New report details growing presence of Russian private security firms in Africa

Central African Republic RussiaA new report by the American news network CNN has shed new light into the little-researched subject of Russian-owned private military and security operations in Africa. CNN said the report took a month to complete. It claims that a Russian tycoon by the name of Yevgeny Prigozhin has been instrumental in the growth of Russian private security operations in the continent. Prigozhin is one of the closest confidantes of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States accuses him of helping fund the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg, which allegedly participated in the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election. CNN claims that Prigozhin is also connected with PMC Wagner, a Russian security contractor with presence on the ground in Syria and eastern Ukraine. Western officials allege that firms like Wagner could not operate without permission from the Kremlin.

According to the CNN report Prigozhin turned to African countries like Sudan, Libya and the Central African Republic in order to make up for his financial losses in Syria and Ukraine. He allegedly has a role in many of Russia’s 20 military agreements with African states where he provides security and weapons training on behalf of Moscow. In return, his group of companies, headed by a firm called Concord, receives exploration permits and the rights to exploit precious metals found throughout Africa, according to CNN. The network sent correspondents to the Central African Republic where they found that a radio station and a major military training base are run by a group of 250 Russian contractors. None of them will say who pays them, according to CNN, and at least one of them claims to be a “security adviser” for Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Most of the Russians operate out of Palais de Berengo, a dilapidated presidential palace located 30 miles south of the capital Bangui, which used to belong to the country’s late dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa. At a nearby mining site there are now hundreds of locals who work for the Russians, said CNN.

The CNN report also notes that last year three Russian journalists, Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal, were ambushed and executed near Sibut in the central region of the country, allegedly “by men wearing turbans and speaking Arabic after refusing to surrender their vehicle and equipment”. They were in the Central African Republic to research the presence of Russian private security firms. Their trip was funded by the Center for Investigation, a London-based foundation owned by the Russian exiled billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. No one has been arrested or charged for the killings of the three Russian journalists. Central African Republic authorities told CNN that “investigations were continuing” into the matter.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 August 2019 | Permalink

Firm founded by ex-Blackwater boss to operate in China’s Xinjiang province

Erik PrinceA security firm founded by Erik Prince, the former boss of the private military company Blackwater, has announced a deal with the Chinese state to operate a training facility in China’s largely Muslim Xinjiang province. In the months following the United States invasion of Iraq, Blackwater was hired by the Department of State to provide diplomatic security at several locations throughout the Middle Eastern country. By 2010, when the company was abruptly sold to a group of private investors, its tactics in Iraq had prompted international controversy. Prince went on to help found Frontier Services Group (FSG), another private security firm registered in Hong Kong. The company provides security training to personnel working for Chinese companies. Its specialization is training personnel of Chinese firms based abroad, mainly in regions of Africa.

The announcement of the new training center was posted on the FSG’s Chinese-language website. It said that one of FSG’s subsidiaries had struck an agreement to build and operate a “training center” at the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in the city of Kashgar, one of China’s westernmost cities, situated near the country’s border with Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. The city of 1 million people is located in the province of Xinjiang. In recent months, Beijing has been heavily criticized by several Western countries for allegedly carrying out mass detentions of Uighur Muslims, which make up about half of Xinjiang’s population. Uighurs are ethnically related to the peoples of Central Asia and speak a Turkic dialect. Some see the Chinese state as an occupier and advocate secession, often combined with calls to create an Islamic caliphate. China denies the allegations of mass detentions and claims that Uighurs are voluntarily enrolled in “educational and training facilities”, where they are de-radicalized through political and cultural instruction. Up to a million Uighurs are believed to have been enrolled in these facilities in the past year.

It is worth noting that the initial announcement of the Kashgar Caohu training center agreement between FSG and its Chinese client was eventually deleted from the company’s website. Late last week, an FSG spokesperson told several news agencies, including Reuters, that Prince was not involved in what was described in a statement as a “preliminary agreement” for a training center in Xinjiang. The spokesperson added that Prince probably had “no involvement whatsoever” in the agreement.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 5 February 2019 | Permalink

Russian journalist who wrote about mercenaries’ deaths in Syria is found dead

Maxim BorodinA Russian investigative journalist, who wrote a series of articles about Russian soldiers-for-hire in Syria, has died after falling from the balcony of his apartment in western Siberia. Some of his colleagues say they suspect foul play. Maxim Borodin wrote for Novy Den (New Day) an investigative online magazine. In the past few weeks, Novy Den published a series of probing articles by Borodin about the activities of Russian mercenaries working for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Borodin was one of just a handful of Russian journalists who reported on claims that more than 200 Russian mercenaries were killed in Syria on February 7.

According to the United States government, the Russians were part of a 500-strong Syrian government force that crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s northeastern Deir al-Zour region. American-supported Kurdish forces in the area, which include embedded US troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes against the Syrian government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses, including at least 200 Russian troops. The incident was subsequently confirmed by the Kremlin, which said that the Russians were contractors and were not members of the Russian armed forces. Borodin wrote that the Russian mercenaries were employed by the Wagner Group, an arms-for-hire company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire with close ties to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s name is included in the most recent list of Russian oligarchs that are subject to economic sanctions imposed by the US government.

Last Thursday, just weeks after writing his exposé about the Wagner Group, Borodin was found by neighbors at the foot of the building that houses his apartment in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city. The journalist was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his injuries. The American news network CNN said it spoke to Valery Gorelykh, a local Russian Interior Ministry official, who said that no foul play was suspected in Borodin’s death. The door of his apartment had been locked from the inside and there were no signs of struggle, said Gorelykh. He went on to say that the most likely explanation for Borodin’s death was that he slipped and fell off the balcony while smoking a cigarette.

But some of Borodin’s colleagues and friends question the verdict of accidental death. Vyacheslav Bashkov, a close friend of the deceased, said Borodin had called him in a frantic state in the early morning hours of April 11. He said his apartment had been surrounded by armed security personnel wearing ski masks, one of whom had climbed on his balcony and appeared to be waiting for a court order so that he could search Borodin’s apartment. But an hour later, Borodin called Bashkov again, this time to let him know that the armed men had been conducting a training exercise and that they never entered his apartment after all. Another colleague of Borodin, Novy Den editor-in-chief Polina Rumyantseva, said she did not believe Borodin had committed suicide.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 April 2018 | Permalink

Outgoing CIA director acknowledges US killed ‘couple of hundred’ Russians in Syria

Mike PompeoThe outgoing director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, appeared on Thursday to confirm reports from last February that United States troops killed more than 200 Russian soldiers in Syria. According to sources from the US Pentagon, the armed confrontation took place on February 7, when a 500-strong Syrian government force crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria’s northeastern Deir al-Zour region. US-supported Kurdish forces in the area, which include embedded American troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes on the Syrian government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses. The US side estimated at the time that over 100 attackers had been left dead, with another 200-300 injured. The toll later rose to several hundred dead.

At a press conference held soon after the armed clash, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis refused to discuss the matter, which he referred to as “perplexing”. Bloomberg said at the time that American officials were “in talks” with Russian counterparts “in search of an explanation for what happened”. On Thursday, however, Pompeo appeared to acknowledge that US troops killed hundreds of Russians in Deir al-Zour. The outgoing CIA director was speaking before a committee of the US Senate, during a hearing pertaining to his nomination to serve as the next US secretary of state. He was making the point that the administration of US President Donald Trump had maintained a hardline policy on Russia. After referring to the recent expulsions of 60 Russian diplomats from the US, Pompeo said: “in Syria, now, a handful of weeks ago the Russians met their match. A couple of hundred Russians were killed”.

Pompeo’s comments were seen by the media as an acknowledgement by a senior US government official of the incident in Deir al-Zour, which has remained shrouded in mystery since it happened. Later in his speech, Pompeo said that the Kremlin had “not yet gotten the full message about US determination to block aggression from Moscow. We need to continue to work at that”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 April 2018 | Permalink

News you may have missed #895: Africa edition

Hailemariam Desalegn►►South African security contractor faces spy charges in South Sudan. William John Endley, a retired South African Army colonel, works as a security contractor for former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar, who is now the leader of a rebel faction fighting the government of President Salva Kiir. Endley, who has been working as Machar’s bodyguard, was arrested in August 2016 in Juba. He is now facing charges of espionage and conspiracy to overthrow the government of Sound Sudan.

►►Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs. The Somali government announced Monday it has appointed new police and intelligence chiefs, nearly four months after their predecessors were sacked following the deadliest ever terror attack in the war-torn nation. Former deputy health minister Hussein Osman Hussein has been named head of Somalia’s intelligence service, while deputy head of police Bashir Abdi Mohamed has been promoted to police chief. Their predecessors were sacked on October 29, a day after an attack that left 27 people dead, and just two weeks after 512 people were murdered in a truck bombing in Mogadishu on October 14.

►►Ethiopia bans protests, media criticism, under state of emergency. The government of Ethiopia has declared a six-month state of emergency that includes a ban on protests and publications deemed to incite violence. The measure was announced on Friday, a day after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his surprise resignation in a televised speech. In his resignation address, Desalegn said he resigned to “smooth the path for political reform”. But critics say that the purpose of the state of emergency is “not to protect the constitutional order but to silence the voices calling for change”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 February 2018 | Permalink

Conflicting reports of Russian fighters killed by US forces in Syria

Kurdish SDF There are conflicting reports of Russian and Ukrainian fighters having been killed by American forces in northeastern Syria, with some sources claiming that up to 200 Russians and Ukrainians, most of them private contractors working for the Syrian government, were left dead in clashes last week. If such reports are accurate, they could point to the most lethal American-Russian confrontation since the end of World War II.

According to the United States Department of Defense, the armed confrontation took place on February 7. On that day, a 500-strong Syrian government force crossed the Euphrates River and entered Kurdish-controlled territory in northeastern Syria. A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Thomas F. Veale, told reporters last week that the pro-government forces crossed the Euphrates near the town of Khursham, in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region. The town is firmly held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish armed faction that is supported by the US. Veale said that the Syrian government forces advanced in a “battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars”. The SDF force in the area, which includes embedded American troops, responded with artillery fire, while US military aircraft also launched strikes on the government forces. The latter withdrew across the Euphrates after suffering heavy losses. The US side estimates that over 100 attackers were left dead, with another 200-300 injured. There were allegedly no SDF fatalities during the clash.

On February 8, CBS News cited an unnamed US Pentagon official, who claimed that Russians were among the dead in Deir al-Zour. The BBC said that “at least two Russians” were killed in the attack, while The New York Times raised the toll to “perhaps dozens”. But US news network Bloomberg claimed that over 200 Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainian mercenaries were among the dead. Citing anonymously “three Russians [and] one US official […] familiar with the matter”, the network said that most of the fatalities were Russian and Ukrainian private contractors who were fighting in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. These reports mark the first known instance of Russian citizens killed by American forces in Syria. If the Bloomberg account is accurate, the Deir al-Zour clash could be the most extensive armed confrontation between Americans and Russians since the end of World War II.

Bloomberg said that it spoke by phone to one Russian military contractor who said that “dozens of his wounded men” were still receiving treatment at military hospitals in Russia. On February 8, the Syrian government accused Washington of carrying out a “brutal massacre” in Deir al-Zour, but said nothing about foreign fighters. A statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense said that 25 Syrian troops were hurt in the attack, but denied that Russian soldiers had participated in the February 7 clashes. Speaking on behalf of the Kremlin, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow only tracked casualty data about its official military forces stationed in Syria. He added that no Russian forces were stationed in Deir al-Zour. At a press conference last week, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis refused to discuss the matter, which he referred to as “perplexing”. Bloomberg said that American officials were “in talks” with Russian counterparts “in search of an explanation for what happened”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2018 | Research credit: N.L. | Permalink

European, American, Russian fighters join both sides of Syrian war

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly three years into the Syrian Civil War, it is becoming increasingly clear that the opposition forces are far more fragmented than the government side. Many of the rebel factions are now largely concerned with fighting each other for control of territory and other key assets, including oil installations and cross-border trade routes. Amidst the chaos, thousands of foreign fighters are flooding into the country, motivated by ideology or money. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 11,000 foreign fighters have entered Syria since the war, causing United States intelligence officials to speak of “a growing presence of foreigners” in the ranks of armed factions. At least 300 British citizens are estimated to have traveled to Syria with the intent of joining the Civil War, according to The Times of London. Most of them are young Islamist radicals who are intent on helping topple the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the paper. Another British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, reported recently that four British citizens —all London residents— died recently in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, while fighting alongside government troops in support of President Assad. They were fighting against the al-Nusra Front, an opposition group with strong links to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, The New York Times said on Wednesday that “dozens of Americans” have entered or tried to enter Syria to join various rebel factions in their fight against the government. The paper cited unnamed “American intelligence officials” in alleging that the Americans are a “small subset” of a larger group of “roughly 600” Western-born Islamists who have entered Syria from Western Europe, North America and Australia since 2011. The ongoing conflict has also attracted hundreds of Russian fighters, according to reports. Foreign Policy magazine notes the “rising flow” of radical Islamists from the Russian Federation to Syria in recent months. Read more of this post