There appears to be a new phantom force at work in Africa.
A deadly new mercenary company, comprising old-timers from South Africa’s border battles during the Cold War, has apparently given the radical Muslim terrorists of Boko Haram a bloody nose in recent covert missions.
Operating in the desert wastelands of northern Nigeria, Boko Haram hit the world headlines big time when it kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014.
Despite some assistance to find the girls from the British and American military, there were no good results to help the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan win his looming national election.
He faced much criticism and his own dispirited Nigerian army appeared to have little competence, and even less appetite, for a scrap with the Boko Haram bandits, whose reign of terror had run unopposed for some six years.
In desperation, Goodluck turned to a South African outfit with the catchy acronym of STEP (actually STTEP for Specialised Tasks, Training Equipment & Protection). There is a subtle but important difference between ‘mercenaries’ and ‘contract soldiers’. STEP appear to be the latter, paid by a legitimate government to train and assist for the greater good, as opposed to mercenaries will kill their own grandmothers for the coins on their eyes. That’s the theory.
STEP is headed by a Colonel Eeben Barlow, 62, a former South African Defence Force commander who runs a group of bush warfare experts that cut their teeth in the border wars of 30 years ago.
Barlow was formerly a co-founder of Executive Outcomes, which in 1995 helped the government of Sierra Leone to defend itself successfully against the limb-chopping Revolutionary United Front.
In January of this year, Col. Barlow recruited a task force in top secret to assist the Nigerian government and hit the Boko Haram where it hurt. He found an aging ‘Dad’s Army’ of former South African soldiers who still retained that country’s continuing wild frontier spirit.
They comprised a force of some hundred men, including ex-members of apartheid-era SA security forces and former elite black troops from both South African and opposing communist guerrilla units. Their steady confidence and experience under fire paid off.
This rainbow band of brothers, backed with its own small helicopter fleet, hit the Boko Haram terrorists hard, causing them to flee and freeing hundreds of captured women being held as sex slaves and bush wives. The campaign was relentless in its momentum, says Barlow, which was designed to push Boko Haram onto its back foot.
‘It was not uncommon for us to be met by thousands of cheering locals once the enemy had been driven out.’
The secret of STEP’s success was its policy of ‘relentless pursuit’ (a similar principle to NATO Special Forces’ Black Ops in Iraq), which mirrored Boko Haram’s own non-stop hit-and-run tactics.
Once the terrorist fighters were on the run, STEP forces would be helicoptered ahead to cut off all escape routes.
Expert bush trackers were used (see Terence Strong’s thriller ROGUE ELEMENT for further understanding of these specialist techniques) to learn about the enemy, where the fighters were heading, and the location of their secret camps.
STEP’s helicopter unit was notified of ‘kill blocks’ to the fore and flanks of its advancing ground strike force. The whole operation also assisted the regular Nigerian army with intelligence gathering, troop transportation and casualty evacuation.
Although it has been claimed that Boko Haram has virtually been wiped out in the relentless three month campaign, it is unclear whether or not it will be able to regroup and whether Nigeria’s new President, ex-general Muhammadu Buhari, will continue STEP’s contract.
Others have suggested that outfits like STEP could be appropriately and effectively used against Daesh (ISIL) on the Syrian/Iraqi borders or in Libya.
Never say never.