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Former Irish special forces soldiers resume training for rogue Libyan general despite warnings

Irish Training Solutions instructors training troops in Libya in apparent breach of international sanctions

Former soldiers of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW) have resumed military training operations in Libya in apparent breach of international sanctions, despite warnings from the Irish Government.

Irish Training Solutions (ITS), which was founded by former members of Ireland’s elite special forces unit, now has 16 instructors training the troops of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar under a contract worth more than €10 million. The deal is due to run into 2025.

Earlier this month, The Irish Times published an investigation detailing how ITS trained a special forces unit of the Russian-backed general’s Libyan National Army in an apparent contravention of EU and UN arms embargoes on the country.*

The activity was condemned by Tánaiste Micheál Martin and referred to gardaí for investigation to determine if a criminal offence had been committed.

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Mr Martin said he had consulted with the Defence Forces Chief of Staff and was examining new regulations to prevent serving and former Defence Forces troops providing security services in regions subject to sanctions.

The announcement has done little to temper the activities of ITS in Libya. After breaking for Ramadan, ITS personnel have restarted training activities and are running at full capacity as outlined in their contract, according to several sources.

Sixteen trainers, the majority of them ex-Defence Forces personnel, are engaged in the training.

They are contracted to train four platoons at a time, comprising a total of 140 personnel, in special forces tactics including room clearing, raids on aircraft and ships, covert activity and sniping.

In total, ITS is contracted to train several hundred special forces troops for Haftar’s 166 Infantry Brigade during the term of the contract.

“Haftar’s senior men are annoyed over the publicity. But the contract is signed and training is proceeding,” a source said.

The trainers comprise former members of Ranger Wing as well as former members of regular Defence Forces units. A small number of ITS personnel operating in the country are Irish citizens who served with British special forces units.

Although training has resumed, some of the senior ITS figures have yet to return to Libya. This includes ITS founder and former ARW member Danny Cluskey.

Some trainers previously hired by Mr Cluskey left Libya last year over complaints they had not been paid. However, cash flow issues appear to have been resolved with payments coming from a Dubai-based company linked to ITS.

An Garda Síochána said it is continuing to examine a file from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which monitors possible sanctions breaches, to determine if ITS officials may have committed a criminal offence.

One of the main concerns for the Defence Forces is the company’s practice of recruiting directly from its ranks, including the ARW, potentially causing international embarrassment to the organisation.

On Wednesday, a Defence Forces spokesman said the organisation is engaging with the Garda and that it condemns “in the strongest terms, actions by former members that breach UN embargoes, EU sanctions or in any way fail to live by the ethos and values of Óglaigh Na hÉireann.

“The Defence Forces have engaged with An Garda Síochána and this process is ongoing. The process of internal security is a continuous, constant, and integral function of the Defence Forces.”

He said members have been reminded of Routine Order 01/2018 which bans troops from “engaging in employment with external organisation or utilising skills acquired with the Defence Forces for financial compensation”.

Troops have also recently been reminded of military regulations against joining political or secret organisations, sources said.

ITS, which is based in Clara, Co Offaly, is company run by directors Mr Cluskey (58), Darren Kelly (40) and Nigel McCormack (49), all ex-Defence Forces personnel with strong links in the Irish and international security industry. The company did not respond to request for comment.

*This article was amended on Wednesday, May 15th, 2024. An earlier version of the article referred to a ‘contract’ between Irish Training Solutions (ITS) and Khalifa Haftar. ITS contacted us after publication to say they have never had a contract with Mr Haftar and that they have a contract with the State-owned Libyan National Oil Corporation to provide security training services. ITS did not respond to additional queries on the matter.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times