Australia impounds [still has] Papua New Guinea-bound Mi-24s

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A pair of Mi-24s that are languished at RAAF Base Tindal since 1997 might be disposed off in 2016. The gunships were on their way to Papua New Guinea (PNG) when the RAAF intercepted the An-124 transport carrying them and divert the cargo to Tindal. A newly installed government in PNG then had refused to allow the helicopters to enter the country.

09 April, 1997

Australia has intervened in a pending dispute between a UK military consultancy and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government over ownership of an arms shipment, including four Russian military helicopters, now on Australian soil.

Australian prime minister John Howard says that the diversion of the Antonov An-124, which was being used to ferry the arms, had been arranged “in consultation with the PNG and other regional governments”. This followed a request by PNG’s recently appointed acting prime minister and his refusal to allow the aircraft to land in PNG.

The shipment had previously been impounded for about a week by Thai authorities over discrepancies in the aircraft’s manifest and the identities of crewmembers.

The An-124, due originally to be flown from Bangkok to Port Moresby, was diverted to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Tindal, Northern Territory, and its cargo unloaded and impounded on 27 March. Several RAAF McDonnell Douglas F-18s reportedly escorted the aircraft as it approached Tindal.

The freighter, which was carrying two Russian-built Mil Mi-24 Hind assault helicopters, two Mil Mi-17 troop carriers, six rocket pods for the helicopters, 1,000 67mm high-explosive rockets, and other armament and vehicles, departed after unloading.

The helicopters were part of a A$46 million ($36 million) package purchased from UK-based consultancy Sandline International by the PNG Government before the country’s prime minister, Sir Julius Chan, was forced to step down.

The package also included the services of about 50 South African mercenaries, to be used in the suppression of secessionist forces in Bougainville, PNG.

The mercenaries, and Sandline executive Tim Spicer, were deported before Chan stood down, along with deputy prime minister and finance minister Chris Haiveta and the defence minister. This followed a confrontation between Chan and military leader Brig Gen Jerry Singaroff, who demanded a judicial inquiry into alleged corruption in the deal with Sandline. The helicopters and other arms are understood to have been bought on behalf of the PNG Government by Sandline.

The caretaker Government invited Australia’s intervention, to avoid the equipment falling into the hands of military elements still not yielding to government authority. It is believed that the helicopters were to be flown by pilots supplied by Executive Outcomes, a South African group associated with Sandline.


Shortly after the Cold War, the world witnessed the resurgence of private military force. Perhaps it is not surprising that the first real mercenary firm emerged in Africa. With the fall of the South African apartheid regime, Lieutenant-Colonel Eeben Barlow left the South African Defense Force to establish the first combat-offensive PMC, the appropriately named Executive Outcomes. Its ranks were populated by soldiers from South African special forces units, such as the 32nd Battalion and the Koevoet (“crowbar” in Afrikaans), a special counterinsurgency police force. Unlike the SAS-PMCs, Executive Outcomes was not a military enterpriser but a true mercenary firm: a private army in the mold of the old condottieri. It was a fully functional, self-contained military organization, complete with its own air force, which would conduct full-spectrum combat operations for the right price.

In the early days of the Rwandan genocide, Executive Outcomes approached then–UNDPKO chief Kofi Annan and offered to help contain the violence as the United Nations generated a competent peacekeeping force, which normally requires several months. Annan refused Executive Outcomes’ offer, claiming later that “the world may not be ready to privatize peace.” This view was costly, as more than eight hundred thousand people died within one hundred days, or eight thousand people a day, more than all those killed in the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Later, Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, and Kenya also turned to Executive Outcomes for help. Some scholars suggested, with a fair degree of hyperbole, that Executive Outcomes represented the future of armed conflict, but this has not come to pass. Executive Outcomes remains an exceptional phenomenon. Taking a cue from its progenitors 350 years earlier, the South Africa government outlawed mercenaries in 1998, and Executive Outcomes was dissolved as mandated by the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.

However, Executive Outcomes’ legacy lives on. The firm was loosely linked to a London-based PMC known as Sandline International, managed by former British Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, British Special Air Service (SAS) officer Simon Mann, and US Army Special Forces Colonel Bernie McCabe. Connecting these two PMCs were Mann, who had worked for Executive Outcomes, and Anthony Buckingham, a British army officer–turned–oil executive who helped Executive Outcomes secure contracts in Angola.

Fearing Executive Outcomes’ imminent demise in the late 1990s, Buckingham turned to Sandline for services, although the exact relationship among Executive Outcomes, Sandline, and Buckingham remains unclear. In 1997, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Julius Chan, contracted the firm to recapture copper mines held by separatists on Bougainville Island for $36 million. Sandline subcontracted most of its personnel from Executive Outcomes, only to be rebuffed by the Papua New Guinea army, which arrested and deported the contractors without shots fired. Chan was forced to resign, and the entire spectacle made world news as the Sandline Affair.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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