Faction of 'white South African guards' promoted apartheid at Iraqi army base - report

2018-09-19 14:45
US troops patrol a temporary military base in Iraq. (AFP)

US troops patrol a temporary military base in Iraq. (AFP)

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(Original story written by Zack Kopplin and Irvin McCullough for the Daily Beast)

An investigative report into an air base in Iraq, where a US government sponsored military contractor was paid to provide security, has uncovered a number of irregular and sinister practices, including a racist "apartheid" culture perpetrated by South Africans employed as guards.

According to the Daily Beast report, military contracting company Sallyport Global has received over $1bn from the US government since January 2014 to provide "security, life support, training and other basic operations at Balad Air Base" in Iraq.

The report states that Sallyport employs around 1 850 people at Balad to run what is essentially a "small army of private contractors" recruited from around the world.

However, poor management, a lack of discipline and general lawlessness in the region caused the operation to descend into chaos, allowing different factions to rise and influence daily affairs at the base.

These factions included a "Bosnian mafia" that ran the IT department and motor pool at the base, and "white South African guards" and supervisors whose careers harked back to apartheid-era military and police forces.

The Government Accountability Project, a US whistleblower protection and advocacy organisation, has been conducting an investigation at Balad on behalf of the Daily Beast, and unearthed a number of complaints about a group of "a couple hundred" of these South African guards.

According to one former Sallyport employee, many of them were "very racist".

'It was segregated'

"They would walk into a room and acknowledge me and my colleague, but would ignore my Iraqi interpreters," another former employee revealed, while a third said the guards felt, "because their skin was white, they were better".

The South African guards were reportedly disrespectful to the Iraqis about their culture and language, and refused to share a dining facility with them.

These guards rose to enjoy a degree of authority over security operations at the base by the end of 2014, and would order Iraqi translators to perform menial tasks, former personnel revealed.

Other former employees said the South Africans also used their influence to move Central and South Americans on the base to undesirable night shifts and "forget about them".

"Peruvians were on all night and white boys were on all day," another former employee said. "It was segregated."

Most disturbing, perhaps, was the display by the South Africans of their ideologies, which included openly endorsing apartheid and the old South African flag, and the proliferation of racist and anti-Semitic posts on their social media accounts.

These included sharing videos by Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, pro-Nazi propaganda, and posts justifying apartheid and labelling former president Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, as uncovered by the Government Accountability Project.

South African 'mercenaries'

South African military personnel, particularly former SADF and SAAF soldiers and pilots, as well as apartheid-era police, have a chequered reputation as guns for hire in conflict zones. While employed under the guise of private security, they have often been accused of being mercenaries.

In 2015, former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that "mercenaries" from South Africa, who had helped to train Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram extremists, should be arrested on their return.

According to a City Press report, Mapisa-Nqakula said there were "consequences for going out of the country and providing any form of military assistance as a mercenary, not as part of the deployment by government".

A report by the Institute for Security Studies, however, said the former South African soldiers had played a major role in the fight against Boko Haram, along with other "military experts" from Britain, the United States and France.

In 2011, Rapport reported that a group of South African soldiers had been killed in a failed attempt to assist with deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's escape. Apparently, about 19 South Africans had been contracted by different companies for the operation.

Prior to that, in 2009, South African mercenary Nick du Toit was pardoned, along with Briton Simon Mann and three others, after being jailed following a foiled coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

'Things were not always kosher'

The recent Government Accountability Project investigation also identified pro-apartheid social media posts by contractors working for other companies, including a South African contractor wearing an apartheid flag on one of the bases.

A South African former Sallyport employee admitted to investigators that "things were not always kosher", but declined to go into detail for reasons of loyalty.

Former employees further blamed the base's American security director Steve Asher for creating the "cabal of white South Africans" in exchange for their loyalty. Asher allegedly systematically replaced Americans on the base with South Africans and allowed them to work in restricted areas.

Asher did not respond to investigators' request for comment.

Accusations of mediocrity and incompetence were also levelled at security staff at the base.

Guard forces apparently became lax at doing what they were hired to do, and would be late in responding to security breaches, or even end up at different places than those they were called to. Security assessments by inspectors at the base were also allegedly rigged.

Several former employees further detailed how difficult it was to leave the base, and said Balad was "basically jail" even if you were there voluntarily.

"You have no idea what it's like to live two years surrounded by South African guards," one said.


Read more on:    iraq  |  military  |  racism

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