Russian Soldiers Shadow 2

The combatting of alleged ‘Islamist guerrillas’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘jihadists’ in the Sahel region has become a thriving business for private security companies. Many countries, as well as the United Nations, call on them to fulfil a range of functions ranging from information gathering, specialised intervention, tactical transport, medical evacuation, guarding mine sites and other military or administrative facilities, logistics, training bodyguards and even local armed forces, to even the grimmer aspects of warfare such as interrogation.

As conventional armed forces withdraw or remove themselves from the frontline, private security companies are increasingly picking up more of the slack. There are two principle problems with this process.

Accountability and deniability

The first is that it affords deniability. It allows state actors to transfer regular troops and particularly Special Forces from regular units, which can be held to account, to these civilian commercial organisations — a process known as ‘fishing’ — which are trickier to trace and hold to account. The result is that it provides states the useful tool of deniability.

Agency and the business of warfare

Second, these companies consistently play a role in local and wider decision-making processes. That may make sense in the case of the provision of specialised services such as medical evacuation. But it also carries the danger that private security companies are businesses and the prolongation and expansion of the conflict is good for business. Unfortunately, as the Sahel situation deteriorates, increasing numbers of private security companies are looking at the region. Jihadism, inter-community conflict and progressive state failure are — as seen in Mali and increasingly in Burkina Faso — all ‘good for business’.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali MINSUMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) and French operation Barkhane forces operating in the Sahel are notably supported by British, French, American and Ukrainian companies that provide supplies, weapons, security and logistical support. At least 21 American companies are listed as military service providers in North Africa and the Sahel for AFRICOM alone and if the CIA and other US organisations were included the number would be higher. Russian contractors are also involved and range from assisting Khalifa Haftar in Libya to intervening in the Sahel and Central Africa.

This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahel region. Click here if you would like to receive a free sample.

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