the stone age, but no-one seems to have mentioned a very obvious fact about this: Pakistan has an estimated 20-60 nuclear warheads deliverable by various means.

Now, you don’t go round threatening to bomb nuclear powers. Ask North Korea. Not that Pakistan has a credible minimum deterrent capability against the continental US, but there are plenty of things they could have bombed. There’s the madman option, of course: threaten to attack India or China and start a nuclear war. Call it the Perfect Anarchist’s defence, as in the character in Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent who avoids arrest by perpetually going about wired as a suicide-bomber. But there are less crazy and more direct targets – Gulf oil infrastructure being exhibit A, Diego Garcia exhibit B, the US 5th Fleet exhibit C. And the dogs in the street know that a US air campaign against Pakistan would almost certainly have brought about that country’s talibanisation – Musharraf was struggling then to keep the ISI under control, not to mention fellow generals from scheming with his old enemies and Baluch rebels.

So, either the story is nonsense, or there are some truly crazy bastards in charge. This possibility can no longer be ruled out, of course, but Armitage never struck me as a reckless goon. His handling of the India-Pakistan nuclear crisis a year later was solidly realist and realistic, and eventually crowned by success. Had he actually issued such a deranged threat, would he have got a fair hearing in Islamabad?

On the other hand, we now have the agreement between the Pakistani government and the Waziri tribes, under which the old, old arrangement by which central authority keeps out of the hills in exchange for help defending the border is restored, not to mention Major-General Shaukat Sultan’s telling gaffe when he suggested that OBL himself might be left alone if he agreed to behave. Meanwhile, Musharraf countermarched and complained that the Afghans weren’t doing enought to keep jihadis out of Pakistan. I wonder if there is a word for chutzpah in Urdu?

The reason for this is that he’s faced with two irreconcilable positions – the combination of considerable popular support for the Taliban on the frontier and the persistent institutional links between the ISI and al-Qa’ida, coupled with the army’s historical concern for state unity under upper-class Punjabi leadership, and the pressure from the US and India, not to mention the coup dread, and the economic need for outside capital to employ the growing population. He’s trying to cover them by constant manoeuvring, which can be done for short periods of time. John Major’s premiership was a long exercise in the same practice. But violence wasn’t on the cards.

One has to wonder what might blow the gaff, and it would probably be something that forced Musharraf to play to both sides at once. On that note, we turn to the Mountain Runner‘s fascinating post about mercenary activity inside Pakistan. As he notes, Bush has said he would send troops into Pakistan if necessary (actually, they wouldn’t be the first ones – a battalion of the 101st Airborne spent the winter of 2001-2002 guarding the airfield at Jacobabad, and the RAF moved into Karachi Airport during the same period). But there are reports of hired guns turning up there, and not just guarding truck convoys.

Rather, at least some of them are taking part in offensive operations, as the muscle for CIA case officers. Now, the possible consequences should be clear enough. Depending on what happens, this could hit any combination of jihad, Pakistani nationalism, Baluch/Wazir regionalism, local self-interest, tribal honour and respect and quite easily put the Pakistani government in a position where it is obliged to kick out the Americans for the Islamist side and also attack Wazir independence.

Just to add spice to it, the main supply route for the NATO forces in southwest Afghanistan is on the line Kandahar-Quetta-Karachi. We could end up in a situation where we are doing our damndest to persuade the Baluchs to shoot at jihadis and the Pakistani army whilst the jihadis and the Pakistani army are trying to make them shoot at us!

Update, 13/09/07: The quote from Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan has been discredited, as one of the stories faked by Alexis Debat.

Several people have sent me this story from the Times (a newspaper that seems to be improving at the moment, despite being a Murdoch property). It deals with a British-owned airline, Avient, and its extremely dodgy activities in the DR Congo. As well as shifting arms in and diamonds out, Avient went so far as to replicate the old Air America trick from the Laotian war of dropping improvised napalm bombs on their clients’ enemies. Read the whole thing.

Back then, they would mix 100-octane petrol with washing powder, which apparently thickened it, then lash the drums to a pallet with a phosphorus grenade or two. The pins were attached to the plane by a cord of suitable length so they would be triggered when the pallet was rolled out of the rear cargo door, but not too soon..

It’s not just the DRC, though, where you might meet them. Concern is rapidly rising that the Sudanese government may be on the point of launching a final, genocidal sweep through Darfur, once it succeeds in chucking out the UN and African Union force. A tactic that has been frequent there is the use of Antonov cargo planes, usually An12 or An24/26, as improvised bombers to terrorise people out of their villages and onto the roads.

As well as their own air force, the regime in Khartoum has been a regular customer of our old friend Viktor Bout. “Airwest”, which shares an ICAO code with East/West Cargo and is probably the same thing, is officially a Sudanese firm (although it is based in the UAE). Several Il-76 aircraft have crashed in various parts of the Sudan operating for this firm, one of which turned out to be an Aerocom plane using a Jet Line International callsign. Sudan Airways is the official lessor of Irbis’s Yak-42, UN-42428, which I have documented operating to Iraq from Dubai in Sudanese colours.

Now consider this. At 2049 local time on the 9th of September – a few hours before I arrived down the road in Dubai – Avient flight no. SMJ 874 left Sharjah for Khartoum. I wonder what was its cargo? The schedules between the UAE and Iraq and Afghanistan these days show no more Irbis operations, but plenty of British Gulf International Airlines…who were, after all, the start of this story, back in the winter of 2003. I even saw one of their An-12s at Dubai Airport, waiting for my flight to the UK. Too far to identify the registration, but the tail colours were clearly visible.

(Update: As Chris points out in comments, there is a good thread on PPRuNe about this, here.)

…But other than that, they’re swell fellows. CusterBattles in more trouble. Especially this:

Ballard also noted that Custer Battles employees didn’t use metal detectors and ignored suggestions that an interrogator look over paperwork while a two-man team inspected each vehicle. “What horrified us most of all, however,” Ballard wrote, “was their refusal to open the cargo doors of lorries to inspect.”

No security inspection whatsoever, then.

Remember this post from July 2005? Regarding the full sickology of the Iraqi war economy, it covered epic CPA corruption, heroin smuggling, Iraqi girls turning up turning tricks all over the Middle East, and of course Viktor Bout. In comments, someone claimed to have heard from a Kroll securigoon that Russian planes were bringing in CIS-area prostitutes to service the Green Zonies as “catering staff”.

Strange how these things turn up. In the case of Philip Bloom, who’s just gone to jail for kicking back $2 million of Iraqi public funds to CPA officials in exchange for contracts whilst working out of Hillah (CPA Region South-Centre, a civil shadow of the MND-SC command), it seems he maintained a villa staffed by tarts in Baghdad as part of his graft scheme. The main target was the CPA South-Centre comptroller, Robert Stein, who was given control of $82 million in reconstruction funding despite being a convicted fraudster. (More here.)

Meanwhile, a senior USAF officer has been caught apparently feeding security contracts to a South African mercenary firm she had a financial stake in. Weirdly, her boss, Jay Garner, is defending her on the grounds she only dunnit to keep his security detail in work by getting Bernard Kerik – for it is he! – to hire them. But she went much further, becoming a director of the company and registering its US subsidiary in her name, at her address in the Washington suburbs.

And the South African mercs hardly helped get the Iraqi police going. Then, of course, there were some other problems..

Employees were arrested in 2004 on suspicion of participating in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. A former U.S. military official said some of the men had ties to Executive Outcomes, a controversial mercenary outfit involved in fighting civil wars in Sierra Leone and Angola.

“These guys were knuckle-draggers,” the official said.

Well, the arrested men were two of the firm’s founders, Hermanus Carlse and Lourens Horn, who took part in the EG raid “on leave” from Meteoric. It looks, too, as if that description was well on the mark, at least going by this report from the Cape Argus: one of their men was killed when he stopped to ask the way to a butcher’s shop in Baghdad. Does anyone out there have any information about whether one Paddy McKay was involved with the firm in any way? Or whether, as I suspect, the “Air Mero”/Skylink/Jetline KBR contract was used for the “catering”?

Updated:: We interview Paddy McKay.