Nigerian ECOMOG artillerymen prepare to swing into action during the Battle of Freetown II, 10 January 1999 (photo credit: NEW YORK TIMES)

Nigerian ECOMOG artillerymen fire 105mm howitzers during the First Liberian Civil War (photo:GETTY IMAGES)

Kabbah finally agreed that EO should locate RUF HQ that Sankoh was using and destroy it..the base was situated deep in the Kambui Hills in Kenema District – also known as Zagoda – in the southeast of Sierra Leone.

The attack plan was formulated and our men..gathered in Kenema where the drills, briefings, orders and rehearsals took place.

Supporting the operation would be two companies of SLA infantry, a detachment of Kamajors and an artillery battery of Nigerian 105mm howitzers. The EO teams were to be primarily deployed in stopper groups. Neels Britz, our senior artillery officer, would accompany the Nigerian artillery and act as their ground control officer to relay the fire-control orders from the airborne FOO(an EO Cessna, emphasis mine)

By 15 November(1996)..the attack commenced with a three-day intermittent artillery bombardment. Circling the area in the Cessna, the FOO called for the first 105mm shell to be fired into the RUF base. He needed a reference point to enable accurate fire adjustments to be made.

The first 105mm shell served as more than a ‘sighter’. It landed on a large sand model of Sierra Leone, killing the entire RUF High Command who were sitting around the model, discussing the next phase of their terror campaign.

Noting the impact zone, the order was relayed to Neels to ‘fire for effect’ and the Nigerian artillery commenced its bombardment. For three days the rebels were pinned down by accurate artillery fire. Those trying to escape ran into our men in their stopper-group positions and were either cut down or surrendered.

Over the coming days, hundreds of RUF members were killed or taken prisoner. Many more demoralised and wounded rebels surrendered to the SLA in Kenema and Bo.

Mohammed Tarawalay, effectively Sankoh’s second-in-command was either killed or lost his desire to fight. His radio messages and call-sign were never heard again.



In broad operational terms, the plan was to use 70 EO men supported by SLA infantry units and elements of the Nigerian Artillery and Air Force…By January 1996..it was time to visit the Kangari Hills..The Nigerian BM-21s were deployed and barrels laid. At Lungi, two Nigerian Alpha jets armed with rockets and bombs were placed on standby to await their strike orders.

When H-Hour arrived, the attack began with a long-range rocket bombardment mounted by the Nigerian BM-21s. Adjustments to their strike were done by Renier who was circling the strike area in the Cessna.

Shortly afterwards, the Alpha jets swooped over the area and released their bombs. Watching from above, Renier was perplexed to see that none of the bombs exploded, although they seemed to be on target.

The BM-21 strike was on target however and the RUF were unable to defend themselves from the chaos created by the rockets.


About beegeagle

BEEG EAGLE -perspectives of an opinionated Nigerian male with a keen interest in Geopolitics, Defence and Strategic Studies


  1. peccavi says:

    Shake and bake! Ha!

  2. tim says:

    Our alpha jets bomb,did not exploide!!!

    • peccavi says:

      Yes it happens, up to 30% of all ordinance does not fully function. It could have been a bad batch of detonators or dropped at the wrong altitude or so. This is the first account I’ve heard of Al[ha Jets bombs failing to explode in SL/ Liberia. The fact that none of them went off leads me to think it was a bad batch of detonators or something.

      • tim says:

        Are our detonators on our bombs not proximity fuzed? At least I know those dropped by the alpha’s during the liberian way,used proximity fuse.

  3. Eeben Barlow says:

    All conflicts and wars breed valuable lessons, Peccavi.

    To us, this joint operation highlighted several lessons:

    1. The concept, correctly planned and executed, is very feasible and most likely to succeed
    2. It was not the fact that bombs did not detonate, it was the fact that together we could all add a dynamic to the operation making it a success
    3. Armies need to ensure that someone is held accountable for bad ammunition/bombs/detonators. Too many armies are hoodwinked into buying “reject” equipment.

    We enjoyed working with the Nigerian troops and often wished we could have been involved in some of their training.

    I still maintain our (African) armies are incorrectly structured and not suitable to our Operating Environments (OE). Our battlefields are complex and demanding and we need to move away from letting hi-tech gadgets dominate our forces. When we have them, great. If we don’t have them, we need to be able to cope.

    However, most importantly to us was that we could all operate under a unified command and focus our energies on one thing – destroy the enemy.

    Where we have worked elsewhere in recent times, we have been able to – after some kicking and screaming – been allowed to restructure some units with GREAT results.

    All this proves the point: We can solve our own problems if the political and military will is there.



    • peccavi says:

      Hello ahain Oga Eeben,
      Your last line is the unfortunate 64 million dollar one ‘We can solve our own problems if the political and military will is there.’
      And thats what it is down to unfortunately. I have previously cited Biafra and RSA as the 2 African countries that best exemplify what can be achieved when political will, meets ability.
      The malfunctioning ordinance to me is not too much of an issue it happens in all armies, there was a time British 50cals in Afghanistan couldn’t be used without bathing them in oil as the entire batch of ammo bought jammed after 2-3 rounds. Considering that was the largest weapon system available to mounted units at the time it was a fairly big deal.
      Out of interest did you operate with Nigerian infantry or mechanised units, how did you rate them and what suggestions would you have made?

  4. Eeben Barlow says:

    We never operated with Nigerian infantrymen Peccavi. Although we would dearly have loved to lay our hands on some of them and train them in what we viewed as our approach to Special Operations. Our approach is somewhat different to that of others.

    That said, in a recent project, we trained a small force of men who would stand proud anywhere in the world.

    But, back to the Nigerian Infantry – as we never really worked with them, I cannot really give any valid suggestions. As you know, one sees soldiers and you think “If only…”



    • peccavi says:

      Ah ok, it would have been good to gt your perspective particularly as you have operated with and against African armies in so many different theatres and types of conflict.
      When you say your Special Operations approach do you mean the approach devised by the SADF or how EO/ STTEP has taken that concept and your operators experience and developed its own concept and doctrines?

      • Eeben Barlow says:

        The SADF laid a very good foundation, Peccavi. That foundation was of immense value in EO but there was still something missing. It was not until years later that we had dissected so many conflicts in Africa and the missing pieces became evident.

        For years now I have been advocating that our armies are incorrectly structured, that our approach to conflict and warfare is dated and that we have not kept pace with the developments and strategies of our enemies. It is this view that gave rise to the book I am in process of finalising on an African art of war.

        STTEP’s approach to Special Operations has been forged through experience, lessons learnt as well as the inclusion of a different approach to these operations. Obviously, doctrine plays an important role but I note that many doctrines are stagnant and do not develop beyond the initial “first edition”.

        Once we have laid the initial Special Operations foundation in place for a government, we then make what we refer to as doctrinal suggestions for our clients. This approach has reaped its rewards.



  5. Number one says:

    Mouth watering account,@ Beegeagle does the Nigerian army possess counterfire radars.

  6. doziex says:

    This was the pre ecomog phase in the sierra leonean war. At this time, most nigerian soldiers where in liberia on ecomog duties. A 2 battalion detachment called NIFAG (nigerian forces assistant group) was stationed in sierra leone 1st of all, to guard ecomog’s rear base,and NAF assets ( 2 alpha jets ) and secondly, to assist the sierra leonean military govt in containing the Charles taylor backed RUF.

    NIFAG was based in freetown and assisted the RSLAF with airstrikes and artillery bombardments.

    However, in this jungle counterinsurgency war, NIFAG,RSLAF and the Kamajor militias were all clueless on how to contain/deal with the RUF.
    At the time the nigerian army had no SF/COIN capabilities, with exception of the 72nd airborne.

    So EO was a real and necessary game changer, when they came on board. Prior to that, other mercenaries tried and failed to affect the war effort.

    The late Bob Mackenzie(an american), led some nepalese ghurkas. I don’t think the Ghurkas ever made it. But Col. mckenzie was captured and killed by the RUF when the RSLAF(republic of sierra leone armed forces) men he was leading fled after an ambush, and left him in a pickle.

    As for alphajet munitions not exploding, I don’t think that was a common proplem. NAF cluster bomb munitions was highly feared by rebels and civillians alike. NAF magnetic rockets was also very effective against shipping during the ecomog enforced embargo.

    Also, I believe the Bm-21 multibarrel rocket launcher mentioned in Eeben’s book belonged to the guineans. They never left home without it. Anytime they featured in this decade long conflict, they brought their bm-21s along.

    Whereas, NA posses the bm-21 in it’s inventory, but there is no evidence, it ever made it to sierra leone.

    • freeegulf says:

      oga doziex, greetings. yea most of the BM-21s where deployed by the Guinean contingents. the immense firepower of the BM-21s is incredible.
      in late ’98, the RUF captured a rocket launcher. they even managed to capture some Guinean officers to help them operate the launcher. it says much about the Grad rockets. unlike NIGCON ECOMOG howitzer, the few that fell to rebel hands (due to lack of primer to evacuate them) where burnt.
      the average Nigerian infantry was courageous and did pretty fine with the bush fighting. however, they where not prepared for the sort of fighting that the rebels later conformed to. moreover, in ambush countries like SRL and LBR, most ECOMOG vehicles lacked the countryside capability to operate effectively.
      ambush in late ’98 was hardly a problem for veteran troops, by then, they had learnt the hard way and could easily deal with these skirmishes. but doctrinal tactics continued to limit them. in general, the catastrophe of ’98/’99 was the result of poor handling of the SRL situation by the FG. the top brass did not take supply and armament acquisition seriously. protecting of supply lines was a big headache for the troops. they could have easily shortened their supply lines (thereby increasing the pace of the vanguard troops) by investing in cheap and available helos like the MI-8/17
      ironically, the signalers that ECOMOG trained prior to the ’97 coup, ended up working for the Junta forces and their contribution to the RUF/junta forces was significant.

  7. jimmy says:

    You are absolutely correct with regards to the ALPHAS following the conflict in 1991/92/93.Based on reports AND AGAIN 1998/99 read THE ALPHA JETS EVEN ACCORDING TO THE U.K. INDEPENDENT AND L.A. TIMES were crucial on bombing and strafing runs, this does not take away from the problem of unexploded ordinance that occurs in all wars going back to WW2.

  8. beegeagle says:

    True that, Doziex.

    The REAL ECOMOG phase began after the AFRC-RUF coup in 1997. But a battalion of the NA first went in there in 1991 sent by General Babangida to support the regime of his coursemate, General Momoh. Then after the Abacha regime helped Brigadier Bio to capture power in 1996, a second battalion joined them and became more active in the war effort on the side of the sitting government.

    In a manner of speaking, these Nigerian troops were there pursuant to a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Sierra Leone but they were empowered to fight. Some Guineans were in the country too under a similar arrangement which took effect as the Nigerian troop deployment was beefed up.

    Long ago as the early 1970s, Guinea had intervened to quash a coup in the country, same way that Senegal intervened to smash Kukoi Samba’s 1981 coup in The Gambia.

  9. beegeagle says:

    ECOMOG air operations were well above average. There is no theatre of military operations where unexploded munitions from air raids is not a problem – from Iraq to Kuwait, Ethiopia to Afghanistan, Libya to Angola.

    Read about ECOMOG air operations here. Bearing in mind the fact that in much the same way as the apartheid-era SAAF defined the combat profile of the Aermacchi-derived Impala jets, so have the NAF carved a niche in combat for the Alpha Jet



  10. peccavi says:

    Sounds interesting Eeben, although I have a feeling your training will be extremely painful!

  11. Eeben Barlow says:

    Our philosophy Peccavi, is and remains: Train hard and fight easy. There is no prize for coming second.



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