View Full Version : Sierra Leone (catch all)

Tom Odom
07-08-2008, 06:19 PM
Moderator's Note

I have changed the thread's title from 'OP 28: Military Interventions in Sierra Leone' to 'Sierra Leone (catch all)' to reflect a more general theme and a new post.(ends).

To prevent children from escaping their captors, many were often tattooed, scarred, or branded. If they tried to escape, they would often face death at the hands of soldiers or CDF or even village lynch mobs who would recognize the symbols displayed on the child soldier’s body. If they were recaptured by their own group, they were often made an example. As described by one boy, age fifteen,

One boy tried to escape, but he was caught. His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill him with a stick. I felt sick. I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made us smear his blood on our arms. I felt dizzy. I felt so sick. They said we had to do this so we would not fear death and so we would not try to escape.

...The group was known for wearing bizarre clothing to include women’s wigs and flip-flops and being almost perpetually drunk with homemade palm wine. The WSB (West Side Boys) were heavy users of locally grown marijuana and heroin bought with alluvial diamonds. Diamonds were also used to purchase many of their weapons, including ZPU-2 antiaircraft guns, RPG- 7 grenade launchers, 81-mm mortars, AK-47 rifles, and SLR rifles. Most of their vehicles had been hijacked from UN food convoys or captured from the SLA. The WSB operated in and around Freetown, and in the northeastern parts of Sierra Leone, often setting up road-blocks to extort money and goods from travelers. During the day, those who encountered the group paid them off with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or equipment carried in the vehicle. During the evening, when the WSB were high on alcohol or drugs, travelers were often fired upon and killed.

Obviously the West Side Boys were not a teen heart throb boyband. They were some of the worst killers in recent history and many were less than 15 years old. It would take the combined efforts of the British Special Air Services and the 1st PARAS to end the WSB's terror in the small country of Sierra Leone.

This History Lesson focuses on Occasional Paper #28 Military Interventions in Sierra Leone: LessonsFrom a Failed State by Larry J. Woods and Colonel Timothy R. Reese of the Combat Studies Institute.

As a former Africanist who focused on the Congo and Rwanda, I found this study on Sierra Leone offered a number of familiar themes:

• Child soldiers: using child soldiers as killers has been long been a common practice on the continent; it is still going on today in the Congo.
• Mercenaries: Executive Outcomes (EO) bore striking similarities to the "Wild Geese" of Mad Mike Hoare in the 1960s Congo.
• All conflicts are local and regional: understanding a conflict in Africa first means understanding that borders are neither accepted nor effective.
• Confused peacekeeping perpetuates conflicts: ending the Sierra Leone war required multiple efforts all with a common fault in that they lacked an achievable end state.
• Purely military victories in civil wars are not victories: Sierra Leone offers repeated evidence that getting on the bus to go home as soon as the shooting stops guarantees you will be coming back.

You can download OP 28 here. (http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CSI/OP28.pdf)



07-08-2008, 06:49 PM
Excellent piece, Tom! I've forwarded it off to a colleague who teaches a course on Children and War.

Rex Brynen
07-08-2008, 07:05 PM
Excellent piece--Chapter 4 (on United Nations and British Forces, 1999–2002) is especially interesting reading.

William F. Owen
07-09-2008, 06:41 AM
Sankoh and the RUF soon discovered the importance and value of diamonds. As Sankoh and his soldiers took over mining areas in southern Sierra Leone, he found himself with a product he could barter. Sankoh approached Taylor about an exchange and Taylor was interested. Taylor needed a way to finance his operations in Liberia and diamonds were a commodity not easily traced. He established a net- work of illegal buyers and sellers from various countries and was able to smuggle weapons and ammunition to barter with Sankoh and to support his war.

I believe this is not correct. Taylor sent Sankoh to secure the diamond fields as a a source of funding and there are ground to believe that he was directed to do this by outside agents from a middle-eastern nation.

There is also good grounds to believe that the RUF and NPRC may have tactically colluded in keeping the conflict going to secure sources of diamonds for them both.

In April 1995 the NPRC leader contracted with EO to conduct military operations in Sierra Leone against the RUF forces. In addition to paying EO $1.8 million per month for their military services, Strasser also entered into an agreement with Branch Energy and its subsidiary Diamond Works. EO and Diamond Works were financially linked, though the details were murky. The plan called for EO to recapture the diamond mines from the RUF, after which Diamond Works would extract the diamonds using local labor. In exchange for the effort, Diamond Works would pay the govern- ment 37.5 percent of the net profits.8 Strasser believed that if he could return the diamond mines to government control heEO and have enough cash to run the government.

Just as someone asked Taylor to go and secure the diamond fields, someone else asked and funded EO and some other organisations to go and take them back. I have it on extremely good authority that Strasser was "told" to hire them.

The simple choice for those interested in the diamonds was whether to use and insurgency to get them or a bunch of Mercenaries. They may even have done both. The same Middle Eastern elements were in play for most of the war and millions of dollars were accrued, possibly to fund illegal activities in the Middle East.

Hope this helps.

07-09-2008, 06:56 AM
Thanks for the email and link. Great read, Tom !
Especially interesting are the similarities with typical African military and the employment of "Special Units". Stevens integration of the ISU with local police may have kept his finger on the pulse of the city, but nothing like the rapid dominance of Mobutu's once hailed DSP.

Seems wherever diamonds are present, there's a Lebanese "businessman". They make for some interesting neighbors too :D

Regards, Stan

09-30-2008, 02:32 PM
Chatham House, 30 Sep 08: Sierra Leone a Year After Elections: Still in the Balance (http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/publications/papers/download/-/id/658/file/12202_0908sierraleone.pdf)

....the scale of the challenges is large, and past performance, beyond the stabilization of the security sector, has been questionable. The external threats posed by increased oil and food prices are great, but are dwarfed by the severe threat of the increasing drugs trade in Sierra Leone. If these threats are to be met, new bilateral support will be needed. Given that the level of UK commitment has almost certainly peaked, other countries in Europe which will be affected by the establishment of drugs cartels inWest Africa should increase support as a matter of self-interest......

08-13-2009, 12:51 PM
GFN-SSR, 31 Oct 08: UK Military Intervention and Progress in Sierra Leone, 2001-2006 (http://www.humansecuritygateway.info/documents/GFNSSR_UKMilitaryInterventionProgress_SierraLeone. pdf)

The aim of this paper is to examine progress in Sierra Leone between 2001 and 2006, within a regional context, as result of UK military intervention and assistance. It focuses on what is commonly termed post-conflict reconstruction and development. In particular, it will explore the transformation of the security sector and the relationship between security and development. The paper draws on research, but also on first-hand experience of the author, who served in Sierra Leone under United Nations command during 2001 and then as military advisor to the government of Sierra Leone/Commander International Military Advisory Training Team in 2006.

06-01-2013, 07:41 PM
A short RUSI commentary:http://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C519CD2196877F/

Quite reflective and maybe of interest for the role of the international military advisory mission (IMATT); with a now dated Canadian explanation:http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/od-bdo/di-ri-eng.asp?IntlOpId=75&CdnOpId=86

08-26-2015, 06:52 PM
A new book by Kieran Mitton, a Kings War Studies academic: Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in the Sierra Leone Civil War:http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/understanding-atrocity-in-the-sierra-leone-civil-war/

From the publishers abstract:
The atrocities of civil wars present us with many difficult questions. How do seemingly ordinary individuals come to commit such extraordinary acts of cruelty, often against unarmed civilians? Can we ever truly understand such acts of ‘evil’? Based on a wealth of original interviews with perpetrators of violence in Sierra Leone’s civil war, this book provides a detailed response.

If you register with the publishers you get a discount and free P&P worldwide.

09-09-2015, 04:30 PM
A five minute podcast by the author:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJLTGJwXdsw&feature=youtu.be

08-31-2016, 02:49 PM
Hat tip to WoTR for a David Ucko article which is a comprehensive review of the UK role in Sierra Leone; a longer version (18 pgs) is in the Journal of Strategic Studies - free for a short while.


Longer version:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01402390.2015.1110695

08-01-2017, 12:19 PM
A short article by a PhD student that starts with:
The British intervention in the Sierra Leone civil war aimed to create long-term security for civilians.
More than 15 years on, how sustainable is security in the country? Sierra Leone’s eleven year long civil war (1991-2002) is renowned as one of the most brutal intra-state conflicts in recent history. Atrocities were perpetrated by all parties to the conflict.
(Later) arguably the vast majority of the destabilising factors attributed to the outbreak of the civil war persist.Link:https://sustainablesecurity.org/2017/07/26/a-success-story-the-british-intervention-in-sierra-leone-revisited/