It may take years to unravel the tangled web surrounding “Project Opus,” the bungled 2019 mercenary operation to prop up Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, which allegedly included efforts to deploy a special hit squad to Libya. Few observers tracking the burgeoning global market for privatized armies, however, were likely surprised by reports last week that U.N. investigators suspect the involvement of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince.
The recently leaked U.N. report makes only glancing mention of Prince’s alleged ties to the operation, but it marks the second time since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that Prince’s company, Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, or FSG, has been linked to allegations of trying to sell military services in Libya. In fact, the U.N. report references a detailed PowerPoint presentation elaborating on FSG’s alleged plan to deploy a fleet of drones and helicopters to protect coastal areas of Libya, which appears to bear the hallmarks of a similar plan that Prince hawked to potential buyers back in 2013, according to reporting by The Intercept.
Prince has denied any personal link to Project Opus, as did his one-time business associate Christiaan Durrant, who was named by the U.N. in connection with the $80 million mercenary operation. Prince and his lawyers this week also rejected allegations of having any links to two others named in the U.N. report: Amanda Kate Perry, a British business manager for Opus Capital Assets, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, and Stephen Lodge, a former member of the South African air force. What is undeniable, however, is that Prince’s firm, FSG, is one of the largest providers of private military services in Africa. Moreover, China’s state-owned CITIC Group—one of the major shareholders in Prince’s company, through its holdings in the Chinese conglomerate CITIC Limited—is by far one of the biggest foreign investors on the African continent. China’s increasing role in financing private military security contractor operations in Africa is beyond doubt, and so are its links to FSG.