Two former British marines piloted their boats, a pair of military-grade inflatables, across the Mediterranean from Malta as six helicopters were flown in from Botswana using falsified papers. The rest of the team — soldiers of fortune from South Africa, Britain, Australia and the United States, arrived from a staging area in Jordan and off to Benghazi to help warlord Khalifa Haftar, The New York Times said, citing a leaked UN investigation report.
The report says the mercenaries who slipped into the port of Benghazi, Libya, in the summer of 2019 said they had come to guard oil and gas facilities, but in fact, United Nations investigators later determined, their mission was to fight alongside the Haftar’s terrorist militias in his all-out assault on the capital, Tripoli, for which they were to be paid $80 million.
The report says the mercenary mission quickly went wrong as a dispute erupted with Haftar over the quality of the aircraft, so on July 02 last year, after just four days in Libya, the mercenaries scrambled for their speedboats and roared out to sea, headed for the safety of Malta.
UAE and Blackwater
“The abortive mercenary expedition last summer was organized and financed by a network of secretive companies in the United Arab Emirates, according to a confidential report submitted to the United Nations Security Council in February. The companies are controlled or part-owned by Christiaan Durrant, an Australian businessman and former fighter pilot who is a close associate of Erik Prince, America’s most famous mercenary entrepreneur.” The report says.
United Nations investigators are examining whether Prince played any role in the failed mercenary operation.
“The team of 20 mercenaries that deployed to Benghazi in June was led by Steve Lodge, a former South African Air Force officer who also served in the British military and worked as a private military contractor in Nigeria.” The report adds.
The others were also ex-military — 11 South Africans, five Britons, two Australians and one American, a trained pilot. Their mission was to prevent shipments of Turkish-supplied weapons from reaching the government in Tripoli by sea.
The plan, United Nations investigators say, was to create a marine strike force using speedboats and attack helicopters that would board and search merchant ships. Investigators believe the marine force was part of a larger operation that also involved commandos who would surveil and destroy enemy targets.
Six helicopters were bought in South Africa and trucked to the international airport in Gaborone, Botswana.
“Though clandestine, the operation left behind a long trail of evidence, starting with photographs published online by The Botswana Gazette of three Super Puma helicopters, strapped to trucks, being driven down a highway.” The report says.
The helicopters were loaded into cargo planes, one of which was owned by SkyAviaTrans, a Ukrainian company whose motto, borrowed from a Vietnam-era C.I.A. airline, is “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere, Professionally.”
The airline was cited last year in a United Nations report for transporting military items into Libya, The New York Times reported.
Flight documents listed the planes’ destination as Jordan but they landed at Benghazi airport, near Haftar’s headquarters in eastern Libya.
Two speedboats — rigid hull inflatables, a kind often used by special forces — were leased from James Fenech, a licensed Maltese arms dealer.
In Benghazi, Haftar was infuriated that the mercenaries had brought old aircraft — one official called them “clapped-out helicopters” — instead of the more powerful craft they had promised.
A document obtained by the United Nations indicated that the promised aircraft included a Cobra attack helicopter and a LASA T-Bird, a crop duster adapted for reconnaissance and warfare.
Unable to come to terms with Haftar, the mercenaries decided to pull back to Malta. But after leaving Benghazi on the night of July 2, one of their boats ran into trouble and had to be abandoned. All 20 men crammed onto a single boat and continued to Malta.