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'New Wars': the Sierra Leone Case
Unformatted Document Text:  Use of Private Militias in Sierra Leone Sierra Leone had contracts with three private security companies over the course of the conflict. The first contract was signed between Officer Valentine Strasser (who overtook the government in April 1992) and a British security firm called Gurkha Security Guards (GSG) in 1995. Strasser turned to the firm when it became increasingly apparent that the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) were ill equipped and poorly trained in the face of rebel forces. Although the contract required only that GSG to train the RSLMF, the government pressured GSG to engage in operations with them, which GSG refused to do (Avant 2005). GSG pulled out of Sierra Leone the same year. “Company officials claimed to have been worried that GSG would acquire a ‘mercenary’ reputation that could undermine the potential for future contracts were it to engage in obviously offensive operations on behalf of Sierra Leone’s government” (Avant 2005, 86). A second private security company, Executive Outcomes (EO) was then hired by Strasser at a considerably lower cost (Avant 2005). EO was given authority to train, command, and control Sierra Leone’s armed forces. “Just a month after their arrival, EO led RSLMF on a counter-offensive. They assumed operation, control, provided intelligence information, and accompanied units on operations” (Avant 2005, 87). Under EO’s command, the rebels endured casualties and were driven away from the capital. EO quickly identified one of the ethnic groups—the Kamajors—as a strong fighting force and an asset to the RSLMF. Under EO’s training they became a significant force. Understandably, this caused discontent within the RSLMF (Avant 2005). After the elections were held that brought President Kabbah to power and resulted in the signing of the 1996 Adibjan Peace Accord, EO withdrew from the country under an agreement reached in the provisions of the Accord. Avant (2005) argues that the use of EO had an important impact on the conflict in Sierra Leone. First, whether intentional or not, EO became a political player in the conflict. “The government did not have strong mechanisms with which to control EO’s actions – indeed, given their inability to pay for the contract, they had very few control levers available” (Avant 2005, 90). Secondly, EO also had contracts and close ties with international mining companies, calling into question where the companies loyalty and priorities lay. Thirdly, EO’s decision to legitimate and support civil fighting forces, such as the Kamajors, dramatically changed the distribution (and complexity) of military power. EO did, by many accounts, maintain its professionalism, though it did not incorporate any kind of human rights training into its programs in Sierra Leone (Avant 2005). Overall, EO’s military success is seen as having played a key role in improving the government’s bargaining position in the 1996 peace process. Although President Kabbah realized the importance of maintaining security, he was unable to take effective action and was overthrown in a coup in 1997 and forced to flee Sierra Leone. After this, violence re-ignited. From abroad, Kabbah called on the Private Security Company Sandline to train 40,000 Kamajor militia, coordinate an attack on Freetown, and work with the present ECOMOG forces. Kabbah returned to power the following year. “There are debates over how important the Sandline contract was to Kabbah’s return and thus its impact on functional control…Sandline’s functional benefits, though, are not as clear as EO’s were” (Avant 2005, 94). 18

Authors: Parker, Sara.
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background image
Use of Private Militias in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone had contracts with three private security companies over the course of the
conflict. The first contract was signed between Officer Valentine Strasser (who overtook
the government in April 1992) and a British security firm called Gurkha Security Guards
(GSG) in 1995. Strasser turned to the firm when it became increasingly apparent that the
Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) were ill equipped and poorly trained
in the face of rebel forces. Although the contract required only that GSG to train the
RSLMF, the government pressured GSG to engage in operations with them, which GSG
refused to do (Avant 2005). GSG pulled out of Sierra Leone the same year. “Company
officials claimed to have been worried that GSG would acquire a ‘mercenary’ reputation
that could undermine the potential for future contracts were it to engage in obviously
offensive operations on behalf of Sierra Leone’s government” (Avant 2005, 86).
A second private security company, Executive Outcomes (EO) was then hired by
Strasser at a considerably lower cost (Avant 2005). EO was given authority to train,
command, and control Sierra Leone’s armed forces. “Just a month after their arrival, EO
led RSLMF on a counter-offensive. They assumed operation, control, provided
intelligence information, and accompanied units on operations” (Avant 2005, 87). Under
EO’s command, the rebels endured casualties and were driven away from the capital. EO
quickly identified one of the ethnic groups—the Kamajors—as a strong fighting force
and an asset to the RSLMF. Under EO’s training they became a significant force.
Understandably, this caused discontent within the RSLMF (Avant 2005).
After the elections were held that brought President Kabbah to power and resulted
in the signing of the 1996 Adibjan Peace Accord, EO withdrew from the country under
an agreement reached in the provisions of the Accord. Avant (2005) argues that the use
of EO had an important impact on the conflict in Sierra Leone. First, whether intentional
or not, EO became a political player in the conflict. “The government did not have strong
mechanisms with which to control EO’s actions – indeed, given their inability to pay for
the contract, they had very few control levers available” (Avant 2005, 90). Secondly, EO
also had contracts and close ties with international mining companies, calling into
question where the companies loyalty and priorities lay. Thirdly, EO’s decision to
legitimate and support civil fighting forces, such as the Kamajors, dramatically changed
the distribution (and complexity) of military power. EO did, by many accounts, maintain
its professionalism, though it did not incorporate any kind of human rights training into
its programs in Sierra Leone (Avant 2005). Overall, EO’s military success is seen as
having played a key role in improving the government’s bargaining position in the 1996
peace process.
Although President Kabbah realized the importance of maintaining security, he
was unable to take effective action and was overthrown in a coup in 1997 and forced to
flee Sierra Leone. After this, violence re-ignited. From abroad, Kabbah called on the
Private Security Company Sandline to train 40,000 Kamajor militia, coordinate an attack
on Freetown, and work with the present ECOMOG forces. Kabbah returned to power the
following year. “There are debates over how important the Sandline contract was to
Kabbah’s return and thus its impact on functional control…Sandline’s functional
benefits, though, are not as clear as EO’s were” (Avant 2005, 94).
18


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