28 January 2019
Cobus Claassens, a South African and Managing Director private military company Pilgrims Africa and Executive Outcomes veteran, spoke to Russia Today about his business and gave an insight into the Nigerian army’s difficulties in defeating Boko Haram. The government of Goodluck Jonathan was said to have used Executive Outcomes around 2014 in the war against the Islamic militants.
In response to a question whether mercenaries were more effective than the official military or UN peacekeepers, Claassens said: “Well, again, it comes down to a innovative mix of military strategy and tactics mixed with business principles, so that’s where a PMC [private military company] has an advantage over an army, if I could call it that. They would respond, for example, to a client request in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Political considerations not so much foremost in their planning. Business principles are, if you are getting paid by the hour, then you will make sure that you are as efficient as you can be in that hour. So that’s first and foremost where PMCs can be more efficient than militaries. I have to qualify that though, there is no PMC on this planet that can fight a major war. That’s not the point and that never where PMCs come in. At this point in time and into the foreseeable future, PMCs provide a limited, yet, quick and efficient solution as part of a larger and broader solution. For example, you’ve mentioned Boko Haram here in Nigeria, and I happen to be in Nigeria and I happen to understand what happened here. The PMC that came here was not contracted to win the whole war. The PMC that came here was contracted to train a unit and to create that from scratch, and then to go into combat and achieve limited objectives, so as to show the Nigerian military some initiative, to get them on the front foot, to get some momentum going and to achieve certain limited objectives. I believe they were contracted initially only to come in and rescue the Chibok girls, you remember the girls that were kidnapped from their school. And that mission then changed eventually, it became slightly broader in scope. But there was never an idea that they would stay here for years and fight the war that was meant to be fought by the national army. They worked for a specific mission. And that’s where some people make a mistake and report wrongly. Nigerian soldiers are brave and physically capable to fight, and quite willing to fight, as a matter of fact, they are some of the best in the world, I’ve fought with them, I can say that. However, their leadership has failed them. Past leadership has degenerated the logistical capabilities in Nigerian military, and the training has been lacking. So there a PMC can come in, pick up the slack, very quickly restore the training standards and doctrine, at the same time, help them with their logistical supply and procurements, so that the right things are bought. Things that will matter and make a difference. Teach them how to use that, help them to deploy that and then step back and step out of this, out of the picture. So a PMC’s role is a limited, albeit a very effective one. “
Questioned further on how Executive Outcomes were able to temporarily rout Boko Haram, Claassens responded: “Well, first of all, the former EO, as you say, Executive Outcomes, was disbanded a long time ago. The company that was contracted to come and help the Nigerian government was a different company. Some of the personalities were the same, but believe me, very few. On the whole, this was a different company and different bunch of people. And I know, because I met some of them, and I spoke to them, and obviously we interact on social media and via e-mail and so forth. They do a good job, they did a brilliant job. They did fantastically well, considering the constraints of time and money, they were given just a part of the budget that were promised, and they were given a very short period of time, as a matter of fact, over December, to mobilise and, you know, a mobilization like that would be a logistical effort, and logistics means arms and ammunition, nobody sells arms and ammunition over December to private company, everybody goes on holiday. So they pulled off half a miracle. I say half a miracle, because, unfortunately, due to financial constraints they can’t find themselves to base and then they left, they were thrown out of Nigeria. It’s a great pity, that they were not given the opportunity to finish what they were contracted for. I believe they would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and Nigeria’s northeast would be in a politically far more stable condition than it is right now. “
On whether Nigeria could deal with Boko Haram on its own: “No, I don’t think so. Nigeria needs a concentrated effort. It has to be a collaborative effort between Niger, Cameroon and Chad, at least. And Nigeria, and all of these other countries, needs help. Most of their militaries hark back to the conventional days, so their order of battle, their structures, the way they teach their soldiers and train them – is in a conventional manner. Unfortunately, they are facing a counter-insurgency or an insurgency enemy, and they need to adopt a counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, and equipment, and formations. They need help with that, they need to be assisted in order to restructure the material, the manpower on the ground is fantastic. They are brave, they are strong, they are physically capable, they are nationalistic, they are proud of their countries, they will fight. But they need to be taught how to fight, and they need to be equipped correctly and trained correctly.”